Main Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family

What took place inside the house on Hidden Valley Road was so extraordinary that the Galvins became one of the first families to be studied by the National Institutes of Mental Health. Their story offers a shadow history of the science of schizophrenia, from the era of institutionalization, lobotomy, and the schizophrenogenic mother, to the search for genetic markers for the disease, always amidst profound disagreements about the nature of the illness itself. And unbeknownst to the Galvins, samples of their DNA informed decades of genetic research that continues today, offering paths to treatment, prediction, and even eradication of the disease for future generations.

With clarity and compassion, bestselling and award-winning author Robert Kolker uncovers one family's unforgettable legacy of suffering, love and hope.
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Also by Robert Kolker

			Lost Girls

			 			Copyright © 2020 by Robert Kolker

			All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Doubleday, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.

			DOUBLEDAY and the portrayal of an anchor with a dolphin are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

			Photograph on this page courtesy of Robert Moorman. All other photographs courtesy of Lindsay Galvin Rauch and Margaret Galvin Johnson.

			Cover image: Air Force photo, 1961

			Cover design by John Fontana

			Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

			Names: Kolker, Robert, author.

			Title: Hidden Valley Road : inside the mind of an American family / Robert Kolker.

			Description: First edition. | New York : Doubleday, [2020] | Includes bibliographical references and index.

			Identifiers: LCCN 2019028466 (print) | LCCN 2019028467 (ebook) | ISBN 9780385543767 (hardback) | ISBN 9780385543774 (ebook)

			Subjects: LCSH: Galvin family. | Schizophrenics—United States—Biography. | Schizophrenia—Genetic aspects. | Schizophrenia—Treatment—United States—History. | Schizophrenics—Family relationships—United States. | Mentally ill—Care—United States—History.

			Classification: LCC RC514 .K648 2020 (print) | LCC RC514 (ebook) | DDC 616.89/80092—dc23

			LC record available at​2019028466

			LC ebook record available at​2019028467

			Ebook ISBN 9780385543774


			 			For Judy and Jon

			 			The clearest way that you can show endurance is by sticking with a family.




				Also by Robert Kolker

				Title Page





			 				The Galvin Family

			 				PART ONE

			 				PART TWO

			 				PART THREE


				A Note on Sources



				About the Author



			Colorado Springs, Colorado

			A brother and sister w; alk out of their house together, through the patio door that opens out from the family kitchen and into their backyard. They’re a strange pair. Donald Galvin is twenty-seven years old with deep-set eyes, his head shaved completely bald, his chin showing off the beginnings of a biblically scruffy beard. Mary Galvin is seven, half his height, with white-blond hair and a button nose.

			The Galvin family lives in the Woodmen Valley, an expanse of forest and farmland nestled between the steep hills and sandstone mesas of central Colorado. Their yard smells of sweet pine, fresh and earthy. Near the patio, juncos and blue jays dart around a rock garden where the family’s pet, a goshawk named Atholl, stands guard in a mews their father built years ago. With the little girl leading the way, the sister and brother pass by the mews and climb up a small hill, stepping over lichen-covered rocks they both know by heart.

			There are ten children between Mary and Donald in age—twelve Galvin kids in all; enough, their father enjoys joking, for a football team. The others have found excuses to be as far from Donald as possible. Those not old enough to have moved away are playing hockey or soccer or baseball. Mary’s sister, Margaret—the only other girl, and the sibling closest to Mary in age—might be with the Skarke girls next door, or down the road at the Shoptaughs’. But Mary, still in second grade, often has nowhere to go after school but home, and no one to look after her but Donald.

			 			Everything about Donald confounds Mary, starting with his shaved head and continuing with what he likes most to wear: a reddish brown bedsheet, worn in the style of a monk. Sometimes he completes the outfit with a plastic bow and arrow that his little brothers once played with. In any weather, Donald walks the neighborhood dressed this way, mile after mile, all day and into the night—down their street, the unpaved Hidden Valley Road, past the convent and the dairy farm in the Woodmen Valley, along the shoulders and onto the median strips of highways. He often stops at the grounds of the United States Air Force Academy, where their father once worked, and where many people now pretend not to recognize him. And closer to home, Donald has stood sentry as children play in the yard of the local elementary school, announcing in his soft, almost Irish lilt that he is their new teacher. He only stops when the principal demands that he stay away. In those moments, Mary, a second-grader, is sorrier than ever that her world is so small that everyone knows that she is Donald’s sister.

			Mary’s mother is well practiced at laughing off moments like these, behaving as if nothing is strange. To do anything else would be the same as admitting that she lacks any real control over the situation—that she cannot understand what is happening in her house, much less know how to stop it. Mary, in turn, has no choice but to not react at all to Donald. She notices how closely both her mother and father monitor all of their children now for warning signs: Peter with his rebellion, Brian and his drugs, Richard getting expelled, Jim picking fights, Michael checking out completely. To complain or cry or show any emotion at all, Mary knows, will send the message that something might be wrong with her, too.

			And the fact is that the days when Mary sees Donald in that bedsheet are better than some of the other days. Sometimes after school, she comes home to find Donald in the middle of an undertaking only he can understand—like transplanting every last piece of furniture out of the house and into the backyard, or pouring salt into the aquarium and poisoning all the fish. Other times, he is in the bathroom, vomiting his medications: Stelazine and Thorazine and Haldol and Prolixin and Artane. Sometimes he is sitting in the middle of the living room quietly, completely naked. Sometimes the police are there, summoned by their mother, after hostilities have broken out between Donald and one or more of his brothers.

			 			But most of the time, Donald is consumed by religious matters. Explaining that Saint Ignatius conferred upon him a degree in “spiritual exercise and theology,” he spends much of every day and many nights reciting in full voice the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer and a list of his own devising that he calls Holy Order of Priests, the logic of which is known only to him. D.O.M., Benedictine, Jesuit, Order of the Sacred Heart, Immaculate Conception, Mary, Immaculate Mary, Oblate Order of Priests, May Family, Black Friar, The Holy Ghost, Franciscan at the Convent, One Holy Universal, Apostolic, Trappist…

			For Mary, the prayers are like a faucet that won’t stop dripping. “Stop it!” she shrieks, and yet Donald never does, pausing barely long enough to breathe. She sees what he’s doing as a rebuke of her entire family, but mostly of their father, a faithful Catholic. Mary idolizes her father. So does every other Galvin child—even Donald did, before he got sick. When Mary sees her father coming and going from the house whenever he likes, she is envious. She thinks about the sense of control that her father must enjoy by working so hard all the time. Hard enough to get out.

			It is the way her brother singles Mary out that she finds most unbearable—not because he is cruel but because he is kind, even tender. Her full name is Mary Christine, and so Donald has decided that she is Mary, the sacred virgin and mother of Christ. “I am not!” Mary cries, again and again. She believes that she is being teased. It would not be the first time that one of her brothers has tried to make a fool of her. But Donald is so unmistakably serious—so fervent, so reverential—it only makes Mary angrier. He has made Mary the exalted object of his prayers—bringing her into his world, which is the last place that she would ever want to be.

			The idea that Mary comes up with, the solution to the problem of Donald, is a direct response to the rage she feels. Her inspiration comes from the sword-and-sandals epics that her mother sometimes watches on television. The idea starts with her saying, “Let’s go up to the hill.” Donald consents; anything for the sacred virgin. It continues with Mary suggesting that they build a swing on a tree branch. “Let’s bring a rope,” she says. Donald does as she says. And it concludes at the top of the hill, where Mary selects a tree, one of many tall pines, and tells Donald that she’d like to tie him to it. Donald says yes. And hands her the rope.

			 			Even if Mary were to reveal her plan to Donald—to burn him at the stake, like the heretics in the movies—it is doubtful that he would react. He is too busy praying. He stands tightly against the tree trunk, lost in his own stream of words as Mary walks around the tree with the rope, circling and pulling until she believes he cannot break free. Donald does not resist.

			She tells herself that no one will miss him when he’s gone—and that no one will ever suspect her. She goes searching for kindling and brings back armfuls of twigs and branches, dropping them at his bare feet.

			Donald is ready. If Mary really is who he insists she is, he can hardly say no. He is calm, patient, kind.

			He adores her.

			But on this day, Mary is serious only to a point. She has no matches, no way to make a fire. More crucially, she is not like her brother. She is grounded, her mind rooted in the real world. If nothing else, Mary is determined to prove that, not just to her mother, but to herself.

			So she abandons her plan. She strands Donald on the hill. He stays up there, surrounded by flies and pasqueflowers, standing in place and praying for a very long time. Long enough that Mary gets some time to herself, but not so long that he doesn’t come back down again.

* * *


			SHE MANAGES A smile now when she thinks about it. “Margaret and I laugh,” she says. “I’m not sure others would find it quite so funny.”

			On a crisp winter afternoon in 2017—forty-five years, a lifetime, after that day on the hill—the woman once known as Mary Galvin pulls her SUV into a parking space at Point of the Pines, an assisted living facility in Colorado Springs, and walks inside to see the brother she once fantasized about burning alive. She is in her fifties now, with the same bright eyes, though in her adulthood she has chosen to go by a different first name: Lindsay, a name she picked as soon as she left home—a determined young girl’s attempt to make a break with the past and become someone new.

			 			Lindsay lives a six-hour drive away, just outside Telluride, Colorado. She owns her own business, staging corporate events—working as hard as her father ever did, crisscrossing the state between home and Denver, where most of her events take place, and Colorado Springs, where she can tend to Donald and others in her family. Her husband, Rick, runs the Telluride ski resort’s instruction program, and they have two teenagers, one in high school and one in college. Anyone who meets Lindsay now usually doesn’t see past her calm confidence, her easy smile. After years of practice, she has an artful way of pretending as if everything is completely normal, even when the case is quite the opposite. Only a tart, razor-sharp comment now and then suggests something else—something melancholic and immutable, simmering beneath the surface.

			Donald is waiting for her in the first-floor lounge. Dressed casually in a wrinkled, untucked Oxford shirt and long cargo shorts, her oldest brother, in his seventies now, looks incongruously distinguished, with wisps of white hair at his temples, a cleft chin, and heavy black eyebrows. He could be cast in a gangster movie, if his voice weren’t so gentle and his gait so stiff. “He has a little bit of that Thorazine shuffle still left, the way he walks,” says Kriss Prado, a manager at the facility. Donald takes clozapine now, a sort of last-resort psychotropic drug with both a high rate of effectiveness and a high risk of extreme side effects—heart inflammation, low white blood cell count, even seizures. One of the consequences of surviving schizophrenia for fifty years is that sooner or later, the cure becomes as damaging as the disease.

