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Reader writer John Brizzolara on the mystery that is his son

All of us in this house

Talk is what I'm hoping for, mostly. I want him to tell me about it. What is it like, that kind of madness? I'll tell him, as best I can, what it is like to drink the way I have and maybe some reasons why.
  • Talk is what I'm hoping for, mostly. I want him to tell me about it. What is it like, that kind of madness? I'll tell him, as best I can, what it is like to drink the way I have and maybe some reasons why.
  • Image by Brooke Olivare

My friend Adrian and I approached the darkened North Park apartment, and I sensed something wrong. It was and is my own apartment, one I share with my 28-year-old son, Geoffrey. The hour was early, maybe 6:30 p.m., and we had cut our evening short after snacks and a bit of canvas-viewing at the galleries on Ray Street. A cardboard box sat at the doorstep in shadow. It was the size of a small suitcase. As I neared the door I called out, "Geoff! Geoffrey?" and I heard a rustling inside, a low voice coming from the bathroom. It was my son's, and though I needn't have jumped to the conclusion, I was afraid he had locked himself in the dark and was carrying on a conversation with his antagonistic spiritual entity named Roger, a kind of djinn, demon, imp, and the villain in his internal drama dementia. A real-enough person by the by, but that is beside the point at the moment. Or -- it might have been Tina, the benevolent Athena in the netherworld he sometimes inhabits, a world made up of elements of fantasy role-playing games, sword-and-sorcery novels, supposedly nonfiction occult volumes and chapbooks (some of which I had supplied for him when he expressed curiosity and before he showed any indication of taking the stuff seriously).

"Dad?" His voice from the darkness.

"Geoffrey, what are you doing? What's going on?" I lifted the package at the door, marked, I could now see, UPS. It contained vitamin supplements and bodybuilding milkshake powders he had ordered online.

"The FBI and the CIA know that I know about the gravity energy supply at the earth's core. I discovered it when I was meditating and I tapped into the computer at the Pentagon..." He went on, hurriedly, with a little kid's voice I knew well, describing the bashing at the door by some khaki, short-panted kid UPS driver turned Man-In-Black from a government agency. Geoff had used that voice many years ago for describing the creatures that formed from lumps of clothing on a chair when the light went out in his bedroom. I had used that very incident in a piece of short fiction called "Bedtime Story," published 15 years ago. There was, at the time, no reason whatever to think of his childhood fears presaging a clinical paranoia. It was so normal, it was almost adorable...until, in fiction, I introduced a malevolent supernatural angle. Even that, the introduction of the woo woo boogeyman factor did not seem prescient years later and in light of Geoffrey's fascination with the stuff; a fascination I thought normal, healthy, and cathartic, or even therapeutic. I encouraged him in what I thought was simply entertaining reading matter, mostly fiction, but occasionally some Colin Wilson, William James, Carl Jung, even Aleister Crowley, stuff I doubted he would much muddle through to any real extent. I still feel waves of remorse, with varying intensity, that I so gleefully handed him the means to furnish a delusional, traumatized mind.

"I wouldn't worry about the FBI," Adrian said to Geoffrey that night. "I don't think they're interested in gravity."

I put the lights on, took the phone from my son. It was his mother on the line, nearing a hysteria tempered by the months of practice she'd had with worse incidents. These were before his hospitalization and involved truly strange, heartbreakingly bizarre forms of acting out, a suicide attempt with a samurai sword and, finally, the police. I made tea for Geoff and gave him a mild antianxiety pill. The culprit in this scenario had been the drug Abilify, an antipsychotic -- in that Geoffrey had taken none for several days.


Living with a schizophrenic is not, as many jokes among the married and once-married might have it, a matter of living with multiple personalities -- which might show up in anyone at all. Nor is it a case of living with someone who constantly changes his or her mind -- again, at least no more so than occurs with a perfectly sane being who believes that changing one's mind is a prerogative. It's anyone's prerogative, and so is "consistency the hobgoblin of small minds." One is free to believe that, and I often do. I certainly don't know what it is like to live with any mentally ill people but my son, a schizophrenic I love. And what that is like is what it is to live with anyone you love: a matter of tolerance to an irrational degree. Irrational on the lover's part, that is, not its object.

Not long ago, I bought a supposed religious artifact in Tijuana, thinking it might have anything from a miraculous to a placebo-like effect, maybe evoke a smile or underline suggestions concerning prayer (though I am hardly a noticeable example) that I had advanced. It is a booklike object bound in mediocre-quality leather. On its cover is a transparent and hollow crucifix of plastic containing water: Agua del rio Jordan, it says. When the pageless book is opened, the laminated rear and front cover have illuminated borders, an illustration of Christ's crucifixion, and on the right, Loz Diez Manamientos, numbered one through ten.

