Seeking Normal

( 1 )


SEEKING NORMAL is a must read; a chronological narrative in which the author describes dramatic events over significant years with such bracing detail that you feel like you are walking the halls of the psychiatric ward with her on the night she's admitted.

As a child, she keeps secrets like her father's alcoholism, his mental illness, and her own homosexual trappings . . .

As an adult, her suspicions grow concerning her husband's subtle ...

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Seeking Normal

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SEEKING NORMAL is a must read; a chronological narrative in which the author describes dramatic events over significant years with such bracing detail that you feel like you are walking the halls of the psychiatric ward with her on the night she's admitted.

As a child, she keeps secrets like her father's alcoholism, his mental illness, and her own homosexual trappings . . .

As an adult, her suspicions grow concerning her husband's subtle unnatural behavior around young female children but too naive and scared to know where or whom to turn, she doesn't reveal it . . .

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781466977099
  • Publisher: Trafford Publishing
  • Publication date: 9/10/2013
  • Pages: 246
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.56 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Seeking Normal

By Jane St. John

Trafford Publishing

Copyright © 2013 Jo Ann St. John
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4669-7709-9


Dad looked dead. I wished he was. Instead, he was passed out on the sofa, his snoring blaring louder than the sports program on television. I snuck past the green velvet rocker. A heavy brass floor lamp was big enough to hide behind, and I slipped by without disturbing him. I knew he would get mad if I woke him up. It was the weekend.

Friday nights through Monday mornings, Dad lived on the sofa, only getting up to stagger to the bathroom and stagger to the kitchen table for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He ate well at every meal and in doing so maintained his health. If he hadn't eaten well, he would have sunk much sooner than he did. I overheard some grown-ups saying this one day when they didn't realize I was listening. After dinner he did what he usually did, guzzle down his precious Sunny Brook whiskey until he passed out.

My name is Allyson, and when I remember my dad, even now when I am much older than he was then, I wish I had given him more slack, but back then I couldn't. Before I learned to tie my shoes, the delicate laces that held my life together began to unravel. To keep the frayed drama a secret, I pretended. Lost to fantasy, I hid my sorrow from the outside world. I had no idea just how crazy my own life would become.

Whenever Mom reminded me to stand straight, my mind rejected her instruction. How could I be perfect when my whole world seemed to be crashing down around me?

Outwardly normal, we lived in an upper middle-class neighborhood. Sprawling sycamores lined the streets, and flowers bloomed in sculpted yards. We were just twelve miles outside of San Francisco. I dreamed of the day I could live in that city. It seemed full of promise, and it was far away from Dad.

Our upscale sandstone home sat on a quiet, unassuming corner. Eastern sunshine flooded the roomy kitchen, adding more coziness to our deceptively lovely family. Ironically, our impressive living room appeared bright and cheery with white walls, expensive furniture, and a fireplace that sported an oversized picture of a collie dog above it. A religious painting hung over the couch where Dad always lay. A very light spot in the house, the painting gave me a sense of strength.

Mom kept the windows covered with Venetian blinds. She pulled the heavy draperies when she wanted extra privacy. We had thick rosy carpet. I had to take my shoes off every time I came in the house.

I convinced my scant circle of friends that I was living the dream life with perfect parents, two older brothers who were away, a big allowance, and no worries. All that dishonesty accomplished was having no one to talk to. I couldn't turn to my friends without admitting the truth, so I turned inside myself.

Mom pretended too. I didn't blame her for avoiding the cruel realities of life. After all, I was following her lead. She overlooked Dad's complex and emotional disconnection. I couldn't stop thinking that she was giving up. I didn't consider myself a quitter. I just wanted out. Following an imaginary path, I became more lost in my interwoven imagination.

My two older brothers didn't seem to care that our parents carried on an unending feud in private. A decade stood between Larry and me while James was three years older still. By 1950, my two big brothers had left home. We were not close because of our age difference, but Larry had a comfortable place in my heart. I never got close to James.

I blamed my dad for every misery I felt. I had to blame someone, and Preston Joseph Smith was it. A large man with deep-set eyes and no sense of humor became my target. Watching his daily habit and Mom's constant frustration, I pretended I was the daughter of a hard worker, not a hard drinker.

I was about ten years old when I first noticed Dad talking to people nobody else could see. I had gone outside to play in the neighborhood. At first, I thought he was talking to a neighbor, but I knew Dad wasn't that friendly with the neighbors. Whoever this person was, Dad really liked him.

He was on the other side of the sycamore tree so I was sure he couldn't see me.

"Oh, don't you just wish." Dad teased his friend in that booming voice of his that always carried the sound of gravel being hit by tires.

I stopped outside the front door and held still. At that age, I tried to make myself unnoticed by Dad. I didn't want his friend to see me either because he'd say something like "Well, Preston, who do we have here? It can't be little Ally. She's much bigger than the Ally I know." Adults were always talking like that around everyone my age.

Suddenly, Dad roared back and convulsed with laughter. In the midst of it all, he was saying things like "Oh, you got me that time. Yes, you did" and "That's the funniest damn thing I've ever heard. Did he really say that?" and "Better not tell the boss or we'll both be in trouble."

