(Preface)

cropped-schizo-pic1.jpg

When I was a boy and my father would pick up my brother and I for weekend visits, it occurred to me after a while that his behavior was quite a bit different from that of a typical adult.

He was content to walk up, down and around the corridors of our small-town shopping mall as Aaron and I grabbed whatever cash he handed to us and ran around to various stores, searching for the latest action figures, Lego sets, or cheap but cool-looking clothes. He could sit and observe the steady flow of the water fountain in the mall’s center for hours, placidly sipping on his iced tea, watching the passersby, and chatting with the occasional acquaintance.

We would stay overnight with him in his small, ramshackle apartment, and only much later on did I wonder why it was that he never searched for a new job so he could live somewhere nicer, or at least a little bit larger.

Schizophrenia was the reason why. It took a while, but I eventually realized that it would’ve been hard for him to focus on finding a job when he was dealing with the voices that spoke to him in his head. Voices from people far away from him, from people he once knew, from celebrities he saw on television. Voices from people who may already have been dead.

This story is about my father and the experiences that led to his descent into schizophrenia, the disease that drove him through bizarre and nightmarish personal realities, but which also helped to shape and define his abstract personality throughout the course of his life.

But this story is also about my brother Aaron, who ended up reflecting more of our father’s disorder than I have, or so it seems to me at this point anyhow. And some of our more recent correspondence, I believe, demonstrates that.


Chapter 8: New Environments

“Scientists have long known that schizophrenia runs in families. The illness occurs in 1 percent of the general population, but it occurs in 10 percent of people who have a first-degree relative with the disorder, such as a parent, brother, or sister.”
– National Institute of Mental Health


3-4-14
Adam,
Hey Bro. I was just outside and the weather was beautiful. The sky was blue, the sun was shining. It was a little cold but there wasn’t any wind. My friend and I just walked around the courtyard soaking up the sunshine. After a while, you couldn’t even feel the cold. We’ll be getting outside more and more now. Helps improve the mood if you know what I mean.
So yes, the part of that you sent me recently is some of your best writing yet. Even though it’s the darkest part of the story, you really do a great job of transporting the reader into Randy’s mind. Even as disturbing as it is. I thought it was cool toward the end when Randy hears Black Sabbath. I like how you quote Ozzy’s lyrics as you describe the thoughts and feelings that Randy is having after it all, and when he’s alone. You did an awesome job writing your way through that part. Excellent.
Speaking of writing, here’s a poem I wrote:

KILL THE LIGHTS
You’re the one I wanted but now you’re gone,
and among other things dreams
were ruined and forgotten.
And now I’m alone and the moon is dead,
be thankful for the shadows
where it’s dark and broken.
(Another memory has infected me,
I want nothing to remember,
Kill the lights, let me be.)
In this world I’ll never find you again,
like a diamond sinking
to the bottom of the ocean.
And now I’m alone and the sky is black,
be thankful for the stars
and their sacred positions.
(Another memory has infected me,
I want nothing to remember,
Kill the lights, let me be.)

Well, there ya go, my first bonafide Prison Poem. Maybe more like a song because I have guitar music that I play for it. Go ahead and type it up!
Yeeeee-Haaaaa! Don’t forget to take out yer dentures, baby. The false teeth – just a bunch of lies. I knew a guy w/false teeth who told a lot of lies.
Anyway Bro, I’m just kind of doodling here. So maybe I should get this in the mail. Kind of got a little silly back there. It’s alright though. We’re brothers. And being brothers we can joke around and have a good time.
Well, the day is over with and I’m back in my cell writing this at my desk. Actually I’m sitting on my bunk. They dim the lights at night and everything seems more relaxed now. I look forward to this time of night. It’s almost as if my cell becomes a sanctuary.
I miss you bro and I’m looking forward to when you and Atty visit again. Tell him and Brittany “hi” for me. Have a good night and we’ll see you soon.
Love,
Your Bro, Aaron Harris

—————

3-28-14
Aaron,
Atty and I had a great time seeing you as always! It’s funny – my new glasses set off the metal detector so I need to take them off to get in; my old titanium frames never set it off – go figure.
Good to hear you’re getting outside regularly again – always feels nice to soak up some Vitamin D after a long winter. I’ve got out biking some despite Old Man Winter’s dying last gasp, and this weekend’s looking stellar weather-wise. Last Saturday I rode with some friends to Hills and back, like 20 miles in 30-degree weather. Going out was a breeze, but riding back into those 15-mph northwest winds was a bitch! Also, I bought Atticus a new, bigger hybrid bike, and he went on a 5-mile ride with me last Friday when the weather was a bit more decent.
Thanks for your input on the writing. Some of it was a bit tough for sure; I think I ended up listening to that Sabbath song about 10 times to try to figure out what Dad’s thought process must’ve been like at that point in time. It’s intriguing to revisit his entire story on a much closer and deeper level though.
I love your “first bonafide prison poem” – ha! – “Kill the Lights.” It’s a very poetic song; I love music in which the lyrics play a central role. “… like a diamond sinking to the bottom of the ocean” strikes a magnificent chord of despondent beauty. We gotta figure out some way for you to record a song … or maybe you can recite it while strumming air guitar on my next visit? OK, now I’m getting goofy.
Speaking of visits, I’m planning to come see you again within the next week or so, and Drea told me she was on your list now and plans to visit during her Davenport vacation, so woo-hoo! I always look forward to seeing you, man.

Self-portrait
And hey, I adored the self-portrait you drew in your letter – beautiful! It’s fantastic to see your creative side rearing its lovely head again. Keep it up! A little creative outlet can go a long way, eh?
So I’ve finally kicked out a few more pages, and here they are …
________________

The only motive Randy could fathom for Jones’ actions was the simple fact that he had laughed while standing in front of everyone with his camouflage-painted face. He hadn’t meant to hurt anyone by laughing at the situation; hell, a lot of other recruits had laughed, too. But somehow it had upset Jones bad enough that he had sought revenge.
The rest of Randy’s watch went by quickly. All he could think about was getting some sleep, and that his exodus from basic training wasn’t too far off. He felt completely mentally drained, and once he was finally relieved of his duty, he stumbled straight to his bed, more than ready for the escape from reality that sleep would provide.
—–
Everything seemed close to normal the next morning. The sun was shining outside and everyone seemed upbeat; it was almost as if nothing terrible had happened the night before.
He had K.P. duty that day, and working amid the hustle and bustle of the kitchen kept his body and mind busy. Music drifted in from the mess hall …
“Don’t you know that it’s true,
“That for me and for you,
“The world is a ghetto.”
The song’s theme rang true to him at that moment, reflecting what life had been showing him. Some of his black coworkers usually gave him a hard time, just joking around in the kitchen, but today they all seemed to be working together in harmony.


—–
He was lucky enough to not run across Jones again for the next few days, and he only saw John Brown once and from a distance. Going through his regular daily routines helped him keep all the bad shit out of his head, and everything felt better the more he kept the memories of that fucked-up night shoved into a back corner closet of his mind.
—–
On their final day of basic training, the recruits found out what their future held for them.
They stood in small units of formation in front of a stage flanked by flags, and their sergeant told them one-by-one what they had accomplished and where they were headed.
As the sergeant officially promoted Randy from Private E-1 to Private E-2 status, he felt damn proud of himself.
“You also made Marksman on the rifle range: Congratulations Private Harris,” the sergeant said, looking straight at him. “Good luck.”
A huge sense of relief passed over him; he had done it! Basic and all of its crappy inherent drama was done with … he was ready to move ahead, straight forward into whatever direction life was about to lead him.
While wandering through the crowd, he crossed paths with one of his closer friends from his company, Thornton. A soulful young man from the deep South, Thornton had carried some sort of Bible around at all times – he owned a variety of sizes – and was always preaching to everyone in his path. He and Randy had bonded quite a bit, engaging in the occasional intense disussion about religion, Jesus and life in general.
“Hey man, how are ya?” Randy asked, eyes gleaming.
“Oh, I could be better,” said Thornton, clutching a hand-sized Bible low on his left side.
They stopped, stepping aside from the stream of cadets headed back to their barracks.
“What’s the matter, didn’t you get promoted?”
Thornton shrugged. “I only made it to E-1, man … I didn’t pass. I guess I didn’t shoot my M-16 straight enough.”
Randy wasn’t sure how to respond … he felt so elated by his own advancement, he hadn’t even realized some guys would be experiencing an opposite end to their basic training.
“Oh. Sorry to hear that, man.” Randy truly felt bad for him, imagining for a moment what it would have been like if he had received the same news.
Thornton raised his eyes and slowly extended his free hand. “I guess it’s a chance for me to beat my sword into a plowshare.”
Randy laughed. “Well, thanks for all the conversations, it was always a pleasure talkin’ with you.”
Thornton managed a slight grin as he said “It was real nice to get to know you, good luck.”
“And good luck to you,” Randy said. “You’ll be just fine, I know.”

What he wanted now more than anything was to Rose again, and as he relaxed in his barracks bed for a final night, he felt ecstatic at the thought of seeing her again soon.
The sergeant had issued Randy his orders, and he was going to be shipped to Fort Rucker, Ala., for two months to be trained as a helicopter mechanic. After that he would be sent to his permanent duty station in Germany. He was all packed up and ready to go.
He figured that as long as he could himself set up with a decent place to live in Fort Rucker, Rose would be able to move in with him.

“That’s great, honey!” Rose said on the phone the next day when he told her the news. “We’re all proud of you here, and I can’t wait to see you again.”
“Me too … I’m really dying to be with you again.”
“Oh, you’re so sweet, Randy.”
He told her about his plans to find them a place in Fort Rucker, and how he wanted her to move to Germany with him after that.
“Yes! That sounds fantastic! We’ll make a great home together – I can’t wait to have our own place.”
“I know,” he said. “It’ll be like we’re finally grownups.”
She laughed. “I’m so ready to get out of Iowa for a change. Alabama’s probably warmer, and Germany … I don’t know what that’s like but I’m sure it’ll be fun.”
“So how does it feel to have a baby growing inside of you?” he asked.
“Oh, it’s so weird, but it feels really good. My stomach’s bulging out now, and I can feel the baby kick just a little bit once in a while.”
“So it’s an active little guy already, huh?” Randy said, grinning.
“Oh yeah, sometimes I can feel it moving around when I’m lying in bed at night. Kind of like what a big piece of bread sloshing around in a bunch of soup might feel like.”
The chatted until Randy noticed it was time for the recruits to load up on the buses. After hanging up, he walked away from the barracks for the last time. As he was loading his bags into the side of the bus, he noticed Jones and a couple of his buddies standing outside of the mess hall about 50 yards away, watching him. When Jones saw him glance their way, he put his right index finger up to this lips, and Randy could almost hear him whisper “Sssshhhh.” He felt the hairs on the back of his neck rise, and couldn’t tell if it was just because he was scared or because he felt pissed as hell and wanted to kill that son-of-a-bitch. He looked away and kept Jones out of his range of vision.
A massive sense of relief washed over him once he sat back in his seat on the bus, leaning heavily into the plush, dark green vinyl cushions. Seeing Jones standing there had rattled him deep inside, but he realized at that moment he would never have to see him again, and now all of this was becoming a part of his past.

After the bus ride and a short taxi trip, Randy was quickly directed to his Army-paid flight out of the Seattle airport. He found his seat, arranged himself and all his stuff, and sat back and relaxed.
When the stewardess came by, he ordered a beer.
“OK, here you go,” she said a few minutes later as she handed it to him. “You look a little younger than most of the Army guys.”
“Yeah … well thanks, that’s nice of you to say.”
He was wearing his Army uniform with its Marksman pin and E-2 stripe, and his official assignment orders were in his front shirt pocket, so he didn’t give a damn about anything. He could drink as much fucking beer as he wanted no matter how old he was.
So he sat back and slowly ordered and drank three or four more, daydreaming about how Rose would be coming to live with him at Fort Rucker, and how they would be starting to build their future together. He drifted on and off after a while, reveling quietly in a beer-buzzed, hazy nap, the lights and colors surrounding him dimming out then back in and out again.
____________

So there we go man. Over and out … I’ll be seeing you within the next week.
Love ya,
-Adam

————

4-19-2014
Dear Adam,
Hey bro, it was great to see you again. Thanks for offering to put some cash on my phone account, the balance is about $12 so whatever you can do soon would be much appreciated.
Also, I was wondering if you could find the book “Out of the Furnace.” I’ve seen the movie previews and they looked good, so I thought it’d be cool to read the book if it exists.
Well Dad just went through the toughest moment in the Army. But now his descent into madness has begun. It’s time for the voices, the paranoia, and the twisted thoughts to take hold of our poor father. (Might sound a little extreme here, I know.) I’m really looking forward to seeing how you develop the mental illness aspect of the following memoirs of our dear father.
I’ve written a couple of new songs. They are more or less hard rock/pop/punk. Here’s the lyrics to “Monstrosity.” Actually, I’m going to write them on a separate page, that way they’ll fit on one side of a sheet.
Hopefully you’ll visit again soon. It’s always good to see you and Atty. Just try being a little more patient with the little guy. I’ve noticed you sort of snap at him when he’s not quite getting something right. That could come back to haunt you, bro. I’m not saying you’re a bad parent. Nobody’s perfect. But I love you and Atty and just want the best Father and Son relationship for you guys. That’s all. You’re a really good father, you work hard to provide for your family, and taking Atty camping is super cool of you.
Well, I hope you like the song.
Love,
Aaron Harris

MONSTROSITY
By Aaron Harris
(Verse 1)
I can’t take it, I don’t want it
I’m not that good, and I don’t wanna be
I’ll just break it, freak out and break it
the gift to destroy was given to me.
You had the sanctuary
the bones, the brains, the bright ideas
then you had him touch the lightning
that brought about the blood and tears.
(Chorus)
A monstrosity, a monstrosity, a monstrosity …
(Verse 2)
Now who’s the fool, I’m wearing the scars
I had some fun, but I got myself burned
I took too many chances, I took them too far
It really didn’t matter, which way I turned.
You had the sanctuary
the bones, the brains, the bright ideas
then you had him touch the lightning
that brought about the blood and tears.
(Chorus)
A monstrosity, a monstrosity, a monstrosity …

————–

6-5-14
Aaron,
Good seeing you last time as always – that Jenga balancing act was about as close as you can get to hanging wooden pieces on air, and the resulting was crash was super satisfying. I should be visiting here again in about a week and a half, I’m thinking Saturday the 14th.
“Out of the Furnace” was written as a screenplay, so no novel option is available. However, thank you much for the recommendation, with such a stellar cast and dark plot, that’s going straight to my movies-to-watch list. If you’re not able to watch it in the near future, I could try to find a copy of the screenplay sometime, or maybe they’ll release it in post-film book form, which seems to be a semi-regular option these days.
Well, I’m sorry to report that I’m still slacking on the follow-up writing. My job has been leaving me physically exhausted, which is both good and bad, and life has been too damn busy in general. Excuses, excuses, right? I’ll be trying to crack the whip on myself here in the next few weeks though and at least kick out half of another chapter or so. We’ll see.
I’m very pleased to hear that you’re writing some music and have the option of burning your creative candle in the art room at Oakdale. “Monstrosity” is certainly dark, but contains some great song lyrics, and I’d love a chance to hear the music that goes with it. Just remember: Even if you’re a bit monstrous, you’ve always been very charming as well; I remember people (Uncle Rick perhaps?) comparing you to Eddie Munster from the Adams Family years ago … hilarious, huh?

Aaron self-portrait
Speaking of your beautiful side, Al sent me a copy of that recent drawing you did, of you (or your alter ego?) playing guitar as a beautiful woman drinks a glass of wine, watching across the cool tiled floor of a strange room. Superb my brother, superb indeed! Like I said, some of art is going on my left calf as a tattoo after my back piece is done. Great to see you making some beautiful art like you always do!
OK, it’s about my bedtime – I’ll send this off tomorrow. Love you bro, take it easy and I’ll see you again soon…
-Adam

———–

6-30-14
Hey bro. Twenty days later I’m writing you back. Time really flies in here.
Thanks for putting some extra cash on my books. I was happy to see that it was there. One of the few joys I have in here is having some money to order coffee and other stuff. You really helped me out.
I’m in the Pickleball League now, where we get paired up with partners. My partner is an Asian guy, and he’s short and quick and has a great serve. Should be fun.
It was great seeing you last time you visited. Albert couldn’t make it that day because he had to work mandatory overtime, so I was especially glad you were there so I could see some family that day.
Hopefully I’ll see you again in a couple of weeks and maybe get a few pages of writing from you soon, too. I’m going to chill out and play some guitar for a while now.
Love you bro,
Aaron

————

6-25-14
Hey brother,
It was a pleasure seeing you again … I hope the upcoming pickle-ball tournament proves to be as entertaining of a spectacle as you’re hoping. Oh the drama, it’s like Oakdale’s miniature, one-day World Cup! It’s cool that you guys have such a funky sport to use as an outlet there, and even though I think you should throw yourself into the big annual faceoff, I’m sure you’ll enjoy sitting back and watching the others battle it out.
It’s great to hear you’re continuing to write songs, and it was sweet hearing you recite/sing a couple of your recent works right there in the visitation room. I enjoyed hearing your story about the song-writing group experience – damn those choir types! I’d be interested to know if your song makes that prison museum cut in the end … it certainly should.
We went on that 60-mile ride in Bettendorf last Saturday with Al and a good group of our bicycling friends. It was a good time, even though I was utterly exhausted from work, plus the fact that I only got about 3 ½ hours of sleep before we drove to the ride that day. We rode out of town into the beautiful green countryside, and stopped at bars in the two small towns on the route. The rolling hills were fun but challenging, and made me realize how I may not be in perfect shape for Ragbrai this year. Good enough shape, for sure, just not great shape … I was worn out, sore and a bit grumpy by the end, but the complimentary food and bevvies provided a soothing wrap up to the day.
All this rain turned our backyard into a small jungle; I tried to mow Sunday, fighting to restart the mower as still-wet grass and clovers bogged it down, only to be forced to retreat as an afternoon thunderstorm let loose. Finally got it mowed today, our first day (other than Saturday) without rain in the last week or so. I took advantage of the sunshine today and had Atty bike 7-8 miles with me out to Terry Trueblood lake and back – he likes to explore the sandy, hilly peninsula there, skipping rocks and such. It was a beautiful, temporary getaway from town and everyday reality.
I sent a check to add some cash to your commissary today; I’ll be adding some to your phone account in a while too, our printer isn’t working now and I need to go print a form off to make that happen, which I’ll do when I go to print this letter. So hopefully that helps, and you’ll be sitting okay.
Well, I’ve eked out a couple more pages finally that I’ll attach here; hopefully I’ll write more soon, though I don’t envision summer being as writing-productive as winter is for me. But we’ll see. Nothing too exciting so far, but feel free to offer any input or ideas …
____________

CHAPTER 6: A NEW BEGINNING
Randy was still feeling pretty damn good when they landed in Dothens, Ala. A blast of hot, humid, muggy air greeted him as he stepped off the plane into the American south for the first time in his life.
As he made his way through the airport trying to find his baggage, he couldn’t help but notice that most of the employees were black, and no matter how he tried to ignore it, his mind kept bringing the ragged memory of Jones to the forefront of his perspective. Every time Jones popped into his head he would immediately focus on something else, a child’s antics or another traveler’s style of luggage, anything to distract himself.
After retrieving his bags, Randy bought a cheap cup of coffee and sat outside smoking cigarettes, chatting casually with a few other graduates. Finally, an Army bus picked them up, and as they rode he peered out the bus windows at countryside covered with huge, looming trees and lush vegetation. He imagined that each window image was a screenshot in a movie, and watched the leaves and bushes ebb and flow until the bus rolled to a slow stop in Fort Rucker.

When it was turn to check in at the Army post’s front office, he asked the officer sitting behind a tall desk how he could arrange to rent a decent, affordable place off-post.
The officer peered over the top of his thin metal spectacles, one hand moving slowly over the dark, smoothed-out chips that bespeckled the wooden counter.
“You’re going to want to take a taxi to Montgomery, a couple miles down the road from here.” He scratched off a few marks on the papers in front of him. “But wherever you end up living, you’re going to need to check back in here every day.” He paused and glanced up, flashing a brief smile twisted by spite.
“Of course,” Randy said. “I’m ready to do whatever it takes.”
“Good,” the officer said curtly, “because before you can do anything, you’ve gonna need to go do some K.P duty.” He grinned broadly.
After following the officer’s directions to the main kitchen and signing in, Randy dove headfirst into a few hours of cleanup work, mostly dishwashing, then signed back out, and within a few minutes flagged down a cab outside the front entrance and caught a fast ride to Montgomery.
Montgomery and the Army post were barely separated by a quarter-mile of open field, and after Randy wandered around the town’s outskirts for a half-hour, he figured out that soldiers made up a good bulk of the population on the neighborhood closest to the base.
He walked into a trailer court skirting that edge of town, knocked on the office’s open door, and peeked into the murkish interior of the manager’s trailer.
“Anyone home?” he asked.
“Yeah, come on in,” a slow deep voice answered. The manager lounged in a giant LazyBoy, relaxing in front of his TV in jogging pants and a filthy, once-white T-shirt. “How can I help ya?”
Randy straightened himself up, cleared his throat and said “Do you have any trailers for rent here? I’m new to the base and I’m looking for a place.”
“Sure enough,” said the manager. He rubbed his protruding belly while gulping a slug of Schlitz, then stood up and pointed out the screen door. “Number seven, over there. Go ahead and take a look, it’s unlocked.”
Randy jogged over to the place and looked it up and down quick. It had all the basics and was a shit-ton bigger than his bunk at training, so he trotted back to the office and eagerly paid the manager his first month’s rent.
The manager set down his burning cigarette long enough to squint at the check, then told him he could move in right away and handed him receipt. “You sure do look pretty young to in the Army and married and all,” he said.
Randy glanced back over his shoulder as he walked through the doorway.
“Yeah, that’s what they tell me.”

