Mother’s Letter to Sound Mental Health

As a foreword let me simply state that mother has never
listened to the song she testifies to.  There are some errors of fact
in her letter and I obviously disagree with her conclusions, and
interpretation.  It is to some extent a crisis of care, but I think it
can be resolved just by not being argumentative about it.  A lot of
people see it the way she does.  She is a witness who does not really
understand what was going on.

Enjoy,
Mac

Too bad I lost all the stuff I wrote earlier.  I’ll try to get this
off to you intact, although it won’t be as complete as the earlier
writing.

I think Jim was always a bit fearful and a bit dreamy, although he was
generally a cheerful and affectionate child.  As a toddler, he would
sit under the dining room table and behind the couch and suck his
thumb.  At nursery school, he sat under the grand piano and watched
the others, smiling and seeming to be happy however.  There were
events that seemed to impact him strongly at the time, including the
Kennedy assassination, and since I was always active in anti-war and
civil rights activities, he was aware of events even in the early
60’s.  Other deaths, in the family, made him seem to be more aware and
questioning about death than most children are.

Jim also had many ear infections and once a ruptured ear drum, so I
had his hear hearing checked when a toddler.  All seemed normal, and I
decided he had a “listening” rather than a hearing problem.
His father opted out of our lives when Jim was 5 and had little
contact with him even when living nearby, although that contact was
genial.  There is a history of mental illness in that family that I
could be more specific about if that would be helpful.

Somewhere in about 6th grade, Jim was occasionally truant and became
increasingly moody during the next couple of years.  I was working
some 70 hours a week and had no support system.  Single parents and
working mothers were still an anomaly.  There was no free nor low
coast mental health service available, and my insurance did not cover
the more expensive kind, but I did scrape together enough to get his
older sister, 14 when he was 11, some sessions with a psychiatrist.
This was the early 70s and problems with drugs were everywhere.  By
the way, after years of counseling, his sister finally was persuaded
to try Zoloft a few years ago and has found her life transformed.  Not
only are the depressions gone, but so is the deep, deep anger that she
had battled for so long.
When he was 11, a school test turned up a severe hearing loss, and he
underwent the first of two operations to put tubes in his ears for
middle ear problems.  I mention this because I think everything got
muddled in his head at this time with his ears, especially when the
cover of a group that he later had contact with whom he was musically
obsessed with, King Crimson, had an image of an ear with a spike
driven into it and song entitled, “21st Century Schizoid Man.”

I distrusted some of Jim’s new friends at this time, but he was never
a child who really took words of caution seriously – went out on the
roof, crossed the street, and so one even though told not to.  I did
not learn until much later any details of how he became terrified by
them, but I do believe that drugs, sex, and stealing cars were part of
what was used to terrorize him.  The names most associated with these
times are the Kasperowskis, maybe a Mark Mancini, and occasionally
others who lived in the neighborhood.  Because of his intense fears, I
sold a house in one neighborhood and moved to rent in another one
before he started high school.

Let me just characterize the next few years as troubled and troubling
for us all.  Not a happy time for any of us.  During this time, Jim’s
hearing was deteriorating and I suspected his problems were very
serious, but the clinic to which I took him at Western Psychiatric
characterized him as a normal, rebellious adolescent and me as a
mother who was probably causing the problems.

Jim worked in the Falk Medical Library at Pitt as the news came out
about AIDS.  He quit the job.  While on the job, he had also managed
to get a regular column published in the Pitt News although he was not
a student.  The writing was very political and vehement and often
aroused ire in those on the other side of the political spectrum.  He
was also invited to write one column for the local daily newspaper and
often had letters published there as well.  He was indeed a prolific
writer, but I was uncomfortable with the fact that much writing was
also on little scraps of paper and even on his bedroom walls.

Jim did indeed meet Robert Fripp and spent a week at a workshop in
West Virginia at some kind of school Fripp had there, an offshoot of a
Gurdjieff sort I think.  He had a correspondence with him but was shut
off, I think, when the letters became bizarre and accusatory.  It may
have been there that Jim met Will Zell, who also is mentioned in his
current writings.  Will persuaded him to go up to Bar Harbor, Maine,
in the late 80’s.  I’m not sure what all happened there.  He did some
stringer writing for local papers while working in a pizza shop, met a
lovely young woman about whom he has never been paranoid (others, yes,
and details about them can be provided another time), and may have
been frightened by some Earth First people.  Shortly after he left
Maine for Montana, with Kathy, a biological research lab in Bar Harbor
was destroyed by arson, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if some of
the people Jim met and began to fear had been involved.  This is also
when he became convinced he had been targeted for AIDS.

