Monochromatic Hero and Suicide

On Sunday, I painted my first monochromatic painting. It is an 11″ x 14″ acrylic on stretched canvas of André Trocmé in burnt umber. He is one of my heroes. That turned out so well, I followed it on Monday with an 11″ x 14″ painting of Bobby Glaeser in phthalocyanine blue. Bob was a classmate and neighbor of mine growing up. In early December 1974, a year and a half after we had graduated high school, he killed his parents, his younger sister Ann, and himself, with a 12 gauge shotgun.

trocmeAndré Trocmé was a Huguenot pastor in southern France. Before and during the Nazi occupation of France, he led his city and the neighboring city and surrounding countryside to give refuge to Jews fleeing Hitler’s genocidal death camps. It started with the boarding school his church ran. He did not believe in discrimination, so the school accepted Jewish students, who wore the school uniforms and lived lives indistinguishable from the Christian students. It grew into families sheltering families. He trained them on how to blend in and how to respond to the authorities. They set up an underground railroad to help families escape from France to safety in non-Nazi occupied countries. No one in their network betrayed a refugee into Nazi captivity. His nephew’s class was raided, where he was teaching a few dozen Jewish children. The Nazis seized the children to take them to a camp. Trocmé’s nephew insisted on going with them, as their teacher. He died in the concentration camp. It is estimated that they saved over 3500 lives.

I read Pastor Trocmé’s story over 30 years ago. It was also made into a movie.  As always, the book was better. He had with Dietrich Bonhoeffer and with Gandhi. He was a pacifist and had a strong ethical belief in honesty, charity and non-discrimination. He never made excuses for having to lie to the authorities. He felt that it was still sin, but to tell the truth would make him complicit in the deaths of fellow human beings, which would be a greater sin. He had been taught a hard lesson by his strict father, when he was a lad. He learned that it was not only right to do good; “it was essential to do the good on time!” It was his position that Hitler’s rule, the rise of the Nazis, and World War II was totally preventable, if only people of good conscience in Germany had done the good on time. Once he and his cohorts were in power, it was too late to stop him without doing evil and causing death and destruction. This is an important lesson and one that America needs to heed today.

We have both major parties putting forward the most despised presidential candidates in our history. Both are bigots. One is a capricious fool; the other is a shrewd politician committed to endless war. One would incarcerate Muslims and Latinos here; the other would (and already has) kill Muslims, Latinos and others overseas. They have 30% acceptance rating between them from the electorate. Yet people are deciding their votes on fear of one or the other, instead of doing the right thing and rejecting both.

It is time to do the good on time.

bobbyBobby was a good friend in grade school and junior high. His family lived two blocks away from mine in Golden Valley, Minnesota. We would bicycle together, sled and skate together in the winter, and sometimes camp out in our backyards together in the summer. He was a beautiful boy! He was handsome, with thick, dark hair, athletic and smart. All the girls loved him. Most of the boys wanted to be him. He did not appreciate all the attention. He was shy and became more withdrawn in his junior and senior year in high school; to the point of not allowing any pictures of himself to appear in the yearbook. This painting is based on his two pictures in the 1971 Robin. The pose is from the soccer team’s group shot, but his eyes were closed, so I looked at his yearly picture for details of his face.

The last time I saw Bobby was in the spring of 1974. I was visiting a few of my friends at the University of Minnesota’s main campus. At that time Pioneer Hall was for both men and women; every other room for each gender. I greeted Bobby as he darted stark naked from the showers to his room. I was shocked at this, not because of modesty, but his apparent lack of it. He had changed, and changed radically. Early December, 1974, we heard the news that Bobby had shot and killed his father, his mother and his sister, Ann, then himself, with a 12 gauge shotgun in the middle of the night in their Golden Valley home. A neighbor discovered their bodies four days after when North Memorial Hospital called her to check on his father, because he had not showed up for his on call assignment. He was a doctor.

Bobby’s case was written up in a feature article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. He had suffered some sort of mental breakdown prior to this and had been in treatment. He left the treatment and had been alienated from his family. They reached out to him. He was home for dinner that night to discuss re-entering treatment as an inpatient. After they had all gone to bed, Bobby got his hunting gun and shot his parents and his younger sister while they lay in their beds. Then he shot himself.

The four of them had a joint memorial service at Valley of Peace Lutheran Church. Their were four, beautiful Christmas wreaths on stands in the front of the packed church. Pastor Stine gave this horrible message. He said, “Heaven is God’s gift to us at Christmastime. Bobby gave his family their Christmas gift early.”

I got up, then and there, and walked out of that church! What an ass! This was the same ignorant pastor who had kicked me out of confirmation class one month shy of completion for asking too many questions about heaven and hell, and how one gets to heaven, after my best friend, Steve Rainoff had died by falling through a skylight, chasing a soccer ball, in a locked school in New Jersey.

In the spring of 1975, the Mpls. paper had a feature article on Angel Dust. The authorities had just seen a rise in its use. The symptoms of its use and long-term effects sounded just like Bobby. I have always wondered if he could have been exposed to that, and that is what changed his personality so never know.

I painted his portrait in monochromatic phthalocyanine blue, from a happier time in his life. Bobby was a beautiful boy. He had all the advantages. That could have been me.

Godfather, 4438 Shoreline Drive

godfatherI am the youngest of four siblings, yet my memories have always gone back further than my sisters and brother. This is a painting of the house where I lived for my first six years (June 1955- June 1961). It still stands. The outside finishes and windows have been updated, but it is still the same tiny Dutch Colonial. It is almost totally obscured by trees on Google Earth.  When we lived there, those Google Earth shots would have been impossible! The place was literally crawling with children! (also skipping, jumping, climbing, hiding & seeking, chalk drawing, running,etc.) 1955 was the crest of the Baby Boom after all. Crystal Lake was across the street. That is where the Ericksons, Hostermans and DeLays lived.