Feeling silly at the outset (I had picked this object up in a duty-free shop, next to the Kahlúa and tequila and cartons of American cigarettes), I thought it might be a meaningful stocking-stuffer. It should certainly be harmless, but I sensed a perverse bristling at the edges of my conscience, as if what I were doing only buttressed Geoff's overly steeped sensibilities concerning superstition. I immediately felt guilty for the thought and once again knew what it was to be Catholic. And I am -- if not the cafeteria type of Catholic (as the poet Mary Karr described, it describes all Catholics, pretty much) then at least the duty-free Catholic I become when I think of it at all.

What Geoffrey did by way of assessing the gift was to place the plastic, water-filled, leather-bound crucifix to his forehead and say, "I don't feel anything."

He has assayed prescription drugs by smelling them, then passing judgment on their efficacy. He will do these things and discuss them freely, with his psychiatrist, for example, as if there were nothing unusual about it. "It's like, you know," he offers quite reasonably, "smelling coffee." He will then concern himself with the "decaying half-lives" of drugs that have not reached their expiration date and refuse, or attempt to refuse, to take them on this basis. This may be described as eccentric rather than crazy, because there is undoubtedly some truth to his point -- measurable in micrograms with spectrometers or what-have-you -- but I have no desire nor see the necessity for delineating other of Geoffrey's aberrant behaviors just because they are sensational, gross, and colorful and make for more sensational reading. They are there. Believe it. They will not be yours for the purpose of this reading. Geoffrey has a disorder, the result of a violent trauma and a number of other ingredients. He does not like the word disorder, nor illness or affliction; he has recently referred to it as a "gift" in keeping with the convoluted, shattered logic of the schizophrenic to whom a new world view, after a psychotic break, is an intrinsic survival mechanism with a kind of genius in itself.

Before arranging to live with my son, more than a little thought went into it. Here is a diary entry I used for publication elsewhere. This was written in September of 2005.


"The summer is a discouraging time to write. You don't feel death in the air the way you do in the fall when the boys really get their pens moving."

-- Ernest Hemingway in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald.

It is not a usual thing for the last day of summer and the first day of autumn to be so obligingly cool, so relatively dry and with just the right play of lemon sunlight shot through the world like a hint of transcendence. Always my favorite time of year back East, late September in San Diego is unreliable as a host to winds of change. But as I write this, around noon on the 22nd, some three and a half hours to the autumn equinox, if it is death in the air, as Papa Hemingway (or Uncle Ernie as I call him) writes, then it is a kind of mercy killing. It is signaled in the weather and the light, an end to a summer of necessary evils, living downtown in a place I do not love, treading water, at times the very humidity, all the while waiting for the main chance out. In this part of town that hosts the Gaslamp and House of Blues, Horton Plaza and Seaport Village, but also showcases much of the cross-section of San Diego's 28 percent living below the poverty line (over twice the national average), I am waiting as I write. Recently, my son agreed to share a place with me. His mental health (as well as my physical health) has improved so remarkably in the past six months that lingering objections have been eclipsed. With books and luggage I am waiting for my ride across town. In a few hours I will be in that apartment in a neighborhood less representative of San Diego's scumbag factor.

This is a second chance for us. We had tried this before, over a year ago, and disease had defeated us. It may again, but I don't think so, and it won't be for lack of trying. This time we are armed with, for one thing, more insight. There is something so very liberating in the autumnal equinox -- a sort of nature's reset button -- that things are looking auspicious. Other things are slouching toward Bethlehem to be born beside the rough beasts of schizophrenia and alcoholism. For me there is a new book: materials that rose from the congealed ashes of a greasy spring and summer hangover in such quantity that to ignore them would be the equivalent of telling God Himself, "I don't need You." And my son's burgeoning need for spirituality, along with his inherited and possibly wrongheaded disdain for religion, like mine, should find a nutrient-rich environment on this other side of an abyss we have both looked into, been marked by, and passed through.

Later: The mood has gone. The tropical humidity is back as if the spirits of hurricane victims were borne on muggy drafts from the southeast. That equinox sense of the world being poised between one thing and another is gone from the streets this morning, and it is just as well; the world is what it is, and too much hope can be a damnable thing. The minutia of moving occupies the day: have keys made, there's no toilet paper here, what else? Make a list.