I’m not sure when Jim started his correspondence with Peter Gabriel,
but I know he got postcards from Gabriel before and during the time he
was in Maine.  I also know he had letters from Gabriel’s assistant, an
Amanda Harcourt.  And I wouldn’t be surprised if Gabriel really did
use some of Jim’s own words in some of his lyrics, as Jim claims.  I
don’t know when he started a correspondence with Vaclav Havel, but it
was after he was elected President of the Czech Republic.  He also
wrote to and had letters from Martha Gellhorn, Lewis Lapham and other.
His later letters may have presented himself as an AIDS victim, but
they were definitely more coherent than his writing would become or he
would not have received the responses he did.  (By the way, he had
taken a cross-country trek with a group of Carnegie Mellon students in
the mid-80s and encountered his first AIDS victims in San Francisco at
that time.  He immediately left the group and came home.  A letter to
me from one of the young women among them, who wrote about money he
owed, had a line I will never forget:  “I hope I never have a son like
him.”)

I received a letter from him while he was in Montana, after Maine,
that was very paranoid, and I was not even more sure he had a mental
illness.  I called immediately, but he sounded just fine.  This was
the pattern that seemed to have developed over the years.  A paranoid
letter or postcard to someone, but then a seemingly okay person when
talked to.  I read whatever I could about mental illness, but he just
didn’t seem to fit any pattern I found.  When he came back to
Pittsburgh in 1991, he went to work in the library at the community
college where John and I worked.  When the Oliver Stone JFK movie came
out, he became an absolute expert on that assassination.  His
obsession with the John Lennon assassination and his belief that he
had secret information about that came later, as did his belief that
my husband, whose initials are also JL, was somehow involved.  I can
write another time about the Gail Burstine letters that somehow
contained the info he has been trying to get out for years.

We were in California teaching in 1992-93, and during that time things
really went downhill for Jim.  He had somehow managed to get a regular
column in an underground student newspaper at Carnegie-Mellon, who
seemed to be willing to publish anything he wrote, no matter how
bizarre.  And, believe it or not, I believe that at CMU he did become
privy to a lot of drug info – and Jim is very, very anti-drug – and
that he was set up with a prostitute and pictures were taken, with
which he was indeed threatened.  He often refers to this in his
writings.

Oh, gosh, I’m getting depressed just thinking about this stuff.  Let
me start pulling this to a close.  There is a lot of truth in the mess
of what he writes, but it’s all put together in ways that are clearly
delusional.  A final example.  George W.B. Bush was indeed an airforce
pilot on the aircraft carrier on which Jim’s father served in WWII.
Jim found this out during some internet research.  I think he wrote
Bush, got a reply, and then probably sent him one of his delusional
missives.  That’s what has seemed to happen with people like Coretta
Scott King and Oliver Stone.  I think he may have had detectives
investigate him.  I know the FBI and Secret Service have, because I
and people I know have been contacted.  One thing leads to another.
And pretty soon he is reinforced in his beliefs that he is the target
of some vast conspiracy.

Jim is very resistant to medication.  I recently read Xavier
Armador’s, “I’m Not Sick, I Don’t Need Help” and sure recognized my
son.  But he is very much in need of both medication and therapy.  And
he wants and needs the kind of support he is finding there in Seattle.
Generally, he is hostile to his family, except sometimes me, to whom
he does feel close even though he is very angry at me much of the
time, and has driven off friends, most of whom weren’t of much help
anyhow.  My dear husband, who tried for over 20 years to be there for
him as his own father had never been, has just washed his hands of the
whole thing since Jim has hurt him deeply in his belief that John is a
prime instigator of much of the plots against him.  And since Jim
actually succeeded in suing one of our good friends, who had
befriended him when he was taking classes at the college, (a suit
immediately denied by the panel who heard his claims, of course) when
Jim threatened to sue his step-brother, David, who is part of the
Hollywood, “plot”, David being a sound engineer at 20th Century Fox,
John became very angry as well.  Jim is very alone.  Very isolated.
He is also a creative and affectionate person.  In fact, I have to say
that if “schizophrenia” actually did mean a split personality, the
term might seem to apply.  And I think he feels this too.  One of the
things he was writing when he was accepted to the Governor’s School
for creative and performing arts in 1978 was “The Heaven and Hell
Odyssey,” which I think was partly autobiographical.

Well, we never really give up hope, do we.

Thanks for being there,

Nancy

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