Part 1: Today is not a good day to die – waiting for a murderer (or a really sad man)(or no one at all)

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unnamedI don’t often write these things in real time, but today I must. It’s 10:08 a.m., Monday, January 8, I’m sitting inside the Warriors@45North* bunkhouse, a space I’ve never been in alone. After talking with Doc and Chief this morning, I came in here, started the fire and now I wait. For what? I don’t know.

For whom? Adam Davis, I think the man said his name was when he called two hours ago. He was semi-frantic, saying he was in Colebrook, needed to talk with someone, and wanted to know if he could stop by. He just needed a friend. Living a hermit’s life, but having a pastoral heart, I said, “Sure. Come on by!” I mean, what the hell? I’ve been in a space where I don’t want to be alone, couldn’t stand to be alone. Then . . .

“I don’t want to go on hurting my lady.”

Domestic abuse, I assumed, and started to put together a plan as I had my first lukewarm cup of coffee. I prefer it that way. Really.

Then, the phone rang again. Adam. His friend needed directions to 45North. The friend who was apparently going to drop him off. The friend who was dropping him off so he could be with me, a friend he’s never met.

“Go North on 3 until you see Young’s Store on the right. Then look for the Lake Francis State Park sign . . .”

Back to thinking. First, I’ll need to ask if he has a weapon. If so, I’ll ask him to leave it outside. Then, we’ll talk things through.

The phone rang again.

“Hi, this is Adam. Do you mind if I bring my dog?”

What the hell, was my first thought. I was planning on some Hemingwayesque encounter – two men, frozen Great North Woods, one a desperado – and he was asking for permission to bring a dog.

“Does he get along with other dogs?” I asked, thinking of Sam (is a dog).

“He’s blind and small.”

Not really an answer.

“Yeah, but does he get along with other dogs?”

“Usually. He’s blind as a bat though.

Now I pictured an angry tiny Taz, barking and spitting piss and vinegar, trying to attack Sam if only he could find him. Sam (is a dog) is a nice dog, but he’s an oversized medium dog, and could likely tear apart the rabid squirrel in my mind.

“Sure. Bring him along.”

“Thanks. Last night I did something I’m ashamed of.”

“Well,” I said, “we’ll talk about that when you get here.”

“Thanks. Thanks a lot.”

Using my gift of pretending I’m gifted, I went back to my encounter with The Stranger with the Gun, the Murdered Girlfriend and the Blind Dog, perhaps the worst thriller title ever.

I’ll ask him to disarm himself willingly. If he won’t, I’ll improvise.

I’ll offer him coffee. If he doesn’t want any, I’ll improvise.

I’ll ask him to tell me a bit about himself. He will. If there’s one thing I’m good at, it’s getting distraught people to talk.

I’ll guide the conversation to last night, praying he terrorized his “lady” by throwing dishes and bottles, then storming out.

Not bloody likely.

I’ll guide the conversation to last night, praying he only hit her once.

Possibly answered prayer I pray.

If he beat her to a pulp or killed her, I’ll pray for her. Then for him. Then for me.

I’ll ask how he wants to turn himself in. If he says he doesn’t want to, I’ll improvise.

If he says he plans to escape to Canada, I’ll ask for as many details as I can, before letting him know I’ll be contacting the police right away.

If he demands my Jeep, I’ll give it to him. If he demands cash, I’ve got about $15. I’ll give it to him. If he wants me to join him, I’ll refuse. If he threatens me with the gun he denied having, I’ll improvise. If he runs outside for the gun, brings it back in, I’ll improvise.

If he shoots me, I’ll bleed. And maybe die. End of improvisation.

But what about the little dog? Would a violent criminal bound for a life on the run bring a blind dog with him? Maybe he’s improvising. The man, I mean. I don’t think a dog can improvise, even though playing a blind dog wouldn’t be such a stretch. Still, dog actors aren’t known for elasticity in their performances, but for their resoluteness.

Funny, that while I’m writing what may be close to my last words, I can’t stop but be a smart-ass. I don’t want a gravestone particularly, and I don’t want “Smart-Ass to the End” engraved on it, but that might be a good t-shirt slogan for my funeral.

Back to the present.

