A Ronin’s Journey: Chapter 4


October brought two changes with it: new life and a return to the house the accident occurred in. The day our new goddaughter came home, we cleaned up her house and decorated it to surprise them. I even felt a poem in me for her, though finding a picture for it was hard. The one I decided on was our godson signing “I love you” and adding “Welcome home” to it, bringing me on the verge of tears.

Days later, we took another step towards normalcy by moving back to our home. Casey was ready to try it, and I had been working on my tolerance by going over there to train, take care of the animals, and catch up on TV shows on the DVR. In the beginning, I could not stand more than a minute until I fled the house, shaking like a leaf.

Still, it was not going to be the same. We practically quarantined the master bedroom, where it happened. I had been slowly moving us to the middle bedroom, while with the help of family, Casey switched up the living room to give it a different feel. It helped a little, though I needed background noise to drown out the unsettling silence and occasional flashback. If I did not, I would get tense, surrounded by memories. It got to me enough that one night I opened the refrigerator and stared at the wine inside from our wedding anniversary. Eventually, I took a drink—a rare thing for me—resisting the urge for another. I do not like to drink, wanting to stay sharp and in complete control. That night, I just wanted my brain to quiet down and give me peace. Considering my tolerance is so low, it did not take a lot to accomplish that. 

With that bit of stress temporarily dealt with, it did not take long for more to pile on. Through my employer, we had six free therapy sessions through EAP, and my wife had used all of hers up. It had paid for the therapy and her interpreter, something that was over $200 a session, cash. It felt like I had to move mountains just to get that the first time, and now I was seeing about an extension. It was quickly denied; no more for her, and I was going to my last one with a lot on my mind. 

During this time, we had missed a bit of work when we could not schedule an appointment in the morning; that day was not any different. I informed my supervisor I would be in at five p.m. the day before. While at the therapist, we revisited a statement I had written in an email to her about my “cold comfort” when I was comparing my wife’s reaction to a prescription fertility medication and the accident. I said the first thing that came to mind when the therapist pressed me on it: on the scale of a trip to the Emergency Room and having to deal with a mortal wound, the range is vast. She asked how I felt saying that; admittedly, it was dark, cynical humor. 

It weighed on my mind after I had left, so glancing at the time, I knew I was not expected at work for another hour. Pulling the car into a restaurant, I walked in for coffee and a quiet place. I sat in a corner alone with my thoughts, sipping slowly and processing the worms that came up earlier. The trip to see part of Casey’s family would be good for us, giving me time to deal with my thoughts. We just had to make it through one more day, and what a day it was. 

Through some miscommunication with the therapist’s front office, my wife’s appointment had been canceled. We had been negotiating who pays the interpreter’s fee, even with it dropped next to nothing. Between the two services and the Americans with Disabilities Act, all were arguing the finer parts of the law, and I quickly got frustrated. I did not care; my priority was my wife, not the process. The quickest way between two points is a straight line. I said I would pay for it all and cancel my sessions. I would deal with that on my own. 

Except for the thought of facing it alone brought me close to tears. I had so much going through my head that I wanted out. I had people I could talk to. However, I did not want to put that into their heads too. I felt alone, depressed while I looked at our limited resources compared to the insurance deductible. I would just have to deal with it.

The morning of the trip, we woke up after two and a half hours of sleep at three a.m. so we could arrive at midmorning in Kentucky at the lake. All the kids and grandkids were going to be there. I wanted to get there as soon as we could, so leaving Arkansas, going through Missouri, and then east into Kentucky. On that trip, I found the upper limits of my caffeine tolerance. So much was going through my system, I felt electrified and was twitching far more than I ever had before even with my shakes. Exhausted, we ate, with me hoping it would soak up the caffeine so I could nap. 

The nap was delayed when my tiny niece waddled up to me with arms outstretched. I could never say no to that. Then I got a good strong hug. She leaned back, looking at me, and gave me another. Lord, did I need that. It was a good strike against my self-hatred. I attempted to sleep, except I still had too much caffeine coursing through my veins. Try as I might, it was not happening, so I got up, looking for a place to sit alone. 

