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How to Do the Twist
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Winter 1997
How to Do the Twist
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The day after she took us to see A Hole in the Head, Mother went crazy. Still, she was a swell dancer.

By Jamie Callan M.F.A. '91
Illustrations by Amy Butler

Mother couldn't cope with reality, but she sure knew how to dance. My mother had a twist dress. It was black and had rows and rows of silk fringe all the way from her bosom to her knees. She and my brother, Johnny, would do the twist in our Connecticut kitchen on weekday afternoons. They would talk about Chubby Checker with great authority. I was 8, and he was 12. He had a paper route and a job shoveling snow in the winter, and he saved up for a record player that could run at three different speeds 33, 45 and 78 rpms. When no one was around, I snuck into his room and played my grandfather's Cab Calloway 78s. I didn't know how to twist. Everyone said it was just like crushing out a cigarette. It was that easy. But I didn't smoke, so I didn't think I would ever be able to learn.

In the spring of 1962 my mother had a nervous breakdown. It happened the night after she took us to the drive-in to see Frank Sinatra in A Hole in the Head. Mother didn't like the movie. The next day she was supposed to take me and my brother to the beach, but instead she went crazy. We loaded into the car and when she backed out of the driveway, she accidentally ran over her Siamese cat. Then she zoomed up Ledge Lane running down every other mailbox. We -- and the car -- ended up in a pond near Belltown Road.

An ambulance came and took us all to the hospital. My mother and brother were unconscious, so the paramedics had to ask me all the questions. I lay on the emergency room table and stared up at the huge light above me. It was as big as the sun. I pretended I was at the beach. I pretended that we'd never run over my mother's cat, that we were safe on the sand, the ocean breathing long sighs into our ears.

Then there was light shining directly in my eyes and a voice shouting, "Andrea, wake up. Are you awake?"

I wasn't awake.

"Andrea, wake up."


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