Although the heat has been on for almost an hour now, it’s still cold inside the bunkhouse. The Tiny White Box is warmer, and homier than this room, but I don’t want Adam Davis and his Amazing Blind Yipster there. A thought strikes: the box is right next to here – Adam and his friend will make some kind of noise, and even a blind dog finds a bark now and then. Sam and I are going back inside the box. Now.

11:09 a.m.

Sam and I are back in the box. Coffee is brewing, and Tonio K.’s Yugoslavia is on the box – “Student Interview (with the third richest man in the world)” right now. God, I love Tonio and his music.

Still no Adam. Could’ve gotten lost. Could’ve gotten cold feet. Could’ve gotten arrested. Now that it’s been more than an hour I’ve been contemplating my imminent death, I’m feeling much better. If Adam comes and pistol-whips me or shoots me, I may feel differently. If I die, I guess I’ll feel nothing at all.

Knowing I may have minutes or years left to live, I’m wondering about “pistol-whipping” and what that phrase actually means. Does the whipper hold the barrel of the pistol, turning the weapon’s handle into a hammerhead? I mean, holding the stock and whipping someone with the barrel would be like slapping a man with a kosher hot dog – more embarrassing than threatening. It’s good to be back to full smart-ass, knowing even at the moment of my imagined death, smart-ass never left me.

The title of this column, “Today is Not a Good Day to Die,” is a callback more than 10 years ago, to the day I got sober, even though I didn’t know it. My journal entry that day:

May 21, 2007

When I got out of bed this morning, I had a plan.  Not a perfect plan.  Not a foolproof plan.  Hell, my plan could have snapped apart like a small tree branch trying to support a bear cub across a swollen May river.  Still, it was a plan.

I was going to take a bus to Dartmouth College, start heading south on the Appalachian Trail and not stop until Georgia.  With just dried fruit and oatmeal to sustain me, I would walk the bottom four-fifths of the AT in two pairs of sneakers and a pair of sandals.

Every plan has loose ends, space for contingencies, room left to breathe in the design.  In an excellent plan, the paragraph above would present the final problem:  How will I equip myself for this three- or four-month journey?  The perfect plan would include the application of a credit card or cash to expenses at an outdoor apparel shop.  A good plan would answer the question in a thornier manner, involving difficult budget decisions and a willingness to compromise on any given food’s flavor for calories.  

Now that we’ve covered what that second paragraph would be in a perfect and a good plan, let me now share with you what living on oatmeal and ending up walking a hundred miles barefoot is in a truly fucked-up, horrible, wretched plan–it is the heart, the clockwork, the settled part of a doomed plan.  That was my plan.

I was going to walk away from everything I’ve known, take on a fake identity, a “trail name,” and, eventually, kill myself out on the trail, thereby saving my three beautiful daughters from the shame of being related to a suicide.  Instead, they would have been related to one of the disappeared.  That was my plan.

Instead of following out one of the stupidest plans I could have come up with, I checked into a VA hospital for treatment for my depression.  I had tentatively called my trail journal, “Tomorrow is a Good Day to Die:  the last days of a suicide.”  I’ll now have to come up with a new title, something with a similar pizazz and, dare I say, optimism. 

Now it’s early 2018. I await my murderer—or a sad man who wants to cry before I convince him to turn himself in. Or a no-show. Regardless, I’ve sat with my death for an hour, a death I neither summoned nor desired. If I were starting a new trail journal, I think I’d title it: “The Future is a Big Place—and it needs my smartassery!”

Afterward: It’s now 12:50 p.m. and Sam (is a dog) and I need to drive to Treats and Treasures, the convenience and gift shop that has great Wi-Fi. Adam Davis, or whatever his name really is or was, never showed. At least not yet. I suspect he won’t come at all, which makes me sad, if I could have helped him, or glad, if he were going to kill me. Either way, I’m posting this. If anything happens, I’ll improvise.

If this turns out really horribly, I’ve loved my life, especially the parts with my daughters, and I’ll miss it. I’ve already published my funeral desires.

*Warriors@45North is a non-profit organization and retreat in Pittsburg, NH, providing care and rest through outdoor activities at NO cost for active duty, veterans, and anyone that has served in the Armed Forces, supervised by Veterans. 

Coming Jan. 15:  Part 2: The Hermit with the Pastor’s Heart (or How I managed to avoid death, make some jokes and maybe help a veteran a little bit) 

About this Author

Keith Howard

Keith Howard is former Executive Director of Hope for NH Recovery and author of Tiny White Box