There was a lady I worked for that once said, “I wouldn’t want to speak ill of someone while they are not here to defend themselves.” The sentiment was very touching and profound to me… until a few minutes later when I recalled all the times she had talked bad about other people behind their backs. It was her stock and trade.
That being said, to tell this story fully, I have to paint a picture for you. But this particular painting is done in Jackson Pollock style. And instead of flinging paint, I’m flinging mud.
Growing up, I lived with my grandparents. We were a few miles from town in a mobile home at the municipal airport. Our front door was a few bounding steps away from the tarmac. There were many small two-seater airplanes and ultralights landing and getting gas. Sometimes there was a fancy private jet.
It was an interesting childhood where we could walk down to the end of the runway, roll down a hill, and explore the creeks and the scrub that I considered a forest. We would play all day in an unfinished airplane hanger we called the “metal mines” due to all the rusting scrap metal laying around. Climbing in the airplanes Pope was fixing and hitting the gas truck with sticks. You know.
Once, a boy scout troop came to look at the airplanes. Walking outside and seeing a bunch of kids, I ran back in and watched them from the bathroom window, my heart pounding. With fear? Excitement? I knew even at that young age the isolation had left me a little weird around people.
My grandpa, Pope, ran the office. He would drive the gas truck, run the credit card, and fill the coke machine. His side hustle, which was actually his main thing, was servicing everyone’s airplanes. He would take my cousins, brother, and me to school in the morning. One old man, four kids, and a slobbery boxer dog in a teeny tiny ‘73 Oldsmobile Starfire we called “the little blue car”.
My grandma, Nan, would take care of us, packing our lunches and picking us up from school. She worked at the library and encouraged my love of reading which I still have today. She read bodice-ripping/harlequin romance novels and would smoke in the bathroom which she thought was a secret.
Our parents had moved to the big city and were trying to make their way when they would eventually send for us. I briefly joined them in my third-grade year but was promptly banished back to the airport.
I hated that town at the time, but looking back I just missed my parents. The surroundings would be envied by any kid. There were miles of nature around to traipse through and learn from. My grandparents had us eat dinner together every night. It was great.
Oh, but there was one odd thing. My uncle RD. He was a Junior, firstborn from my grandfather, and went solely by his initials. There was something… wrong with him. He wasn’t born like this, but he would slur his speech like he was drunk. He was always in a bad mood. Later I learned he had done a lot of drugs and been in many car accidents where he would be in the hospital for long periods of recovery. He was also a juvenile diabetic and didn’t take care of his health.
He would tell a ten-year-old me about his girlfriends, strippers he “dated” in the city. He was constantly borrowing money or cars from my grandparents. The money he would blow on strippers and drugs. Cars he would wreck. I couldn’t figure out why they enabled him.
My cousins told me a story about how he was knocking on their door and they pretended to not be home and he took a dump on their porch. Another time he had caught them smoking pot and they thought to not get in trouble they would offer him some. He refused but said, if they had a crack rock he would smoke that.
He once came to my parent’s house and the neighborhood kids said he was like Chewbacca because he was super tall, had wild unkempt hair, and when he would talk it was unintelligible to those who had not spent a lot of time with him.
I don’t know if I was told or just realized on my own, but the message was clear, “you don’t want to turn out like him”.
He lived with my grandparents off and on. Sometimes he had a room in the mobile home. Sometimes he would sleep in the cinderblock office past the main hanger. I wasn’t a fan of the times he was around, but we got by.
I’m in my late teens or early twenties (long after my time at the airport) he was staying with my grandparents full time. He had been held up by a stripper in a hotel room and beaten into a coma. No more cars, no more “girlfriends”. As much as I chaffed at the small-town life as a child, he was feeling the same or worse as a grown man. And he would take out his frustrations by being surly with my grandparents.
Eventually, they get the idea to go on a vacation.
So they call me to ask if I could stay with RD for a few nights. I agreed, and after work, headed to their place at the airport.
Growing up at the airport, when it got dark it was no big deal. There was a slowly spinning light, one side white, one side green that would be on for a pilot that had to land after hours. There was a large airplane hanger we called “the shop” which Pope kept the door open until late. The light inside spilled out onto the tarmac. The mobile home windows were lit from within and a porch light burned as well. Toads would jump around once it was dark out and got cooler. Nighttime at the airport was not scary, you dig?
But driving in that night I noticed how dark it was. The headlights of my car and the airplane beacon seemed to be the only illumination. The mobile home had the faint light from a television flickering inside. The absence of my grandparents’ car suddenly felt ominous.
But… childhood home of my loving grandparents, some lights are off. What could go wrong?
As I bounded up the steps, reached for the door handle, and opened the door I heard the CHICK-CHICK of a shotgun being loaded. Too late to stop, I swung the door open and gazed through, my uncle RD was leveling the barrel of the gun at me. His face was framed in hate and set in grim determination.
RD who, as I have established, just isn’t right in the head. RD, who is itching to take his anger out on someone. Does RD have a gun? When did we ever have guns?
My insides felt like they had turned into liquid.
While my life felt like it was soon to be over, I put my hands up and started screaming, “It’s me RD. Nan and Pope wanted me to stay with you for a few days!”
I assumed they would have told him. What I forgot was would he remember?
It had never occurred to me until now, that what man-child needs some teenager to babysit them?
The point to all this, crazy-man-pulls-a-gun-on-me and I-almost-die story is that sometimes things happen to you and that is life. You can’t always control the events that you will go through, but what you are responsible for is how you respond afterward.
There are terrible things that happen to people that take time and years of therapy to be able to cope with and I’m not trying to trivialize that. But soon after my near-death experience, I was able to laugh about it. Keeping that in mind, someone cutting me off in traffic or being asked to jury duty or any minor inconveniences that we get bent out of shape over really should be no big deal.