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'Crazy Lady' by, Lee Bryant
I came home from my waitressing job and saw a few books sitting on the rocking chair that Dad made. They stuck out like processed candy in an organic food store. “Who left this pile of books here?”
“Kevin left those for me,” dad said disinterestedly from the kitchen, I read the titles: Rich Dad Poor Dad, The Four Quadrants of Financial Success, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale, and The Millionaire Next Door. “Are you going to read them,” I asked
“I would if I had time,” he answered, reading the newspaper and eating a bowl of bran cereal with banana on top. I got the feeling that the books were a pile of cat crap in the living room, and he would be glad if I removed it. “Do you mind if I look at them?”
“Go ahead but don’t ruin them. Kevin wants them back,” he said without looking up from the newspaper. I knew that Dad would never read books like this. He thinks that they are embarrassing and trashy.
I took the pile and walked back to my room. I wanted to close the door, but it had been kicked out of the frame by dad when he was trying to get into the room when it was my brothers room. The door didn’t shut anymore, so I closed it, until it rested on the door frame, pulled out a dresser drawer in front of the door and that served as a lock. If someone insisted on getting in they would have to knock over the dresser. I breathed deeply, my own cubicle.
I kept the window open always. It was at the far end of the trailer, which was on a hill in the woods. The birds were singing and I could feel a warm breeze. Frogs croaked in the pond below. I layed down on the bed facing the open window. My eyes swept over the brown wood paneling, metal window frames and plastic windows, and landed in the seal where the material wasn’t visible through the dirt and dead flies. I got comfortable, picked up Think and Grow Rich. I read the back cover. Feel powerful, and make your dreams come true.Have anything you want, money, friends, career. Ask and you shall receive.
I read the book slowly, letting each word sink into my body like a massage. I felt like I was levitating. My shoulders relaxed as I read; I didn’t even realize that they were up around my ears. My breath expanded into my belly. I felt tingles running up from my fingertips and toes. Think positively. What do I have to be thankful for? I couldn’t think of a lot, but I only focused on what I was truly thankful for and my belly and chest swelled with contentment. My dread was slowly being replaced with hope. I meditated on it as I drove to my waitressing job. I meditated on it at work, and couldn’t wait to get home and read more. I started making goals, saying out loud what I wanted in life. The books asked me to admit to myself what it was that I truly wanted to be. I was scared to say what I truly wanted to be because I knew that it would bring humiliation. And then I wrote down the words. I want to be an actress. I want to be comfortable in front of people. I want to be watched, wanted, and admired. I want to be powerful. I wanted to be on the cover of magazines, on the big screen. I want people to say with awe and fear: that is Natalie McMahon. I want to feel large and free to be amazing. I want to speak the truth out loud, I want to be fearless. I want to feel limitless. I want a nice house, nice clothes, and interesting friends. I never want to be a wallflower. I will find what I have to do to avoid that and I will pursue it to my death. I want eyes to be to me. When I am in a room I want people to look up from what they are doing because they have to look at me. I want people to have a lump in their throat, and shivering skin from my presence. I want to be the center of attention, and I know that I can suffer extreme humiliation to achieve this, if I have to. I want to have holidays with plenty of food and happiness. I want to be known, I want to be famous. I want to be the kind of person who gets up on stage to act. I envy those people. I’ve always thought they have something that I don’t. They are brave and sure of themselves. How can they do it? How do they get past the judgement of others? I spend my time hiding who I am. Hiding that I want to be wealthy, hiding that I want to be admired, listened to, watched, and wanted. Hiding that I don’t have money, hiding that my mom never says she loves me, hiding that my dad hits my brother and calls him names, hiding that I feel scared, unhappy, and unlovable. The people who get up on stage seem like they are letting people look at them for who they really are. I want to be like that. I applied to Seattle University. I put all my positive thinking to work on going. My mantra went like this. I am smart, I am capable, I am chosen by Seattle University. I said this over and over. I was envisioning being there, having a new beginning, making friends, having a boyfriend, modeling, making money modeling. This is it. This is going to be the beginning of my amazing life. I am going to be comfortable. I am going to do well in school. Mom and I drove to the post office to see if the envelope was there from Seattle University. She got out of the white Cadillac Seville and went into the post office. She came out with an envelope in her hand and a purposeful stride. When she got back in the car, she said here’s something from Seattle University, trying to seem uninterested. I opened the envelope, my eyes glancing over the structure of the letter finding the important words right at the beginning. Unfortunately, we will not be inviting you to study at Seattle University, thank you for your interest. See reasons below: grade point average. The air was knocked out of me, I felt tingly and dizzy, like I might fall over. Napoleon Hill says rejoice when you hear the word no, and keep going. I folded up the paper put it back in the envelope, looked at my mom and smiled a cool cucumber smile. She said “Well?” I said excitedly, “Well I am going to Seattle University. She beamed. “That's great Natalie, I knew you would get in! So we better make plans to take you down and find a place to live in Seattle. Things are so easy for you Natalie, they always have been.” We drove home, I felt every bump of the