My father does not breathe any more. That’s just a way of saying that he’s been dead awhile now. Today is his birthday. He died half a dozen summers ago. I lost track of how old he’d be or how many candles he’d be blowing out now if he were still breathing. He was a big man, so no doubt he’d be blowing all those lights out.
My nature is to be optimistic and see the glass as half full, not half empty, as the saying goes. Yet, when it comes to my dad and crazy, that man was full on crazy. Even now looking back, the most lasting memories are the crazy ones. And I use that word “crazy” with a mixture of endearment and heartache.
To see a loved one go crazy on you changes you. Crazy also conveys for me the feeling of being overwhelmed by something and not knowing what to think of it, as in, “Oh, man, that’s crazy!” It’s when something doesn’t fit into our ordinary, everyday or fit into neat little IKEA organizational cubes.
My dad didn’t fit into lots of things. With him it’s easy for me to see what was missing…all the missing parts to our family life together, stolen by mental illness as if by L.A. gang bangers.
However, on his birthday anniversary, instead I will conjure up some other memory. A memory of joy, if even a drop of joy mixed into this crazy full cup of family life. And it is of this: me, six years old in a red and white candy striped tap dancing costume. Him bringing me red roses after my first recital.
Mental illness is a strange communion, a cup full of crazy with drops of joy.