It was 7am and Old Man, my elderly neighbor, and I were enjoying our morning coffee time together when his son, “Johnny,” came out to the man cave to join us.
Johnny had been released from prison a few months earlier, and life was not going well for him. He could not find a job, secure his own home, or regain his driver’s license. He was sure life was punishing him unnecessarily and unfairly. That morning he was in a foul, argumentative mood as his dad tried to reason with him.
“I do what I want to do! Don’t tell me what to do!”
“And how is that working out for you?”
“I don’t listen to this man, (as he pointed to his dad), the police, or my Parole Officer, and I sure as hell am not going to listen to you either. Just get off my back!
He went to open the door of the man cave and ended up hitting his chin on the door.
Obscenities began pouring out of his mouth.
He tried to kick the door open, but it still would not budge. He grabbed the leather cowboy hat that was on his head, pulled it off and hit the door with it. He turned and looked at us both and screamed several more four-letter words. He tried to slam the door behind him, as he stomped out, but it wouldn’t slam.
Based on the sound that came from the outside wall of the man cave, we were sure he either punched or kicked the wall as he walked by.
Old Man and I just sat there. We looked at each other, but didn’t say a word. He took a deep breath and then a drink of his coffee. We could hear his son cussing and carrying on as he walked out to the barn to tend to the horses.
Once we knew he was out of earshot range Old Man asked me to look and see how much damage was done to the outside wall and then close the door.
The damage was minimal. The aluminum siding sustained a crease the size of a fist, but nothing more.
After I closed the door and sat back down he looked at me and said, with heaviness in his voice,
“I’ma wishin’ they could have released him to a half way house or something like that. We never should have let him move in here. That was sure a mistake.”
For the first two months, after being released from prison, Johnny seemed to be doing well. He had helped out around the house, assisted with his parent’s care, they both had cancer, and for the most part was pleasant to be around.
We all hoped he was going to make the transition he needed this time. Third times a charm right?
Unfortunately that was not the case.
His personality slowly began to change. In fact, the old Johnny was returning, and showing his ugly head more everyday. He was moody, argumentative, and up at all hours during the night, while sleeping most of the day away.
His “friends” started showing up at random odd hours. Then he started his disappearing act. An act he had been famous for before he was sent to prison, all three times.
I asked Old Man if he thought his son was abusing drugs and alcohol again. Though to be honest I already knew the answer to that question. He didn’t answer me. Instead he shifted in his chair, wiped his forehead and gasped for air.
There was pain in his eyes that morning that was unmistakable. His skin had a gray pale color to it, and I asked him if he was in pain. He shook his head yes. I asked him if he had taken his morning pain medication. He looked away, looked down at the floor, and shook his head no.
I looked at him and my heart began to pound and was so heavy. I could barely get the words out of my mouth when I asked,
“You are out of pain medication, aren’t you? Is your son been stealing your pain medication?
There was a long awkward silence in the room. Again I repeated my question.
“How long has your son been stealing your pain medication?
“A few days, or maybe a couple of weeks. He has problems, you know? He doesn’t mean to do the things he does. He just does them.”
“Have you spoken to anyone about the pain medication issues? Have you talked with your case manager, care giver, or your doctor?”
He made eye contact with me, and I saw the fear and pain in his eyes.
“I can’t talk to any of them about it! If I do, he goes back to jail. I can’t be ‘sponsible for sending my boy to jail. Even if I do talk with them, he will react. I can’t handle that. You know what I mean!”
I did know what he meant. His son was a bully, and had no problem threatening or harming his parents, if he needed to. His dad could not protect himself or his wife any longer. The cancer he had prevented him from standing up to Johnny.
“The police or his parole officer could step in and help. They could protect you.”
He just shook his head no and said,
“It will be okay. I can use an over the counter medication. If I don’t have the pills he can’t take them, and if he can’t take them then maybe he will calm down.”
“So, you would rather be in pain then hold him accountable for his actions? Over the counter medication does not work. You know that. This doesn’t make sense to me. What else has he been doing?”
He would not respond, but he didn’t need to. I was slowly piecing everything he had told me, over the last month, together. Johnny was out of control.
Old Man looked out the window on the door to the man cave and said,
“I see our buck. I think he has 4 horns on his rack.”
That was my clue to drop the conversation, and I did, for that moment.
Later that night, after Old Man and his wife went to bed, I went back to the man cave and asked Johnny if we could have a short visit. I asked him how it felt to know that his dad’s pain level was his fault. I asked him how it made him feel, as a son, to know he was stealing pain medication from a dying man, from his dying dad.
His response floored me.
“He owes me. I had a horrible childhood, and he owes me because of that. I take what I want, and I want to be paid back for being treated so badly. If you say anything to my dad or try to contact the police, you will regret it. I will make your life hell on earth. Do you understand me? Do you get it?”
I did understand, but unknown to me at that time, the police and his parole officer had already been alerted to the pain medication issues and Johnny’s increasingly erratic behavior. Someone else had made the call.
For the next three months life on the hill where we all lived was miserable. Johnny was getting surprise visits from the police and his parole officer. He was sure I made the call to them, and he kept his promise.
Eventually I had to call the sheriff’s office and his parole officer, and they intervened. He was removed from his parents’ home, spent a few days in the county jail and eventually was placed in a homeless shelter. He was not allowed back on the property to live. He was allowed to visit his dad as he was dying, but only during specific hours.
To this day I remember that distorted, hate filled look on Johnny’s face when he told me his dad owed him.
Unforgiveness is like that. It destroys, robs, and kills everything good in life, and in a person.
I have thought of Johnny many times in the last year, or year and a half, since the death of both his parents, and to be honest I have hurt for him. He did have a tough childhood. His dad, Old Man, was a harsh father in his younger years. A time period Old Man regretted up to the very end.
I hope, with time, he is able to forgive his dad for his formative years so he can live out his remaining days with peace and joy, not anger, bitterness and unforgiveness. Life is far too short to live any other way.