“Sounds like a great place!” Rose said the next morning on the phone. “When do you get to move in?”
“Today!” he said, “right away!”
“All right!” Rose said, “but I don’t think anyone can drive me all the way down there.”
“I know, we’ll just need to get you a plane or bus ticket soon.”
“Well even with the money you can send, that’s not enough for a plane,” she said. “I’ve been thinking a bus ride will work out the easiest.”
“As long as you feel good enough for that,” he said. “With your belly six months pregnant, I’m just worried you might get uncomfortable or not feel good on the bus or something.”
“Oh hell Randy, I’ll be fine,” she said. “You know me; I can take anything dammit!” They both laughed like school-kids for a second. “I just want to get down there.”

_____________________

So there we are for now, bro. I’ll kick some more out sooner or later. I should be visiting you here again in a couple weeks, I’m hoping. I work this weekend, plus we’re having a garage sale, so I’ve been cleaning out the garage and basement for the past week or so – yee-ha!
Take it easy man, I love ya.
-Adam


Chapter 7: Darkness

“Experts think schizophrenia is caused by several factors …
The main psychological triggers of schizophrenia are stressful life events, such as a bereavement, losing your job or home, a divorce or the end of a relationship, or physical, sexual, emotional or racial abuse. These kinds of experiences, though stressful, do not cause schizophrenia, but can trigger its development in someone already vulnerable to it.”
National Health Services, United Kingdom.

“Satan’s sitting there, he’s smiling,
Watches those flames get higher and higher.”
Black Sabbath, “Black Sabbath”

12-2-13
Adam,
Hey bro, thought I would write and say hello. I appreciate your visits and am truly grateful for the soda pop and candy you so graciously provide. Thank you, my brother. I look forward to our next visit.
Lately I’ve been keeping busy. Every day I run two miles on the treadmill, or at least I try to go every day. And I’ve been reading quite a bit, mostly physics. Guess that is just what interests me right now. Then there are movies and football to watch on weekends. I probably sleep too much but I’m not going to complain.
Yeah, I hope you’re adapting and adjusting well to your new job. Last we spoke you things were going alright. Keep up the good work bro. I’m proud of you going out there and getting a new job. That’s something I can do in here too, though I’m not quite ready yet. Still have to do some OSHA training and get through a little more red tape. Eventually though, I’ll be able to work. Then I’ll need to adapt and adjust, but you set a good example.
Alright, that’s about all that’s going on right now. I hope to see you soon. Tell Atticus and Brittany “hi” for me, and take care.
Your bro,
Aaron

1-7-14
Aaron,
Hey brother – I miss you! Sorry for the delay in writing and visits, the holiday season sucks up time like a giant, decorated vacuum cleaner. But never fear, for I plan to visit you this weekend, and I’m hoping you’ll receive this letter before then. I should be seeing you Saturday afternoon, otherwise Sunday.
I’m planning to take Atticus snowboarding, probably Sunday, when it finally freakin’ warms up again. This below zero bullspit is getting old real fast. It might actually be in the 30s this weekend, which will seem like a balmy Florida beach compared to what we’ve become accustomed to. Do you still get some outdoor time in this extreme cold? Or do they cancel it? Anyway, hopefully you have enough indoor options to keep your body moving – you always come up with something, no matter the circumstances.
I went up to Spencer right before Xmas – Rick had a nice family dinner at his place, and I’m sure you can imagine the zaniness that ensued. Mom hung out, Bob showed up and Jenny made it with her and Bridget’s kids. I took Atticus and the Durst cousins on a hike down the railroad track; it was hilarious to hear them seriously discuss the Zombie Apocalypse as I strolled silently behind them.
Just gotta mention that I hung out with Joder and Juice, aka Justin. I still think it’s great that we played crochet with his grandfather when we lived on that farm outside of Spencer – and that was a couple years before I ever met Juice! Remember how their grandpa would take us on motorcycle rides on his farm trail even though he was nearly blind? Those were the days, eh?
Do you remember the Great Chicken Massacre on that farm? It involved those two crazy dogs that Mom and Gary briefly kept. What a sight getting home that day on the school bus …
Atticus thoroughly enjoyed his visit with you. I think he was intimidated at first, but fascinated at the same time, by the intense uniqueness of the Oakdale environment. And honestly, I felt that way the first time I visited you. But I spoke with him later on, and he truly did enjoy seeing you again, and wants to visit again, so hopefully he’ll be with me this weekend when I see you.
So here’s to some sugary snacks, another round of Sorry, and perhaps catching everyone off guard again as our Jenga stack crashes down … I love you Aaron, and will see you soon.
Stay strong,
-Adam

1-21-14
Adam,
Hey bro. I’m really glad that you’ve been bringing Atticus along when you visit. We sure have fun playing Sorry, Jenga and UNO, don’t we? I look forward to seeing you both again, hopefully soon.
That man who showed up at the end of our last visit is an elder at the Iowa City congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses. He’ll be studying the bible with me once a week at 6 p.m. Sundays. It will help me stay spiritually strong.
Yeah, I remember coming home on the bus that day, then walking down the driveway to see mom beheading those chickens out of their misery with a small scythe. She was slicing their heads off to put them out of their misery. And those two dogs. I think they were a breed of some kinda hunting dog. I don’t remember exactly how we got ‘em. I’m thinking they just showed up on the farm on day but I’m not sure.
But man did those dogs have their way them goll-darn chickens. You see, the dogs weren’t hungry, they were just doing what hunting dogs do. Hunting dogs immobilize the bird so the hunter can find them. All them dogs were doing was making sure the chickens wouldn’t get away. I guess that’s just what they knew to do.
Well everything’s going pretty good bro. I’m still running 20 minutes a day and biking on the stationary bike for 20 minutes too. It’s nice getting my heart-rate up there around 140 beats/minute and breaking a good sweat.
We get fresh oranges, apples and bananas. That’s two things I didn’t get that whole year in county. Exercise and healthy food go a long ways.
Yesterday I was able to watch the latest Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises.” It was awesome! I wasn’t sure if I would ever get the chance to see it but what do ya know. Now I feel more complete. They were showing movies for MLK Day – they always get us good movies to watch on holidays.
I’m looking forward to receive and read your latest work on the book. It’s been quite the adventure so far. You’re busier now with work so you probably don’t have as much downtime. Just do your best.
Dinner time bro, lasagna tonight. It’s usually really good. So take care and I hope to see you again soon.
Love ya bro,
Aaron

1-25-14
Yo bro,
First of all, I loved your letter; it’s great to hear from you in writing again. Atticus seems to truly enjoy tagging along with me on our visits, and you’re right, it’s a blast hitting the games with you. If only they had three-way chess available … ha! Might make it this next weekend, we’ll see; otherwise the weekend after that for sure. He and I went snowboarding the day after we visited you, and he totally tore it up!
I assumed that gentleman was a Witness. And you know me, all Mother Nature and stuff, but as non-religious as I am, I must say he seemed to be quite a decent and knowledgeable fellow, and I’m glad to hear you have a visitor to assuage your spiritual side.
Oh man, thank you much for the added details to what I like to refer to as the “Great Chicken Massacre.” Talk about an unforgettable memory! I didn’t remember the part about mom beheading the flopping birds out of their misery until now – damn! I do recall that her and Gary friendily adopted those dogs from some hardcore-Harley-types who lived on a farm about 5 miles away. I guess the other kids on the bus that day got a bit of a shock. The dogs disappeared after that; from what mom told me, I gathered that her and Gary dropped them far off somewhere to go their wild way. Final note: I vividly recall the dogs bounding about, grinning and slavering in the thrill of the mass kill, blood and drool dripping from their mouths.
Good to hear you’re exercising regularly and chomping some fresh fruit. Cleaning up those operating rooms has been whipping me into shape – I’ve lost about 10 pounds and have put on some muscle. It wears me out, but in a good way.
I love the “Dark Knight” movies; the first one is fantastic, and the other two are amazing as well. Try to watch the second one if you get a chance: The Scarecrow will scare the bejesus out of you! “Now I feel more complete” – that’s great, man.
Well, I’ve finally got some more writing done. “Adventure” is apt, bro – thanks for taking part in it; you’ve my main inspiration in the whole thing. OK, here’s a few pages …
____________

After the lessons, as they all walked in a loose formation out of the building toward their beds, three black recruits who lived in the barracks next to Randy’s quickly blocked his path and stopped him.
The guy standing in the middle pointed his finger and yelled “Are you racist or what?” He seemed more than a little upset.
Randy stood there befuddled, wanting to say something, anything, to defend himself, and started to stammer out a few stunned words but the three recruits had already turned around and marched off. He felt somewhat scared by it all and didn’t quite understand why they’d be so pissed off; he had just been joking in the name of fun, after all.
Even though he’d only met a couple black people before going to basic training, he had never had anything against them. A lot of folks back in Spencer made racist comments on a regular basis, but he had never done that sort of thing, and always tried to withdraw himself from any conversation that became infected with the unpleasant taint of racism. The last thing he had meant to do was to offend anyone, but obviously he had.
—–
Lying in bed that night, all the faces from the crowd looking up at his painted face swirled through his mind like so many disembodied heads floating above their bodies, hovering as if they were a separate creature, a mass of smiling faces. Upon reflection, he realized his face had been painted half black, but most of the smiling faces that evening had been white, and fell asleep with a multitude of multicolored faces flashing to and fro across his mind, laughing at him as if he himself was the joke.
For years, two songs would always bring the incident back into the forefront of his mind:
1. Whenever he heard The Temptations’ “Smiling Faces Sometimes,” it made him realize that maybe he held old prejudices whether he wanted to or not. And he felt as if his own smiling face would always give that away, as if now he was somehow marked.


2. He learned quickly that his accuser’s name was John Brown, and Jim Croce’s “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” would always, to him, embody the man who had yelled in his face that night.
—–
The following week, their training started with a crash course in the fine art of booby-trapping. They watched attentively as a random recruit was commanded to walk through the first stretch of the course, then hid their apprehension with stifled laughs as he tripped a wire that unhooked a rubber log tipped with fake poison punji sticks, which elicited a yelp as it smacked him firmly in the leg.
The rest of them had to watch for punji-stick traps as they cautiously made their way through the course, avoiding trip wires that would set off imaginary grenades and crouching and ducking as pseudo-snipers shot at them from behind trees.
Randy breathed a sigh of relief after managing to make it through unscathed.
—–
Hand-to-hand combat training marked the beginning of their final month in basic. One morning, the men were ordered to stand in a circle and pick out a fighting partner, who they would battle with a pad-tipped pole representing a bayonet. The men were to stand on two railroad tie-sized structures and fight with the oversized Q-tips until only one was left standing.

Private Harris
Randy chose one of the biggest guys from his barrack, nicknamed Bubba, as his partner; he figured that way he’d look tough in front of everyone else whether he won or lost. And sure enough he lost, but he did manage to hold his own for a while; it took Bubba six giant smacks with the bayonet Q-tip to knock him down, and Randy got a couple of quick hits of his own in before going down. He lost the fight, but enjoyed the sense of relief that washed over him as sank into the mat, flinging his Q-tip pole to the side, satisfied that he had represented his skinny-ass self as best as he possible.

With about three weeks left to go, physical test-time confronted them on a Monday morning. Their challenge involved a quick-and-steady march through a 20-mile course while carrying fully-loaded backpacks, including their M-16s and other gear, then setting up camp and roughing it for the night.
“This is going to be murder,” Randy murmered to his hunched over, heavily-laden comrades as they hiked away from base. Several of them grunted briefly in return. Within five minutes, rain began pouring down on them, which inspired the drill sergeant to yell out: “OK, boys! Let’s pick up the pace; I want you to run for the next two miles!”
A few of the guys fell behind within the first half-mile, but the majority of them stayed in a group, keeping up with the quick pace. Randy felt tired as hell 10 minutes into the jaunt, but forced himself to handle the strain and hold his pace to stay with the pack.
After about 10 tortuous miles, they finally took a short break. Randy leaned back against his bulbous pack, lit up a cigarette, and concentrated on relaxing his overtaxed leg muscles. Then he opened up his C-Rations with the P-38 can opener he had been issued, and gulped down that day’s lunch of pork, beans and corned beef hash as if it were the finest tasting caviar ever served. Every swallow tasted obscenely delicious and fully stimulated his deprived palate. He leaned back and lounged contentedly for the rest of the 45-minute break, dozing in and out as his comrades did the same.
Shortly after the final stragglers stumbled in, the sergeant decided to be an asshole and make up for the lag time by having them run for the final 10 miles.
“Get up off your asses boys – let’s make double time! MOVE IT! MOVE IT! MOVE IT!”
The recent arrivals looked petrified, like sad deer caught in a semi’s headlights, and tried to rapidly finish off their C-Rations as everyone packed up and started hoofing it back onto the trail. The sergeant rounded them up, barking like a mad dog, forcing them to get started again with the main group.
Randy concentrated on staying in the middle of the pack of exhausted joggers, far enough ahead of the sergeant to avoid his direct attention.
A heavier recruit, Trooper, was pulling up the rear. He had fallen behind in the first half, and after only a short break and a couple bites to eat, was having a hell of a time trying to keep up with the rest of the men.
The drill sergeant had fallen in directly behind the straggler, and about once every minute would lean forward and scream: “GET YOUR FAT ASS MOVING TROOPER!”
Randy looked back once as this happened, saw that the sergeant’s face was close enough to Trooper’s that spittle was splattering against his chubby cheek, and determinedly picked up his own pace, resolving to stay as far ahead of the sergeant as possible, despite the howling pain in his legs and lungs.
Trooper never did catch up to the rest of the men, but he didn’t fall too far behind them either with the sergeant hounding him the whole time.
They finally arrived at the 20-mile marker around nightfall, and the rain was pouring as if they were in an Amazonian rain forest. Every inch of their skin and clothing was soaked, and dryness was scant even inside their tents once they had set them up.
Only then did their drill sergeant finally tell them a bit of relieving news: Army trucks were on their way to pick up the men and take them back to the barracks since the conditions were too much to deal with.
“So tear down those tents and get ready to ride!” he yelled over the din of large raindrops splattering like exploding dimes over every square inch of ground.
—–
___________

So there we are – hope you appreciate it. I’ve written out a couple more pages, and as we know, the next part ain’t pretty. But here’s how I have approached it all: There’s a great story here, and it’s affected me/us heavily, but it’s interesting to lay it all out there and look at it all from an outside perspective … Disassociation, I guess, or simple emotional detachment from it all perhaps.
Anyway man, I’m looking forward to seeing you again soon. Take it easy, but keep exercising your ass off.
Love,
Adam

2-4-14
Adam,
Hey my man! Good to hear from you again. I’m glad you guys could make it up to visit on Sunday.
I’m reminding you here to send me that dark, morbid poem that I sent you when I was in county. Just send me a copy.
Everything’s going pretty good here. Today I ran on the treadmill for 20 minutes; it said I went 2.5 miles. Then I rode the stationary bike for 20 minutes and logged 5 miles. So I’m staying in shape.
Later on today, I’ll be going to the Art room, where I can play an electric guitar for a while.
Those few pages of the book you sent me are excellent. I mean it, too: they’re gripping. As I read I’m able to easily envision what’s going on, and I like that you reference the songs Dad listened to. You’re doing a great job. I’ll be looking forward to the next time you send me more pages.
Atticus was a good sport even though I beat him in chess. He made some really good moves. The reason I didn’t take it easy on him was because I think he’ll learn better if I play my best.
That was fun winning at King’s Corner, going out on my first turn both times. I’ll be ready to play more cards with you guys again soon.
Alright bro, keep up the good work and I’ll see you soon.
Love you bro,
Aaron
P.S. Make sure you keep the book on regular paper. That way if your computer goes down you’ll have a copy.

2-12-14
Yo bro!
Our visit was great – I loved watching every move you and Atty made during the chess game. It seemed like you were holding back just a tad, perhaps even inadvertently, enough to encourage him to develop his strategy a bit further. Perhaps he’ll draw out the game more next time.
Oh yes, the dark poem … I’ll send a copy of it along with this letter, but also will include a copy of the happier song you wrote while you were in county, “Stir Stic.” A good balance of dark and light, you see.
It was good to see you’re staying in shape; I’m glad you have a few options for indoor exercise, hopefully you’ll be running on the outdoor track here again soon once it warms up. Also, I know Oakdale has a huge garden area … you should see if you can volunteer to do some gardening work this spring/summer. Dig your hands into our state’s rich, dark earth and all.
I love it that you can rock out on the guitar in the Art room there, and I liked how you were telling me about the background electronic drumbeats you’ve been able to explore. Be sure to share any new songs you end up writing as a result please, but I know you will.
Atty and I will be visiting you again here in a week or two … more card games and snacks for sure. It’s always a pleasure to see you, and I’m very pleased that you and Atty get to hang out again regularly. He really enjoys the visits, I can tell. (Update (2-18): I’m planning to visit you this weekend, but I think Atty will be out of town.)
Thanks for the reminder on printing a hard copy of the book; I have it saved on different hard drives, but a good printed copy can’t be beat. In fact, that’s what I’m working off of: my old printed copy of Dad’s writings that I typed up. But also, since I’m writing the blog I told you about, it’s all saved in cyberspace.
Here’s the latest, by the way. And beware, this is the darkest part, as you well know, so brace yourself mentally and remember, it’s all in the distant past and there’s no point in taking any of it personally decades later. But you already know the story …
________________

