A Ronin’s Journey: Chapter 5

November

This month didn’t start off well at all. I was awoken by the phone. Groggily, I answered. We got news no one wants: our goddaughter had stopped breathing. She was coming around as the emergency crews worked on her next door. Quickly, we dressed and rushed over to see what would happen. It was decided that she would go to Children’s Hospital for observation in the ambulance. As they left, I couldn’t help but think “not another one.” They held her for a few days to watch for it again, but it didn’t occur there, so she was sent home. 

I stayed home due to my doctor’s appointment for the dizzy spells. I rarely go to the doctor, so I have to update my insurance information every time. I was diagnosed with vertigo and put on a medicine that had drowsiness for a side effect. I almost fell into a 390-degree mold. I wasn’t going to risk a fourteen-hour drive to Florida. Unfortunately, I had to cancel that business trip. 


Days later, I rode to a Deaf event with my wife and some friends called Silent Sunday. It’s an annual event featuring different restaurants handing out samples. Being around so many people quickly took its toll on me, and I fell asleep. Being an introvert, the more people I’m around, the quicker I tire. Then I heard a pop. Suddenly, I was in the bathroom taking out my contacts again when I heard the gunshot. The popping noise triggered a flashback, and I was wide awake at that point. 

Things kept piling on top of us. My court date looming, and being the arraignment, I read that’s the last opportunity for the charges to be dropped. I had my fingers crossed for that one. No one was really operating on much sleep since my goddaughter’s tendency to stop breathing had most everyone sleeping in shifts, so she was always watched. Then the arraignment arrived. I was nervous but not as much as I expected. It ended anticlimactically. I wasn’t even needed, a pattern that seemed to be building during these events. 

The main lesson I had been noticing was paying attention to the difference between what I think is happening as opposed to what is really happening. Earlier in the book, we went over my paranoid perception of what was going on versus the calmer actuality of it all. An example from a previous chapter was where the understanding of my past was one of weakness until I flipped that coin over to reveal the strength. The start of this month began the reinforcement of that principle.

A lot of people hate needles; I’m not fond of them either. When I went to the doctor about these dizzy spells, they wanted to draw blood. Looking at the needle triggers a fear of pain well before it even happens. That’s the perception until you face it and see without blinders, so I watched the needle pierce my skin and felt nothing. Focus on the actuality rather than the mind’s love of drama, and the world is less scary.

The next time happened at Silent Sunday, which had a dance floor that some of the hearing volunteers were on. Almost all of them were girls, with only two guys brave enough to join them. The rest of the guys stood off to the side, watching with crossed arms or their hands in their pockets. The perception was one of “cool aloofness will get the girls to talk to me.” At least that was my line of thinking when I was in school. What actually works is getting on the floor with them and making it happen.

I was reminded a third time when my informally adopted sister—one of three—dodged a scam. She was beating herself up about it, though nothing was lost since she caught on before it ended. It doesn’t serve us to look at something and curse. Contrary to that, think, “It happened, I stopped it, now how do I prevent it next time?” Scam artists are everywhere, and they’re very good at their jobs. When it hits the news, then someone had to learn the hard way about the con.

Perception: I messed up.

Actuality: She didn’t. 

The final one happened the night before my arraignment, where for once, I wasn’t the one panicking. The worry that filled my inner circle was media presence since the arrest made the news. The thought was they would be camped out to follow up on the story. Actually, it was just family there, and I rode with them. 

Later in the day, before work, when talking to my dad’s side of the family, a few jumped to conclusions before I had gotten very far in the recounting of the morning. It isn’t about what we think; usually, it’s about what we feel should have happened. Our beliefs are facts that we’ve run through our filters: typically experience, worldview, personality, and ego. An optimist’s reality could be our idea of Hell, for example. 

The truth is, our situation is precisely what it is, not what you believe it to be, for the most part. Reacting to what you expect is a waste of energy and time on fantasy instead of taking life moment by moment. A basic plan for the future is excellent—just remember that failure is an option. Sometimes we don’t have a say in it. Life is much happier when I focus on what I can control, adapt to what I can’t, and learn from it all. 


A while back, I volunteered with a relief organization, mainly disaster services since my odd hours make it hard to get training. Altruism is a common occurrence from what I’ve read in Marc’s book In The Name of Self-Defense. That was one of the ways I was coping, while my wife battled depression by focusing on what made her happy. Mainly babies. 

