Last month was my big one-year anniversary celebration at my home group. Prior to that I did my speech back at the hospital, but as I mentioned before, that was a totally different animal. Your one-year speech for your fellow AA’ers is more of a…drinkalogue. You get to tell your story and use the majority of the allotted one hour meeting time limit. I had three other people celebrating with me, all with several years of sobriety, and they all told me the same thing…”first year people take a long time,don’t worry about it”. Obviously, I’m no stranger to public speaking, and I have my methods down when it comes to limiting my time, building a crescendo, working the crowd, etc. I just didn’t realize how much crap I had to pack in there, and I think I took around thirty five minutes. But it was a good thirty five minutes…I know how to work it.
The overall theme of an anniversary speech is “what we were like then, what happened, and what we are like now”. For newbies, there is more of a focus on “what we were like and what happened”, because although you get to know people and you share a lot around the tables, only a handful of people know “your story”. Well, it was sometimes raucously hilarious, sometimes sad, and generally well received as I launched into my journey that began with my uncle getting me high when I was about three, to me standing in a puddle of my own shit in my kitchen at 40. On the surface you have the bizarre dichotomy of a one-time pentecostal minister turned porno dealer turned IT schmoe….but below that there is a ton of interwoven activity and intrigue that can only be shared anonymously in the hall. I know I’m “anonymous” here, but some things can be more damaging than others when committed to the printed word. But trust me, as some details were revealed I got a healthy amount of “street cred” from some of the folks in the program who have spent more time on the periphery of the law than others. My wife and I joke that, when it comes to many of the ladies down at the hall, I must be the embodiment (on the AA scale) of the love child of George Clooney and Brad Pitt….that is to say, I was spared the majority of the darker repercussions of addiction…I got out sooner than many. And all joking aside, I am grateful for that fact every single day of my life. But hey, here’s me, got a job, a house, a car, nice skin, nice teeth, an education, no criminal record…..I’m fuckin’ English Bob. So when I got into some of the real meat of “what we were like then”, it underscored the facts that A) I am incredibly lucky to be alive, and B) boy do I ever belong in this program.
As per usual, the first paragraph or two of my ramblings are but a lead-in to what I’m really going to talk about. This being no exception, I will say that the mystical timing and graphic subject matter of my one-year anniversary was not lost on me when I got some news about an old friend last week. And as per usual, I will mention that in my blog, unless I am OBVIOUSLY writing bullshit, I’m really telling the truth. And the truth here is…. when I look back on my life there are two very distinct, dangerous, and graphic events that have taken place that, at their worst would have killed me, and at their best would have altered the path of my life to a degree that, if I did live this long, I probably would not be able to vote, buy firearms, or get hired for any type of reputable job that required any level of real responsibility. Somehow in both instances, I ended up getting Door #3…a free pass with fair to moderate lifelong psychic trauma.
As far as the trip in the wayback machine….when I was a youngster in high school I had to make a conscious choice between either being the fat kid who did the nerdy crap he really wanted to do like theatre and D&D and suffer through five years of torture at the hands of the other kids….OR I could go the 80’s metal route, get into drinking, drugs, firearms and explosives and be the fat kid you didn’t fuck with. That’s the path I chose. And it was one awesome fucking path. And I will add here that if went to a “real” high school in Wyandotte County vs. the college prep magnet arts and science school I attended, the tough kid thing would have lasted for about a week before I got the shit beaten out of me enough times to go back to Chess Club or whatever nerd paradise awaited me. As I am in all things that interest me, I was an overachiever. And it was the mid-80’s….a different world than it is now. The shit that my Napoleonic partner in crime and I pulled would absolutely be considered “domestic terrorism” by today’s standards. Looking back some of it is just hilarious, but also chilling when I realize that it’s a miracle I have my eyesight and both hands. We researched, built and field-tested every item we could from every old military survival manual we could get our hands on at gun shows….we knew how to make napalm, we could construct working silencers that fit onto the barrels of the homemade guns we manufactured…but we didn’t have to mess with homemade guns that often because his family was from the hills of Virginia and they stockpiled guns WAY before it was the “cool” militia-style thing to do. In short, we blew shit up and burned shit down, and funded our hijinx by manufacturing and selling ultra-explosive M-80’s (we had our own recipe for the flash powder, and we would triple sift it with loving care for that bigger “bang”) as well as bigger, badder versions that used PVC pipe instead of the cardboard casings.
