Chapter 1: Letters from Aaron

“ … schizophrenia is as ghastly and debilitating as smallpox or rabies or any other unspeakable disease you care to name. … Schizophrenia is an internal chemical catastrophe. It is a case of monstrously bad genetic luck, bad luck of a sort encountered in absolutely every sort of society.”  (Kurt Vonnegut, “Palm Sunday”.)

Dear Adam, my beloved brother,
Thank you for sending the money order along with the extra $10 in cash so fast! I used it to get this paper, pen and the envelope I’m sending this in. I also purchased a nice bag of instant coffee, some hard candy (root-beer barrels and Jolly Ranchers), food stuff, a pair of socks, and some dandruff shampoo.
They took 40% of the money order because I had a balance due for medications and stuff. My balance due now is $42 but I still have $33 in my account. Please send my next check all at once, except send $100 to Mom and Don because I owe them that.
Another thing, I would really like you to send me books to read. However, in order to do that the books must be sent directly from the publisher to the jail. I really like John Steinbeck, as I have read both “Cannery Row” and “Of Mice and Men.” Those books came from the publisher Penguin Books, so check their website. Eventually I want to read all of Steinbeck’s books. If you can please have “Grapes of Wrath,” “Cup of Gold,” and “East of Eden” sent here via the publisher and take the expense out of my check, that would be great.
There is also a collection called The Portable Steinbeck which may contain several or all of his stories, which would be better yet. See what you can do and when you send my check maybe make a note of what you found. This would be very much appreciated.
Also, if there are any books you’ve read that you think I would enjoy you can always send me those from the publisher, too.
One last thing: I will get you on my visiting list as soon as I can. Oh – and yeah! How was Ragbrai? Let me know how it went. And tell Atticus the Great that I said hello.

Hey brother, it was great to hear from you! I still have all of our letters that we used to write back and forth, and it was nice to see your familiar handwriting again.
I’m glad to hear you put your money to good use and that it helped you get a few of life’s little comforts. Will your medications be costing about the same every month? I guess we’ll just need to plan for that. And don’t worry, I’ll send a check to Mom and Don right away. I hope you enjoyed their visit – I’m sure mom was happy to see you. I’m going to call her tomorrow, I don’t even know her new address yet, but she said she loved her house, and the rose bushes seemed fitting.
I’m impressed that you’re reading some classics! But it’s easy to see you being drawn to the deepest literature available, of course. I ordered you a couple of your requests on Penguin, so they should be showing up before too long. (Just noticed I got a couple novels, and not the collection, so next time I’ll send that and a choice of my own – just remind me.)
On the money note, I’m sending you $500 of your check this month. We should probably try to save a little of it each month, since there’s a chance that it may eventually stop coming; I can give you more details on this when we talk again. Speaking of which, feel free to call me anytime. Does it cost you money when you make calls or not?
Ragbrai was brutally hot but plenty of fun as always. A few of us experienced dehydration and heat exhaustion symptoms, but everyone made it through fine in the end. I saw all the usual crazy styles of bikes, plus a dude on a unicycle and a couple guys on longboards – freakin’ nuts! I ended up only biking 5 days out of the week due to sheer exhaustion, but still got about 350 miles in. And I bought Brittany and Atticus both spoke bracelets like mine, plus got Atty some awesome biking gloves. He was stoked – and promptly wore them on a 5-mile ride with me when we were back on Sunday. I’ll let him know you say “HI!”
Also, Al was a champ early in the week – our old Winnebago was leaking fluid after our drive out west, so he drove it the first day of Ragbrai to Cherokee, bought a new water pump, and installed it. Everyone loves having a mechanic on board, right? Later in the week though, he got some heat rash, and bailed out on Friday. The first 3 days had highs between 100-105, if that gives you any idea. Ouch! Record state highs = record Ragbrai highs …
So I saw today that your trial date is Oct. 30th. We’ll talk about it more on the phone, but I’m planning on coming up the 28th to visit you and will stay until the trial. Hopefully before that, though, I can plan on visiting and maybe Mom and Don can meet me so they (and you) can all see Atticus. We just need to chat on the phone sometime to figure stuff out. I’m still waiting on my work schedules too, but can always adjust those for an earlier visit. So get me on the list ASAP, please. And let me know the visiting hours again.
You’re my closest blood, brother, and just remember that always holds true to my heart. I will always love you in the deepest way possible, and you will always fill a special place inside of me. Stay strong, and take care of yourself the best as you can. I will be there for you as much as I possibly can.
Give me a call soon, so we can chat.
Love ya,

Well you did good brother! Those books got here real quick and the money order got here right on the 3rd. Now I’ve got plenty of good reading material and enough funds to get 6 months-worth of instant coffee. Plus I bought a phone card so I will be calling you again soon.
My medications are costing me like a hundred dollars a week. The jail administrator told me to talk to my doctor about getting a grant to help pay for them. I’m going to do that on Wednesday.
Other than that, I’m just reading all the time and doing stretch yoga and pushups all the time.
I wouldn’t mind having a book on music theory if you can come across one. Maybe I can learn to compose actual sheet music.
I love you, bro. Thanks for everything. Tell Atticus and Brittany “Hi” for me.