One night at work, she sent me a text I didn’t understand that had me worried, except I couldn’t pin down why. I recalled a Transformational Statement (from Unchained) I used to pin down the reasoning. When triggered, I would say, “Ask yourself when you start to react emotionally, what directs your behavior beyond what’s happening? Is it filtered through past experiences or what you expected to hear?” Doing so will slow the triggers since you can recognize them. 

The anxiety spike was from not understanding past cryptic text messages. It left an uneasy feeling of not knowing what was next or what it meant for me. I had to thought-stop them before the “What-if?” cycle got too far along.


When modern gun deer season arrived, I left early Sunday morning to go into the mountains. I hadn’t been away from home—alone and far away—for quite a few months. Generally, I had been surrounded by people. The mountains are where I usually clear my head, the thoughts springing up to be entertained and noted. I had a lot of journal entries at the half-hour mark. 

One dark thought was “what if I get shot today?” I don’t know why it came to mind other than mortality being the theme of a few essays I had written the past few months. After that thought danced through my brain, the idea of context took its turn on the stage. I pondered the fact that it takes only one person removed to lose the context of a situation. The friend of the person who was in a situation, for example, is usually more emotional than the ones involved. 

I climbed a small mountain that overlooked a funnel to sit and watch, the terrain driving deer to a more natural crossing like a funnel. I thought it would be a good time for the Centering Drill, only to wake up ten to twenty minutes later. Relaxed was the word of the moment. It is in the mountains where I seem to think the clearest. Here in the hunting grounds, I had written most of my section in Howls From The Wolfpack. That day, I wasn’t really hunting as my heart wasn’t into it. I was there for nature therapy. 

My thoughts were drifting from martial arts, mainly my style Jeet Kune Do and where it fits as a system. It was a welcome change of pace to think about where it shines best as a dueling art rather than a battlefield art. Then I went over some articles saved on my phone, including one on reaching your personal ideal. To sum that one up: fake it till you make it a habit. A method I could definitely put to use. 

When I arrived back at camp, I was talking to my dad and brother until I put my foot into my mouth. Discussing my arrest with my brother, at one point, I sat back, and in my best older brother voice, I stated, “Facing the legal system isn’t fun, so don’t ever get arrested.”

Stellar advice, right? Right up there with the time I told him never to move into a girlfriend’s house or risk homelessness. He looked me dead in the eye and reminded me he had been arrested…twice. I had forgotten about that. While that advice had been too little too late, the essays I had been posting online were getting a good response as far as helping people. I took the lessons I’d been learning and put them out there for others in similar spots. If you followed my blog, you saw them as “excerpts” for this book. 

Even more than that, it seems I was being tested on multiple occasions. Months earlier, I had asked for redemption, and at the time, it seemed a higher power had said “okay.” I’m not sure now that it couldn’t be life preparing me for something down the road, or I was being used to help someone in need at the time. I hadn’t changed my habits or routines, so it wasn’t anything that I was looking for—the situations found me. Situations that needed a cooler head. 

The traits of altruism and selflessness haven’t been areas I used since I was younger. I see things as something that needed to be done with the side effect of enjoying it. Through the process, I learned things about myself and techniques that deal with what’s happening inside that have been tested in action. An example being, sidestepping the emotional flood of anxiety by not entertaining the thoughts so they die out quicker while I observe. I learned that from one of Marc’s essays on an old website. Experience taught me that my Plan B is much better than my Plan A, usually in efficiency and using Rory’s drill on initiative to train applying your plans from his eBook Drills.

That same day, I had to use these when night fell over the mountains. Quite honestly, the hills after dark scare me a little since I can’t see what’s moving outside the light. I had gotten lost and turned around during the day years ago, but being lost at night was worse with only a narrow beam of light to show the way.

My brother and I were back in camp before dark, but Dad hadn’t returned yet. Usually, he comes in no later than a half hour after dark. That time came and went, so I found a spot where I could see both ways in. As I peered through the darkness, the rush of anxiety rose. I mentally sidestepped it, setting a time when I would go in after him. While the time counted down, I ran through a variety of plans for different scenarios. I had a response for everything I could humanly do.

What if it was because he had killed a deer? Find him and help. This is the most likely scenario. 

However, what if he had a heart attack out there? Dad does have a history. I could do CPR, if necessary, and run to the ER with him. It wouldn’t be the first time we had to, though luckily, that time was a false alarm. 

If he was lost, then it depended on a couple of things—how close to the road versus deep timber. By the road is easier. Deeper in and I call the National Forest Service. 