The older kids wanted to go play at the park, so it was suggested I watch them. Not a problem. First stop, miniature golf. They play, and I will keep score. Two games or so in, we were joined by everyone else. After a match between Casey and I and time on the pirate ship, I was sufficiently tired enough that I fell asleep in a chair when we got back to the house. I woke up to most everyone else sprawled out, asleep too. I always thought naps were a highlight of vacations.

Later that evening, I found time to sit at a rickety picnic table, writing part of what would become the previous chapter. Soon, though, the kids came out wanting to go by the lake behind the house. Closing my pad, I followed them to the beach and spent time drawing in the sand, answering questions, and teaching until Dustin came and got them. Going back inside after quickly finishing the essay, I found Casey’s mom comforting her at the dinner table. I had thought she had been doing really well around the kids, however, most were the same age as our godson. It had gotten to her. I sat and listened, helping where I could. After composing herself, she went to town with her brother and his wife to clear her head. I sat outside by a fire, talking and listening to the family. 

Morning found me sitting by the lake deep into the Centering Drill, working to quiet the mind and get back in touch with the world. When I walked up to the house, Little D wanted to go to the beach, so I turned around to follow him to the beach. Filled with endless questions, it reminded me so much of my godson I almost called him by his name. 

We had to leave later that day. The quick turn and burn weekend trip did not clear my head, but it did help me process some things. Like this pattern I had noticed since the start of September in my journal entries. After a series of incidents in various locations—once with my wife and the Deaf church, a drunk at a friend’s house, and the times in Atlanta spotting potential trouble as we walked—I found a sense of protectiveness that once only included my wife extending over whatever group I may be with at that moment. 

This puzzled me, so I delved deeper into the “why.” Why do I enjoy the background noise of small talk as I watch over others so much? It is when I am keeping an eye out or trying to help someone through something that I let go of the anger and like myself again. 

Was it my way of nurturing others?

Alternatively, a way to heal and cope?

I was not sure. All I knew was when I was in that mindset, I felt confident and capable. 

To help uncover more on my little mystery, I questioned friends about when they felt most powerful. Most answers lined up with mine, when they were helping someone. I had been doing a lot of research, finding gems in unexpected places, like the back of a self-defense book. In the chapter The Aftermath of Violence in Facing Violence, the author got into how to cope with it. What I had been doing was taking back control the best I could. I could say in a sense, after the accident, it was as if something clicked in my head “never again.” No one else would be hurt under my watch. It aids in the healing process by reconnecting with society after going through something traumatic. The feeling of strength came from seeing some value in myself despite my failure. A path to redemption in a way. I felt more in tune with my surroundings, able to read social dynamics and body language.

Typically, my biggest fear is the opposite, of not being good enough. Like many insecure people, I overcompensated. I repressed emotions on top of my naturally quiet nature, so I appeared stoic but was hiding a powder keg inside. The best way I had to release them was writing, which did not seem like it was working as well as I hoped. 

I wanted someone to talk to, and I had those willing to listen, except I did not want to put those thoughts and memories into their heads. This fed a sense of isolation I had. I tried to talk to those experienced in, quite honestly, seeing someone die, or seeing someone who had just died. I did not want a theory; I wanted what worked, so I had two combat veterans and my dad, who had dealt with my maternal grandfather’s suicide. The rest of my friends and family would be willing, I was sure, and would let me know if they got uncomfortable. 

It feels like I have a battle fought inside my skull, and my friends want to help. It’s just new territory for us all. Some just keep you company, some help you through it, and then you have those that stand back because they are at a loss about what to do. I learned that witnessing violence or its immediate aftermath could potentially shatter your entire worldview. I find comfort knowing it is rare enough that most will never be in the same place I am. It is cold comfort that raises the level of chaos I can deal with, making the smaller things easier. 

Does that make me unique? That very few know what I am going through? On the other hand, what you may be dealing with?

Hardly. After speaking to friends who have been there, and having done a lot of research, I found this is almost predictable. It just did not feel that way at the time, and I was happy I had somewhere to go. Every situation was different, yet they are close enough that patterns and insights develop. After you resurface from the shock (took me close to three months) you come back to the surface for longer and more extended periods to face the decision to either go back under or ask yourself what’s next. Living in the moment and for the future is much healthier than dwelling on the past. The past will pull at us, and if we do go under, we can swim back up. Learn from it to apply the lessons to make a difference.

