This story is by Andrew Ferguson and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I cannot find culpable, nor lay at the feet of any external causes for my exploration of life’s darker side. I had a very typical middle class American upbringing. There was nothing that would have been considered abuse by the standards of the time, nor was there anything reasonable that I wanted for. I was lucky enough to be born into an acceptably good family on the eastern side of the Tennessee\North Carolina border, in the year of our Lord, 1966. My wounds, while not always superficial, were usually of the self-inflicted kind.
As a young man I never could set myself right in the world. I was a nervous boy with a distaste for authority and a distrust of conformity. I was a hard case early on and ran out of chances before I knew how many I had.
I quit going to school halfway through my 8th grade year, and my parents more or less quit me shortly after that. I moved in with a buddy of mine whose mom was usually MIA from parenting. We spent most of our time smoking sub-par weed and drinking cheap vodka while we looked for ways to hook up with harder drugs so we could use those drugs to get girls.
To earn money for these endeavors we got into petty thievery but moved up to robbing houses quickly. After several months of this we came across a small cache of hand guns while robbing a drug dealers stash house. That little miracle led us into the world of illegal fire arms dealing. Low level stuff, but it still didn’t take long for the whole enterprise to become a bit too hairy for my buddy to handle. I more or less bought out his end of things and moved out of his place.
I ended up moving in with a friend of his moms. A deaf lady who drew a disability check and worked off the books as an exotic dancer, under the pseudonym Lav-ender Oyl. I’m not sure what the spelling was all about, I never inquired about it. In retrospect, I feel that as a 16-year-old drop out living with a 31-year-old stripper, I should have been asking more questions-at least of myself.
Shortly after my 17th birthday Lav became pregnant with a child she claimed was mine. I was pretty strung out around this time and was thinking about getting into bank robbery, so I was considering cutting out on the whole scene. I didn’t stick around for the birth, but instead found myself in Waco, Texas trying to get my new career off the ground before I had been tethered to this mortal coil for more than18 years.
It was 1983 when I first landed in the Lone Star State. I lived on the streets, in shelters, or with the occasional hooker for a time. But it wasn’t long before I was keeping my head above water selling guns. The gun business was a free-for-all in the 80’s and I was close enough to Mexico to get in on some of those peso’s pouring across the border.
By ‘87 I was moving enough hardware to sustain a steady diet of coke and single malt. I was really messed up. Sometime during all this my father died. When I got the news, I wasn’t upset. My soul was as numb as my gums were. It was more like I got word that the local weatherman had died. I wasn’t oblivious to the loss, I just couldn’t feel it. But, as screwed up as things were, I still had my sights set on banks. A man has to have goals.
Somehow in all that chaos I managed to put a crew together and case out the Telco Federal Credit Union of Troy. Troy was a Podunk 25 miles south of Waco. The Telco didn’t hold much money, but it was an easy target. I figured it would make for a good starter bank. That first robbery went well. We got out of there with more cash than I expected, and we got away clean. From that moment on I was robbing banks.
I made less money on banks than I did on guns, but I enjoyed the former much more. I didn’t like to stay in one place too long while doing the bank thing, so I was always on the road. I got to see a lot of the country and indulged in all the depravities she had to offer.
About ten years in and I was still small time. But, I was doing a little better than just surviving and I wasn’t in prison. That came to a rip-roaring end at a small no-count bank in Goshen, Indiana. I was sentenced to seven years at the FBI’s federal penitentiary in Terre Haute.
Doing time wasn’t an easy thing for me. I was used to more freedom than most men, so it was a difficult thing being locked down. It was also an excellent education. You could say I went in with an Associates in bank robbery but graduated with a PHD. Prisons as much about networking as it is about paying debts.
After my release I went on a nice long tear. I may have been cockier than before, but I was defiantly smarter. I hit fewer banks and banked bigger takes. If I had done some damage before doing time, I was tripling that afterwards. From about 2004 until early 2015 I was a horror show of a human being.
I was keeping it together professionally, but I was still awful at dealing with my human condition. During those eleven years I was bad for everyone, especially the women that were closes to me. I had a heavy methadone habit and a quick temper that resulted in me killing two men in Knoxville that I suspected of being informants for the feds. I was beating up on everyone, including myself, within reach. Eventually, fate intervened.
In February of ‘15 an old roadie of mine got a hold of me while I was planning a job in Oklahoma. He was looking to make some quick cash and was needing a hook up on some high-quality meth or cocaine. Something he could put a heavy cut on as to maximize his profits.
I met him at a safehouse close to the Arkansas border. It was early morning and I could tell he hadn’t gotten any sleep the night before. He was all sketched out and kept looking out the windows at nothing. The lady that kept the house was an older woman, and one of the few people in the world I cared about. She didn’t appreciate the way he was conducting himself, and she let him know about it. An argument ensued, and a gun was pulled. She was shot dead in her kitchen by a man a lot like the ones she had helped over the years. Her killer and I bolted from the house, leaving her body convulsing by the stove.
Things changed rapidly for me after that. The sickness I felt over the death of my friend made everything I was unbearable. The script, as they say, was in need of flipping. I left it all the way I had found it and moved to South Florida. I had enough money to get a little place close to the water and moved my mom in with me. I started a small concern working the swap meets in the area. My son got in touch with me after his mother was killed by her boss at the diner she was waitressing at and ended up coming down to help me run the business.
Things are suspiciously, and undeservedly good. Every day’s a battle but I’m in love with the fight. My redemption has been more muted then the events leading up to it, but boring is almost exciting for me after having not experienced it for so long. It seems that my kids forgiven me, my mom thinks I’m a good son and money’s not an issue. I know it’s only regular existence with a little good luck thrown in, but some days it feels deeper than that.
I think about this Irish boy I knew inside. He had a tattoo, something in Latin that meant sweeter after difficulties. I liked that, but I didn’t think much of it back then-except to conclude that it meant something like things are better when there not worse. I understand it better now. I think it means that all the garbage and poor decisions that made up my earlier life have worked to make the mundaneness of existence even more wonderful than it would have been without it. Sweeter yes, but only after all that difficulty.