When Larry Fishman called his parents one night last fall to say he was coming home and wanted $100 to see "the best psychiatrist in the country," a flicker of hope ran through his mother's mind that the rift that had divided her family could somehow be mended.
The next week, on Nov. 28, Larry drove down Cherry Tree Lane in Silver Spring to the red-brick house he had grown up. It was suppertime, and when he went inside the money he had asked for was lying on a table.
Minutes later, shots rang out, sharp claps that to one neighbor sounded like somebody banging a garbage can. Evelyn Fishman ran out of the house followed by her husband, Judge Frederick Fishman, who collapsed on the lawn. Larry Fishman, their 29-year-old son, sped down the darkened street in his rented car, soon to be sought for the killing of his father.
The events that night marked the final dissolution of a suburban middle-class family that seemed caught up in forces beyond its control. When the last supremely symbolic act was played out, a father was in the grave, a son had gone underground, charged with murder, and a mother and daughter were in hiding.
At the center of the family's conflict were two men, Frederick and Larry Fishman, the stern judge and his lawyer son. One was the very embodiment of middle-class striving and virtue, the other brilliant and introverted, torn between absolutes like love and hate, lawlessness and law.
As he moved from the purity of academic life to what he saw as the tainted realm of work and career, the contradictions of Larry Fishman's life grew starker. He straddled two worlds, sometimes playing the part of a Phi Beta Kappa law clerk, sometimes a hell-bent habitue of punk rock music clubs. He possessed a nature one woman described as "a combination of the angelic and the demonic."
For more than 20 years, the Fishmans led a seemingly normal life in Silver Spring, a life measured by the ordinary milesstones of a suburban family's history: birthdays, spelling bees, Boy Scouts, proms and public schools. Evelyn Fishman, a kindly, expressive woman, met her husband in Baltimore and married him in Boston in 1945. They had three children. Richard, the oldest, was 3 when his brother Lawrence William was born in 1951. Ruth was born two years later.
"We were such as happy bunch when the children were growing up," Mrs. Fishman remembers. "It's hard to imagine that all this tragedy could happen to us. In just a few years, I lost all my family."
Evelyn Fishman was a brown-haired, bridge-playing woman who worked for the Social Security Administration in Laurel. She was the closer of the two parents to the children, but in the Fishmans' house, it was the father who set the tenor of life. Frederick Fishman, as one friend remembers, was "king of his house," a blend of the stoic and the gregarious, the acerbic and the congenial. He mixed ambition, pride, self-respect and conservative politics with gregariousness and fatherly concern.
Frederick Fishman felt a sense of duty, too, having been raised with the ethics of an Orthodox Jewish family. He donated to charities, helped job-seeking friends, and served on the board of his synagogue. He supported his kids long after they might have fended for themselves.
"He wanted to be respected, secure and makea contribution to society," remembers Irving Senzel, a lifelong family friend. "He was very ambitious for his children. He wanted them to achieve."
He trusted in education, taking pride in having graduated from Harvard and the Boston Latin School, and hard work. It was the elder Fishman's persistent fear that the bottom might drop out from under his family, a fear that spurred him to work and save, and bid him to impress upon his children the importance of serious, well-paying jobs. He frowned when Ruth, a frizzy-haired, sardonic woman who studied philosophy at college, wanted to take up dance.
Frederick Fishman worked 40 years with the Department of the Interior. except for a brief period in Denver -- the family moved back east, to Silver Spring, in 1957 -- almost all the time was spent in Washington. He was named a judge after the job of hearing officer was redefined, and the title was a source of ride to him. As one colleague remembers, he had the "tools to go much further than he did" in the legal profession.
Judge Fishman was not shy in expressing contempt for work he felt inferior. He wrote exactly and deployed his Latin learning with a pedant's relish, especially in conversations, which he liked to sprinkle with Latin maxins, and gems of wisdom from history's quotable wise men. Sitting at the dinner table he wouldoften say, "Only by iteration and reiteraiton can an alien concept be impressed on an alien mind."
One time Judge Fishman reimbursed a former house mate of Larry's for a phone bill Larry still owed money on. He attached a short letter that shows the care the judge took for his son, but in its stilted style, also suggests a rigid, penny-conscious man. "Your letter asks for $39.58," the judge wrote. "Since you have expended something in forwarding [Larry's] mail, I enclose a dollar for that, aggregating $40.58 . . . If Larry should happen to recompense you before I have the opportunity to contact him, I am confident you will remit the excess to me."