My buddy had a 1970 Camaro with all of the hot-rod crap in it….the four barrels, fiberglass hood…I’m not a car guy so I won’t keep talking about it and sounding stupid, but I’m telling you, this car was badass, and had we not been the equivalent of Lardass from the movie Stand By Me, and Ratso Rizzo, all of the accoutrements of white trash bad-assdom would have gotten us laid to the point where the free clinic had penicillion on stand-by for us 24X7. BUT if we were getting laid all of the time we would not have been able to perfect such fine weapons of mass destruction.
I think he was one year older than me. Both of us had pretty insane reputations at school, and I really cannot paint a picture of how gloriously low-rent our classic 80’s existences were on the weekends…we were bad kids who hung out with people older and much scarier. Drinking red grape malt duck and smoking Thai stick while flying down the road in the camaro, Ted Nugent’s “Great White Buffalo” in the tapedeck, on our way to the drive-in to get even more fucked up and at some point during the evening I can practically guarantee a firearm would be discharged and everyone would scatter. We’d go hang at the lake or at one of the many parks where our kind congregated….on the badass scale in THIS group of people, with the “always shirtless but wearing jeans” guys being the alpha-males, we were somewhere in the middle of the pack, but only because the we knew about a hundred ways to blow you up. In the grand scheme of things we were pussies. So we had to be extra crazy. But at the end of the day, when we were back at his grandmother’s house where I spent practically every weekend, we were still kids…wondering about the deeper mysteries of the opposite sex as we strained to see further into the cleavage of Elvira: Mistress of the Dark.
I don’t remember exactly when, but one day I met his older cousin. If I was fifteen or sixteen at the time, he was probably about 21 or 22. At that age he was already on his second marriage. His first wife had died of a brain tumor, and the son they had together died from some type of sudden infant death syndrome. His wife when I knew him was a couple of years younger than him and they got married after she got pregnant and had twin daughters. He and I hit it off pretty quickly. I was old for my age, and while I was a drinking and drugging hellraiser I wasn’t one of the average idiots from the neighborhood. At first we got together so he could teach me how to play guitar, but eventually we built a friendship as strong as is possible with the age difference. Now I should say, as far as the crazy scale goes, he was the type of guy who could round up about three of the shirtless alpha male ‘dotte dwellers and systematically cut them in half. “Normal” fun for me and his younger cousin was driving up and down a main street in KC shooting out the windows of brand new cars in several of the local car dealerships, torching an abandoned car, or putting a half-stick of dynamite in a mailbox…and Tim scared the living shit out of us on many levels. He was just the kind of redneck crazy you didn’t want to cross. BUT if he was your buddy, you could count on his rage to keep you perfectly safe in any number of questionable circumstances. So as he and I became better friends and spent more time together, I spent less time with his cousin….something he took to heart since it was HIS cousin, but on many levels the kid just wasn’t right. Sure, I was an arch-criminal for my age, but he was the type of kid who would hurt animals, and he lacked a level of maturity that would allow anyone to take him seriously. I knew how to clean up and act right….he didn’t have that switch to flip. So Tim and I were like peas and carrots…soon I ended up spending pretty much every weekend at his place, and one evening the rising tension with his diminutive cousin came to a head and the kid basically wrote us both off after his parents had to step in. I’m leaving out a lot, but trust me, I’ve got about five million stories from back then, each one more awesome than the next.