			When Donald spots his sister, he stands up, ready to leave. Usually, when Lindsay visits, it’s to take him out to see other family. Smiling warmly, Lindsay says they’re not going anywhere today—that she is there to see how he is doing and to talk with his doctors. Donald smiles, too, slightly, and sits back down. No one in his family comes to see him there but her.

			Lindsay has had decades to make sense of her childhood, and in many ways that project continues. So far, she has learned that the key to understanding schizophrenia is that, despite a century of research, such a key remains elusive. There is a menu of symptoms, various ways the illness presents: hallucinations, delusions, voices, comalike stupors. There are specific tells, too, like the inability to grasp the most basic figures of speech. Psychiatrists speak of “loosening of associations” and “disorganized thinking.” But it is hard for anyone to explain to Lindsay why, on a day like today, Donald is cheerful, even content, while on another day he is frustrated, demanding she drive him to the state mental hospital in Pueblo, where he has been admitted more than a dozen times over fifty years, and where he often says that he would like to live. She can only guess why, when Donald is brought to the supermarket, he always buys two bottles of All clothing detergent, announcing brightly, “This is the best body wash ever!” Or why, almost fifty years later, he still recites that religious litany: Benedictine, Jesuit, Order of the Sacred Heart….Or why, for almost as long, Donald has consistently and unwaveringly maintained that he is, in fact, the offspring of an octopus.

			 			The most dreadful thing, perhaps, about schizophrenia—and what most sets it apart from other brain conditions like autism or Alzheimer’s, which tend to dilute and dissipate a person’s most identifiable personality traits—is how baldly emotional it can be. The symptoms muffle nothing and amplify everything. They’re deafening, overpowering for the subject and frightening for those who love them—impossible for anyone close to them to process intellectually. For a family, schizophrenia is, primarily, a felt experience, as if the foundation of the family is permanently tilted in the direction of the sick family member. Even if just one child has schizophrenia, everything about the internal logic of that family changes.

			But the Galvins never were an ordinary family. In the years when Donald was the first, most conspicuous case, five other Galvin brothers were quietly breaking down.

			There was Peter, the youngest boy and the family rebel, who was manic and violent, and who for years refused all help.

			And Matthew, a talented ceramic artist, who, when he wasn’t convinced that he was Paul McCartney, believed that his moods controlled the weather.

			And Joseph, the most mild-mannered and poignantly self-aware of the sick boys, who heard voices, as real to him as life itself, from a different time and place.

			And Jim, the maverick second son, who feuded viciously with Donald and went on to victimize the most defenseless members of his family—most notably the girls, Mary and Margaret.

			 			And, finally, Brian, perfect Brian, the family’s rock star, who kept his deepest fears a secret from them all—and who, in one inscrutable flourish of violence, would change all of their lives forever.

* * *


			THE DOZEN CHILDREN in the Galvin family perfectly spanned the baby boom. Donald was born in 1945, Mary in 1965. Their century was the American century. Their parents, Mimi and Don, were born just after the Great War, met during the Great Depression, married during World War II, and raised their children during the Cold War. In the best of times, Mimi and Don seemed to embody everything that was great and good about their generation: a sense of adventure, industriousness, responsibility, and optimism (anyone who has twelve children, the last several against the advice of doctors, is nothing if not an optimist). As their family grew, they witnessed entire cultural movements come and go. And then all the Galvins made their own contribution to the culture, as a monumental case study in humanity’s most perplexing disease.

			Six of the Galvin boys took ill at a time when so little was understood about schizophrenia—and so many different theories were colliding with one another—that the search for an explanation overshadowed everything about their lives. They lived through the eras of institutionalization and shock therapy, the debates between psychotherapy versus medication, the needle-in-a-haystack search for genetic markers for the disease, and the profound disagreements about the cause and origin of the illness itself. There was nothing generic about how they each experienced the illness: Donald, Jim, Brian, Joseph, Matthew, and Peter each suffered differently, requiring differing treatments and a panoply of shifting diagnoses, and prompting conflicting theories about the nature of schizophrenia. Some of those theories could be especially cruel to the parents, who often took the blame, as if they’d caused the disease by something they did or did not do. The entire family’s struggle doubles as a thinly veiled history of the science of schizophrenia—a history that for decades took the form of a long argument over not just what caused the illness, but what it actually is.

			The children who did not become mentally ill were, in many respects, as affected as their brothers. It is hard enough to individuate oneself in any family with twelve children; here was a family that was defined by dynamics like no other, where the state of being mentally ill became the norm of the household, the position from which everything else had to start. For Lindsay, her sister, Margaret, and their brothers John, Richard, Michael, and Mark, being a member of the Galvin family was about either going insane yourself or watching your family go insane—growing up in a climate of perpetual mental illness. Even if they happened not to descend into delusions or hallucinations or paranoia—if they didn’t come to believe that the house was under attack, or that the CIA was searching for them, or that the devil was under their bed—they felt as if they were carrying an unstable element inside themselves. How much longer, they wondered, before it would overtake them, too?

			 			As the youngest, Lindsay endured some of the worst of what happened—left in harm’s way, directly hurt by people she thought loved her. When she was little, all she wanted was to be someone else. She could have left Colorado and started over, changed her name for real, assumed a new identity, and tried to scribble over the memory of all she went through. A different person would have gotten out as soon as she could and never come back.

			And yet here Lindsay is at Point of the Pines, checking to see if the brother she once dreaded needs a heart examination, if he’s signed all the forms that need signing, if the doctor has seen him enough. She does the same for her other sick brothers, too, the ones still living. With Donald, for the length of her visit today, Lindsay pays careful attention as he wanders the halls. She worries that he is not taking good enough care of himself. She wants the best for him.

			In spite of everything, she loves him. How did that change?

* * *


			THE ODDS OF a family like this one existing at all, much less one that remained intact long enough to be discovered, seem impossible to calculate. The precise genetic pattern of schizophrenia has defied detection; its existence announces itself, but fleetingly, like flickering shadows on the wall of a cave. For more than a century, researchers have understood that one of the biggest risk factors for schizophrenia is heritability. The paradox is that schizophrenia does not appear to be passed directly from parent to child. Psychiatrists, neurobiologists, and geneticists all believed that a code for the condition had to be there somewhere, but have never been able to locate it. Then came the Galvins, who, by virtue of the sheer number of cases, offered a greater degree of insight into the illness’s genetic process than anyone imagined possible. Certainly no researcher had ever encountered six brothers in one family—full-blooded siblings, with the same two parents in common, the same shared genetic line.

			 			Starting in the 1980s, the Galvin family became the subject of study by researchers on the hunt for a key to understanding schizophrenia. Their genetic material has been analyzed by the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, the National Institute of Mental Health, and more than one major pharmaceutical company. As with all such test subjects, their participation was always confidential. But now, after nearly four decades of research, the Galvin family’s contribution finally can be seen clearly. Samples of their genetic material have formed the cornerstone of research that has helped unlock our understanding of the disease. By analyzing this family’s DNA and comparing it with genetic samples from the general population, researchers are on the cusp of making significant advances in treatment, prediction, and even prevention of schizophrenia.

			Until recently, the Galvins were completely unaware of how they might be helping others—oblivious to how their situation had, among some researchers, created such a feeling of promise. But what science has learned from them is only one small portion of their story. That story begins with their parents, Mimi and Don, and a life together that took flight with limitless hope and confidence, only to curdle and collapse in tragedy, confusion, and despair.

			But the story of the children—of Lindsay, her sister, and her ten brothers—was always about something different. If their childhood was a funhouse-mirror reflection of the American dream, their story is about what comes after that image is shattered.

			That story is about children, now grown, investigating the mysteries of their own childhood—reconstituting the fragments of their parents’ dream, and shaping it into something new.

			It is about rediscovering the humanity in their own brothers, people who most of the world had decided were all but worthless.

			It is about, even after the worst has happened in virtually every imaginable way, finding a new way to understand what it means to be a family.





				born in Queens, New York, on January 16, 1924

				died on January 7, 2003



				born in Houston, Texas, on November 14, 1924

				died on July 17, 2017



				born in Queens, New York, on July 21, 1945

				married Jean (divorced)


				born in Brooklyn, New York, on June 21, 1947

				married Kathy (divorced), one child

				died on March 2, 2001


				born in Norfolk, Virginia, on December 2, 1949

				married Nancy, two children


				born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on August 26, 1951

				died on September 7, 1973



				born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on June 6, 1953

				married Adele (divorced), two children

				married Becky


				born in West Point, New York, on November 15, 1954

				married Kathy (divorced), one child

				married Renée


				born in Novato, California, on August 22, 1956

				died on December 7, 2009


				born in Novato, California, on August 20, 1957

				married Joanne (divorced)

				married Lisa, three children


				born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on December 17, 1958


				born in Denver, Colorado, on November 15, 1960


				born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on February 25, 1962

				married Chris (divorced)

				married Wylie Johnson; daughters Ellie and Sally



				born in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on October 5, 1965

				married Rick Rauch; son Jack, daughter Kate

Part One

















			Colorado Springs, Colorado

			Every so often, in the middle of doing yet another thing she’d never imagined doing, Mimi Galvin would pause and take a breath and consider what, exactly, had brought her to that moment. Was it the careless, romantic tossing aside of her college education in favor of a wartime marriage? The pregnancies and the children, one after another, with no plan of stopping if Don had anything to say about it? The sudden move out west, to a place that was completely foreign to her? But of all the unusual moments, perhaps none compared to when Mimi—a refined daughter of Texas aristocracy, by way of New York City—clutched a live bird in one hand and a needle and thread in the other, preparing to sew the bird’s eyelids shut.

			She had heard the hawk before she saw it. It was nighttime, and Don and the boys were asleep in their new home when there was an unfamiliar noise. They had been warned about coyotes and mountain lions, but this sound was different, the pitch high, the quality otherworldly. The next morning, Mimi went outside, and on the ground, not far from the cottonwood trees, she noticed a small scattering of feathers. Don suggested they bring the feathers to a new acquaintance of his, Bob Stabler, a zoologist who taught at Colorado College, a short walk from where they were living in the center of Colorado Springs.

