The Ten Second Difference
As many of you know, I am a first generation college student, who one year ago, graduated with my PhD in social work. Most people know that I grew up in poverty, had a hard road through college, and small bits and pieces about the rest of my life, varying greatly based upon how you know me. One of the things that I hope to do one day is publish an autobiography of my life. In preparation for writing it, I have started to write about influential events in my life; some positive and others not so much so, but all of them helped shape and define me. I warn you that what you will read from me is untamed and uncensored, some of you may be appalled by the language and content. This is called real talk from a time in my life before I knew anything about privilege or diversity; from a time in my life when my decision making process was very different. I am not ashamed of any of it, because it is a part of who I am, even today.
When I was 21 years old, I lived in a single wide trailer with my best friend. We had bought it together for 3000 dollars by making payments over a three year time period. It was the typical bachelor pad, complete with 70’s pimp shit furniture and a 30 pack of High Life in the fridge at all times. We had no heat or hot water, just a kerosene heater and ice cold water. We hadn’t cleaned in over a year, so we just piled up trash into the corners and slept on dirty mattresses that were given to us. The entire year is a blur to me because of the alcohol and week long drug binges. Ecstasy is one hell of a good way to forget about life for awhile, and the only drug that ever made me feel happiness; the only drug that I will never do again. We lived in one of those stereotypical trailer parks that make up the tagline for every white trash joke that has ever been written. It was a small community where like it or not, everyone was either friend or foe, and sometimes it depended on the day or the week. One night we were up all night partying, getting loud, and pissing off the neighbors. One of the older residents came down a bit pissed off and told us to cut it out. Me, being in a drunken and drugged out state, essentially told him to go fuck himself, not knowing who the hell he was, not that I cared much in those days. The next day his son came to the trailer quite pissed off, because evidently the pissed off grandpa from the night before was his dad. Being sober at this time, I was quick to apologize to my friend, partially because I was embarrassed, and partially because the guy was a few screws short and quick to use violence as a problem solving approach. The more I apologized the more pissed the guy got until finally I told him to leave and shut the door in his face; his parting words were, you better watch your back.
I will admit that the interaction with the neighbor had left me a bit scared and pissed all at the same time. The more I sat there, the more I stewed about it, and thought to myself, what nerve this bitch has coming to my house to lecture me about pissing people off, when more people than I could count wanted to fuck him up. As I got madder, I went and loaded my 9mm semi automatic that back then I had gotten into the habit of illegally carrying around. I had gotten it from a Coke dealer as part of an exchange for vehicles among other things. Now, I was never really a hard ass or violent person, but I had grown tired of being scared and getting fucked with from my childhood, so I acted the role of crazy white boy, and I had the fire power to back it up, and everyone knew it. I also had a blazing hot temper back then when I felt threatened, which in hindsight didn’t mix well with having an accessible firearm. Over the next day, I would hear my neighbor talking shit in his yard, purposely to intimidate me or get a rise from me. Finally, my boy was over at the house, and I heard the same neighbor yell over, “your boy better not burn out of here either or else.” So, me never being someone who liked threats or ultimatums, you can guess how this shook out. My friend burned the biggest tire print of all all the way down in front of my neighbor’s trailer. Shortly after that, I see my neighbor coming down to my trailer with a tire iron in hand. I looked at my roomie, who was my boy for life, but not much of a fighter, and I told him to stand back. Before I could say anything the neighbor was kicking down my door or trying to. I felt trapped and grabbed my 9mm, popped a full clip in and opened the door as he tried to cop back with the tire iron He froze and dropped it. He tried to play hard despite the fear in his eyes and walk towards me. I felt caught between a rock and a hard place, if I back down, he would likely beat me and fuck with me indefinitely, or shoot him. I pointed the gun at his forehead and took the safety off. As I was about to make a decision that undoubtedly would have led to an entirely different narrative for my life, his girlfriend and dad pulled him away from my trailer. I will never entirely know what I would have done if they hadn’t came, but I know me back then and how scared I was at the time; I think I would have blown him away.
After they left I jumped in my car and just drove to clear my mind and process what had happened. I was scared and anxious. When I pulled back up to my trailer, my mom (who lived a few trailers down), neighbor, and roomie were outside saying the police were out looking for me and my mom was pleading with me to turn myself in. I took my friend aside and told him to give the police a bb gun replica of a 9 mm that we always took with us camping. I took the actual 9 and tore out of the trailer park. I will never say what I did with it, but not even 2 minutes after I was on my way back from disposing of it, I was surrounded by four cop cars, guns drawn, telling me to slowly step out of my car and lay on my stomach. I was arrested, processed, and left in a jail cell. In hindsight I should have not even spoken with the police without a lawyer, but I told them everything that had happened, and how I was fearful that my neighbor was going to break in with a tire iron, and so I grabbed a bb gun to scare him away. I was so emotional and scared that they bought my story, after they sent a detective to my trailer and were given a very real looking bb gun. When they asked my neighbor, who by that point had also calmed down and was more scared of being arrested for warrants, about it, he said, “yea, that looks like the gun.” Now, the held me over night to scare me and all I could do was think about my life, about what it would be like to kill someone, or to spend the remainder of my life in prison. I called my uncle during the evening, who was my ex-step father’s brother and also working for the FBI at that time. He always told me that I had one freebie from him, no more and no less. He told me to not say anything more. The next morning he came to the police station and I was released for lack of evidence and at the prosecutor’s discretion.
I replay that day in my mind over and over again. I still have a temper and most people never really see it. I avoid conflict because of my anger and rage. I watch police shows and see cops see right through people’s lies, yet they believed me, and while I hadn’t actually shot or killed anyone, possession of an unlicensed firearm, along with the use of a firearm in an assault case would not have bode well for my future plans. I never carried a gun after that day and not long after got rid of all of my firearms. I am not a true pacifist as I believe that if the life of me and mine are in jeopardy, I would kill someone. I do not believe in turning the other cheek in the strictest sense. Anyone who has grown up in the hood or in a dangerous place knows that turning the other cheek will get you hurt, killed, and bullied over and over again. Pacifism where I come from is seen as weakness, like blood in the water, and people will swarm on you. I did however move away from the trailer park soon after this event as I was fearful that the environment brought out the worst traits in me. When I have worked with young people, many who don’t process or think about the potential consequences for their actions, I have often thought back to this event. I feel like while it is nothing to brag about, it helps me to relate and understand the anger, fear, and rage that some young people feel. I also understand how to cope with it, how to diffuse it, and how to transform it into something more positive. It only took me ten seconds to calm down after the neighbor’s dad and girlfriend took him away, ten seconds to realize how much I could screw up his life and mine. Ten seconds was all it took to think more clearly and rationally. I have shared this story to very few people, but I have shared it with a few hard to reach youth in my time, and I always tell them after relaying my story, “Just think, what a difference 10 seconds can make in your life.”