I suddenly realized Dad was alone, that his friend was imaginary. Looking back, I wonder why the realization didn't scare me, but it didn't. I just chalked it up on my parental scorecard as one more thing, in addition to his drinking, that made him the worst dad in the world.

I quietly stepped off the side of the front porch in the opposite direction and ran silently through the neighbor's yard to my friend's house. I made a decision that day to do everything in my power not to end up like my mother. Why didn't she feel as trapped as I did?

Late that afternoon I returned home for supper. Dad was passed out on the sofa. All was normal again. After so many times of witnessing his odd behavior, it didn't bother me to be around him while he was visiting with unseen friends.

Sadly, I kept his secret. My dad was a crazy drunk, and I didn't know what to do besides ignore it. I could only hope my friends wouldn't ever find out.

My parents worked at Prime Premium Foundation, a company that produced bathtubs, sinks, toilets, and faucet fixtures. Dad was a stock clerk, and his job demanded most of his time. His being gone was fine with me; however, weekends were his own. Mom worked in a different department. Even though she worked all day, dinners were always on the table every evening at six o'clock. She managed the entire house as well as her job, impressing me with her skills and preciseness.

I stayed outside or in my bedroom during Dad's weekend benders. A small RCA radio provided more comfort than watching television. My room was safe. I had a double bed and two large dressers. Dozens of games spilled across my closet floor, and I had lots of trinkets and toys to keep me occupied.

I was happy and secure in my room even though Mom's idea of interior decorating didn't match my style. She didn't seem to understand me. Her idea of a bedroom was frilly and just too feminine for me. I was a tomboy despite Mom's girlish persuasion toward lace and taffeta. A large bag of marbles lay in plain sight on my dresser. I was proud of them. I had won most of them from my neighbors, Sharon and Ben. I was especially proud of my steelies. A box of plastic soldiers guarded my collection.

If I wasn't hiding in my room, I lost myself in the downstairs closet beneath the staircase where Mom kept my big brothers' old clothes. I loved wearing James's yellow corduroys. They were a little baggy but that didn't matter because I loved wearing them. They were comfortable. Girls' clothes were restricting; and I couldn't get dirty, climb trees, or relax. Mom didn't understand me. I wasn't sure I understood myself. I wasn't into girlish things.

My mother, Roberta, was an attractive woman with perfect posture and a pleasant smile. She kept her dark hair styled short. It suited her. With intense green eyes, she was the striking opposite of my blonde hair and blue eyes. She always kept herself neatly groomed despite the lack of attention from Dad. I was proud of her. I just wished she would notice me more often.

In my mom's eyes, I could do no wrong, but her eyes didn't focus on me much. I felt more like a guest than a daughter. As much as I loved her, she didn't seem to need my love. Too busy reprimanding Dad, she lost herself in her work, her friends, and avoiding issues at home.

Because Mom worked, she was never available whenever I wanted or needed her, which was usually after school. I desperately wished she would divorce Dad. I never knew what he was capable of in his drunken state, but if the house caught fire, I pictured Dad being burned alive. If a burglar broke in, he would be useless as well. I hated the noisy images that continuously blasted in my head.

I remember especially one fall weekend when I was thirteen. It was a bright, clear morning when Dad and I were outside waiting for Mom to come out of the house. We were going to the store. I watched from the front porch as Dad talked and gestured to an invisible man in the driveway. Mom was taking forever inside the house while Dad carried on. I could feel time stop. I didn't know what to do. I wasn't getting in the car until Mom came out.

I stood frozen, peeking from the corner of my eye, careful not to let Dad see me staring at him. I was afraid he'd get embarrassed and be angry with me. I didn't want to embarrass him. Confused and helpless, all I felt was sorry for him.

It was Tuesday, so I know he wasn't drunk. He paced a little in the driveway as he talked and listened to the invisible person. His words were muffled, but his mood was good; he chuckled, listened, and nodded. I couldn't figure it out. To me, it didn't make any sense. Soon Mom came from the house onto the porch, ready to do shopping or wherever we were going that morning.

"I'm ready! Let's go," she called out to Dad. If she noticed that he was carrying on a conversation with a secret friend, she didn't let on. As soon as Mom appeared and spoke, he snapped right out of his secret world, and we all climbed into the car and drove away.

To get through the snags of childhood, I imagined myself as part of another family. It didn't matter whose family it was as long as it wasn't mine.

Neighborhood friends distracted me from the strange things happening at home. A ray of light came from Sharon and her little brother Ben, who lived two houses away. If their mother worked on Saturdays, their dad usually took us fishing or on long rides in his light yellow Ford. It never mattered he wasn't my own dad; it was easy for me to pretend he was. Sharon's dad didn't drink, and he never talked to imaginary people the way my dad did. I felt safe with him.

By the time I turned fifteen, I had grown into a quiet observer, ready to please, and very obedient. Nevertheless, my complaints began one early Saturday morning in the living room where Mom relaxed on the sofa and Dad was downtown running an errand. I decided this was a good time to talk with her.