Hey man – hope everything’s going well. Good to finally talk to you again! Sorry about all the missed calls … I’ll keep a closer eye on my phone, but always feel  to give me a ring whenever the hell you feel like it.
So Atticus and I had a blast camping. I took him to the Sugar Bottom campground – remember, where you, dad and I camped years ago? The off-the-beaten-path tent sites there are pretty cool. It brought back good memories of all the camping you, me and dad used to do.
Atty and I hit the Frisbee golf course, rode our bikes around, jumped in the lake, and of course, canoed on the lake. He was funny – he joked that it’d be nice to have diapers one morning as we were headed to the bathroom, then like 5 or 6 hours later in the day announced to me that when he starts a band as a teenager, he wants it to be called Loaded Diaper. Later that night, he and a boy from the next campsite rocked out a song, “Loaded Diaper,” with Atty on guitar and vocals and the other kid on a djembe and backup vocals. Good times for sure.
And hey, next time I’ll look for a music theory book for you. Also, have you started “Blood Meridian” yet? It’s a little deep – there’s plenty of words in there that were far above my head – but it’s a great insight into just how savage and bloody the old Wild West actually was … not at all like the Hollywood movies portrayed it.
(Quick question while I’m thinking about it: Shouldn’t the Medicaid be paying for your medication? Just wondering … I thought that covered most of the cost before.)
Well, I ordered the Portable Steinbeck for you, you’ll probably get it before this letter. I should’ve gotten that to begin with – I think it has one or both of the novels I sent you. But you’ll definitely be getting your fill of Steinbeck with this one.
Be sure to get me on your visiting list ASAP, as well as Brittany if possible. We’ll be coming around 2 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 26. I’ll call the jail ahead of time to check in with them.
Also, I’ll be giving your public defender a call soon to see how they think the case will progress. I’m sure they know what they’re doing, so you shouldn’t worry about it too much.
Mom and Don are cruising through Iowa City on Friday and picking up Atticus, then going to Al’s for the weekend. Atty and mom will have a blast being silly-heads, I’m sure. I have to work both days when they’re picking him up and dropping him off, so I probably won’t even see them. Anyway, I’m glad they visited you, it was good to hear that mom got a chance to talk with you.
Hey man, stay strong. Good to hear you’re working out and everything. I love you a ton, and I always will. Keep your mind and your body in the best possible shape that you can … and I’ll try to do the same down here.
Talk to you soon, bro,

Dear Adam,
Alright! Your letter arrived with that booklist. No. 70, “The Tin Drum,” by Gunter Grass about Hitler’s Germany looks good and so does #62 “Wise Blood” by Flannery O’Connor.
Also, if for some reason you really think I won’t like either one of those, send #58 “The Plague” by Albert Camus. Actually, go ahead and send “The Plague” and “The Tim Drum,” and thanks a lot for sending that list.
And if you find any time, I would love to see a list that maybe included a more comprehensive idea of the books’ content, and the number of pages. This is just a suggestion really. Like I said, “if you get the time.”
I know you’re a busy man, my brother, and that is a good thing. You know: “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” Ha-ha! That’s kind of crazy, I wrote that just to be humorous.
Yes, jumping jacks – I’ve started to do a bunch of jumping jacks. First time around I did about 50 and was like, “Man, these are tougher than I thought.”
That was a couple days ago. Now I’m doing 100 of them and I get a pretty good burn going in my calves. I follow those up with some pushups and scissor-kicks or leg-lifts. Gets my blood pumping pretty good and leaves me a little winded with a few beads of sweat on my forehead. That and a cup of lukewarm instant coffee bitter enough to make your blood curdle, and I’m turning and burning for the day.
Enclosed is an abstract drawing I completed over the course of a month or so. All I did was draw some curvy lines all over, then started filling them in. My brain was all over the place while I worked on this in case you can’t tell. Please excuse the coffee spill and the multiple tears in the paper.
Oh yeah! You know how I like doing mind teasers and logic puzzles? I was hoping you could send me a couple books of those, too. There’s a book publisher – – that has logic, math, sudoku and maybe other puzzle books. I really like the logic and math puzzles.
They have a puzzle book on the commissary sheet so I got that and finished all the sudoku and “word division” puzzles. There’s jBroken Tears & Isolation 9-22-12ust a bunch of silly word puzzles left now, which I know would help my vocabulary but are too boring to me. So see what you can do.
Give Atticus and Brittany my best wishes and have a great day. Thanks for the book list again, and thanks for the $20. It’s on my books.

