Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Johnny and Roy

For those of you that don't know, I work at a television station.

Even though I live 45 minutes and a county away from where I work, it's such a rural area that the station covers Stevenson and the greater Jackson County area.

Everyone with an e-mail account at my station gets police reports from local sheriffs' offices.

I always check the Jackson County Sheriff's Report, because, more times than not, I know the person who has died or been arrested.

Last week the report stated that a man's body had been found in the water behind the Mud Creek Restaurant.

I've lived less than 5 miles from Mud Creek (and "The Rest-trunt" as we call it) my entire life.

I remember they had Life Savers lollipops for sale at the checkout counter when I was a kid. Billy Carver, the owner, used to give them to me for free when we'd go there to eat.

"Boy, when you get big, you're gonna be the greatest outdoorsman the Creek's ever seen. You got too much of your daddy's and his daddy's blood in you not to be," he used to tell me.

That's one of my first memories. 

He was wrong, but I have spent plenty of time hunting and fishing on that water.

Particularly in the slew that runs behind the restaurant. 

That's where they found the body of Roy Arrick last Friday.

He was 83 years old.

I didn't recognize his name, but I texted my mom to ask her if she or Dad knew him. 

"It's Roy. Like Johnny and Roy," she texted back.

My heart dropped as I stared at the screen.

Johnny and Roy lived a few miles away from us in an old camping trailer that looked as if it was held together with duct tape. It was right off of one of the county roads near my house and was parked on the edge of the woods where a dirt road runs to one of the backwater pockets of Mud Creek.

My dad would tell me about Johnny and Roy when we'd drive by.

"They don't have no shower in that thing." 

"How do they take baths then, Daddy?"

"Well, in the summertime, when it's warm weather, I reckon they go down to the Creek to wash. Papa says they only do it 'bout once a week though."

"What about when it's cold weather?"

"I guess they go without."

That was fucking horrifying to me.

Not because they were dirty, but because two grown men could end up in such a situation. 

Where are their families? I'd wonder. 

I sort of imagined them as two old men who had pooled their collective bad luck and misfortunes and bought a trailer on the side of the road. Of course that's me as an adult articulating what I couldn't as a child, but that's what I was getting at.

I imagined them sitting in the trailer, drinking and hollering at each other all day.

I especially thought of them at Christmas.

Of how lonely they must be.

Of how their electric space heater probably didn't warm them the way you should be warmed.

I realized that not everyone's life turns out the way they'd like for it to.

This made it all the more terrifying when my parents would use them as a threat.

I can't tell you how many times I heard my mother or father yell, "if you can't do any better than this, we're gonna take you to live with Johnny and Roy," after inspecting my or my sister's dirty bedrooms that we were half-cleaning.

Oh, and to top it all off, I never saw either of them.


If I ever did see either of them around town, I had no idea who I was looking at.

Because of their absence, they became these tragic, mythical figures hanging over my entire childhood.

All it took was the simple image of their beat up camping trailer on the side of the road and the thought of them sitting inside for my imagination to run wild and reveal to me just how ugly life can be.

As I became a teenager, Johnny and Roy haunted me less and less. 

I learned that they were brothers.

At least they're family I thought. 

Then my dad made a comment in passing that he guessed they liked living that way, and I suppose that made me feel better too. 

I was talking to my mom about Roy earlier this week, after we learned that the autopsy confirmed he drowned in the Creek. 

"You reckon in all those years of living next to the water, he never learned how to swim?" she asked me.

I just shrugged.

She mentioned that Johnny died when I was away at college.

I didn't know that, and it surprised me when it stung to hear.

It's funny how you don't have to know someone, or even see them for them to teach you about the world.

Or to make you sad when they drown in the slew behind The Restaurant.

I suppose when you grow up somewhere normal you have the Brothers Grimm, but in Stevenson you have the Arricks.

Thank you.