Randy told Rose all about the wretched hike the next afternoon on the pay phone outside of the barracks. She said that it sounded like torture, but that she knew he could handle it.
“My belly’s getting a little bit bigger,” she said.
“Really?” he said. “That’s great; we’re going to have a beautiful baby.”
“I know, I can’t wait!”
Rose told him everything was fine back home, and Randy said “I love you” three times before their call ended.
As he headed back to his building, he noticed John Brown and a friend walking the opposite way. He tried to play it cool, acting nonchalant while automatically offering a slight nod of respect. Their paces slowed, and John nodded back as they stopped.
“Hey there, what’s happening?” John asked.
“Not much,” Randy said. “Just recovering from that hike.”
“Tell me about it,” John said.
John’s friend, who everyone called Jones, said “Hey man, you want to get a beer or two later on at the Men’s Club?”
The question caught Randy off-guard, but with his “Mammy” moment lingering like a slow-flickering firefly in the back of his mind, he knew he couldn’t so no.
“Well, I have barracks duty at 8:30 tonight but I could have a beer before that.”
Jones smiled, “Cool, that works, we’ll be back before then.” He extended his hand.
They all shook hands as he and Jones planned to meet outside the barracks at 6.
—–
Randy had kind of a funny feeling about the whole deal. He certainly didn’t want any enemies, but why was Jones being so friendly? Maybe he was just trying to bury the hatchet or touch base or something, but Jones was a big, strong guy, and Randy couldn’t help but worry about the possibility of resentment rearing its ugly head. He’d never been to the Men’s Club either, and wasn’t sure if he was even old enough to get in.
Back at his bunk, the radio brought Rose back into his mind as it crooned “Ain’t no sunshine when she’s gone …” He missed her so goddamned much; he only had two weeks left in basic, but with no  chance of seeing his love, the time loomed over him like an eternity.
Years later, the song’s lyric “I oughtta leave young thing alone” would remind him of John and Jones, as if the singer was speaking directly to them, telling them to leave Randy alone, since he was so young and had never meant to raise anyone’s ire.
—–
Jones walked up as Randy was finishing a smoke in front of the barracks.
“Hey, let’s go,” Jones said.
“Okay, cool.”
The chitchatted as they walked toward the Men’s Club. Jones told him he was from Chicago, and after getting in trouble with the law a couple times, had taken an option to join the Army instead of facing a year in jail.
“Easy choice to make,” he said and laughed.
Everything seemed friendly and cool between them as strolled up to the club.
“Hey man, do you mind waiting out here for a few?” Jones said. “I don’t think you’re old enough to get in here.”
Randy didn’t know what to think.
“Sure,” he said.
He lit up a smoke and shot the shit with the guys going in and out of the club. He was about ready to leave, or test his luck with the doorman despite Jones’ warning, when Jones finally came back out. It was around 7 p.m. and nearly dark out already.
“Hey, I gotta get back before long,” Randy said.
“That’s cool,” Jones said, “but I got some friends who are bringing some whiskey down here and want to meet up in the Airborne shack for a quick drink.”
“The Airborne shack? Where’s that?”
“Right over there,” Jones said, pointing behind the club.
Randy pressed his right hand against his forehead and squinted. A small structure lurked in the distance of the evening’s dimming light.
“We should go,” Jones said.
“Sure,” Randy said, “but I’ve only got time for a quick drink.”
“No problem,” Jones said.
Apprehension filled Randy’s mind as he followed Jones toward the shack. He knew he wouldn’t stand much of a chance if Jones picked a fight or anything, especially if he was outnumbered. But he didn’t see anyone else around as they approached the door.
“They’re not here yet,” Jones said, opening the door and stepping back. “Let’s wait inside so nobody sees us out here.”
“Okay,” Randy said, peering as he stepped inside, trying to make something out of the murky darkness. Before he could make sense of what was happening, Jones suddenly slammed the door shut and grabbed him from behind, wrapping him up in a tight bear hug and pinning Randy’s arms against his sides.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Randy yelled, trying to break free from Jones’ grasp. “Let me go!” He tried to figure out what the hell was happening – what the fuck was Jones was trying to do … beat him? kill him? – as he struggled against Jones’ tightening hold.
Jones replied with nothing but slight grunts as he tightened his constrictor grip and used his hips to shove Randy up against a table by the back wall. Randy kept struggling, but to no avail.
“Just stop!” Randy yelled, scared as hell, as thoughts of what it might feel like to die raced through his mind. “What the hell do you want?”
Panting heavily through the cloud of his whiskey-tainted breath, Jones’ said “You can either suck it or let me get you in the butt.”
Randy shoved backward and felt the back of his head smack Jones’ face, then nearly broke free as Jones’ grip loosened for a split second. But that only made things worse; next thing he knew Jones had a hand on the back of his neck and Randy could see nothing but a small, darkened stretch of the old wooden tabletop his face was pressed against. Tiny wooden slivers scraped into his cheek as Jones pinned him down even harder than before.
“I ain’t suckin’ nothin’!” Randy uttered between his ragged breaths.
He was scared for his life – he just wanted to get away from this time and place and be safe back in the barracks, or anywhere else. Jones was definitely off his rocker, maybe some sort of pyscho, and big enough to snap Randy’s neck if he wanted to.
The pressure on Randy’s face eased up as Jones loosened his grip slightly.
“Pull down your pants.”
Randy wanted to run away from that moment more than he had ever wanted to run away from anything his entire life. Desperate thoughts of trying to fight flashed through his mind in millisecond-time, but any further attempts seemed hopeless and likely to do nothing but make things worse.
“Please …” he began.
“Pull down your fucking pants!” Jones yelled, retightening his grip and pushing Randy’s face back down into the tabletop.
Randy wanted to survive to see the next day, so he did what he was told. At this bruising point in time, he felt he had no choice. His stomach was squirming like it was filled with worms and acid.
Bile riled up in his throat as he heard the sound of Jones spitting into his own hand. He tried to focus on anything else – the moonlight, the design of the wood so close to his eyes – as he felt Jones forcing himself inside him, moving around, trying to get in further.
“Jesus, take it out – that fucking hurts!” Randy yelled as his entire body contracted. Jones held him down, rubbing himself between Randy’s thighs until he was satisfied, then backed off and let him go.
Randy pulled up his pants as he turned and backed away. He felt hurt, not only on the outside but also inside his head, more than he’d ever been hurt anyway before. He was full of shame at the mere fact that this had happened, but resisted the urge to strike out at Jones, whose shadow filled the room as he turned the door handle.
“If you ever tell anyone about this, me and my friends will get you and we’ll all do this to you,” Jones said. “Understand?”
“I’m not saying anything, just leave me alone.” Randy waited in the dark corner, rigid with fear and hate.
“Just remember,” Jones said, “keep your mouth shut,” The door closed behind him.
—–
After stumbling back to the barracks in a daze, Randy laid down, buried his face into his pillow and cried quietly in utter despair. He pulled his blanket over his head to hide from ev eryone else.
He focused on God, and tried to open up his mind the higher power. God seemed to be the only one he could communicate with at this moment, and between sobs, Randy kept asking “What should I do, God? What should I do?”
He finally got up and went straight to the shower, where he stood underneath the soothing pulse of warm water, eyes closed, lathering and rinsing, lathering and rinsing, lathering and rinsing.
Sitting back on his bunk, a sense of relief washed over him. He felt like he was coming back to his senses … he had lain all of his troubles at the feet of God, and now it was all out of his hands.
He had to stay up all night for his shift as barracks guard. Standing outside in the moonlight, he kept reminding himself that in two weeks he would be away from it all. Jones and his pals would be buried in his distant past, and he would never have to see them again.
Pacing back and forth in front of the barracks, he decided he would never tell anyone what Jones had done to him. He figured that if he did tell someone, they might end up making fun of him. He didn’t want to be marked as a fag or a queer. No one else could understand how this had affected him … and if word spread at all, people were bound to turn his experience into some sort of cheap joke.
Besides, the last thing he wanted was for Jones or any of his buddies to hassle him anymore. If Jones ever heard that he had squealed, lord knows what he might do.
Besides, Rose was going to be moving to Germany with him soon. Any shitty news like this could end up interfering with all the good times they were bound to have there. “So it’s final,” he thought to himself, “I’ll never tell anyone.”
It was way past curfew, but Randy noticed some music playing. His job was to watch for intruders, not to keep on eye on fellow recruits, so he wasn’t about to do anything to stop it.
As he moved slowly toward the sound, he noticed it was Black Sabbath.
“What is this … that stands before me?” the song asked, “Figure in black … which points at me.”
The lyrics conjured up the image of John Brown, standing in front of him and blocking his path, yelling “You’re prejudiced!”
“Turn around quick, and start to run,” the song said, “Find out I’m the chosen one … Oh no …”
All this had happened just because he had laughed at himself like a fool with his painted face. If only there had been some way for him to escape that night, if only he could run away even right now and just leave it all behind. Why had he been chosen to be the victim? Why did Jones pick him and not someone else? What was the fucking meaning behind all this hell?
“Big black shape … with eyes of fire,” the song said, “Telling people their desire.”
It became clear to Randy as he stood in the black night that people would look at him differently now … this experience and its pain was some sort of sacrifice … his soul had been charred to make up for atrocities lingering like misty spirits from the past.
“Watches those flames get higher and higher,” the song said, “Oh no, no, please God help me!”
The lyrics described exactly how Randy had felt during Jones’ attack, and how he still felt now. His heart welled up and he bent over bawling for a few seconds before he collected himself, standing up straight and breathing in deeply. He needed help, he felt, not from any other person, but from some higher power, from God.

____________
—–
Whoa, deep breath. This was not an easy part to write at all, but I’m still impressed that Dad had the guts to spill all this out onto paper as part of his story.
Anyway, that’s everything I have written at this point in time. So now I need to get busy and move on to the next parts of the story.
Hey man, I hope you enjoyed watching the Super Bowl, blowout that it was, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing you again soon. Stay strong – spring (and sunshine!) are right around the corner …
Love ya,
-Adam

—–

[Editor’s note: The “Smiling Faces Sometimes” video included here is by The Undisputed Truth, not The Temptations, and is the version of the song I believe my father would have heard on the radio.]


Chapter 6: Pleasant Visitations

“Sitting on a park bench,
“Eyeing idle girls with bad intent.
“Snot running down his nose
Greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes.” (Jethro Tull, “Aqualung”)

(Email from Aaron, 9/28/13)
Adam,
Pretty cool huh? I can send you emails. they only cost me a quarter a piece. weve been playin the Wii lately.  im really good at Wii bowling.
yesterday i bowled a 300.  one time between the 300 game and another game i threw 22 consecutive strikes. i wonder what the record is. probably hundreds. i won a couple sodas for bowling the hi score. man was that diet coke good. its great when the carbonation burns the back of your throat when you drink it.
today when we went out for yard i ran a mile and did some pull ups. felt good. another fella here runs all the time so i ran along with him.  it will be nice when i get some running shoes. i will be able to run further and faster and get a better cardio workout.
found a book with edgar allen poe stories. so ive been reading it. his short stories like the pit and the pendulum, the cask of amontillado, and the tell tale heart are pretty cool.
they have a big garden here out beside the yard.  they’ve been feeding us lots of tomatoes and squash baked with brown sugar and its really good.
andrea wrote me and sent me some pictures to.  she and her cats and her dog chaos are doing pretty good.  she likes her job.  i was really happy to hear from her. hopefully i will here from albert again soon to.
its kinda funny. lately ive been trying to draw some maniacal punk guy smashing a guitar in a comic style sequence. just gotta show the guitar smashing against the tree!
alright my session on the computer is up so i gotta send this.
take care love u bro
Aaron

——–

9-18-13
Hey Aaron,
It was good talking to you the other day, hopefully you get transferred soon before sitting too much longer at Oakdale. For some reason, I always assumed Oakdale would be a slightly better situation than it has panned out to be, but I guess I was more ignorant in that regard than I wanted to assume.
I’m glad you getting some sunshine and regular outdoor time; shit, by the time you get this you’ll probably be nearly assigned and ready to be moving on.

(9/28)
So … it appears Oakdale has ended up being slightly better than I was anticipating in the previous paragraph. I always thought the mental health center (is that the right term?) was where you needed to be there … at least temporarily. You’ve got a complicated mind, and you need, perhaps, a little bit more help to figure out exactly what’s going on up there.
But wait, that sounds wrong. Except for the fact that I feel the same way myself sometimes … as if it would be nice to get some advice on how to manage all those seemingly abnormal thoughts that tend to roll around upstairs in my head …
Anyway, it was great seeing you last week – finally in person! And we could hug without Tazer threats! I was expecting you to call me this week, but I’m sure that will happen here in the next few days.
I want to visit you again within the next week or so … this time we should play a game of chess or whatever else is available. And I’ll get some cash on hand or whatever so we can actually use the vending machines. So until then, take care of yourself, and call me if you haven’t already done so by the time you receive this letter.
Also, here’s what I’ve written recently …
________________

CHAPTER 4: BRIEF EXCURSION

Randy called Rose every chance he got, and always wished every phone call could last longer than it did. She wrote him about once a week, and sent him pictures of herself that he would hold close to his face when he was lounging in his bunk, longing for her and imagining how wonderful it would feel once they were together again. If no one was around, he would start to touch himself as he pictured her naked, moaning like she did when they fucked back home.
Afterward, he would savor every bite of the chocolate chip or peanut butter cookies she had sent.
He sent her back pictures of himself wearing his helmet, fatigues and boots and holding his M-16. He’d have Ray get a good shot of him with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth, looking like a tough and rugged military man.
————-
After their fourth week in basic training, they were allowed to take leave for the weekend. Randy joined Ray and a few other recruits, including two Hawaiian brothers from his barracks, on a weekend pass that their drill sergeant had okayed.
The bunch of them hopped on a bus that took them up scenic Puget Sound into Seattle, where they started off by chowing down some lunch at a Chinese restaurant. Randy’s fortune cookie informed him:

Randy Harris

Randy Harris

“Go sideways if bad luck awaits ahead.”
They went to check out the site of the 1962 World’s Fair, and Randy and Ray took pictures of each other wearing their khakis in front of all the tourist attractions. The Space Needle fascinated them as they walked toward it, but they decided not to take the official tour because it looked too crowded and the line was way too long.
Instead, they wandered around downtown Seattle, stopping at a couple dive-looking bars for cheap beers along the way, until deciding to book a room at an eight-story downtown hotel, where they all shared a single room to cut costs.
Randy was feeling a bit woozy as they shared one more round at the hotel bar, and could barely make sense of the story as one of the Hawaiian brothers talked about how he had seen some guy a couple doors down from their room who had a hooker with him.
He had to hold himself up against the hallway wall as the stumbled back to their room, the other guys joking about how much they should offer their neighbor for a chance with the callgirl. He managed to get his shirt off before passing out in the middle of the floor, and grinned stupidly as the other men’s cackling laughter echoed in the back of his head.
———-
“Hey man, get your ass up,” Ray said, nudging Randy in the shoulder with his bare foot.
“Yeah, c’mon man, we got to get out of here in an hour,” said the shorter Hawaiian brother. “Plus we don’t want that pimp coming after us.”
Everyone laughed.
“What the hell you talking about?” Randy asked as he sat up slowly, speaking through what felt like a sandbox, but what just his hungover mouth.
“We all went and fucked that hot-ass hooker last night man,” the Hawaiian said. “You fuckin’ missed out, bro.”
“What?”
“It’s true,” said the taller Hawaiian.
Randy looked up at Ray. “Is this shit for real?”
Ray exhaled smoke out the window, turned to Randy and said, “I don’t fucking know, I puked in the toilet and fell asleep on the bathroom floor.”
Everyone roared in laughter as they arose from their hazy hangovers.
——–
After leaving the hotel, they decided to explore downtown Seattle a little bit more. They wandered randomly for blocks, finally ending up in Pioneer Square, Seattle’s version of skid row, though none of them would’ve known it was called that.
The Hawaiian brothers wanted to check out an adult-novely, peep-show place replete with peeling paint and worn, torn semi-nude paper pictures of alluring young vixens adorning the outer doors. Randy and Ray briefly walked inside with the other guys, but once they saw the curtained booths and the strange setups involving binocular-outfitted pornography machines, they felt all weirded out and told the others they would be waiting outside.
After about 10 minutes, the other guys came out within seconds of each other, all looking slightly perplexed.
“So what was it like in there?” Ray asked.
“Oh shit, man,” the shorter Hawaiian brother said. “I started watching a sexy video in this booth, and then all of the sudden someone stuck their hand in through the curtain next to me and I fucking yelled ‘Get the hell out!'”
“Jesus Christ!” Randy said. “Whose hand was it?”
“I don’t know, but I wasn’t gonna wait around to find out.”
“Yeah, we all got the fuck outta there after that,” the taller Hawaiian said. After fumbling about a bit while either lighting up or finishing off their smokes, they all silently started moving on down the road.
———–
The streets of Pioneer Square were adorned with castaway day-old newspapers, broken wine bottles, empty crumpled brown-paper bags and other fluttering bits of trash. Every open business place, jammed between those that were closed or boarded up, was either a cheap-looking bar or some store selling junk jewelry, and the stink of the inner-city pollution and car and factory exhaust made Randy realize how lucky he was not to have ever called this place home.
After wandering for a mile or more, they finally came across a decent little street-corner dive bar, where they bellied up to bar and ordered beers, Bloody Marys and burgers. Someone plugged a few coins into the jukebox, and Jethro Tull sang about some pathetic bloke sitting on a park bench as they finished up their food and ordered another round.
They decided to have more beers for dessert, since they had nothing else in mind really, except to get back to the base eventually by the end of the night. They kept plugging money into the jukebox, laughing about the night before and chatting with the other patrons who rolled in.
Some red-haired guy sitting at the end of the bar struck up a conversation with Randy and Ray. He seemed a bit older and was somewhat homely, with acne scars and a general lonely look to him, but as he told them a few dirty jokes they all had a few good, woozy laughs together.
One of the Hawaiian brother had puked in the corner after they all did shots of tequila, and those two and the other guys were huddled near a window, looking wiped out.
“Well, we gotta figure how to get our asses back to Fort Lewis soon, man,” Ray said.
“Shit,” Randy said, “this is going to be one long bus ride.”
Their new acquaintance piped up. “Let me take you guys … I’ve got a big car, we can fit four in the back. And I’m not doing anything else right now anyway.”
Randy and Ray looked at each other, slapped each other high fives, then slapped the red-haired guy a double high-five as James Brown sang about how he was a sex machine in the background.
“Fuck yeah!” Ray yelled. “Come on boys,” he shouted at the others, “we’ve got a free ride home!”
—–
Once they were on the outskirts of Seattle, as the sun was setting and the city’s awakening night lights dimmed behind them, their excitement waned into more of a half-drunken group stupor.
Some disco-funk tune Randy had never heard before was noodling out of the speakers when he noticed that the Hawaiian brothers had passed out in the back seat. He was squeezed in the front seat between Ray and the driver, his head swaying back and forth listlessly as he listened to them talk excitedly about the burgeoning national disco scene.
“Well, I just gotta ask you boys something,” their driver said suddenly, cocking his head sideways. “What do you guys think about gay men – do you like them at all?”
Randy instantly tensed up and straightened himself up in his seat. “No! I mean, no, not really.” He cast a sideways glance at Ray. “We don’t really care for them much, I’d say.”
After a few moments of silence, Ray said “Why, are you gay or something?”
The shorter Hawaiian brother snuffled and snored loudly in the back.
“Actually … yes, I am,” the driver said. He stared straight ahead, his right arm locked onto the steering wheel. “I hope that doesn’t bother you guys too much.”
Ray kind of nudged Randy with his elbow real lightly, but other than that had turned and was staring out the window, offering no help whatsoever.
“Well,” Randy said, feeling about as awkward as he thought was possible. “We’ll get along with you just fine as long as you don’t try anything with us.”
“Sure, no problem,” the guy said, looking Randy in the eye. “You don’t need to worry, man.”
Randy helped with directions as they pulled into Fort Lewis, and their new strange friend drove as close to the barracks as he could. The drunk boys in the back seat mumbled their thanks as Randy, Ray and the driver helped them out of the car, and as they were all walking off Randy said … “and thanks for not touching us or anything.”
The guy rolled his eyebrows and smiled, then got into his car and drove away.
—–
The following night, after slaving their asses off out in the field, Randy enjoyed a shower, his only solitary time of the day, and was drying himself off with a towel as he walked back to his bunk.
As he approached his area, he saw some dude who everyone called Red slinking away from his own bunkmate’s lower locker. He noticed some cash in Red’s hand, but ignored it, and collapsed into bed, exhausted.
When he woke up the next morning, he decided he needed to make things right, and he told Red’s bunkmate Joe what had happened.
Joe ruffled quickly through his belongings, and as Red walked back from the shower, he stood up, shoved him in the chest and yelled “Give me my money back you son-of-a-bitch!”
“What?” Red was perplexed, caught half-naked and vulnerable.
“You heard me!” Joe said. “Randy fucking saw you, man.”
“Fine … Jesus,” Red said. “I’m sorry, I was fucking broke.” He reached up into a bag in his bunk, flashed Randy a fast, nasty glance, and quickly handed Joe the cash.
“Won’t happen again man.”
——
__________

There you go bro – hopefully I’ll be seeing you shortly after you read this, and talking to before then. Also, let me know if I’m resending any of the writing I’ve done … I’m keeping track but it’s a little hard keeping everything organized all the time. My brain can be a tad bit lacksadaisacal at times, you know.
I’m sending you a copy of that picture you drew with this letter, I’m hoping to visit you again here within a week. Until then, stay cool …
Your bro,
Adam

——————

10-9-13
Adam,
Hey bro – our last visit was really super, man. It was a lot of fun playing “Othello” with you. Thanks again for the soda and candy bar. Nothing like a little caffeine rush and sugar buzz to get you going while you have a conversation and whatnot.
I’ve read the last bit of the book that you sent a couple of times, and I’ve got to say “Wow! I love it bro!” This is the best part yet. You are writing in a way that makes me feel like I’m right there with Randy, Ray and the Hawaiian brothers on their weekend adventure. For a minute I thought I was reading some Steinbeck. It’s that good, or great.
It’s nice how you set the mood by describing their surroundings and background music. When I read “The streets were adorned with castaway day-old newspapers, broken wine bottles, empty crumpled brown-paper bags and other fluttering bits of trash” I can see the street and feel the wind and hear the bits of trash, and even imagine them swirling in the wind. Very cool, indeed.
And then the part about how “Jethro Tull sang about some pathetic bloke sitting on a park bench.” First of all, good use of the word “bloke,” I’ve never even heard that word before. And second, I like how you leave it to the reader to figure out the song’s name, which is of course Aqualung.
So yeah, I’m really looking forward to our next visit. We should play Othello again, or if Atticus is with you we can play Sorry! It’s all good. They bring new movies in here for us to watch. This last Saturday I got to watch Iron Man 3, which was cool. When I was in county jail I thought I’d never see it and my heart was broken. Now I feel like a new man.
That money is in my account now. Thank you for all the time and effort you put into handling my financial affairs. Altogether I’ve been very pleased.
Well, I’m going to sign out for now. I look forward to reading more of “The Book” when you can send it. Take care, I’ll see you soon.
Your bro,
Aaron

—–

10-28-13
My dear brother,
First of all, I just gotta say that it’s nice to be able to visit you regularly now. That game of Sorry we played about 12 hours ago (as I’m writing, probably several days by the time you receive this) was epic – down to the thinnest wire! It’s always a pleasure to see you in person, to look you in the face, to shake your hand and give you a couple of hugs. And the M&Ms aren’t bad either …
I’m happy that you seem to be maintaining so well … and it seems like your situation has been improving as best as possible. I’m just glad that you’re taking the necessary steps to keep yourself afloat, and not wallowing in misery and making anything worse. And thanks for your encouraging words regarding my new job, and your thoughts as to the changes that have affected my life recently – I always appreciate your insights. Not many other humans out there know me as well as you do.
Good to hear you gotta see Iron Man 3 – I’ve loved the whole series, Robert Downey Jr. (that spazz) is perfect in the role.
Well, apparently you’re inspiring me to write more than I think I am these days … I’ve spit out a couple more pages, so here they are … (once again, let me know if I’m ever resending anything).

______________________________________

After lunch the next day, the first thing Randy noticed back at his bunk was the cheese spread splayed over his top blanket.
Red, sitting several feet away, grinned and chuckled as he looked toward a window.
Randy, charged on the angry blood that suddenly filled his veins, hopped down from his bunk and stood in front of Red.
“You want to fuckin’ fight or something, man?”
Red stood up and looked him back in the eyes. “I didn’t think squealers liked to fight.”
A few other recruits who had been watching the developing scene stepped in just as the two started grappling, breaking them up before anything more than a few bumps on the bunkbeds’ metal frames could happen.
Red had no problem with Randy after that; the brief blowoff of steam had settled whatever it was that had been brewed up. The close quarters had that effect on the recruits in general. They rapidly became friends, or sometimes enemies, and the situation could be reversed on any given day, but they all had to get along in the end or suffer the consequences. It didn’t exactly help that their intense physical training kept everyone’s tempers short.

