A Ronin’s Journey: Chapter 7


After we got home, the court case started moving along quicker. The Prosecutor spoke with our godson’s mother and grandmother about what to do with me. When your world has turned upside down, you see how little control you have. What truly matters becomes apparent to you. Being right is one of them, doing everything your way isn’t either. Everything is negotiable. I thought we were nothing but specks unless you come up with something that makes waves for ages.

That doesn’t mean to give up, to think it’s no use since you probably wouldn’t make a difference on a grand scale. Perhaps you’ll leave a legacy, or make a difference in someone’s life who goes on to cure cancer or some other world-changing event. I was put in a position where others were in control of my fate for a time.

The gavel was going to drop regardless, and how hard was up to four people. The two that mattered on multiple levels, his mom and nana, had forgiven me enough not to let it crush me. At the time, I couldn’t say if I could or would be that gracious in their place. Taking them as an example, is any grudge really that important?

No, not in the context of my life. At the same time, a former friend approached me for forgiveness. Before, it wouldn’t have happened. Now, though, it was an easier choice. Despite the outcome of the court case, it’ll never be the same. The flashbacks remain, other constant reminders are around us of what happened. Both of us were wearing pendants with a small amount of his ashes inside. Casey started wearing hers less, with me stopping altogether. I honestly felt better without it on, placing it beside our little memorial to the baby we miscarried. The fact that I felt better made me want to cry too. Why should I feel better? I should hurt forever, but I don’t want to. Sad, angry, hurting, the question is whether we let this define us or not. It has changed me. The book is the evidence of that as I go through this grief journey. 

Priorities were shifting, patterns falling, and a zest for life starting to return. I was trying to look at things from a different perspective. I had even begun socializing more, climbing out of my bubble, along with an honest reevaluation of my life. I started stripping some things out of life and lessening other things. Even considered a supervisor’s position at work, filling out an application, but in the end, declining it due to not wanting to be tied down. I’m content where I am at in my job, this book doesn’t write itself, WJ requires attention, and most important of all is I’m not sacrificing time with my wife. Besides, ever see anyone like a book you wrote or wear a shirt that you worked on? It’s awesome. Really, I wanted to achieve a level where everything is good again and whatever happens…happens. Press on.

Until the inevitable valley appears, and down we go again. My wife was depressed and isolating, which is common when grieving. My mind was wandering through “what if” scenarios of that day. With one of them ending with Casey shot instead, and the other with me shot. Then I remembered what he looked like. Not long after, I saw a news story where another three-year-old was shot. Salt added to the wound. While comforting my goddaughter as I circled the living room and kitchen, I had a flashback for all three laps when I passed a picture of my godson with Santa. 

The thing about the valley is you can climb out of it. Ever have something in your head holding you back? A voice asking what’s the point, so you never really make plans or ever want to get up in the morning? I took my second chance and started to run with it with an outlook tempted by experience.

Many people have a mental block or an experience that holds them back: in my case, it was the possibility of going to jail. So that had to be dealt with before I could pursue anything earnestly. Do you know what’s holding you back?

Some would say, myself usually included, that it’s merely a lack of will. Except, sometimes the circumstances we face are not under our control and we feel simultaneously pulled in different directions. Knowing I wouldn’t be going to jail, I could finally start moving forward. 

Keying on the altruism defense mechanism, when our pastor suggested working with the homeless along with picking up the sanctuary after church, we looked into it. It appealed to me on four levels at the time: keeping everyone safe, perspective on how good we actually have it, learning from it, and it feeds people.  

In other areas of the new outlook, after having been on the social media jury’s chopping block, I started to be more discerning about what’s noise and facts in a story. Using cops as an example, so much hate is directed at them, yet from my experiences, they’ve been the least judgmental people I’ve met. They know, as I’ve had to learn, that we don’t know what happened until it’s thoroughly investigated. The different parts of the narrative have to be considered based on witnesses, their perceptions, and the evidence without letting your worldview skew it. As a brief aside, if you see a cop not doing anything, it’s a good thing because that indicates all in his area is well. When the lights go on, they’re potentially going into a situation that would give us nightmares, and they do it every day. Perspective. 

The lesson so far seems to be that life messes us up and hiding from it doesn’t help. Instead, embrace the suck, heal, and push on. This too shall pass…except the annoyances, so far. With the negotiations between our attorney and the prosecutor, I had been touchy. A common meme online is “If I was arrested…” Other than trying to brush it off as “street cred laughingly,” I didn’t really think it was funny. 

However, I started to realize some things as I looked back over the first draft of this book. There were too many moving parts that were falling in line perfectly it seemed. I started to wonder if a higher power was at work. The second thing, the Deaf church that I had been on the fringe of, I was growing fonder of them. Four were baptized one night, and for some reason, I needed to be there. Was it the “No one gets left behind” mentality?

A Monday brought more on the legal front. I had a choice of being charged under one of two criminal acts. One would convict me while the other would dismiss the charges later, so I had to take the long view on it. With the Child Maltreatment Registry, the latter would make it easier to appeal our placement on it. My sister texted me, asking if I was going to take it. 