			 			Doc Stabler’s house was unlike any place they had seen in New York: a home that doubled as a repository for reptiles, mainly snakes, including one that was uncaged—a cottonmouth moccasin, coiled around the back of a wooden chair. Don and Mimi brought their three sons with them, ages six, four, and two. When one of the boys dashed in front of the snake, Mimi shrieked.

			“What’s the matter?” Stabler said with a smile. “Afraid it’s going to bite your baby?”

			The zoologist had no trouble identifying the feathers. He had been training hawks and falcons as a hobby for years. Don and Mimi knew nothing about falconry, and at first they feigned interest as Stabler went on about it: how, in medieval times, no one beneath the rank of an earl was even allowed to own a peregrine falcon; and how this part of Colorado was a prime nesting spot for the prairie falcon, a cousin of the peregrine and every bit as majestic, he said, a thing of beauty. And then, against their better judgment, both Mimi and Don found themselves fascinated, as if they were being let in on one of the great private worlds of a place they were only just beginning to understand. Their new friend made it sound like a cultish thing, an archaic pastime practiced today by a secretive few. He and his friends were taming the same sorts of wild birds once tamed by Genghis Khan, Attila the Hun, Mary Queen of Scots, and Henry VIII—and they were doing it very much the same way.

			In truth, Don and Mimi may have come to Colorado Springs about fifty years too late. Back then, this part of the state had been an agreeable destination for, among others, Marshall Field, Oscar Wilde, and Henry Ward Beecher, all of whom came to take in some of the natural wonders of the American West. There was Pikes Peak, the fourteen-thousand-foot summit named for an explorer, Zebulon Pike, who never actually made it to the top. There was the Garden of the Gods, the looming natural arrangement of sandstone rock outcroppings that seem staged for maximum effect, like the heads on Easter Island. And there was Manitou Springs, where some of the wealthiest, most refined Americans came to partake of the latest pseudoscientific cures. But by the time Don and Mimi arrived, in the winter of 1951, the elite sheen of the place had long worn away, and Colorado Springs had gone back to being a drought-ridden, small-minded outpost of a town—such a tiny pinpoint on the map that when the Boy Scout international jamboree was held there, the jamboree was bigger than the town.

			 			So for Don and Mimi to happen upon such a grand tradition right under their noses—the mark of nobility and royalty, right there, in the middle of nowhere—sent shock waves through them both, feeding into their shared love of culture and history and sophistication. They were goners. But joining that club took some time. Aside from Doc Stabler, no one was willing to talk about falconry with the Galvins. Falconry was so exclusive, it seemed, that conventional bird-watching groups of the time had yet to embrace the pursuit of these particular birds.

			Mimi could never remember how, but Don got his hands on a copy of Baz-nama-yi Nasiri, a Persian falconry text that only in the past few decades had been translated into English. From that book, he and Mimi learned to build their first trap, a dome made of chicken wire, affixed to a circular frame the size of a hula hoop. Following the instructions, they staked a few dead pigeons inside the trap as bait, with wires of fishing line hanging from the chicken wire above. At the end of each line, they tied slipknots to catch any bird who fell for the ruse.

			Their first customer, a red-tailed hawk, flew off, carrying the whole trap behind it; their English setter ran after it and tracked it down. This was the first wild bird that Mimi ever held in her hand. Like a dog chasing a fire truck, she had no idea what to do if she caught one.

			Back to Doc Stabler she went, hawk in hand. “Well, you did pretty well,” he said. “Now sew the eyelids together.”

			Stabler explained that a falcon’s eyelids protect them as they dive at speeds upward of two hundred miles per hour. But in order to train a hawk or falcon the way Henry VIII’s falconers did it, the bird’s eyelids should be temporarily sewn shut. With no visual distractions, a falcon can be made dependent on the will of a falconer—the sound of his voice, the touch of his hands. The zoologist cautioned Mimi: Be careful the stitches aren’t too tight or too loose, and that the needle never pricks the hawk’s eyes. There seemed any number of ways to make a hash of the bird. What, again, brought Mimi to this moment?

			 			She was frightened, yet not entirely unprepared. Mimi’s mother had made dresses during the Depression—even ran her own business—and she had made sure her daughter knew a few things. As carefully as she could, Mimi went to work on the edge of each eyelid, one after the other. When she was done, she took the long tails of the threads from both eyes, tied them together, and stashed them in the feather on top of the bird’s head, to keep the bird from scratching at them.

			Stabler complimented Mimi on her work. “Now,” he said, “you have to keep it on the fist for forty-eight hours.”

			Mimi balked. How could Don walk the halls of Ent Air Force Base, where he worked as a briefing officer, with a blinded hawk on his wrist? How could Mimi do the dishes, or look after three small boys?

			They divided up the work. Mimi took days, and Don took nights, during his late shifts at the base, tethering the bird to a chair in the room where he spent most of his time. Only once did a senior officer walk in and cause the hawk to “bate”—a falconry term meaning to fly away in a panic. Classified documents went flying everywhere, too. Don had a reputation at the base after that.

			But at the end of those forty-eight hours, Mimi and Don had successfully domesticated a hawk. They felt an enormous sense of accomplishment. This was about embracing the wild, natural world, but also about bringing it under one’s control. Taming these birds could be brutal and punishing. But with consistency and devotion and discipline, it was unbelievably rewarding.

			Not unlike, they often thought, the parenting of a child.

* * *


			WHEN SHE WAS a little girl, Mimi Blayney would sit under her family’s grand piano and listen to her grandmother playing Chopin and Mozart. On nights when her grandmother picked up the violin, Mimi would stare, transfixed, as her aunt danced like a Gypsy along to the music, the logs in the fireplace crackling loudly behind her. And when no one else was around, the pale, dark-haired girl, no older than five, would venture where she was not allowed to go. The Victrola was broken more often than it wasn’t, and the records the family owned—thick, grooved platters, more like hubcaps than LPs—were filled with music that Mimi was dying to hear. When the coast was clear, Mimi would put a platter on the machine, place down the needle, and spin it with her finger. She would get about two measures of opera that way, over and over again.

* * *


			The excavation of levees had worked out well for Mimi’s grandfather, Howard Pullman Kenyon, a civil engineer who, long before Mimi was born, founded a company that dredged the rivers of five states, building levees along the Mississippi. Mimi’s mother, Wilhelmina—or Billy to everyone—went to a private school in Dallas, and when the teacher would ask, “And what does your daddy do?” she’d coyly reply, “He’s a ditch digger.” At its wealthiest, during the Roaring Twenties, the Kenyon family owned its own island at the mouth of the Guadalupe River near Corpus Christi, Texas, where Mimi’s grandfather dug his own lake and stocked it with bass. Most of the year, the family lived in a grand old mansion on Caroline Boulevard in Houston. In the driveway were two Pierce-Arrows, a fleet that increased by one additional Pierce-Arrow each time one of Grandfather Kenyon’s five children came of age.

			Mimi grew up with plenty of stories about the Kenyons. In her later years, she would recite those stories to her friends and neighbors and everyone she met, like secrets too delicious to keep to herself. The family’s first home in Texas was sold to Howard Hughes’s parents….Howard Hughes himself was a classmate of Mimi’s mother at the Richardson School, the academic institution of choice for Houston’s upper crust….Obsessed with mining, Grandfather Kenyon once traveled to the mountains of Mexico in search of gold and was briefly held captive by Pancho Villa, until his command of the local geography impressed the Mexican revolutionary so much that the two men struck up a friendship. Out of insecurity or, maybe, just a restless intellect, Mimi would come back to these stories as a way of affirming her status, her pedigree. It felt good to remind herself that there was something special about where she came from.

			 			It made sense, by Kenyon standards, that when Mimi’s mother, Billy, found someone good enough to marry, the groom was not just a twenty-six-year-old cotton merchant; he was the son of a scholar who had traveled the world as a trusted advisor to the banker and philanthropist Otto Kahn. The families of Billy Kenyon and John Blayney were perfectly matched, and the young couple seemed destined for a life of high-minded adventure. They set up a home of their own and had two children: first Mimi, in 1924, and then her sister, Betty, two and a half years later. The family’s first real crisis came in early 1929, when Mimi’s father, who had failed to measure up to the reputation of his family in practically every important way, exposed Mimi’s mother to gonorrhea.

			Grandfather Kenyon went after his son-in-law with a rifle, securing a quick divorce for his daughter. Billy and the girls moved back to the family home in Houston. Billy was helpless, on the verge of despair. A divorced, scandalized mother of two little girls—Mimi was five, Betty three—was not going to build any sort of life in the circles that the Kenyon family traveled in. There didn’t seem to be a solution to the problem—until, a few months later, Mimi’s mother fell for an artist from New York.

			Ben Skolnick was a painter who had been just passing through town, on his way to create a mural in California. Ben had good taste, and was raised in a family of creative people, but he stuck out a little in Houston, not just because of what he did for a living but because he was Jewish. Billy’s parents made sure to meet with Ben out of town, where no one would see them. But when Ben proposed, Billy’s mother encouraged her to accept. No matter what her family might have thought about Ben Skolnick personally or Jews generally, they understood that this was Billy’s best hope.

			In the summer of 1929, Grandfather Kenyon drove Mimi, her mother, and her little sister to a boat in Galveston, Texas, which took them east along the Gulf to New Orleans, where they boarded a cruise ship on the Cunard line to New York. On board, the future Mrs. Skolnick and her daughters received invitations to sit at the captain’s table, where they were required to have perfect manners, finger bowls included. Mimi got seasick easily, and even when she was well, she failed to enjoy the trip. Not for the last time, Mimi wondered if anything about her life would ever be the same.

* * *


			 			THE NEWLY CONSTITUTED family struggled right away. Ben couldn’t find any murals to paint after the stock market crash. Billy, with her refined breeding and eye for fine fabrics, found a job at Macy’s. In time, she started a dress business in Manhattan’s Garment District that brought the family a little more stability. While she worked, Ben and his family tended to the girls in their tiny house in Bellerose, Queens—the city’s edge, practically on the border with Long Island.

