Nature or nurture?
Which defines a person's character?
Is it a little of both?
The question comes to mind after spending a couple of hours searching through the court docket at a county web site. Type in a name and you get the criminal history of county residents. So many of the people with whom I crossed paths in my youth, often as classmates in Catholic school, have criminal records, and a number of them have died of something other than natural causes.
Dennis D. (last name withheld to discourage lawsuits from survivors), the ferret-faced loser who tried to sell me some catnip for a dollar back in 1971 (claiming it was marijuana), spent several years in a "correctional facility" after two different drug busts. He was apparently selling drugs in the vicinity of a schoolyard when he was arrested in 1999. He was about to begin another period of incarceration when, on May 31, 2000, "the court being notified of the death of the defendant, and being satisfied of the truth thereof. . ."
Well, it's hard to prosecute a corpse, so Dennis, at age 43, left this earthly realm to face a more fearsome judge in the hereafter. The cause of death was not available but I assume drugs were involved there, too.
Mark M. was the younger brother of a kid who died in 1970 at age 16 after he caught fire while simultaneously smoking a cigarette and siphoning gas from a car. (Brains were not abundant in the “hood” of my youth.) On February 9, 1994, the kid brother, obviously having failed to learn from his older sibling’s mistakes, was facing charges of felonious assault. He, too, avoided time in a correctional facility when "the court being notified of the death of the defendant, and being satisfied of the truth thereof. . ."
Like Dennis D., Mark M. exited this world for one in which the judgment is truly final.
And there are others. . .
Billy H. went up in flames at age 27 in 1982, not long after he was released from a "correctional facility" where he had been sent after inserting a knife into someone’s gut. Upon his release, unemployed and without prospects, he moved into his parents’ garage. On a crisp October night, a fire broke out. The suspicion was that he was either asleep or simply too high to notice the fire, which probably resulted from the careless smoking of an illegal substance. There was a certain poetic justice in his fate. As a teenager, he was notorious for setting off fire alarms. Now, the fire department was notified too late to save him, and he died, of smoke inhalation, at a hospital less than a quarter of a mile from his home.
I became acquainted with Billy H. through John S. who acquired the nickname of Hardy due to his resemblance, in weight only, to Stan Laurel’s on-screen partner. I had known him since third grade when he followed me home from school and pestered me into a relationship that continued through high school. A classic “latch-key kid,” his mother worked and his father was a drunk. The father was also a bully, and John S. was a bully who later became a drunk. It’s as if he was handed a script at birth and followed it faithfully, having been too unimaginative to improvise.
“How come you're not a drunk like me?" he asked when I saw him for the last time two years before he reached his expiration date. "You lived the same way I did."
I never lived the way he did. My "best friend" never realized that when I reluctantly accompanied him in wandering the streets and, later, hung out at the playground where he had found a home and family with the thugs who loitered there, I was merely physically present, an observer in his life. A quiet, self-contained lad, I would have preferred to stay home and read, write, draw, watch movies, etc. I savored my solitude and needed no companion other than my imagination. True, I seemed to have lived the way he did. When in the company of the "friends" of my youth, I did as they did. I drank beer, I occasionally smoked dope, and listened to the music they favored (Black Sabbath, Aerosmith, Hawkwind). But I only drank ONE beer, two at most, while my companions downed one after another and encouraged me to do the same.
"He sips his beer," John S. would point out.
"Gulp it!" he'd say before gulping his Colt 45 to demonstrate the technique.
But I didn't "gulp." I defiantly "sipped." Once I got home, I returned to my life which I shared with no one.
John S.’s fate was sealed from the beginning. When I learned he had been found dead at age 35 in a room in the house of a friend (for which he could never pay rent), I was neither surprised nor saddened. I remembered how, following the death of a 12-year-old girl in seventh grade, he would chuckle as he lowered his head in mock solemnity when passing her house. When I once expressed the wish to be cremated when I died, he sneered and asked, “Who’d want your ashes?” Now he was cremated, his ashes dumped, per his request, on the playground that represented his only true home. His death also went unnoticed since no one bothered to pay the fee for a newspaper death notice. What a man sows, surely he shall reap. John S. sowed nothing but misery, and he met a miserable end.
I know little about the home lives of the others who met premature and unnatural ends, but, like me, they all came from working class families and were raised in the foreboding shadow of the Catholic Church. Lord knows I’m far from perfect, but I’ve never been arrested, I’m not a drunk, and I find nothing amusing about the death of a child. Oh, and I’m still alive, if not that lively.
A little of both?
Are some people just born assholes?
© 2013 Brian W. Fairbanks
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