P.S. The name of the drawing is “Broken Tears and Isolation” (What I don’t remember/What I do remember.)

Thanks for calling the other day – we were busy as usual but it was certainly nice to hear your voice! And I was glad Atticus finally had a chance to chat with you again – he always mentions your name when I take him Frisbee golfing.
I looked for those movie/books that you mentioned, and they do both exist. Unfortunately, none of the publishers have them available. You should check with the jail officials and see if books from are acceptable – it’s like a big Internet store, but the books are well packaged, I’m sure. I can find about anything on there.
Hey – thanks for your kind words about our visit in your letter – Brittany appreciated seeing you, too, so thanks for getting her on the visiting list.
Sounds like that Steinbeck story about the gum was a lively one – it reminds me of some weird Stephen King stuff I read a long time ago.
Damn – 1-legged squats! I gotta try that, but I don’t know if my chicken legs could handle 30. And 100 pushups – that’s amazing man, I’m lucky if I can do 20 in two sets.
That’s nice that you can have some downtime in the day room alone. If other dudes are starting fights, it’s certainly best to avoid them then. Hopefully you’ve met a decent person or two during your stay.
So I’m enclosing $20 with this letter to tide you over for a few days … then I’ll be sending you $300-$400 at the beginning of October – call me if you need a specific amount or anything.
I got the Medicare cancelled so we don’t lose money to that, although there might be a couple hundred in back charges or whatever. But don’t worry, I’m keeping your finances in the positive.
Things have been decent around here. Like I said, Atty’s in soccer and taekwondo these days, so he’s quite active. I took him on a nice bike ride Sunday to an old park we haven’t been to in a while; he explored the creek bed and climbed on the big rocks there. The damn kid’s almost as tall as Brittany already! He’s gonna be taller than me by the time he’s 15, I swear.
I’ve been trying to get as much biking in as I can – now that the autumn chill is descending upon us, I’m already dreading the unfriendly winter temps that are looming.
I’ve been doing lots of sports shifts at work, so I put all the Hawk game info in the paper. They’ve won 2 out of 3 so far, and they should beat that Michigan team this Saturday, so it could end up being a good season … we’ll have to see.
Well stay strong, brother, both physically and mentally, as best as you can. You’ll eventually be heading toward a different and hopefully more engaging environment. I was glad to see on our visit that you were keeping as positive of an attitude as possible – it’s always good to focus on what you have rather than what we don’t have.
I love you man – I’m including a book list here that you can pick a couple from if you find something that sounds good.
Peace out!

Yo bro!
First of all, thanks for that amazing drawing! I totally dig it and gotta hang it up on the wall somewhere in my house. I took a pic and sent it to Al and Drea – Al dug it as well, of course. I think it’s great that you’ve managed to collect enough materials to create some art in your current environment.
So I sent you that book list thinking all those titles would be available through publishers, but alas, I was wrong. All I could find was “The Plague”, but it was in a collection, which I sent to you and hope you will enjoy. I’ll search the publisher’s websites and get together some sort of detailed list of what they have available for you soon.
Sidenote: I enjoyed your “idle hands are the devil’s workshop” comment – hilarious man!
And it sounds like you’re getting your days started well – nothing like some bitter caffeine and a bit of a workout to get the body working for the day, eh?
I’m sending you a few of the free puzzles from “kappa” – we can’t order online from them but I’m going to call them and see if I can get some more puzzles mailed directly to you. That was a great suggestion – Brittany has me doing crosswords sometime and I’ve found it fun – a little brain exercise plus you learn a new word now and then.
Hey – I’m back … I wrote that much the other night and now am finishing up.
Sorry I didn’t get that check mailed out sooner – I’ll include $20 in this letter just in case it gets to you faster. (I’m mailing both today but will be sending them from different places.)
Not much else new here these days – the leaves are looking brilliant right now, colorful as all hell. They changed a little early due to the ongoing drought conditions, so I guess that also means they’ll be falling from the trees sooner, too.
It’s starting to get close to freezing at night now … gotta bring the plants in off the back deck tonight.
Take care man – I once again apologize if you end up suffering a coffee shortage – I’ll make it a point to get a check sent out earlier next month for sure.
Take it easy bro – I love ya!

