A Ronin’s Journey: Chapter 13


We broke the news we were going to move after we arrived at the halfway mark on our savings. It was taken much better than I thought. It was a high note to start the month on, then we got the news that Casey’s stepdad was impaled on a limb.

It didn’t hit anything vital. I wondered as much, as he’d survived; there had to be a purpose to his life that he hadn’t done yet. What saved him is there were no organs where he got stuck at, though there should have been. Both his kidneys were on the opposite side.

We began our house hunt in earnest at that point, with a list and a friend going with us. That day, we hit nine places in three different cities. The homes in a town, Cabot, were small and a little cramped. In our town, the houses were rundown and in dangerous neighborhoods. It made my radar ping. 

In North Little Rock, one place was making me uneasy. I wasn’t sure if it was because of the bullet hole in the glass or the boarded-up home across the street with a nice car parked in front of it. I was going to check crime reports online.

Our pastor suggested a few areas for us to look at that were safe and marked the borders of places we were going to stay out of, period. The thought occurred that we may have to downsize, which would test how possessive we are. 

As for me, I had a two-question filter: Have I used it in the last six months, and do I want to move it? My laziness alone lightened the load. On top of if we could find a big enough place, we wanted a fenced-in yard so the dogs could run around. 

While that was going on, everything at home was still an emotional simmer, with a complete stoic fail on my part. Negative visualization curbed it a bit when I found some cards Casey gave me throughout the years. I put them up so that whoever dies first can be fondly remembered. 

Then I pounded my heavy bag, not cooling off till much later.

Days later, the inevitable topic of what to do for the one year mark of our godson’s death came up. What to do in remembrance? As I walked to the mailbox, I thought to myself, Why would I want to remember?

I remember too much as it is. I want to forget instead. My curse is I remember everything…

The gunshot in the next room and not knowing if he or my wife was hit. 

My wife’s scream. 

Every moment like a slow-motion video in my head.

Every picture is a bloody reminder. I cannot find joy in a picture of him.

I remember having to tell his mom, his ‘stepdad,’ and his godmother he was dead since none of the emergency personnel knew sign language.

I remember being pulled aside by the detective while covered in blood, being questioned if I knew the gun was stolen. 

I remember sitting in the sheriff’s deputy’s car doing paperwork. 

I remember the sheriff’s office trip, unsure if I was going to be walking out. 

I remember the hatred.

I remember the moment I broke, wholly drained, numb, and helpless.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to honor or remember him. The problem was I couldn’t remember anything good. This could feed my demons more, like in February, and that didn’t help. Defeating them by moving forward as a better person would honor him.

Things soon settled again. The new struggle was memories flowing as the date approached. We had a storm roll through one night—lightning filling the sky with arcs of electricity. 

One hit close by and was loud enough to wake the deaf. She jerked awake, in the throes of a flashback, her mind on the moment the gun went off. 

For me, I couldn’t look at the yard without feeling the sensations of the day of the accident. I went into our old room to clean up and had my own flashback. God, I wished those would go away. The only light moment from that day was when I apologized to the detective for interrupting his day off. 

July 4 found us at the baseball game with the Deaf Church. Usually, my nose is on my phone, quickly draining the battery, but not this time. Instead, I was entertaining the kids with games, or were they entertaining me?

I noticed Casey telling some of the new people—at least new to me—about our godson. Felt a bit sad, but what stuck out to me was that she could talk with just a hint of sadness. Progress.

It wasn’t long and my family had me laughing to myself while I watched an argument followed by threats erupting on Facebook. While laughing, I admitted to myself I have a similar problem. Getting angry over scenarios that play in my head over issues I think will or may happen.

In their case, it’s tough-talking keyboard warriors fighting over issues they have no control over. One of the Stoic tools is to change the perspective when angry by finding the humor in it. Sound hard?

