Happy: A Memoir

Happy: A Memoir

by Alex Lemon


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His freshman year of college, Alex Lemon was supposed to be the star catcher on the Macalester College baseball team. He was the boy getting every girl, the hard-partying kid everyone called Happy. In the spring of 1997, he had his first stroke. For two years Lemon coped with his deteriorating health by sinking deeper into alcohol and drug abuse. His charming and carefree exterior masked his self-destructive and sometimes cruel behavior as he endured two more brain bleeds and a crippling depression. After undergoing brain surgery, he is nursed back to health by his free-spirited artist mother, who once again teaches him to stand on his own.

Alive with unexpected humor and sensuality, Happy is a hypnotic self-portrait of a young man confronting the wreckage of his own body; it is also the deeply moving story of a mother’s redemptive and healing powers. Alex Lemon’s Technicolor sentences pop and sing as he writes about survival—of the body and of the human spirit.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781416550259
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 10/12/2010
Pages: 292
Product dimensions: 5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Alex Lemon was born in Iowa, and lives in Ft. Worth, Texas. He is the author of two collections of poetry, Mosquito (Tin House Books) and Hallelujah Blackout (Milkweed Editions), and is the recipient of a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Read an Excerpt


March 1997, Macalester College

The world whirls when I crack open. Bookshelf, poster board, the windows wink their eyes. The digital clock is a red blur. Every light pulses yelloworange and brilliant, and the TV is a blue splash.

When I stand, the dorm room spins and I tip, slamming my chin into the bed frame. My temple rocks off of the cinder-block wall and I crash back to the mattress. The first pounding breath is Good morning you asshole and my insides rubberband.

Woozy and flushed, I thrash through the bedcovers while the cave of my room rolls. I lip-smack away the bloody taste in my mouth. The more I struggle to focus, the more my vision twirls. I'm hazy faced. I'm fucked.

The bedsprings shriek when I slide off the mattress, and planting my feet in a heap of clothes, I rise for a second, and then go facedown. I gnarl the insides of my cheeks and bite my tongue. Rolling to my back, I gulp the blood down so I don't choke.

"SHIT. SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIT!" I yell, laughing. This is a dream; I'm the first man on Mars. "Jesus Christ, man! I'm down! MAN DOWN! Did you see that, Brad?" I look around the spinning dorm for my roommate. "I'm a fucking mess. A mess, man, a mess!" The floor is covered in moldy T-shirts and socks. "I'm like fuckin' Gumby down here." I try to slow my breath. "Hey, Brad. How 'bout a hand? Yo, Brad?"

Lying in the dust balls, I bark for help.

I try to get up again, and smash into the wooden legs of Brad's bed, and fall back down. Each time I rise a giant fist knocks the wind out of me. Sitting on my knees, my head is all clatter and thud. I rock feebly from side to side. I go facedown on the warm slick floor.

I swish bloody acid between the gaps in my teeth and swallow back a mouthful of puke. Blood-fur covers my tongue. The computer monitor quakes when I finally make it up. I cover my head with a wet towel but nothing blunts out the throbbing. Half of my face is numb.

I must have drunk a bottle of Drano last night, snorted a bag of glass, and leapt open-armed from the top of the stairs. A tree. A roof. The moon.

There is a warm beer on my desk and more in the fridge. A bunch of Vicodin in the drawer. I pop a handful of pills and chug. With my eyes half-shut, I watch students milling around outside.

"Happy! Hurry the fuck up." The shaking door startles me. "Happy, let's go!"

I've been staring out the window all day, watching campus beehive into spring while Sam Cooke sings the same songs over and over on my stereo. Hours ago, Brad came in and grabbed his backpack. My sketchbook was open in my lap but I hadn't drawn anything, only rubbed my hands with oil pastels and fingerprinted the paper. I grinned at him, said I wasn't going to class, that I had another sore throat, the crud, and then slapped myself. He laughed when I gave him the thumbs-up. I couldn't feel my body.

"Yo!" Someone kicks the door again, and I realize the light I've been watching clamor through the oaks has nearly vanished.

"It's time for practice, Happy!" The door jolts. "Let's go, you pussy."

"Happy. Get a move on!" It's a different voice. The doorknob turns. "Move, man! Let's go, Chet!"

My head is so fuzzy, a minute passes before I figure out they're yelling at me. I'm still not used to these new nicknames — my girlfriend and Casey and Brad are the only people who call me by my real name. Some of my teammates started calling me Chet after Chet Lemon, an outfielder who used to play for the Detroit Tigers. Everyone else, even people I don't know, calls me Happy. Happy, Happy, Happy.

"I'm going I'm going, you fuck-O's!" The words mash in my mouth. A Chet Lemon baseball card is pushpinned above my desk. I woke one morning last week, whipped my pockets inside out, and a cooked chicken breast and the Chet Lemon baseball card fell out. Happy was written in Sharpie up and down my arms. My hands were flayed. They looked like they'd been dipped in blood.

"Just a second, guys." I swallow a handful of amphetamines to get my heart going for practice. The door shakes and there's more shouting. I fall again putting my sweatpants on, then clamber up and grab my baseball gear. "One goddamn second!"

