YOU MEET THE NICEST PEOPLE IN THE LOBBY OF A PSYCHIATRIC HOSPITAL. The author of Dead Connection proves that what goes on in our minds just may be the scariest thing of all.
Ben Mander's junior year is derailed when his mentally ill mother erupts in the school office. Visiting her in the psych hospital, Ben meets Marco, who also has a mentally ill mother. Marco tells a story that turns Ben's idea of reality upside down. Soon, the story begins to uncomfortably mirror Ben's own life. Lizard People races along the edge of madness as Ben wrestles with his greatest fear--that deep within him lie the seeds of his own insanity.
|Publisher:||Roaring Brook Press|
|File size:||245 KB|
|Age Range:||12 - 18 Years|
About the Author
Charlie Price's debut novel, Dead Connection, is a Book Sense Children's Pick, a Publishers Weekly "Flying Starts" selection, and an ALA Best Book for Young Adults. Publishers Weekly praised it as "superb and compulsively readable" in a starred review. He lives in northern California.
Charlie Price lives in northern California. He is an executive coach for business leaders and has also worked with at-risk teens in schools, hospitals, and communities. He is the author of several novels, including Desert Angel and The Interrogation of Gabriel James, winner of the Edgar Award.
Read an Excerpt
By Charlie Price
Roaring Brook PressCopyright © 2007 Charlie Price
All rights reserved.
Not the Police
I'm driving too fast. The last thing I need right now is to get stopped by the police. A traffic officer might know I knew Marco. They could think I helped him escape. There might be a warrant out for this car. I don't think so, but anything's possible. They might know all about Mom and even believe I'm crazy, too.
I don't know why I'm so revved up. I'm not afraid. Am I? This is just so important! I want people to understand that, want them to know what I know. I have to get to the Ludlows and tell them this story. I guess I'm a little overexcited, but you can't keep a secret like this. Not something that will actually change the world. Make thousands of people well. Turn science on its nose. I mean, it's not like I have the answers, but I know the direction to go in. I'm the only one who really knew Marco.
Z will help me get a grip. She'll listen to me and figure out what to do next. She's Hubie's sister. Sophomore in college. Three years older than I am. Smart and funny and quirky and so different! If she isn't home? What is today? What is today? Even Hubie could help. He's practically a scientist already. Or Mrs. Ludlow. She'll know what to do. But not the police. Not right now. I'm not ready.
You can't give a story like this to just anybody.
A Month Ago
I could see Mom with a death grip on one of the secretary's heads. It looked like Mrs. Vance, our across-the-street neighbor. The principal had one hand around Mom's waist, his other hand on her forearm, and he was trying to pull her off the terrified woman. I could see office assistants huddling behind the counter, and two school counselors running through the rear door into the office from the courtyard. Our vice principal, Mrs. Onabi, was on the phone.
I crashed through the office door and tackled Mom, bringing everybody in that tangle to the floor. I was yelling, but Mom was maniacal. She had Mrs. Vance's mouth pulled partway open and was trying to see down inside. The counselors joined the pile, and in a few seconds, the four of us had Mom detached.
"Look at her! Look at her!" Mom was yelling.
"What, Mom?" I was holding her head and one shoulder and whispering in her ear, trying to calm her. "What?" I asked again. "It's me, Ben. What's the matter?"
Mom looked at me for the first time. Her eyes were bloodshot, pupils black whirlpools in a fiery sea of madness. "She — won't — admit — it!" Mom puffed, struggling for breath.
The office was suddenly quiet, except for Mrs. Vance softly sobbing, now behind the counter like a barricade.
We released Mom and stood as she stood. She extended her left arm straight in front of her, pointing, index finger tipped with a long scarlet fingernail. Right at Mrs. Vance. "She," Mom said in a theatrical voice dripping with contempt, "is a Lizard!"
The room was once again silent and stayed that way, practically unmoving, until the police arrived.
You meet the nicest people in the lobby of a psychiatric hospital. Unless they're drunk or tweaking. Most people are sad and empathetic and easy to approach after what they have just been through with their dad or mom or son or daughter or husband or wife.