What I have started doing when the scenarios run through my mind is to pause. Then imagine what would happen if I said out loud what I was speaking to my mental opponent. It would look like a screaming argument with an imaginary enemy. Hello, straitjacket. 

In the case of online arguments, in a sense, it’s like arguing with a TV. Sure, there is someone on the other end; however, can you really do anything to them? Bust a CAPS LOCK? 

Threats are empty and amusing to whoever’s witnessing it, unimpressed by the tough-guy attitude. It’s just self-soothing over an unimportant slight while arguing with a glass screen. Verbalize it, and the result is the same as my scenarios; we’re all mad here. 

We went back to packing, emptying my office, boxing up movies to either give away or save. We were cleaning out the file cabinet when Casey was invited to lunch with some church ladies the next day. Since it was right before we went to work, I planned to drop her off and grab my own bite to eat somewhere quiet where I could write. 

That gave me time almost to finish the October 2013 chapter. Sitting back with my coffee in the bookstore’s cafe, I mused over the writing process I was using, which I carried over to the blog. 

Live it. 

Process what happened through journaling.

Look for insights and introspection.

Write it, type it, and send it off to Nay and Audrey for editing. 

Later, I was reminded that altruism is still an excellent tonic. I was waiting at the hospital doors for my wife to get off when a guy pulled up. He asked if I would get him a little gas and show him the way off the hospital’s campus. His alternator had gone out, and the $100 to replace it left them without money to get home to Memphis.

I wasn’t sure how real his story was, but he wasn’t pinging my radar with his behavior. My policy is to help the first time if it’s a real need unless I’m obviously being played. 

I did change my method of helping. Last time, I paid at the pump and hoped they wouldn’t go over the agreed-upon amount. This time, I paid inside, eliminating that possibility. We shook hands, and I felt the calluses of a working man’s hand. I left feeling satisfied that I helped someone actually in need. 

That weekend, I had a lot of thoughts to work through. My uncle informed me that my grandmother was moved to a hospice. Despite her not being really coherent, we made plans to see her and my family the next weekend. 

I took a load of movies we didn’t watch to my dad’s and talked about what was going on. He was also planning to go next weekend. From there, I dropped in on my mom and sister. 

I told my mom I was proud of her for leaving a bad relationship. “Just because it’s something you’re familiar with doesn’t mean it’s okay,” I said to her. She liked it and the encouragement. 

Later, for some reason, I had a flashback. I have no idea what triggered it. We finished up the balloon release plans to mark the “anniversary” of our godson’s passing. It would just be the five of us. That was a number I could easily handle. 

One morning during the week, I woke up to a noise. Crying. I turned over, meeting Casey’s wet eyes. She was really missing our godson. I comforted her until we both fell asleep, only to be woken up again by a text.

My grandma had died.

She’s the sixth person to have died in my circle during a twelve-month period. I wasn’t handling them well, using all my tactics to deal with it. 

I thought about putting something on my Facebook; however, I didn’t care to see all the “sorry for your loss” comments. I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me. Instead, I put in for the funeral leave, then texted my uncle to let him know that I’d help him any way I could when I got there. 

He wouldn’t have to do it all himself. He texted back, asking if I would be a pallbearer. I agreed, and after putting my phone up, I had the familiar “I want to cry but can’t” sensation.

We arrived at an empty house, making good time despite Arkansas’ constant interstate construction. Casey was hungry, finding us a great little restaurant to eat at nearby. While we ate, my uncle texted me to let me know he was back. 

We met him at the house, unloaded, and spoke a bit before the visitation. Grandma was at the same mansion-like funeral home my grandpa was in. At first, I went in alone. She didn’t look like how I remembered her, more like a wax statue. 

I left and returned back with my wife, who knew I needed time alone. A light rain began to fall. It was reminiscent of a funeral scene in a movie. 

We slowly walked across the cemetery, where my grandpa rested, talking as I cleared my head. As we walked, we noticed and set back in place a few of the decorations and flowers along the way after the wind had knocked them over and scattering them. 