I had to realize my self-image was not accurate, and how it came off to others was not what I had thought. I am human with issues over dealing with emotions I am not used to. My best friend brought Survivor’s Guilt to my attention, something I had in a hefty dose. Honestly, at the time of this writing, I still do to a degree. So no, it was not just me dealing with this, despite how I felt. When we are dealing with these issues or know someone who is, do not push away those who want to help or don’t want to be driven away. 

While in Kentucky, I was thinking about what was truly important in life. It is your chosen family, particularly the kids. As cheesy as it sounds, they are the future. The time spent with them helped push my dark thoughts and memories away. The negativity did not stand a chance against the innocence of a child.

When we arrived home, we had a pair of certified letters awaiting us from the state police. Anxiously, I opened them to learn that the appeal hearing had been put on hold. My heart rate picked up when I read the reason: “pending charges.” The shakes returned with a vengeance. A couple of days later, I got a confirmation when our attorney called to inform us that we had a warrant for my arrest on the charges of Theft by Receiving and Endangering the Welfare of a Minor. I asked about my wife, and the prosecutor decided against charges against her, thankfully. We set a time to be at the sheriff’s office, and I hung up, wondering how to process one of my worst fears. I ran an emotional gauntlet: anger at being charged, sad that it had come to that with tears looming, and finally ending with fear of the next day. Then drained, I went numb, shaking from cold chills. 

After punching several things around me, I used the Centering Drill to calm myself, leaving only the shakes behind. Then I reached out to my friends, watching as they closed in around me. After a nervous night’s sleep, I awoke to Bobby texting me. He left work early to come from out of state to support me. We met with my attorney, wife, dad, stepmom, and niece at the Detention Center, their presence helping keep my anxiety under control. 

We went in with my attorney, speaking to the front desk about turning myself in. Soon the detective came out with the warrant in hand to show us, and after jokingly asking if I had a bazooka in my pocket, we went to booking. He pointed me towards a bench with a woman handcuffed to it and a man who had been arrested earlier as he went into the adjoining room. Soon he called me in there, where he wrote down all my physical characteristics. One amusing (in hindsight) moment was when he asked if I had any tattoos. I stood up quickly to take off my jacket to show him, and he moved back as I realized my mistake, apologizing. He said I did not have to show him. I am happy he has a lot of self-control or that could have gone badly for me. Jumping up to pull off your jacket while standing over someone does not look that good, especially when you are in their personal space.

After signing my signature bond, I went back to the bench and observed how the booking and jail process worked. Without my phone to stick my nose in, I looked around the room at the sunken lights, solid structure, and I think holding cells with blocked windows. I did not realize I was leaning on the drunk tank until one stumbled out to go pee. 

The trustees were acting as if they were in charge, walking right up to ‘the line’ with officers. But not daring to step across. I wondered if I ended up here in jail if I could be a trustee, or would I prefer the solitude of my cell? That would have been a possible future, but not that day. I watched the back and forth banter between the officers, seeing the similarities between that job and any other. Everyone tries to make the best of them.

When the booking officer got to me, he stopped halfway through his questions with a puzzled expression. He asked a different question: why was I there? I told him about the accident with a hushed voice. He said that was messed up and he remembered that day. He may have even been there, but I do not remember. He said it was an accident and I did not belong there. That made me feel better to hear it from someone who knew the facts and had no reason to make me feel better. Then he called me up for my mug shot and fingerprints. I wondered why I was getting my picture taken twice; the detective came back in earlier to take my picture. I found out why a few hours later. I left on the promise of returning for my court date.

With relief, I walked back into the lobby to see my family and quickly leave. Not far, though, just the restaurant just down the road by the interstate. Bobby pulled me aside to check on me before he left to go back home because he had to work again that night. He had gotten together with my attorney for some strategy, and hiring on as our private investigator for an exorbitant sum of twenty-five cents. He noticed my stress levels had lessened and predicted that by morning, my stress would be nearly gone. That might have been the case if I had not gotten home to see my face on the news. 