single lane country road. What’s going to happen? This is where many successful people have been according to Norman Vincent Peale. This place where you have been told no, but you move forward anyway. My body was still tingling, and I felt dizzy. We got home to the trailer; I didn’t have any friends to call. What am I going to do? I’m going to tell them that they should talk to me, they need to meet me. They need to see me and realize that I am someone they want. Mom was on the phone with her boss Dorothy and I could hear her saying, “Natalie got accepted into Seattle University… Yes, it's great. Oh we will figure it out.” Dorothy was worried about how my mom was going to pay for school. She told my parents regularly to stop spending money on me. I packed my stuff and put it in the back of mom’s car. I layed in bed the night before we were supposed to leave, feeling scared. I didn’t know anyone in Seattle. All I knew was that I had to make it. In an effort to raise my spirit and give myself confidence I meditated on my goals. I’m going to be in a play. I’m going to get in with a modeling agency. I’m going to have a boyfriend. I am going to go to Seattle University. I’m going to make enough money to buy a house. I’m going to have friends. I started to get excited again as I said my goals to myself. I felt my breath travel through my body and I relaxed. Tomorrow morning we would take the ferry to Anacortes and drive two hours to Seattle. I woke up early to the birds singing, the dewy morning air wafting through the window. I breathed in the freshness like an anointing from God for the journey ahead. It was the kind of moment when you wake up before the alarm clock goes off, or the sweet sleep that you get after you hit snooze. When the present is utterly perfect. Wrapped in warmth, with fresh air, the first rays of morning light glistening on the dew, bird song filling the canopy of the forest, and a heart full of hope. I took it all in and let the moment hold me. I let nature speak to me, strengthen me, the trees gave me wisdom and power. I was outside of my body when I heard a knock on the door, I came back. Natalie, are you awake? It was my mom. We need to be in the ferry line in a half hour so you better get ready. We will eat on the other side. I was back in my body, letting the reverie dance in the recesses of my mind while I focused on dressing myself. I want to look good today. I decided on my turquoise blue bohemian shirt I bought in Spain, a pair of Zara jeans, and sneakers. I thought the sneakers would make me look like a kid, and remind the powers that be of their own kids, making them want to take care of me and help me. We got on the ferry. I didn’t go up. I didn’t want to have conversations with anyone about today. Mom said, “Aren’t you going to come up? You might not see any of these people for a while. No I want to read my book. How many times have you read that? This is the third time. It was Think and Grow Rich. There were some passages that gave me strength. Now that we started the journey south, thoughts of doubt started to creep in. What if they said no? Then I will just get an apartment in Seattle and a job, and I will make it big. Either way I’m ok, I reminded myself. I'm scared. That's okay, I told myself. People are always scared when they step into the unknown. My hands were sweating, and I felt like I might throw up and pass out. I’m taken care of, I’m taken care of, I’m taken care of. I said over and over. We pulled into Anacortes, I turned the music on and let it take me away. I'm not hungry I said, let's just get down there early, so that I don’t have to wait in registration lines all day. Mom drove and tapped her foot to the seventies beats, sang when she knew the words and hummed when she didn’t. We got to the university bridge that extends over the Salish Inlet. You can see the city of Seattle glistening on the other side, surrounded by water. The bay was full of sailboats and float planes. The space needle and EMP were branding the city to my right. I felt my stomach and solar plexus tingle. In this city exciting things were going to happen for me. I can be anyone I want to be. This is freedom. I saw myself being a famous actress, having one of those rooftop apartments by the water, eating at all the best restaurants. We made our way up to Capitol Hill and pulled into the administration parking at Seattle university. “Mom,” I said, “you should wait in the car, who knows how long I’m going to have to stand in lines.” She brought a Mary Kay duffle bag full of bills. “Okay,” she said, I guess I’ll go through these bills.” “I can’t believe you have a bag that big full of bills,” I said. “Oh this is just one of four, most of them are duplicates. I haven’t had any money to pay them. I can pay a few now, so I will.” The money monster, rearing its ugly head. It was constantly strangling my parents. I got out of the car and watched mom heave the large duffle bag onto the passenger seat. Napoleon Hill says if you want to win a war, burn your ships at the shore. I wanted a different life than my parents, and as I shut the door to mom’s car I knew that I was burning my ships. I would not be going home with her. My hands were dripping. I put on deodorant but I could feel wet spots under my arms. It was seventy degrees, and I was slightly shivering. I followed about ten students into the registration building. I saw a sign for the bathroom and went in. My bowels felt unpredictable. On my way out I stood in front of the mirror and looked at myself. I love you, I love you, I love you, I said. I walked out and saw the registration sign. I stood in line, only 8 students in a line that was moving quickly. My heart was pounding. I wondered if I was going to be able to talk. I looked at the other students and thought that they all looked, smart, confident and successful. Next, the admissions lady. “Hi, I’m here to register,” I said. “Great,” she said. “What's your name? And have you applied for financial aid?” “My name is Natalie McMahon, and I will be needing financial aid.” She said, “Um, can you spell your name?” I spelled it for her breathing shallow breaths in between each letter. I braced myself on the counter so that I wouldn’t fall if I fainted and tried