Genre: Fiction/Family Drama
Author: M.D. Moore
Publisher: Black Rose Writing
Purchase on Amazon
About the Book:
An extraordinary debut novel, Waiting for the Cool Kind of Crazy introduces protagonist Harmon Burke. The son of a schizophrenic mother, Harmon is haunted by three decades of his mother’s “un-cool” craziness and the mistakes of his own past. Caught somewhere between his past and present, Harmon is trying to navigate and survive the detritus of his life—a life littered with personal failures, strained relationships and life-threatening health issues.
When Waiting for the Cool Kind of Crazy opens, Harmon’s mother Cece is on her way back to the psychiatric hospital after another psychotic episode—an episode that nearly lands Harmon in jail for his third and final strike before lifelong incarceration. Landing an unusual lucky break, Harmon cashes in a literal “get out of jail free card” with one caveat: in order to avoid serving jail time, he promises to seek help for his issues.
Harmon starts to see Boyd Freud, an eccentric ex-convict and unorthodox counselor with a wry sense of humor, and a penchant for strong coffee and unusual theories. Somehow, the no-nonsense and rough-around-the-edges Boyd manages to convince Harmon to confront the trials that have dogged his past and present. But everything changes when Harmon’s high school sweetheart Emmy shows up on his doorstep. Pleading for help escaping her abusive husband Frank, Harmon’s childhood nemesis and lifelong adversary, Emmy reopens a chapter in Harmon’s life he thought long closed. But Frank—a cruel and vindictive bully intent on righting a past wrong—will prove a dangerous and complicating force for Harmon and his family.
With Boyd’s help, Harmon begins to make sense of the past and heal. But in order to help Emmy, find peace with his mentally-deteriorating mother and discover redemption from his past and current failures, Harmon will have to return to the trials of his youth to find answers and discover truths long buried. Along the way, Harmon will realize that making sense of the past might lead him to see the possibility of a future he’d given up on long ago.
“Hey sleepyhead, how would you like to have a birthday party? I know someone who’s turning thirteen soon,” Mama said in song, her face only a couple inches from my own. I had been sleeping and freaky-dreaming thanks to a too-strong-dose of Nyquil before I had gone to bed. I fought hard to shake the sleep and cobwebs from my brain, though the medicine and the psychedelic night’s sleep made it difficult. I rarely complained of trouble sleeping because a double dose of Nyquil was Mama’s answer to insomnia, and I couldn’t stand the taste of the nasty, radioactive looking stuff. I used to take my dose and after the yuck-shudder, I’d pretend to turn into the Hulk that made Mama and Connie buckle with laughter.
I knew my birthday was a few weeks out, but since we had never celebrated it, at least not in any meaningful way, I had learned to tamp down any excitement about the occasion to ward off excessive disappointment. Most years, my birthday would slip away without so much as a “Happy Birthday” from Mama. As the idea of an actual party fought through the haze and sank in, I shot up in bed as Mama lay over my legs.
“Well, whaddya think, little man?” she asked again, her eyes as wide and blue as topaz, her open-mouth smile never fading.
I looked at Connie who was now sitting up in his bed too. His head nodded violently, as if someone had cranked the windup key a couple notches too far. For most children, this question would have been rhetorical. Of course, I wanted a birthday party. But this was Mama’s way. She wouldn’t force anything on us, not even a birthday party. She was asking me in earnest.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Connie now shot in rapid fire, bouncing on his bed, pillow smashed over his head.
I held my breath and watched her eyes, looking for a reason to say no. I could read her eyes like others read tea leaves and I was waiting for the demon to rear its ugly head and spoil the moment.
Mama read my mind. “I’m doing really good right now, sweetheart. My meds are working and I feel great. Don’t I seem to be doing good?”
“Yeah. I just know you’ve been worried about stuff lately and sometimes…I don’t know, sometimes that’s not so good for you.”
Mama pulled me by my ears until our foreheads were touching and we were eye to eye. “I love you for caring, sweetheart, but your mom’s doing good and I really think I can do this. Can you trust me this one time?”
“Yeah, Mama,” I said as I pulled away. What else could I say?
“Alright!” she said, clapping her hands enthusiastically. Now she started to bounce on my bed, not as excitedly as Connie, but her excitement was clear. “This is going to be so great! We’ll get balloons and streamers. I’ll make a cake and get whatever ice cream you want. We’ll invite all your friends and it’ll be the best party any of them will have ever seen.”
My smile, though still present, had lost the sparkle that had been there a moment before.
“What’s wrong?” Mama asked, her enthusiasm fading.
“Nothing,” I said through clinched teeth, trying to hold my smile.
“He’s worried he doesn’t know any kids who’ll come,” Connie said, still hopping on his bed. “And he’s right to be worried.” Even as a ten-year old boy, Connie’s verbal filter had a gaping hole in it.
“Are you guys kidding? Who’re all those boys I always see you playing with outside? God, you guys move around the neighborhood like the Wild Bunch.”
