This essay was originally written and performed for Write Club Atlanta, a monthly competitive writing event.
When I think of madness, I think of a girl I once dated who looked like Huckleberry Finn. Right off the bat, let me clarify that I wasn’t thinking, “She looks like she’d subvert the racial intolerance of a bygone era with the power of friendship. I gotta’ put my dick in that!” By which I mean, put my dick in the power of friendship, not in racial intolerance. Nobody wants to fuck a racist. And it wasn’t some kind of Mark Twain sex thing. Though I did want to put my Connecticut Yankee in her King Arthur’s court. She just had this kind of freckly androgynous thing going on.
As it turns out, she was madly in love with her roommate Brooke. “Isn’t Brooke beautiful?” she’d ask. “Let’s go down to the bar and sit at the bar for hours and watch Brooke bartend. Isn’t Brooke gorgeous? Let’s decorate her room with streamers and a banner so when she gets home, she’ll feel good about herself. Isn’t Brooke amazing? Let’s make out in her bed while she’s out of town, because her bed smells like her.” She had a point. Brooke’s bed did smell like Brooke, probably because of all the sleeping she was doing in it every night. I’m just a scent-of-Brooke layman, but I feel like the Brooke Sciences community will back me up on this.
The whole Brooke situation came to a head one night, when the three of us went out for sushi. I tried sake for the first time, got too drunk and had to be dropped off at their apartment. Now, a lot of people would have called it a night at this point. But not the girl who looked like Huckleberry Finn. She and Brooke drove my car to a nearby bridge, where they had a moment of intense feelings-sharing, and mutual acknowledgment that the world was a generally miserable place that did not appreciate them, or their streamers and banners, and their sheets that smell like Brooke.
So they decided they should drive my car off the bridge.
Now, they didn’t go through with it. They just told me about it later. In fact, instead of Thelma & Louise’ing my car—incidentally, are two women in love ever going to be able to drive a car off a bridge or cliff without being compared to Thelma & Louise? Maybe some of these women aren’t Susan Sarandon fans.
Actually, you know what? That’s ridiculous. Susan Sarandon is an accomplished actress. Women who are planning to drive a vehicle off a cliff or bridge, have you only seen Susan Sarandon in Bull Durham? You should watch her other movies. Wow. Now I sound like a Susan Sarandon super fan.
Anyway, instead of Thelma & Louise’ing my car, the girl who looked like Huckleberry Finn and Brooke decided to Bull Durham one another and go back to their apartment to have sex while I slept in the other room.
Obviously, I was upset when I found out about this. I was mostly hurt that I’d allowed myself to get caught up in their madness. You might think it was just general shittiness, but it was madness. You can’t go directly from California Rolls to suicide pacts to drunken lesbian sex. I mean, you can if you’re Lindsay Lohan or Dame Judi Dench, but most of us regular folk have to be happy with making the waiter bring us extra aioli sauce for our spicy tuna rolls, not making agreements to die underwater with our passengers.
Even though we had a terrible breakup shortly after (she cheated on me again, this time with a guy, and most shockingly, not in Brooke’s sheets), the thing I remember the best about the girl who looked like Huckleberry Finn is something she said to me one night when we were drinking Grand Marnier she’d heated in the microwave.
She said, “I want you to know you have tamed me. You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.” It was a line from The Little Prince, one of her favorite books.
Let me back up for a minute. Years earlier, I’d had an encounter with a much more physical form of madness. My grandmother was dying of a brain tumor. I think the best example of how deeply the tumor was affecting her mentally was when my grandfather asked her if she wanted him to put Rocky, their fifteen year old chihuahua, on the bed with her so she could cuddle with him.
She said, “No. I want to you to take Rocky out to the back yard, and kill him.”
“I don’t think I can do that.” said my grandfather.
My grandmother’s calls for Rocky’s Game-of-Thrones-style public execution went unheeded, and her little Ned Stark curled up on my grandfather’s stomach instead, as my grandfather lay on the living room carpet watching TV. Which is also what happens in Season 1 of Game of Thrones, right? King Joffrey orders Ned Stark to curl up on an old man’s belly and watch Gunsmoke on TV Land? I’m not caught up yet. Don’t spoil it for me.
But despite her swearing, yelling, and attempts to put a hit on beloved family pets, what I remember best about my grandmother is the last thing she ever said to me. She reached out and grabbed my arm, despite being incredibly weak. Even though it was hard for her to talk, she looked into my eyes and said, “You’re a good boy. You’re a good boy. You’re going to be okay.”
Then she slipped me a manila envelope with $10,000, a photo of Rocky and a gun with the serial number filed off. That dog had powerful enemies.
Systems die all the time. Systems fall apart. My grandmother’s brain was a system, made up of synapses and tissue. My relationship with the girl that looked like Huckleberry Finn was a system, made up of microwaved liqueurs and fragrant bedding. Both systems were fundamentally broken. Madness was the breakdown in those systems.
But what remained after the break down was love. And you can’t break down a system of love. It is responsible, forever, for what it has tamed. Madness is responsible for nothing, never. It fucking sucks. If the Little Prince had been suffering from madness, he’d probably would have crashed his asteroid into the nearest space bridge with his roommate onboard and tried to convince an old man to execute that fox he’s always hanging around with.
If you find yourself succumbing to madness, please try your best to let your loved ones know how you feel about them, because love is all we can really hope to leave one another. And try to see the films of Susan Sarandon, she really is an amazing actress.