			New York slowly grew on Mimi. Sack lunches in hand, she and her sister could take the bus and subway for a nickel from far-off Queens to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in Manhattan, then make their way through Central Park, past Cleopatra’s Needle to the Museum of Natural History, and find their way back home before dark. All the New Deal WPA projects allowed Mimi to see theater in ballparks and high school auditoriums. School took her on her first trips to the aquarium and planetarium. Her first ballet, by Léonid Massine, was staged inside the Met. Mimi would never forget the sight of twelve little girls who came all the way from Russia to dance—all, it seemed at the time, just for her. If the first world Mimi had known was the world of the Victrola and the grand piano and the country club and Junior League of Houston, she took more fiercely to this new world. “I loved growing up in New York,” she would say. “That’s the best education in the world, it really is.”

			And in the years to come, whenever things seemed awry in her life, Mimi’s stories about her charmed New York childhood and gilded Houston family would, all together, paper over the gloom. Grandfather Kenyon hit some hard times in the Depression and had to let the family’s loyal servants go, but beneficently permitted them to stay on his property, rent-free….Mimi and her mother once traveled to Texas on the same train as Charlie Chaplin, and she played with the Little Tramp’s children (who were rascals in their own right)….In the 1930s, Mimi’s mother, Billy, accompanied Grandfather Kenyon back to Mexico, where she went drinking with Frida Kahlo and shook the hand of her exiled Russian friend, Leon Trotsky….

			 			As far as Mimi was concerned, these stories were better than the one about how much Ben Skolnick liked to drink. Or how she never saw her real father, John Blayney, again, and how much that hurt. Or how deeply, achingly she had longed for a life that would be as safe and secure as it would be extraordinary.

* * *


			MIMI MET THE man who would offer her that life in 1937, when they were both still practically children. Don Galvin was fourteen and tall and pale, with hair as dark as hers. She was a year younger, studious but also quick to laugh. They were at a swim competition, and she’d blown a start, diving in before the whistle blew, and he was sent in to bring her back. After the meet, Don asked her out. That was the first time such a thing had happened to Mimi. She said yes.

			Don was a serious-minded boy, college-bound, a reader. All that appealed to Mimi. But he also was handsome in the most wholesome, all-American way: lantern-jawed with slicked-back hair, a matinee idol in the making. Don wasn’t an extrovert, and yet when he opened his mouth, people seemed to listen. It was not so much what he said as how he sounded: Don had the voice of a crooner, practically singing everything he spoke, smooth and seductive. With that voice, one of his sons, John, later said, “he could hold you in the palm of his hand.”

			Mimi’s mother was suspicious. There may have been some snobbery at play there. The Galvins were devout Catholics—a tribe as foreign to the Episcopal Kenyon family as a Jewish family would have been before Billy had met Ben. Don’s father was an efficiency expert for a paper company, and his mother was a schoolteacher. Neither of these facts did much to impress Mimi’s mother.

			 			But there was snobbery on both sides. Don’s mother noted how Mimi did all the talking in the relationship. Did that mean she would ride roughshod over her youngest son? And then came the refrain from both sides that dogged them for years: You’re both so young.

			Nothing seemed to convince them that they weren’t meant for each other. It was true that their interests weren’t completely in line: He loved the Dodgers; she loved the ballet. But when they were fifteen and sixteen, Mimi persuaded Don to take her to Petrushka featuring Alexandra Danilova, the ballerina who had left the Soviet Union with George Balanchine. When Don came home raving about the performance, his brothers teased him for days. In the summer, Billy took Mimi on a trip, ostensibly to see Grandfather Kenyon. The not-so-secret agenda was to get Mimi away from Don for a while. It didn’t work: Mimi wrote Don letters all the way there and back. Once she came home, Don took her to see The Wizard of Oz, and the couple sang and skipped together all the way home. That fall, they went to dances together, and school basketball games and rallies and Friday night bonfires. That spring, they drove out together to warm-weather clambakes on Cedar Beach on Long Island’s South Shore.

			Slowly, everyone came around. As Don neared graduation, his parents invited Mimi and her family to dinner. The Galvins lived in a nicer house than Mimi’s family’s place, a Dutch Colonial with a vast living room covered by a deep, dark red Oriental rug. Billy took notice of this. From that point forward, Don became a welcome guest at Mimi’s house on Friday nights to play Scrabble. On return visits to Don’s house, Mimi would clown around with Don and his two brothers, George and Clarke, both of whom were as handsome as he was. Even Don’s mother thawed a little when Mimi and Don visited the Cloisters, and Mimi wrote a school paper for Don on the tapestries there. Mimi was helping her son to better himself. That was all right with her.

			Not everything about their romance was effortless. Every weekend, Don hosted dances as the grand master of the Sigma Kappa Delta fraternity. Mimi went broke making new dresses each week, determined not to let anyone else go with him. There was a price to pay, perhaps, for going steady with the boy the Jamaica High School paper once called “Senior Head School Romeo.” Nothing but an absolute refusal to discuss his affairs of the heart could be obtained from the very secretive and the shy Mr. Don Galvin.

			 			Something about him—not just his looks, but a relaxed, easygoing self-assurance—made him both irresistible and, in some strange way, unattainable. That air of mystery would work to Don’s advantage for much of his life. From the very start, it was as if Mimi belonged to him, while he belonged to everyone.

* * *


			MIMI LOVED DON for his ambition, even if in her heart of hearts she would have preferred that he stay close to home. After high school, he told Mimi he wanted to join the State Department and travel the world. In the fall of 1941, just a few months before Pearl Harbor, he enrolled at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Washington, D.C. A year later, Mimi enrolled in Hood College in Frederick, Maryland, to be closer to him. But it was only a matter of time before the war would catch up with them both.

			In 1942, in the middle of his sophomore year at Georgetown, Don enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve. The following year the Marines sent him to Villanova, Pennsylvania, for eight months of mechanical engineering training. Before completing the course, the trainees were offered a shortcut to the front lines: If they wanted to, they could transfer to the Navy right away, with a guaranteed admission to Officer Candidate School. Don took the deal. On March 15, 1944, he was off to Asbury Park, New Jersey, for Navy midshipman’s basic training, and then to Coronado, California, where he awaited an assignment. In November, Don received his posting: He would serve as a landing craft operator on the USS Granville, a brand-new attack transport ship bound for the South Pacific. Don was going to war.

			Not long before Christmas, just a few weeks before shipping out, Don called Mimi long-distance from Coronado. Would she visit? Mimi asked her mother for permission, and Billy said yes. As soon as Mimi arrived, she and Don drove to Tijuana and got married. After the briefest of honeymoons on the road, they returned to Coronado for a tearful farewell. It was during Mimi’s long trip home, on a stop in Texas to see her Kenyon relatives, that she experienced morning sickness for the first time.

			 			Their rapid-fire wedding suddenly made sense: During Don’s last swing through New York, several weeks before she’d traveled west to be with him, Mimi and Don had conceived a child.

			Don’s parents, devout Catholics, were not satisfied with a Tijuana wedding. Before shipping out, their son secured a few days’ leave and traveled across the country one more time. On December 30, 1944, Don and Mimi took their vows again, this time in the rectory of the Church of St. Gregory the Great in Bellerose, Queens. The next day, Don filled out a Navy form to change his next-of-kin from his parents to Mrs. Donald Galvin.

* * *


			THE BRIDE SPENT months vomiting. Long, unresolvable bouts of morning sickness would be a hallmark of nearly all of Mimi’s twelve pregnancies. Her young husband’s ship approached Japan in May 1945, just in time for the climax of the American offensive in the Pacific. Don’s role was to transport soldiers on small crafts from ship to shore. Listening to the radio for reports on the Granville, Mimi nearly fell apart when Tokyo Rose announced that Don’s ship had been destroyed. That turned out to be wrong, but just barely.

			Anchored near Okinawa, Don witnessed boats on either side of him being blown up by kamikazes. He spent hours dragging his dead comrades out of the water. Don would never discuss anything about what he saw or did, not with Mimi. But he survived. And on July 21, 1945, two weeks before the United States dropped the bombs that would bring an end to the war, Don received a telegram aboard the Granville from Western Union: IT’S A BOY.



			Dresden, Germany

			It makes a certain amount of sense that the most analyzed, interpreted, pored-over, and picked-apart personal account of the experience of being psychotically paranoid and wildly delusional would be almost impossible to read.

			Daniel Paul Schreber grew up in Germany in the middle of the nineteenth century, the son of a renowned child-rearing expert of the period who made a practice of turning his children into test subjects. As a boy, he and his brother are believed to have been some of the first people to experience Moritz Schreber’s cold-water treatments, diets, exercise regimens, and a device called the Schreber Geradehalter, made of wood and straps, that was designed to persuade a child to sit up straight. Schreber survived that childhood and grew up to be very accomplished, first a lawyer and then a judge. He married and had a family, and with the exception of a brief depression in his forties, everything seemed just fine. Then, at the age of fifty-one, came his collapse. Diagnosed in 1894 with a “paranoid form” of “hallucinatory insanity,” Schreber spent the next nine years near Dresden in Sonnenstein Asylum, Germany’s first publicly funded hospital for the insane.

			 			Those years in the asylum formed the setting—at least physically—of Memoirs of My Nervous Illness, the first major work about the mysterious condition then known as dementia praecox, and a few years later renamed schizophrenia. Published in 1903, this book became a reference point for practically every discussion about the illness for the next century. By the time the six boys of the Galvin family became ill, everything about how they would be viewed and treated by modern psychiatry was colored by the arguments about this case. In truth, Schreber himself hadn’t expected his life story to attract much attention. He wrote the memoir mainly as a plea for his release, which explains why, at many points, he seems to be writing for an audience of one: Dr. Paul Emil Flechsig, the doctor who’d had him committed. The book starts with an open letter to Flechsig, in which Schreber apologizes for writing anything that the doctor might find too upsetting. There is just one small matter Schreber hopes to clear up: Is Flechsig the one who has been transmitting secret messages into his brain for the last nine years?

			A cosmic mind-meld with his doctor—“even when separated in space, you exerted an influence on my nervous system,” Schreber wrote—was the first of dozens of strange and miraculous experiences related by Schreber over more than two hundred pages. It also might have been the most coherent. In a manner decipherable, perhaps, to Schreber alone, he wrote passionately about the two suns that he saw in the sky and the time he noticed that one sun was following him around wherever he went. He devoted many pages to an impenetrable explanation of the subtle “nerve-language” that most humans didn’t notice. The souls of hundreds of people, he wrote, used this nerve language to pass along crucial information to Schreber: reports of Venus being “flooded,” the solar system becoming “disconnected,” the constellation Cassiopeia about to be “drawn together into a single sun.”

