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I enlisted in the Marine Corps. The shortest enlistment that the Army had was three years. The Navy and Air Force offered only a four year enlistment. Because of the big buildup in Vietnam, the Marines had a special two year program. Not totally altruistic, I signed up for what appeared to be the briefest duty. I knew the Marines had a tough reputation, but I figured it was only Hollywood hype. I thought that surely all branches of the American Armed Services had to be about the same. But I was wrong again.
At any rate, enlistment was a good chance to meet my military obligation and show the world that I wasn't really a complete loser at everything. To get out of gym at Washington U., I'd been a member of the Air Force ROTC drill squad and rifle team..
I was still in pretty good shape from high school wrestling and weight-lifting, and my muscles seemed to be behaving themselves for the time being. So I considered myself a good candidate for military service. At the Marine Corps Recruit Depot in San Diego, we got in and out of the rack at attention, seven days a week. No talking to anyone ever. We weren't allowed to utter a word to a single soul, except when addressing one of the Drill Instructors; and then absolutely only to request permission to make an emergency head call or go to sickbay.
Fortunate for me, I was one of only a handful of Jews at MCRD and I was assigned two hours each Sunday with a Rabbi. And it was that Rabbi that helped me cling to the real world and I don't think I could have made it through the harassment and isolation of recruit training without his weekly gatherings to look forward to.
But something else almost did keep me from getting through recruit training. A few weeks before graduation, I spent a week on mess duty. It rained the entire time and I was working outside. And I started coughing terrible. I didn't know what it was, but it wasn't going to keep me from graduating.
Just spending one day of boot camp in sickbay got a recruit setback an entire week and picked up by another platoon. And hardly anyone was treated worse than a "pickup." So, as the coughing got worse, I tightened up my belt and pushed myself all that much harder to get through each day and night.
We had to pass the CMC, a final physical fitness test, right before graduation. And I'd been dropping out of the 2 mile forced march everyday since I'd started coughing up green stuff. The night before the test I made a very rare personal request in my prayers. And a very desperate request it was.
But I dropped out of the run anyway. I just couldn't breathe. Corporal Cutter ordered the guys on each side of me to pick me up by the arms and drag me the final quarter mile. Shockingly, Cutter passed me and ordered me to sickbay where I spent a couple weeks recovering from pneumonia.
Even more shockingly it had been the same Corporal Cutter that had repeatedly lined us up on the drill field and screamed in my ear for the entire platoon to hear, "You know, Private Krause, the United States is the greatest country in the world. But we made one big mistake. We stopped Hitler before he killed every Jew in the world." I never knew whether he was serious or not, but even though I fell out on the final run, he graduated me on schedule.
However, after less than a year stateside in the corps, I began having horrible muscle cramps and spasms again - especially when we force marched. When I admitted having seen a doctor about the muscle problem before enlistment, contrary to what I'd attested to on my application, the Corps gave me an Honorable (if somewhat premature) Discharge.
Though I'd hated the harsh discipline of day-to-day life in the service, I grew to be proud of the Corps and my Country...quite awhile after I got out, anyway. The end of the second verse of the Marine Corps Hymn was always very moving to me, "and when we get to Heaven, we'll find the streets are guarded by United States Marines."
My guard duty aside for the time being, I returned to St. Louis and engineering school, and began to seriously date the sister of a friend. When I accidentally discovered Jane was cheating on me, I asked her about it in the dining room of her parents' St. Louis mansion. I lost my temper and ended up kicking over a lamp. I fixed the damage, but when I mentioned the incident to Dr. Aidelman he and his associates put me on medication.
First, it was tranquilizers. Then, to counteract their drowsiness, it was stimulants. I didn't know any better than to trust the doctors. Lucky for me, though, I didn't realize I'd started a nightmare of sedated life that was destined to last twenty depressing years.
Even at the onset, though everybody already had me convinced I was mentally ill and needed to be medicated, I stopped the doctors' drugs a couple times during those early years of sedation. But I started to vomit and have convulsions both times I quit. No one ever told me about drug withdrawal, so I figured I definitely needed the pills, there really must be something bad wrong with my brain.
Voluntarily, I went on with the drugs, even when I got so depressed I wanted to die. Eventually, I became nearly catatonic and unable to even feed myself - or so I was told at a much later date.