I was sitting at the end of a row of connected metal chairs. Two empty seats down from me there was this good-looking blondish guy with short, thick hair, the kind that pretty much always looks right, whether or not it's combed. I think what held my attention was his eyebrows, really bushy and much darker than the rest of his hair. He looked eighteen or nineteen, but something about him seemed even older. He was concentrating, studying what looked like a map of our county. He would think for a few minutes, make a note on a clipboard, and then do the same thing again.
He was pretty much my size, maybe shorter by an inch or so. Face and arms tanned like he was outside a lot. He didn't have the muscle definition of a jock, but he looked in good shape. His clothes were the kind you might buy in an outdoor store, fleece vest, woven cotton shirt, canvas pants, running sandals. I figured this guy had some relative being admitted, too, but he didn't seem nervous, wasn't trying to pretend he was cool. It looked to me like he was just thinking.
I guess I got absorbed watching him, and he noticed.
"Hey," he said, "I'm Marco. How about you?"
"Ben," I said.
"Got somebody here?" he asked, sticking his pen in the metal top of the clipboard.
"My mom," I said. "She's been losing it more often since Dad walked out. Doc thinks it's something like schizo-affective disorder." Was I talking too much?
"Yeah," he said, "my mom's bipolar. I'm just waiting for them to finish with her admission process."
"Yeah, mood swings, depressed to manic. She's had it for a long time. It flares up and really sends her out there. She stops sleeping, starts drinking, has all these amazing projects going that she's talking about all the time. Usually nobody can slow her down until she goes off the deep end and winds up here or in jail."
I was nodding. "My mom's a little like that. She gets off her meds and gets wild and scared and crazy. Nobody can talk her out of it. Your mom work?"
Marco moved a seat closer so it was easier to talk. "She's a decorator, houses and stuff," he said. "She's real intelligent and a good mom when she's down to earth. But every so often, she stops taking her lithium, and then ho, baby, watch out! This time she was trying to build a two-story gazebo in the vacant lot across from the post office at 3 A.M. She says she's going to use it as a demonstrator model for her new exterior design package. Huhuh. The police arrested her and brought her here to get medicated."
A woman stuck her head out of the locked unit door. "Next?" she said.
Marco said good-bye and went inside before I thought to get his phone number or his school or anything.
Lizards Hate Red
Trying to take care of Mom after Dad left has played hell with my junior year. I'd missed a fair amount of school, dropped out of wrestling, and resigned as president of the Fly Fishing Club. My teachers and my principal understand what I'm dealing with at home. Especially after today, I bet.
I'm ashamed to admit it, but I was not thinking about Mom as I sat in the hospital admitting area. I was thinking no girl will ever go out with me again. It was bad enough before, but now, there'll be a neon sign on my back: WARNING! SANITY-FREE ZONE! No, cancel that. Most girls will feel sorry for me and that will be even worse. Pity and whispers.
I'm an okay guy. Almost six feet tall, and I usually made the weight and wrestled in the hundred-and-sixty-pound division. I keep my hair short for two reasons: Makes me feel like a wrestler, and my fishing hat fits better and doesn't blow off in the wind. I used to have a bunch of friends. In grade school, middle school, early in high school, in sports, and in summer recreation leagues. This last year most of them have sort of disappeared. They're not mean. I think they're just scared. Like being crazy could be infectious. It is definitely uncool.
I had a couple of girlfriends but I lost them both. I probably know why. For one thing, I was nervous being close to a girl. I watched shows like Real World on MTV whenever I got a chance, and tried to understand what girls were like. Did they want to be treated special, doors held and stuff, or was that insulting? Did they want compliments or did they think that compliments were just the way a guy hit on them?
How the hell was I going to keep taking care of Mom? The whole Lizard thing started when Dad left Mom. Left home actually. I don't think they're divorced. I'm pretty sure it was another woman who caused it. I've seen him around town a couple of different times with the same woman. Or maybe, more likely I guess, living with Mom drove him away. I'll probably never know. He won't talk about that when he calls. He gave me his cell phone number but not his address. He always asks me if I need money for sports or dating or anything, and says, if he has to, he'll visit Mom in the hospital. But he won't come by the house. He hasn't been home for three months, since he walked out.
