James was one of the first people I met when we moved from the frozen tundra of south-central Minnesota to the ruralist of rural Missouri in 2009. We signed up my older son, Joey, for Little League right away in an effort to spur the formation of friendships and to scratch his itch for the game. James was his coach and a solid introduction to our new hometown.
I don’t think James would have objected to being called a redneck. In fact, he probably wore the label as a badge of honor. James was a Missourah boy through and through. He sported a huge belly I assumed was created by beer, was missing more than a few teeth and talked with a twang that reminds you that, yes, Missouri might have stayed neutral in terms of succession in the Civil War, but we were greater friends of the South than we were, say, those who hail from Boston or Providence.
He wasn’t much of a baseball coach. Of course, our boys weren’t much of a baseball team. After all, they were, like, 7. No one is signing a Major League contract from that area unless Mike Trout decides he wants to retire and raise his boys as far away from the hustle and bustle of California as he can get. Then we maybe have a shot.
Today, I heard the news that James has been arrested in the death of his father. According to media reports, officers found the older man dead on the floor in the apartment he shared with James and then found James in his bedroom covered in blood. Police reported that James admitted to killing his dad but that he now says he doesn’t remember what happened.
What I know of James is that he was a nice guy who battled substance abuse. He would be the good-old-boy who coached Joey’s baseball team and who loved the two kids who once played at our house. And then he would just sort of disappear for awhile, only to turn up in one of the local churches clean and hanging on. His Facebook page makes numerous references to Celebrate Recovery, the church-sponsored addiction support group.
When I saw James’ mugshot today, I saw someone not James. He’s lost a ton of weight, and I imagine that’s not because of anything positive.
I’m sad. And I’m confused. I understand the weight of what James allegedly did. A man is dead, and as far as I know, he did nothing to deserve it. So why do I feel like I need to reach out to James and say that I’m thinking about him, that he’s not alone, no matter what he might have done?
I was raised in a very black-and-white environment. There was good and there was bad. I grew up to believe that the only people who found themselves locked in a jail cell were people who fell into the latter category. And I was raised to revere the Nancy Reagan Just-Say-No bullshit that took the extreme complexities of addiction and reduced it to a catchy slogan.
As I’ve aged, I’ve grown to realize how wrong that worldview is. I have encountered — I have, myself been — many shades of gray. And I’ve learned that good people sometimes do things for which they suffer lifelong consequences. Again, I count myself as part of that group.
So maybe as I wrestle with this question of why I feel sad and confused, it’s really not so complicated. James can be the happy-go-lucky redneck with the huge belly and bigger belly laugh who coached my son in baseball and be the guy who allegedly killed his own father. Those who look at someone who battles drug addiction and can’t imagine a scenario in which they, themselves, are on the end of the pipe or the needle or the straw don’t truly understand how fragile the “good” in their life really is.
More From ‘Wrestling With Myself’
When Old Things Don’t Fit
Most of us are familiar with how it feels when we find an old article of clothing in the back of our closet and make the mistake of trying it on. Bodies change. Styles change. Tastes change. In most instances, closet finds and best left unfound. I think it’s something of a truism in life…Keep reading
The Significant Things
Oh, to know The Significant Things as they happen That the casual “hello” is the first word you are speaking to your forever love. The handshake is an introduction to the person who will most deeply touch your soul The trip, taken, is the one that starts the path to your destiny. To know The…Keep reading
So much of this world is hard. By that, I don’t mean “difficult,” though yes, it is that, too. What I mean by “hard” is the opposite of “soft.” I’m talking about the kind of thing that, when you bump your shin or — God forbid — your pinkie toe against it, it fucking hurts.…Keep reading
It was the afternoon of Sept. 26, 2015, and I’d just returned home from a short stay in a psychiatric hospital. The pace of life in a psychiatric hospital is glacial. Days stretch on endlessly, nights pass in medicated dreamlessness, and the cycle repeats again. There’s horrible food, group sessions, recreation time outside when it’s…Keep reading
Thirty Years in Hell: My Mental Health Story
This is a story I share with great hesitancy. I have felt the bitter sting of discrimination for having a brain illness, discrimination no one experiences when they have a problem with a different, better understood organ — the heart, the lungs, the kidneys. I know what it’s like to have work colleagues ignore you…Keep reading
I’ve long held a fascination with scars — both my own and other people’s. Scars hold stories. Not many people get a scar from something they don’t remember. I remember being fascinated in middle school by this really cute girl I wanted to talk to. She had a tiny scar over her top lip. I…Keep reading
What Healing Looks Like
Healing isn’t for the faint of heart. Not if it’s genuine. Not if you delve deep into the core where all that is ugly and wicked and broken has had time to take root and fester. Real healing is not all about finding sunny days and happy times. Maybe those are on the other side…Keep reading
Since Then … Every morning holds that moment Every mile, a reminder Every night sighs a silent prayer Since Then … The music tends to a hurting heart Harmonizing with the memories of what was Before ripping the wounds open once again Since Then … A million words haven’t fixed what I didn’t know was…Keep reading
I’m Doing Alright, But …
The drive home last night was a bit rough, which wasn’t entirely surprising. I’ve been around a lot of people the past few days, hadn’t slept past 4:30 a.m. for four or five days, and, in general, this has been one of those “Big Feels” times that seem to happen to me. There are these…Keep reading
The Inside Story of Johnny Boy Marketing
Big things happen in odd places and at the strangest times. I met my future wife in the basement of a dingy college residence hall. The biggest boost to my career came when I had to cancel an interview with someone who could have been President of the United States. And I realized I could…Keep reading
A Human Paradox
One of the great paradoxes COVID revealed in the human animal is how much we need each other while we simultaneously can’t stand to be around each other for long periods of time. Stay-at-home orders booted us from our familiar social circles and, in many cases, put is in direct contact with those we love…Keep reading
Soul Comforts A just-because gift An accidental nap Shared fries A hidden note, found A joined passion A soft hand Communicated desires A hug, freely given A safe landing place A secluded table Memory-filled songs Appreciation, openly stated Take me away from here Take me away Take me Take A common blanket A slow dance…Keep reading
Searching For The Sweet Spot
I believe there’s a sweet spot in life. It’s that space in which everything just feels balanced. There’s not too much work or too little play, the calendar is just full enough, your friends and family are who you need them to be and you are who they need you to be. Your job is…Keep reading
Anybody Out There?
