Not 21 anymore
Truman Gates was a simple man. A tall man, medium weight with a gut that told people he liked his beer (but not too much) and aged blonde hair that would almost certainly turn white in his later years. He was in his late 30’s and according to Truman, in the prime of his life.
He could often be heard quoting the old cliche, “Your 20’s are for grindin’, and your 30’s are for primin’,” in a southern drawl which sounded more charming than ignorant.
Truman was the rural American success story. Through hard work and ingenuity, he had taken a small ranch hand side business and turned it into a moderately successful land management corporation in only five years. In the 12 years that followed he and his business partner Norman González, a man of both Scottish and Mexican decent and Truman’s best friend since 4th grade, had taken the fledgling company and made it into an unprecedented success. Norman had been the best man at his wedding. Both men owned nice Chevy trucks and had nice big houses in nice safe communities for their nice little families.
On this particular day, Truman found himself driving out on the Johnson place to check on a cow who was expected to have a calf any day now. He was taking the Chevy through the paces on the back 200 acres, driving through the small barely maintained pasture roads and underbrush that all farmers and ranchers know and become accustomed. Heifers who are calving soon were not particularly easy to find, but on this day Truman found her the first place he looked, behind the brush pile that himself and his crew had begun stacking last October. They meant to return and burn it but time had a way of slipping away from him these days.
Having found the cow and her calf Truman hopped out of the cab of the charcoal Silverado 2500 diesel and proceeded to inspect the calf. This task was not a particularly easy as many heifers take exception to the idea of a rancher or anyone for that matter other than her getting too close to the calf, but Truman knew this particular cow quite well and was not concerned.
As he returned to his truck, Truman replayed the argument that he and his wife had the night before.
Ida had been nagging him to eat healthier and exercise more ever since the birth of his youngest, Rita a little blonde haired beauty age 2.
“I want you to be around for graduations, weddings, and grandbabies,” Ida had told her husband. “You’re not 21 anymore!”
This saying was particularly her favorite anytime she was trying to critique a particular character flaw. It was always 21 as if there was something particularly special about being 21.
“You can have 21 for all I care,” thought Truman. “I was a goddam fool at 21 and wouldn’t time travel backward for any amount of money.”
Truman was not the kind of man prone to reminisce. In his mind, today was the best day to be alive, not yesterday and not tomorrow. “I live my life in the moment,” Truman was often telling his employees and friends. He would often punctuate the statement by taking a step forward and pointing his index finger towards the floor in front of him and exclaim, “Right damn now.”
Truman took a pinch of Copenhagen and placed it in his lower front jaw. “I’ll bet she don’t want me doing this either,” he said to himself. He had dipped since he was 12 years old and in the small town where he grew up in this was not an uncommon practice. He had honestly tried to quit multiple times with little success. His gums lightly burned as his head cleared and his body began to relax. Truman wondered if this was the nicotine or just his addiction manifesting itself, he imagined it to be a bit of both.
He decided to skip lunch with the work crew at the local BBQ place that boasted the most “bodacious BBQ ribs,” usually his favorite, and opted to go home instead. He took the FM 423 turn off of the main highway, just like he had done for the last ten years. He had bought some land about 3 miles away from the small homestead where he had been raised by his loving albeit poor parents.
They had lived in a double wide trailer on blocks, had no money, and they had been some of the happiest years of his life. Growing up in the country had instilled a love of the land that nothing else could. Truman often would ponder which was his greatest love, the land or his family. Of course, he would always say out loud family, but in his heart, he wondered.
He pulled off of the farm to market road and onto his dirt driveway that led to his 200 acres of fields and forest. Truman was proud of his land, and every time he turned onto this road it felt like home since the first time he got out of the car with the realtor.
His love for the land did not mean that Truman didn’t love his wife. On the contrary, he adored her. Much like the land, the first time he had seen Ida she intoxicated him. Not just her physical appearance which was by all accounts stunning, but by her aura. She was all country girl. What was it the song says, “…from her cowboys boots to her down home roots…”
They had met at a local honky-tonk one Friday night. She was a friend of a friend who had recently moved to the area. She asked him to dance, and for Truman, there was a moment during that dance as they made small talk and he felt the weight of her in his arms when he knew he never wanted to let her go. They had been together ever since.
He loved her even if he didn’t always know how to show it. That spark he would see in her eyes when she became passionate about something she believed. Or the way one eyebrow raised combined with her smirk when she was frisky or up for a challenge. She was strong like an old oak. Ida was his foundation, the place where he could fall back on when he felt weakest.
Truman couldn’t help but smile when he thought about her. No matter how hard things got between them, the thought that it would ever be over between him and Ida never once crossed his mind. She was like oxygen to him, and he couldn’t live without oxygen.