			In this respect, Schreber had a lot in common with the oldest of the Galvin children, Donald, who, years later, would recite his Holy Order of Priests in front of seven-year-old Mary in their family’s house on Hidden Valley Road. Like Donald, Schreber believed that what was happening to him wasn’t just physical but spiritual. Neither he nor Donald nor any of the Galvins were observing their delusions at a remove, with a detached sense of curiosity. They were right there in it, thrilled and amazed and terrified and despairing, sometimes all at once.

			 			Unable to free himself from his circumstances, Schreber did his best to bring everyone in there with him—to share the experience. Being in his universe could feel ecstatic one moment, then shockingly vulnerable the next. In his memoir, Schreber accused his doctor, Flechsig, of using the nerve language to commit something he called “soul murder” against him. (Souls, Schreber explained, were fragile things, “a fairly bulky ball or bundle” comparable to “wadding or cobweb.”) Then came the rape. “Owing to my illness,” Schreber wrote, “I entered into peculiar relations with God”—relations that, at first, seemed an awful lot like immaculate conception. “I had a female genital organ, although a poorly developed one, and in my body felt quickening like the first signs of life of a human embryo…in other words fertilization had occurred.” Schreber’s gender had transformed, he said, and he had become pregnant. While he might have felt touched by grace, Schreber instead felt violated. God was Dr. Flechsig’s willing accomplice, “if not the instigator,” of a plot to use his body “like that of a whore.” Schreber’s universe was, much of the time, an intense and frightening place, filled with horrors.

			He had one grand ambition. “My aim,” Schreber reflected, “is solely to further knowledge of truth in a vital field, that of religion.” It didn’t turn out that way. Instead, what Schreber wrote contributed far more to the emerging, provocative, and increasingly contentious discipline of psychiatry.

* * *


			IN THE BEGINNING—BEFORE anyone turned the study of mental illness into a science and called it psychiatry—being insane was a sickness of the soul, a perversion worthy of prison or banishment or exorcism. Judaism and Christianity interpreted the soul as something distinct from the body—an essence of one’s self that could be spoken to by the Lord, or possessed by the devil. In the Bible, the first portrait of madness was King Saul, who lost his mind when the spirit of the Lord departed him and was replaced by an evil spirit. In medieval France, Joan of Arc heard voices that were considered heretical, the work of Satan—an impression that was revised the other way, to be the voice of a prophet, after Joan’s death. Even then, insanity’s definition was a moving target.

			 			For those looking even a little carefully, it was plain to see that madness sometimes ran in families. The most conspicuous examples involved royalty. In the fifteenth century, King Henry VI of England first became paranoid, then mute and withdrawn, and finally delusional. His illness formed the pretext for the power struggle that became the Wars of the Roses. He came by it honestly: His maternal grandfather, Charles VI of France, had the same condition, as did Charles’s mother, Joanna of Bourbon, and Charles’s uncle, grandfather, and great-grandfather. But it took until Schreber’s lifetime for scientists and doctors to start talking about insanity as something biological. In 1896, the German psychiatrist Emil Kraepelin used the term dementia praecox to suggest that the condition started at an early age, unlike senility (praecox also being the Latin root of precocious). Kraepelin believed that dementia praecox was caused by a “toxin” or “connected with lesions of an as yet unknown nature” in the brain. Twelve years later, the Swiss psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler created the term schizophrenia to describe most of the same symptoms that Kraepelin had lumped into dementia praecox. He, too, suspected a physical component to the disease.

			Bleuler chose this new word because its Latin root—schizo—implied a harsh, drastic splitting of mental functions. This turned out to be a tragically poor choice. Almost ever since, a vast swath of popular culture—from Psycho to Sybil to The Three Faces of Eve—has confused schizophrenia with the idea of split personality. That couldn’t be further off the mark. Bleuler was trying to describe a split between a patient’s exterior and interior lives—a divide between perception and reality. Schizophrenia is not about multiple personalities. It is about walling oneself off from consciousness, first slowly and then all at once, until you are no longer accessing anything that others accept as real.

			Regardless of what psychiatrists began to believe about the biology of the disease, its precise nature remained hard for any of them to fathom. While it seemed enough, at first, to say that schizophrenia could be inherited, that failed to account for cases—including, it seemed, Schreber’s—where it seemed to appear all by itself. This essential question about schizophrenia—does it run in families or emerge fully formed out of nowhere?—would consume theorists and therapists and biologists and, later, geneticists, for generations. How can we know what it is until we know where it comes from?

* * *


			 			WHEN SIGMUND FREUD finally cracked open Schreber’s memoir in 1911, eight years after it was published, what he read took his breath away. The Viennese analyst and theorist, already widely revered as a pioneering explorer of the internal workings of the mind, showed no interest in delusional psychotics like Schreber. He had seen such patients as a practicing neurologist, but he had never thought it was worth the trouble to put any of them on the analyst’s couch. Having schizophrenia, he argued, meant that you were incurable—too narcissistic to engage in a meaningful interaction with an analyst, or “transference.”

			But this book by Schreber—sent to him by his protégé, the Swiss therapist Carl Jung, who had pleaded with Freud to read it for years—changed everything for Freud. Now, without leaving his armchair, Freud had intimate access to every single impulse of a delusional man’s mind. What Freud saw there confirmed everything he already thought he knew about the workings of the unconscious. In a letter thanking Jung, Freud called the memoir “a kind of revelation.” In another, he declared that Schreber himself “ought to have been made a professor of psychiatry and director of a mental hospital.”

			Freud’s Psycho-Analytic Notes on an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia (Dementia Paranoides) was published in 1911 (the same year that Schreber himself died, tragically enough, after reentering the asylum in the wake of his mother’s death). Thanks to Schreber’s book, Freud now was convinced that psychotic delusions were little more than waking dreams—brought on by the same causes as everyday neuroses, and interpretable in the very same way. All the same symbols and metaphors that Freud had famously noticed in dreams, he wrote, were all right there in the memoir, plain as day. Schreber’s gender switch and his immaculate conception, Freud argued, were about a fear of castration. Schreber’s fixation with his psychiatrist, Dr. Flechsig, he concluded, had to do with the Oedipus complex. “Don’t forget that Schreber’s father was a doctor,” Freud wrote, triumphantly connecting the dots. “The absurd miracles that are performed on him (Schreber) are a bitter satire on his father’s medical art.”

			No one seemed more tied up in knots over what Freud wrote than Carl Jung. From his home in Burghölzli, Switzerland, Jung read an early copy and wrote his mentor at once, in March 1911, to say he found it “uproariously funny” and “brilliantly written.” There was just one problem: Jung fundamentally disagreed with him. At the heart of Jung’s objection was the question of the nature of delusional mental illness: Is schizophrenia something you’re born with, a physical affliction of the brain? Or is it acquired in life, after one has become scarred somehow by the world? Is it nature or nurture? Freud stood apart from most other psychiatrists of his time by being sure that the disease was entirely “psychogenic,” or the invention of the unconscious, which had most likely been molded or scarred by formative childhood experiences—quite often of a sexual nature. Jung, meanwhile, held a more conventional opinion: that schizophrenia was at least partially an organic, biological illness—a disease that was quite likely inherited from one’s family.

			 			The protégé and his mentor had been sparring about this on and off for years. But for Jung, this was the last straw. He told Freud that not everything was about sex—that sometimes people go insane for other reasons, maybe because it is just something they’re born with. “In my view the concept of libido…needs to be supplemented by the genetic factor,” Jung wrote.

			In several letters, Jung made that same case again and again. Freud never took the bait; he did not respond, which Jung found infuriating. By 1912, Jung exploded. He got personal. “Your technique of treating your pupils like patients is a blunder,” Jung wrote. “In that way you produce either slavish sons or impudent puppies….Meanwhile you remain on top as the father, sitting pretty.”

			Later that same year, before an audience at Fordham University in New York City, Jung spoke out against Freud in public, specifically blasting his interpretation of the Schreber case. Schizophrenia, he declared, “cannot be explained solely by the loss of erotic interest.” Jung knew that Freud would consider this to be heresy. “He went terribly wrong,” Jung later reflected, “because he simply doesn’t know the spirit of schizophrenia.”

			The great break between Freud and Jung took place largely over the issue of the nature of madness itself. Early psychoanalysis’s greatest partnership was over. But the argument over the origins and nature of schizophrenia was only just beginning.

* * *


			A CENTURY LATER, across the world, schizophrenia affects an estimated one in one hundred people—or more than three million people in America, and 82 million people worldwide. By one measure, those diagnosed take up a third of all the psychiatric hospital beds in the United States. By another, about 40 percent of adults with the condition go untreated entirely in any given year. One out of every twenty cases of schizophrenia ends in suicide.

			 			Academia is filled with hundreds of papers about Schreber now, each venturing far from Freud and Jung with their own takes on the patient and the illness that tormented him. Jacques Lacan, the French psychoanalyst and godfather of post-structuralism, said that Schreber’s problems sprang from his frustration with somehow not being able to be the phallus that his own mother lacked. By the 1970s, Michel Foucault, the French social theorist and countercultural icon, held up Schreber as a sort of martyr, a victim of social forces working to crush the individual spirit. Even today, Schreber’s memoir continues to be the perfect blank canvas, and Schreber himself is the ideal psychiatric patient: one who cannot talk back. Meanwhile, the central argument about schizophrenia raised by the Schreber case—nature or nurture?—has been baked into our perception of the disease.

			This is the argument the Galvins were born into. By the time the Galvin boys came of age, the field was splitting open and dividing and subdividing almost like a cell. Some said the problem was biochemical, others neurological, others genetic, still others environmental or viral or bacterial. “Schizophrenia is a disease of theories,” the Toronto-based psychiatric historian Edward Shorter has said—and the twentieth century produced easily hundreds of them. All the while, the truth about what schizophrenia was—what caused it, and what might alleviate it—has remained locked away, inside the people with the condition.

			Researchers seeking a biological key to schizophrenia have never stopped searching for a subject or an experiment that might settle the nature-nurture question once and for all. But what if there was a whole family of Schrebers—a perfectly self-contained group with a shared genetic legacy? A sample set, with enough incidence of the disease that it seemed clear that something specific and identifiable must be happening inside some or even all of them?

