Victims Make the Best Birdhouses

1945 Photo of my Dad and I milking a cow.

Prologue

I should have known on that summer day In 1950 when my seven-year-old naked body was laid out over a bale of hay that this was not normal. I should have known. But I was the youngest and smallest of four boys in a place where the unspeakable was normal. Even at this very young age, my brain was forced to compartmentalize daily interactions, whether they be good, bad, or indifferent. The horrific ones were hidden for decades as secrets never meant to be revealed.

In 1992, a chance conversation with my mother opened the door to repressed memories. The worst ones left me hugging my bathroom stool while vomiting throughout the night. As my mind began to crumble, a piece here, a piece there, I learned that the trips to the barn were far from normal. But who would believe such a tale? Separating fact from fiction was like finding a gnat in the forest.

Early into therapy, I shared a repressed memory with a friend and told her that I was working with a therapist. I thought I would get a supportive reaction, but instead, I got something I wasn’t expecting.

“I think you should get a different therapist,” my friend said. “Some therapists plant false memories into your head.”

I was stunned by her cold, matter-of-fact response. Unfortunately, her reaction was typical of the time. Public doubt about repressed memories in the 1990s was strong. This doubt and my reluctance to believe the unbelievable added to my anxieties and likely added years to my struggles.

My journey was a long one and not without risk. I was a vagabond wandering in an emotional wilderness. What sort of creatures might I find? Would they suck my soul dry? Would I find my way out?

Not long ago, I had cataract surgery. The next day, I removed my sunglasses and stared at a pear tree full of white blossoms that stood in front of our red- brick house. The shapes and colors appeared as three- dimensional figures, and the intense hues and minute details were unlike anything I had seen before. My emotional healing was no less dramatic. Years of therapy allowed me to feel in the same way that cataract surgery allowed me to see.

It has taken me twenty-five years to tell my story.

First review for “Victims Make the Best Birdhouses

Lara Mazzone

Reviewed in the United States on May 11, 2022 5.0 out of 5 stars. I couldn’t stop reading. A truly moving memoir about repressed memories and PTSD from sexual and emotional abuse. I finished the entire book in one day!

Authors, myself included, view positive book reviews as the life blood of their newest book, and provides the motivation to write another.

Thank you Lara.


A Troubled Mind

The scientific community has evolved at a much faster rate than our moral development and oftentimes views the causes of violent behavior differently.  For centuries, neuroscientists have studied the physical structure, chemical makeup and biological effects of one’s environment on human behavior.  We are concerned with violent male inmates housed in maximum-security or supermax facilities.  What is society’s moral responsibility to inmates who commit violent crimes? What do we do with them?  History indicates that our nation is content to lock them away in unsavory conditions; breeding places for further violence and more mental illness, with little hope for rehabilitation.  When inmates are released, they are often more violent than before.

For centuries, personal behavior in Western societies has been based on the premise that human beings have the God-given gift of “free will;”  the choice between good and evil, moral and criminal responsibility, and the power to exercise independence and self-control.  A righteous choice earns pubic acceptance, while a violent one brings punishment.  The U.S. Supreme Court has called “free will” a universal foundation for our system of law, distinct from a deterministic view of human behavior that is inconsistent with the fundamental assumptions of our criminal system.  In the United States v. Grayson 1978, the Supreme Court wrote that any intellectual development that threatened “free will” would seem to place the ethics of punishing people for their bad behavior in question.  “Free will,” as the doctrine that society has espoused, covers morality, law, politics, religion, public policy, intimate relationships and the psychology that governs life’s moral compass.  If society suddenly believed that “free will” were an illusion, would we become a rudderless world without moral direction?

The deterministic view from the scientific community believes that human behavior is based on a combination of our biological makeup and life’s experiences — nature and nurture.  Nature tattoos us with a genetic makeup, our DNA, that determines who we are in many fundamental ways. Nurture is a product of the countless life experiences that form our core.  From  the beginning, we are organisms with a genetic blueprint that continually interacts with our environment, causing change to occur as we move from conception, to childhood, to adulthood and finally, to death.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and Computerized Tomography (CT) are two of the many brain scanners used to peer inside a living person’s skull, revealing intricate networks of neurons that are shaped by both genes and environment.  A large portion of the scientific community believes that the firing of neurons determines all of our thoughts, hopes memories and dreams.  We now know that changes in brain chemistry and the physical properties of the gray matter can alter human behavior.

