Gone to the Craziesby Alison Weaver
Alison Weaver's privileged upbringing hid the darker undertones of her childhood until her parents shipped her away, at fifteen, to the cultish Cascade School, warping her perception of reality. Upon graduation, set adrift in New York's East Village in the 1990s, her life began a downward spiral marked by needles and late-night parties. Stumbling into free fall and
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Alison Weaver's privileged upbringing hid the darker undertones of her childhood until her parents shipped her away, at fifteen, to the cultish Cascade School, warping her perception of reality. Upon graduation, set adrift in New York's East Village in the 1990s, her life began a downward spiral marked by needles and late-night parties. Stumbling into free fall and mingling with fears of death, she was forced to face her darkness. Here is Weaver's thoughtful exploration of what it means to fight for identity and equilibrium.
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Gone to the Crazies
My Mother's Helpers
Nurses raised me, one after the other until I outgrew them. I had my own room: It was large, with two tall windows and pillowed window seats upholstered in light blue chintz. On the walls hung framed Italian collages of monkeys and dogs in Georgian attire, and underfoot were plush cream carpets kept spotlessly clean. I grew up an only child despite my father's two previous marriages and earlier children...three daughters and two stepsons...who we saw once or twice a year.
I know my first nurse was named Wanna, though I remember very little of her. In the pictures that linger on the pages of photo albums, she is either pushing my steel-bodied British Silver Cross baby carriage, or stands as a figure in the distance ready with a bottle or a squeaky toy. In every shot she wears a white uniform, a navy cardigan, and pink fifties-style glasses.
After Wanna, there was Ms. Bee, who sued my parents, claiming that my rambunctious behavior in the bathtub put her back out. I don't remember her at all. Then came Isabel, who let me play on the electronic toys at Hammacher Schlemmer and crawl back and forth inside the thirty-foot configurable play maze, while she "fraternized" with the male employees. Isabel liked to hit. She'd hit if I didn't eat my Jell-O or wash my face in the bath. Once, as we played Battleship, she caught me peeking at her board and decided to give me the false satisfaction of sinking all her ships before smacking me across the cheek. Isabel stayed until I was five.
But then Ilse arrived on a Friday morning in October. Mother always wanted her help to start on weekendsso they'd be comfortable with my father's presence in the house. Mother also made it a point to hire older women who lacked any beauty or sex appeal. Lead him not into temptation, she must have thought, sipping from her wine glass.
Ilse was in her fifties. Her black hair was streaked with lights of silver and her eyes were a deep liquid brown, almost tragic in their intensity. Chubby, flushed cheeks, curved with sensitivity and exhaustion, held a perpetual smile in place, and her stocky, willful figure...unathletic yet surprisingly mobile...was stiffened by an arthritic ache on winter nights. At first, I was terrified of her touch. I froze when she kissed me goodnight and squirmed when she hugged me or held my hand. If she invited me into her room at night, I'd sit on the floor with my knees clasped to my chest and my back against the wall.
Ilse smelled of fresh sheets and thick, white Nivea cream, and the smell gradually instilled an unusual comfort in me. Eventually, we spent our evenings on her twin bed watching Family Feud or The Price Is Right. She introduced me to Chuckles candies and HoneyBee suckers with buttery insides, and taught me how to speak German. If I had a nightmare, she'd tickle my back until I fell asleep, and if her arthritic hands ached, I'd massage them with the thick, white lotion.
From the start, I lived most of my days in worlds that didn't really exist. The real world frightened me. I didn't fit. Other children were different: happy, approved of.
I chose to insulate myself from the outside by creating my own fantasy worlds, places where I felt alive and strong. I created imaginary friends. Some dwelled in the porcelain bodies of my dolls and others simply drifted about the playroom in ethereal form, handing me a piece of chalk when I needed one or being my opponent in a game of Chinese checkers. They played with me for hours in the attic, where I taught them spelling and math, chalking on the blackboard as they sat lethargically in a semicircle. I created entire block countries and governments to run them, relegating certain Cabbage Patch dolls to positions of power and giving myself the position of dictator. I directed productions of The Sound of Music every Saturday at 2 pm and sold handmade tickets. Occasionally, the cook or the maid would humor me and purchase one for five cents, but they showed up only rarely. The shows, however, went on anyway.
I was an adventurous child, outspoken and precocious. I didn't like fancy dresses and I didn't care for shoes, and I was constantly removing both whenever an opportunity arose. I liked dirt and making mud pies and wading through stagnant water to catch frogs and tadpoles. Blood didn't frighten me; neither did ghosts or dead people.
I could sit cross-legged for hours on the mossy stone wall in the middle of the strand of Connecticut woods that divided our property from the neighbors', surrounded by tall sapping pine trees and gargantuan oaks. Their roots seemed to tunnel so deeply into the ground, I imagined they came out on the other side of the earth. Sometimes, I'd pretend to be Huck Finn or Laura Ingalls Wilder or one of the fairies from The Green Fairy book. I was myself only in the briefest of moments, only when the outside world demanded it of me.Gone to the Crazies. Copyright © by Alison Weaver. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Meet the Author
Alison Weaver is copublisher of the literary journal H.O.W., the proceeds of which go to needy orphans worldwide. Her work has appeared in Small Spiral Notebook, Opium magazine, Red China, and the Fifth Street Review.
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Alison Weaver is a survivor of Cascade School in Whitmore California-- a place that used Cedu cult lingo, techniques, and philosophy in "treatment" of disaffected teens and pre-teens. [Cedu was bought out by The Brown Schools. Cedu and Brown Schools yielded Aspen and WWASPS. All of them use a group confrontational forum or workshops based on EST now called The Forum]. A cautionary tale for parents who are considering the "services" of an "independent educational consultant" in order to "help" their "troubled teens". Old hippies, mature teens and young adults will also enjoy this book. PS I agree with Alison Weaver that her special word should have been power. ~ sapphoq reviews
Must read for anyone interested in the dark world of boarding schools. The story follows Alison's life and her battle with depression and drugs. She is forced against her will to attend a boarding school that is supposed to change her life but when she gets there she realizes it is not what she expects at all. It is a little slow at first but once you get into the good part (middle) you will continue to read and not want to put it down.
A wonderful memoir. The writing is dark, raw, bitter and remorseless. Weaver tells her harrowing story with grace and a shocking amount of honesty.
Amazingly well written. Validates the hurt that we may expereince, even if there is no one specific horrific event that defines the emotions we feel. A well stated description of some of the 'programs' that have excisted for teenagers.