Mom's breakdowns had been happening on and off over the last several years. She had been in some psychiatric hospitals. Here in Riverton, when they had room, down to Sacramento when they didn't. None of the medications, and they had probably given her at least ten by now, seemed to hold her for long. Or maybe some of them worked and she stopped taking them as soon as she came to her senses.
This is the second time I have seen her paint her face with red lipstick. Mom believes that Lizards hate red. She also believes that you can identify a Lizard Person only by looking deep inside his or her mouth and seeing where the human costume ends and the actual Lizard begins.
I don't mean that Dad made Mom go off her rocker. She was that way before. Sometimes she got so lethargic she couldn't even get out of bed for a week. Sometimes she thought that TV shows were talking about her. But the red on the face and the Lizard thing is a recent development.
Dad said there used to be long-term hospitals that would help a person like Mom, but they got closed, so there's nothing like that now.
I'm going to make Dad come back and deal with this.
In the Ozone Layer
When Mom got released and came home a couple of days later, I left school early and was there to meet her. She looked snowed.
"New medication?" I asked.
"Yeah," Mom said. "I'm sleepy. I'm going to bed."
"Want anything to eat? I could fix you something. Tuna sandwich? Can of soup? Cereal with banana in it?"
She didn't respond. Just slogged past me into her bedroom and closed the door.
I wondered if this time she was going to do what the doctor told her. The professionals always said the same thing. Take your medication as prescribed. Keep a regular daily routine.
Last fall Dr. Bhuspodi told Dad and me that Mom's chances to live a normal life again were very slim. The doctor said that there was almost nothing anyone could do but help her feel safe and cared for and hope that the meds would keep her calm and oriented. They were developing new and better psychotropic medications every day, and before too long, they would probably find one that would stop the voices without so many side effects. For now, ideally, she should be in a highly structured rehabilitation home, but the best one was ninety miles from here, in Chico, and it was very expensive, with a mile-long waiting list.
When Mom's on a tear, I mean, like, all paranoid, she is energetic and talkative and full of ideas. When she is medicated, she is usually quiet, embarrassed by what she did when she was psychotic. I know how much guts it takes for Mom to make it through the bad days when she is trying to cope. I see what a hard life it is. I love her so much. But I'm starting to hate her, too. Why can't she get it together and be like other moms? I know it's an illness, but I'm fed up with it!
And there's another tough thing. Mental illness often runs in families. I could get it. I could already have it. In my blood. In my body. In my brain.
Sometimes when Mom is gone, locked in the hospital, I go into her bedroom. I stand in front of her dresser and look at myself in the mirror. I'm embarrassed to say that sometimes I've opened the drawers, picked up one of her slips. So silky. I've sorted through her jewelry. I don't know what I'm looking for. Something of her, maybe, that isn't ruined by the madness. I smell her brush for a quick scent of her hair. I handle the figurines she keeps on her bookcase. I feel close to her in a way I can't seem to anymore when she's present.
I am looking for clues. What happened? What happened to the girl who went to high school and twirled a baton and sang in the choir and rode in convertibles? How did this illness claim her so completely?
Mom keeps her pictures in an old-fashioned striped suitcase under her bed. In my favorite snapshot, she is sitting beside my dad on the porch of a house I don't remember. He's wearing a Tshirt with the sleeves rolled up way too high, his hair longer and shaggy. He has his arm around her and he slouches in a relaxed way that makes it seem like he has already been there for hours and may not move for several more. She's smiling and leaning into his arm. I have taken that picture and put it in my room, in the top drawer of my own dresser, so I can see it whenever I want to.
The range of pictures astounds me: Mom with girlfriends, Mom with groups at football games, Mom in a line waiting to get on a Ferris wheel. Mom with her hair in rollers, dancing with ten or fifteen girls in some gym. She's not like that anymore.
She spends most of her time in her room. She sleeps a lot. She often sits in her rocker and looks out the window at the backyard. This fall I put up a bird feeder by her window, but she hasn't mentioned it and I don't know if it makes any difference. She has all these books but she hardly ever reads.