March 31, 1981.  Ronald Reagan, 40th President of the United States, finished a speech pushing his economic program, and deploring the rising violent crime in the inner cities.  Surrounded by Secret Service agents, metropolitan police, and White House staff, Reagan left the Washington Hilton Hotel and hurried through a light rain toward a limousine parked 12 feet away.  It was 2:25 p.m., when Reagan, looking very presidential with his Reaganistic smile, and a slightly cocked head that was a staple in his movies, waved to 100 or so well-wishers standing behind a roped-off area.  Reporters readied for a story; cameramen wanted that special photo; and a patchwork of people waited for a glimpse of their President.  It was a scene that would be replayed countless times on the daily news, and discussed on every talk show across the nation.

It was sudden, like a flock of black birds in startled flight.  Six gunshots pierced the air.  Bang, bang, then a pause, followed by four successive shots fired from within the crowd.  It appeared as though the President had not been hit.  But an eyewitness, as reported by Lou Cannon of the Washington Post, said it all, “The President winced.  The smile just sort of washed off his face.”  Three men fell to the ground — Timothy J. McCarthy, a Secret Service agent, Thomas Delahanty, a metropolitan policeman, and James Brady, the likeable press secretary who friends called “the bear.”  While McCarthy and Delahanty each had flesh wounds, Brady took a bullet to the head.  Rain washed puddles of blood down the sidewalk and onto the road.  Agents pounced upon a white, blond-haired man, later identified as John Hinckley, a 29-year-old dressed in a raincoat, blue shirt and dark trousers, who gripped a handgun while they wrestled him to the ground.  Hinckley was subdued and whisked off to jail.  The President’s limousine and police cars raced to George Washington University Hospital.

President Reagan’s wound was serious:  a .22 slug penetrated his chest, ricocheted off a rib, and entered his lung, resting about one inch from his heart.  An 80-minute surgery followed by 12 days in the hospital led to a full recovery.  McCarthy and Delahanty recuperated, as well.  But Brady was not as fortunate.  The bullet seemed to explode in his head, causing permanent brain damage.

Initial public expectation centered on whether Hinckley would spend the rest of his life in prison, or if he would be put to death.  But as days passed, Hinckley’s future became less certain.  His mental state began to unfold.  In 1976, five years before the shooting, Hinkley bad become obsessed with the movie Taxi Driver, where a psychotic taxi driver, Travis Bickle (played by Robert DeNiro), contemplates political assassination and then rescues a young prostitute, Iris (played by Jodi Foster), from a pimp.  Hinckley took on the mannerisms — the army fatigue jacket, the fascination with guns, and even the taste for peach brandy — of the Bickle character.  Hinckley’s infatuation with Iris developed into a full-fledged imaginary love for Jodi Foster, so much that he sent her love letters and stalked her on the Yale university campus.  It was later revealed that Hinckley had even stalked President Carter and planned to assassinate him to impress Jodi Foster.  But each time, he was unable to follow through on his original intent.  A love letter sent to foster just hours before he carried out his assassination attempt of Ronald Reagan showed the depth of Hinckley’s mental illness.

Dear Jodi,

There is a definite possibility that I will be killed in my attempt to get Reagan.  It is for this very reason that I am writing you this letter now.

As you well know by now I love you very much.  Over the past seven months I’ve left you dozens of poems, letters and love messages in the faint hope that you could develop an interest in me.  Although we talked on the phone a couple of times I never had the nerve to simply approach you and introduce myself.  Besides my shyness, I honestly did not wish to bother you with my constant presence.  I know the many messages left at your door and in your mailbox were a nuisance, but I felt that it was the most painless way for me to express my love for you.

Jodi, I would abandon this idea of getting Reagan in a second if I could only win your heart and live out the rest of my life with you whether it be in total obscurity or whatever.

I will admit to you that the reason I’m going ahead with this attempt now is because I just cannot wait any longer to impress you.  I’ve got to do something now to make you understand, in no uncertain terms, that I am doing all of this for your sake.  By sacrificing my freedom and possibly my life, I hope to change your mind about me.  This letter is being written only an hour before I leave for the Hilton Hotel.  Jodi, I’m asking you to please look into your heart and at least give me the chance with this historical deed, to gain your respect and love.

I love you forever,
John Hinckley
***
This is an excerpt from one of my books — “Supermax Prison:  Controlling the most dangerous criminals.”

Check out my latest book — “Victims Make the Best Birdhouses”

Victims Make the Best Birdhouses

People question the source of my book title. Here’s how it happened.

