By Christian Weaver
I have been incarcerated since 2004 and am serving a life sentence for First Degree Murder.
I have an identical twin brother who is not incarcerated and who has an unknown, and thus an incurable, mental illness. His life has been a steady stream of overdoses, assaults, self-mutilations, and institutionalizations. He is nearly incapacitated by his obsessions and delusions. He recently stopped writing and because his phone is turned off we have totally lost touch. Seized by a feeling of finality and doom, I began to scribble letters of consuming reminiscence. Soon I noticed that these letters: 1) had elements of a memoir, 2) were a tribute and a memorial, and 3) could illuminate his illness, seize the readers' curiosity, and possibly pique the interest of the mental health community.
I don't know what else to do.
I've sent you three letters and you have yet to respond. Naturally, this means that you're incapable of responding, as you would sooner face death -- and even torture -- than hurt me intentionally. You are shackled to your illness and you can't even write. You‘re a prisoner to your bed; you're sweating and shaking... you can‘t even shower. I am close to convinced I'll never see you again -- you've departed, as they say... if you haven‘t than you‘ll undoubtedly (with your gift for understatement) belittle the severity of whatever horror happened. Was it an overdose? An assault? A self-mutilation? A forced institutionalization? A voluntary one? ("A vacation, of sorts, where we go to take it easy"). What happened?!
"Whoa there! I am NOT doing bad again, I had a brief, four-day stay at the hospital, and I'm out. A brief four-day hiatus, and I'm back like a vertebrate."
I've been sick with guilt lately and I can hardly even function. I drop stuff, forget stuff, bump into stuff, and am seemingly incapable of following instructions. And the simpler they are the more confused I become. People think I'm half-retarded (in prisoner lingo, "He slow, dawg") and I am totally convinced I have autism, Asperger's, some kind idiot savant illness. I'm like Rain Man without the talent.
I feel like I have always put something before you. Back then it was women and drugs, girlfriends, partying... now its scholarship and barbells and poetry and yoga. I went from hedonist to ascetic and I still put you last. For example, why haven't I tried to buy a cellphone or get transferred to Bledsoe? Of course a phone is instant trouble and they're very hard to get (especially if you don't associate with thugs, idiots, and other lumpenproles) -- but I work in the wood plant and I finally have the money. Why am I five hours away when there's a prison -- two of them, in fact -- that are merely forty minutes? Your phone's been cut off and you're incapable of visiting. Our whole brotherhood has been reduced to the occasional letter. Us -- identical twins! Can you believe that shit? I mean, in your worst, most demonic nightmares... did ever see it coming? What horror! What BLASPHEMY!
Of course all of that is just peripheral guilt. It's one thing to abandon your twin at the height of his mental illness by vanishing to New Orleans in a storybook odyssey (like little Orphan Annie) to find your "real" parents; getting junked out on heroin; and returning years later as a hopeless psychotic -- that's one thing, I say. But to snap like a twig and obliterate a man -- to choose the killing road -- is something else. To me it symbolized and epitomized that I had truly given up. I knew I'd get caught, gunned down, whatever, and I simply didn't care. In so many words: "I choose to commit an act that will wall me away from my family and friends, from my own twin brother, for all time. I reject you, I shun you, I curse you all in one leap. I choose the abyss." It was the same as committing suicide. It was an act of sheer vengeance – not against the victim, per se (it was nothing personal to him; he was simply unlucky) but against God, against life, against community and family. It was breaking up with life; it was dumping my own existence... but not before causing her a great deal of pain. It had to be something that was petty and cruel -- a vicious afterthought, of sorts...
My guilt has many facets: putting you last -- or, at the least, not putting you first -- leaving for four years, disgracing the family (we made them a laughingstock, bro, the freakin' Adams Family), committing a senseless murder, and, finally, getting locked up for life. I treated you no differently than I treated the rest: "See you, mutherfucker. I'm outta here. Bye..." From the day of my arrest you started falling to pieces. Of course darkness and chaos were no strangers before then. You had overdosed before. But it was the catalyst, the threshold... from that moment on you the were a sideshow of horrors.
That's when the violence intensified, the rituals got weirder. You lost every hope and tried carbon monoxide ("But the body -- the body's tough. It's got a will of its own"). You're arms were so scarred that they looked like Freddy Krueger's and you'd smashed so many objects -- glass, walls, human faces – that you couldn't make a fist. To me, you were a cross between Sylvia Plath (or Anne Sexton) and the man from the tombs. You were witty and sharp and a very fine writer, as far from “stupid-crazy" as one could possibly get. That's what fascinated me most -- this dichotomy, I think.