Later that week, the recruits were issued their gas masks. They were taught how to keep the filters clean and how to keep the mask sealed tightly to their faces, so they would be able to breathe in case they were attacked with chemical weapons during warfare.
As part of their final lesson, the sergeant marched them to a building called “the gas chamber.” From outside, it looked like a regular warehouse, a place where a decent lunch might be served inside, or where ammo or food might be stored.
“Line up and get inside!” The sergeant yelled. Once everyone had marched in, he slammed the door behind them. “You got two minutes to get your goddamn masks on. Do it!”
True to its name, the building started to fill with gas. Everything seemed blurry as Randy rushed to secure his mask, and his eyes started to burn and fill with tears as tightened it to his face. He figured he must have done something wrong because he was already coughing and choking, struggling to get a clean, full breath of air.
“Get your asses out the side door, you dumb-fucks!” someone yelled. Randy thought it was the sergeant, but he couldn’t tell who the hell anyone was or what the hell was going on. He heard everyone around him coughing and gagging as he stumbled his way toward the dim but promising light of the door.
By the time he shoved himself out the door amidst a mass of fellow slobbering saps, the inside of his mask was slathered in snot and saliva. But he barely noticed as he ripped it off and instantly focused on sucking in every bit of the crisp, beautiful air floating immediately outside the ghastly chamber.
“I’m breathing again,” he thought, “Thank you God!” He repeated the phrase in his mind a few times, averting his eyes away from the poor bastards who hadn’t paid enough attention in training and were now gagging and vomiting. A few of the men were actually sobbing, tears streaming from their eyes, as they finally managed to slow the agonizing wrenches wracking their bodies. Misery followed them in a cloud of lingering gas stench as they stumbled back to the barracks.

That same week, the recruits had the pleasure of learning how to crawl through mud underneath barbed-wire fences while carrying their M-16s. And the guns had to remain free of sand or dirt, otherwise they were forced to clean their gun and go through the course again. Randy managed to make it through the first time, unlike a few of his unlucky comrades.
As sort of a grand finale to their grueling week, the sergeant commanded the men to report to grenade training. He acted as if he were offering them the opportunity of a lifetime as he issued the command, not quite showing them that he was proud by any means, but letting them know they had accomplished something that made them worthy of not being called “dogs” for the moment, at least.
Randy was sort of scared about the whole grenade concept. Being in the vicinity of bits of red-hot shrapnel flying around at deadly speeds didn’t exactly sound like fun.
Once they were lined up, the drill sergeant ordered Randy and a couple other recruits to get down into the small, open-faced dugout in front of them.
“Look at me!” the sergeant barked. They all looked up at him, scared enough to act like obedient puppies. “The object of this lesson is to throw your grenade into one of those two barrels.” He pointed at a couple barrels sitting about 35 feet away. “And throw them before they blow you and your fellow soldiers to high hell, for God’s sake!”
Randy watched, crouched, and covered his ears as the two others pulled their grenade pins and tossed them toward the barrels, getting close but not quite inside. The blasts seemed loud, but the dugout absorbed the impact as they crouched down inside it.
“Private Harris!” Randy looked up, and the sergeant was staring him in the eyes. “I’m going to hand you a grenade. Hold the handle closed tight, then pull the pin and throw it when I tell you. Understand!?!”
“Yes sir!” Deadly fear, tinged by a strange sort of excitement, coursed through Randy’s blood as the sergeant handed him the grenade. He felt almost giddy for a second and had to squelch an odd urge to laugh. He froze for a second as the sergeant told him to pull the pin, then ripped it out and waited for the command to throw it.
He realized later on that he should have thrown it right then, rather than wait for another nonexistent command.
“THROW THAT GODDAMNED THING!!!” the sergeant screamed down at him, and Randy immediately threw it as hard as he could. The grenade blew up farther away from the barrels than all the others, but Randy didn’t give a shit because he was just relieved that the lesson was finally over.

CHAPTER 5: BRUTAL TRIGGER

“Oh that’s right, Private Pyle, don’t make any fucking effort to get to the top of the fucking obstacle. If God would have wanted you up there he would have miracled your ass up there by now, wouldn’t he?” Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, “Full Metal Jacket,” 1987.

By the halfway point of their basic training, the recruits had learned to march in step almost perfectly. With less than six weeks left to go, Randy felt like everything seemed to be coming together seemlessly. The graded tests he would need to pass for graduation would be coming up soon.
One day, during one of their indoor lessons, the sergeant picked Randy out from among a seated sea of fellow recruits during a camouflage exercise. A pair of privates rapidly painted his face, holding up a mirror so he could watch as his features became grey- and charcoal-colored.
The sergeant guided him to the front of the small stage and pointed toward his face. “This is what you will look like when you’re hiding in the jungles of Vietnam! And you better learn to hide, or you might not make it back!”
Randy noticed a few of the guys from his barracks sitting together on a bench, looking a bit bored. The sergeant’s voice drifted off, and he realized his face was just as dark as all the black recruits sitting out in the crowd, then had to stifle a giggle as he suddenly thought of himself as Al Jolson in “The Jazz Singer.”
A manic feeling bubbled up from within his gut, and he tried to stifle the laughter that was trying to rumble up from his stomach as he looked out over all the recruits’ faces.
The sergeant paused and looked over at him, and Randy felt like he had been put on the spot.
“Mammmmy!” he belted out in a singsong and seemingly comical voice, raising his arms and smiling broadly in his best impression of Jolson in one of his old minstrel acts.
His barrack-mates had noticed it was him by now, and burst out in laughter along with a bunch of other recruits.
The sergeant looked less than impressed. “OK private, that’s enough, step on down now.”

_______________________

So there we go … I’m really starting to enjoy writing this all out. It’s a challenge, but an interesting one, and seriously, all your input and insights are helping me along the way. It may actually be up to you to continue prodding me until we get this whole thing written out.
And yes, traumatic experiences lie ahead in this story. But as I rewrite this, I can just put myself outside of it all, and view it as a semi-factual account of what happened, without taking any of it personally, as I’m sure you can too. A true story indeed, but one which includes details that I attempt to re-create by imagining what it must have been like for dad during these intense times of his life.
I love you Aaron – Brittany says “Hi!” and I’ll talk to Atticus about coming along with me next time. I think you’ll be impressed by his Sorry capabilities … and I think you’re the perfect person to introduce him to Othello, which he’s never played. I’ll (hopefully we’ll) be visiting you again within the next couple weeks.
Stay amazing,
-Adam


Chapter 5: A Glimmer of Light

“People with schizophrenia may be predisposed through high levels of the chemical dopamine to seek out and explore more possible connections than other individuals. Many times, these individuals may actually make a novel and practical connection.” (Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D., “Schizophrenic Thought: Madness or Potential for Genius?” Psychology Today)

8-2-13
Adam,
Hey bro! So I just got here to Oakdale. And I’m going to need a few bucks for commissary.
I’m sending you a few forms. Send me $150 to the address highlighted in PINK! This is essential bro! I need coffee and I need it bad.
This is real prison here, no doubt. Small cell with two bunks. But it’s not that bad. I’ll be getting some outside time soon.
There’s a form for prepaid telephone services, put 50 bucks or so on that if you can. Just send me what you can and try to balance it out. You’re good at that.
I’m glad to be out of county jail. The food here is a little better. And I don’t have to listen to a huge door opening and SLAMMING 100 times a day.
Unfortunately I can’t receive visits here. Not until I’m in General Population. Sucks. But please, please my brother fill out the form, put some money on my books and toward the prepaid phone, and then I will call you so we can talk again. I miss you bro. I’m looking forward to hearing about Ragbrai.
They have more forms here and I can send them out to everyone. If you made copies, that would save me $1.50, not much, but it makes a difference here. But dammit it’s not that important to me now.
Eventually I can get a job that pays 50 cents an hour. That’s $5 a day or $150 a month. Plenty enough for coffee!
So bro, I believe that in the long run things will settle down and I will have a good life even though I’m in prison. I’m keeping the faith. I’m also living for the day when I can see you and give you a hug. I love you my brother.
And once I get some instant coffee my handwriting will be better I promise.
Tell Atticus and Brittany “Hi” and that I love them too.
I love you bro,
Aaron

8-5-13
Hey Aaron,
Glad to hear you’re finally out of county and down here in our neck of the woods. I’m going to send this letter to you via the Internet messaging service so that it reaches you quicker, or so I hope.
I sent the $150 to the commissary address – too bad it’s in Fort Dodge but I’m assuming it’s all electronic once it gets there. So hopefully you’ll have coffee within a few days. I hope the slightly better food and less door-slamming is enough to help you survive until then.  I’m sure it all sucks just the same, but at least things are changing and you’re moving toward something instead of sitting stagnant inside that stank county space.
So a small room with two bunks; do you have a bunkmate then or do you have the whole cell to yourself? I hear that with decent behavior, you should be able to have some freedom of movement around Oakdale, which I’m sure includes the outdoor option you mentioned. Just be as cool as possible and reap whatever tiny rewards you can at this point, right? Hell, I have no idea …
I’ll put some money on the phone service by the end of the week, then we should be able to talk again soon. Sorry I missed your last calls; I was somewhat sad to miss a chance to chat with you before the transfer.
Ragbrai was a blast but a total challenge, mentally and physically, as usual. I rode my bike every day and got in about 460 miles for the week. And probably only about one beer for every four miles … kidding!
Cool to hear that you’re already thinking about a job … that will help to pass the time, plus you’ll build up your own commissary dough, which will be necessary sooner or later anyway. I can see you stocking up on massive amounts of coffee just in case … coffee bags as pillows, punching bags and whatever else you could fill with coffee.
I’m especially glad to hear that you’re “keeping the faith.” That you’re keeping your eye on the silver lining in all of this, that you’re looking ahead to the times when you can relax in your own space, and also to the times when we can see each other physically and shoot the shit face-to-face.
Hopefully this isn’t too long for the typical Internet message, I guess we’ll see. I’ll write you a physical letter again soon so I can include whatever updates I’ve done on the book, which is only a couple pages as of now.
I love you brother, and don’t worry, your handwriting wasn’t all that bad – even with the caffeine-withdrawal 😀
Take it easy,
-Adam
P.S. Sorry – looks like I need to mail this since the damned Internet message crap doesn’t take American Express or debit cards.  Pffffttt!!!!

8-23-13
Adam,
Hey bro! 460 miles, good job.
Hope you find work soon. I’ll be praying for you.
Imagine how happy Mom would be if you stood beside her and sat with her at the Kingdom Hall. Please come back into the Truth. Okay, sorry to bring it up but I love you and Mom and wish only that you and her would be happy.
So I’m back into the full swing of things. Back on the regular B-max unit with all the other guys. I get along with most everybody.
It’s great to have my coffee again and to use my phone. it was nice talking to you again too.
Thanks for handling my financial matters so well. Sure makes it easier for me knowing that I’ve got you on my side. Helps me feel better about everything in general.
Hope you get to writing a few more pages. Sometimes an artist needs to take a break, though. Then when your heart is back in the mix you can express yourself again.
I really love you bro, thank you for being there for me. You’re a noble man. If I was the Queen of England, I’d go ahead and “knight” you. Sounds sort of funny but sometimes that’s how it goes.
Love, your bro,
Aaron

8-25-13
Hey there cowboy!
Good to hear you wrangled yourself up some coffee – I’m sure that’ll go good with beans and rabbit stew around the campfire before it’s time to lasso some more cattle once the morning sun hits again…
It was nice to hear from you the other day, and to get an overall update on everything. I’ll be looking forward to our next opportunity for a chat.
The drawing you sent is exquisite. I love every aspect of it: The shading of the hills and trees, the angular birds, the crazed sun, the ripple-tastic and wavy foreground, the bubbling clouds, cumulonimbus perchance? I truly love every drawing you send me – not only do I think they are fascinating works of art, but I appreciate how they give me somewhat of an insight into your creative (and twisted but beautiful) mind.
Image
Yeah, the whole mom thing. I do appreciate your sentiments brother, but I’m about as agnostic as a person can get. To each their own, I believe, especially spiritually-wise. If I worship anything, it’s Mother Earth, and of course family.
Mom called me a week or so ago and we had a nice chat. She brought up a band called Imagine Dragons, whose big song is called Radioactive. I always enjoy talking about music with her, when she’s willing to speak to me of course. Usually she is, though I really think she’s more worried about what Don thinks these days than what she herself might truly feel inside. But now I’m rambling about it all …
So yes, good to hear that you’re in the “swing of things” and adapting to change. What does “B-max unit” stand for exactly? It’s good to know that you’re getting some outdoor time and a bit of sunshine – that’s an essential part of a decent existence for everyone.
Thanks for “knighting” me, my brother, I consider it quite the honor. You just mentioning England’s queen brings the old Sex Pistols song to mind. Too bad Sid Vicious couldn’t have stayed alive for another album, at least Johnny Rotten’s still kicking it. Bloody hell.
Which reminds me, I have often told Atticus that it’s always better to be safe than to be sorry. Then when we were camping this summer, he made up a little one-line punk ditty, which he sings in a pseudo-British accent: “You bett-ah be safe than sorry.” He makes me laugh sometimes.
I’m glad to be there for you as much as I can and I always wish I could do more.
So I realized I’ve actually written a few more pages of the book than I thought, and here they are. I can always send them to you again later once you’re transferred if necessary:
_______________________________________________
The sergeant woke them up before sunrise, clapping loudly and barking out “Get up out of your beds and go take a shit, shower and shave! Make your goddamn beds and line up – you got 30 minutes!” His eyes gleamed as he glowered over their panicked, clumsy movements.
As they stood in line in formation, trying their best to look sharp and alert, a pair of nurses walked down the line, checking their names and shooting them in the arms with airguns filled with various vaccines. “This stuff will keep you alive out there,” they said before each soldier’s shot.
The drill sergeant looked them over, running his eyes sternly up and down and all around until they all stared down at the ground, ashamed at their pathetic existences.
“When I call your name, respond ‘Here, Drill Sergeant!'” he commanded.
When he called “Randy Harris!”, Randy straightened his shoulders, stuck out his chin and said “Here, Drill Sergeant!” The sergeant glared into his eyes briefly before moving on down the line. Finally, he let them head to the mess hall for breakfast.
———-
The line at the mess hall always seemed to stretch out for a mile, with aromas of their awaiting breakfasts growing more tantalizing with each passing minute. By the time they shoved the food into their mouths, it tasted almost as delicious as home-cooking.
After eating, they were lined up and loaded like so many cattle into Army trucks and hauled to a lengthy, metallic warehouse, where they lined up inside and were issued three pairs of fatiques and khakis, along with two belts, six pairs of black socks and one pair of steel-toed boots.
“How old are you?” asked one of the orderlies at the table as he told them his clothing sizes.
“Seventeen,” he said, smiling a little.
All three orderlies sighed in near unison.
“Oh boy,” the first orderly said, looking into Randy’s eyes. “Here you go … welcome aboard. Enjoy this first day son, because the pain will start tomorrow.”
——
When they had downtime back in the barracks that afternoon, Randy took a few snapshots of himself dressed in fatigues, planning to send them to Rose along with a letter since it would be a while before he could call her. Not even two days had passed, and he was missing her like crazy already. Damn, how long was it going to be before he could see her again, before they could be together in love (and naked some of those times) again? It was going to be fucking forever, he thought.
Randy introduced himself to his bunkmate Ron, a black guy from Illinois. They chatted briefly but didn’t have that much in common, and went about organizing their meager belongings, wandering around smoking cigarettes, and napping between lunch and dinner.
When Randy came back from dinner, Ron was sitting on the edge of his bunk with his head in his hands.
“You okay, man?”
Ron looked up and asked, “You didn’t mess with my shoes at all, did you?”
“Hell no,” Randy said, surprised by the random question. “I haven’t touched any of your stuff.”
“Well look at that,” Ron said, pointing.
His dress shoes rested on their designated line in front of his bed, but it looked like marshmallows were spilling out from their insides.
Just about everyone was back from their staggered dinner times, tooling around the bunkbeds like so many bees in a hive.
Ron stood up and walked to the middle of the room, obviously agitated, holding his shaving-cream-filled shoes straight out from his sides like an angry scarecrow.
With most of the eyes in the room staring at him, he yelled: “Who the hell put this shit in my goddamn shoes?!?”
A moment of silence hung in the air before someone yelled back “Sam” from one of the corners of the room.
Ron dropped his shoes and charged in that direction, cornering Sam, a skinny white Missourian who was unlucky enough to be the only one bearing his name in the room.
Sam was crouched down against the wall begging for mercy before Ron even reached him; Ron hovered over him, taut with the threat of potential retaliation.
“You ever pull this type of shit again,” Ron uttered, “and I’ll fucking kill you.”
The recruits laughed quietly as Ron stalked back, grabbed his shoes, and headed to the bathroom.
Sam never got closer than 20 feet to Ron or his belongings ever again.
———-
5:30 a.m.: “UP AND AT THEM YOU SONS OF BITCHES!!” barked the drill sergeant, his face red and swollen like an angry bulldog.
They exercised at his mercy for a half-hour – pushups, situps, jumping jacks until they were gagging for breath, and then he marched them in sequence, shouting at them to keep in line, directing them to the supply station. It took at least 25 tries until every exhausted recruit got their march down right, and they finally began to progress down the road.
Once they arrived at the supply station though, the fun started.
“Line up!” the drill sergeant yelled, and they did. As they were issued their M-16s, each soldier held it as gently as if it were their first lover, stroking their barrels softly up and down.
Their first major lesson was how to take their guns apart, clean them, and put them back together. If you couldn’t figure that much out, the sergeant roughly explained, you would flunk the fuck right out of basic.
Picking up their M-16s became a morning ritual, the first part of their day, after they exercised and marched their bodies into a full awakening on the way to the supply station.
It seemed to rain constantly at Fort Lewis, but that never put a damper on their training. Not only did the men learn their exercises, they learned how to do them in the mud during a downpour.
Marching with their M-16s was kind of a highlight of any given day. Following the sergeant’s commands to order, present arms, salute officers, be and stand at attention were easy enough to do and made them feel like they were learning something. The best orders to hear, of course, were “parade rest” and “be at ease.”
KP duty, on the other hand, rapidly became a regular part of their existence that no one looked forward to. Everyone had to take their turn, and the few who volunteered when the sergeant asked every afternoon stopped doing so after realizing it wasn’t going to score them any brownie points with anyone.
One morning, Randy was among the three random victims picked for that day’s kitchen patrol.
“Follow Private James and get to work,” the sergeant commanded and pointed them out of the room.
They followed the tall, slim black man out the door and trudged through the usual dirt toward the mess hall. He guided them in as they walked through the stained back door of the mess hall. Randy looked around, overwhelmed by the sights and sounds of the warehouse-sized backend of a U.S. Army kitchen.
“Private Harris – get over here!” The sharp order snapped Randy back into attention.
“Yes sir, private,” he said, stepping up more quickly.
“What did you call me?” Private James demanded.
Randy immediately knew he had done something wrong. Private James’ hand reached out like the head of a striking rattlesnake and pinched Randy’s bicep in a vice-like grip.
“Come with me!” Private James hissed through clenched teeth.
He pulled Randy briskly through the back of the mess hall and stood him in front of an “Insignia” – a poster that listed ranks, their order, and their meanings.
Private James pointed to the Insignia, looked Randy in the eyes, and demanded, “Now, Private Harris, what am I?”
“Private, First Class, sir.”
“That’s better.” He relaxed his grip on Randy’s now-bruised upper arm and led him back to the mess hall.
Randy spent the entire day peeling potatoes and scrubbing grease-stained grills, endlessly sweeping and mopping a floor that would never be completely clean, and stealing the occasional cigarette when he got the chance to haul garbage out behind the mess hall.
The private managing the kitchen finally allowed him to leave around sunset, and he puffed on his final smoke for the day as he stumbled back to the barracks, utterly exhausted. Luckily for him, and everyone else really, KP duty was something they were only forced to do about a half-dozen times or so during their stint in basic training.
——-
On the day the recruits received their first paychecks, it took Randy no more than a few minutes to make his way down to the cafeteria next to the Post Exchange, or PX, where there were a bunch of extra supplies and goodies on sale for anyone to buy.
Randy’s buddy Ray had told him they sold beer in the cafeteria, and Randy insisted on buying the first pitcher for the two of them.
“I still can’t believe how fucking young you look,” Ray said, taking a healthy chug out of his glass. “Goddamn, this beer is cold and dee-fucking-licious!”
“Well, I am young,” Randy said as he polished off his glass, smiling. He poured himself a fresh one. “But all I gotta do is show any clerk on base my military ID and I can buy as much beer as I can fucking carry.”
They both laughed.
After working his ass off all week, it felt spectacular to get a little beer buzz going … to let my brain relax a little, Randy thought. It felt damn good.
“So how’s your first week been, man?” Ray asked, lighting another smoke.
“Great, except for that goddamned KP duty.”
“That’s a bitch, ain’t it? Some nervous Nelly puked his fries all over a table and I got stuck cleaning that shit up.” Ray scowled as he exhaled smoke through his nose. “Fucking lightweights.”
“I think I’m in love with my M-16, though,” Randy said.
“Oh, hell yeah! Cheers to that!”
After they were half-drunk, they did a little shopping. Randy stocked up on cigarettes, some Brasso to shine up his brass, shoe polish for his combat boots, and bloomers for his pants. All the new trainees put bloomers on their pant cuffs to keep them snug above their boots.
______________________________________________

So there we go, the latest excerpt. Stay strong my brother, as you always have. Before too long here we’ll get a chance to hang out in person – I can’t wait to give you a big ‘ol hug.
Take it easy man, and call me again soon.
Love ya,
Adam
P.S. Oh yeah – job-wise, I’ve got an interview tomorrow for a “safety clerk” position at Heartland Express, a big trucking company in North Liberty. So hopefully that goes well. Wish me luck!
P.S.S. That interview went okay, I’ve got a better one lined up Friday at Integrated DNA Technologies out in Coralville – about a mile from Oakdale. They create DNA strands for scientists and pharmaceutical companies to work with – wish me double-luck.