It seems a new neighbor is a fan of Social Distortion, a band so preciously obnoxious they remind me of children swaggering around in Halloween costumes as super-villains insisting on their terribleness. It is almost comic relief after the incessant crack and amphetamine pounding of distorted bass tracks and chanted/rapped atonal litanies of obscenities and promised violence, "rhymes" fueled by absolute hatred, absolute anger. No Halloween costumes there, and the promised violence is real. I think about music that I hate as I unpack boxes. My son's speed-metal stuff is included, though he may be past that phase, I don't know. The last I heard he was listening to something called the Bloodhound Gang, and I didn't want to hear them. The bands like Megadeth to which he listened in his teens now seem harmlessly overblown and operatic. What do I listen to now? My opinion of music is clearly irrelevant: I find every other song played at Starbucks unobjectionable, and certainly that is a kind of death.

So what will we do? Go to ball games? Neither of us is a big fan. Movies? His disorder and medications make it difficult for him to concentrate on plots -- same with novels. He plays video games compulsively, and though I know nothing about them, I recognize compulsive behavior, and I'll make my bid to substitute another activity at times. A nearby gym might provide one of them.

Talk is what I'm hoping for, mostly. I want him to tell me about it. What is it like, that kind of madness? I'll tell him, as best I can, what it is like to drink the way I have and maybe some reasons why; he can judge if they're valid or not, and he will. Everyone else does, and everyone is always right. It is a new attitude I have, though never a belief. There are similarities in our disorders, I think. R.D. Laing once said something to the effect that schizophrenia is a perfectly sane response to the world. Charles Bukowski (though I am loathe to invite comparisons) once said -- when someone suggested that drinking was his answer to everything -- that "It's my answer to nothing." Certainly both responses are, as far as it goes, ways around the untenable.

While yesterday's autumnal magic seems to have fled, it has left the mundane behind, the world of toilet tissue and Cox Cable, locksmiths and walls without art. None of it seems overwhelming. Instead it all appears as a blank slate on which we can write the sane, the tenable.


It was rehab that I was referring to in the journal entry, the "place I did not love"; and it was there, I remember, a counselor addressed a small group-therapy session, myself present, but mostly he was addressing some other alcoholic or drug addict, deliriously untouchable by his predicament in addiction. The counselor took a blank piece of 8-by-11-inch paper and also took his shot: a shot across the bows of this impervious psyche in a Bob Marley T-shirt. "This is what divorce does to the child." He then ripped the page roughly in half. It was I who cried like a kid, the Bob Marley shirt guy blew saliva through his lips and laughed.

Though Geoffrey will not read any longer, I asked him to write once again. We went out to a coffee shop. He used my laptop and wrote this:

VAMPIRE COFFEE

The coffee has kick at Lestat's Coffee House. Named after the Anne Rice vampire series, I wonder, as I sit here noodling on my laptop, if she has ever been here. Rice recently moved to La Jolla from drowned New Orleans, I believe, and if I were she, I'd be curious as to what I had wrought here on Adams Avenue in San Diego. If Starbucks has angelic protection or outer-space aliens serving coffee -- a personal observation, make of it what you will -- Lestat's has Vampires and at least one Hobbit.

The threshold itself seems to accelerate one to supernatural speed, though not speed so much as a gliding grace, a kind of subliminal Michael Jackson moonwalk. Ordering a hammerhead seemed to change the gravity of the situation.

Looking for others of my kind (what might that be? That would be telling.) and finding none I decided to play with the mortals. I tempted fate and changed the coffee into blood (a creative visual meditation I have no time to go into here) which had the effect of making me lighter on my feet, affording me a near preternatural alacrity. I was an equal among the coffee drinkers. God knows how long they'd been at it.

OK, so I didn't have supernatural speed, just some herbal supplements of Alfalfa which gave me the grace of an Arabian horse (the coffee was Ethiopian, I believe) and was spiked with espresso facilitating the alfalfa stimulant. Asking the coffee tender's name, he told me, "Nick, the Hobbit." He is five feet and seven inches tall (my height exactly), and when asked if there were any vampires around he said, "No, just wannabees. You know the Goths with lots of piercing & tattoos into new age philosophy or role-playing." I may have seen a few of these but they didn't reveal their nature to me.

Heading into Lestat's West Coven or the band room, I talked with some of the musician's for a while. My father was here to visit with old band mates and I was told, "Sit here. Write something." The group opening for my dad's old band was "Thinking Out Loud" with Miff Laracey and Jerry Riggs. Miff, a longtime San Diego player who has at one time or another played with everyone locally and in L.A. had a Taylor acoustic and his partner embraced a giant type of violin; I had no clue what it was. An upright bass I learned.

I did learn one other thing. The coffee drinking hang out on one side and the musicians & fans on the other made it's hard to find any true vampires. Patrons of both rooms spill out onto the sidewalk for cigarettes, many with their own instruments, some wander to bars down the block for drinks or engage in pool games patronizing several businesses at once. Getting another coffee I heard one lady by the name of Alda say something to her girlfriend's baby. "I would rather you get laid than spend your life playing video games."