Dear Adam,
That drawing took me quite a while to do. So thanks, I’m glad you like it.
Yeah, thanks for getting that book here. I’ve started reading “The Plague,” and it’s interesting thus far right from the start.
And the money arrived today, so I have $270 left in my account, which is awesome! Now I will be able to get another phone card, coffee and some chocolate at the commissary in a few days. As you’ve probably noticed, I’m writing this on the reverse side of some of our commissary sheets. I’ve checked the items that I usually get on there so you can see them.
I will start calling you a few days before the end of each month to remind you to send a check, and we can catch up on other things as well.
More than anything I appreciate you taking the time to send me books and write me letters. These things are really invaluable in here. It’s good to know that you haven’t forgotten about me. After I was arrested and put in jail I felt like a failure and that I had let everyone down. And I realize that I did fail and I have let people down, and sometimes I feel worthless and hopeless. It’s not easy for me to see any possible way out of this bad situation. So sometimes I’m extremely depressed.
However, when I communicate and stay in touch with you and our other family members, I feel better. You’ve been a big support for me since I’ve been here. Four months already! I’ll call you soon.
Your brother,
Hi there again! I have a few more things I wanted to say.
So I’ve been suffering a coffee shortage here for a week or so. It was real rough the first day without it. Yesterday, however, I had a rather pleasant nap after lunch. Usually I have a cup of coffee and exercise then read during this time. But just being able to kick back and get a little extra shut-eye felt good, and I felt better in general. Moral of the story: It is wise to ration your coffee and not drink too much of it at one time.
On the other side of the coin, now that I’ve been without it for a while I’m really looking forward to having it again. You never know what you have ‘til it’s gone. So now I know what I had and that it was good and I want it again. Same goes with the chocolate candy bars and the sausage logs. Just a few days now and I’ll have them again. The suspense!
All right, it’s getting late so I’m signing off.
Thanks for your help bro,
P.S. Tell Atticus and Brittany I said “Hi.” Love you all very much.

Yo bro!
Good to hear from you as always. I’m glad to hear the most recent book is serving its purpose … that is, entertaining you, and that you enjoyed the Kakuro and math puzzles. Your insights make me want to read “Frankenstein” in its entirety – I’ve only read excerpts before. I’m interested to see your next drawing – I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every one so far.
Glad you’re all cashed up – by the time you read this I’m sure your coffee stash will be stockpiled, you will have eaten some chocolate, and will have phone access again. And yes – seeing your commissary sheets was quite fascinating, thanks for sharing. Looks like they have all the basics covered by all means, but I’m sure you wouldn’t mind if there was a “music” section included. They should have a music room and charge $5 an hour or something …
Good idea to call me at the end of the month – I’ll plan better from now on though. I feel bad still about your caffeine shortage, but sounds like you’ve dealt with it as best as possible. I hope your first sip of coffee after being without was a delicious and enjoyable experience   Sometimes the smallest pleasures in life can be the greatest, for sure.
Hey man – I’m glad you appreciate my correspondence. I’ve gotta say, the silver lining in all of this is to read your writing again. We’ve always communicated well as writers, and I genuinely enjoy hearing your voice through your written words on a regular basis.
You are my closest relative bro, and always will be. Atticus is a close second, but you and I share the most DNA as is humanly possible. OK, I’m going off on a tangent, but I don’t want you to dwell on how you let anyone down or anything. Life is a bitch, and we all end up dealing with it in the only way we know how.

And please don’t allow any feelings of unworthiness to dominate your thoughts. I still have plans for that great brain of yours, my brother, and I need you to keep it in decent shape. Maybe this is a pipe dream or something, but eventually I would like for you to help edit some of dad’s book that I’ve got written up, and also would like to get some stories or more out of you regarding your own strange experience of life as a human animal on this bizarre and ever-changing planet.
I realize how desolate you must feel at times, but please promise me that you will continue to make the best of what is available to you.  And remember that your current environment is temporary, and will be changing in another few months. No matter what happens, you will be experiencing different surroundings in a while, and you will have a greater range of opportunities than you have right now.
OK, enough seriousness … I don’t know if you heard, but Drea’s moving back to Iowa! She’ll be in Sioux City, but at least that’s much closer than Texas or Oklahoma. So hopefully I’ll get to see her within a few months. It’d be nice for Atticus to see her again, since she watched him for a while when he was but a wee babe.
We’ve been doing pretty good in general here in Iowa City. Atticus is a crazy, creative, fun and increasingly tall young lad. And – oh yeah – Brittany and I went to Chicago last weekend to see Firewater – an international/gypsy punk band, and it was great. They pulled people (including us) on stage for their last song and we sang, danced and played percussion instruments as the show winded down.  Chris Harden was there hanging out, as well.
Well, hopefully I can get some puzzles sent your way by the time I mail this letter. Otherwise I’ll need to start searching for another book … any suggestions?
I love you brother. Atticus and Brittany were both happy to hear your regards, and say “hey” and “love you” right back.
Your big bro,




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.

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