Sometimes I think it would have been easier if I’d had cancer or another more socially acceptable disease. The physician would have shown my family an x-ray of my tumor and prescribed a course of treatment, giving them hope that they could openly share with their friends. Or maybe it would have been better if my wife had taken me to a hospital and said, “Something is wrong with my husband. He is depressed and having nightmares. He’s downright miserable

After performing a CT scan, the doctor might have said, “We’ve determined your husband’s problem. As you can see from the x-ray, his soul is being strangled by massive adhesions. The different-colored adhesions represent a specific type of abuse, with the number of strains revealing the frequency. Look here, and you can see how the CT scan tells a story. The blue striations tell us your husband was sexually molested by his older brother. Based on the massive number of strains, we estimate his brother’s penis was rammed up his anus more than one thousand times.”

“Can anything be done to help him?”

“Oh, yes. He can be treated with medication and work with a psychologist who will help loosen the grip of the adhesions and terminate their growth. They can never be removed, but he can recover. However, he will likely become a different person from the one you know.”

“What if we don’t do anything?”

“Well, that’s an option,” the doctor might have said. “However, if you choose that option, you might as well cut a hole in his side, tie a rope around his neck, and hang him from a tree. It’s more humane. Untreated abuse victims make the best birdhouses.”

Victims Make the Best Birdhouses

Several years ago I attended a week-long writing conference at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland. It was there when I enrolled in a class of nonfiction writers led by Katherine Russell Rich. It was the luck of the draw that Katherine became my team leader. I was immediately impressed by her professionalism, excitement, kindness, and by the way, she was a hell of a writer. I loved her book, “The Red Devil: A Memoir about Beating the Odds.” Years later, when I began to write my memoir, I revisited her book and studied the passage I had admired years ago. It was written for me, I thought. Due to my struggles as a victim of childhood physical and sexual abuse, I became a student of memories. I spent years struggling to identify fact from fiction. It was then when I remembered a passage in her book that took my breath away. Katherine nailed the driving force to my writing that enabled me to face my trauma.

Trauma is a vampire, but light, as any student of Folklore or Freud knows, will kill it. The problem is, when the shell- shocked try to exhume their memories—to bring them into the light—the result can be a death struggle so fierce they may fear it’s them, not the suckling pain that’s about to die.

The Red Devil: A Memoir about Beating the Odds
-Katherine Russell Rich

Katherine RIP

It takes a city to sell a book

Perhaps I should rename the title of my blog. How about It takes an author, an idea, emotional expression, creativity, an editor, a publisher, a marketer, a little money, and the determination of barn swallows that build multiple bird nests on my front porch. Yes it takes that and more to come up with a book that a reader is willing to read, and even pay a few dollars for that privilege.

This is my first attempt to navigate a new website for the promotion of my memoir, Victims Make The Best Birdhouses by Larry L Franklin. The ebook and paperback will be available in a matter of hours. My website can be reached at authorllfranklin.com

A Drawing from “Victims Make The Best Birdhouses”

An ink drawing of a 1950 car wreckage that ended the lives of my father, grandfather, brother, cousin, and my father’s girl friend. They were driving to the Illinois State Fair. I’ve included the drawing in my memoir, “Victims Make The Best Birdhouses,” due to be released at the end of April 2022. The drawing was created by Wil Maring, singer, song writer, and artist. Through Wil’s creativity, she recreated the emotion of lost lives.

Victims Make The Best Birdhouses

Book to be released late April 2022 at retail stores. Advanced copies online through WiDo Publishing Company.

“I should have known, on that sultry summer day in 1950, when my five-year-old naked body was laid out over a bale of hay, that this was not normal. I should have known… Thus opens Larry Franklin’s memoir, recently acquired by E. L. Marker, and thus begins a decades long journey of sifting through the known and the unknown to find the truth and the lies of his past.

Franklin’s physical and sexual abuse began at a young age and continued into his teenage years. What is harder to know, is the beginnings of his repression of those memories. It wasn’t until a chance conversation with his mother, just before his fiftieth birthday, that he learned his father never loved him, not even a little, and his brother physically abused him. Following this conversation, Franklin is plagued by nightmares, disturbingly specific in content and which leave him “hugging my bathroom stool and vomiting through the night.” These nightmares lead Franklin along a journey to unlock a past his mind has protected him from for almost half a century.

In his memoir, Franklin speaks candidly of the challenges and dangers of memory, especially repressed memories. “Who would believe such a tale,” he asks readers, “and more importantly, how can I separate fact from fiction?” These questions of belief, of fact, and of fiction, form the thematic fabric of Franklin’s book. As a result, his story is not just about a journey from victim to survivor but the nature of memory and truth.

In a better world, Franklin would have known that those trips to the barn were not normal. What his mind knew then, even if he didn’t, is that those trips must be hidden behind psychic doors piece by piece, if he were to survive. Thankfully, when those doors opened, Franklin was not only willing to face what he discovered but to share it.

Hey funny man, show me your pain.