I don't know what this has to do with vampires but it was definitely something I could relate to. After heading into the music den once more Miff and Jeff were performing their duets and my instincts told me they were harmonizing correctly but Miff's friend couldn't hit high notes on a Buddy Holly song and suddenly couldn't be heard for a few beats. He lifted his head as if miming the high note; instinct perhaps -- or a trick, as if to act out singing the note it would manifest in the audience' ears -- or maybe it was some absorbed business from watching too much MTV lip-synching. "Thinking Out Loud" did a pretty good job for their first time as an act and little rehearsal.

After chatting with a couple of gals I half remembered something my old friend told me about cheese or girlfriends. Something about food always being a better choice than sex. So I left to make my self a ham sandwich at home and play myself a game of Warcraft 3. So I guess I chose wrong. Having vampire powers isn't enough to get the girl at the end. It takes skipping cheese (or ham) and not playing video games. Any way, my weight is a testimony to my choices. Too overweight to look as if I have supernatural powers of the svelte and patrician Slavic aristocrat associated with the vampire, I guess, what I like to think of as my supernatural gravitas just means I'm overweight.


Geoff is terribly troubled by his weight. He would not have you know what it is. He won't have photos taken. This suggests some freakish number, and it is not, certainly not today. You will find any number of men and women his age in any fast-food restaurant in America who weigh in at something similar. It is the side effects (among others) of drugs like Seraquil and Abilify, Zoloft, Zyprexa, and a few others with which they have experimented on Geoff during those studies you see advertised on cable TV at three in the morning. For the moment, I can find gratitude in the fact that he is eating somewhat normal food and somewhat normally -- just in larger portions. It was not that long ago that he was compulsively eating orange halves by the dozen for their "Chi energy" (the word is enjoying a fashion of misuse) and gallons of milk at a time. This latter phase was, as he perceived for a time, his only method of ingesting oxygen. God knows why. For similar reasons, he would also eat used coffee grounds from the trash -- including the filters.

To say he has good days and bad days is a handy enough response to the question "How's your son?" It is roughly accurate and saves a lot of time. It's the kind of thing you say about someone with Alzheimer's or cancer. Most days do not involve trips to the emergency room, as happened once several weeks ago.

Geoffrey had some sort of irritation on his backside, at the tailbone, an embarrassing spot for a guy who is very modest and uncomfortable with his body in almost every way. What he was describing sounded to me like hemorrhoids, but it was not. He had been ordering growth supplements from Internet sites. He is convinced, at five foot six or seven that he is uncommonly small. Believing that the growth supplements were working, he thought that the irritation was the nascent growth of a kind of tail, a calcium deposit, perhaps. It seemed to me unlikely that he was growing a tail, but I had no helpful explanation. Consulting with other, equally half-informed (or worse) online experts, Geoff became convinced that, with all his scratching, he had infected the site, and it was now likely gangrenous. He would not let me look at it at all.

He phoned his mother, though I was right there, and while eating sandwiches, crackers, anything he could find, infected his mother with borderline hysteria about this gangrene of the backside. At Mercy, the doctor dismissed it as something akin to an ingrown hair. The crisis had passed, though he remains highly suggestible.


Geoffrey wrote:

DARK MUSE

Warning this is not real however it could be plausible.

As I sit here writing I hear the sound of cop cars. A little earlier, I heard that the possibility of more terrorist threats is on the rise.

Using my psychic abilities I divine the future. Interesting: the Dark card that could represent the fog of time, or simply an unknown fate. But I am also a magician and the dark represents the arcane and the shadow. Things can go wrong on nights like these. I feel more demons about than angels. And that is a fact. Are demons real? They are half real and that's all I'll say.

Their effects are quite real: invisible flying imps can actually cause a lot of chaos.

Another card, Void causes natural laws to stop functioning. Up becomes down, gravity becomes weightlessness, and time might go backwards, the fat are fast and the skinny slow. Now back to the main problem at hand such as me not sleeping and five choppers in the sky and 20 police sirens going off.