Even as a toddler Larry Fishman was extraordinary, a quiet and solitary child who from his earliest days seemed inclined to tailor the world to his liking rather than to tailor himself to the world.
"Larry didn't speak for the first four years of his life," Evelyn Fishman said. "When he finally did, his speech was garbled. He had his own vocabulary. He made up words. They were long marvelous words. They seemed to fit what he was saying better than real words."
At age 6, Larry won chess matches against his father. He was emerging as a reciprocal of his older brother Richard. They were a brilliant pair -- elementary school teachers told Mrs. Fishman that Larry was a genius -- but where Richard spilled his thoughts, Larry always reined his in.
The youngest child, Ruth, shared much of her father's sardonic humor, and her father's analytical bent. But it was her father's different relationship with her two brothers that began to upset the family tranquility. "There never was a smooth relationship between Larry and his father," Mrs. Fishman siad. "It would flare up from time to time. There was always friction between them. Dickie got along much better."
In third grade at Pine Crest Elementary School, Larry read newspapers and followed the stock market. In junior high he won the national spelling bee for the Washington region and finished 11th in the finals. But, Mrs. Fishman says, "He was hard to know even for his parents." As a child writing home from Camp Airy, in Thurmont, Md., he was a camper of few words, waxing terse in a letter to his mother that said, in toto: "I was on a horse and it ran away and three me.Larry."
Larry began to analyze the world in a political light during his last two years at Montgomery Blair High School. He worked on the newspaper Silver Chips and he helped found the Student Alliance, which brought in speakers for discussions on topics such as civil rights, the war in Vietnam, Buddhism, soul music and Bob Dylan.
Whatever the countercultural upheaval among young people in the country in 1968, Blair High School was a place where almost every girl in the yearbook sported a half curl in her shoulder-length hair and the clean-cut boys looked ready to do nothing so much as sell stock. Larry looked no different from his classmates, a neatly dressed, frail young man with a narrow face, cropped black hair and alert brown eyes.
He made a few false starts at other colleges, then settled into the University of California at Berkeley, despite his mother's misgivings about his living in a state that generated so many cults. Though he majored in sociology, Larry studied independently for credit and impressed professors in many fields.
"He seemed to be a supercharged intellectual," recalled philosophy professor Paul K. Feyerabend, whose graduate seminar in philosophy Larry attended one semester. "It was quite obvious he had a brilliant mind. He was very charming when you could talk to him. He was cheeky, too, but in a charming way.
"He gave a paper on how music and mathematics were connected in the Renaissance. It was quite a brilliant paper. He connected things which you would think wouldn't have anything to do with each other." Larry at School
In his independent study course, the ideas that had animated Larry in high school ripened into outright causes. He had an ardent, almost selfless concern for people who had been passed over and cast out by society, a concern that was as great as his friendships were scarce.
There was one group Larry did become involved with in 1974, the year he graduated from Berkeley Phi Beta Kappa. It was called the so-called antipsychiatry movement, a loosely knit federation of dissident psychiatrists, libertarians, activists and ex-mental patients opposed to forced commitment to mental institutions. Two and three times a week, Larry attended meetings of a newly formed group of about 30 people called Network Against Psychiatric Assault, or Napa.
The Napa meetings and Larry's participation in the movement in general, first in California, later in Philadelphia and other areas, were both a heart-felt cause and the source of his few close friendships. His interest in helping mental patients stemmed from this, and particularly from a summer he had spent in London in 1973 at an unorthodox treatment center where he researched a paper on alternate systems of mental patient care. He had never been a patient himself. But he felt patients who had been committed against their will were some of the most helpless victims of the psychiatric profession and the tyranny of the state.
Larry became a follower of Thomas Szasz, a radical psychiatrist who was the movement's foremost author. The condition of "mental illness," Szasz argues, is often a moral judgment disguised as a scientific diagnosis and imposed by psychiatrists on people whose conduct simply differed from what is socially acceptable. A libertarian vein runs through the theory, and among purists who hold that people are responsible for their conduct, it is also argued that criminal behavior cannot be excused on grounds of insanity.
At Napa meetings Larry met Bob Nicholson, nine years his senior and a man who proved to be one of his best friends. Larry was notorious for stalking out of meetings if Napa members adopted an idea he had rejected. He cared even less for small talk then he did for psychiatrists. On the telephone he would hang up abruptly, call back five minutes later should another point occur to him, and then hang up again. Difficult as Larry could be, the two were friends for almost five years.