Alas, after his six shock treatments failed to make me a happy person (since I was still loaded with downers), Aidelman relieved himself of my case. I fell under the care of Dr. Lizabeth Lump, and she locked me in a padded hospital room to see how I would do without Aidelman's downers. For the rest of my life, I would vividly remember beating my head against the wall to unsuccessfully try to escape the cold turkey agony of withdrawal.
Days later, when the convulsions subsided, Lump, like "Aidle-tukus" (as the naive country club set called him), attempted to analyze my childhood. Dazed and bewildered; I couldn't understand why I'd been so brutally tortured. Certainly I was sort of introverted and had no real direction in life, but I'd never really hurt anybody either. I hoped I'd even helped a couple people.
I could only speculate that I was being punished for some childhood sin I didn't even remember. The idea of being punished for something left over from a previous life didn't even cross my mind. Thank Goodness.
I only wanted to be left alone, not subjected to Lump's freudian inquisition. But she unfortunately diagnosed my aversion to her professional advances as "chronic paranoia" and initiated a second round of Electric Shock Therapy.
But after two series of ten treatments each, I showed no improvement. I was worse, at least so they told me a year or so later.
The assholes didn't realize my continuous depression was caused by their own medication. But neither did I realize it. I, the onetime "little professor."
I even woke up in the middle of a shock treatment one sad morning-with my lungs paralyzed. I thought I was dying, the most horrifying experience of my life, up to that time. Indeed, the modern shock treatment wasn't quite as simple as just getting plugged in.
Following a night with no food or drink, I was given a morning injection that dried out my mouth, numbing the nerve which could stop my heart when my brain received the shock. Patiently, I waited in a row of folding chairs with the rest of the dry-mouthed EST candidates,. When they finally called me into the white-curtained ward, I laid helpless on a cart which reeked of formaldehyde and urine. The tightly girdled nurse loaded her chrome syringe with a milky fluid while giving me the local weather forecast. Eventually, a well-drilled shock team emerged from the silky white curtains, pushing a stainless steel cart that carried what appeared to be a very cheap battery charger. Everybody smiled wide as the nurse told me to count backwards from 100, then jabbed me in the arm.
96 was as far as I usually made it. I was supposed to wake up an hour later, all worn out and confused, eat a light lunch, then go back to sleep for the rest of the day. But that's not what happened that mournful morning. They never told me that after you're unconscious they give you a second shot in the spine to paralyze your body so no bones will break when you get jolted and convulse. That same shot paralyzes your lungs; so they breathe for you with a rubber bag during the final phase of their therapy. However, during that particular treatment, near the end of my second series of ten treatments - I woke up after they'd paralyzed my lungs but before they'd zapped my brain.
I jumped up, jerked loose of the orderlies and tried to breath, but I couldn't. I didn't have any lungs. I thought I was dying, or already dead. Weakly, I wrestled for my life, for what seemed like forever, until some cool nurse refueled her syringe and knocked me back out.
That night, I pushed past a couple orderlies and escaped in an old convertible someone had conveniently left the keys in. After a frantic chase over the streets and sidewalks of South St. Louis, I was apprehended.
As the policemen returned me to the hospital, they asked me where I learned to drive a car so skillfully. "We've never seen anybody handle a car like that, son. Are you an Indy racer or something?"
"He's something," one of three orderlies replied in sarcasm, as he and his cronies yanked my desecrated self back into their antiseptic domain. My medication was renewed and the electrical invasions continued, for an unparalleled course of almost thirty more.
Dr. Lizabeth Lump later declared that it was the most ever administered to a single patient in a civilian hospital, that she knew of, anyway. After a grand total of 47 electrical jackpots, my condition improved some. I'd been erased. My memory and personality had been drained away by the hospital's grounding rods I suppose. I felt like a migratory vegetable, a non-person. But lovely Lizabeth bragged how she'd cured me. They say I was slightly less depressed. In retrospect, it's no wonder. Whoever heard of an extremely depressed vegetable?
I'd forgotten the names of people I'd known for years and my hands shook so much I could hardly scratch my initials when the drugstore made its frequent deliveries. But then, more than ever, I tried to hide my unsteadiness from everyone, for fear my brain might be reattached to the power grid.
But no matter how hard I tried to hide it, quite perceptive Lump noticed what she termed "unnatural residual nervousness" in our sessions and put me on megadoses of the fashionable tranquilizer Nullium.
