When the Ed Norton t-shirt first went over my head, a cold sweat rolled down my neck. The second time, the ear ringing let up. The third time, the room stopped spinning altogether.
Finally. My Inner Norton was healed.
Go ahead. Test me. Ask me if Ed Norton is my father. Ask me the way that snotty, horrible Brian What’s-his-name did for 213 days straight in third grade.
While you’re at it, inquire about Trixie. Ask if she’s my mother, or if Ralph Kramden lives downstairs. Ask over and over, like “The Honeymooners’’ reruns that plagued my boomer childhood.
It’s OK. I am beyond the pain.
There are no more nightmares of fat men in bus uniforms chasing me while I yell: “Heey, Ralphie Boy!’’
And I am over the trauma of repeating day in and day out:
“Ed Norton is NOT my father. Trixie is NOT my mother. I’ve NEVER been in the sewer.’’ I said those words more than the Pledge of Allegiance or my secret daily prayer: “Dear God, please give me a dad with a name like Ricky Ricardo or even Soupy Sales. As long as he works aboveground.’’
No answer. No new name. We stayed Nortons. Like the guy in the sewer.
I’m better now. Really. Though I cannot speak for my sister Tricia. She was called “Trixie’’ every single day of her life.
Oh, she laughed with her classmates. But she could never explain how her yearbook was mysteriously run over with a car or why it had slash marks. Later, she met a guy whose last name trips you up with three “R’s’’ among its seven letters.
“I’ll take it,’’ she said without skipping a beat and marched down the aisle.
She’s never confronted her Norton-ness. Never been able to buy a t-shirt like mine.
That shirt shows the outer world that my Inner Norton is no longer afraid of hearing, “First you address the ball. Hello, ball!’’
I found the Ed Norton shirt on a tacky vendor cart in Las Vegas. (You were expecting Paris?)
A whisper filled the crisp night air inside the convention center.
“To the moon!’’ the demons said.
But I fought back. I got the shirt and in time, Ed and I could go out in public.
Just recently, my daughter saw the shirt for the first time. For all she knew, Ed Norton was just another “unusual’’ relative.
“Who IS that?’’ she asked.
I explained the Ed Norton thing and she looked at me like I was nuts.
It’s OK. My Inner Norton can take it. I still can’t cross a street near a manhole.
But I’m getting there.