It's funny: the first stanza of Lebenswelt II is about me and the second is about you:
I. Had they fathomed the power these chains would unleash
They’d have left me to die in the usual way:
In a pincushion trance, like an autumnal leaf
Dessicated by sorrow and blown away…
Note my love affair with smack ("pincushion trance"), the death-symbol of autumn/fall, the image of dried leaves (remember how wizened and "dead" I looked?), and my intense self-reform since becoming a prisoner (line one).
II. The demoniac roared. He was blackened by filth
Long incisions and scars from unbearable chains
Made him strong as an ox. Let them say what they will
He was lucid as Cicero, perfectly sane.
Your "unbearable chains" are mental illness, of course. You‘re unusually strong physically and the vehemence of your obsessions -- well, to put it bluntly: no one else could have made it. They would have grabbed their head screaming and jumped off a building. They would have instantly committed suicide. O, and line four: you used to ridicule the link between madness and brilliance: "I've been locked up sixty times and I have yet to meet a genius, artistic or otherwise," you snorted. "Not a Van Gogh in sight." Being cognizant makes your illness even worse, I imagine: you perceive every whisper, every roll of the eye. You never miss a veiled insult or a condescending chuckle. You are keenly aware of your wasted potential. You know exactly how it works -- have read books on psychology -- and yet you're helpless to beat it. Knowledge is not power but the key to more torment.
Speaking of the latter: I am truly in torment when you don't write back. I am suffering, man. I can quickly become angry when I take the short view: that with a pencil, a scrap of paper, and two minutes of your time, you could cut me from the flames and extinguish this grief. But I know it's more complicated. You‘re forbidden from doing that which your obsessions proscribe. They command you to act or not to act, and your "autonomy" is bounded by their permissible will. So if they tell you not to write, you can't write. If they tell you not to eat, you go hungry. If they tell you to fillet your arms like a fish or jump out of a moving car at 60 miles an hour -- you have to do it.
Well, I guess I'll let you go for now. Keep the faith, little bro.
They're making a movie about this guy (he was at Turney Center when I was there, but we never met) who broke out of prison so he could see his dying mother. I think he was at an annex so he simply walked off -- not exactly Prison Break -- and he stole the tour bus of a famous country singer. He crashed it, of course. Matthew McConnahay's supposed to play him -- which is funny, 'cause he's undoubtedly twice his age. They'll romanticize the caper and make the kid some sort of hero, which is fine, I suppose. He certainly had some testes and anyone who takes action – even the reckless, desperate type -- in the face of great odds in the service of another, or for a cause beyond themselves, is heroic in my book. But it‘s seldom that simple. I'm sure he missed his mother but he also missed freedom. He missed cigarettes, whiskey, and wild, wild women. He was probably driving drunk and had some groupies in the back, convinced them he was Luke Ryan or something. He probably forgot about his mother, the little bastard. But you know how Hollywood is. They'll make him handsomer and taller; they'll make his mission more dangerous. His mother will look like Meryl Streep and -- well, just forget it. It makes me sick to my stomach. Think of how it'd go if I applied it to us. I break out of prison because I'm convinced that my twin -- the one with 10 suicide attempts, 60 intitutionalizations, and 50 electroshocks -- doesn't have a lot of time. What happens? They either fill me full of lead or they take me alive, after beating me senseless, and max me out for five years. I make the local news for a total of one night. What the @#?l Even though I look like a movie star (with the exception of white teeth) and the motive of my escape would be your welfare alone; even though you're perishing from the world's worst disorder -- have no control over your own thoughts and are caught in a kaleidoscope of thousands of rituals, obsessions, and utterly horrific images -- that's not enough for Hollywood. Oh sure, they'd make a movie. I'd be the lip-smacking psychopath who breaks out of prison so that he and his twin, a lip-smacking psychotic, can go murder some innocents. Ole’ Matthew would be the wise-cracking agent who finally tracks us down and injects us full of lead... we would reach out and touch fingers as we bled out together. We would mutter some slickly spun rant against society, half-legit, or we would chant some wicked mantra as we burbled up blood...