That gave me a new perspective, along with a change of opinion when it comes to the media. Being on the other side of an issue tends to clear up any myopia you may have. One is posting pictures of people who been arrested, yet have not gone to trial yet. To me, it seems to give people who will not look any further than a headline the expression that you are a terrible person. 

An arrest where you get to leave means you actually are not a threat. You were entered into the system and what happens is to be determined. When I arrived at work, my boss told me the maintenance boss ran into the office to warn him after the news broke. Except I had informed my boss the day before that I was going to be arrested, and for what. Still, it felt like I had the Mark of Cain on me. When I got home that night, I shaved. I did not want to look like my picture on the news. At the time of this writing, I still have not grown my facial hair like that. I wonder if it is that deep a scar? (Author’s note: I still haven’t wore a goatee in the past nine years.)

Of course, I read the stories, rationalizing it as checking for death threats, though honestly, that was not the only reason. I wanted to read the comments. The story of my arrest did not have any, but the link to the original story had quite a few. A majority of them wanted me in prison for this charge or that charge. Murder was a term tossed around. I wondered how willing the commenters would be to put their heads on the same chopping block as mine if our roles were switched. 

Then I found myself in the same spot a few weeks back while working on this manuscript. A friend’s toddler was burned, and I got angry, thinking, how could that happen? Was no one watching? Then it clicked—this is the same mindset my social media jury was in. It gave me a bit of understanding.

It would have been effortless to become jaded after seeing and hearing about people talking behind my back, shunning me. However, my sister, among others, would not let me get away with that. I had to consider a few things. For one, Bobby left work early and arrived at eight a.m. from out of state. A big part of my family was there, along with my attorney, who was working pro bono. It was not fun being a prisoner, even a well-treated one. The thing that helped me most was that I knew I would get to walk out of there and meet my family on the other side. 

I was expecting a bit of an upheaval afterward, except no one seemed to know or care. On a larger scale, those with opinions that I do not know do not matter; it would be wasted worry. Family and friends, upon seeing the comments, asked me to let them stand up for me. I told them it would die down after the next big story. Some of my friends, like Ralski, took the initiative and did it without asking. It was not me against the world, though; my sister had people walking up to her after they saw the news to tell her that we were in their prayers. The cops that spoke to me were even less judgmental. More than one thought the charges were unnecessary. 

Like I wrote earlier, alone is a state of mind. Life has two parallel tracks; the one you focus on is the one you see. The good or the bad experiences? At this point, I was powerless and dependent on the altruism of others. I had to leave it in the hands of pros and move on. There was not anything I could have done against the legal leviathan, so it was on me to focus forward instead of back at something I could not help. 

Days later, I went to a kid’s birthday party/Halloween party, complete with a haunted house. I went to see the kids; their lives are so innocent and pure with none of the adult responsibilities. I love being able to stop being a grown-up and play “werewolf” or another game they come up with on the fly. I think that is the reason they like me so much—I can be just as much a kid without feeling silly. I spent part of the time helping with the organized games like “watermelon roll,” hid candy, and when the haunted house was ready, my nieces wanted me to “protect them” from monsters. It gave me a good feeling. 

Later, I sat staring at a fire, wondering what adult issues look like to a kid’s more straightforward worldview. Do they construct a story for it? Do they blame themselves? The thought came about when most of the kids were on a hayride. No fan of hayrides, I stayed there with the other adults by the fire. Before long, a few were well on their way to a good drunk when the kids came back. I wondered at the example it sets as two just watched, one blankly and one curious. Soon one drunk lurched toward my wife and me with a story to tell. Leaning precariously toward us, he came close more than once to spilling his drink. When he invaded our space, I reached out, pushing on his hip hinge, dropping him into his chair, wondering how that happened. 

As a way to deal with nerves, I have hit the bottle once. I do not like being in a chemically altered state, though; everything is to be working at one hundred percent. Even when the dark thoughts arise, running does not help; it is dealing with them that does. Sometimes you are around people polite enough not to say anything, yet do not like you. In my case, it is understandable. I was not happy with myself either. In those times, it is just best to keep your distance. Our egos may say, “That’s their problem,” but it is best not to court trouble over hurt feelings. They will pass in due time, so it is best not to dwell on it. 

