In an excerpt posted exclusively on ABCNEWS.com, Anne Heche chronicles stories of pain and redemption, hurt and healing. The memoir — Call Me Crazy — comes from an actress whose private life and personal choices have made her a household name. Read the excerpt below.
EXCERPT — Prologue
I stood at the top of the staircase. It was old, more than a hundred years, I was told when we moved there. It was white as I remember and the railing unsturdy even for a child of six to hold on to. But I didn't hold. I stood, always in a white summery nightgown that had been passed down by my sister or cousin and was probably hand-sewn with a ruffle around the bottom. My breath was silent as I inhaled, closed my eyes, held out my arms, and leapt. I landed on the stair beneath the top, but I landed on my toes. I had floated, from one step to another. But I wasn't satisfied. I marched up that one step to the top and began again. A breath, eyes closed, arms out and…go. Three steps down this time. No trouble, no pain. Sweet. Bliss. A loss of my tiny body held by the air as I floated. I asked myself if it could be real, if it were true. Was this really happening to me? I climbed three steps back to the top and decided to dive in. My breath was stronger on the inhale, my eyes closed tighter with the agony of this needing to be true, my arms powerful in their angelic pose, up and out to the sides. And then I leapt. With all my might. Up, up, and away. Weightless. Free abandon. It wasn't that long of a ride, but long enough. As I felt the landing at the bottom coming toward me, I easily touched down. Toe by toe until I was on solid ground again. Would anyone ever believe that I could actually fly?
Chapter One: The Great Escape
I ran away at two and a half. I only found out — or I should say remembered — this fact of my life after many years of therapy and rebirths and any other measure I could take to get myself up and out of the insanity I was living in until … well, until not so long ago. I'm now thirty-one, turning thirty-two on May 25. I'm a Gemini, but it was not my birth sign that made me the way I was. I wasn't born with it either. I had to learn to be crazy.
"Mom?" I said into the phone while sitting at my kitchen table years after I ran. I was in my midtwenties and feeling heartsick over having to forgive her again. I had already done it so many times. "Mom?"
She spoke in an octave that made me cringe. The tone of her voice had raised over the years with guilt, I imagine. The closer I got to the truth, the higher the octave got in her voice.
"Just so you know, before I tell you what I'm about to tell you, I don't blame you for any of it."
I thought I heard a high-octave squeak on the other end of the line, but that may have been a projection or a mouse in the wall. I didn't have mice.
I had chewed off the already-chewed nails on my fingers and they were most likely starting to bleed. I had a "problem," which she used to scold me for.
"Nail biting is not a very ladylike thing to do, Anne. It's unattractive."
I always wondered why people didn't look beyond the spotted bloody clumps to think that there was something hidden there, perhaps family secrets, perhaps pain.
"Are you biting your nails, young lady?"
"Of course not, Mom. You heard me, right? I don't blame you for any of this?"
"Any of what, honey?"
I was beginning to think I had made the wrong decision by picking up the phone. Maybe I needed eight more years of therapy before I could make this call.
"Well —" I stammered, "I want to ask you a couple of questions about my childhood."
This was not a subject we liked to talk about and it usually led to a fight.
"As you know, I don't really remember much, but I'll tell you what I do."
"Great. Thanks. That's all I want. Did I say I already forgive you for everything and I don't blame you?"
"What was that, honey?"
I thought she had probably put down the phone to check her hair or look out the window or anything to avoid what I was about to ask.
"Did I by any chance…" Oh, God. All of a sudden all over my body I had the creepy feeling that everything I had spent the last eight years remembering was a lie. I had heard rumors that kids had been influenced by their therapists to remember bad things so that they stayed in therapy longer and hated their parents and attached to the people they paid to listen to their problems. Anyway, if I was crazy and had remembered all wrong, she wouldn't confirm my first memory. "Did I… ever… run away?"
I couldn't stop now. The words were already out of my mouth. "When I was two and a half. There was a fire in the house when I got home or when I was found. Was there a fire? Was I gone? Do you remember?"
We had lived in a town house in a place in Ohio that I remembered as Something-or-other Heights but could remember nothing else about it. When I mentioned it to other people throughout my life, some would suggest, "Cedar Heights?" or "Shaker Heights?" I decided it was Shaker Heights. We were very religious and I connected religion with the Shakers. I don't even know if the Shakers are religious, but they sure have nice furniture. Shaker Heights was also supposedly a very nice area of Ohio outside Cleveland, and I knew that my parents always liked to say that we lived someplace that was expensive to the ear.
I thought my eardrums would burst.
"How on earth do you remember that? I haven't thought of that in ages."
When she said ages I thought of a song my mother used to always sing around the house. Rock of ages, cleft for me… let me hide myself in thee… I never did know what cleft meant, but we were the absolute best at hiding behind or in anything, especially Jesus or Jesus' rock or just simply behind a rock — any rock.
"So I did?"
I couldn't believe it. If this was true, then most likely it would all be true. The running away was the most obscure of memories and the oldest. "So it's true? The running away and the fire?"
"Well, I don't know if I would have called it running away. You were missing," she clarified.
"And the fire? Was there a fire by the time I showed up again?"
"There was a fire that day. Yes, I remember a fire. What's this about?"