Meet the Crimson Highway Killers and the spell we're under
Past the psychedelic soul-crushin' joker's wild
Between the broken bottle pavement and the rolling thunder
I'm a deep down devil-lovin' demon child.
Ha, ha, ha, ha... HA! HA! HA!
I'm convinced you'll be dead before I finish these letters, but no matter. It's what gave me the vision. They're a garland and a tribute to the life that you lived and the WAR that you waged. You said your life was playing chess against your very own brain. You, the rational side, are up against an enemy that's fanatic and cruel; that is wise to your tricks; that‘s immune to fatigue; that learns and evolves; and that doesn't have a weakness. Or any weakness it has -- in offense, for example -- is smoothly counterbalanced by a glitch in your defense. A tactical Thanatos. But it's a sadist, not a killer. What it wants is to lengthen and layer and multiply your torment. Suicide was your method to escape from its trap, and -- if not to win -- then at least to end the game. But in a desperate maneuver to insure its survival, it created a delusion that was stronger than death: ETERNAL TORTURE IN HELL! Is there anything more brilliant? You think that God has picked you, and you alone, to be roasted in fire. He loathes you like a cockroach.
"But what about Hitler?" I ask incredulously. "Or Dick Cheney & Co.? What about cat torturers, child molesters, and serial killers? Surely there are people more deserving of such treatment."
You shake your head and laugh shyly. "It's not supposed to make sense. It's a delusion, remember? It's not rational or fair."
"If you call it a delusion then you can‘t believe it's true."
"I KNOW it's true," you retort. "I can feel the heat. I can smell the sulfur. Never have I had such a powerful delusion."
"But there you go again, Why call it a del--"
" -- impossible synchronicities: I'll crack a book at random and immediately spot 'hell'. I'll turn on the radio and hear 'burning' in a song. I even come across fires -- real fires -- with impossible frequency. Is that a coincidence?”
“Well – “
“It's selective, that's for sure. I only notice incidents that support my belief. My preconception..."
Suddenly, suicides's no option. You grow enamored -- hell, obsessed -- with being healthy and trim. Now you‘re walking for miles, lifting weights, eating vegetables. You blow your crazy check on herbal supplements and quack remedies ("Have you ever heard of Xango? It only grows on one island in the South Pacific and the seeds take over 40 YEARS to develop. It has amazing..."). I thank the Lord for the utility of this newfound delusion. I weep with gratitude and joy. And then it hits me like a punch that there is nothing good about it. For death, the great denouement -- the end of pleasure and joy but also torment and grief -- is no longer conclusion. It‘s not the liberator of the captive nor the terror of the king. Death is not the end but the beginning of your torment. You have 40 or so years to assimilate this thought: that immediately after death you'll receive a new body -- imperishable, with a nervous system to register pain... wherein you'll roast like a duck for the delight of your Maker. The irony, of course, is that you're already in hell. You're delusion is its mental/psychological/spiritual counterpart. It’s double.
“Hell is not your worst nightmare coming true. It is wishing that it would.”
The import of this phrase has grown deeper through the years, deeper and more frightening. It's hard to think about now. You were talking about the point at which your nightmares and terrors – the freakiest, most blood-curdling horrors of sleep -- became notably less scary than your life when awake. Your nightmares became bearable, and even pleasant, diversions. It wasn't until you woke that the horror crept in. Waking is your nightmare.
Remember that zombie movie that we watched as a kid? It was really low budget -- probably laughable now -- but it scared us both shitless and we ran away crying. I remember these hands coming out of the mud, then a skeletal arm... I didn't stick around for the head and the eyes. It was our first real experience of metaphysical terror. It's the feeling that you get at the climax of a nightmare, that unutterable horror. It gets so evil, so grotesque, and then you've suddenly had enough: Wait a minute -- this is bullshit. There is nothing in reality that grotesque or bizarre. This has got to be a dream -- and you wake. Or one of those science fiction horror movies where the guy watches his best friend turn into an alien. You know it's not real but your imagination (which isn't so selective) is impressed enough to ponder how you'd feel in that scenario. The very WORST type of horror, that reserved for paranormal phenomena like alien abductions or demonic possessions -- that‘s your daily experience. That's your day at the office: what the rest of us couldn't bear for more than one or two seconds... what the @#?!
Well, brother, I gotta go. Never doubt that I love you and respect you above all.
To Be Continued….
Christian Weaver 271262
P.O. Box 5000
Mountain City, TN 37683