"Mom, I can't bring a friend home when he's here. He's always drinking. He talks to people we can't see. Why don't you get a divorce? Get a divorce and never look back."

She calmly quoted scripture to me, "Honor thy father and thy mother ..."

I couldn't argue with that logic.

"I don't understand you're being against your father, when you're just like him in so many ways," Mom said.

"How could you say that," I scowled. I began wondering if Mom was right. I kind of liked the idea of being like him because he was the boss in our family. Even though I looked like him, I knew I didn't behave like him. His being drunk and talking to invisible people was not something I did.

Sometimes I found him alone with tears welled up in his eyes, crying. When this occurred, I turned away. I hated seeing him cry. I pitied him in his weak moments when most of the time he appeared strong, even a bully.

I fell deeper into make-believe, looking the other way when life got bad. I ignored things that were unpleasant. My survival was in pretending. It formed without any resistance from me.

Both my dad and I had secrets. He tried concealing alcoholism and invisible friends. I concealed homosexual feelings.

Even though I believed that homosexuality was not my choice, but rather something I was born with, society forced me to ignore my heart and entertain their idea of normal. I hated denying my feelings, but it was just another part of the game I played to appear normal, whatever that was.

At the start of high school, I became best friends with Kealy. An only child, she lived with her grandmother after her parents died in an auto accident. It was nice that Kealy had no parents to impress or win over. She just had a tiny, dainty old grandmother who never interfered but always smiled.

Each morning I dressed for school and wandered past the manicured lawns over to Kealy's house to pick her up. Elderberry bushes surrounded their nice home, black sage and white flowers stood out against dark, bumpy leaves dotting the yard. We always walked together and discussed life, homework, and boys. I was never honest with Kealy. I trusted no one.

On days when Kealy was running late, her grandmother would drive us to school in her luxury automobile. I enjoyed the ride. I felt special whenever the old woman chauffeured us around in the big Chrysler with gold-plated wire wheels. Kealy always sat squished beside me even though the car was enormous.

I liked the attention and the special feeling. Kealy made me feel good inside. She made me feel normal. When I had a bad weekend at home, Kealy hugged me as if she understood. I relied on her strength more than I admitted. I relished her friendship and was envious of her easygoing home life.

I preferred my mom's hugs and consoling, but I took what I could. Mom was too preoccupied with her own misery to realize the need inside me. Kealy's friendship filled all voids, more than I realized.

A few miles from Berkeley, Kealy's grandmother owned a horse ranch. One day she invited me to spend the day at the ranch. I hadn't been on a horse in a while, and I couldn't wait. Kealy insisted that I sit beside her during the car ride.

"Scoot over," Kealy said as she squeezed in beside me.

Despite the spacious backseat, she pressed her leg against mine and let her hand rest on my thigh. I didn't mind. It sent a warm feeling through me. Kealy was the closest person I allowed in my life even though she never knew my deepest secrets. No one did.

Our legs rubbed together as her grandmother jerked and jostled the car down the street. The feeling aroused something inside me, something down deep that I couldn't escape. I turned my head toward the window and stared out at the endless fields whisking by, trying to sort out my affections before we got to the ranch. I wondered if I liked her that way.

Kealy let it be known loudly how much she hated queers. I never said a word. I could imagine her family's reaction if they knew my thoughts on the subject. Naturally, I couldn't tell Kealy how I felt. I couldn't talk to Mom about it; she'd criticize me for even thinking it. She would tell me that homosexuals were abnormal. I shook the thought from my head and tapped my fingers with the song on the radio, pretending I was fine. I couldn't confide in anyone. It was a lonely spot to be in. Thus, my secret remained with me.

We finally arrived at the ranch house that laid tucked in a barricade of walnut trees. A colorful assortment of horses frolicked near the sweet-smelling fresh bales of straw that was stacked in tall piles near the barn. Kealy's grandmother plopped down in her favorite wooden rocker on the front porch while Kealy and I took off across the yard. From the porch, the old woman watched while we played basketball and ping-pong. Everything was perfect, right up until the time the world crashed down around me.

The sun passed through a whisper of a cloud, dulling its brightness for a few seconds.

"Ally! Over here!" Kealy yelled at the top of her voice.

I chased her inside the barn. When she came to the last stall, Kealy spun me around and pinned my shoulders against the rough-hewn stable wall. The horses snorted at the disturbance. Giggling and whispering, she held me captive.

"You're my prisoner." Kealy pressed her strong body hard against mine. "You have to do whatever I say and then I'll let you go." Her head fell back in laughter.

"Okay, I'm your prisoner. What do I have to do?" I waited for her to dole out my torture. We always played prisoner. I was usually the one in prison.

"You have to kiss me," Kealy said.

Excerpted from Seeking Normal by Jane St. John. Copyright © 2013 Jo Ann St. John. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 6, 2013

    This story resonates. It gives insight concerning the impact tra

    This story resonates. It gives insight concerning the impact tragedies can have on people suffering daily and the

    actions taken to overcome the demons imagined or real.

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