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Getting ready for the trip [to Kentucky in hopes of gaining access to audiotapes sealed within a Bataan-era tank], Iris went into overdrive. "In the past, when Iris was working on something, she might work for 48 hours straight and then she would crash for 20 hours, and then she'd be back up, working again," Brett said. "But this time, I had assumed she was sleeping all day after working all night. But it turned out she wasn't sleeping during the day either. She was trying to be a top-notch mother and she was also trying to prepare for her trip."
Smith had been Iris' liaison in Wisconsin; another Proviso High teacher was to be her guide in Kentucky. But just before Iris left for Kentucky -- the last week of July 2004 -- a family emergency forced the teacher to cancel. Iris would be working solo. Her parents saw her off that morning. "She was very tired," her mother said. "She should not have gone."
By the time her plane landed in Louisville, she was overwhelmed by exhaustion and anxiety. She got from the airport to the hotel, but that was all she could do. Iris collapsed in bed. Soon she managed to call her mother.
"I knew Iris was not right," her mother said. "She couldn't eat or drink. She was very depressed." She asked if Iris had any friends there she could call for help. One of the veterans -- a colonel she had planned to meet in Louisville -- came to the hotel. Smith said the colonel spent only a short time with her. "She was afraid of him when he showed up," Smith said. "But he spoke to her mother on the phone and told Iris, 'Your mom is on the phone, so it's OK.' "
That afternoon, she checked herself in to Norton Psychiatric Hospital in Louisville, with help from the colonel. Through a third party, the colonel declined to be interviewed.
"First they gave her an antipsychotic, to stabilize her," her mother said. "For three days they gave her medication, the first time in her life." (The family would not name specific drugs.)
Then she wrote a suicide note -- addressed to her parents, Brett and her brother -- followed by a lengthy revision. The first draft said: "When you believe you have a future, you think in terms of generations and years. When you do not, you live not just by the day -- but by the minute. It is far better that you remember me as I was -- in my heyday as a best-selling author -- than the wild-eyed wreck who returned from Louisville . . . . Each breath is becoming difficult for me to take -- the anxiety can be compared to drowning in an open sea. I know that my actions will transfer some of this pain to others, indeed those who love me the most. Please forgive me. Forgive me because I cannot forgive myself."
In the final version, she added: "There are aspects of my experience in Louisville that I will never understand. Deep down I suspect that you may have more answers about this than I do. I can never shake my belief that I was being recruited, and later persecuted, by forces more powerful than I could have imagined. Whether it was the CIA or some other organization I will never know. As long as I am alive, these forces will never stop hounding me. . .
"Days before I left for Louisville I had a deep foreboding about my safety. I sensed suddenly threats to my own life: an eerie feeling that I was being followed in the streets, the white van parked outside my house, damaged mail arriving at my P.O. Box. I believe my detention at Norton Hospital was the government's attempt to discredit me.
"I had considered running away, but I will never be able to escape from myself and my thoughts. I am doing this because I am too weak to withstand the years of pain and agony ahead."