What if I found him with a broken leg? I could rig a splint for it. I even considered he might be dead. I wouldn’t have anything for that. My fatalistic tendency was still there. 

First, I had to get to him. How? Working from the problem back to decide what I needed was a flashlight, emergency kit, and a gun. Plan A, which was slow, inefficient, and could be improved on. Plan B, go around the old logging road’s gate in my truck since it’s faster and a flashlight doesn’t have anything on headlights. 

After mentally setting 6:30 PM as the time to go—giving him more than enough time if he had been traveling from his normal hunting area—I was ready. I advised my brother he was to stay in the camp in case I missed Dad. The plan was, if Dad was hurt, I would go straight to the emergency room, then return for my brother. 

Then a shot rang out from the darkness—it wasn’t far either.

I jumped into the truck, pulled out onto the road, then left on the road beside camp that led to the food plot just behind camp. I parked, light cutting across the high grass. Leaving the truck, I called his name, walking to the edge of the light, listening.

Nothing.

Returning to the road, I turned toward the gated logging road. After parking in front of the gate, I got out to check to see if it was locked. Finding it unlocked, I pulled it open, returned to the truck, and crept slowly down the road. I had my windows down so I could hear better as I scanned the lit area. Close to the second S-curve, I watched a figure step from the woods. Dad. 

Relieved, I listened as he sank into the seat, recounting how he tried our new shortcut but got turned around. He had just decided to start building a fire when he heard me coming. I told him I had been terrified I was going to have another bad day and the worst year ever. 

From the sound of the shot to when I found him—or did he find me?—twenty-two minutes had passed. An hour later, I was still coming off of the adrenaline. It had been a small adventure for me, for sure. Learning and confirming some things about myself that night. 


As the month progressed, I looked back at past chapters, where I had eviscerated myself with introspection. I didn’t like what I had found. Since then, I had made good progress working through my faults to become a better person. I just didn’t like, nor could I respect, the person I was before. 

I looked at three areas in my life, questioning myself. Was I a loving husband? Yes. However, I could be a better one. I was a mediocre family man. Now I worked to be more involved. One line I wrote in a draft of this was “professional at everything I do.” Even in shock, my ego came out to play. It wasn’t professionalism—it was just being fortunate not to see anything that had made me freeze yet. Considering what I’ve seen, I hope I never do.

When I was growing up, I wanted to be a superhero, acting out different ones over the years. Everyone loves a hero—they always win and they save people. To be an antihero was to be tough and not having anyone mess with you. That was how I thought of myself, my perception in the face of cold actuality. People generally carry an image of who they are that doesn’t match what they do.

The kind of people we are is seen in what we do, how we treat others (mainly strangers). What we value is seen in what our free time is spent on. Sit and think where you are on that scale. I kept a timeline of what I did for a week to see where my priorities lie—that’s one way of seeing what you value. An idea I got from Rory Miller’s book Drills

Now that you’ve done that, ask yourself, Do I like this person?

One night during a conversation on respect in a Facebook group, we were discussing being entitled to respect. I was challenged on why I thought I deserved respect. My answer was “I don’t.” Later in hindsight, I recognized some people should be respected for what they do and not be taken for granted. I’ve seen it and have been guilty of it. Going in-depth on my answer, I stated that I had all I needed in my self-respect, something that was grounded in the real world for once. 

I started listing the reasons why I respected myself, like the times I watched over whatever group I was in, moving appropriately to deter problems and acting when others didn’t. Then there were the times I had helped those that others had turned their backs on, using my experiences to help them. Though this book doesn’t seem like it, I didn’t do it for the props. At the time, I did it because I found altruism to be a useful attribute to have. 

My brother-from-another-mother posted a picture of my favorite comic character with a quote about what you do is what defines you. I answered with “I’m Ronin, and what I do is help people through hell or stop it before it arrives.”

Arrogance?

I’ve been musing over a theory that you don’t honestly know who you are until it’s tested in actuality. I don’t remember if I read it somewhere or it popped into my head, though I’m leaning towards the former. 

In the previous chapter, my past was examined, comparing it to now and how to deal with those same fears I had experienced before. The response is generally as simple as setting a boundary, being assertive, and addressing them as an equal. Alternatively, the fear of not being good enough to protect anyone against a potential threat is also present. That changed a little when my wife and I went to the Little Rock River Market.

After getting fed up with the process of her therapy, my wife decided we should go for a walk. I like to people watch, and along with a beautiful day, I couldn’t say no. It was an excellent day to get out of the house. During the walk, she noticed half of the people my personal radar pinged on. In the crowds, six were out of place enough to catch my attention. 

