Nobody else gets to be crazy when you’re being crazy. Do you think your older brother gets to be crazy when you’re being crazy? Hardly. Maybe he’d like to scream, break the windows with a hammer, throw the neighbor’s dog. But where would he even do any of that? The whole house is full of your crazy, like floodwater. Certainly there’s no room for your older sister to be crazy, not with you sharing a bedroom and a bathroom. Maybe she’d like to eat almost nothing, or eat too much and force it up into the toilet you share. Maybe she’d like to tell nothing but lies. But nobody can hear her, because your crazy is the noise of a jet over the house, circling and not passing. Even when you leave home. Even when all of you leave home.
Your parents could be crazy if they had half a chance. Oh, how your mother wants to check everything a thousand times—the doorknobs, the shoelaces, even the electric stove. She wants to stand at the window and tap the frame, tap the frame, tap the glass, tap the frame. And your father wants to dig a hole in the center of the bed and bury himself alive in it, up to his neck. He wants to be unable to move. In the exhausted night the two of them hold hands and stare straight up and imagine retiring into crazy, the way some people buy houses in the woods or at the beach. But your parents lose all hope of their own special insanity whenever you open your wild eye. You could be in the next room or a thousand miles away, in your first apartment; they punch their timecards in at your crazy and don’t punch out.
When you’re being crazy the neighbors don’t get to be crazy, either. They may be holding out for invisible voices of their own but instead they get yours, keening through the pores in the walls, shaking the light fixtures. Their orthodonture has to shout for anyone to catch its remote instructions. Is there anybody in the whole neighborhood storing bodies in the basement? They go down there, and you’ve already got your bones stacked up everywhere like old records. So they come out to the porch and think about mood swings, like something they read about in the newspaper right before it got recycled. All the houses are on fire, all block long, and not one burns down.
The schools you went to were soggy with resignation and reaction. The other students wanted to tear each other’s throats out but they couldn’t, under your uneven stare. They wanted to cut and rape and destroy, but the sweat of your shaking hands dulled their knives. Because nobody else gets to be crazy when you’re being crazy. The teachers took tests and compositions home and thought about setting themselves on fire, but you left them drenched and they couldn’t get dry.
And now your co-workers drip on the thin carpets and hold themselves very carefully, stealing nothing they’d like to steal, refraining from overturning the desks or drinking in the daytime. Your crazy balloons out on your ragged breath and pushes against the walls. There is just enough give for each person to make an impression that stands as still as wisdom. The balloon of your crazy is shaped like the space for everyone else to be crazy in, if they could only move.
Lovers enter your life and forget how they used to crash through their own. Their wilderness clearcuts itself. And whatever hair they’ve torn from their heads has to go back because it’s got to be soothing to look at them, and you need their hands free. There’s talk about being there for one another, but what window would they howl from? Under what moon that’s not already in use? If anyone’s going to tear the wallpaper down, if anyone’s going to sink flat to the bathroom floor, if anyone’s going to empty all the prescription bottles and then go to the kitchen to stare hazy-eyed into the garbage disposal, it’s going to be you. Your lovers sweep the fragments of broken plate onto the dustpan. Their grip trembles. Even your pets line up in a row.
Because, when you’re being crazy, nobody can tumble down; in the gravity of your crazy, everything curves in your direction. On the phone your family offers you lists of the fine: your mother is fine, your dad and his day-long headaches are fine, your brother and his family and his unemployment are fine, your sister and her divorce and her never having kids and her nights where she sits at the edge of the fire escape are fine. All your friends carry fine in duffel bags to your door. Everyone you know is burning fine like a seam of coal on fire under the ground, which you stand over, slip over, collapse over, claw deep into, and even that fire is yours. We know you don’t mean to do it, don’t mean to spin the universe on the heel-bone of your hand. We know you can’t find the lightswitch, or you would go ahead and turn it on. But nobody else gets to, when you’re being. And it’s now and before and very soon and always. Because what we learn, breathless, is that it’s even after you’re gone. It’s even after you’re gone. Nothing to breathe. Because, when you go, your crazy doesn’t go with you. It stays. Somehow it gets bigger. Somehow it fills every emptying lung and closet and apartment. And we don’t get to be. Because when you’re being crazy, you eat every part of the body except the eyes, so that forever we can go on watching you chew.
David Ebenbach is the author of eight books of fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, including, most recently, the novel How to Mars (Tachyon Publications, 2021) and the poetry collection Some Unimaginable Animal (Orison Books, 2019). He teaches at Georgetown University. Visit him at www.davidebenbach.com. (updated 6/2021)
Ebenbach founded the AGNI blog in 2015 and edited it until 2019.