Today in the middle of class a student of mine told me that I was crazy. “Mr. R, your crazy,” he said. Just like that, in the middle of a lecture on Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis.” I felt a bit embarrassed about being accused of this in front of my class. I replied with surprise, “what do you mean I am crazy?” “You know what I mean, your crazy,” he said once again looking me straight in the eye. “Why do you say that?” “I don’t know, I just know that you are crazy,” he concluded. He was not one to talk. This particular student has a reputation for being one of the crazier men on campus. He is missing his two front teeth from trying to bite through rocks (while high) and he has a huge scar across his neck, which is a testament to a failed suicide attempt. I could not just stand there in front of a classroom filled with 52 students and take this assault on my reputation. “What do you mean I am crazy, you’re the crazy one,” I said with a strong defensive tone. He stood his ground and simply replied, “I know I am crazy but YOU are the craziest.” The class laughed and all I could do before continuing with my lesson was say “great, so we are both crazy.”
For the rest of the afternoon the idea that I may be crazy has not left my mind. I have been reviewing my past and present behavior to see if there is any validation in my students judgemental claim. I have even gone so far as to ask a few of my co-workers the uncomfortable question, “do you think I am crazy.” Of course all of them told me what I wanted to hear: “no you are not at all crazy,” “I would not use the adjective crazy to describe you,” “definitely not crazy, maybe a little eccentric, but not crazy,” and of course “what! you are one of the saner people that I know.” Ever since I became an adult I have grown less and less trusting of an adults ability to tell the truth, so of course- I hardly believe any of the above claims. I could see in all of my co-workers eyes the truth wanting to come out but their inability to tell me how they really felt, that yes they agree with my student, that “yes, you are crazy,” only restores my belief that if you want the real truth about yourself, ask a teenager.
I don’t understand why it is such a big surprise to me that I am crazy. If I examine my past- it makes perfect sense that I would end up a little mentally unstable. I am the offspring of two Jewish parents who were filled with guilt and high expectations for their less than ambitious son. I let them down on almost a daily basis. They raised me on a golf course (in a suburban country club) where my worst fear was a golf ball hitting me in the head while sitting out by the pool. I had a maid who made my bed and cleaned my room every afternoon and a cook who prepared my meals. My father, who was an angry and violent man, terrorized me with his unstable emotions and always walked around our house naked. I was forced to go to a college that was $60,000 dollars a year and I had know idea what I was doing there. I joined a fraternity that made me eat live goldfish, dog feces and half dead frogs and stick my penis into prostitutes and other things that to this day I am still uncertain about what they were. After college, I developed a panic disorder that kept me confined to my apartment for years and by the age of thirty I was penniless and living in a transient motel. Now close to forty I am just starting to get my footing back. I live in an area where bullets rain down from the sky and sirens have replaced my childhood sounds of blue jays, swaying oak trees and golf swings. Why would I not be a little crazy?
Now that I think about it more, I am crazy. Okay, my student called my bluff today. I have never questioned the brutal honesty of teenagers before today because I have never been subjected to their sharp accusations. My defensiveness was an admission of guilt. Yes, I am guilty of craziness. Some may even agree that I have lost my mind. Maybe it is the transition from the first part of my life being filled with so much wealth and the second half being filled with so much struggle (it ain’t easy to be twenty five years old, living alone in a run down apartment and dropped into a kitchen without a clue on how to cook for yourself). The transition between the two may have jolted my nervous system into imbalance. Add upon that a sensitive disposition that not only feels but wants to end all the sufferings of the world- then yes…..you could call me crazy. And if that was not enough now add the threat of swine flu (I teach at an inner city high school made up of over fifty percent Mexicans- most of whom just arrived back from Mexico after their spring break) and yes, I may be loosing my mind. However, into today’s world, who isn’t guilty of insanity? The lifestyles that we live, the news stories that we bare witness to on a daily basis, the life and death struggles that frame our own existences…..is this not enough to jolt any nervous system into imbalance? As I was leaving my classroom today my student approached me and said “Mr. R, I hope I did not offend you by calling you crazy… I was just messing around.” I stood there in silence for a moment and then I looked at him and said, “I think everyone is a little crazy, don’t you?….and beside who the hell would not want to be crazy. It’s just another way of saying….. your are alive.”
P.s……..I apologize for any grammatical errors or poor sentence structures. Today…I am writing with tooth picks in my eyes (to keep them open) and a strong need to rest my crazy head.