Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family (26 page)

BOOK: Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family
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DON

MIMI

DONALD

JIM

JOHN

MICHAEL

RICHARD

JOE

MARK

MATT

PETER

MARGARET

LINDSAY

 
CHAPTER 30

Lindsay went to the jail in Boulder and took a long, careful look at her brother. Peter was thirty-one but still could pass for a Colorado college kid, with his ruddy complexion and Eddie Bauer–ish wardrobe—goose down jacket, wool socks, hiking boots. He was, in many ways, the same rebellious spirit he’d been as a boy—bright and chatty and charming and always in trouble, fighting with his parents, ping-ponging between Hidden Valley Road and the hospital. But this pattern was intensifying, and Peter seemed lost, unable to modulate himself even a little now, and Lindsay was finally in a place in her life where she thought she might be able to help him.

At home with Don and Mimi, Peter had been flying into rages, once shattering most of the windows in the house. On one trip to Penrose Hospital—where, once alcohol withdrawal set in, he felt bugs crawl on his skin and saw maggots drop from the ceiling into his mouth—he was written up for “being inappropriate sexually with nurses on the ward” and even trying to assault one of them. Out in the world, Peter lived on the streets or crashed with acquaintances; once, after being arrested for reflecting a light into the eyes of drivers as they passed him on the side of a road, he announced that he was a pilot and that he needed to rescue the city. In his more fantastical moments, he’d vow that he was going to run the Federation of Rocky Mountain States just like his dad once did—reclaiming the throne for the family.

He had come to Boulder when he decided, in the middle of a court-ordered stay at the state hospital in Pueblo, to walk out and hitchhike to visit his little sisters. He ran into trouble as soon as he got there. On May 18, 1991, Peter was spotted shoplifting a pack of cigarettes at a 7-Eleven. When someone from the store chased him out, Peter sat down in front of the entrance and refused to move. Two police officers came by, and when one asked his name and date of birth, Peter replied “1851” before making a break for it. When the officers tried to stop him, Peter panicked and threw punches, hitting both of them in the face. Peter later would say he was just trying to shake them off. But the police cuffed him and charged him with second-degree assault on a police officer.

After Lindsay visited him in jail, the court transferred Peter to Pueblo, then back to jail in September with the recommendation that he be found incompetent and the criminal case not proceed. Lindsay seized the moment: She got Peter out on bond and took him home. She had a plan. She thought that the support of a sibling, combined with some therapy, might help mainstream Peter, break him out of his home-to-Pueblo revolving door. He was the youngest Galvin brother, and so Lindsay imagined that there was more hope for him than the others, that he might not be too far gone. Caught in the institutional pipeline since he was fourteen, Peter seemed to Lindsay to be little more than a victim—both of the system and of the Galvin family.

Lindsay told her mother. She expected Mimi to be territorial, wounded, defiant, defensive. Instead, she was fearful.

“Oh, Mary, you don’t want to take that on.”

“I have to try,” Lindsay said. “I mean, if I don’t try, then I’ll always wonder.”


LINDSAY HAD BEEN
seeing her therapist, Louise Silvern, for seven years. After college, she put her marketing degree to work at the Eldora Ski Area, helping stage events like the World Alpine Ski Championships. Within a year or two, she became the sales director of the ski area, coordinating and mounting corporate events for the resort. While working at Eldora, she met her boyfriend, Rick, whom she would marry several years later. She was ready for a deeper relationship now, able to imagine that sort of life for herself at last. And in 1990, with just three years of experience, Lindsay used her contacts from the ski resort to go out on her own, founding a corporate event-planning business. The greatest moment of her twenties might have been when she took Don and Mimi out to lunch and surreptitiously picked up the tab.

Margaret, Peter, and Lindsay, on a visit to Hidden Valley Road

She could work all the time, her energy not flagging. But she never felt successful for long. There was always something a little wrong, something that needed tweaking. Finally, in sessions with her therapist, she realized how guilty she felt about the cruel accident of fate that had spared her, but struck her brothers. She wanted to right the wrong, even the score. But above all, she was so high on what therapy was doing for her that she could not help but wonder if the best thing for all of her brothers would be to stop sending them to Pueblo—and offer them the same sort of help that had changed her life.

Lindsay’s new idea—keep the boys out of Pueblo—was intertwined with mammoth criticisms of her mother. Lindsay was convinced that throughout her childhood, Mimi had used the idea of Pueblo as a cudgel to keep the older boys under control—to hobble them, infantilize them, keep them prisoners of their own worst failings. But most of all, when it came to her brothers’ treatment, Lindsay believed, much like Michael did, that there was a piece of the puzzle missing, and that what her therapist had given her—the chance to tell her own story and to recover—had never been made available to the boys on Hidden Valley Road.

She believed that her brothers had been ill-served, even penalized, by a profession that seemed to do nothing but give them drugs. However well intentioned prescribing neuroleptics might be, the drugs seemed to Lindsay to be little more than another kind of lobotomy—a way of warehousing people’s souls. What if there was another way? What if someone asked her brothers what they thought they needed, and really listened to the answer?

More broadly, Lindsay wanted a new role in her family. Now that the need to avoid Jim was no longer keeping her away, she believed the next step in her recovery, in the process of taking control of her life, would be to try to go back and help those who seemed left behind.

Why wasn’t it me?
Lindsay would think.
I owe him something because it wasn’t me.


MARGARET WAS IN
no mood to help Lindsay with her new project. She said the idea seemed too ad hoc to her—a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants thing. She had a point.