Larry was accepted at law school at Berkeley in 1974. Sometimes he caught rides in to San Francisco with Bob, and beginning in 1975 the two of them spent a year producing a radio show for KPFA on mental health issues.
Napa had a grant to provide legal services for incarcerated mental patients, and Larry, who was living in Berkeley, worked as an advocate. He lectured college classes as a spokesman for a group called Committee Against Forced Treatment, and helped write language for California mental health regulations. These were not jobs that paid much if they paid anything at all. Larry lived off money his father mailed west each month.
In 1977, he graduated with a law degree from Berkeley. In January of the new year, he moved in with Bob in a cramped cottage along the Russian River in Rio Nido, 100 miles outside San Francisco. There among the redwoods he studied for the California bar which he took and failed twice. "He couldn't get into it," said Bob Nicholson. "His mind was on other things." Most of the day he sat around reading and watching soap operas on TV.
When he broke the news to his parents, Larry blamed his unfamiliarity with water rights law for his poor showing on the bar exam. Bob Nicholson recalled that whenever Larry phoned his parents he always spoke with his mother.
"He made the claim to me that he thought his father was a bad guy," Bob Nicholson said. He didn't want anything to do with his father. He thought he was a hypocrite. He thought he was letting their house in Silver Spring run down, and that he was cheap for not fixing it. He figured his father was bad for the family."
Still, his father supported him as he had when Larry was in law school and in college, sending him more than $200 a month.
"Larry can manufacture an argument," Bob Nicholson said. "One night toward the end of the winter he was getting really angry with me. We started arguing and he accused me of trying to kill him. He would just build things up in his mind. I had a .22 pistol that we had shot target practice with, and Larry said, 'Give me the gun!' I said, 'What for, Larry?' He said he wanted me to prove I didn't want to kill him. I said, 'I don't want to kill you!' He wanted me to prove it. 'Where's the gun?' he said. So finally I said, 'It's over there in the cabinet.' He was lying on the bed and he jumped up and raced for the cabinet. I ran over to the chest where the gun really was and grabbed it. He was really angry. To satisfy him I gave him the bullets. I moved out the next morning."
Larry stayed on at the cottage in Rio Nido. His family, though worried by the difficulties he was having gaining admission to the bar, was at peace. But in June, events on the other side of the globe confronted the Fishmans for the first time with calamity. Richard's Death
On June 2, 1978, the Palestine Liberation Organization planted a bomb inside a city bus in Jerusalem. The explosion tore off the back of the bus, wounding 20 people, killing five. Larry's older brother Richard was in Jerusalem that day, a passenger on that bus. He was found among the dead. He was 30.
As Judge Fishman pulled off Cherry Tree Lane into his driveway that evening, he was met by an official from the State Department. "Fred was standing out in front of the house," remembers his friend and colleague Bertram Freedman. "The man from the State Department told him what happened and Fred collapsed. Not physically. The spunk went out of him. Richie was one of the sweetest boys you ever met. Why Richie was killed Fred could never answer."
Richard Fishman, swallowed up in the violent politics of the Middle East, had gone to Israel as the culmination of a year studying Orthodox Judiasm at the Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore. He converted to the religion after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 1971. He eventually decided to study medicine at the Univeristy of Maryland, but his religion absorbed him. He had taken a leave to study at the rabbinical college not because he wanted to be a rabbi but for a background he thought would help him to help people.
Richard's death was all the more devastating because he had been a force that drew the family together. "Dick was a good, steadying influence," Mrs. Fishman said. "He was wise and caring. He kept in touch with Larry. He wrote him and called him even though it was kind of a one-sided relationship. When he died, Larry felt a kind of anchor had been taken away."
Larry flew east for the funeral.All his life Larry had seldom shown affection. When he did touch, he touched with intensity and feeling. "It was like he was really making a statement," Ruth said. For seven days the four Fishmans sat shiva according to Judaic custom while mourners streamed through the house bringing food and offering condolences. Larry put his arms around his mother and cried. Later he drove around with Ruth. "We noticed how much more awareness we had," she said. "It was almost a jubilance that we were alive."
It was one of the most difficult decisions the Fishmans had ever made, but they decided that Richard's body should not be returned to the states, that he should be laid to rest in Israel where he had felt such a strong sense of place.
Judge Fishman's faith in his religion was never the same after the death of his oldest son. Ever after, when the subject of Israel came up, a silence descended on the gregarious man.