As he pulled up to the two-story traditional ranch house he had built himself, Truman saw his wife’s blue suburban and a red Chevrolet. He instantly recognized it as Norman’s truck. Although Norman being at his house during the workday might have struck Truman as abnormal, he had asked Norman to stop by and drop off the new water pump he had ordered online for his in-ground pool. “It must’ve gotten in early,” thought Truman in passing.
Although Norman’s presence would most certainly cancel any of Truman’s ideas about a midday rendezvous with his wife, Truman knew the likelihood of that was minimal either way. He and Ida had not been on what most people would consider “good” terms for a couple of months, in Truman’s mind a marriage lasts a lifetime, if you’re unhappy for a month or two in there you still come out ahead in the end. “Besides,” he thought. “I love my wife, and that should be enough to get us through anything.”
He had felt that they had been drifting apart for some time, but the trouble was he wasn’t sure how to fix it. The thought of marriage counseling had crossed his mind, but that was the kind of thing other people did and besides wasn’t that the last resort before the divorce? He didn’t think things had come to that.
Truman walked in the front door and was surprised not to be greeted immediately by his two favorite people in the whole world. He was even further surprised when he did not see them in the kitchen, talking while Ida tossed salad or through together a sandwich for his colleague and best friend. When he heard music from upstairs, he decided to investigate. “Why were they upstairs?” He thought bewildered.
The next things he heard were the noises. Familiar sounds to a man who had been married for nearly a decade or for anyone who had seen a movie in the last 30 years or so. He couldn’t believe what he thought he was hearing. His heart was in the pit of his stomach. Pounding, he could hear it in his ears. He continued in denial to tell himself they were just moving a piece of furniture or doing an aerobics class. That must be it because it couldn’t be what it sounded like it was.
He opened the door to the sight of his best friend of nearly 21 years (that magic number again) thrusting himself into his wife of more than half that. His wife, lying naked on her back was not objecting to the activity but on the contrary, was saying things that Truman had never heard pass those lips in all of the years he had known her. He stood there for what seemed like an eternity but in all likelihood was only a few seconds.
He was numb. His emotions were running the gambit from furious to completely decimated in the length of a millisecond. The room began to spin as Truman was suddenly surrounded by the sights and sounds of what was happening in front of him on his bed with his wife and his best friend and trusted business partner. He thought if he didn’t get off of this ride he was going to vomit all over his newly defiled master bedroom. “It might improve it,” Truman thought darkly.
Suddenly a startled half scream cried out his name, “Truman! What are you doing home right now?! Why aren’t you at lunch?” Ida said, desperate to jump into a normal conversation as if to erase what had just been happening.
Norman couldn’t speak. He was like a child with his hand in the cookie jar, and he stood there frozen to the spot. A stupid guilty and an almost humorous expression on his face. Truman thought that Norman looked like a fox in a chicken coop just waiting for the farmer to make the first move.
Truman was silent and unresponsive standing there like a person with a mental health condition on too much medication. They all stood in a standoff of perfect silence, the guilty party poised for action naked and vulnerable to the world.
“What does one do to a fox found in the chicken coop?” Truman asked himself internally. Quietly and without hesitation, Truman unholstered his CHL licensed Ruger .45 semi-automatic pistol. He always carried it when he was going to be out in the pastures as a precaution against snakes or varmints.
Ida screamed. Suddenly, acutely aware of the gravity of the situation. Her first response was to command Truman to follow her instruction. “You put that damned thing away right now!” she said using the strongest tone of authority she could muster her fear showing as her voice slightly cracked.
Her admonition did not move Truman.
Norman paralyzed by fear at this moment, could not decide whether to rush Truman and wrestle the gun out of his hand, run, or stay still. The choice made for him in his panic and indecision, and he continued to stand still.
As Ida’s demands had fallen on deaf ears, she began to beg Truman to put away the gun “for the love of God, put away the gun!” she pleaded, tears starting to pour from her eyes, her voice breaking.
Truman said nothing. His brain was unable to process all of the pain and the emotions that had him swimming in a sea of uncertainty. The pistol was still dormant in his hand at his side aimed at the floor.
He steadied himself with one clear thought. Everything came rushing back into perfect vision. He pulled back the slide, disabled the safety, aimed the gun and pulled the trigger with near robotic efficiency. Norman’s brains were clinging to the night stand. Before Ida had a chance to comprehend what had just occurred, another explosion erupted. A momentary flash and the smell of gunpowder and Ida was no more.
Again without any hesitation, and even before the naked body that was once Ida had tumbled to the far side of the bed, Truman turned the .45 towards his head, leaving an inch between his temple and the barrel of the handgun and pulled the trigger.
He always was an excellent shot.