			A family like the dozen children of Don and Mimi Galvin?
















			In the early years of their marriage, Mimi liked to joke that her husband would come home just long enough to get her pregnant.

			Their first boy, Donald Kenyon Galvin, was baptized in September 1945, within a few days of Japan’s surrender. His mother had endured his arrival in the world without incident; Donald’s birth would be the only time Mimi would accept anesthesia for the birth of any of her twelve children. The baby and his mother lived together in a little apartment in Forest Hills, Queens, a peaceful section of New York City near the famous tennis club. Between strolls with the baby, Mimi taught herself to cook. For six months, she was alone with little Donald, listening to news reports from the South Pacific, wondering when her son’s father would make it home.

			Don returned just after Christmas, moved in with his family, and spent a few months on temporary duty as a security officer at a shipbuilding facility in Kearny, New Jersey. Then he was gone again, off to Washington for three months to finish his bachelor’s degree at Georgetown. And then, in the summer of 1947, to the Navy’s General Line School in Newport, Rhode Island—just weeks after Mimi gave birth to their second son, Jim. Don took Mimi and the kids with him that time, and again, a year later, to Norfolk, Virginia, where he served first on the USS Adams, and then on the USS Juneau, shuttling between New York and Panama, Trinidad, Puerto Rico, and the rest of the Caribbean—all while Mimi stayed home alone with the boys for weeks at a time.

			 			Mimi had been nursing an entirely different dream of their life after the war. She had envisioned her husband going to law school, like her two uncles and her paternal grandfather, Thomas Lindsey Blayney, whom she adored despite her father’s exile from the family. Mimi wanted to be in New York, where their families were, where their children would grow up with their cousins and aunts and uncles—a childhood like the one that had been ripped away from her when she was forced to move from Texas as a child.

			Don had entertained that idea, or he seemed to. But he had dreams, too. He explained in his usual charming way that the Navy was a means to an end for him—that he thought he could get the Navy to sponsor his studies in the law or, better yet, his real passion, political science. This turned out to be a frustrating miscalculation. Despite glowing reviews and hearty recommendations from his commanding officers, he was turned down each time he applied for graduate-level course work. It always seemed that someone with connections, a congressman’s son or a senator’s nephew, got the appointment instead.

			Alone in Norfolk, Mimi had to pinch pennies while Don was at sea. The small checks from the Navy, about thirty-five dollars a week, would get lost in the mail, and she would have to rely on her neighbors for groceries and meals. It was a different story when Don was in port. With his Georgetown education, his command of languages, and his interest in international relations, the handsome young lieutenant was making a good impression. Aboard the Juneau, Don wasn’t just the ship secretary; he was the resident chess master, taking on all comers. Between missions, Don was the captain’s regular tennis partner, and he and Mimi socialized with the brass at the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, where Don became known for fixing Iron Curtains, a potent lowball made with vodka and Jägermeister. Don’s smooth, professorial air impressed a number of admirals and generals—as well as at least one of their wives, who happened to come along as a passenger on one of the Juneau’s trips to Panama.

			 			There aren’t many places to find privacy on a warship, but there are enough. Back on the mainland, however, secrets are not so easy to keep. The officer’s wife might not have known that one of her friends was acquainted with the wife of Don Galvin. When Mimi heard about that voyage of the Juneau, any last bit of allure of being the bride of a distinguished Navy lieutenant quickly faded. No one may have been more in thrall to Don than Mimi. But now, with two little boys to care for, she was all too aware that she needed him more than he needed her.

* * *


			DON APPLIED TO a law program in exchange for committing to stay in the Navy another six years. He was turned down. He requested transfers to Panama, Cuba, or the Atlantic Division—all places where the Navy offered law classes. He was turned down again.

			There was another violently ill pregnancy, followed by another son: their third, John, born in Norfolk at the end of 1949. Don was away for this one, in the middle of a deployment in Glenview, Illinois, for four months of officer’s training. Mimi and the boys stayed in Norfolk as Don worked to be transferred somewhere, anywhere, else. Then Don received word that the Juneau was moving its home shipyard to Puget Sound—across the country on the West Coast, one step closer to Korea, where war was brewing.

			Mimi couldn’t contain herself any longer. It was time for Don to leave the Navy. On January 23, 1950, Don gave notice in a letter that laid the blame squarely on his home situation. “Deprivation of a wholesome family life is reason enough for my resignation,” Don wrote. “To remain in the Navy would deprive my wife and my three sons of a normal family life and a home.” Don also appeared to be stinging from his rejections—all the moments when the Navy had failed to recognize his potential. He’d had enough of being passed over for law school. “Motivation,” he wrote, “can only come when we want to do something, or someone instills in us a desire to do it. I have experienced no motivation in the Navy.”

			Mimi was relieved. Finally, her long exile in strange, faraway towns would come to an end. They planned to move back to New York, where Don would enroll at Fordham Law School in the Bronx, and they would get started on the life she’d wanted all along. They shopped for a house in Levittown, Long Island’s new enclave of affordable mass-produced houses within driving distance of the city, and they set their sights on a place large enough for little Donald and Jim and John, plus whoever else might come along.

			 			What Mimi did not know was that Don also had been talking with his brother Clarke, who had recently become an officer in the United States Air Force. Unlike the Navy, everything about the Air Force was still fresh and unformed. The pilots didn’t even have the blue uniforms yet, just the khaki “pinks and greens” left over from its wartime incarnation as the Army Air Corps. And they seemed to need people badly—so much so that Don learned that if he joined, they’d make him an officer instantly.

			On November 27, 1950, ten months after he’d left the Navy, Don joined the Air Force as a first lieutenant. Mimi could not believe how blithely Don seemed to be reneging on every understanding she thought they had about how they wanted to live their lives. America was sending troops to Korea, and he wanted back in? Why was he always one half step out of sync with her—so remote, so absent?

			Don was as persuasive with Mimi as ever. Clarke had taken him out one day to see Mitchel Field, the air base on Long Island that was serving as the military branch’s national headquarters. Did it really matter to Mimi, he asked, whether he was commuting to the Bronx to study law or Long Island to train? Either way, they could still live in Levittown. Besides, Don still had dreams. America was leading the world now, building the future. The air fleet that had just defeated fascism would be flying in and out of his and Mimi’s backyard. Did he want to push paper in some skyscraper and catch the 5:07 home every night? Or did he want to be a part of that—an expert in international affairs someday, with the ear of presidents?

			Mimi and Don put together enough money for a deposit on a house. They had almost closed on the place when the Air Force announced, quite suddenly, that its new headquarters would be in the middle of the state of Colorado. This time, Don was as shocked as Mimi was. The relocation had been planned behind the scenes in Washington. No one they knew had known anything about it.

			After a brief panic, they got their deposit back. Don reported to Ent Air Force Base in Colorado Springs on January 24, 1951. Mimi and the children joined him by Valentine’s Day.

* * *


			 			THERE WAS ROCK everywhere Mimi turned—miles of it, all different shades of red, tremendous open prairies pressed flat by glaciers and punctuated by violent outcroppings that towered over the flatlands like a stage set. There were the spas of Manitou Springs, spouting mineral water said to possess amazing healing powers. And the mountains where the previous century’s gold rush had first put this part of Colorado on the map. Beauty surrounded Mimi, even if she was in no mood to see it.

			The town was not looking its best when they got there. Mimi and the boys had arrived in the middle of a drought. Water was being rationed. Even Mimi’s mother’s house in New York City had green grass and flowers; now everywhere Mimi looked, she saw brown. There was no ballet and no art or culture here—nothing close to the life that Mimi had dreamed of as a girl. The house Don found for them was located on what passed for a bustling boulevard in Colorado Springs, a silent street called Cache La Poudre. This was about as different from Levittown as a person could imagine: an old converted feed barn with a stairway with floorboards that were hopelessly bowed and crooked.

			Mimi cried for several nights and seethed for longer than that. The house was a dump, she said, the town a backwater. Where exactly had he dragged her now?

			But Don was her husband. And she was a mother of three, with plans for more—Don was a Catholic, after all—and plenty to do no matter where she was. Mimi decided to try to make the most of it. The birds helped—the Oregon juncos and the gray-crowned rosy finches and the mountain chickadees. There was a big cottonwood tree in the yard, and when she stared a little closer at the brown dirt, she saw wildflowers. She decided that she would plant a garden there.

			Mimi’s new neighbors on Cache La Poudre came to know her as a conspicuous reader of very thick books, a woman who could recite the names of every king and queen not just from Great Britain but from every country in Europe, from the Dark Ages until the present day. They soon learned all about Grandfather Kenyon and Pancho Villa and Howard Hughes and her years in New York. And on her husband’s modest income, Mimi searched for other ways to seem special. From her mother, Mimi knew everything there was to know about the best fabrics, so she would scope out a bit of cashmere that had found its way into the Goodwill and then crow about her catch. She found a local choir to sing in and volunteered as an organizer with an amateur opera group. They wouldn’t stage anything by her favorite, Mozart, at first—even that was too challenging for them, she’d scoff privately—but Mimi helped with the casting of performers for Il Trovatore and Madama Butterfly, all the old standards.

			 			In time, she came to love the beauty around her. The plants and geology, all so foreign to Mimi, now made it seem as if everything she had once gazed at through glass in the Museum of Natural History on Central Park West was coming alive before her eyes. And together with Don, she discovered falconry. The cultivation of such feral birds managed to blend the intense intellectual might on which they’d built their relationship with something wild and undiscovered, like their new home.

			Training a falcon, they both learned, was more than just trapping; it was also about the relentless imposing of one’s will—maintaining control until the bird develops a sort of Stockholm syndrome, agreeing to stick around and even preferring captivity to being out in the world. After two weeks carrying the blinded bird on a gloved fist, or gauntlet, they would tie a creance—a one-hundred-foot string the same weight as fishing line—to the bird to maintain control during training. With some meat in a leather pouch to lure him home, they encouraged the bird to fly farther and farther away—until finally, they swung the lure out of reach to teach the bird to make diving passes. Diving, as they were deeply thrilled to witness, at upward of two hundred miles per hour.