Now, this is in ghetto San Diego County and the only thing I can think of is a mass uprising of the Mexican population. I picked up a couple of things: Isn't it both highly illegal for the police to be carrying (unless the military had been called in) armor piercing ammunition as well as 50 caliber rounds? Now why on God's earth (if you can call it that anymore) would police need this stuff unless they planed on nuking everyone? Anyway, doing a little remote viewing, Osama bin Laden seems to be summoning up Djinn to cause chaos in America. Djinn are like Muslim demons, whirlwind elementals against which we have no defense -- here. They can do things from mind control to simply sticking their claws in someone's heart. Anyway, most psychics don't know jack and couldn't defend themselves against these things if their life depended on it. Well, there are a few that can and we need them badly. Unfortunately the state thinks they're crazy and feeds them psychotropic medicine that awakens their senses making them crazier than before and they make Faustian deals with the devil for power or turn vampire. That's how I became psychic; writing a story on the state drug system told them I was psychic. They thought I was crazy, gave me some drug, Risperdal, that made me hear and see things but a funny rule of reality is that once you can see them they become real. Unfortunately the effects become real for other people too.

For instance my shadow can punch someone and that person would feel it. It all follows certain rules, magic does. Some dreamers, those who have not had their senses attuned yet can actually use null magic and dispel certain magic effects. This is why some are more vulnerable to its effects than others. Oh well, it's a good thing most of these demons are only man-sized seeing as the bigger ones are locked in the pit. I think I can finally get some sleep.

Later, he continues:

1 Demons are not real. They are simply an illusion created by the mind.

2 Shadows can't hurt you.

3 Psychic powers don't work. It's all in the mind.

4 Vampires aren't real.

As I write today the chaotic impulse no longer abides in me. It is a muse for sure but also an intelligent one.

I suppose it is good, a fitting way to end this story. The first of several stories to be sure. I would also say that a muse is not me and that I can have many muses (musings) which mostly means many ways of telling a story. Perhaps this mus[ing] is the calm before the storm as I sense change.

Maybe the world changes one day at a time and is different for each person living in his or her own personal heaven or hell. Or, as the jacket copy for John Crowley's Demonomania [Fantasy: Bantam Books] reads, "When the world ends, it ends somewhat differently for each soul then alive to see it; the end doesn't come all at once but passes and repasses over the world like the shivers that pass over a horse's skin." How does this relate to mankind? We may be able to change the future with fate. But we all have our own spiritual aspects and not all are the same. They are many and varied like the colors of a rainbow but somehow they have to all weave together. The best description of a fateful god I have found occurs in Games Workshops Table: Top strategy war game Warhammer 40,000 in the book Realm of Chaos, The Lost and the Damned with Tzeentch being the equivalent to fate. "Tzeentch is also the Great Conspirator, the master of plot and intrigue. Because he is aware of the dreams and plans of all mortals, he is able to predict the likely course, or courses, which the future might take. Tzeentch perceives every event and every intention, and from this information his mighty mind can work out how each will influence the future."

So how does this relate to me? Well, since the only constant is change my muse changes with the times. I let different muses write through me so the distinct writing style of each may be equivalently different. Or at least that is the theory of the muse. For this part of the story is "Dark Muse."


Geoffrey's skill at writing varies considerably from moment to moment, and he cannot keep at it for any one stretch for long. His clarity, even to the extent of considering what he has written, fiction or nonfiction, is suspect. He certainly knows the definition in literature, but it is as if, when asked which category or subject matter this or that piece would fall under, he puzzles for a moment as if deciding whether or not it happened, whether or not it is true -- whether or not it should be taken seriously. Writing of almost any kind is revealing, from a shopping list to a bedroom farce, and it is why I ask him to do it. One of the dubious benefits of his cooperation in this is a tight-focus illustration of the kaleidoscopic shards his thought process can become. I also have hope that, like breadcrumbs through a darkened wood (to mix metaphors, and why not in this context?), the process can be traced. The language he has chosen, what Ursula K. Le Guin has called "The Language of the Night" -- and that is fantasy, science fiction, fable, and poetry (after its kind) -- is one I am familiar with, a language I have been feeding him since infancy, and there are times it seems I should be hanged for it. This last sense is one I get from such disparate sources as my former mother-in-law and Geoffrey's own psychiatrist.

In the bestseller from 1955 The Fifty-Minute Hour by Robert Lindner, a series of psychoanalytic case histories, the author saves for the end a chapter titled "The Jet-Propelled Couch." In it, he describes a patient sent to him by a physician at a government installation in Maryland. The patient, Kirk, was a brilliant physicist with one outstanding oddity. He believed himself to be the main character in a series of science fiction novels he had encountered in childhood. The character had his same Christian name (not Captain James Kirk -- this was well before Star Trek), and the physicist believed himself to be the kingpin of a vast intergalactic empire. "The discovery...led him into passionate participation in the book, followed by so many rereadings that parts of it were automatically committed to memory." Lindner continues at great length:

"Through volume after volume of strange and adventurous tales, this figure weaved a perilous way as all-conquering hero -- a prototype for the modern superman. Fascinated, Kirk followed. And soon there came about him an uncanny transformation which can be described only in his own words...