When we arrived at the headstone, I remarked to Casey that both of them had died at 73. We slowly circled the cemetery, reading headstones as we moved back towards the funeral home. Once inside, I made my way to a small room off to the side with a coffee maker in it. I sat by the window, looking across the parking lot, sipping coffee, processing.

We got back to the house, all of us tired, yet enjoying the peace as we visited. Later, after Casey fell asleep, I had a long talk with my uncle until 2 AM. Mostly it was me listening as he made me think. We covered the subjects of the times death occurs, how people are placed in critical moments, and purging the emotional cancer inside.

He then said something that partly echoed what Katy had told me and Casey in Atlanta, that our days are numbered. He said that while I did have to deal with finding my godson, I had also been there to love him in his final moments. That helped me as I went to sleep.

The funeral seemed like a blur. Most faces I remembered, and some I hadn’t seen in a long time. Most of the time that day I spent with the kids, who reminded me that I’m getting older. The time was well spent playing with my niece and my cousin’s daughter, with brief interludes of making faces at my other uncle’s adorable daughter. Faster than I liked, it was time to go home, arriving exhausted and irritable. 

It felt like I had cycled through all the stages of grief in days. Anger, sadness, and depression left me in less of a mood for people than usual. I spent a church service just letting the emotions wash over me, without thinking of them, only allowing them to hit. When I looked up, I felt drained and flushed out.

While my wife ate with our friends, I walked down the sidewalk to get coffee and be alone. I wondered if it was all catching up to me, swearing I had a permanent dark look to my eyes. Casey assured me I didn’t, so I wasn’t sure if it was all in my head or what.

July 21, 2014, one year since my godson had died. My Facebook feed was filled with memorial posts. I posted on my blog about it. The day was a test of my stoicism for sure. I still couldn’t look at a picture. 

I was ready to start moving forward. 

Everything I saw and heard was a reminder. We had been technically living in half a house, the other half practically cordoned off and used for storage. My flashbacks had been happening less, yet were returning with a higher frequency. Any pictures caused distress, triggering bad memories. 

I couldn’t remember any of the good times, like there was a block in my head. I looked across the empty yard. It was still filled with emergency vehicles, police cars, and friend’s vehicles in my mind’s eye. 

Honestly, I’ll never forget that day. No one should worry about that. It’s a constant presence. I remember that instant, the fear, everything as vivid as a movie. The burden of being the bearer of bad news, the aftermath, and fear of what was going to happen next.

The hatred.

The moment I went numb, drained of all energy as shock settled in. My adrenals were finally tapping out. 

I bear it with sadness and a sigh since dwelling on it just feeds it. The better choice is to learn and use it to become better than before, to become someone we would both like. Stoicism has helped to a degree, along with preparing to move, helping to clear my head as we downsized. 

The idea of a new place as captains of our destiny was a relief after not having much control before. Maybe in another city, new homes, new routines. A fresh start. 

We gathered with our balloons. On mine, I had a note taped face down. It was a note just between my godson and me. I knew he’d never see the apology I wrote him. It did feel very liberating afterward. 

The next day, we were in the old room where the accident occurred when Casey found my jump rope that he loved to play with. It brought back good memories, something I hadn’t had in a long time. It seemed like a block had lifted a bit, so I don’t see all the bad. 

Some progress, at least. 

We weren’t the only ones dealing with grief. A coworker reminded me that later that week would mark the second anniversary of his son’s murder. The kicker is, his son worked with my wife at the hospital and was her first friend. 

My sister texted me to tell me she finally had broken down into tears the day before. Pressure relief. I envied that. 

All this time, I was still making payments on my fine. While standing in the police department’s middle, I realized I didn’t want to live in Lonoke or Jacksonville. Not really. I wanted to get away.

Memories abound. Even cleaning out a room in the house, I found some ammunition. Handling them, I got the shakes, something that hadn’t happened in a long time.

