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Indelible Markers

I always knew two things about my dad.  One: he loved me more thananyone else ever could – more than the moon and all the stars in the sky.  He thought very highly of every little thing I did.  He sent my poems to poetry contests; he let me draw in magicmarker, the kind that doesn’t smell like fruit and says indelible in big serious letters — on the walls of his office, calling my pictures his frescoes; he told me that I made him so proud that his heart was always so full that he thought it might burst, which made me worry about him. And two: he was completely insane.

My dad had begged my mom to have one more child.  He had really wanted adaughter.  There are no guarantees; just because we’ve got three boys doesn’t mean the next one is going to be a girl.  I imagine her explaining this to him with all the patience she could muster.  This was a problem for her, having babies, because she had to work, at a time when few women did.  She had to work because he often couldn’t.

But seven years later she agreed, and that is how I came to be.

When I say he was insane, I don’t meanthat in a fond, facetious sort of way. I don’t mean he was fun or dreamy or unconventional.  I am talking about the fact that he was a paranoid schizophrenic, and that when he stopped taking his pills, he had vivid delusions.

I’m interested, in a detached sort of way, by the fact that I have clear memories of understanding that he was crazy, even as a young child, even though my mother observed the strictest silence abouther husband’s illness, even within the family, almost to the point of denial.  I say “almost” because I remember being seven years old and watching my mother crush Stelazine tablets into his cup of coffee, and the ensuing argument between them when he tasted his bitter pill, imperfectly dissolved in the sweet coffee, and spat it back into his cup.  I remember the half-melted powder on the surface of his cup.

I remember it as if it were yesterday.

I remember, one overcast day, walking home from school to find my dad waiting for me on the front steps of our house, an open newspaper in his hands.  He asked me how my day was, but he couldn’t quite smile, and he was trembling.  I asked him what he was doing home, and he ignored my question.  Instead, he gave me the newspaper and asked me if any of the faces in the photographs looked familiar, if maybe one of these people had followed me home.  He gave me a black magic marker and invited me to circle as many as I wanted.  He’d already started. He’d circled a photo of an RCMP officer.  I looked through the newspaper, and, hoping to make him smile, circled Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger.  Unfortunately, this only added to his distress.  His eyes widened, and filled with tears.  He held the newspaper tightly and thanked me in the voice of a man who knew he was doomed.  He didn’t want to talk about it.

I asked my oldest brother later what our dad was doing home in the middle of the day, and he said that he had been fired.  I tried to make sense of this.  Fired?  Like out of a cannon?  On fire?  Was he on fire? Like, inside his brain?  Was that why his eyes were watering and his thoughts were raging?  Was his brain full of smoke?

I wondered if I could get fired.  If I made myself say ridiculous things, could I stay home from school? Could I stay home with my daddy?  Would he let me into his world?


Anita Anand lives in Montreal, Canada.  Her stories and essays have appeared in, the Louisiana Review and  the Toronto Globe and Mail.

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