Dizzy and Brian and Justin are in the hallway when I open the door. Justin looks angry. I flutter-wave my fingers like a parade queen but no one laughs. Brian throws a baseball into his mitt. "Ready to go, Hap?" Dizzy asks.

"Yeah, sorry. Taking a nap," I say. All of the warping noise is giving me a headache. It feels like I've been asleep for weeks. I force a grin.

"We gotta go. Now!" Justin shouts, loping down the hall.

"Shit, Chester," Brian yips over his shoulder. "We're gonna be late 'cause of you. Coach will be pissed."

Each baseball booms; they carom off of my catcher's mitt and pummel my forearms and chest protector. My mouth fills with bloody spit after I drop to block a curveball and it shoots up into my face — the mask tears away, burning my chin. Two pitches later, a fastball bounces in front of me and I take it in the ear.

"What kinda lipstick you wearing today?" Tree yells. "Little fuckin' bitch!" He kicks the fake mound. "Shit!" The shout echoes through the Field House. "Who is this fuckin' guy?"

"Fuck you," I say under my breath. "Eat shit. Blow me. Suck a fatty. Die, asshole."

I'm used to being the best. A sweet music usually floods me when I play baseball — my body whirs smoothly, perfectly, when I sprint around the diamond. Gripping the bat, I am wielding lightning. I caress my mitt's leathery pocket and can feel my heartbeat. It is all a part of me. It is all mine.

But right now it feels like I'm filled with asphalt. I can't see.

Tree raises his arms above his head; lifts his left leg into himself, where it hovers for a millisecond; then pushes off of the pitching rubber and thrusts himself toward the plate, whipping the baseball at me with his right arm. I poke the mitt out at his pitches, stabbing at balls, and some ricochet away, blasting off of the concrete wall, but most of them burrow into me.

Justin and Ronnie — two of the other catchers — keep shooting me looks. "What the fuck is wrong with you, Chet? Happy forget how to catch a baseball? Let's go, man."

"Yo, Happy, you OK?"

I try to slap feeling back into my forearms and hands, and then gaze into my mitt. After twisting the laces, I put one of the strings in my mouth, yank it tight, and punch my fist into the leather pocket.

"It's all good," I tell Ronnie, but it feels like my veins are filled with Icy Hot. "Little sweat in my eyes."

"Well, let's go then, playboy," Ronnie laughs. "Happy time." He flips a ball to me but I miss it and it bounces away.

Coach tells me to take a breather so I go to the end of the Field House and sit on a bench. The gym floor is dizzying with colored lines; when we ran wind sprints I thought I was going to tumble headfirst and throw up. I put down as much water as I can and spray the bottle over me. When I lean over the trash can and spit, the ruby phlegm is as thick as yarn. I drop my skullcap over my face and stare into the foam so I don't get the spins. My head is all fucked up. For the rest of practice I listen to my teammates' tinny shouts, the pierce and crack of baseballs and bats and gloves.

"Happy, you coming over tonight?" Rick tips an imaginary bottle to his mouth and then yeeeeaaaahhs, refreshed. Everyone in the locker room laughs. "You know you want to," he says. "See you at nine."

"Don't know, man. I got a ton of shit to do before spring break."

"WHAT? This is college, Happy. You got nothing better to do," he laughs. "We'll sit around doing econometrics. Nothing better to do."

"Nuthin' at all!" Tom stands in front of the lockers buck naked, helicoptering a towel over his head. "Nothing at aaaalllllll!" he groans. His voice goes deep, and then he croons, "Eeeeeeconomeeeeeetriiiiiiiiiics!!"

"You're a young buck, Happy," Tree says dully. "You'll learn. Put your Marx in your back pocket, wherever you wake up tomorrow, you'll know it all. Assmosis, my young man."

"Not sure, fellas. Feeling kinda fucked up." I try to laugh, but I have to put my head down and close my eyes. "Got a cold coming on. The flu. Couldn't see nuthin' out there."

"Didn't look like it." Tree laughs sarcastically. "You gotta man up, little bitch!"

"A bad day, Hap," Tom says. "Just don't do it again."

"Shit, you don't need to see anything to have a little fun." Tree saunters through the locker room. "You can feel your way home. All those first-year girls. All those Miss Luckies! Oh, to be young again!" He walks by and shoves me. "Come on, Happy. Come ooooooowwwwn, little bitch!"

Ronnie lifts his fingertips to his lips and inhales. "Who's gonna be the bad guy tonight, Happy? You? You gonna be the bad guy!" He flicks the fantasy joint to the floor and sashays toward the showers. "You want to be the bad guy."

"You're always the fucking bad guy, man," I laugh. "I was playing. Course I'm coming over. Someone get me some gin and a case of bottles at Park."

I'm cradling my head when Django slides out of the shower and fucks the air. He sings high-pitched and dances the cabbage patch, then the running man. He karate-chops the steam. Someone calls him an Ichabod Crane-looking motherfucker.

Copyright © 2010 by Alex Lemon

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