My wife and son are going out of town for the week starting tomorrow afternoon, and I have absolutely no one I can call to do anything with. No one. Nobody. If I put in pin in my house on a map (remember those?) and drew a circle with a 50 mile radius, there isn’t…Keep reading
The Night I Died
I’ve been thinking about death a lot lately. The reasons are varied and scattered. Part of it is how much death there is around me. Well, maybe not around me personally. But more than 1,000,000 Americans have died from Covid, and that’s a gross understatement because the true toll won’t be known for years, once…Keep reading
The Danger of Self-Censorship
There’s been a lot of talk in my area lately about banning books. I love this. Oh, it’s not because I think that banning books is such a good idea. It’s not. Nor is blindly insisting that every book needs to be in a school library to have significance. They don’t. What I’m happy to…Keep reading
Welcome Back, Swagger
There was a time in my life when I had swagger. I was never the most popular or athletic kid in school, but for a while there, I was a really good baseball player. I could hit. I could field. And, boy, could I pitch. Some of the most “over” kids in high school would…Keep reading
Dear World, Seriously … WTF?
Dear World, Hey there. It’s me. John. John who? Yeah, I thought you might say that. It has been a day. It has been a week. Hell, world … it has been a life. Oh. Wait. You need to grab my file? Go ahead. I’ll wait. Give it a good read. Yeah, don’t skip over…Keep reading
A Life Devoid of Friends
I remember well the late night and early morning hours following my senior prom. I was with my classmates on a yacht/ferry/boat slowly circling New York City. I and my girlfriend of roughly a year had stepped out of the madness inside for some fresh air and quiet. Even then, I could only do “loud”…Keep reading
Livin’ The Empath Life
I was in my 40s by the time I realized the average person doesn’t feel things like I do — not even close. Up until then, I always just assumed that when people were around someone who was feeling some sad or angry or even extremely happy, they felt that shit too. I’m not talking…Keep reading
Insomnia sucks. Period. Full Stop. But… The benefit of sleeping extremely poorly for about four months after Longhaul Covid turned my already bad sleep situation into one that was slowly killing me was that I didn’t dream. I never slept deeply enough or long enough for dreams to happen. And in many ways, that was…Keep reading
So Many Damn Feelings — Oct. 22, 2021
👇 What’s Below 👇On Men and Crying 😭 Why I write ✍🏻Back Crackin’ 👨⚕️ So here’s a thing I sometimes hate about myself: I cry. Like, easily. And often. Or at least it’s “often” in comparison to how often men normally cry. At least, I think it’s often in comparison to the frequency men normally cry. I…Keep reading
Infant Loss Awareness — Oct. 15, 2021
Today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day, and even almost 21 years later, I’m not sure how I feel about it. So much of time is arbitrary. We screw it up so badly that we have to add a whole day every four years. So for me, today is just like any other day…Keep reading
Fourth State of Being — Oct. 14, 2021
There’s this state of being that’s not quite asleep, not quite dreaming but definitely not awake. That’s where I found myself Thursday evening at Livin’ Sublime Wellness, my little yoga studio in Wentzville. Restorative yoga is a lifesaver for me. If you haven’t tried it, you should. Not to sound all Hippie-Dippy or anything, but…Keep reading
Rocks > People? — Sept. 16, 2021
In high school, I was friends with a girl named Denise. She and I were both free-spirited creative types who liked to write. For a time, we served as co-presidents of the formed-by-us creative writing club, and we even went on a date (that didn’t work out too well). Denise was and is a no-bullshit…Keep reading
Why Exactly Am I Here? — Sept. 4, 2021
Sometimes Things Be That Way There are some days that, when night falls and you take stock of all that happened, you just say — or at least think — “Well good goddamn. What the fuck was that all about?” Today has been such a day. I look back at the waking hours and realize…Keep reading
An Emotional Day – Aug. 29, 2021
Believing in Myself So here’s the thing: I have amazing intuition. Believe what you want about humans having only five senses. We don’t. We have more. And for me, one of my strongest senses is my gut feelings about what to do and not to do. I’ve had this ability since I was a small…Keep reading