9-2-13
Adam,
Hey bro! Just talked to you last night. Another 65-mile bike ride huh? That’s really cool that you can take off and ride 65 miles like it’s just another day at the gym. You really must put your heart into it. I was that way with skating.
We just came back in from our one hour of yard time that we get every other day. I ran about a half-mile and did a few lunges. Then I talked with a couple fellas for awhile. Little bit of exercise and socialization. That sun’s got me energized again. Feels good. They say when I get to prison I’ll get to lift weights and have a job.
Hopefully I’ll get your letter today. I’m excited to read what you’ve written for “the book.” Right now I’m drinking instant coffee and eating a big, tasty cinnamon roll that they served us for breakfast. Thanks again for getting that money into my account.
Last week I ordered a book of Sudoku puzzles with my commissary. There are 1-star, 2-star, 3-star and 4-star puzzles, 1-star being the easiest and 4-star being the most difficult. I do the 4-star puzzles, the other ones are too easy. I should start doing more crossword puzzles. Those would help improve my somewhat limited vocabulary. Plus Sudoku gets old after awhile. You like doing crossword puzzles, right?
I looked up “light” in a 1992 World Book Encyclopedia here. Then I traced the picture that shows the graph of the electromagnetic nature of light. It’s really cool. The picture’s caption says that “Light is a kind of electromagnetic wave. Such a wave consists of an electric field and a magnetic field. These fields are at right angles to each other and to the direction of the waves’ travel. The wave’s Amplitude is its greatest distance from the ray.” Anyway, I thought it was cool, so I thought you would too. Check out the drawing man – ha-ha!
I look forward to visiting with you once I’m transferred from here. Tell Atticus and Brittany Hi! and that I love them. Talk to you soon.
I love you bro,
Aaron
P.S. I just got your letter with your latest from the book. Awesome!
—————–
9-26-13
Adam,
Hey bro. It was really nice having you visit. Finally we were able to sit down and talk to each other person to person, no wires. You were looking pretty good bro. All that biking has got your countenance trim and fit.
I’m praying for you to find a good job soon. Keep your head up. You’ve got a good track record and that goes a long ways.
One part of the book that I like is after they were issued their M-16s. It goes “If you couldn’t figure that much out, the sergeant roughly explained, you would flunk the fuck right out of basic.” Flunk the fuck right out of basic, that’s funny bro.
Another part I thought was cool is when Dad’s bunkmate Ron is holding out his shaving-cream filled shoes “from his sides like an angry scarecrow.” I thought that was pretty good imagery.
Well we’re getting close to the part in the book where Dad experiences a horrible, traumatizing, shizophrenic-inducing tragedy. I’m braced for it though. It needs to be written. This part of the story will connect back to the beginning when you wrote about schizophrenia. Some more info on schizophrenia at this point right before he is assaulted might be good. Maybe about how schizophrenia develops in a person. It’s not always just genetic.
Okay my man, I look forward to hearing from you again and anything that you’ve written in the book. Tell Atticus “hi” for me. Take care bro.
I love you my brother,
Aaron Harris


Chapter 4: Depression

4-8-13
Hey bro,
How are you? Everything with the job and Atty and Brittany good, I hope. Weather’s better so you get outside to go biking. That’s good for you.
I’m afraid my mental health continues to deteriorate. Depression and thoughts of death. Wishing I was not alive all day every day. Poor me huh? Usually I end up praying that God will show me mercy and end my life. I should be the first of us siblings to go. And if I should pass before you rest assure that I’ll no longer have to suffer from this mental illness and a life full of tragedy and tragic consequences.
Bunch of bullshit huh? There’s just nothing good left inside my mind. Just a bunch of neurological maggots feeding on the rotten meat of my consciousness. Spoiled, diseased and putrid.
My mind is a cesspool for all that’s worthless and pitiful. Existence is a joke. Family is all I have but I’m afraid my existence is just causing them all more grief and pain. What a waste. A waste of what? Nothing fucking matters anymore. Eat shit sleep. Eat shit sleep. Fuck ‘em, I hate this fucking existence.
Here’s a stupid, sorry song for myself, shit ass worthless song:
EVERYBODY (A Failure’s Muse)
(Chorus)
Everybody was cooler than you,
they all did much better things than you.
(Verse 1)
And you, just wanted to stay inside
nice and close to the flesh.
You couldn’t open your eyes when
everybody was cooler than you …
(Break)
This is insane, it’s one big fucking lie
Things don’t get better only worse until you die
It would’ve been better to not be born at all
To never have to feel the pain
(X2)
of a life that makes you shit
of a life of tears and pain
of a life that steals your breath with death
of a life of guilt and shame.
(Verse 2)
Everybody is cooler than you
(Guitar riff)
And you, never wanted outside
to be aborted unborn cold and despised.
(Chorus)
Everybody is cooler than you
Now they all have found better things to do.

Other times I’m in front of the mirror combing chunks of dandruff off my scalp. Sometimes until I bleed. It’s funny because I can never get it all. All I have to do is comb some more, and more dandruff scrapes up. You figure that after a while you could comb it all out. ‘Tis not the case. Always more to scrape out if you need a diversion from the insane.
Bro, it only gets worse. Frustration until I have to smack my head against the wall, over and over again.
Sorry bro. But I’m now taking Invega, a medication that treats schizophrenia. But it only works a little bit and then the bottom drops out again and I’m back in hell. I don’t see a way out. Thirty-five years to life doesn’t seem like much of a way out. There’s not a bright side for me anymore. I’m not going to pussyfoot and say there is. I’m a miserable failure. Least I can do is admit it.
You insane, almost retarded, stupid ass brother,
Aaron

4-19-13
Aaron,
First of all, I gotta say it was a pleasure speaking with you the other night – thanks for giving me a few rings and sorry I wasn’t able to answer earlier. Your calls are some of the most important I receive, and I always feel a pang of regret when I notice I missed one.
It was good to hear you’re keeping your chin up, and I appreciated your homemade joke. And be sure to jot down Paul’s address for me, so I can send him a little money for some copies if the music he’s recording.
Sorry if I seemed clueless about the poem/song in your letter – I hadn’t read it yet so didn’t know what you were talking about really. Just got the letter yesterday and read it a day after we spoke, and …
Well, I don’t really want to read it again. Maybe I’m trying to deny reality, but it’s hard to hear the brutal truth of how you’re feeling at some of your darkest moments I guess. I feel for you, brother … you’re stuck between a rock and an asphalt wall, and the future looks dim indeed, I’m sure.
But however you feel, what you can really do now for the best of everyone concerned is to stay strong and keep plowing ahead. As slow and painful as the inability to “plow ahead” may seem.
Call me selfish, but I’m looking forward to seeing you again in person – at your trial, and then again afterwards during whatever opportunities present themselves to us. And they will be there to some extent or another. And I have to ask you to not be selfish … me and the rest of your family who love you want and need you to be there to talk to and to share memories with, and we all just need to know that you’re just there – wherever that may be – and that you’re alive and as well as you can possibly make yourself.
Before I address what you wrote in your dismal letter, I want to reflect on something fun. Don’t know what exactly, but now that I think about it just a good memory – like of you jumping like a crazy man off that damned huge cliff in the Black Hills. I don’t remember the name of the lake, but I recall there was a spot to jump off about 20-30 feet up, then another at 50 feet or so, and finally a death-defying high jump of around 80 feet maybe.
We both did the 30-footer, then I hesitantly did the 50-footer with you. And that hurt enough that I was done with it. But you, of course, pumped full of adrenalin I’m sure, had to conquer the big jump.
And I remember standing up there, totally freaked out, watching as you ran down the trail (cuz you had to run down a trail just to get enough motion to do this damned jump, otherwise you’d bounce off the rocks jutting from the hillside on your way down) and I felt exhilarated myself just watching you leap off the edge and plunge down into uncertainty.
You said afterward that it felt like the water’s surface split open your butt cheeks and slapped your arse. And I believed it. I think that was the same trip when we caught about 30 trout and had a massive fish-feast. Good times indeed!
By the way, Willie Nelson just played on the radio – you would enjoy his newer songs, I’m sure.  I think he released an album in just in the last year. Johnny Cash and Willie have always been my favorite country greats. Now I’m listening to Ray LaMontagne – did you ever check him out? Slow and mellow …
Anyway, I hope your spirits are a little less low than when you wrote your last letter. I hope that new med is helping a little maybe. Fuck it all, let’s just admit it, it sucks dealing with mental illness, and you’re dealing with it hot and heavy. I’ve only got a tinge, maybe more than I want to admit or ever show, but you have definitely been dealt a full hand of mental bullshit.
But listen brother, you’ve done what you can with that hand you’ve been dealt. And now you’ve got to make the best of what you have. A life that involves even the smallest pleasures is better than nothing. Listen to me, I sound like a freakin’ therapist and it all probably sounds like B.S., eh? It almost does to me too, but I mean it man, I love you and if you were gone it would hurt like hell. So basically I’m just saying stay strong for me and for the rest of us who love you and want to continue to communicate with you and see you whenever possible.
I like how even though you were feeling lowdown as you jotted down your “shit-ass” song, you still made the effort to write out the musical parts to it. And guess what? A lot of people have done stuff cooler than you or I, but a lot of people have done things a lot worse, far more reprehensible and putrid.
Stop getting down on yourself so much, man.
OK, by the next time I write I’ll try to have a couple more pages of the book ready … I’ve only done a tad now and need to get back on it.
At my job at Pearson now, I work in a quiet, windowless room with other office types, a few of whom are beginning to drive me mad. It’s the sort of cubicle-life that would drive you nuts, I’m sure.
Call me again soon Aaron – it’s always awesome to talk to you and hear your voice again.
Love ya,
-Adam

4-22-13
Obsessed and compulsively impulsive: OCI.
Adam,
Like a candle on the darkside of the moon. Indeed my brother the future looks dim. Wouldn’t it be funny if scientists found billions of microscopic rats running around on the moon?
Yes, that jump off the cliff in the Black Hills was quite the plunge. Butt cheeks and subsequent rectal cavity felt split and ripped by some sea monster proctologist. Physically traumatized a little but quickly back to normal.
So yes, some very dark moments. Relentlessly disturbing thoughts. But I need to be grateful and satisfied with food, water and shelter. It’s not easy; I’m a spoiled American.
I have guitar riffs in my head for the “shit-ass” song. Maybe someday I’ll have access to a guitar and try to play them. Then I’ll look back and chuckle.
So I’m looking forward to anything you’ve written or will write in the book. To reading it, I mean. Sorry, I’m restless and having trouble concentrating.
I love you guys very much. I’ve just been beaten up by life. And my heart has thoroughly instructed me in Misery and Shame. I’m well acquainted with the “Sorry Sap” of Despair. We have tea on a regular basis. Sometimes Depression and Anxiety stop by and we play Parcheesi. Then we have group sex (metaphor). Pardon me sir, do you have any Grey PoopOn? Poop on yourself a-hole. I’ll have a glass of left field with a splash of tangent please. Pardon me sir, do you have any Brown PoopOn? Uh, I hope not. Would you fancy some tea, old sport? Nah, think I’ll pass. Thanks anyways.
Thanks for writing and talking to me on the phone bro. You’ve helped me immensely.
Your bro,
Aaron

5-5-2013
Aaron,
Thank you for the drawing – it was, literally speaking, tits! Robot women smoking cigarettes in an abstract, futuristic art-world – I want to be there!
Seriously man, I love your artwork – most of your pieces are simply amazing. And bizarrely beautiful.

Robot Women 4-22-13

Well, I hope you’re maintaining. Sorry I missed your calls Wednesday – I’ve been waiting for you to call every night since then. Hopefully you’ll call later tonight (Sunday).
Hey – funny story. Atty’s soccer team is like the Bad News Bears – always playing the role of the underdogs. But Saturday it started raining during the game, and they all got stoked. The “Longfellow Lightning” team struck as the rain poured down, going berzerk, and won 2-0 as real lightning flashed and the game was called due to the pouring rain. It was awesome!
So there’s $200 enclosed with this letter; hopefully it suffices. I’m sure any balance you have left will carry over.
I’ll be up there on Tuesday – it will be nice to see you in person regardless of the circumstances.
Stay strong my brother.
Love,
-Adam

5-6-13
(Note: Greeting card with “Thinking of You, Today and Every Day” and “Just to remind you that my thoughts are always with you” inscribed on it.)
Adam,
Hey bro, thought I’d drop a sentimental note your way.
Thank you for being by my side through this most difficult time. I love you very much and I don’t know where I’d be without you. Thanks for taking the time to write and sends checks to me.
And as the days, months and years pass we as brothers shall continue to carry on and love and make jest at my petty and sometimes miserable life. Damn it, I just messed up! Oh well, it’s the thought that counts.
Anyway my brethren, I always look forward to reading your letters and our conversing in sounds however unrhythmic or piggish they may be. Ha-ha! Damn it, here we go again. I can’t write a normal letter anymore. I’m always getting off on some other thing and now I just don’t know. Oh well, it’s the thought that counts.
Battling through depression here. But I’m winning with the help of a loving and caring older brother named Adam.
I love you bro,
Aaron Von Harris

5-31-13
Hey Aaron,
Thought I’d write you a little letter to say HELLO! It was nice talking to you on the phone the other night, but I’m not sure when I’ll hear from you again, and I’ll be up in Spencer this weekend, so my phone will be working so-so … meaning, if I miss a call from you, it’s because I don’t have service.
So I’m heading up to Fostoria tomorrow so we can hit Grandma Groth’s 80th birthday deal Saturday – I’m excited for Atticus to hang out with Bob’s boys and all the Durst girls’ kids – a bunch of second-generation cousins mixing it up in the old Fostoria park is bound to be interesting. We’re bringing a Nerf football, a soccer ball, a Frisbee and Atty’s skateboard – gotta give the kids some options, right?
Don’t worry, if any relatives ask about you, I’ll tell them the basics, let them know you love your family, and move on. I’ll be sure to give Lavon your love, and I’ll let you know later on how the relatives have been doing, too.
I was happy to hear that you’re staying strong, ready to meet the next change/challenge in your life. Only one more month in county, thank goodness. Just keep your head up, bro. By the way, I’ll have a chance to write a little bit on the book soon, and will be sending you an update when I write you again in a couple weeks.
Like I said, your friend Pete was in touch with me and would like to visit you. I don’t know his last name, but his phone # is 702-419-0323. You should get him on your visitor list ASAP and let me know, or call him and let him know.
Let me know when you could use another check, but like you said, it’s a good time to tighten down. Don’t worry though – you’ll always be OK. And I can send you some more June fundage whenever you need it.
When I’m in Spencer, I plan to stop by Dad’s grave to say “hello, Old Man”, and I’ll kneel down and give him a little prayer from both you and me. Last winter, Atticus and I had a little snowball fight there, which I thought Dad would have appreciated.
OK brother, I’ve got to get to bed, but I’ll send this letter out tomorrow … I love you man.
Your bro,
ADAM

6-5-13 billion
Adam,
Hey bro. Well, my sentencing isn’t until July 26th now. Mostly I miss you guys. You, Mom and Don, Albert, Andrea, Atticus and my son Nickolas. If I could see you all for a few hours face-to-face and talk and give you all a hug before we said goodbye then I would feel a whole hell of a lot better.
This isolation shit is getting to me. But another month isn’t that much longer. Would be nice if they would tell me why. They aren’t nice though. What, are they trying to make me feel on edge or something? Like I’m going to sit here and wonder whether or not I’m getting sentenced to life? I know I’m getting sentenced to life in prison. It’s not that bad of a thing really. They may want me, or ask me, to say a few words at the sentencing. I’m not sure about it. Most likely I won’t be making any statements.
I wanted the drawing I sent to be a total surprise. Like you just open the letter and pull it out, then you’re like “Holy freakin’ upside down and backwards. That’s two shit wholes just a staring at each other. Or is it? Yee-haw and whoopy dingdong with a long rope and a porcupine. Give me a dollar for every time a butt cracks.” Living it up bro … living it up.
But I wound up telling you about it ahead of time. Trying to arouse your curiosity I guess.
Just got off the phone with you. Hope you feel better soon. Being a little down or fizzed out can be tough. Maybe you were really having a rough time. It’s okay bro, keep your head up. I know sometimes life is cruel.
Here’s a little bit of differential equation that I’ve learned: (Note: Mathematic illustration drawn.)
Thanks for getting that check out to me. I’ll do my best to stretch it out. They take some out for my meds every month, $50 or $60 I think. But I’m cutting down on snacks so I can keep commissary under $50 a week. Then I can still get four or five phone cards. Right now times are good financially. Thanks for all your help.
I will leave you with a little song I wrote:
STIR STIC, by Aaron Harris
I found my favorite stir stic
Now I’ll never be lonely again
oh yah, oh yah yah yah
I made it from a black
5-inch comb, the comb was made
in China but my stir stic
was made right here in
the United States of …
I found my favorite stir stic
oh yah, oh yah yah yah
Love you bro,
Aaron

6-16-13
AARON!
Hey there man – only a little over a month now before you finally get a change of pace.
First off, I gotta say, I love the drawing you sent me. It looks like two tunnels going around the side a fantastical cylinder, and I like how it appears that I could walk down and around that cylinder. Now I’m going to have a tough time deciding which piece of your art I’m going to want tattooed on my left calf. Oh decisions, decisions.

Cylinder II

I agree with what you said on meeting face-to-face and hugging and all that, but opportunities for that will exist in the future, once you’ve been moved. And I wouldn’t want to say “goodbye” to you; instead, I’m looking forward to being able to have those sort of interactions on a regular basis during visits. It will happen, brother; we just have to wait for everything to play out, I guess.
I was a little upset when you told me that your sentencing had been delayed. To me that just seems like you’re being forced to suffer in county jail for a while longer before you can move on to a different environment. But I know that you’re strong and at this point, you can handle about anything, so I’m just looking forward to you going to Oakdale soon and figuring out what will happen after that.
“I know sometimes that life is cruel.” I think that is a rather brilliant of sentence from you, and I appreciated your sentiments when I read it.
Man, that differential equation that you wrote up is freaking crazy. My old roommate Ricardo was a graduate student in mathematics, and would have stuff like that written on the white board in his bedroom all the time. I’ve always thought that once you take math to that level, it’s like reading and creating its own sort of language. It looks like an ancient Egyptian script, but on a much more advanced level. Props to you for exercising your brain on complicated math activities, dude! I’m totally impressed. And now I’m writing like a surfer, I guess
I dug the “Stir Stic” song, man. I think it would grand to hear you sing that someday while strumming an acoustic guitar.
I’ve finally been getting a little creative again too; here’s a page or two that I wrote tonight. I think you will especially enjoy the conversation between dad and Jesus. (Note: I’m including the last paragraph from my earlier writing, I just want to confirm that I sent you that part already. So if you’ve read that paragraph before, great, if you haven’t, let me know.)
—————————
The sergeant looked him square in the eye, shook his hand, and said, “Welcome to the Army, son, you’re enlisted as of today. You will be officially inducted on August 16th, 1971.”
—–
The two of them moved in with Rose’s friend Ann in Dickens a week later. They wanted to live together outside of their parents’ homes, and Ann needed roommates in the big 2-bedroom house she was renting.
Randy felt like he was finally growing up, turning into a real adult. He and Rose spent all their time together, making plans for their baby. Ann was like a rowdy sister to both of them, and even though they were only staying there for a few months, it felt like their first home together.
—–
Rose and Randy tied the knot that July at the First Baptist Church, where Randy’s parents had taken him to services his entire life. It was one the largest buildings on the northeast corner of town, with a sparkling crown of a cross poking up on the top of a shiny stone tower.
Rose was three months pregnant but you could barely notice, and she looked absolutely resplendent in her light lavender dress. Her sisters Connie and Martha framed Rose beautifully in their homemade, satiny dresses.