“They’re the neighbor kids who let Harmon tag along. They’re not his friends,” Connie said. “They treat Harmon like he’s a mongrel dog.”
“Shut up, Constantine,” I stammered.
“Oh, boo hoo. You’re calling me by my name. That really hurt,” Connie said, a mean flash streaking through.
“Enough, Connie, or you won’t be invited. Anyway, I bet they’ll be his friends that day,” she said, believing that should make me feel better. “Who’s gonna say no to the funnest birthday party ever?” I shrugged my shoulders. “I almost forgot. What do you want?”
“For what?” I asked.
“What do you want for your birthday present, retard?” Connie answered.
“Constantine. That’s enough,” Mama said sternly. She turned back to me. “That’s right, sweetie. What do you want for your birthday present?”
I knew we didn’t have money. Even as she was asking, I was wondering how she was going to pay for just the basics of the party. Our shortage of funds, though never a conversation between Mama and us, was well known to Connie and me through her crying and fighting with landlords and bill collectors and sometimes to no one who could be seen… at least by us. We knew her meds cost a ‘small fortune’ and Connie and I knew we didn’t have what other kids had just so she could get them. Since we’d seen her both on and off of them, it was a sacrifice we made without hesitation.
“The party is a great present, Mama. I don’t need anything else,” I said.
“Ohhh, don’t be a party pooper. C’mon Harmony, think big. Maybe a video game player. Or a new bike. I saw one of the neighbor kids riding past our house a couple a days ago riding the most beautiful burgundy colored bike with a sparkly banana seat and chopper handlebars. That’s the kind of present I’m talking about.”
I considered a video game player. It did look cool and all the coolest kids in class had one. But in my heart of hearts, in the small place where I still let simple dreams survive if not necessarily thrive, I knew a bike would win out. Boys in my neighborhood rode around like a gang of bikers and Connie and I, the only kids in the area without wheels, were the omega dogs of the pack.
“I guess if I had to pick…” I said, drawing out my words.
“Yesss,” mama said, goading me on, her fingers pushing lightly in my sides.
“If I had to pick, then I’d say…” I said, my giggles starting to build.
“I’d have to say a bike. If that’s ok?” I quickly qualified.
“Ok? That’s great. Now that we have that settled, how about we plan for a party?” Mama asked. Looking back, it is hard to believe such a joyous lighting of the fuse could create such a cataclysmic explosion.
As we drove back to the hospital, Connie and me in the front, Emmy holding Cece in the back, all that could be heard were sniffles coming from the front and back seats. I was tempted to turn on the radio to drown them out, but felt these tears had earned their stripes tonight and deserved their full respect.
“He was so nice to me,” Cece whispered after a long silence. “Why do I hafta keep screwin’ stuff up?” she asked as she broke into full-on, heartbroken tears.
We all listened to her cry and asked ourselves the same question. “He really seemed to like you, Cece,” Emmy said.
Cece’s cries slowly turned to hiccups as she looked at the program in her hands that she had taken from her purse. “I think he does,” she said, her words slurring through the alcohol still residing in her system. “He said he’d ask the hospital if he can take me out to dinner and a movie or just for a drive or whatever. Do you think he will?”
“I’m sure he will. He’d be lucky to have you as a friend,” Emmy said. She sounded naive giving that clichéd advice to our acutely mentally ill mother, but she was being sweet and supportive and I figured if nothing else, it kept Cece sedated for the ride back to the hospital. Connie must’ve felt the same as he didn’t jump in either. I had no doubt that tonight was the last we’d ever hear or see of Ernie Vadonovich. While I did feel sad for how the night had gone, I’d been down this road so many times before, and often times worse, I couldn’t get too worked up over what had happened. At least tonight I was traveling down this road in a Cadillac.
As we approached the hospital, the darkened building against the cloudy backdrop welcomed us back with the warmth of a prison yard. I couldn’t see Cece’s face for the darkness, but knew I wouldn’t want to if given the choice. More than her sadness, it was her dying spirit that could move me, especially given the gains she’d been making recently. The car stopped and we all sat silently, waiting for someone else to make the first move.
“I need to go,” Cece said as she slid right behind me, waiting for me to open the door for her. We all scooted out and, with Emmy on one side and Connie on her other, we escorted Cece back into the hospital.
I watched her wither as she took each step towards the door of her ward after we’d exited the elevator until Emmy and Connie were practically carrying her. Her shoulders began to shake as real tears took hold and the gravity of the night weighed fully on her.
“Oh, baby doll,” a kind female staff said as she opened the door to the ward.
“I screwed up so bad, Julie,” Cece said as she released her chaperones and hugged the woman. She held her tightly as Cece began a quiet but intensifying wail. Julie waved us off and nodded, indicating she could take it from here. We all put a hand on Cece and said goodbye, Connie giving her a kiss as we departed. She cried harder. Julie began walking her to her room where she would comfort her and calm her down, with medication if necessary. We watched as she shuffled down the hall, the flowers from her hair dropping to the floor. She was home.