One was in a hurry, focused on a mission as he moved briskly away. The second was a guy that resembled a hippy who was angling in our direction, in a hurry as well, passing us to continue to his truck. Number three was behind us but keeping his distance, not closing range. One of them that she noticed was a teenager standing on the corner, so she moved around to put me between him and her. I usually “direct traffic,” something I picked up from Bobby; however, she did it on her own. 

On the way back, I noted a guy leaning against the building as we passed. He didn’t fall in behind us to potentially close us into the pincher strategy. However, on the next block, a guy stepped out of the open bar area as we passed. Approaching from behind us, he asked for a cigarette. I turned to face him as my adrenaline dumped, answering with a rise in my voice. “I don’t smoke.”

He was insistent, repeating the question, a method I remembered from reading Marc’s post on criminal interviews to weigh the risk/benefit ratio of mugging someone. He was testing my boundaries—would I be assertive or negotiate? Then he stepped closer, confirming his intent. I responded by angling back to keep out of range. Marc called it shadow dancing, like a chess game with real-world stakes.

“I don’t smoke,” I repeated, trying not to leave any hooks open, per Rory’s advice. I automatically moved my arms and hands up, the fight reflex preparing itself as my primitive reptile brain waited. He walked towards the street as I kept turning—my strong side pointing towards him—as he moved away saying it’s a bad habit of getting into. My wife had moved away towards the car, so I had room to move, something we had discussed back when I had my concealed carry license. That was when I pinged on another guy looking uninterested as he walked up to the smoker, saying something as we left towards the car.

Afterward, I analyzed what had happened, asking Bobby about it, due to his experience as a cop. It’s human nature to second-guess and nice to have a voice of experience to bounce it off of. Another friend checked my ego, reminding me I’m not an unstoppable über-badass. It did reinforce that I function reasonably well with adrenaline so far, though I’ll avoid areas and situations where I may have to test that again. Next time, we might not get lucky enough that they decide the risk isn’t worth it. Other than that, it had been a great day, acting silly, watching TV at home. Took pictures of Casey trying to get squirrels to come to her. 


The following day, I reassembled my Model 1911 pistol I had field-stripped when I went to Illinois earlier in the year and locked it up. I stared at my trembling hands after I had finished. From there, it escalated to an auditory flashback, then a visual one. Both triggered by a TV show and a picture, respectively. My wife hadn’t been doing so well either as she texted me telling me about a breakdown she had at work. She had been depressed earlier in the day. 

As for me, I had to unlike a page on Facebook after one of their comic strips hit a little too close to home with me. In it, a little boy’s mom and newborn brother died during childbirth. His dad said they went to the Happy Place, so the little boy killed himself. His dad found a note he had left saying he was going to find them. It reminded me too much of the time right after the accident when my wife wanted to die so she could see our godson again. It was terrifying to make sure she didn’t get to the point she followed through on that. I learned a lot about prioritizing family the last few months after getting ripped out of my inner world and into the real one. 


As days passed, we met with our attorney, passing on the news my sister gave me. She had run into a guy I worked with in the past. He was willing to be a character witness, if needed. It was a gentle reminder that in the big picture I’m just a face, and it’s those that know me that are important. In one meeting, a memo obtained during the discovery process of the case from the detective to a prosecutor or some other official. In it, he had noted that he saw no reason to press charges due to the accidental nature of it. Seeing that helped me quite a bit in the guilt department. I was still facing charges, but it was because of the politics of it all.

In the other areas, I had made progress. What about being a better family man? I have to remember that in helping others I can’t neglect those at home. They come first, something I factor into every decision I make. Mostly it’s about being a good husband, which comes with a lot of responsibility and priority shifts. We went to a marriage conference on making stronger marriages, and I took a lot away from it. 

One is cultivating the habit that no matter what you’re feeling, you see your spouse as a gift, faults and all, every day. They aren’t the enemy; they are on the same team as you. This perspective applies to them as well. Both people aren’t perfect, so neither can hold a moral high ground for long. They should remain each other’s priority, even after having children. To me, that means the kids are equal to the spouse, and if you work as a team, it’s easier to make sure no one bears a heavier burden. 

Ronin may be my pen name; however, I’m by no means unaffiliated with anything. I’m the head of our small clan of two, and she is my equal. Her strengths are my weaknesses. My strengths, in turn, shore up her weaknesses, They complement each other. Decisions are made with her counsel since they affect us both. The word “samurai” means “to serve.” That is my duty to her, to love and to live for her self-sacrificially. I do that right, and her role of following my lead while we go forward is much more comfortable. 