Oh here’s one I can’t leave out…. the thing that really “sold” Tim on how cool I was is pretty funny. As pure white trash and rednecks, we took revenge seriously. Long story short, an old family friend was making life hard for his wife and so he wanted to fire a warning shot over their bow. So we whipped up a simple baby food jar bomb and were going to drive by their house and toss it in their front yard in the middle of the night. Big boom, but as long as nobody was standing near it there was no real danger of death or damage. Well I shit you not, this was a family affair…..he drove this huge white Mercury of some kind, and it was me, him, his cousin, his wife and 2 daughters and at least one other person I can’t remember. I know, the kid thing. Weird, isn’t it? The logic was sound though….it was his wife being victimized so she deserved to come and see this, and coming up with the money for a sitter or explaining the NEED for a sitter at 2am weren’t options. So I’m in the back seat ready to witness an awesome explosion, but because I had a window seat and the house was coming up on my side, I was the lucky one who got to throw the bomb. I’d done this kind of thing a million times by that point, so I wasn’t worried about it, but I’d also done it enough times to know just how difficult it is to time your throw from a moving vehicle if you were planning on getting close to any kind of target. I had no target other than the huge front yard, but being nervous to make a good impression on “new people” I threw it a second too soon and the damn thing rolled right under a car in the driveway. There was stunned silence as we slowed down a block up to watch it go off, and more stunned silence after it went off…underneath a vehicle. It’s not like the movies, cars don’t just burst into balls of flames, but I promise you this….that car wasn’t going anywhere ever again unless it was hooked to the back of a tow truck. The stunned silence soon turned to laughter and pats on the back as we high-tailed it out of there….everyone thought I had done it on purpose, and they were incredibly impressed. I played along, and began getting very close to people who would greatly alter the course of my life. I realize this is some real criminal behavior to be putting into words, but I feel okay with that because I was way underage at the time and nothing can really come of it, and for a much bigger reason that will become obvious soon enough.
Ironically, with all of the crazy shit that we did, in the big scheme of things, Tim ended up being a calming force for me, and I got into a HELL of a lot less trouble because of him. I guarantee it. He’d actually get me to go to church, threaten to kick the shit out of me if he even suspected I was doing hard drugs, and spending time with his wife and daughters had to be better for me than the riff-raff I was used to with his cousin. I was a decent enough person, I was just deep into the role I decided to take early in my adolescent career. And most of the time, he was just an everyday guy, but his emotional and mental makeup had sustained grave injury way before I ever met him. We were good buddies for a couple of years.
He never called me the night he ended up going to jail forever. I was the closest thing he had to a best friend, but I heard from another friend of mine he said he “couldn’t get Jerry involved in this”. In the weeks leading up to it, he was having more trouble in his marriage, and they were planning on getting divorced. He was getting more and more agitated and distant, and by that point in time I was a high school senior and I was spending less time with him and more with my high school friends. We were getting ready to graduate and go to college, and we spent a lot of time in the local library, fucking around and pretending to study. One night when another good friend who knew Tim came to pick me up he told me about a phone call he had gotten from him. He was planning on doing something to his wife and another friend of mine who was living with them who he suspected of her messing around with….and that was the thing in which he said he could not get me involved. But his young cousin, who had forsaken us two years before, was eager to get back into Tim’s good graces by taking him over to the house where he was going to do whatever it was he was going to do. Obviously, in hindsight, we had enough information to call the police…..but we were kids, and we knew what MIGHT happen to THEM would definitely happen to US if he got wind of our involvement….that’s just the way it was. Plus, as crazy as he was, he talked a ton of shit, so the chances of anything really happening was slim. We called over to the house to talk to his wife for a while, and everything sounded totally normal. We breathed a sigh of relief and went about our evening in the library.
When I got up the next morning for school, I went through the usual routine…turned on the TV to watch Good Morning America, and when it came to the top of the hour and they broke away for local news, there was Tim’s house with the coroner’s van parked in front, two gurneys being wheeled out to it. I should say it’s what “looked like” Tim’s house….there were several tortured hours of not being sure since no names were being released, so I went to school like everything was normal. I think I got to third or fourth hour before the guy I was calling at the tv station would confirm the victims were Tim’s wife and another friend of mine, and at some point they called me to the office when my dad showed up to pick me up after hearing what had happened. It must have been an hour or so after we talked to her, but apparently Tim came home when she was on the phone with another friend and killed them both. I heard rumors about how vicious it was, but they weren’t confirmed until years later when I went to see him the single time I ever visited.
