I believe in the power of the mind. In the mind’s ability to largely determine who we are, what we do, and how we live our lives. I see the mind at work everywhere: in one’s selection of sunglasses; in the cars we drive; in television advertisements; in crosses and crescent moons.
I believe in the power of the mind because I’ve seen first-hand its unraveling. In 1980 my parents divorced. I was ten. My father moved out of the house and lived in another town close by. After the divorce he became depressed and angry. Living alone mostly, his depression and isolation grew into despair. He then began to hallucinate, to see strange flashing lights or angels appear before him. He thus sought the counsel of priests, some of whom fostered what in time became his unshakable delusions. He was eventually diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic, having been institutionalized several times during this period, both voluntarily and involuntarily.
I witnessed his descent on weekends and during stints in the summertime, when my mother wanted me out of the house. I watched as he became increasingly absorbed in his beliefs, eventually to the exclusion of all else. Sometimes he seemed unaware I was around; so I’d go off on long walks or sit alone in my room all day, waiting for time to pass.
Schizophrenics typically incorporate contemporary issues into their belief structures, current events that might shape their delusions. My father was no different. Back then, the rock music industry was getting a lot of hype about what came to be known as “back masking,” the supposed insertion of secret messages within songs, heard when played backwards. Some thought these messages brought people to mayhem, as if by subliminal force. Picking up on these strains, my old man thus came to believe that rock stars were sending HIM secret messages. So he began spending all his time trawling for them. Artists like The Eagles, Twisted Sister, Sammy Hagar, Fleetwood Mac, The Doors—you name it—they were all supposedly sending him secret word as to his prophetic significance. God was working through him, he thought, making him part of something biblical. And they warned him too: that the Church of Satan wanted him dead, that assassins were out looking for him. He’d mail off massive notebooks to these artists in reply, filled with his scribblings. I don’t know what ever happened to them, whether anyone ever received one. But it didn’t matter, because from dawn till dark my father would sit in his chair by the stereo listening to music backwards. I’d hear the maddening clicks of his cassette deck as it geared back and forth, back and forth, click, click, click… the music bleeding out the headphones. Then late in the night, when he’d finally go to sleep, he’d first go ‘round peering out all the windows, checking for assassins. I remember. I’d pretend to still be asleep when he came into my room carrying a rifle. I’d lay there watching him as he watched.
In the quarter century since I can still see the mind at work in the subtly afflicted lives of us three children. The many painful events that followed have all since faded but the cut of memory still lies close at hand. My father doesn’t listen to music backwards anymore but it doesn’t matter. None of his children talk to him now. I have tried. But it’s too hard.
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