If you want to look at it with less emotion involved, think of it this way: anyone connected to you is a support network of some sort. As a child, your support network is your immediate family, generally. Then you grow into an independent entity, rendering your old support network mostly unnecessary except as an advisory position. Then you meet someone, get married, leaving one support network to create a new one together who can meet the needs your family cannot. This applies to both of the newlyweds in making a new future together. Life is a constant work in progress and the next week is unknown, but as we’re moving forward. We’re on the right track. 


Towards the end of November, I went to my nephew’s school Thanksgiving since my sister couldn’t make it. She didn’t want him to eat alone, so I met him there with his Nana. Casey opted out, deciding to stay at home, and I was glad. Seeing all the little kids and their parents was getting to me. I wanted this. I wanted to visit my kids in school at lunch, spending time watching them grow. I felt like crying at that moment. When I tried to talk to a friend at work about it when questioned, we were interrupted, and he tuned me out. 

Why bother answering? Do I do it too?

I carried that thought with me for a while, looking at it from different sides. Watch when people greet each other, Note the polite, superficial questions. What if you gave a thoughtful answer instead of a reflexive “all right.” How long is their attention held? Many—myself included—will “listen” while already distracted by what we want to say next. In today’s age of cell phones, they’ll look at it instead of the person they’re face to face with before looking back at them. 

I work to listen actively, which has gotten people to want to come to me to vent their problems and issues. Where I work to purge, they talk, and I will listen. You can learn a lot by telling your brain to shut up so you can pay attention. A lot of things you don’t want to keep bottled up, and finding someone who cares enough to listen goes a long way. You don’t have to fix them, just listen, responding when asked. 

We had two people we saw: our pastor and my therapist. Since we couldn’t get anything worked out for my wife, I kept seeing the therapist while she saw the pastor. This past week, I needed both of them with anxiety surfacing again, bringing worst-case scenarios with it.

The following Saturday, I got a call while I was in my JKD class that my wife was home, confused. She couldn’t remember who our goddaughter was and was asking for our godson. I left immediately. By the time I arrived, she was better. However, I still took her to the ER to get her checked out. 

They did blood work, urine tests, and a basic psych evaluation. The doctor diagnosed her with short-term memory loss, confusion due to depression and trauma, and lack of sleep on top of it. That led to a long talk about getting enough sleep. Afterward, I text my dad, canceling my plans to go hunting with him so I could keep an eye on her. It had been two months to the day since her last visit, and a lot of routines had to be changed. 

Only days later, our goddaughter had another episode where she stopped breathing. A family friend woke us, so we rushed next door to see what we could do. Her mom had gotten her breathing again as the emergency personnel arrived. When a sheriff’s deputy walked in to assess the situation, my heart skipped a beat, the memories still fresh. 

Later that week, we went to the doctor for a follow-up on Casey’s condition. He ordered an MRI to be sure nothing was going on. The deductible for that canceled my planned trip to the Wicked Jester warehouse. Life was really pounding on us at the time. My mood tanked, and I felt useless, so I focused on what I could do.

The depression rolled into a memory of my godson’s voice, then remembering what I’d seen that day. Worries about the legal strategy, how will the negotiations go, why is the process so slow—my head was a mess. The “carnival in my head”—a term I ripped off from my brother— started playing a tune that grounded out memories that fueled darkness, pain, and rage. 

I looked around at the people surrounding me at work, and I didn’t like them. No reasoning behind it—I just didn’t like them. I sat, noting them, one by one…

I don’t like you.

I don’t like you either. 

Or you.

It started to escalate into hatred, causing me to step back, thinking, Whoa! I stopped, then centered myself with the Centering Drill to pull me out of my head a bit. The remaining thoughts were dark, without the tinge of hatred. Apathy took its place instead. 


The last day of the month found me watching over our goddaughter while everyone rested. The 24-7 watches continued until the episodes stopped. When C came over to watch her for a while, I listened to her vent. I don’t mind being a soundboard for people needing an ear, I know full well that keeping it bottled up isn’t healthy. 

Later, my wife had her MRI before work. While we waited, we spoke of holiday plans. There weren’t any, and we didn’t have any real intention of making any. As the therapist predicted, old traditions died since the holidays would have a noticeable hole in them, making it hard. It would be an excellent time to make our own new traditions.

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