The Mentally Ill Are Not Alone

In 1968 the designation “T-1” meant no more to us Shepards than any other combination of letters and numbers, but by ’69 just saying it would stop a happy moment in its tracks and make all miserable ones worse.

There were a lot of miserable ones. As far as our parents were concerned, my brother John by then had progressed from barely manageable to entirely unmanageable, a transformation so agonizing for them that they’d gone from being unable to talk about it with their closest friends and relatives to throwing up their hands and shouting at their youngest son—me—“I don’t know what to do with him. Do you? You tell me.

I didn’t have any recommendations. John was five years older, and with the exception of a few sunny windows of calm, had been intractably anguished since I’d been sentient, and even before that, if the dispiriting photos of him in our two or three family albums were any indication. From the earliest age he’d been mortified by his appearance, though he’d always looked more presentable than me, and had tried to forbid photographs even on big occasions, and the result had been, any Christmas, three or four shots of me with either parent in front of the tree, and one of him, with an expression that made a friend of mine once ask, “What happened that day?”

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