Apparently, the idea was going around the family that I was going to fight the charges. I told her that would be insane. I wasn’t going to fight two charges that I don’t have a guarantee at winning. Then the source of the idea was upset with me for taking the deal that had been negotiated. There is a time to fight, and a time to settle, and negotiation works out better for more people. For one, if my case was lost, it would hurt Casey. If jail were part of the sentence, I would lose my job, and she’d be alone. Defending myself to that extent isn’t worth the physical harm, and they saw the wisdom in that. 

The theft by receiving charge was dropped, which leads me to tell everyone to get a receipt for any big purchases. The endangering the welfare of a minor charge I would be prosecuted under, I accepted that, no contest. The punishment was lighter due to the mercy of my godson’s family, who could’ve put me in jail. What I got was $500 in fines, probation, and a suspended jail sentence. If I messed up once during that year, I’d be going into a cell. The last part of the deal, I had trouble understanding why the stipulation was added that I forever had to relinquish my Arkansas Concealed Carry permit.    

It had expired the month before, and I didn’t even bother to renew it. A few of my friends were upset by it, and theories about why that was added to the deal grew. It did force me to confront a glitch I had, why I hadn’t wanted to carry since the accident, or even shoot, other than to test a theory or two about my shakes and flashbacks.

I didn’t want to renew it, even before the negotiations started. The reason why is, after seeing the aftermath of a shooting, it left a mark on my soul. Others have an idea of it from what they read, heard, or seen on TV. It’s not the same. It’s a burden on my soul, it messes with my head, and I wouldn’t have been able to use my defensive pistol if I had ever needed it. I would hesitate. 

A common saying is “It’s better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.” I had thought about it, read, spoke with those who’d “been there and done that, got the scars,” and realized it’s not that cut and dried. A pistol is a lethal weapon for lethal situations where death is imminent. It isn’t a talisman that makes you mighty that makes you safe by its mere presence. It’s a tool for a job. Safety comes from situational awareness with the knowledge of what to look for, what’s normal and what’s not.

I may need it. However, with that hesitation, it’s a talisman that wouldn’t be used in time to do me any good. One of the things that stuck out to me from my concealed carry class is the averages in a self-defense shooting – 3 shots within 3 feet within 3 seconds. Within that range, someone is in my reach, and I’m not fast enough to draw before they pull the trigger. Others are capable. I’m not. I have made peace with and can adapt accordingly, so I’m not exactly helpless.

After more than six months, I think the psychotherapy had reached the point of diminishing returns in the area I needed it, especially since it was coming out of my pocket at that point. It has helped though in getting stuff out of my head. I could open up about things that make others uncomfortable and want to avoid me. Expressing feelings, venting pressure and thoughts that were building up. One tool among many, it has served me well, providing new directions to look and new things to uncover. Now I can start to put Humpty-Dumpty back together again. The cracks will still be evident as some things cannot be unseen, unheard, or forgotten. It’s how you decide to live with it. 

While in Oklahoma, I bought Antifragile by Nassim Taleb, a book I found very educational. I had gotten it because I wanted to grow stronger in all this, not be broken, not merely returning to normal, but better. After skimming through the math section, I finally arrived at a place I could put to use. After reading it, I decided to incorporate some of his strategies, philosophy, along with a few of his “rules of thumb” into my life. He took the ancient ideas of Mediterranean philosophers, particularly the Roman variant of Stoicism, and coined the term “modern stoicism.” He wrote that it would make you psychologically Antifragile, meaning the more pressure exerted, the stronger you get, even thriving. I appear stoic, but my head is a mess, so getting stronger from it really appealed to me. 

I’m uptight, often told to relax since I’m a proactive control freak. It’s good advice. Hopefully, it’ll be easier for me to loosen up since the significant problems should be covered. I’ll start having redundancies in place so I can enjoy life more by ignoring the little things. The issues that pop up that don’t affect your life in a significant way like gossip, rhetoric, and 99.9% of the stuff on the news. That point was driven in when I was on the news. What is essential is the informative signal, not the social media Internet jury with their limited attention spans and those not involved in your life. That part is just noise. Turn it off and avoid it.

Life is painful and precious at the same time, and it will hurt. Wishing and whining otherwise didn’t work for me. At this point, life is what it is, it could be worse, and sometimes it is worse. The stressors in life are information for us to see where we are weak and, consequently, where we are strong. When it finds a crack, we have gained a valuable lesson. If we are unprepared for it, or it’s simply just too big, then embrace the suck. We cannot run from it so we may as well learn from it. By having the redundancies built into life, we can act instead of reacting, barring an emergency we didn’t see as possible. 

Doing this has helped me relax a little, with my moods stabilizing and me not getting as worked up. I’m even seeing it in my grief journal’s shorter insights, taking a particularly bad day to get me writing in it. Like the news of another three-year-old shooting himself. That, in particular, wore on me. Or the time I had three flashbacks in a row, or remembering hearing the Medevac chopper power down and realizing that he was dead. 

It’s something I haven’t been able to stop, only endure and take a lesson from it about what’s really important. Dark thoughts dance across my mind occasionally, like wondering if one day I’ll find my wife unresponsive or dead when I try to wake her. Or almost having an anxiety attack every time my phone vibrates because of the adrenal memory of the calls and texts telling me something is wrong with Casey, or the police had called. I don’t entertain them, quickly pushing them from my mind. I even made a point of avoiding everything that depressed me. I have enough depressing thoughts in my head without outside influences adding to it.


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