Rose & Randy
The white carnation on Randy’s suit jacket matched the color of the cake that they fed each other bites of between smiles.
After a brief and formal reception, Rose’s sisters stole her awhile in a tradition know as being “Shanghied,” but they eventully brought her back to Ann’s place. He met her at the door, where she swayed side-to-side, somewhat tipsy.
He grinned and said “I love you Rose, and I’m happy to be your husband.”
“I love you too, my darling man,” she said, and squeezed him so hard he lost his breath for a minute.
He helped her to their bedroom, and they kissed and spoke sweet words of adoration for a while before she passed out in a heavy slumber.
——-
Earlier that evening as they were smoking outside of the reception, Jim had slipped Randy a tab of LSD, something he had never tried before.
“Here you go man, take it later and you’ll have the best night of your life,” he said. “It’s been great seeing you have the best day of your life – you’re looking really sharp in that outfit, I gotta say.”
He put it on his tongue as he sat in the kitchen after Rose was asleep, and wondered what would happen. He drank a beer and had a cigarette, waiting to feel something, but everything seemed totally normal.
Randy went to the bedroom and cuddled beside his beautiful, gently snoring wife and closed his eyes. He felt relaxed, but kaleidoscope colors started to appear everytime his eyes were shut, so he turned over and stared through the window into the dark.
He noticed that the glint of streetlights glowing at the top of the window had formed an outline of a human head, and as he stared more closely, he could make out that it was the face of Jesus Christ himself.
He couldn’t believe what he was seeing, but as he looked closer, squinting his eyes, he could see that Jesus was looking down on him in a disappointed manner, holding up a finger and pointing it toward him.
He watched in awe as Jesus’ mouth began to move.
“What are doing with your life, and with the life of this woman?” Jesus asked sternly.
Randy couldn’t think of any decent response, but finally managed to utter, “I’m trying to do the best for the both of us that I can.”
Jesus smiled at him for a moment, but then asked “Why are you sinning?”
Randy suddenly felt wracked with guilt. He and Rose were married now; he had made an honest woman out of her, had done his duty as a man and soon-to-be father. But he still drank regularly and smoked a lot, and he thought maybe taking LSD was sinful. He wasn’t a druggie, dammit; but perhaps he was abusing his mind and Jesus didn’t appreciate that.
He took a deep breath and looked straight into Jesus’ eyes.
“I am sorry that I have sinned, my Lord, but I am trying my best to do what is right in life.”
Jesus’ facial outline wavered slightly back and forth.
“I know that I drink and smoke and listen to evil music, but please forgive me.” He opened up his arms toward the face in the window. “Life just seems to get tougher as you grow up, so I’m doing my best to deal with it as it happens.”
Jesus’ face relaxed into a contented semi-smile, and Randy could feel a comforting exhalation wisping toward him from the window. His mind and body felt completely relaxed, and he laid back, feeling like his body was a puddle on the bed and pillow.
“Do not fear, Randy,” Jesus said, “I will be with you. I will be by your side.”
“Thank you, my Lord,” Randy said. “I promise to do my best in life, for me and Rose and our child.”
He turned over, put his arm around Rose, and fell asleep to all the pretty colors racing around in his head.
——————–
So there’s the latest update. And while it’s not the end of the love story, the next excerpt I write will involve Dad shipping off to basic training, and you know it’s bound to get a little darker shortly after that. But in an intriguing manner, of course.
I’ll be hoping to get another call from you soon – I know you’re cutting back on expenses, which is smart, but I do always enjoy hearing your voice.
Take good care of yourself, my brother, and stay strong, a big life change is rising up on your horizon, and you will be okay in the long run.
I love you,
-Adam

7-14-2013
Aaron,
What the hell is happening, old boy? Not all that much, I’m guessing – probably counting down the days ‘til the 26th – around 10 by the time you get this letter.
I watched an episode of some new series earlier tonight – “Orange is the New Black” – about some middle-class gal going to federal prison for 15 months on a drug charge. The first episode dealt with her going to prison and her first day there … and I just kept thinking “bullshit!” the whole time. Your experiences in county have been far more extreme already … anyway, my point is that I think the entertainment media presents this sort of shit in kind of a ridiculous manner, since the reality of these types of situations are really too difficult for the average citizen to comprehend.
Regardless, I know you will fare well in whatever new, different environment you find yourself in. You’ve always been a survivor, a strong-willed individualist who has made due with whatever surrounds you. (Cue “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor … “it’s the thrill of the fight!”) Atticus and I played that song way too many times on the Rock Band video game a few weeks ago. And perhaps you remember how we would rock out to that album on the parents’ stereo when I babysat you kids in Milford, me about 10, you 5, whenever mom and Gary decided to go out on the town.
So I just want you to know that you cross my mind on a regular basis, even if we’re chatting a little less frequently to save cash. For example, I was on a 60-mile bike ride with a couple friends today – we headed west out of Iowa City and stopped at a small roadhouse about 18 miles out, then later at a dinky, dimly lit bar 12 miles further down the sun-heated blacktops – and your situation pops into my head (as it often does), and I think how much you would love the opportunity to push yourself physically, to feel the burn of the sun reflecting off the asphalt as your legs get sore from pedaling, to ask yourself why the hell you decided to ride this far in the middle of nowhere for no good reason other than to prepare yourself for more self-torture in the future (maybe I’m exaggerating, it IS a great workout.)
Anyway, even at times like that I reflect on your situation, and my heart goes out to you – I try to imagine myself in the place you are at and I simply can’t do it – I mean, I can try, but I know my introspections can only pale in comparison to the reality you are experiencing.
And that’s why I’m writing you this letter, my dear brother, because I’ve been thinking of you, and I haven’t heard from you on the phone as much, which is good money-wise, but hopefully once you’re down here at Oakdale we’ll have more affordable and thereby more frequent telecommunications.
Also, I just wanted to send you another letter before I take off on Ragbrai within the week here, and I guess I should let you know that I’m not really talking to mom and Don now … kinda fed up with their bullshit … hope you can understand.
So yes, perhaps you’ve guessed already that I’m slightly tipsy at this point in time, but regardless, another major point of this letter is to update you with a page of two of writing … so here it goes:
——-
Gertrude woke Randy and Rose up early on the morning of Aug. 15, 1971, screeching at 6 a.m. “Let’s get up and moving now!” Randy was awake instantly, ready for the half-hour ride to the Spirit Lake Greyhound station, from where he’d ride to Sioux Falls to be inducted into the Army. Coffee and bananas and then they jumped into the pre-packed car for the drive.
He kept glancing back at Rose from the front seat, knowing it would be a long time before he would be able to see her again, to touch her closely again. She smiled back at him, but he couldn’t quite tell if all this was as hard on her as it was on him. His emotions swelled his heart, so full of love for Rose, and he felt certain that she was feeling just the same way.
“I love you and I’m going to miss you,” he uttered, feeling like a lovesick puppy, about ready to shed a tear.
“I’ll miss you too babe,” she said, her right hand moving slowly up her stomach, “just stay safe and get back to me.”
The few personal belongings he was allowed to carry were stuffed into a light blue suitcase Rose had given him, and he reflected on how that would serve as a bond between them, and help to keep him in her mind.
Doubts plagued Randy’s head as they approached the bus station. What was he getting himself into? He was 17 years old – a teenager – and was on his way to the goddamn U.S. Army, potentially on his way to a battlefield … enemies … gunfire … and God knows what else.
As they parked, he told himself again that he had no choice; his child was in Rose’s belly and he had to move ahead and support all of them somehow.
Gertrude stood cross-armed in the background as Rose hugged and kissed him deeply before he stepped onto the bus.
“I’ll call or write you as soon as I can, I guess when I get to the training camp,” he said, clutching her a little too tightly.
“Okay, good luck, I love you,” she said as their arms untangled.
————–
He slept on a small cot in a room at the YMCA that night along with a half dozen other recruits.
He started chatting with his nearest roommate – a redheaded guy named Ray – as they got settled in.
“Do you know where you’re headed, man?”
Ray looked up from untying his shoes and said “Goddamn Fort Lewis, Washington, I guess.”
Randy perked up and said “Shit – me too, man!” He sat back, exhaling slowly, realizing he sounded a little overeager.
“Where you coming from, man?” Ray asked.
“A small town in Iowa.”
“I’m from right back there in Sioux Falls,” Ray said.
“No shit,” Randy said, shoving his small pack of belongings under his bed. “What made you sign up for all this?”
Ray squinted. “Fucking draft, man. I had no choice in the matter.” He lit up a Marlboro and exhaled the smoke through his nose. “But what the hell, right? I’m hoping to use the college benefits later on, probably the only way I’ll ever have a chance at that anyway.”
“Yeah,” Randy said. “That should work out for you.” He pulled out his smokes and lit one up. “I got my girlfriend knocked up and need to start planning for the future, so I signed up.”
“Well, I guess we’re buddies now man!” Ray smiled and stuck out his hand. “Nice to fuckin’ meet you!”
Randy laughed and shook his hand.
“How old are you anyway, kid?” Ray asked.
“Seventeen.”
“No shit? That’s fucking unbelievable man! I’m 20 and married myself, but you look like you should still be in school or something.”
They crashed out on their cots before the sun set, knowing their early wakeup time would come fast.
——–
They awoke to cheerful shouts of encouragement, then watched the sun rise as they rode on buses to a government building where a free, warm breakfast awaited them. After they ate, they reported to their respective areas in the warehouse and were lined up and carted to planes of varying sizes resting on a gigantic airfield.
Randy joined three other soon-to-be soldiers on a smallish and rather comfortable plane. They exchanged names and pleasantries, then sat back and ordered beers from the cute stewardass with a quick flash of their basic-training orders.
After takeoff, Randy sipped more beer and shot the shit with his fellow comrades until his eyes got too tired for him to hold them open any longer.
—————-
Randy was assigned to Echo Barracks in Fort Lewis. He walked into one of three identical warehouse-style buildings, down a steel hallway, and found his bed in a gigantic room where he gazed around and counted 20 bunkbeds.
Red-painted coffee cans hung crookedly from nails jutting from the wall at the head of each bed. Enough water waited in the bottom to catch and extinguish the nervous young men’s cigarette butts.
After a short while, a sharp-hatted drill sergeant marched in and handed out forms to each recruit explaining how and where to place everything, from their socks (Dirty! and Clean!) to their toothbrushes and “personals.”
“Read these and stack your shit in your footlockers properly!” he commanded before strolling back out. “It needs to look good in the A.M.”
After organizing his belongings, Randy wandered to the far end of the room, where guys had started up cigarette-poker games around several round tables.
The main doors burst open and the sergeant yelled “Lights out! Now!”
Everyone scooped up their smokes and headed directly to their bunks, where they dumped their crap and crawled quickly into their blankets.
—————-
So there’s the update – I’m not even sure about the writing quality at this point in time, but I do want to try to get the story written out in full, and more editing can occur later on if necessary.
Stay strong, hombre! By the time you read this, you should be less than 2 weeks away from the “great transfer”, otherwise known as “Aaron getting the fudge outta County finally, mother-lovers!”
I love you bro, and I hope you’re hangin’ as best as you can man,
-Adam


Chapter 3: ‘The Book’

12-28-12
AARON,
Hey man – hope you’re staying warm. Quite the storm that nailed us there … it took me about an hour to drive from I.C. to Cedar Rapids for work on Thursday, average speed of 38 mph through blowing snow on a snow-covered interstate. But at least maybe Christmas will be white after all.
Hope you’re staying sane enough man – I know I feel half-crazy sometimes even though I really have no reason to complain about anything, compared to the many people on this planet who have it so much worse. … I’m sure you heard about the Connecticut school shooting, sad stuff, indeed.
But I digress … let me think of something positive. First though, an absurdity – did you see anything about the guy in Florida who died shortly after winning a worm/bug/giant roach-eating contest? Seriously, the guy chomped so many roaches that the undigested parts ended up clogging up his throat (thorax?) and he gagged to death. All to win a pet anoconda. I swear, human reality is always stranger than fiction in the end.
Brittany and I watched “Lawless” recently – it was pretty darn good. Crazy Prohibition days made outlaws out of everyone. Have you read that one yet?
So Atticus is doing good in taekwondo; I’m enclosing a drawing he did for you of a ghostly Christmas tree … I’m hoping to do some sledding or possibly snowboarding with him soon if the weather works with us.
Let me know how you’re doing money-wise – I’m enclosing $20 w/this letter, but will send another check soon. And clue me in to any new reading materials I should be scouting out for you.
Happy 2013 by the way, just about here! The Mayan calendar didn’t end the world on Dec. 21st after all :_
So here’s the beginning of dad’s book that I’ve rewritten. There’s a bunch more, I just need to find the time to type it all in again … the damn computer copies all got lost when my last computer died.
Feel free to send me suggestions, but like I said, this is just the start. I might need to just type shit in more straightforward and have you help me add to it, edit it, or just read it for fun.

—–
AMERICAN SCHIZO
By Adam Harris

“Schizophrenia is considered the most devastating, complex, and frustrating of all mental disorders; people with this disorder lose touch with reality and are often unable to function in a world that makes no sense to them … Schizophrenia affects 1 out of every 100 people in the United States and accounts for almost 25 percent of all mental hospital admissions each year.” (Psychology, Lester A. Lefton, Allyn and Bacon, 1997).

CHAPTER 1: ROSE
Randy Harris never knew that he would go insane.
As a teen, if asked, he would have been able to recall hearing the word “schizophrenia” once – a brief mention in his sophomore science class.
He would never have guessed that he had an unavoidable date with mental illness that would forever change him, the outcome of his life, and the futures of those close to him.

(Summer, 1969)
It was a pleasantly typical sunny afternoon when Randy strolled down the main street sidewalk to Villardi’s Game Room to meet his buddy Jim. The scent of waffled potatoes and greasy hamburgers wafting from the next-door diner slowed him down as he approached the door of the pool hall. He lingered in the scent, pausing as he pulled the door open.
He glanced back at the sun shimmering in the blue afternoon sky, then let the heavy wooden door close behind him. The Guess Who’s “American Woman” filled his ears as he strolled in.
Jim was standing at the jukebox inside Villardi’s, sipping a Coke as he punched in a few songs. Randy snuck up behind him and tapped his shoulder.
“Hey man, what’s up?”
Jim jerked his head around, then grinned.
“Just playing some music, man … how you doin’?”
“Great … I think I’m ready for a beer.”
“Then get one.”
As they shot pool, and shot the shit, they meandered back and forth to the jukebox, putting hits like Journey’s “Spirit in the Sky” and Vanity Fare’s “Hitchin’ a Ride” in as their background music.
Chalking up his cue, Jim said “Man, you should get yourself a girlfriend.”
“I wish it was that easy,” Randy said, envying Jim’s suaveness and the fact that Jim was already dating his second girlfriend, and having sex on at least a weekly basis.
They both were sophomores at Spencer High, but Jim – a year older at 16 – exuded a higher air of maturity with long, brown hair that hung down past his neck. Randy’s dad always made sure he went to the family barber who would trim his hair high above the ears every goddamn time.
The few times Randy had enough gumption to broach the subject, his dad always shut him down with a stern and emphatic: “I don’t want no damn hippy for a son!
———————————————–
Interesting, eh? I don’t remember if or how much of dad’s writings you read. He wrote a little under a hundred’s pages worth. My long-term plan is to rewrite and edit it all until I have a novel’s worth, then eventually try to get it published or at the least self-publish some copies just for the sake of it.
I love you, my brother.
Take care,
-Adam

1-9-2013
YO BRO!
So I’m sending your check now, but will write back in more detail later on.
It was awesome hearing your voice earlier tonight – I’ve been missing you and thinking of you quite a bit.
Life can seem really screwed up sometimes … at times I feel like my head is screwed on slighty crooked.
On a bright note, a NASA telescope has found 451 Earth-like planets … apparently they abound in the nether regions of space … so I guess there might be fertile ground out there somewhere for those aliens you drew back in the day.
Randomly yours,
-Adam
P.S. Keep on keeping on man … and soak up the sunshine.

1/10-1/16
Adam,
Hey bro, what’s cooking? Good talking to you the other night. Enjoyed our exchange of words. Don’t know why the phone service cuts out like that for a minute or two, oh well.
Hope you like the cartoon I drew. It’s the Return of Sweetcheeks – and he’s piss-ass drunk and he’ll have none of Ricky’s HURLY GURLY MAN swagger!Cartoon 1-10-13
Andrea’s address is 1234 620th St., Lakeside, Iowa 50588. If you could send her $120 that would be great. Send it in whatever form you think will be easiest for her to cash. She has her dog and cats to take care of and I’m hoping to help her out while she hasn’t got a job.
Yeah, I’m a tad worried about Mom and her being in the early stages of dementia. Have you heard about that? Plus she’s got diabetes and is getting weaker in general. Don takes good care of her and she’s on disability so that helps. Plus she’s got the brothers and sisters from the Kingdom Hall to help support her as well.
I’m looking forward to your next letter. Hope you’ll still be sending a couple more pages of the book if you got the time. Dad went through hell because of schizophrenia. In the end I think it might of … I don’t know. Now’s not the time to go into it.
NFL playoffs are this weekend. Think I’m going for the Broncos. I was going for the Vikings then the Colts, but both teams lost last weekend, so now I figure I’ll just root for the #1 ranked team.
Remember that they look through all my incoming and outgoing mail, except for letters to and from my defense attorney. I don’t have anything to hide but sometimes I get kind of carried away with joking around. That could reflect badly on my character. Nobody’s perfect though.
Plus laughing and joking around helps keep my morale up a little. After wishing that I was dead for six months straight it’s a relief to laugh and crack a joke or two with my bro. I love you brother, you’re a good man and a good brother and father. Thanks for all your help.
Yeah, I’ve been grieving really hard since being here. The emotional turmoil that I’ve gone through is no joke. This has affected more people than myself though. Mom told me to pray that they be comforted in their deep sorrows. And so I do pray for that.
I’ve noticed that I’m getting more disciplined in just about every aspect of my daily activities. You know, watching what I eat, daily bible reading, exercise, including walking five miles a week. Mood swings are not as bad now but the depression is horrible sometimes.
Hopefully as time goes on I will get better. It’s a chemical imbalance and I think the traumatic nature of this situation may have altered my brain chemistry a little more.
It’s you guys though, that keep me hanging on. My family. Every letter and phone call strengthens my resolve to push on and face this life more positively.
Last night I had a dream that I was in the Army and I partied with the creators of Southpark. Good times!
Love, you bro,
Aaron