Nevertheless, I was able to return partially alert to college to repeat the courses that had been erased. One-time honors student or not, I was smart enough to know something awful bad was wrong with my world. I knew life wasn't meant to be so painful, such an unrelenting burden - especially when I continued to suffer one renewed bout of depression after another while Lump played with her ever-widening drawer of designer drugs.
I'd lost any motive to live other than my duty to do so for some very arcane reason certainly unknown to myself. I knew that this quality of life I was having hadn't motivated homosapiens to survive for millions of years as they obviously had. Though my upbringing was anything but religious, I hoped and prayed to be delivered, before or after death, by God Himself. At that time, and for quite a number of years after, I thought suicide might eliminate any chance for earned salvation - so I pressed on, day after empty day.
Empty indeed, but not without very intermittent items of interest...and very cheap thrills. One night in the mid 60's, I was cruising along on my motorcycle at the legal speed of 70 when an on-coming Riviera popped out of nowhere, on the wrong side of the road - my side.
Just before we hit head-on, I muttered aloud, "Aw shit!! I'm dead." In that one brief instant before impact I felt a rush of disappointment that I had not lived to experience salvation.
Then, everything went into very real slow motion. Spellbound, I saw my motorcycle's wheel and every spoke buckle and break. I watched the tire explode and blow dusty air onto the Buick's polished bumper. As time slowed, so did my emotions. Instead of fear or anger, I felt sedate, then almost euphoric, as I flew into the air and over the length of the hood, the windshield, roof, trunk and onto the highway behind (where I left most my clothing and some skin).
No doubt, the slow motion perception helped me manipulate my body to survive with only superficial injuries, but when I told Dr. Lump of this seemingly spiritual experience that had helped me survive, she had her own explanation.
In her leathered office, she picked up a gravy-stained letter opener. "Sadly, I think this aberration you call slow motion is nothing more than a symptom of developing schizophrenia, Richard." She casually polished the shiv with her silk kerchief. "Modern surgery has made it very easy for us to simply sever those frontal lobes which are giving us trouble before they contaminate the rest of our mind."
I dared not mention to her that the doctor who treated my pavement burns claimed he'd never seen skin regenerate in such an efficient, omnidirectional manner, from the center outward. I never again spoke of my paranormal encounters with anyone and tried to deny them to myself.
For a couple more years, although I was able to avoid the lobotomy alluded to, Lump continued to play with one so-called miracle drug after another. Thus, it was difficult for me to do anything miraculous, extrasensory or otherwise.
In distant retrospect, though, if I may say so myself, at times during those dreary years I performed pretty well, considering my half-conscious condition. I started and stopped Engineering School several times, until I was finally expelled for sporadic attendance. Long before that expulsion I realized I'd really never had an interest in engineering. As a young kid I'd wanted to be an inventor and save the world with technology, but engineering was about as close as they came to teaching invention in the academic world in the very late 60's and very early 70's. And though I was more than scholastically capable even in my sedated state, I'd failed even it.
As I said, not totally uncreative, I restored discarded jukeboxes and the like for spare money, while building a five-engined motorcycle to break the World's Motorcycle Speed Record at Bonneville. I wasn't interested in the glory, just the financial independence that the $100,000 prize would allow me for future projects...such as avoiding forced incarceration and shock treatments.
I dropped all my classes, thus earning the aforementioned expulsion, and dedicated the better part of a year building the vehicle. I was just about ready to start streamlining when I was officially notified that the Utah Timing Association had arbitrarily mandated a limit of two engines. Did destiny have something against me personally, I wondered as I cut up my bulky creation with a torch.
Knowing that I could not put off finding my productive niche in society much longer at all, I also started buying old cars and fixing them up, for a little, very little, profit.
Driving a '61 Chevy I was particularly proud of, I went down to show it off to my relatives in smalltown Tennessee. Right after I parked it in front of their Clark City residence, however, a reckless neighbor rammed into it. Fender bender or not, I was not to be dissuaded from some fellowship that night. So I went with my cousin to a Jewish Youth Group meeting where I was given a complimentary "Israel Must Live" pin.
The next morning I headed through the rural backroads toward a junkyard to get a replacement for the fender the neighbor had smashed. Along the way, the fender brackets suddenly got tangled in the steering and I started to flip end over end. Before I knew it, the car was upside down, and I was somehow pinned in a position where the roof was about to drop onto my skull. Knowing I had survived the initial flip, I looked up at the descending roof and quietly muttered outloud in my chemically relaxed voice, "Oh shit, now my head's going to get crushed."