" 'As I read about the adventures of Kirk Allen in these books the conviction began to grow on me that the stories were not only true to the very last detail but that they were about me. In some weird and inexplicable way I knew that what I was reading was my biography. Nothing in these books was unfamiliar to me: ...The whole business, if you like, was one long, almost interminable, déjà vu experience as you psychologists call it. My everyday life began to recede at this point. In fact, it became fiction -- and as it did, the books became my reality.' "


Forward one week: This is my journal entry:

Geoffrey and I are broke until I get paid. We've been doing pretty well, and this is just one of those inevitable end-of-the-pay-cycle inconveniences. I am as neurotic or more so than anyone about money, and while we never gave Geoffrey reason to worry about its absence, he has been having an interesting reaction. (I wonder if he's ever seen an empty refrigerator in his home?) He has demonstrated a burst of energy re: recycling plastic bottles and aluminum cans (enormous amounts of consumed liquids: milk, water, soda, iced tea, energy drinks for "chi," etc.). He can collect two or three dollars' worth of credit voucher for Sav-On, and he enjoys a sense of contribution. His disability money ($800 per month) does not go far. His half of rent (in what he has described here somewhere as a "ghetto") is more than half of that, and grocery bills are (to me anyway; his mother shows little surprise) staggering. He monitors electricity use. While he'll allow me to make him the occasional omelet or salad, he's been using our perceived financial emergency to buy many Jack in the Box tacos at two per dollar. A popular cartoon image of the schizo might be served by a snapshot of Geoff walking down the street with bags of burgers, fries, or frijoles (cooked in lard at the local workers' haunts) and carne asada burritos and a small jar of over-the-counter diet pills.

His connection between the act of writing and payment is a unique one. Just as I saw my father seemingly mail off typewritten sheets to magazines with names like Ave Maria or Saint Jude and, not long after, receive a check in the mail for $85 or, I remember one time, incredibly impressed, $450 -- Geoffrey too must see my relationship between words on paper (or screen) and money as completely normal. When I suggested we might be able to sell an article about ourselves and pay some bills that way, he nodded, accepting the idea as a matter of course. He added to the pages he had written that night at Lestat's and yesterday, when we were taking inventory of our cupboards, handed me the pages below. He looked at the canned corn, tuna, soup mix, etc. with satisfaction and said, "Well, at least we're getting on the ball with this article.

We're doing what we can."

I could find no way to express how goddamned adorable this companionable bit of machismo struck me. Did I mention he does not like to be touched? I cannot touch him.


And so I write even more than usual these days. As to what happened to my son, I have my own version. Just as when I asked Geoff to write about how this all started and he gave me a few pages of a kind of fiction enormously helpful to him for now, but almost, almost useless to me, I have been treating the whole business in what is so far a long short story or short novella. The events depicted below are fiction but closer to conventional truth (the Sheriff's Department or his mother, for example, would recognize what is rendered), closer to "the facts," than any version you will get from Geoff.


Justin's madness announced itself in the young Smith's early twenties. A part-time community college student, he was also a part-time pizza deliveryman, which left him time to be a fairly sleepless and full-time, online, role-playing game addict. The game was WarRealm. He met Tayeena when he delivered a meat-lover's combo to her family's home in North County, San Diego. She, he discovered during their first date (a mall Cineplex viewing of Aeon Flux), was also an online enthusiast of the game, and Justin had often confronted her, in cyberspace, as it were. Her persona there was Doriana, shaman and archer on the level 9 kingdom of Mondragor. They marveled at each other's mortal incarnations on Jacaranda Boulevard: she a scrawny, nougat-colored and cornrowed 19-year-old with braces, and Justin, five six, 220 pounds, stringy, shoulder-length hair, and (the bane of young Smith's existence) an acne-ravaged complexion.

Justin had fallen in love in that way that is, in itself, a kind of life-threatening consumption, and his parents consoled themselves that he was at least getting it out of the way as a young man: an unpursued reference to the disastrous and pathetic midlife crisis that had undone the Smith marriage and nearly ended the writer's career with guilt-fueled alcoholism.

Tayeena, it turned out, had had precisely this effect on another pizza driver, a boy, really, Alan, who had worked for the same company, driven the same route, and, as of Justin's first meeting with the girl, had been stalking her for six weeks.

Alan had waited in the shadows of the parking lot in the mini-mall where Pizza Palace was the last to extinguish its lights. Justin was unaware of the thinner, taller black kid and his two friends until the cell phone Justin was clutching was ripped from his hand with a wrist-numbing bite of a fast-coiling bicycle chain that snared his arm. Blows from the chain then snarled against his head and body. Somewhere, in shock probably, between the trauma itself and the ambulance, Justin experienced his first psychotic break....