There’s the bad reputation you get being the insane, violent pyromaniac metalhead….you work for that one and you craft it lovingly and proudly. Then there’s the bad reputation even you don’t want anything to do with when your best friend butchers two people with whom you are close. So that was a bad time. Two funerals, and figuring out what, if anything, to do about his cousin who drove him over there to do it and went around bragging about it after escaping charges by testifying against him. I was never friends with him again, and from what I understand his life was never good….he would pull shit like get some scumbags he knew to go to his grandparents house and rob it, splitting the money and goods with him. I’d hear stuff through the grapevine, but my dad called me about five or six years ago to tell me he saw his name in the obituaries. It ended up he had some really rare type of arthritis…his parents had to put him in a nursing home where he eventually died from it. I went to his wake to pay respects to his family, but didn’t even recognize him when I saw him. The disease had his head bent completely down against his shoulder. A bad end to a wasted life.
So Tim went to prison for life, and I went to therapy, then to college for one year, then ministry…..all of that has been chronicled in here at some point. I think it was about 1992…five years after he went in that I finally decided I’d go and visit him. I probably would have before that, but it wasn’t until I ran into his mom at church and she got my name on his visitor list that I was able to do it. To make a long story short, my visit with him started with him asking if I went to the funerals. When I said yes, he asked “were they open casket?”. When I told him they were, he said “I guess I didn’t do a good enough job”. Most of that two or three hours were spent listening to the graphic details of exactly how he butchered my friends and how long it took, the people he had hurt or even killed in prison, and the people he was going to kill when he got out. I wasn’t on the list. But his cousin was, and nature ironically beat him to that punch. I knew in my heart there was no way he was going to leave prison, and after speaking to him I hoped that was true. He had gone completely insane, and from the stories I’ve heard and people I’ve talked to, he made a hell of a reputation for himself up in the “lifer’s club”. For the next twenty three years I was living some of the biggest ups and downs in my life he sat somewhere in a Supermax in southern Kansas and then finally in Lansing State Penitentiary.
The version of this story that folks heard at my home group was, needless to say, abbreviated. Hell, even this version is abbreviated. But it was strange to share something that has always been one of the biggest terrible events of my life, and revisit that “permanent psychic trauma” that I mentioned earlier. For whatever reason I avoided injury, imprisonment and even death during that phase of my life. I have managed to piece together quite a patchwork of varying experiences, but those days of my youth come back to me often…whether I’m telling the story about catching myself on fire making napalm for the hundredth time, or suddenly remembering I hadn’t checked up on Tim in a long time. My one year speech really got the old stories rattling in my brain, so last week I did what I generally remember to do once or twice every year….I went out to the Kansas Offender’s Registry to make sure Tim was still in prison. That’s the permanent psychic damage at its best…to this day I know that if he got out of jail I’d have to be ready to shoot him if he tracked me down, thinking he could either get something from me for old times sake or in some bizarre world, stay with me. Not logical, but I guess it’s a carryover from that insane time. There is a surprising amount of information on the Kansas website…I’ve always been able to see where and when he’s been transferred between facilities, how many times he’s been put in the separate housing unit for assaulting a guard or another inmate….lots of stuff. But mainly I’ve always just made sure he’s never leaving prison and is never up for parole. When I looked at his status on the website last week, it had been changed to one word- deceased. He died at the end of March of this year, and how he died is maybe the one thing they don’t list out in detail.
So I can talk about a lot of the things we used to do as kids. We raised some hell that would have the media outlets lining up to speak with us through the thick glass these days. I can talk about them because I was a minor when they happened, and now I can talk about them because I am now the only person who was around to see any of it who is still alive. That’s a strange feeling….a very dark and inadvertent “tontine”…with me as the final keeper of all of those crazy memories. A different sort of nostalgia that makes me even more thankful for what I have and the people who are in my life now….I have a million reasons to be grateful for what things are like now, chief of which is that I lived through what it was like then.