HEY FUNNY MAN, SHOW ME YOUR PAIN

I think the saddest people

always try their hardest to

make people happy because

they know what it’s like to feel

absolutely worthless and I

don’t want anyone else to feel like that.

                                                                                    Robin Williams

Robin Williams, John Belushi, Chris Farley, Freddie Prinze were all funny men who chose to die. They lacked any resolution to that harmonic pedal-point of misery–a can’t-move sadness creating the illusion that death is more attractive than life. Not only does this illusion lurk in the darkness of night, the underbelly of a rotting rat, or the heart of a seven-year-old boy subjected to horrific abuses, it’s everywhere. It is a formidable enemy we call depression.

My mother referred to depression as having a bad case of the nerves. “I’m having trouble with my nerves today,” she often said. To me, depression feels heavy, like a cloud of tears; it’s the darkness that yearns for a glimmer of light, a reason to get up in the morning, a promise from God that light overcomes darkness.

Causes of depression can be a genetic makeup, physical and sexual abuse, conflict, death or loss, physical or emotional pain, reaction to medication, to name a few. Some or all can contribute to a chemical imbalance in the brain, a misfiring of neurons that can bring you to your knees. Normally, when information is transferred from one neuron to another, the gap between the terminals and nearby neurons is filled by chemical substances called neurotransmitters which fire across the space, sending signals to other neurons, like tiny sparks of electricity. Imagine a well-lit midway at a county fair, with hundreds of rides and booths operating simultaneously.

There are some 50 different neurotransmitters in the brain, and too much or too little of these neurotransmitters may contribute to schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, and other emotional conditions. When a person’s neurotransmitters do not function properly, it is said they have a “chemical imbalance.” Since communication between and among neurons dictates how our behavior is controlled, a chemical imbalance can impact how a person walks, raises an arm, sits on a stool, or orders a cup of coffee. Those of us suffering from depression are excruciatingly aware of its impact on our behavior, and we must regularly evaluate our actions against our perception of what is “normal.” We are always trying to signal normal behavior to those around us.

I remember a certain day when I was barely fifteen. It was a time when Johnny Carson was the funny man of late-night television. Sitting in the isolation of my home, the idea entered my mind that I could become the next Johnny Carson. I seemed to have a talent for saying “witty” things, acting crazy, and making my friends laugh. An abuse victim needs tools for survival, and for me, those tools included humor, alcohol, and ongoing conversations with God. I can’t speak for Robin Williams, John Belushi, Chris Farley, or Freddie Prinze, but for me, humor was a method of dealing with my misery. Just as in the wintertime, when the temperature hovered around zero degrees, I didn’t go outside without my coat; when depression was dark and heavy, I didn’t go outside without my humor. But perhaps humor, by itself, can only keep the tormented soul from death for a time. Perhaps if I had not met Olivia, my therapist, humor would not have been enough, and I would have died. Perhaps that is what happened to those other funny men. 

Decades later, I asked Olivia, my therapist, if my humor was annoying and whether I should refrain from being “funny.” She asked me to imagine myself without the humor and whether I liked that person. I quickly concluded that the imagined person was boring and without feelings. She smiled before saying, “Hey, funny man. I like who you are.”

Olivia suggested that I try medication to reduce my anxiety and depression, but I wanted to understand how it worked before I agreed. I learned that the medication, a pea-sized pill, moves through the body like a mouse through a maze. First, it is absorbed in the stomach, penetrates the lining of the intestines, and races through the bloodstream to its intended target–receptors on the surface of certain neurons in the brain. To achieve the intended effect, psychoactive drugs must bind to and interact with these receptors, changing the functional properties of that neuron and thus, paving the way for healthy, “normal” behavior. However, only a small portion of the medication is attached to the intended receptor in the brain at any given time. The rest of the drug languishes in other parts of the body where it may cause unpleasant side effects before it is metabolized by the liver and excreted by the kidneys. The process is repeated until the desired level and duration of the drug is reached and a steady state of “chemical balance” is maintained. Although pharmacology — the science of drugs — has made rapid strides since the middle of the twentieth century, it is not an exact science. Side effects from the drugs are not uncommon and sometimes require a period of trial and error to find the correct medication and dosage. My initial experience left me with side effects similar to a bad case of the flu. When I switched to a different medication, it eliminated the negative side effects but didn’t reduce my anxiety. I agreed to try the original medication again and give my body more time to make the necessary adjustment. Fortunately, it worked. My depression and anxiety lessened, leaving me in a more receptive state of mind where I welcomed the therapy and medication that offered a better quality of life.

Funny or not, a happy face filled with laughter or the funny twist of a story is a mere cosmetic fix to depression. Healing is a combination of therapy, medication, and the willingness to find a better life.

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