Geoff wrote:

To understand me you have to see through the shadow created by World, which can be quite illusory. In the future I plan on writing about personal muses and how they might give one good luck. I will bring up the question: Does everyone have a soul or maybe more than one? These are secrets everyone can learn and can be quite adept with a little training and insight. The last question is, is it real or is it all in the mind, and the answer in short is that it is all in the mind. In fact I consider the mind to be the ultimate dimension from which all things are possible.

If the doctors and scientists were right it would be rather plain and without magic and perhaps we need a little magic in the world.


It has been some months since Geoffrey wrote the above. Much has happened since, as I suspected it would. We'd briefly considered Geoffrey's final sentence as a closing to the article: very upbeat, and I can well picture an imaginary reader, some compulsively positive, turn-that-frown-upside-down type (I see an elderly woman, for some reason), a person who describes herself as "a glass-half-full kind of gal." This kind of reader abounds in San Diego, I know. I've met them, and they often take exception to my work or ask why I "always have to be so unhappy." Aside from that loyalty to unhappiness that comes with a Catholic upbringing (sometimes, sometimes, but it's common enough to fill lists, notes for stand-up-comic material), it is a repeated series of experiences whose lessons I seem too dense to unfurl. What I come up with instead is: "Just when you think things can't get any worse, they do." This, of course, is unpleasant, distasteful, ungraciously bleak -- but also unimaginative and of no help whatsoever.

Right now, Geoffrey is alternately reclining on his disheveled (and unlaundered, for possibly a month) bedclothes amid the rest of his dirty laundry, cups, glasses, paper plates (I remove what I can, anything with food remnants -- but he adamantly resists my meddling with his space). I believe he has overheard a phone conversation I had with my sister, a psychiatric nurse in San Francisco, discussing how this once-promising experiment has all the earmarks now of failure.

The other night, my son was saying some very hateful things he may or may not have meant, and I pleaded with him to take an anti-anxiety (low-dose) Lorazepam. At first he agreed, and then he threw it at me. I told him if he ever threw anything at me again I would slap him. It was the first and only physical threat I have made against him -- other than (possibly) that of swatting his butt if he poops his pants again.

Within that same 24-hour period, he said he regretted he did not have a sledgehammer so he could pound his head into such contusions that the swelling would accommodate more brain space for his thinking. Several minutes later, I telephoned NAMI (the National Alliance on Mental Illness) and was told by a woman, with whom I spoke at great length, that I should have called 911. I relayed my fear that they would not take the situation seriously. (After all, if my son were serious, there is a perfectly good claw hammer in the kitchen drawer that would do the job.) And then I picture the policeman, fixing me with a Columbo-style squint, saying, "Did you think about this before wasting my time?" In other words, I was afraid that a call to 911 would seem like a boy crying wolf. But it is a very real kind of wolf under the roof here as I write this, and it is the illness. NAMI's literature uniformly follows their acronym with the phrase, "San Diego's Voice on Mental Illness."

Here is what they have to say, in brief -- far too brief for all of our purposes -- on schizophrenia:

"Schizophrenia is a devastating brain disorder that affects approximately 2.2 million American adults, or 1.1 percentage of the population age 18 and older. Schizophrenia interferes with a person's ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions, and relate to others.

The first signs of schizophrenia typically emerge in the teenage years or twenties. Most people with schizophrenia suffer chronically or episodically throughout their lives, and are often stigmatized by lack of public understanding about the disease.

"The symptoms of schizophrenia are generally divided into three categories, including positive, disorganized and negative symptoms...."

It is near impossible for me to come up with what they might mean by positive, but their definitions are different in specific ways.

"Positive symptoms or 'psychotic' symptoms include delusions and hallucinations because the patient has lost touch with reality in certain important ways. 'Positive' as used here does not mean good. Rather it refers to having overt symptoms that should not be there...."

That is roughly half the page dealing with NAMI's definition, and there seems little to disagree with, even among the most unconventional concerned.

The following, handwritten by my son, may serve as further illustration:

"Meditating on my old school is sometimes difficult." (He is referring to Palomar College, where he first met friends, several of whom, it turns out, have since been diagnosed with some schiz-related matter.) "I use a form of Neuro-Linguistic Programming." (Geoffrey has never formally studied NLP, and reading material he has brought home on the subject has been returned unread to the public library.) "With a little reverse psychology, I manage to [illegible] ... although not built [Palomar College and a joke, I believe, regarding old horror-story conventions] upon an old Indian burial ground, that I know of, many of my friends have been influenced by spirits or 'mind magi' or other forces."