1-20-13
Yo, bro!
First of all, I gotta say that I love how you re-created my drawing and created a whole street scene comic out of it. The 3-D streetscape is especially enjoyable. Sweet Cheeks and Ricky would make a great series  We just watched “Crumb” tonight, a documentary on Robert Crumb, so comics are on my mind. That dude was freaky and twisted, but an amazing artist, and interestingly enough, he came from a family plagued by mental illness.
Yes, good to hear from you – maybe if I stand outside we won’t lose phone contact next time; also, I gotta check into that 641 callling card deal – will do soon.
So I sent Drea some gift/help money – I’m sure she’ll be highly appreciative. I just hope she figures out what she wants to do with herself sooner or later, but it’s cool that her dad’s getting quality time with her, and mom gets to see her regularly again.
Yeah, mom seems to be doing OK but I wish she would care for herself better. You gotta feed your brain something more than watchtower magazines over the decades. And she’s an amazing cook, but I think she indulges in too many salty, fatty foods and rarely exercises. You gotta use it or you’re gonna lose it … I should be more empathetic, but it’s hard to do when she keeps professing her motherly love while refusing to ever spend time with me due to quasi-religious edicts and Don’s overbearing influence now that he’s found god and is a holier-than-thou holy-roller.
I love them both for what they do for Atticus when he visits, but I truly believe mom’s health problems are an indirect result of her passive-aggressive approach to life – she buries all of her true emotions and desires way down in her psyche and is ending up quite unhealthy on the outside as a result.
Not that I don’t do the same to a certain extent … but enough on that subject.
Yes, I completely agree that dad’s mental illness had an intense effect on our upbringing and how we grew up.  That’s part of the reason I’ve always had negative feelings about America’s military-industrial complex. Dad chose his own course in life, of course, but his experiences in the Army had a major impact on the rest of his life and basically, our entire lives.
Did you get that Junot Diaz book I sent you? I hope you like it, I got into it a little slowly, but then it caught me up and I thought it was an amazing novel. The author won a Pulitzer prize recently for a newer novel of his.
So emotionally, it sounds like you’re floating around Dante’s seven layers of the Inferno. Just don’t let all the hell bring you down too far, brother, there will be something better around the corner soon … just a couple more months until a change of pace at least.
It sounds like your self-discipline in fine-tuned and helping you keep it together. It’s good to hear that you’re walking regularly – it’s such a simple but highly beneficial activity.
So, partying with the Southpark guys in the Army, eh? Sounds fun! I’ve always loved how dreams can take you away to a wild, colorful world that only exists in your mind. Dreams and the subconscious are so fascinating sometimes.
We’re going to take a letter break here, so I can present to you the latest excerpt of dad’s book, to be followed by a short conclusion 🙂
——————————–
Marv was a strict father – he’d served his time in the Army as a military police officer. Anal-retentive before his time, he worked as a used-car salesman on a downtown lot, squeezing whatever profit he could out of every buyer. Besides his chain-smoking habit, he was as straight as a razor’s edge.
Randy hadn’t found a summer job yet, and his recreational highlight of every week was to hit the local roller rink on Friday nights. Despite his semi-lucrative line of work, Marv was a tightwad when it came to handing out anything besides a minimal allowance. Besides Randy, they had his older sister and brother to worry about. He would mow his parents’ or his grandmother’s law on occasion to earn his roller-rink dollars.
At Villardi’s that day, he was spending a few dollars that he should have been saving for the weekend. But the excursion paid off in a different way, because Jim told him about a firl he thought Randy could possibly date – a 15-year-old named Rose from Dickens, a smaller town 12 miles outside of Spencer. Randy knew Rose’s younger sister, Connie, who he had made out with once in the front seat of a buddy’s car, but that had been the extent of their relationship besides being friendly acquaintances.
“So how I can meet Rose sometime?” Randy asked as Jim polished off his beer.
“Hell man, we can see them in a little while, we’ll just take my car.” Jim’s casual cursing would render him a ‘bad influence’ from Randy’s parents’ perspective, but it always impressed Randy almost as much as Jim’s ‘rebellious’ hair style.
“I’ve been dating Connie for more than a week now. You’ll have to pay for the gas though, I’m clean outta cash.”
“No problem,” Randy said, “why haven’t you told me about you and Connie yet, you lucky dog? Are you two pretty serious?”
“Sorry man, it’s just not my style to kiss and tell. I don’t know, I guess it just never crossed my mind … I’ve only seen you about twice in the last week anyway.”
As they walked out of Villardi’s, Jim said “Hey man, just meet me over at my place on an hour or so, and don’t forget some travel funds, OK?”
“Sounds good – see you then.”
Randy inhaled the evening air and grinned as he strolled back home, pondering the possibilities that the night might bring. If Rose looked anything like Connie, she was bound to be cute, and the summer night’s air made it seem like anything could happen.
After he showered, threw on a fresh shirt, sprinkled some of his dad’s Brut on his wrists, and ate a bologna sandwich, he headed over to Jim’s place.
Jim had a ’57 Ford that was jacked up in the back with a couple of 2x4s jammed somewhere near the rear shocks. Randy always felt cool and stylish cruisin’ around in it, but on this night, riding in the Jim’s muscle car had an extra sheen to it, just as he did, all slicked up and ready to go meet a new girl, hair blowing in the window’s breeze.
Jim hit 100 miles per hour at one point on the drive. After they slowly rolled into the driveway, they sauntered up to the door, which opened as if on cue, Connie peeking out, Rose looking over her shoulder.
After greetings and flirtacious glances – and Jim stealing a kiss on Connie’s cheek and a swift pat on her ass, the girls invited them downstairs, where they shared a bedroom with walls adorned with their own scribbles, writings and random psychedic doodles.
Randy heard “She’s a Lady” emanating from the record player at the same time he noticed Tom Jones and Janis Joplin rocking out in performance poses on the posters covering the walls.
The room smelled of incense and musty perfume. The four of them sat down in pairs on the two beds in the room.
“Aren’t your parents upstairs?” Randy asked.
“Oh, they went out for dinner,” Rose said, “so Connie’s in charge for now. They’ll probably be back in an hour or so.”
Connie took her mouth off of Jim’s long enough to say, “It’s cool, we can just hang out for a while,” and Rose got up and put Janis Joplin’s “Pearl” on the record player.
When she sat back down next to him, he thought she smelled like spring flowers, and told her so. Next thing he knew, they were kissing just like Jim and Connie were, and he tried to hide his jitters as he reached out to touch her, hoping his breath smelled all right. His body quivered and he thought he could feel Rose shivering a little bit, too.
They kissed and touched slowly, Randy feeling more excited and nervous as he noticed Jim and Connie reclining on her bed. It seemed like an hour passed as he slowly worked up his courage, the kisses growing more passionate and less awkward. Just as he was maneuvering his sweaty right palm underneath Rose’s bra strap, heavy creaking footsteps sounded from the upper floor.
“Oh no!” Connie said, jolting up and pulling her shirt back down over her head, “they’re back from dinner!”
The four of them immediately straightened up, smoothing out their hair and clothes, taking deep breaths as they tried to wipe the wry smiles from their reddened faces.
“Who is down there with you girls?” their mother Dorothy demanded from the top of the stairs. Randy concentrated intently on Janis howling out “Half Moon” as he listened with dread to the sounds of Dorothy heaving her way down the stairs and shoving open the door. Her girth filled the doorway, oblong bits of light shining from behind her silhouette.
“It’s just Jim and his friend, mom,” offered Connie, “we’re just listening to some music and talking.”
Dorothy looked the boys over, her right hand planted sternly on her hip.
“Well, that’s nice.” She folded her arms across her chest. “But I didn’t hear much talking going on and it smells a little fishy in here to me.”
“Oh mom, we’re not doing anything,” Rose said.
Dorothy waved her hand at they boys. “OK, time to go guys.”
As she followed them up the stairs, she warned them: “I never want to see you boys in this house again when I’m not here.”
As they drove away, after catching a glimpse of Rose peeking out the window as Jim peeled out of the driveway, Randy said “Wow man, that was awesome! Rose is great!”
“Yeah, that was pretty cool,” Jim said. “Too bad her mom came home … we probably could’ve gotten lucky.”
“No shit,” Randy slurred, thoughts of sex gleaming in his eyes.
————-
Rose had made him whisper her a promise that he would get a hold of her again soon, and he had readily and eagerly agreed.
And the two of them stayed in contact, meeting at the roller rink on Friday nights, skating hand-in-sweaty-hand to the beats of Blondie and The BeeGees.
Randy hitchhiked the 5 miles to Dickens when he had the time, sticking out his thumb and taking rides with farmers or workers headed home. After they had been introduced, Rose’s stepdad, Mel, ended up being the one who picked Randy up on these journeys.
Mel always treated him with civility, acting slightly surprised at first, but then would speak positively about Randy and Rose’s budding relationship.
One time, he even nudged Randy with his elbow and said, “So, when are you two going to go on a real date, a dinner date?”
And Randy, embarassed, said “Soon, I hope. Maybe this weekend.”
———–
The visits started more innocently than you might think. Randy would help Rose make cookies in the expansive kitchen, stirring sugar and butter together as she blended the flour, salt and whatever-the-hell else.
Once they’d stirred in the chocolate chips, they would sample the dough, stuffing small chunks into one another’s open mouths.
They would sneak downstairs sometimes when Dorothy was outside or on the upper floor, and make out as they listened to Rose’s records.
They talked about school, what classes they liked, which kids they liked or thought were jerk-offs, and always about music and bands and who they liked to listen to and who was groovy or totally rockin’.
——————————–    ————————————

(Back to the letter …)
So I’m hoping to keep working here and there on the book, I’ll send you more as I type it up.
On a light note, Atticus and I went to Kmart the other day and he bought, with his holiday money, a Nerf dart blowgun, which he’s become an expert at, and a “Doctor Dreadful” kit with which you make your own “spider egg” sugar candy – should be fun, though I’m not sure how tasty the end product will be.
OK, brother, stay strong, and I hope to talk to again before long.
Love you,
-Adam

2-4-13
Adam,
Well it’s fucking Monday already. ‘Twas good chatting with you. And you’re completely forgiven when it comes to the check, bro. You’ve been patient with me, so the least I can do is be patient with you.
What I have read from “The Book” thus far is really good. You’re a great writer putting words together  into ideas and characters in powerfully unique way. I really like the statistics and quotes you’ve used so far. Shows you’ve done your research and educates the reader as well. I think you could do that throughout the entire book. At your discretion of course.
So great work thus far and I’m looking forward to the next segment of “The Book” you’re able to send.
I’m sending the soccer ball model along with this letter. It’s pretty easy to put together but I’ll draw you some visual aids. My idea works like this:
I finally broke it down to a 20-sided Polyhedron that I think is called a Dodecahedron. Then I noticed I could separate it into 3 parts, top, middle, bottom. The cool thing about this is that the top is the same shape as the bottom, just flipped up and rotated 180 degrees. And the middle, if we assume the Dodecagon is hollow, is just a ring of 10 triangles.

Soccer ball instructions 2-4-13

After a while I found you can kind of “unwrap” it as well, and after you unwrapped it, it could look like this: [Drawing showing Top (1-5), Middle (6-15) and Bottom (16-20). Now this is the basic blueprint I referred to when I started folding the paper.]
Well, here’s some visual aids for folding and connecting the 3 pieces of paper to make the model.
There you have it bro. I hope I didn’t confuse you. Use the numbers and letters carefully, and good luck. Maybe send me a picture of it when you get it together.
Hi Atticus! Hi Brittany!
Love you all,
Aaron

2-20-13
Yo Bro!
Hey, what’s happenin’?
Sorry I missed your calls the other night – I was in Rochester hanging with Eric Froiland – remember that crazy old coot? I kind of interviewed with his wife’s company. Remember Nicki Loats? Anyway, my interview kind of flopped, but I might do a little basic copy writing for them. Hanging out with them that night was plenty of fun though, that’s why my phone was being ignored that night. It hates me when I ignore it, won’t talk to me for a long time, gives me dirty looks, then finally forgives me after I get it flowers, and then I can make and take calls again 🙂
The soccer ball totally worked man! (I’ll be enclosing a pic w/this letter.) And thanks for the visual aids – they totally helped Atticus and I figure it out. We might have been able to on our own, but it was a little complicated. Pretty freakin’ amazing that you could create such a cool item out of virtually nothing … nothing but your fascinating mind, my brother; we loved it!

Soccer ball

20-sided polyhedron? A Dodecahedron? Simply amazing my man. In my opinion, a great work of art.
Speaking of art, I’m going to start getting a back tattoo from Bob in a few weeks here. It’ll be a weird-looking tree with “Atticus” spelled abstractly in the middle, kind of like Atty painted his name in a little painting when he was 5. Should be cool – painful maybe, but cool.
Good news on the job front: In a few weeks, I’m starting a temporary job as a Project Coordinator at Pearson here in Iowa City, a big education testing company. So at least I’ll get my foot in the door, and the pay is pretty good.
And get this – Brittany scored a job as an Assistant Professor in Spanish Literature at a small private college in Davenport! So her college education has paid off. It’s nice that she got a job close by and doesn’t have to move to a different state or something.
We actually went to Davenport and stayed with Al the night before her interview a few weeks ago – it was fun hanging out with Al, listening to music and shooting the shit for a while. We shared a few childhood memories, and it’s always nice to hear memories from someone else’s perspective, whether it’s friends or family.
So call me again sometime soon, and hopefully I’ll be paying closer attention to my poor, neglected phone. I’ll plan on sending you another money order in a week or so after I send this letter, but I’m sure we’ll chat before then.
In the meantime, here’s the latest excerpt of the “book” (and thanks for your input and compliments, much appreciated):
———————
Once in  while Rose would manage to make it to Spencer after school and would meet him at his house, where they would hang out in his room and make out when his parents weren’t close.
One afternoon when his parents were both at work, they were kissing and groping on his bed. The sunlight poured in on them through the window, and Randy felt beads of sweat dripping off his forehead as they removed each other’s shirts. They fumbled around clumsily for a few minutes, awkwardly removing clothes, panting heavily as they tried to maintain the kissing the whole time.
“Oh god, you’re so beautiful,” he uttered frantically.
After a few heaving minutes, Randy laid back, twitterpated by the first-time fireworks receding in his mind.
“Wow.”
Rose laughed, her arm slung over his chest, as the sun rippled through her hair like waves of ember.
Randy wanted to ask her if she had ever gone all the way before, but he was worried the question might upset her, so he stayed quiet and reveled in the glorious moment.
————–
At the roller rink that weekend, Rose’s friend, Ann, told them that Murl’s Log Villa in Spirit Lake, a vacation town about 20 miles away, was looking for summer workers.
Randy scored a dishwashing gig, and Rose ended up waiting tables.
“Don’t worry, I’ll share my tips with you,” she said as they drove to their first night shift.
“Great! I’ll have more money to spend on you then,” he said, and they laughed.
Ann helped show them the ropes, and the three of them covered for each other as they took turns stealing smoke breaks in the bathrooms.
On the second night they worked together, Ann locked Randy in the walk-in cooler as he was fetching a little extra salad lettuce.
“Hey, let me out of here,” he said, grinning. He heard them giggling outside the door. He waited a minute as they went silent, then said “Seriously, let me out here!” and banged on the cold metal.
He heard rustling, and then Rose said “OK, we will, but first you must pronounce us to be “The Most Grandest Restaurant Princesses of the Universe.” His fingers and face pressed against the door as she paused. “And you must declare that you are unworthy to work with our Grandness.”
He ran the phrases through his head and shouted, “You two are definitely the most grandest and spectacular restaurant princesses of the universe of all time! And I am obviously too vile and far too unworthy to work with your ultimate grandness!”
Randy heard them laugh, and rapidly shredded the head of lettuce in his hands as Ann opened the door, her and Rose peeking around, then he tossed the lettuce at their faces in a burst of light green as he pushed his way out.
“Happy Birthday, princesses!” he shouted gleefully as he shoved between them, their hands slapping at his shoulders.
A cool, wet glob of something hit him between the shoulders, breaking his cocky stride in half-step.
“What the … ?” he uttered as he turned around and saw them clutched over, guffawing their asses off, Ann lifting the ketchup container in an uproarious display of victory.
“Take that!” she yelled between laughs. Rose stood there with a half-moon smile, her cheeks oozing flushed red like a crimson sunset. Randy reveled in the spontaneity of the moment, sponging the red blob off his back with a dish towel.
And so began their summer of young love.
—————-
A few nights later after Mel dropped them off at work, Randy exacted his revenge, stalking Rose as she walked back to the cooler to grab some more bread. Once she was in, he shoved the door all the way shut and waited.
She pushed on the handle, then pushed against the door.
“What the hell?”
“What’s the matter?” he shouted, grinning.
“Let me outta here dammit, Randy!” she yelled. “It’s not funny!”
He laughed. “Now you know what it feel like! Just promise me you’ll love me forever and I’ll let you out.”
Silence ate up a few moments of their lives.
“OK fine: I’ll love you forever.”
“You promise?”
“I promise.”
He opened the door and she shoved it open. He tried to hug her but she pushed him aside, muttering “that wasn’t funny.” But he grabbed at her again from the side and she relented, turning to kiss him as they walked away.
——————
After work that night, Ann walked with them the two miles from Murl’s up to the Roof Garden dancehall in Arnold’s Park, another township in the summer tourist mecca known as “The Lakes.”
Ann pulled Rose aside as  they strolled toward the sparkling lights of the old-fashioned amusement park near the lakeside.
“We’ll meet you inside in a few,” Ann said, nodding at Randy, indicating that he should keep moving.
“Sure,” he said, “no problem.”
Inside the The Roof Garden dancehall, Randy ordered a coke at the counter and watched the half-dozen couples swaying as a cover band played mediocre versions of Frank Sinatra songs.
Rose and Ann swayed their way through the door as Randy was puffing on his second smoke. They walked up to him, tittering and smiling goofily.
Rose leaned in and kissed him heavily on the lips, smiling, her cheeks as red as her name.
“I love you, baby.”
“I love you too,” and he got a second kiss. “But you could’ve shared some of that booze with me.”
“Jesus!” Ann said, throwing her hands up. “We only had a little bit, like two splashes that I stole from my dad’s bottle at home.”
“It was just a tiny jar,” Rose said.
“That’s cool,” Randy said, “I was just sayin’ … ”
Ann swayed alongside them as they danced hand-in-hand to the recycled Sinatra.
“I did it … my waayyyy,” Rose sang as the two of them swung around in a slow circle. He fully enjoyed her leaning on him, leading their dance in a slightly sloshy sashay.
————————–
By the time Dorothy pulled up out front to pick them up, Rose was mostly sobered up from the dancing, but was still a little wobbly.
“Get on in … did you two have a good time?”
“Yes we did, and thanks for picking us up,” Randy said as he settled into the back seat.
“Yeah mom, it was nice,” Rose said, plopping into the passenger side.
“Are you all right Rose?” Dorothy said and glared for a moment. “Have you been drinking? You know better than this, young lady!”
Randy sunk back into his seat, wishing he could be invisible.
“I told you that you were not to be drinking alcohol again!” Dorothy yelled
“I’m sorry, mom, I only had a little!”
“Well, if you want to end up dead, you’ll just keep doing this I guess.”
“I’m sorry!”
“You’ll be sorry when you don’t get to go out with Ann or Randy again anymore … I guess that’s what we’ll need to do.”
The three of them stewed in a tense, awkward silence for the rest of the drive. Dorothy uttered a “good night” that sounded more like a curse as she dropped Randy off at his parents’ door. Rose sat so still in the front that he didn’t even attempt to say good-night.
He felt deflated, as if he had done something wrong, though he knew he hadn’t, and his dreams later that night were filled with vague and unpleasant visions.
——————
As Randy walked into Murl’s the next afternoon, he grabbed a pickle from the salad bar and munched on it as he turned into the kitchen. Rose was loading up a tray with dinner salads.
“Hey, how you doing? Was your mom real hard on you last night?”
Rose turned toward him, frowning.
“Listen Randy, I just don’t want to be your girlfriend anymore.”
She placed the last salad on the tray. “It’s just not working out.”
He stood there stunned, not knowing what to say. He tried to look at her but she kept glancing down at the tray. He wanted to say something, he  wanted to profess his love, but all he could do was stand there with his tongue caught in the back of his throat, feeling like he was a too-small fish that was being thrown back into a murky pond.
“But … well … what?”
She kept her back turned toward him.
He slowly walked away.
As he trudged toward the bathroom, the kitchen manager Kirk peeked around a corner, flashed a fast smile and said “Hey, just in time. There’s a load of dishes ready to go!”
Randy tried to smile back, but only managed a skeletal grimace as he slunk through the bathroom door.
A month earlier, he had borrowed a rudimentary tattoing needle from Jim and bought some Indian Ink and etched a capital “R” on his wrist. After drinking a couple beers, Chicago’s song “Vehicle” had gotten stuck in his head that night, and every prick of the needle had further convinced him of something he believed knew would always be true: that he would always love Rose and act as the main vehicle in her life, guiding and supporting her, and that she in turn would always be a part of him.
And now he sat there on a restaurant toilet, smelling fried grease and stale urine, feeling utterly alone. Hurt welled up from deep inside his chest. He felt as if his soul was turning into charcoal. So he pressed the tip of his cigarette into the “R”, trying to burn a little bit of it away along with every smoky exhale.
He didn’t know what stung more that evening, the burning pangs of a lost young love or the smoldering scars of burnt-out adoration on his wrist. As he washed dishes and she avoided his furtive glances, all he knew was that he had somehow lost the only girl that he could ever fully love.
After he punched out, he walked over to Arnold’s Park and plunked down on a bench in front of The Fun House. He could feel the marquee clown’s big face peering down at him, jeering unsympathetically.
He stared out at the stars shining on the lake’s surface. He quelled a dark urge to walk to the end of the dock and jump in. How could Rose just suddenly stop loving him? Had he done something wrong? It had to be her damned mom, but shouldn’t she still want to be with him? The whole thing made him feel sick inside, even though he couldn’t really figure out what the hell had happened.
He wallowed in heartbreak in bed that night, thrashing and wiping his tears away with his pillow, giving in to the gloom.
———————————-
He moped around the house the next day, watching crap on TV, smoking too many cigarettes, applying salve to his wrist. He thought maybe Rose would call him, but the phone only rang once and it was his older sister, and they never really talked about sensitive stuff to each other.
He finally broke down after sunset and dialed Rose’s number. Dorothy picked up, and after a sigh got Rose on the phone.
————————-
(Back to letter) … Whoa, I just realized I’ve got a few pages written there, eh? At least I’ve been a little productive between jobs here, I guess.
Well, take care of yourself man – I hope to talk to soon.
Peace,
-Adam

3-7-13
Adam,
Hey bro. Thanks for the money order and sending it here in timely fashion. They just brought it by and had me sign it a few minutes ago. Now I can order coffee and stuff on Sunday.
“The Book” is coming along really good and starting to take shape. You’ve sent me about 10½ pages in the past couple of months.
It’s really starting to get interesting. We’re still in Chapter 1 and Randy and Rose are on the rocks. Randy just burnt the “R” off his wrist with a cigarette and calls Rose. Rose picks up and that’s where you left off.
Now that’s an interesting place to pause. As the reader I want to know what Rose is going to say and if Rose and Randy will get back together. But the darker side of me wants to see how this “Rose” character plays a role in Randy’s inevitable descent into schizophrenic-induced madness.
Remember brother, this is not a love story. But I’m not tryin’ to say that it sounds like a typical love story either. In fact, thus far there is a real nice balance to the elements involved, like the narrative and the third-person perspective. The references to the music playing at different points in the story is nice. It adds kind of a dreamy feel. I think it also helps me visualize things that are happening and places they happened at. You should keep intertwining quotes and statistics on schizophrenia with the rest of the book. This could be easily adapted into a screenplay.
Question: What happened to Jim? He’s your responsibility now that you’ve developed him as a character. You could kill him off, or just give him a little farewell kiss goodbye and tell us where he’s at in 20 years. But don’t leave him hanging. Maybe I haven’t read far enough yet.
A few other things now: You wrote that Randy and Jim “were both sophomores at Spencer High.” I’m thinking maybe you should describe to the reader more of what Spencer is like. What you have so far is sufficient though, and like I said, maybe I’ve not read far enough.
Let’s see here … in the preface you wrote “… the voices that spoke to him in his head. Voices from people far away from him. Voices from people who may already been dead.” Now right here! You remember Dad yelling and cursing at the TV? We were like, “What’s up?” Then he would say something about how “Jones” was talking to him through people on TV.
Oh yeah! First you wrote “… Dickens, a smaller town 12 miles outside of Spencer.” Then later you wrote “Randy hitchhiked the 5 miles to Dickens.” Sorry bro, but it’s only the 5 miles and it’s directly east and there’s a 45 mph curve that takes you south to a road that takes you another mile into Dickens. Here’s a little map: (Note: Illustration was drawn on letter.) I just caught your minor error a minute ago as I was writing this.
One other quick note: I thought it was cool in a funny kind of way when you wrote “Randy would help Rose make cookies in the expansive kitches, stirring sugar and butter together as she blended the flour, salt and …”, right here, “…whatever-the-hell else.” Whatever-the-hell-else? I like that because it shows a little of your personality as the writer. It’s like you want the reader to get to know you, and that’s pretty cool. Not sure if it was your intention but little things like that work because they help your writing become more of an artwork. Expressive rather than just informative. You’re finding a good balance. I’ll discuss a few other minor points when I call you again tomorrow.
Other than this, not too much is going on with me. I’m reading a few “Sherlock Holmes” stories after finding a book called “Six Great Sherlock Holmes Stories.” Tonight I’ll start another story before bed.
One of the stories is called “The Final Problem.” The author might have Sherlock die in this one but I’m not sure. I look forward to finding out.
The other day I was watching “Futurama” on Comedy Central. The episode was something about dark matter and anti-dark matter. Well, the dark matter in the cartoon could only be made with a certain key. Anyway, the key was the same 20-sided shape I used for the soccer ball.
And then I saw “Workaholics” and they had the same shape and it was a die, or “dice” plural, used in Dungeons and Dragons. So what I sent you is also a 20-sided die.
Back to “Futurama”: The anti-dark matter was a 12-sided die. Each side looks like a pentagon. It’s this 12-sided object that is a dodecahedron. The “do” in dodecahedron means 2, and decagon is 10. Now I wonder what a decahedron looks like, and what this 20-sidede object is called. Find this out for me please if you can. It’s been a long time coming if you know what I mean.
Time for me to sign out for now. I’ll be talking to you soon.
I love you bro,
Aaron H.