I had been thinking for a long time about getting baptized again, for several reasons. One of them was that it’s a symbol of rebirth. Another reason was that it was something Casey had wanted to do together for a long time. I had always hesitated. 

I’m supposed to be a loner and not really join anything. Except that I had. I was “adopted” and even put in a position of leadership. I didn’t really have any reservations at this point except nervousness as August 10 approached. 

The Monday following, we had a meeting at the tire plant about what to do during an active shooter situation. The company’s advice was to run away, hide, and make sure you obey the police. My plan was more in-depth than that.

The plant is mostly surrounded by a levee. My goal was to get on the other side of it and let tons of dirt catch any bullets flying in my direction. Then crawl under the fence where a creek runs onto the property. If I was inside, I was going through a window. These are the thoughts that go through my head if I’m bored at work lately. 

I filled my time afterward watching an argument online over a celebrity’s comments. I thought back to something I read on an author’s Facebook page on how to filter information. Marc’s advice keeps me out of debate/arguments over social or political issues these days. 

He told the story of an intelligence analyst asking his officers three questions. I added a fourth that decides if I get involved or not. 

First, what do I know? The answer has to be backed up with facts (to the original source would be ideal) and my own experience if I have any.

Secondly, what don’t I know? This is a far deeper well than what I know. It’s where what I haven’t seen evidence for, I may make the mistake of adding my assumptions to fill the gaps or twist the facts. Beliefs are essential and must be accounted for.

Thirdly, do I even care? Unless it affects my basic survival, it has to be an interesting mental exercise at best. 

Finally, what do I think? With the data at hand, I can make a better, more informed point or choose not to. Either way, I still learn something, like what my biases are.

Taking the story as an example, a celebrity allegedly insulted a race of people. Let’s run this through the filters.

Facts? He does run off at the mouth. I have never heard of him attacking that group of people, though it’s possible. The internet media from obscure sites love to sensationalize to elicit emotion.

Beliefs and missing information? It seems counter to his usual praise of that culture overall, and I don’t know if this is true.

Personal interest? I have enjoyed his books and music, so I read the story and then went through the links cited to retrieve more information.

My opinion? The article’s author took a real statement directed at a few and attributed it to a larger group of people. I will acknowledge that until we see a recording that I could be wrong. Anything else other than a record is “a guy told me what he heard another guy say about…”

This filter saves me from a lot of headaches. 

The family reunion on my dad’s side fell on the last weekend of the month. My dad couldn’t make it. My sister never goes, and my heart wasn’t in it since even Casey worked that day. I did want to see my extended family, so I went, unsure how long my introversion would allow me to stay. 

I arrived, feeling a little out of place. That didn’t last long. Spoke with my great-uncle, who’s in his 80s and doesn’t look a day over 65. I hope I can move like that if I make it to that age. 

The rest of the time was spent speaking to another introvert, my dad’s cousin, his youngest daughter—a fan of my writing—and her husband. It wasn’t until it all started to wind down that I was asked about the stolen gun issue. Briefly, my godson was mentioned when they told me my great-aunt saw it on the news. Everyone knew; we’d brought him to previous reunions. 

I left feeling a little nostalgic, so instead of continuing north, I pointed my car west to my hometown. The new bypass they had built around the city did throw me a little. I drove into the small town of fewer than 300 people and retraced the route I followed on my bike as a kid. 

I gazed at the new houses sitting where I remembered only cows living a decade earlier. The landscape was changing. I tried to put names to homes, unsure if the people still lived there or not. Reminiscing on the old days as a kid, it cheered me up as I drove home. 

During the final week, I had two very odd dreams on different nights. The first one was a hallucination by the “me” in the dream. Dream “me” saw my godson walk up to him and disappear, followed by a flashback. 

The second dream, I wanted to kill myself in a plan to live risky. I woke up questioning if it was true or not. I just couldn’t describe it until later. I had a death wish in the dream.

An interesting end to the month.


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