But the truth was, Margaret also was afraid. She was closer in age to Peter than Lindsay was. As a child, she had been the target of a lot of the teasing and taunting and bullying by the four hockey brothers, Peter included. Now, Peter was smashing windows and hitting cops? The very thought of being around him made her feel exposed. Her reaction was the complete opposite of Lindsay’s:
I don’t want it in my life. I can’t have it in my life. I don’t want to be anywhere near it.

Lindsay couldn’t understand that reaction. She wanted to be in the eye of the hurricane, even if part of her suffered because of it. She was dying for a chance to confront her parents, to show them how wrong they’d been, how poorly they’d handled everything—to be the master of her fate in a way she had never been as a child.

Where Margaret wanted to reconstruct the sense of a normal childhood, to get back what she lost, Lindsay had resolved never to be a child again.


LINDSAY BECAME PETER’S
state-designated caretaker—a fair amount of paperwork for a twenty-six-year-old with a full-time job. But now she could manage Peter’s benefit checks, arrange his therapy, and apply for federal Section 8 housing. She worked for months with the Boulder sheriff’s office to clear up Peter’s criminal charges. He returned to Pueblo in December 1991 for six months, then came back to Boulder with the plan to stay in her care.

Lindsay took Peter to all of his appointments, starting him in therapy at CU Boulder, where they didn’t charge him, and introducing him to the Boulder Mental Health Center, which believed in complementing medication with therapy. They attended sessions together, and she saw how Peter seemed pleased to have a place where his feelings were acknowledged, where he was made to feel worthwhile and deserving of sympathy because of what he had endured.

She learned more about her brother’s condition. While most schizophrenia or bipolar patients eventually give up and give in to the system, Peter never stopped fighting it. That much wasn’t a surprise to her. But what did interest her was the reason. Peter’s doctors said that while any number of patients lash out at being compelled to do anything, Peter was among the rare ones who took aim at the systemic issues at the heart of his troubles, speaking out against a medical structure that he believed was keeping him from getting better, or at least from doing what he felt entitled to do. As a result, he resisted even more—and ended up sicker, perhaps, than he otherwise would be.

Learning this made Lindsay more sure than ever that she was doing the right thing by taking in Peter. By caring for him in Boulder, she could break the cycle of resistance and illness, and help him regain a sense of control over his own life. She and Peter had a shared mission now—a way for both of them, together, to say,
Our family matters. Don’t sweep us under the rug. Why can’t life be different for our family?


LINDSAY’S BOYFRIEND, RICK,
took Peter skiing and ice-skating, and Peter’s muscle memory kicked in and he relaxed into himself, his body suddenly reconnecting with the years he spent playing hockey with his brothers. “It was like a different guy,” Rick remembered. “His tone of voice, his confidence. His mojo was on the ice.” These were happy, encouraging moments, when Peter seemed willing and able to reach back and reclaim part of the person he’d once been.

It seemed to Lindsay that Peter wanted desperately to prove to everyone, including himself, how well he could be—how he was not lost. And Lindsay thought she saw improvement. Peter was a loudmouth, impulsive and overbearing, but he was also high-spirited and charming. He wasn’t delusional, as a rule. He knew reality. He could hold a simple job.

One of Peter’s case managers in Boulder observed that Peter seemed dedicated to becoming part of the solution—aware of the mental health care system around him, and its shortcomings, and dedicated to helping improve that system. Lindsay brought him to a meeting of CAMI, the Colorado Alliance for the Mentally Ill, where Peter spoke movingly about his brushes with the police, and the need for special training to be sensitive to people like him, to not seem threatening, to not provoke.

Lindsay believed that Peter saw how she and Margaret had made it through their childhoods alive and well, and he started to think he could, too.

Good stretches like this would last for a while—a month, maybe more—until Peter became so confident that he would stop taking his prescriptions. Then he would stay up all night, speaking quickly, hardly pausing for breath, spinning the same old fantasies about how he was going to run Dad’s Federation. He would ride his bike to the top of Boulder Canyon and back, then again, and again, and again. Still anxious, he’d turn to booze or pot or something stronger to self-medicate. Then he’d spend all day on the Pearl Street Mall, the main pedestrian drag in Boulder, sitting with the street people and playing the recorder, and quite often bringing his new friends back to Lindsay’s apartment to party.

That was when law enforcement would get back involved in his case. Instead of Pueblo, he’d go to a state hospital in Denver called Fort Logan, until once again he was well enough for Lindsay to bring him home.


ONE NIGHT ON
Pearl Street, Peter looked up from playing his music and saw a little boy watching him. Next to the boy was a man he recognized. Peter smiled.

“Hi, Dr. Freedman!”

Robert Freedman knew the family well by now, having tested most of the siblings’ sensory gating skills at his lab in Denver. But he hadn’t known that Peter was in Boulder. Now, when Peter ended up in Fort Logan, Freedman would make a point of treating him and debriefing Lindsay on how her brother was doing. After several visits, Lindsay started hearing Freedman use the term
brittle
to describe her brother. That meant that the smallest little thing—a bad night’s sleep, skipping one dose—could cause another psychotic break.

Freedman told her that this was the result of years of noncompliance—not just refusing to take medication, but being prescribed the wrong medication when he’d been diagnosed first with schizophrenia, then schizoaffective disorder, and finally bipolar disorder. The entire concept of noncompliance seemed to blame patients, but what especially pained Lindsay was the sense that she might have been too late to help her brother—that for years, Peter might not even have been getting the right medicine. If, in fact, there was a right medicine at all.

Even worse, when she looked at her other brothers, Lindsay saw how years on supposedly the right medicines were making them brittle, too—frailer, more withdrawn, less able to handle the slightest variation in routine. She came away thinking all of her brothers were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t.

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