Excerpt of Never Have Your Dog Stuffed by Alan Alda
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DONT NOTICE ANYTHING
My mother didnt try to stab my father until I was six, but she must have shown
signs of oddness before that. Her detached gaze, the secret smile. Something.
We were living in a two-room apartment over the dance floor of a nightclub. My
father was performing in the show that played below us every night. We could
hear the musical numbers through the floorboards, and we had heard the closing
number at midnight. My father should have come back from work hours ago.
My mother had asked me to stay up with her. She was lonely. We played gin rummy
as the band below us played Brazil and couples danced through the haze of
booze and cigarette smoke late into the night.
Finally, he came in. She jumped up, furious. Where have you been? she
screamed. Even at the age of six, I could understand her anger. He worked with
half-naked women and came home late. It wasnt crazy to be suspicious.
She told him she knew he was sleeping with someone. He denied it. You are! she
screamed. He denied it again, this time impatiently.
You son of a bitch! she said. She picked up a paring knife and lunged at him,
trying to plunge it into his face. This was crazy.
He caught her by the wrist. Whats the matter with you?
They struggled over the knife as I pleaded with them to stop. When he forced her
to drop it, I picked up the knife and rammed it point first into the table so it
couldnt be used again.
A few weeks later, the three of us were at the small table by the kitchenette,
I was playing with the knives and forks in the silverware tray. I found a paring
knife with a bent point and I looked up at my mother: Remember when I stuck the
knife in the table?
When you wanted to stab Daddy?
She smiled. Dont be silly. I never did that. I love Daddy. You just imagined
that. She laughed a lighthearted but deliberate laugh. I looked over at my
father, who looked away and said nothing.
I knew what I saw, but I wasnt supposed to speak about it. I didnt understand
why. I didnt understand how this worked yet.
Gradually, I came to learn that not speaking about things is how we operated.
When we would visit another family, my mother was afraid I might embarrass them
by calling attention to something like dust balls or carpet stains. As we stood
at the door, waiting for them to answer our knock, she would turn to me,
completely serious, and say, Dont notice anything.
We had a strange list of things you didnt notice or talk about. The night the
country was voting on Roosevelts fourth term, my father came back from the
local schoolhouse and I asked him whom hed voted for. Well, he said with a
little smile, we have a secret ballot in this country. I didnt ask him again,
because I could see it was one of the things you dont talk about, but I
couldnt figure out why there was a law against telling your children how you
One thing we never talked about was mental illness. The words were never spoken
between my father and me. This wasnt the policy just in our own family. At that
time, mental illness was more like a curse than a disease, and it was shameful
for the whole family to admit it existed. Somehow it would discredit your
parents, your cousins, and everyone close to you. You just kept quiet about it.
How much easier it could have been for my father and me to face her illness
together; to compare notes, to figure out strategies. Instead, each of us was on
his own. And I alternated between thinking her behavior was his fault and
thinking it was mine. Once I learned there was such a thing as sin and I entered
adolescence and came across a sin I really liked, I began to be convinced that
my sins actually caused her destructive episodes. They appeared to coincide.
This wasnt entirely illogical, because they both tended to occur every day. I
was convinced I held a magic wand that could damage the entire household.
Excerpted from Never Have Your Dog Stuffed
by Alan Alda Copyright © 2005 by Alan Alda. Excerpted by permission of Random
House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this
excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the