3-27-13
YO BRO!
How the heck are ya? Fine and dandy, I hope. Just enjoying the springtime snowfall here – biked downtown and back through the snow/rain muck just to do it – a ride you would have enjoyed in all of it’s misery, I’m sure.
Thank you for all your comments and insights into the writing I’ve been sending you – it’s all greatly appreciated, especially the detailed info on Dickens and such. Nice drawing of Dad walking to Dickens by the way – I loved it! And your question of Rose’s character was great – you’re right, it’s not a love story … but there is a short love story embedded within. And good point on Jim, I need to get him back into the picture at some point in time.
I’m including the rest of what I wrote lately … but now that I’m working 9-5 again, my time to work on extracurricular writing will be diminished. I love it as a hobby though, and hopefully will have more time this summer to dive headfirst back into it.
I’m glad to hear you found some good reading material; the “Sherlock” stories sound intriguing. Classic tales, indeed!
To answer your soccer-ball question, I guess such a 20-sided object is called an Icosahedron. A dodecadren is a 12-sided object. So you created an Icosahedron out of paper and ink – job well done, sir!
Not a whole lot new here – just trying to stay sane while working the new temp job and dealing with the kid and the insanity of life in general. We might finally get some decent weather this weekend – I need some sunshine dammit! And I’m sure you can relate in a far greater way.
So I’m including a money order with this since it’s so close to April already, and I’ll be sending Drea your good tidings.
Here’s the latest bits of the book; hopefully I’ll find time to work on some of it again soon …
______________________________
He finally broke down after sunset and dialed Rose’s number. Dorothy picked up, and after a sigh got Rose on the phone. Randy heard her breathe into the mouthpiece.
“Hey,” she said, “just give me a second.” It sounded like she was moving the phone around or something.
“Hey.” He tried to think of something smart to say, but couldn’t. “Listen Rose, I really miss you and I’m not sure if I understand what happened … or what exactly went wrong … ”
“Well, you could have said something to my mom, you know, to help me out.”
“I’m sorry! You were kinda drunk, and she’s so, so … well … scary sometimes.”
“What do you think: She’s gonna beat you up?” Rose laughed a little.
“No, but … Well, I can’t really talk back to her, is all.”
“Well, she doesn’t bite … not too hard.”
This sort of thing was why he loved Rose so much, he thought to himself.
“Listen,” he said, “I just want you to know that I love you a lot … like a ton. I think I love you more than anyone I’ve ever loved, or anything I’ve ever loved. Even my dog when I was a kid, you know what I mean?” He immediately thought that sounded stupid.
“Well, I love you a lot too, Randy.”
His heart melted. Everything seemed to be OK again, maybe.
“I just really hope we can keep seeing each other, Rose.”
He listened intently as she uttered a small sigh.
“You’re right, I want to keep dating you, too,” she said. “My mom’s OK again anyway, she was just mad at me this morning and now everything’s fine.”
Randy grinned like a stoned fool as they shared good-night wishes and planned to meet each other in a few days.
————————
Their favorite places to go dancing on the weekends were the Roof Garden and a similar hangout right on the edge of Spencer, The Woodcliff, where great tunes always blared out of the jukebox and decent bands rocked out on the stage.
That night at The Woodcliff, Rose wore a short blue dress that she had sewn together herself. They were hanging out with Jim and Connie, and Jim was ordering rounds of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
When that night’s band kicked off their rendition of “Devil with a Blue Dress On,” Randy glued himself to Rose like a magnet. A they flew apart and back together again, whirling to the music, he would steal kisses on her cheek, reveling in each heady moment. For the rest of his life, whenever he heard that song on the radio, the image of Rose that night would pop back into his head.
After dancing to a couple more songs, they stepped outside the front door for some fresh air and a smoke.
“You are on fire tonight!,” he said.
Rose giggled and kissed him on the neck. “You’ve got some moves yourself, big boy.”
They started making out, leaning against the coarse outside of the bar. He slipped his hands up underneath the back of her dress as she pulled him in close. His eyes were closed, but suddenly everything seemed all lit up.
“Um … Randy,” Rose said, slowly pulling back.
He blinked his eyes into the bright, rude gleam of a police officer’s flashlight.
“Ahem! What are two doing out here?”
“Uh, we’re just hanging out,” Randy said as Rose adjusted her dress.
“Well, you better get back inside if you’re here for the dance, or you should be moving on home.” The cop swung his light back and forth impatiently. “You two haven’t been drinking, have you?”
“No sir, we were just dancinga  little, and now we’re going home.”
“Well, you better do that then.”
Randy gripped Rose’s hand tightly as they walked to his car. He had picked her up earlier in the new-but-used, blue 1960 Chevy Impala that he had bought from his dad’s lot the day before.
They watched as the cop meandered into the bar’s entry, and Randy said “Let’s get out of here.”
“Good idea,” Rose said, “let’s just go for a long drive or something, I don’t feel like going home yet.”
They drove around on back gravel roads for a while, drinking some beers Jim had bought for them earlier, listening to whatever the radio had to offer. They ended up parked in a tree-covered entryway to some farmer’s field, where they ended up starting a new weekend ritual.
They stared up into the stars as their mouths and hands began to move all over one another. And right there in the front seat of Randy’s new ’60 Chevy, they slowly (and clumsily) but surely went all the way.
————————–
The Impala was Randy’s first car, and Rose was impressed when he showed up in it to pick her up that night. It had cost him $150 – most of the money from his first Murl’s paycheck plus everything he had saved up from washing cars at his dad’s lot.
One guy at the lot had asked him to clean the inside of his car, too, then tipped him $5 after he had left the dashboard gleaming and the floors meticulous.
That five bucks had bought him six packs of smokes, which he would smoke during his breaks, sitting in an empty boxcar on the traintracks behind the car lot where no one, in particular his dad, could see him. He would fantasize about climbing on the boxcar at night with a packed bag and a blanket, letting the train carry him west where he’d surely find fun things to do and some sort of decent job. He would send Rose money to travel out to meet him, and they could get a little house together. For some reason, doing all this in a distant place seemed far more exciting than thinking about a future in Spencer. Anything had to more exciting than settling down in his small, industrial hometown.
Randy had started smoking behind his parents’ backs, even though his dad puffed down at least two packs a day. He didn’t really care what they would think or say since they had stopped giving him allowance and told him that he needed to start working to make his own spending money. He figured if he was earning his own money now, he could spend it on whatever the hell he wanted, and it was really none of their damned business.
One afternoon Marv randomly popped into Randy’s bedroom, pushing open the door with his shoulder, asking if Randy could work that Saturday afternoon. Randy was crouched by the open window, finishing up a cigarette as he dreamed about meeting up with Rose later that night.
“What the hell?” Marv said, “you’re smoking in here? I thought I smelled it before.” He looked out the open window.
Randy paused, exhaling. “Well, it’s my room, I can do what I want.”
“That’s fine,” Marv said, “but it’s my house, so I’m the boss.” He pulled out a check from his back pocket and handed it to Randy. “Here’s a little money for you to take Rose skating this weekend, you’ve been working a lot lately so I thought you deserved a little extra.”
Randy didn’t know what to say, except “Thanks, dad.”
“So can you be at the lot Saturday?”
“Sure … sounds good.” Randy dropped his butt out the window.
“And if you’re going to smoke, fine, but do it in front of my face and not behind my back.”
Randy smiled. “OK.”
“And we have ashtrays, you know.” Marv smiled back and walked out of the room.
—————
CHAPTER 2: TIME TO GROW UP
Two months after Rose’s 16th birthday – they had celebrated with cheap steaks and a birthday cake at Murl’s – she broke the news to him.
He was dropping her off after they had gone to a movie, and he was stealing as many kisses as possible in the front seat in the driveway when she pushed him back and said, “Randy, I’m pregnant.”
He looked at her, staring into her green eyes, caressing her long brown hair, looking down toward her stomach and admiring every inch of her body. He felt utterly and completely drawn to her, magnetized. He knew right then that he would marry this beautiful woman.
“Well, I love you Rose, and I guess this means we should get married.”
She looked at him, smiling. Her cheeks glowed red, living up to her name.
“Well then, I’m yours.”
———————-
Randy realized the next morning that he would need to update his parents on his and Rose’s relationship.
After washing cars in his dad’s lot that afternoon, working a little too exuburantly, he sat down back home in the living room. His dad was kicked back in his recliner, chain-smoking as he watched “Star Trek” reruns. He lit up a cigarette himself and took a puff.
“Hey, dad?”
“What is it?”
Randy took another puff. “Can you handle some kinda big news?”
His dad looked straight at him. “Sure. What is it?”
“Well, Rose is pregnant and I think I want to marry her.”
“Oh shit!” Marv jerked up, then looked down at the floor for a second. “I mean, wow, that is really some big news! You two haven’t even been dating for a year yet.”
“I know, but I’m really in love with her and I want to take care of her and the baby.”
Marv turned down the volume on Captain Kirk and starting outlining Randy’s options. Spencer didn’t have a lot of great long-term career options, he said, so he should think about joining the service. He would earn good money, be able to get his family set up nicely, and maybe even have more opportunities once he was out.
“And don’t worry son, your mother and I will sign whatever papers you need to enlist.”
They sat face-to-face, elbows on thighs, browed fully furrowed.
“Well then, I guess that’s what I should plan to do then,” Randy said.
———————–
He called Rose that same night, reiterated his amateur proposal, and explained how by joining the Army, he would be pursuing the best option for all of them. She officially accepted, agreed with the basic plan, and said she was ready to start planning their future right along with him.
——————
Randy drove to the Army’s recruiting office in the Northpark Mall the next day. It was down the hall after the Department of Transportation office and The Spencer Cafe. The best part of the mall was the bowling alley on the lower level: The staff served beer to anyone plus they had two pool tables, twice as many as most of the town’s bars.
The retired sergeant behind the desk had him fill out a bunch of paperwork as he politely answered Randy’s nervous questions. The sergeant made him an physical examination appointment at the Army Recruiting Station in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which was a convenient two-hour drive from Spencer.
As Randy pushed out of the mall’s doors, he felt as if he was graduating from something older into something newer. It was as if he was taking a big step forward in life, and he felt like he was opening the door to something greater in his future. Something that he couldn’t quite make out, but that would lead to a place better than where he was at now.
A couple days after he was checked from top to bottom at the Sioux Falls station and passed everything, including a written test meant to determine if he was crazy or not, his dad drove him back to the recruiting office in the mall.
The sergeant showed them lists of different jobs available and maps of the various locations he could be stationed. Since Randy was signing up voluntarily, rather than waiting to be drafted into the war in Vietnam, he was able to pick out his choice of station.
Marv pointed to Germany.
“You should go to Germany. That’s where I was stationed, and we’re half-German anyway,” he said.
Randy nodded in agreement. And since he had some experience working with cars at a car lot, they ended up deciding that “helicopter mechanics” would be a good line of work for him to pursue.
The sergeant looked him square in the eye, shook his hand, and said, “Welcome to the Army, son, you’re enlisted as of today. You will be officially inducted on August 16th, 1971.”
___________________________

And so there we are, brother. Take care for now, and I hope to hear your voice again soon. I’ll be looking forward to your next letter as well.
Love ya,
-Adam
P.S. Atty and Brittany say “Howdy!”


Chapter 2: Soccer Balls

“Experts think schizophrenia is caused by several factors: Genes and environment. Scientists have long known that schizophrenia runs in families. The illness occurs in 1 percent of the general population, but it occurs in 10 percent of people who have a first-degree relative with the disorder, such as a parent, brother, or sister.”
-National Institute of Mental Health

10-29-12
Adam,
Yes brother, my blood is well-caffeinated, my coffee is stockpiled, I have plenty of chocolate, and that $20 you sent will go toward a phone card. I will call you tomorrow between 1 and 2 p.m. and if you miss it I’ll try again between 6 and 8 p.m.  Expect me to call around those hours from now on.
My handwriting has been angling up toward the right because this paper doesn’t have lines and it annoys the hell out of me. We must push on in the face of adversity though.
Over the past few days I’ve been reading Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” and I’ll finish it tonight. Although I’ve seen the movie with Robert DeNiro as the monster, the book has been especially enjoyable. I hope you like the drawing on the back of this page.

Frankestein's Monster 10-20-12
When Victor refuses the monster’s request to create a female counterpart, the monster starts killing Victor’s friends and family, and eventually his fiancé. The feelings that the author describes Victor as having after these tragic events very much relate to my own feeling over the past few months.
Thanks for your words of encouragement. I promise you that I will continue to make the best of what is available to me. You’re right: I won’t dwell on how I let anyone down, and I’ll work on not allowing unworthiness to dominate my thoughts.
Those puzzles you sent are awesome! There’s 250 Kakuros so I’m stoked there. Lately I’ve been working the other logic and math ones. The variety is nice. I’m pretty good at them but they can be challenging, and that’s just what I need to get and keep me out of the funk sometimes.
Albert wrote me and sent some pictures. You’re in two of the photos he sent. One is at your old house when I lived in Iowa City, and you’re standing beneath my painting in the kitchen. He also sent me a great picture of Dad wearing that blue shirt with white flowers on it, jeans with suspenders, and a nice belt buckle. Al took that one when we were camping at Lake Macbride for your wedding.
I miss Dad. But he’s resting in a peaceful place. You know me, I still believe he’ll be resurrected.
Helping edit Dad’s book sounds interesting. Maybe at some point you can send me a section at a time. Maybe when I get some place more permanent.
And there’s no shortage of strange experiences I’ve had in my life. I should write a little story about my soccer ball experience. I made a model of one, and it was a complete coincidence that made it possible. I started the project when I was staying at Bob’s and finished it at the little apartment I had in Ames.
In fact, I’ve been trying to draw soccer balls freehand like this … (editor’s note: drawing of soccer ball was on handwritten letter).
Have Atticus check and see how many hexagons and pentagons are on a soccer ball. I’m guessing 20 hexagons and 12 pentagons, or 12 hexagons and 9 pentagons. See if he and you can figure it out and let me know the answer so I can draw one out. I’m definitely on a tangent.
Thanks again, your letter really lifted my spirits. Love you bro,
A.H.
P.S. Sorry – a rat took a bite out of this! Ha! (editor’s note: page’s corner was slightly shredded.)

Turkey Nite, 2012
YO BRO!
What the funk is up?
I’m tipsy on Turkey-Day bird.
Radiohead made me miss you.
I’m enclosing some $ and a zombie drawing from Atticus.
Some of his math practice problems are on the back of the sheet.
Keep calling me – I’ll answer when I see or hear your call.
“For a minute there … I lost myself …
I lost myself … ”
I know this is sporadic, but that’s all I got right now.
Just know that as your brother, I will always love you.
Our memories with Dad will always be priceless …
those golden moments in the Black Hills, for example.
-Adam
P.S. Atty liked your Frankenstein drawing – that inspired his zombie drawing. Take care of yourself bro, and stay warm!

11-28-12
Dear Brethren,
First, I assure you that the soccer ball in the drawing is not an evil one. Otherwise I would not have sent it to you. No, I would have kept it to myself, as a secret, to use against anyone who wants to stand between me and my goal! My goal of course is top secret.
Why do I draw soccer balls, you wonder? What could possibly be the practical purpose of such an endeavor? If you guessed world domination then you are close. And no, I do not draw any nor do I try to draw any dark powers from the pentagram in the center. That is merely for architectural design purposes only. All of them pagans who think that it possesses mystical energy probably think the same of their own arseholes. In fact, they should take a look because perhaps their arseholes do have mystical energy.Soccer Ball 1 11-28-12
I, on the other hand, draw soccer balls and pentagrams purely for recreational purposes. This one I’m sending you would be cooler if it had disco balls in the center of the hexagons and a skating rink surrounding the pentagon in the middle. You could call it a hexa-pentagonal skating rink. Yes, this is a nice soccer ball, far from being an evil one.
It’s not a real soccer ball anyway. I wasn’t even looking at a real one when I sketched it out. It’s a pretty fair bet that I’m not within a mile of a real one.  So you can see that I was faced with a challenge when I set out on drawing one-half of a soccer ball. And for one like myself who tends to complicate things, yes, it was a monumental challenge.
First of all I needed a few facts. Like the surface area of a sphere with radius of 1, the area of a regular hexagon with sides of length X, the area of a pentagon with sides of length X, the golden ratio, some trigonometry and some Pythagoras theory.
Combining these tidbits of info I arrived at an approximation in the form of an equation for the side of a length X for the pentagons and hexagons on an imaginary soccer ball with a perfectly smooth, spherical surface area of 4 Pi. In other words, if X is the sides of the nine pentagons and 14 hexagons on a soccer ball with surface area  4 Pi the … [Algebraic error] … RED ALERT! … nuclear meltdown imminent … please disregard.
This is all nonsense and you must be thinking, “What the hell is going on here? Why am I reading this letter? What is wrong with my brother Aaron?”
Don’t worry. Believe me, I understand your frustration. I mean, who on earth would subject themselves to all the tedious calculations and rigorous dedication to exactitude just for a hand-drawn picture of an effing soccer ball? It’s bullshit man!
But it’s not. You see, from here I’m hoping to take things to the next level and actually make 3-dimensional models of soccer balls. Then I can send them as gifts to family and friends.
So yeah, I used the math for the drawing and I think it’s driving me mad, man. Then when I read your letter yesterday and saw Atty’s addition exercises, I thought they showed some pretty decent numbers. Tell him his addition is very good! And if that’s his pencil writing then he sure is good for his age.
His drawing was cool too, like a space Frankenstein. Tell him thanks.
Who will be the first to kick a soccer ball into space? I think we both know. The Russians.
My brain is fried. I will continue this memoir later. Sleep tight old boy!
——
Hello again! And good afternoon. They would disguise the Pentagon as a soccer stadium if they knew what was good for them.
It’s been a good day so far, and I’m going to ship this letter off with the drawing. It’s been fun. I got a little carried away with this project but it’s only the beginning.
Thanks for the check, and I miss playing music with you, too. Brings a tear to my eye. Say hello to Atty and Brittany for me. Til we meet again …
Love, your bro,
Aaron J.

Early December, 2012
AARON!
It was a pleasure receiving your non-evil soccer ball. I can assure you that your secret goal of something close to world domination is safe with me. As some old pop song said: My lips are sealed.
I also appreciated your “sweet cheeks” fella – you should think about drawing a comic strip.
I think your hexa-pentagonal skating rink is an excellent idea – I may need to start looking for investors for what could become the latest, hottest and hippest trend! Don’t worry, you stand to earn at least 20 percent of any profits.
I must apologize for not sending you the secret soccer-ball related info you requested earlier, but I’m amazed to see the math you delved into during the process … I must admit, all of it is WAY over my head, but I trust that much of it is relevant, and hopefully assume that you had a good time running that stuff through your head and coming up with equations to write up. I’ve always loved your zany and advanced math mind.
3-dimensional soccer balls would be awesome – if only you had access to a 3-D laser printer!
And yeah, the way Atty does math (for his homework) is crazy – but it’s good because they’re teaching them how to approach it from several different ways.
OK, here’s the belated soccer-ball info:
1. You get an A+ for getting once side right. And that’s freaking amazing! One minor note: When you look at the soccer ball, you see a little past the outer hexagons’ edges, so the drawing could include a few more lines.
2. I’ve enclosed a rough, sloppy, oblong drawing of the other side of a soccer ball, or at least the one we play with. I’ve marked the hexagons with an “HB”, because they’re larger. The smaller pentagons are marked with a “PS”. This drawing should clue you in to the note in (1.).
So I’m listening to Firewater right now … some of their lyrics are poetic and you might enjoy them … so I’ll share a song:
(Psychopharmacology)
“When the little things are tearing you apart
They should have warned you
This is how it starts
An answering machine that only speaks the truth
The endless shrink parade
The nights that never cease
And all you want is peace
But all you get is pills
And still they tell you

Psychopharmacology is gonna be your friend
When you can’t get out of bed and you’re so tired of pretending
Psychopharmacology is gonna save your soul
‘Cause God is great and God is good but he’s also made of wood
Believe in psychopharmacology

Tonight terrorize your friends
They should have warned you
This is how it ends
But the thing you can’t accept
Is this is all you get
You just want a second chance
But all you get is pills
And still they tell you

Psychopharmacology is gonna set you straight.”
—–
I took Atticus on a nice hike in Hickory Hill park yesterday … we wandered off on deer trails into the woods for a while … it’s always refreshing to get a little lost out in Mother Nature land.
It’s been unseasonably warm most of this early winter so far, but colder temps and possible snow are headed our way soon. Maybe we’ll be bringing sleds to Hickory Hill next time.
I don’t mind the winter warmth though – the one silver lining of global warming, I suppose.
All right man, I’m going to print this out and get it sent tomorrow. I’ll write again before long and send a couple pages of Dad’s book next time … I’ve started dabbling at editing and re-writing it a bit, but it’s going to take quite a bit of time.
Hope you’re staying as warm and well as possible. Keep working your body and brain as best as you can, sir!
Love ya,
Adam


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