Our house was at 4438 Shoreline Drive, Robbinsdale, 22, Minnesota. Postage stamps were 4 cents. Flags had 48 stars. Everybody liked Ike. Our phone number started with KEllogg 7. I knew all this when I was three. My earliest and most powerful memory was being held in the arms of my godfather, Gordon, when I was just two years old, in the dining room of that house. He was looking out the door to the screened-in porch. I remember the feel of his laugh, and that it was one of the few times I felt truly happy and safe in that house.

Not long after that party, Gordy committed suicide. It wasn’t clear that he intended to. There was no note. Gordy had the form of acrophobia that would cause him to have a strong urge to jump from open heights. I have it, too. It is actually an idea, seemingly hardwired in the brain, that the scariness of being on the precipice would be relieved, if one would only throw oneself on the wind and fly.  Gordy flew. His wings burned up like Icarus’ in the Sun.  I simply never saw Uncle Gordy again; never smelled that smell; never saw that smile; never felt that embrace; never felt that laugh again.

That’s me, in the red jumper, asleep in Gordy’s arms. My therapist asked me, yesterday, when I showed her this painting, “So safety must be a big concern for you. What do you do to make sure you are safe?”

I asked her if that was a trick question.

We had much tears. The fact of the matter is, I have had little consciousness of safety since we moved away from that house. First Gordy disappeared, then we moved away from the Ericksons.

When a man strung out on heroin pulled a gun on me, I was too numb to be afraid. My safety is not on my radar. It was beat out of me at an early age. I just calmly sized up the man, determined what his real motives were and helped him achieve them in a way that was best for everyone concerned. It involved me driving with a gun poked in my ribs for 17 miles, but he got into rehab not prison, and, as a side benefit, I got to live.

(If you want to purchase this painting, or others by me, visit www.shoutforjoy.net)

 

Let me take you down ’cause I’m going to

I went for my intake interview at  a different psychiatrist and psychotherapist office on Thursday. It ruined me for the rest of the day and Friday. We’ll see how today goes. The last time I had such an interview was two years ago. That morning I was feeling pretty good and I just didn’t want to ruin it, so I didn’t get into everything. The interviewer was in a hurry and didn’t probe either. As a result, my diagnosis wasn’t correct. She diagnosed me with severe depressive disorder but missed the CPTSD. This time, I determined to be completely open, no matter what it did to my day, and my interviewer was in no hurry and really probed. It got me thinking about all those I have lost to suicide and murder, and the times my life has been threatened and all the bullying I have endured; the friends I have lost. I will attempt to go through the list.

My best friend and playmate when I was three to five died in a plane crash in Peru on Christmas Eve, during my junior year in high school. My best friend in 5th and 6th grade committed suicide in 8th grade. My best friend in 8th grade committed suicide in 10th grade. My best friend in 9th through 12th grade, who was also my sister committed suicide when I was 47. Of the 100 kids in my elementary school 6th grade class, 4 were dead by suicide by Christmas of our 2nd year in college. One beautiful friend had murdered his sister and parents in the bargain. Another two were dead of fast acting cancers. By the time I was 30, 15 in my class were dead of suicide or overdose, and several more friends from junior and senior high school and from my sister’s class.

Then she asked if I ever had suicidal thoughts or thought about committing suicide myself. I know it’s a form question, but I had to laugh at it. Are you kidding me? With this background and having been held at gunpoint by a high ex-con, and threatened to be killed by a Mennonite pastor, and experiencing the probable murder committed by a bishop of his wife, the multiple attacks, slanders, jealousies from clergy because I was serving the poor; the attacks from the press, police, mayors, with more lies and slanders because I was serving the poor, being terrorized by a conman because we refused to be conned. Experienced 6 strokes and 40 TIAs from migraines after allergic reaction to antibiotic for infection I picked up on the street gave me kidney failure.

YES! I think about suicide. YES! I have suicidal thoughts. Do I have a plan? No. I have been hurt so many times by so many who have committed suicide, I do not plan to do it. Although I do not blame any who have done it. I understand and empathize fully. Each night when I go to sleep, I would not be disappointed if I did not wake up. Most mornings lately, I am disappointed that I did.

She asked me what my goals for therapy were. This was hard. It has been so long since I felt anything close to normal, I had a really hard time coming up with any. I think I told her, “I would like to not cry all of the time. I would like not to sleep so much.” She said to make them reasonable, attainable goals. I paused and said, “I would like for people not to be afraid of me.”

She then asked me a question that no one in my life has ever asked me. She said, “Were you always slow at school?” We had already gone over my educational level, which is confusing. I crammed three years of college into two, went to two graduate schools without a bachelor’s, and dropped out of both of them without receiving a master’s. I taught a master’s program, however, and received an honorary doctorate. I have been ordained five times in six denominations (none of which I asked for, one I wasn’t present at). Most people assume I have a master’s. Many assume I have a doctorate. I guess my demeanor, with my slow speech, and my occasional stall while trying to find the right word due to the stroke damage, and my brokenness due to PTSD made me appear to be mentally challenged.

Photo on 2015-09-19 at 17.17I laughed at the thought. Maybe I have finally gained the tools I sought in ninth grade when I found that all my knowledge and fast thinking were so useless, because I could not use them to help tutor the kid that was in the detention area with me for not getting his algebra homework, while I was there for outsmarting my enriched English teacher.