to appear confident, with one knee slightly bent and foot out to the side, a relaxed look. She said, gosh, I’m having a hard time finding you. Are you sure that's the name you used? Yes, I’m sure. “I need to get some help,” she said. “I’ll be right back.” I stood there and said my mantra to myself, I’m taken care of, I’m taken care of, I’m taken care of. Three students made it through the registration line next to me as I waited. Then she walked back up to the counter with another woman following her, she didn’t look at me. Finally she said, “Natalie this is Wanda Sanders, she works in admissions. Come around the counter and you two can figure out what's happening.” I walked around the counter into the doorway and looked for Wanda. She was standing back in the cubicle area. She waved her hand over. I grasped the strap of my backpack and held on. Here we go, I said to myself. I am taken care of. Wanda was Indian, thick dark hair down the middle of her back, about 40 years old. She seemed motherly. I sat down in her cubicle. Natalie she said, I’m drawing up the application papers and I see that you applied, but you were not accepted. “Oh,” I said. “I am here from Friday Harbor. My mom is outside in the car, it's packed with all of my things. We got up early to be here.” “I am sorry,” she said, “we can’t accept you because of your grade point average. We rarely take students who have not maintained a 3.2 or above.” A flag when up in my brain she just said rarely. That’s a door in a cement wall. That means that they do. I can do really well in school. I didn’t get good grades at my last school because I was depressed, after my uncle died. I’m going to do really well here. I will be on the honor roll. I was sweating profusely. Holding back the tears created an expanding ball in my throat and chest that made it hard to talk. My body was twitching under the pressure. My right eye started to blink uncontrollably, I put one hand over it and pretended that I had something in it. “I don’t know what to do,” she said, and looked down at her hands in her lap, and then out the window. I felt like she was a soft person, but I could tell that she liked to go by the book. “Let me see if Henry is in his office, perhaps he will have a suggestion.” She picked up the phone. I tried to breathe and say my mantra. The stakes couldn’t be any higher for me. Her every comment reverberated through my body as she determined my future. “Henry, hi. Hold a second Natalie, could you step outside and I’ll come and talk to you in a few minutes?” “Okay,” I said. I picked up my backpack and walked out to the registration area. I sat down on the soft blue-green linen padded benches and looked around the blue-green room. The students were all going through the normal stresses of registration day, seeing which classes were full, and how they were going to schedule their days. I envied them. I thought they all looked younger than me, wealthier, less burdened. This might be it, maybe I am seeing the inside of this building for the last time right now. She might come out and tell me that she is sorry, she can’t help me. Now that I’m not in her space it would be easier for her. She came out the door and started walking toward me. She looked down at the other end of the room and waved her hand to someone. I saw an Asian man about 5’8, stocky, maybe forty, fatherly looking, earnest watery, brown eyes. “Natalie,” she said, “this is Henry, he can talk to you now. He’s the Dean of the School. “Hi Henry,” I stood up. He shook my hand. “Come with me,” he said. We went up the stairs and into a big office that overlooked the entrance of the building. “Sit down,” he said. I sat in a brown chair and put my backpack on the floor. I let the silence speak. He sat across from me behind his desk. The light poured through two floor to ceiling windows. I could hear the birds on the bushes outside. “Wow,” I said, “this is a nice office.” He didn’t respond, he was looking at me. He intertwined his fingers, put his elbows on the desk and leaned in my direction. “Natalie,” he said finally, “what are you doing?” The dam in my eyes was rapidly becoming weaker, and was beginning to leak. “I want to go to school here,” I said. “You were not accepted because of your grade point average. You basically flunked out of your last school,” he said. “I’m smart, I can do well, I was depressed last year. My mom is outside in the car with all of my stuff. I’m the only person in my family to go to college. I really want a different life. The tears started pouring down. He started flipping through the papers on his desk. I am looking at your transcript. You declared psychology. We have a demanding psychology department here at Seattle University. Is there another major that you are interested in? A light went off in my head, we are moving forward. “Yes, I am interested in drama,” I said as I wiped my tears like they were rainwater on my cheeks. “Okay,” he said. “I will accept you as a drama major, for one semester. I’m going to put you on academic probation, and if you do not have a 3.2 GPA or above at the end of the semester, you will be dismissed.” I looked at him and could feel my cheeks rising, and the corners of my mouth rising, and my eyes filling up with tears of happiness. I looked at him and said, “Thank you, Henry, Thank you so much.” I wanted to tell him that I loved him, but I didn’t. He shook my hand and said, “I’ll get the paperwork to Wanda now, you can go down and sign up for your classes.” I opened the door and headed for the stairs. Over the balcony I could see that the lobby was now full of students, and their voices were rising to the glass ceiling. I put my hand on the railing of the open staircase, I was weightless, my heart was floating, my shoulders were down, my face relaxed and my cheeks were high. I won the war! A voice cheered in my head. There was a committee inside of me dancing, celebrating. As I looked out at the sea of students, I felt stronger, smarter, like I could do anything. I really am taken care of. Now they looked nervous, lonely, and scared. Laughter hung around my shoulders. I walked down into the crowd aware again that I am beautiful, wondering if my future boyfriend was there, aware that I was being looked at.