			As tricky as it was, the method for domesticating a wild hawk or falcon was well articulated—and if followed correctly, she and Don learned, you ended up with a well-behaved, obedient, civilized bird. Mimi also applied this persistent, unyielding approach at home, where sometimes there were more allowances made for the birds than for the children. The garage shelves were filled with leather hoods for the birds, and eventually the garage itself became a mews. (When one neighbor called the board of health on them, Don, who kept a clean mews, fended them off easily.) Mimi had taken a cheap watercolor set and started painting renderings of falcons. And together they introduced their new obsession to their boys. When Donald, their oldest, was grade-school age, he took part in the trapping of his first bird, a female sparrow hawk. They found her in a hole in a tree while bird-watching in Austin Bluffs, a 6,600-foot summit that once was the home of a tuberculosis sanitarium and would one day be the site of a University of Colorado campus. Mimi named the hawk Killy-Killy, after the killeee cry she made. Donald trained her himself. Once she caught a grasshopper and flew up to the top of a door, and started nibbling at the grasshopper like an ice cream cone. Donald stood below the door, patiently calling out, “Come Killy-Killy! Come Killy-Killy!” Back in the house, he’d let Killy-Killy fly loose, and they learned to step out of the way whenever she tilted her tail a certain way to poop.

			 			The oldest two boys, Donald and Jim, started school. While the third boy, John, was still a toddler, the fourth and fifth, Brian and Michael, were born in 1951 and 1953. As infants, all the boys were breast-fed, a less-than-popular choice among most of the mothers Mimi knew. From the start, she felt good showing everyone that she could do everything on her own—no nannies, no baby-sitters. Who needed anyone else, Mimi thought, when she obviously was the best person to teach the boys, as they grew older, about opera and art and the observation of exotic birds, the examination of strange insects, and the identification of wild mushrooms? How many other children in Colorado Springs knew that the red polka-dotted ones were Amanita muscaria?

			One after another, each boy got the mumps, the measles, and the chicken pox. With each new baby, the competition for Mimi’s attention increased, as did the demands on her time. Even with five boys, neither Don nor Mimi made any mention of stopping. The refrain from both sides of the family was ceaseless: Why so many children? After all, Mimi’s attraction to the finer things in life—culture, art, social status—hardly seemed compatible with having so many mouths to feed. But if Mimi couldn’t have the former, she was more than happy to try her hand at the latter. There was a different sort of distinction in having so many children, and being known as a mother who could easily accomplish such a thing.

			At the same time, no amount of social ambition could explain everything about Mimi’s desire for a large family. There was quite likely another, deeper explanation as well—that the children filled a need in Mimi that perhaps even she had not anticipated. From an early age, Mimi had a way of glossing over the more painful disappointments in her life: the loss of her father; the forced exile from Houston; the husband who remained so distant from her. Even if she didn’t admit it, these losses hurt, and took their toll. Having so many children, however, offered Mimi a brand-new narrative—or at least distracted her, changed the subject, shored up the losses, helped her dwell less on what was missing. For a woman who so often felt abandoned, here was a way to create all the company she would ever need.

			 			Don’s mother, Mary Galvin, holding forth from her home in Queens, would say, somewhat cruelly, that the pregnancies were all Mimi’s doing—that Mimi ran Don’s life now, and that Mimi wanted the upper hand in all things, and that she was determined to out-Catholic the real Catholics in the family, and Mimi’s perpetual state of pregnancy was the clearest and most powerful way to win that competition.

			For Mimi, the response to that was simple, stopping all conversation. The children, she said, made Don happy.

* * *


			HE WAS ALWAYS more of a scholar than a soldier. Mimi found that part of Don both lovable and frustrating. At the same time that he insisted on having a house filled with children, he also treasured a life of the mind, of solitude and order. And yet no matter how tranquil and orderly she made their home, he always found a reason to stay away.

			As an intelligence officer at Ent Air Force Base, Don embraced the circumspect nature of Cold War military work. “Don’t give anyone any more information than you have to,” he used to say, and his coy way of saying it made the air of secrecy seem almost conspiratorial, something they all shared. They didn’t share it, though: The most Don would confide in Mimi was that the generals he was briefing didn’t seem terribly bright. Despite how well he seemed to be doing there, his ambition as an Air Force man had limits. Even when President Dwight Eisenhower set up his summer White House in Denver in 1953, and Don found himself drafting the intelligence briefings that Eisenhower himself was reading, military work interested Don only insofar as it made him even more determined to get a PhD in political science one day.

			Where falconry once was something Don and Mimi did together, that started to change. He spent more time away from home, luring birds with other local falconers, while Mimi’s work caring for the children was never-ending. This new disconnection maybe wasn’t so new—more likely, it revealed something about them that had been the case from the very beginning. From the first day they’d met, Don had always seemed to be living his life a few inches off the ground, while Mimi had waited patiently, her feet planted firmly on earth. Don identified with his birds—soaring where he pleased, returning only when it suited him. And Mimi, quite against her will, found herself cast in the role of falconer—domesticating Don, luring him home, laboring under the impression that she had completely tamed him.

			 			Mimi found her own ways of occupying herself, some designed to bring her closer to a husband who was growing further and further away from her. Fulfilling a promise she had made to Don’s family, she went through several years of instruction to convert to Catholicism. Being the same religion as her husband made their family a real family, and so she did this happily—another mountain to climb, another subject to master. She formed a lasting friendship with her tutor, Father Robert Freudenstein, a local priest who introduced her to concepts like transfiguration and the virgin birth, all over cocktails. This was Mimi’s kind of priest: Freudy, as he was called, came from some money and wasn’t afraid to show it off, driving his convertible so fast that the birds outside their house would scatter when he pulled up. Freudy performed sleight of hand tricks for the boys and told them stories. With Mimi and Don, he talked about books and art and music, helping them feel less alien in their new home. When the Royal Ballet came to Denver, he took Mimi and Don together. Soon Freudy was dropping in at all hours, almost like another member of the family, whenever he needed to get away from his bosses at St. Mary’s parish. “Oh, Monsignor Kipp is mad at me,” he’d say. “Can I have breakfast with you?” Mimi always said yes.

			Mimi’s mother questioned the wisdom, and even the propriety, of this friendship. Billy would drive out west by herself in her Studebaker, and she’d stay until she started making comments about the way Mimi ran her household. Freudy was often Topic A. Marrying a Catholic was one thing, Billy would say, but must there always be a priest hanging around the house? But for Mimi, Freudy’s visits were the most delightful surprise of her conversion to Catholicism. Not only could she become closer to Don and feel equipped to lead the spiritual training of her family, she had found something familiar, even fun, in what sometimes could be a lonely new existence.

			 			Growing fed up, Billy would turn around and leave. But her mother’s judgment only bothered Mimi a little. She had more children than Billy now. She outranked her.

* * *


			THE MORE CHILDREN she had, the more Mimi grew into her new self—a different woman from the one who had been so disappointed for so many years. There would be other moves in their future: an Air Force transfer to a base in Quebec in 1954 and 1955, followed by three years at Hamilton Air Force Base in northern California. They returned to Colorado Springs in 1958 with eight boys. Richard was born in 1954, Joe in 1956, and Mark in 1957.

			Don, when he was at home, was the good cop, a subdued presence, except for each morning at sunrise: Reveille, reveille! Up all hands, heave out and trice up! Sweep down all decks and ladders fore and aft, report to the mess hall at 0600 for chow! The rest of the time, it was Mimi who provided all supervision—not always nurturingly, but coolly, sharply, haughtily. She was a happy warrior, doing battle with mediocrity morning, noon, and night.

			All the boys wore sport coats and ties and Bass Weejuns to Sunday mass.

			Long hair was unacceptable.

			The military and the Church supplied two sets of rules to follow: America’s and God’s.

			Mimi was the master of every aspect of her children’s lives, an endeavor in which she left absolutely nothing to chance. The children were raised on a bevy of axioms: “Pretty is as pretty does”; “Tattle Tale Tit, your tongue shall be split, and all the dogs in the town shall have a little bit.” In the morning, everyone had their assignment: set the table, prepare lunch, make the toast, vacuum, dust, and mop the kitchen floor, clear the table, wash and dry the dishes. The assignments switched from week to week. The boys were enrolled in speed-reading classes. In good weather, they’d go out bird-watching or looking for mushrooms. Their living room had no issues of Reader’s Digest or Ladies’ Home Journal—only Smithsonian and National Geographic. Even the neighborhood children, when they came over to the Galvins’ to color or draw or paint, learned to expect to hear not praise for their artwork but a detailed explanation of everything they were doing wrong. “She wanted everybody to be perfect,” one old friend of the family remembered.

			 			Mimi couldn’t have known at the time how terribly this temperament would end up working against her. By the 1950s, the psychiatric profession had set its sights on mothers like her. The most influential thinkers in American psychiatry all were using a new term for such women. They called them “schizophrenogenic.”



			Rockville, Maryland

			The Chestnut Lodge psychiatric hospital opened in 1910 in a modest, four-story brick building, once a hotel, on a tree-filled country estate in the outer reaches of Washington, D.C. For its first twenty-five years, the patients, many diagnosed with schizophrenia, were treated mostly with rest and occupational therapy; the hospital’s founder lived downstairs while the patients lived upstairs. If few people in psychiatry thought much of the place, that all changed in 1935, when the hospital welcomed a new therapist named Frieda Fromm-Reichmann.

			She had just arrived in America, a Jewish refugee from war-torn Germany. Already in her mid-forties, Fromm-Reichmann had established herself before the war as an experienced and confident psychotherapist—small, but forceful, intense, and direct—and the ideas she brought with her were undeniably fresh. Unlike some of the old-timers at Chestnut Lodge, Fromm-Reichmann was a member of a new wave of analysts who were inspired by Freud and willing to dare greatly with their patients. And before long, stories circulated about the miracles she was working.

			 			There was the young man who assaulted Fromm-Reichmann when she first tried to talk to him. She held vigil outside his door daily for three months until he finally invited her in.

			There was the man who kept silent for weeks during his sessions with Fromm-Reichmann, until one day he slipped a newspaper on the spot where she was about to sit. His first words to the doctor were something about not wanting her to dirty her dress.

			And there was the woman who threw stones at Fromm-Reichmann, shouting, “God damn your soul to hell!” After a few months, the new therapist called her bluff. Clearly no one was benefiting from this, she said. “Why not stop it?” So the woman did.

			Too good to be true? Perhaps. But to Fromm-Reichmann, schizophrenia was curable, and anyone who said differently might not care enough about the people they were treating. No member of the Galvin family ever met her. But no other person may have done more to change the way that schizophrenia and all mental illness was perceived in America during their lifetimes—for better and, later on, for worse.