I had started my homework but I couldn't concentrate. I thought about getting high and going to bed. Recreation for the Mander family? Get sedated and go to sleep. What a life. There was no one to call except my best friend, Hubie, and he was probably still at his after-school job at the Computer Exchange. I wished I had gotten Marco's number. I wanted to ask him if any kind of reasoning ever convinced his mom to take better care of herself.
I got my basketball and went to the neighborhood park to shoot around. I missed my first ten shots and threw my basketball as hard as I could into the street. A landscape company pickup pulling a trailer filled with lawnmowers hit my ball on the first bounce and knocked it way down the street. It made it to the north-south thoroughfare and was flattened by a city bus. Happy now?
So I started walking, didn't care where, trying to think my way out of this mess. Without really noticing it, I made it to Hubie's house in time for dinner.
Hubie's mom is a nursing supervisor at our biggest local hospital, but her main role is the neighborhood caretaker. She often has a stray kid at the dinner table. Hmmm. She's short and compact, a dynamo. At dinner, she's cooking, bringing more food or more milk, rarely sitting in her chair for more than a minute.
She always, always makes me feel welcome. She asks about my family and listens, but it never feels like prying.
Hubie's dad moves slow, talks slow, and eats slow. He's also short, but unlike his wife, he has a big belly. A book about Emiliano Zapata was at his elbow as he ate.
Hubie has his mom's energy. He was talking nonstop about the idea that communities could begin to provide wireless Internet as part of their infrastructure, like roads and sidewalks. Financed by taxes. He continued talking right through our dessert of vanilla ice cream over white cake with canned peaches.
Where was Z? Was she boycotting family dinners? Hubie's older sister, Kaitlin, would answer only to "Z." She is the bump in the Ludlow family road. Or, maybe in her case, pothole. When Mr. Ludlow asked her what "Z" stood for, she said, "Hypocrisy." When he pointed out there was no z in hypocrisy, she said, "Exactly!"
In the almost-perfect Ludlow family, she is the anti-daughter. She's against everything her mother stands for. She shrivels you with a scathing look if you call her a goth. But what is she? Her ears are like chain-link fences, she has a diamond stud in her nose, and I don't know if it stops there. She favors light makeup and dark eye shadow and thrift-store-chic outfits. Punk diva goes Hindu.
Z has beaucoup causes that she constantly champions: alternatives to fossil fuel, preserve our redwoods, conserve water, feed the hungry, medical care for everyone. And a number of things she argues against: bigotry, war, corporate greed, and so on. I have loved her since the day Hubie and I became friends and he invited me home. She was doing her homework in their living room while she danced to something on MTV. I was in fifth grade and she was in middle school. Now, she's a sophomore at Sierra Junior College in town.
Z was a hurdler in high school until something happened between her and the coach. After that, no more organized sports. Today when she walked into the dining room, she had on black tights under a sari thing, with a ratty jean jacket vest over it. Black knit watchcap on top. A thick book tucked under her arm. "You're not a duck," she said when she saw me. Was that a compliment?
She picked two plums out of the fruit bowl in the middle of the table, took a chicken leg off my plate, and left the room. Hubie's mom rolled her eyes. Mr. Ludlow didn't seem to notice.
Even with the odd moment, it was a comfort to sit and eat with a real family and listen to their conversation and not have to think about anything or do anything. Until afterward, when I bussed the dishes and washed them while Hubie stuck the cleaned ones in the drainer.
Excerpted from Lizard People by Charlie Price. Copyright © 2007 Charlie Price. Excerpted by permission of Roaring Brook Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Not the Police,
A Month Ago,
Lizards Hate Red,
In the Ozone Layer,
Out to Get You,
Danger to Self,
I Couldn't See My Hand,
Rude, Blued, and Tattooed,
Strings and Wormholes,
What a Party!,
Did He Hear Me?,
A Pitch to Team Ludlow,
Betty Lou Weighs In,
Deep Ancestral DNA,
Calls and Whimpers,
Not Too Close,
Are You High?,
Let Me Get This Straight,
The Doctor Is In,
Also by Charlie Price,