Aetiologia (ae-ti-o-log’-i-a): A figure of reasoning by which one attributes a cause for a statement or claim made, often as a simple relative clause of explanation.

Ever since I was 11 I’ve done everything I can to stop being crazy, because I had done a lot of crazy things. When I was 12, I put lighter fluid on my hand and lit it. I put it out in a bucket of water and decided that I would light it on fire again the next day when I was on the school bus. I could wave goodbye to Mom out the bus window with a flaming hand. So, I lit my hand. The lighter fluid had dripped down my shirt sleeve and started my shirt on fire. The bus driver heard all the kids screaming “Joey’s on fire” and ran to the back of the bus, and put me out with the bus’s fire extinguisher. I wasn’t badly burned, but I was suspended from school for one week for “distracting the bus driver.” I was also put into counseling with Dr. Brander. We would sit there for ten minutes and she’d suddenly ask “Do you want to light yourself on fire?” I would aways say “Yes” and squirm around in my chair. She would say “Hmmm” and write something down on her notepad. After another ten minutes, she would ask if I wet my bed. I would say “No, but sometimes I wet my sister’s bed right before dinner.” Dr. Brander would say “Hmmm” and write something on her notepad. One day she asked me if I wanted to torture the mailman and crush his skull with a sledge hammer. That was crazy, and I said so. Dr. Brander smiled and had me meet for 2 hours, on her orders, with the mailman to affirm to his satisfaction that I would never torture and kill him. Me and the mailman thought it was really funny, but he was being paid to meet with me, so he did it. While we were sitting there, he told me how infuriated he would become when he had to redeliver a letter marked “Return to Sender.” He never told me why it made him so mad, but sometimes he would pull letters out of his mail pouch that he hadn’t delivered yet, and tear them into little pieces while he would say “Return to asshole.” I didn’t know what an “asshole” was. He said “It’s the place your poop comes out.” I said “Oh, but how can you call a whole person an asshole?” He said, “Shut up you little asshole. Ask Dr. Brander.” I was eventually cleared by Dr. Brander and returned to school. Her advice was “Get a grip Joey.” When I got back to school, everybody called me “Pyro” and the older students held up their lit cigarette lighters and everybody applauded and cheered. It made me happy, like I was a celebrity.

There are countless additional episodes I could cite. For example, when I was 16, I threw a rock at the back window of my father’s car. It was a hot day and the window exploded outward, scattering glass all over the driveway. I called what I did an “experiment” to make it sound scientific. My father tied me to a tree in our back yard and said he was going to crash the car into me as punishment. Dad gunned the engine of his 1952 Dodge, popped the clutch and came roaring at me. At the last minute he swerved around the tree, but he smashed into the side of our garage, putting a hole in it and totaling his Dodge. This was pre-seatbelts, so his face hit the windshield and looked like a giant raw hamburger as he ran around the yard yelling “You little asshole. Come back here.” I was tied to a tree! He must’ve been delirious. Mom untied me and I went inside and hid under my bed. Dad had back problems and had trouble bending over, so ‘under the bed’ was a safe haven.

For a number of years now, my life has smoothed out. There are modern-day drugs that keep me under control. I think Dr. Brander and all the others who tried, and who were sincere, can’t beat drugs to wipe out the weirdness. The only time I have a problem now, is when I forget to take my drugs. I get manic without them. Last time I forgot, I drove from Syracuse, NY to Jackson Hole, WY with the goal of killing a couple of Buffalo, and joining the Arapaho Tribe. When I got there, I thought I was ordering a pizza, but I called home by accident and talked to my wife. She sent my drugs via FEDEX. I took them and returned to normal. Now, I have my own business where I use the skill I learned during my brief sojourn at Upstate Hospital. I knit bowling ball bags, steering wheel covers, litter box scoops, and doo rags. Some day, I hope to knit a statue of Jodie Foster.

Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (

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