We lived in a row of town houses as I remembered it. Ours was at one end. I had snuck out and down the row to another two-story structure where a friend or playmate of mine lived. I don't remember what I was feeling as I did it. I don't recall if I walked or crawled or if I was crying or screaming or if I had already learned that that got me nowhere. By the time I returned, or was brought home or found, who knows which, the house was burning down.
"Dad set that fire, Mom."
She would want to put the phone down again. She would want the call to have been about a role I had gotten, or a boy I was seeing or a piece of furniture I had found at a swap meet or a new lipstick color…
"I wouldn't be surprised by anything your father did at this point. How do you know?" She couldn't help but ask. Her fear and curiosity blended in a scorching aroma. Her daughter was asking yes-or-no questions that she didn't want to answer. She knew that I had had little memory of my childhood in the past and that things had clearly changed.
"I know a lot of things." She had already admitted years earlier that I always knew things before anyone else in the family.
"Why did you remember this, Anne?"
The town house burned down. Or at least it burned enough that we would have to move. Why did he do it? This man? This father? There could have been so many reasons. The thing each had in common was that he wanted to hide. Which thing in particular on this day probably even he didn't know. I was learning to talk. He didn't have any money.
Insurance companies bought his lies because there was no reason not to. He was the choir director of a church he had started with another man who was the preacher. He was blond-haired and blue-eyed and fair-skinned and certainly looked the part of a man who would tell the truth. He was dynamic and charming and everyone liked him.
We packed our charred belongings and moved on, away from what we didn't want to know and didn't take the time to discover. This would be the pattern of our lives until he died.
Chapter Two: Centuries of Memories
The house we moved into was absolutely stunning. It would be the house I referred to as home for the rest of my childhood. Who knew that insurance would pay for a bigger and better home, or maybe Dad's parents paid for it or my mother's parents — we were never clued in. We just went where we were told, and this place was a beauty. It was a "century home." We were enlightened to this like it was a prize or present that we would keep on opening. More than one hundred years old, it sat on the side of a long stone driveway away from the road and shone white and lovely with accents of black shutters. As far as I can remember, everyone loved it. By everyone, I mean the family. I was not an only child. There were four of us children. Four that were alive. We had one sister, Cynthia was her name, who had died years before. We never spoke of her except to say: "There are four children in our family and a sister who died and is in heaven with Jesus."
I loved that I had another sister. I used to fantasize that I would go to heaven and meet her. "When I go to heaven I'm going to meet her and we'll be friends," I would say with a smile to everyone I met, like it was a good thing that she was dead. It gave me something to look forward to.
That's all there was to say or think about Cynthia. We never knew why or when she died. We weren't told. We didn't speak of unpleasant things in our family, and the number-one rule was never to ask questions. We learned this rule by getting hit with a wooden spoon on our bare asses if we did. We didn't know of war or famine or Nazis or blacks or Jews. All of these "things" would fall under the category of "unpleasant" for my family, so we children conveniently had the wool pulled over our eyes from the day we were born. We were a happy, white, Christian, blond-haired, blue-eyed family — Squeak!
Susan was the oldest. She was twelve years older than me and lived in the attic. We didn't see very much of her because she was always busy doing things that we little children didn't understand. And she was probably right. We didn't understand much. We didn't have a TV, we never saw movies — certainly they were works of the devil — and we never read books. The activity we were allowed to engage in was Bible-verse memorization. I'm sure Susan was called upon once or twice to run our lines with us before church, but other than that, she was the sister ghost who did interesting things in her attic and we didn't bug her about it. She was an artist. She did paintings and wrote poetry that none of us were allowed to read. In fact, her poetry was so unreadable that the church my father started burned it. Yes, that's right, my father found some of her poetry and it must have been so entirely scandalous that it was burned and she was told to never write poetry again. Her art became her outlet, her poetry ordeal an example for us all to keep our thoughts to ourselves.
Next in line was Nathan. Well, not really next. Cynthia was born in between Susan and Nathan. Nathan is now seeing her in heaven. But when we moved into the century home, Nathan was five years older than I. He was the image of a big brother. I don't know what that really describes other than that he was a bully and did things that were naughty by nature. He would throw footballs in the house when he was under strict orders not to, he would wrestle his sisters when he was under strict orders not to, he would go outside when he was under strict orders not to...you get the point. He was strictly ordered not to do a lot of things, and did them anyway. Does this paint a picture of a boy wanting to get attention for something that he was not allowed to be doing? Hmmmmmmm...
Abigail was the blond-haired beauty that everyone was in love with. Her eyes sparkled, her hair glistened, her smile lit up the world. She was two and a half years older than I was, and from what I hear, we were so close we couldn't be separated. She, in fact, skipped going to kindergarten to stay at home and play with me. Clearly this did not affect her brain. She would later skip the eleventh grade to graduate with Nathan so that they could attend college together. Although, as it turned out, that didn't happen, Abi was brains and beauty to behold. We shared a room in this century home, twin beds side by side. I think we would have shared secrets, but we were so strictly told to never open our mouths that secrets didn't escape.
Mom and Dad's room was right around the corner from ours and Nathan's was down the hall. There was a rickety old staircase that led downstairs. It was a comfortable house, with a living room, dining room, and kitchen. A beautiful back porch that led to the backyard where there was a hammock, an acre of land that we all used to brag about, and a tree house in the weeping willow down the drive next to the garage. By the looks of it everything was perfect — normal, exactly as designed. We looked and told ourselves that we were the perfect American family, and no one argued. Why would they?
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