I also learned that some people do not have a love for life; they are ambivalent about it. It is sad to me, having held life and death in the span of a few months, that it is not cherished more. Life is a fragile and limited thing through the good or the bad. Even in the darkness, light can pierce through, making the little things mean more or setting us up for something more significant. We are imperfect, stumbling through life making mistakes, to learn from them and actually have some good grow from the soil of the bad. 

One example: my parents married and divorced, and from that union came my sister and I. The traditional American Dream shattered. They met and married other people, building a new dream, complete with a bigger family. We had to move to another city, where my sister met a guy, and now in a long-term relationship, it has given me two nieces and a nephew. 

Another example from my past, after the divorce got underway, I had no idea why any of this was happening. The seeds of fear and insecurity planted in the very fertile soil of my eight-year-old mind. Being the weird new kid (have you heard this one before?), I was picked on. Shocker, right? 

We never stayed in one place for very long, and that, combined with bullying, added to the insecurity. Would I have to move again tomorrow? Humans are social creatures that are generally secure when everything is stable, something we did have some measure of. Mom kept us in the school district, and Dad did not move until my senior year. He had been gaining perspective from his own life shift after the divorce. Where I had escaped into my imagination, he had been working towards being a better person. An example that I am following now, it seems.

I was always pretending to be a superhero. Usually, the toughest one I could find. I transitioned from that to western heroes in my dad’s books as I got older. I gained equally weird friends as I wore my mask of the tough-as-nails hero. I am sure they saw through it. Some bullies did and showed me it was only a mask. I failed to live up to the expectations I had set, so I trained to be a badass and was terrified it would not work. It became a cycle of reinvention into pale imitations of my heroes, escaping into my daydreams and books to avoid my life. 

Life has felt like a stormy sea, riding and falling off the waves, different things triggering this or that. An example: my wife found a shirt for our goddaughter that had a quote saying don’t mess with her, she had a big brother. In my head, a critical voice popped out with “had,” with another telling it to be quiet. I did not know where they had come from. I just said “Stop” aloud to thought-stop it and shift attention. I have used it a lot.

Other thoughts that ebbed and crashed in my mind were the arrest, news story, and the response to it. That led to my not wanting to look like my picture on the news to a one hundre-eighty degree “fuck all you judgmental bastards.” One thing that helped with that was an instant message from a woman I went to school, telling me she was praying for me. I thought at first it was about me being sick in my status online, but no, she was working dispatch when the call came in. Her best friend was working booking when I was arrested, I was told, and my schoolmate told her I was a good person. That was nice to hear, and it helped. 

The TV did not help at times. On a popular drama, a kid hurt himself on a treadmill, and the amount of blood startled me. Later, we found baby pictures and shared good memories, thinking how I missed that big bald baby. The memories flooded at any time. I was looking at my wife’s car before I started working on it, and a flashback triggered. It lasted for a while, immersing me in the moments of running out of the house dialing 911, the sights, and worse for me, sounds. I had to drown it out with music. 

Around this time, I was acquainted with dark humor. Though at the time I did not understand it, it seemed wrong and insensitive. I hit a bump while driving, the thought popping into my head was “body.” When my wife was discussing a memorial tattoo of two angel wolf cubs beside each other, the thought occurred to me that it was like a fighter pilot marking kills on the side of his plane. 

Where the hell did that come from?

Therefore, I dived deeper into research, what I always do when confused, unsure if I was seeking validation along with an explanation. Finding others that had been through similar experiences was a help. I had been looking through books written by Thorin, Col. Grossman, Marc MacYoung, Rory Miller, and Peyton Quinn, along with various websites, to see what this is, how to fix that, etc. I will include the list of books at the end of this one. 

The reason for that is they might help you too. Thorin’s books have been good for looking within myself, notably Unchained. Rory’s book, Facing Violence, helped explain how to deal with the aftermath of being in or witnessing an incredibly violent incident. Grossman’s book, On Combat, had a section on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder explained quite a bit and ways to deal with it before it occurred. Marc and Peyton’s books helped make some headway into some personal flaws. 