Later, Geoff told me that the only members of this group who did not permanently lose their minds were those who went on to experiment with cocaine. Geoffrey told me he'd never tried cocaine. I believe him. He has never had the habit of lying until recently, and then usually when talking about taking his medication.

Geoffrey also wrote: "Instead, the area is the Student Center and the 'back area.' This is where most of my friends into magic would meet and 'the pagans' would practice the art of role-playing. Like a two-sided coin, one representing evil, the other good, the role-playing magi attempt east and west [illegible]...[something, something]...magic mussels [?? I must have that wrong] at the darkness. A metaphor for revealing the..."


From my journal: Thursday, May 11, 2006

I am keeping this e-log about Geoffrey's progress living here with me. It has seemed superfluous since I have also been keeping a regular journal and writing columns, many of which involve Geoffrey, particularly. Also, I have been writing a 10,000-word cover story, supposedly a collaboration with my son; but I can induce Geoff to write very little. We have been paid. I set half aside for Geoff (bills, and toys -- from a $450 digital camera to computer enhancements) and gave him several hundred dollars in cash. Cash does not seem to be a major problem with him; it does not lead, for example, to bad behavior.

Yesterday, I visited NAMI, and it appears that I will, as of next Tuesday, be committed to a 12-week course. I must think of Geoffrey in terms of babysitters or day-care in this situation. NAMI can help me, I'm sure. Counselors will keep him occupied with group therapy or crafts while I attend seminars and discussions (I assume).

Tempted as I am to recount many episodes of disturbing stuff, I will cut to the chase and say that Geoffrey woke this morning at 9 a.m., armed with laundry. On the one hand, it was good to see him with so much laundry work; on the other, his (literally) overnight attitude toward me has become that of the enemy. I am an idiot, an impediment to some otherwise smooth-running master plan of life. That is his attitude. He dislikes me very much: I am an embarrassment. I do silly things in an effort to make him laugh, which always backfire and illustrate my foolishness. As for respect -- this is a joke. His view of me is reminiscent of the Mark Twain gag about his own father, which is something to the effect that Twain's old man was quite stupid until the young Twain grew older and was astonished at what Dad had learned. I seriously wonder how Geoffrey supposes I survived to the age of 55 given my multiple disabilities. This day promises to be difficult.

I need to work and so I will, but I feel I am sitting on -- to say a time bomb is overly dramatic, but maybe a temporary truce is the best way to put it. (A truce over what, though? I have no idea, unless he considers me one of the conspirators in the hospital's commitment to drive him mad and "destroy" his brain.)

My affection for Geoffrey remains unquestioned, but it is taxed daily, as I fear his affection for me must be. I have already attempted to drink alcohol (five occasions -- none of them resulting in intoxication) to calm myself and found it useless, harsh, and poisonous.


Months later: The apartment is no longer mine. After staggering around the grounds a few nights, I was asked to leave. Eventually I found drink to be less than useless and harsh, though I remained aware that it is poison. I have betrayed Geoffrey. We made a deal, his idea: I don't drink and he takes his meds. It worked for a couple of weeks and then Geoffrey informed me that he thought it possible to pray to aliens. I had no response but to inform him that the idea was irrational. He disagreed. I bought a bottle. I kept buying them for a while.

Geoffrey was allowed to stay in the apartment for another month, and then he too must leave. Why? The only answer I have is that it is uncomfortable to be around anyone who has lost his or her mind. Certainly those in the real estate business must find this undesirable; undoubtedly they consider themselves the most eminently sane of all of humanity. The fact that so many of them are compulsively, neurotically greedy is entirely acceptable, isn't it? Admirable, in fact, no?

I have been in hotels and got booted out of two of them for trashing the rooms and staggering around. One hotel manager said, "It looked as if Led Zeppelin had been partying in here for a month."

Geoffrey too is in a motel in North County and will move, alone, into a single-bedroom apartment near his mother's office. On the telephone he sounds alternately warm and responsive, then emotionless and distrustful. I have stopped drinking and have reinvolved myself with the business of dealing with that mental obsession on a daily basis. Everyone says I am doing well, and I feel physically better, and the antidepressants have kicked in. Still there is the knowledge of betrayal. Geoff's mother says he is doing well, and it seems she's right, judging by my phone conversations with him. He has rejoined a group of friends, but not the delusional ones -- at least, I don't believe so. In so many ways, my son's adult life has been a mystery to me and that continues. How many chances I will have to close the distance, heal the wound between us, is uncertain, but I believe that is eventual. Mostly because of Geoffrey's innate generosity of spirit and God's habit of taking something humanly foul and creating from it something fine.

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