Semi-miraculously, whether in truth from an unseen stone or otherwise, the car seemed to stop in midair as I wriggled out of the way. Once I was clear, the car dropped the rest of the way into a nauseous cloud of dust.
If that wasn't enough, my mortality was further tested when the backwoods folk noticed my "Israel Must Live" pin and formed a lynch mob. As they slipped the noose on, I yelled to the sheriff that I'd sign the title of my Chevy over to him if he could help me out.
He said the battered car was of no use to him, but the engine would fit right into his pickup. I assured him the engine was in perfect shape, even though it probably wouldn't start because it had been upside down for 45 minutes. He had his cronies roll the battered BelAir rightside up and made me a deal. "If she starts, you live; if she don't, you don't."
To my amazement, the thing started on the first crank and the sheriff escorted me to relative freedom.
Freedom to do what, I had no idea. For once again back north in St. Louis, no matter what I did, my drug-drowned spirit found no purpose. Feeling like a lead cape was rounding my shoulders, I lived in constant fear of another course of shock treatments. I'd long before accepted the idea that I'd most likely die without ever feeling alive again, but I sure didn't want anymore electricity going through my brain. I really didn't.
At any rate Lizabeth eventually supplemented her downers with an experimental antidepressant, Scarnate. All it did for me was cause continual fatigue and cold-sweating, not to mention weight-gain and impotence.
Finally, one unfortunate Friday in the fall of 1971 or 72, Dr. Lump summoned me to her office, very afterhoursey. My mind was too drugged to hardly wonder what was going on - but Lump told me anyway.
Asking for the vial of unused Scarnate she'd asked me to bring along, she locked it in her desk and assured me, "Your case will be brought to a castrated head once and for all." I had no idea what she planned.
Saturday morning back at my apartment on Page Industrial Boulevard, I was unbearably nervous - but had no way of knowing it was Scarnate withdrawal. Saturday night, when I ran two red lights and almost killed myself in another accident, I was convinced that I was at last losing all control. Not sleeping that night, Sunday morning my mind was wired all the way.
All I wanted was someone to talk to, anyone - so I jumped on my motorcycle and raced toward my family's house. Throwing a chain along the way, I abandoned my bike and took off on foot - but the police spotted me and gave chase.
As I dashed across the lawn and tried to kick my family's front door open, the police yelled at me through their megaphone. "You there, in the jeans and t-shirt. There's no one in that house. Stop! This is the Police. Freeze!"
Instead of freezing, I jumped through the window and found a gun in the bedroom. It wasn't until after I'd fired a single shot through the ceiling, that I threw it out the window and walked outside to the police armada that awaited me.
Not too confused to be sad about it all, I raised my jerking arms up high as I could get them and for some short-sighted reason asked they not put my picture in the newspaper. Next stops - County Hospital, Farmington State Hospital, and another couple decades of mind-crushing insecurity - for it wasn't until many years later that I realized Lump's reckless Scarnate withdrawal was responsible for my going berserk that sad Sunday. At the time, and for many years afterward, I simply believed I was born a mental misfit and destined to suffer as such.
Back to '71 or '72, the holstered ambulance driver said Dr. Lump would visit me at County Hospital. But I didn't see her for several days. And during that several days I underwent torturous convulsions, additional withdrawal from the Nullium that Lump hadn't told anyone (including me) my brain was addicted to. I asked the orderlies to tie me down with sheets, but it didn't help very much.
By the time I was transferred to Lump's uptown and very private Queeny Towers at Barnes Hospital, my body was bruised and my head battered from flying through the air and smashing into the walls, floors, and expendable furniture of the publicly funded County Hospital.
Like I said, I was destined to live the next two decades with the horrendous fear that my mind might suddenly snap again - anywhere, anytime, for any reason. After putting me back on Nullium, Lump announced, "Richard, for your own good, not for anyone else's, you need a long rest in a very structured environment, in the Missouri State Hospital at Farmington. It's a good place for you."
When she mentioned the State Hospital, even in my dazed state, I felt as if someone had literally dropped a cast iron lid on my manhole of life. And she didn't even mention that she'd ordered an indefinite interment.
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