The first step was getting my thoughts in order. The second step was getting my life into some semblance of normalcy so I can start going forward again. After life was turned onto its head, most of the “big things” in life, such as holidays, seemed so trivial, passing by with little acknowledgment. We just did not look forward to anything, only wanting to get through the day, reevaluating many things in love. I would hazard a guess that, at some point, everyone runs somewhere for comfort and advice, even if it is just a book for help. 

We have to look within to see what is there to work with. Then keeping what can be used and discarding what cannot. Insecurity was a big one, along with anxiety, their roots running deep. The distinct lack of control, stability, broken family, unsure where I fit; things that can mess up an adult, let alone a child. For the longest time, I still saw myself as a kid instead of an adult, something to grow past.

To do that, I used a favorite tool: the 17:06 writing exercise from Unchained. In the first one, I covered every time I failed to stand up to bullies and abusers. I overlooked, though, the times I did not fail, where I rose above and walked away. It helped me realize I was not just that kid bouncing between homes who escaped into fantasy. I was not helpless. 

The elementary school years brought a couple of bullies my way, so I hit them. Afterward, one became my best friend until he moved away. Then one night at church, I noticed an older kid holding another one upside down. I forgot why he was doing it, but I did not think that was right. So I hit him, then he put the kid down. All right, mission accomplished. And then he hit me back. We stood toe to toe, swinging until pulled apart, to become friends after that too. 

Then there was a camping trip with my mom, sister, stepdad, and his friend. One night after my sister and I crashed in the tent, a screaming argument erupted between my mom and stepdad, waking us. I started to get worried as it got louder, so I got up to see what was going on. I stood beside my mom, staring at my stepdad. His friend looked at him, saying, “Robert? The boy?” He answered with “He knows I won’t hurt his mom.” That ended that particular dispute, though years later, the domestic abuse escalated after we grew up. 

After I grew up, I landed the only job I ever quit. I could not handle the verbal and physical abuse any longer. That was marked as one of the failures I mentioned earlier. Not my proudest moment but possibly a turning point, after being hit with a can of purple primer, thrown down and sucker-punched, I found a better job next door and quit. 

There I worked with work-release inmates from the Department of Corrections. One night, I was talking about a girl I was dating at the time when one said he would pay her a visit on his next leave. He did not know where she lived, but it triggered me. Adrenaline spiked as I calmly informed him I would end him. Not sure if he could have gone through with it or was even serious, but he did not talk to me much after that.

The job after that, I met a fireplug with an attitude that intimidated our bosses and people twice his size. One day, he got in my face, demanding I do something for him or he would tear my head off and piss down my neck. Monkey brain bullshit, though I did not know that at the time. I replied that it was unlikely to happen; he woofed some more and went away. I never complied with his order. 

Where I work now, we have this one person (doesn’t every job?) who is under the impression he is running the place. He’s a big person who I have seen manipulate it to where others have been fired. One day, he raised his voice at me. I ignored him, walking away. He came to me to give me more grief about my phone, and I stopped him with a look. This was after the accident, so I was definitely not in the mood for dominance games. 

Throughout my life, I kept track of altercations, except I only focused on the negative, feeding my insecurities. Looking at them overall, I did well in over half of them. Then there are the times I put myself between others and potential trouble, even deterring a few. A few times, I had to drunk wrangle, also taking a punch by one with just a smile. 

So why the insecurity? 

Why was I afraid? 

I write about these not to show how “badass” I am while I thump my chest. It has to give me something concrete to add to the foundation of who I am. Not a scared little kid feeling helpless and without control anymore. As for fear: I was afraid, you know, what if I failed? 

Yet you stand on shaky knees anyway. You always stand up when you are afraid. Some things happen all the time that we cannot change; however, looking at everything like it is the Sword of Damocles ready to drop is not going to help. We have this question in some form or another in our heads…

Can I? 

This is a reactive thought. Instead, try this one…

How will I?

Experience teaches that if we listen to it, it gives us the knowledge of “been there, done that, it’s nothing new.” It helps me to begin to move forward, focusing on helping others, with less fear, to start growing into a better person.


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