* * *


			FROMM-REICHMANN HAD ARRIVED in America at a moment when mainstream psychiatry’s approach to schizophrenia was as ineffective as it was inhumane. Insane asylums were filled with test subjects who were forced to take cocaine, manganese, and castor oil; injected with animal blood and oil of turpentine; and gassed with carbon dioxide or concentrated oxygen (the so-called “gas cure”). The gold standard of treatment, in the 1930s, had been insulin shock therapy, in which the patient was injected with insulin to induce a short coma; the theory was that regular treatments, a coma a day, might slowly chip away at the effects of psychosis. Then came the lobotomy, the severing of the nerves of a patient’s frontal lobes—which, as the British psychiatrist W. F. McAuley delicately put it, “deprives the patient of certain qualities with which, and perhaps because of which, he has failed to adapt.”

			Their counterparts searching for the biological cause of schizophrenia weren’t treating their patients any better. In Germany, Emil Kraepelin, the dementia praecox pioneer, had opened an institute to research a hereditary link to the disease and had turned up little to nothing. A researcher at his institute, Ernst Rüdin, became a major figure in the eugenics movement, among the first to argue for sterilizing the mentally ill. A student of Rüdin’s named Franz Josef Kallmann went even further: Preaching eugenics in the United States after the war, Kallmann called for sterilizing even “nonaffected carriers” of a gene for schizophrenia, once such a gene was found. The leadership of biological psychiatry seemed settled on the idea that mentally ill people weren’t people at all.*

			 			In the face of such troubling social forces, it’s hardly surprising that Freud-inspired analysts like Fromm-Reichmann rejected the idea of a biological basis of schizophrenia completely. Why should psychiatry sign on to a scientific discipline that treated humans like horses to be selected for breeding? Instead, Fromm-Reichmann believed that patients, deep down, wanted a cure—that they were waiting to be helped, like a wounded bird or a frail child in need of understanding. “Every schizophrenic has some dim notion of the unreality and loneliness of his substitute delusionary world,” she wrote. And the therapist’s mission—a high-minded undertaking that a new vanguard of American psychoanalysts soon embraced—was to break through the barriers the patient had erected and save them from themselves.

			In 1948, Chestnut Lodge admitted a teenage girl named Joanne Greenberg, who would go on to bring Fromm-Reichmann a measure of immortality. Greenberg’s 1964 best-seller, I Never Promised You a Rose Garden—a fictionalized memoir, she later called it—was the story of a teenage girl named Deborah Blau who is trapped in the delusional kingdom of Yr. Deborah believes herself to be possessed by an outside force, much the way Daniel Paul Schreber felt that he had been, a half century earlier. (“There were other powers contending for her allegiance,” Greenberg writes.) Deborah seems walled off from the world forever until her therapist, Dr. Fried—a thinly disguised Fromm-Reichmann, with a surname unmistakably echoing Freud—breaks through and rescues her. Dr. Fried understands young Deborah’s demons—their source and their reason for being. “The sick are all so afraid of their own uncontrollable power!” Dr. Fried muses in the novel. “Somehow they cannot believe that they are people, holding only a human-sized anger!”

			 			What Dr. Fried does for Deborah in this book influenced a generation of psychotherapists. Like Annie Sullivan in The Miracle Worker, Dr. Fried was a model of insight, compassion, and drive—patiently, ardently connecting with her patient, cracking her particular code. One of the keys, the doctor concludes, is recognizing that the girl’s own parents had unwittingly fanned the flames of mental illness in their daughter. “Many parents said—even thought—that they wanted help for their children, even to show, subtly or directly, that their children were part of a secret scheme for their own ruin,” the doctor reflects in the pages of Greenberg’s novel. “A child’s independence is too big a risk for the shaky balance of some parents.”

			The mystery of schizophrenia is, apparently, solved: The eugenicists are wrong. People aren’t born with schizophrenia at all. Their mothers and fathers are to blame.

* * *


			AS EARLY AS 1940, Fromm-Reichmann had sounded the alarm over “the dangerous influence of the undesirable domineering mother on the development of her children,” calling such mothers “the main family problem.” It was eight years later, the same year that Joanne Greenberg became her patient, that Fromm-Reichmann came up with a term that would stick to women like Mimi Galvin for decades: the schizophrenogenic mother. It was “mainly” this sort of mother, she wrote, who was responsible for the “severe early warp and rejection” that rendered a schizophrenia patient “painfully distrustful and resentful of other people.”

			She was far from the first psychoanalyst to blame the mother for something. Freud’s approach, after all, was to explain practically every mysterious impulse as the end result of childhood experiences coloring the unconscious mind. But now, in the postwar years, the dawn of a new era of American prosperity, many therapists had something new to worry about: mothers who refused to behave like the mothers of a previous generation. “A schizophrenic,” a Philadelphia psychiatrist named John Rosen wrote, within a year of Fromm-Reichmann’s invention of the term schizophrenogenic mother, “is always one who is reared by a woman who suffers from a perversion of the maternal instinct.”

			 			In her own writings, Fromm-Reichmann remarked with unease at how “American women are very often the leaders, and men wait on them as wives wait on their husbands in European families,” and how “the wife and mother is often the bearer of authority in the family group.” She particularly disliked how fathers, like Don Galvin, become the confidants and pals of their kids, while mothers, like Mimi Galvin, become the disciplinarians. But once Fromm-Reichmann gave such mothers a name, the concept caught fire. John Clausen and Melvin Kohn from the National Institute of Mental Health described the schizophrenogenic mother as “cold,” “perfectionistic,” “anxious,” “overcontrolling,” and “restrictive.” The psychologist Suzanne Reichard and the Stanford psychiatrist Carl Tillman described the schizophrenogenic mother as the “prototype of the middle class Anglo-Saxon American Woman: prim, proper, but totally lacking in genuine affection.”

			These descriptions seemed to lack a certain coherence. What, precisely, were these mothers doing to these children? Were they domineering or weak? Suffocating or withholding? Sadistic or apathetic? In 1956, Gregory Bateson, an anthropologist—and the husband of Margaret Mead—collected the various alleged sins of the schizophrenogenic mother into a theory he called the “double-bind.” The double-bind, he explained, was a trap that certain mothers set for their children. A mother says, “Pull up your socks,” but something about the way she says it projects the contradictory message, “Don’t be so obedient.” Now, even if the child obeys, the mother disapproves. The child feels helpless, frightened, frustrated, anxious—ensnared, with no way out. According to the double-bind theory, if children get caught in that trap often enough, they develop psychosis as a way of coping with it. Tormented by their mothers, they retreat into a world of their own.

			Bateson invented this theory without so much as ten minutes of clinical psychiatric experience. But that made no difference. The double-bind, along with the schizophrenogenic mother, helped to turn mother-blaming into the industry standard for psychiatry—and not just for schizophrenia. In the 1950s and 1960s, it became hard to find any emotional or mental disorder that was not, in one way or another, attributed by therapists to the actions of the patient’s mother. Autism was blamed on “refrigerator mothers” who failed to show enough affection to their infants. Obsessive-compulsive disorder was blamed on problems in the second to third year of life, clashing with the mother around toilet training. The public conception of madness became hopelessly intertwined with the idea of the mother-as-monster. When, in 1960, Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho placed the blame for the most famous delusional homicidal maniac of cinema, Norman Bates, squarely on the shoulders of his dead mother, it made all the sense in the world.

* * *


			 			THIS IS WHAT the Galvins would be up against when their boys started getting sick: an emboldened therapeutic profession seizing the moral high ground, doing battle with the devils of eugenics and surgery and chemical experimentation, and more than ready to search for a different way to explain the disease—a cause much closer to home. In 1965, Theodore Lidz, a prominent Yale psychiatrist best known for attributing schizophrenia to a patient’s family dynamics, said that schizophrenogenic mothers “became dangerous figures to males,” and had “castrating” relationships with their husbands. As a general rule, Lidz recommended that schizophrenia patients be removed from their families entirely.

			Parents of Don and Mimi Galvin’s era didn’t have to know about the double-bind theory or the schizophrenogenic mother to understand that anything wrong with their children would raise questions about them. What happened to those children when they were in their care? Who let them become this way? What sort of parents were they? The lesson of the times was clear. If something seemed off about your child, the last thing you should do is tell a doctor about it.

		 			* The idea of sterilizing the insane and “feeble-minded” had caught on in America many years earlier. Eugenics was a hallmark of the turn-of-the-century Progressive Era in America, influencing Kallmann and Rüdin and, among others, the Nazis.
















			When, after four years of out-of-town postings, the Galvins returned to Colorado Springs in 1958, the dusty town they’d left behind was fading into history. The United States Air Force Academy had opened while they were gone, and thousands of newcomers—cadets and their instructors and all the personnel needed to support a vast new military institution—were swiftly changing the character of the place. Where once there had been a dirt road with a couple of ruts, crossed by barbed wire gates that you had to open and close yourself, now there was Academy Boulevard, paved and leading to a gate that was guarded like it was the checkpoint between East and West Berlin. Inside, the Academy had its own post office, commissary, and telephone exchange. And the glistening new structures of the Academy itself were modernist masterpieces—sleek glass boxes designed by the largest architectural firm in the nation, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, rising up from the clay of the West, announcing the dawn of a new American era.

			Don could be a part of that future, just as he’d always hoped. At his previous posting, in northern California, he had worked nights at Stanford to earn a master’s degree in political science. Now he was back in Colorado to start a version of the academic life he’d longed for, joining the Academy faculty as an instructor.

			 			The Air Force moved the family into one of a warren of one-story military family houses on the new campus. Theirs was on a hill, with a small patch of grass and a south-facing front door. Don and Mimi set up four bunk beds in the basement level for their eight boys. That worked well until their ninth boy, Matthew, was born in December. Their oldest, Donald, was thirteen now, and he and the brothers close to him in age used the Academy grounds as a playground. They had the run of the place: the indoor and outdoor rec centers, the ice rinks, the swimming pools, the gyms, the bowling alley, even the golf course. No one held them back. In a time of feverish conformity, at the Academy there was also a sense of liberty—the Western frontier spirit, perhaps, or the optimism of a new generation, home from war, building an institution that faced the future with a serene confidence.

			Don was like many of the teachers there: World War II veteran hero scholars, yo