One of the things I loved most as a little girl was going to visit my grandparents on my mother’s side, (in Little Rock, Arkansas) and on my father’s side, (in Texarkana, Arkansas). Every summer we would go to visit them both, dividing the time up over the course of probably 7-10 days. Going to Texarkana was fun because my grandmother had a special drawer in the kitchen where she kept “goodie bags” for my sister and I, that always had candy and money in them! My grandfather had been the Chief of Police in Texarkana for many years and had an assortment of books related to law enforcement, which I found fascinating. My grandmother LOVED the tabloids which she never seemed to throw out – so we were always more than entertained. I loved going to my grandparents’ home in Little Rock because there were other kids my age to play with, a large creek that ran behind the house to hunt crawdads in, and an attached garage where I loved looking for hidden treasures!
My grandmother, mother and sister were ALL quite skilled in scaring the living daylights out of each other, my dad and of course, (being the baby of the family), ME! Let’s face it, when you’re a little kid, you simply don’t have the ability to foresee a scare coming your way OR the experience and finesse to pull off a successful scare yourself. Lord knows I tried SO HARD to be as good as they were. I once hid under my older sister’s bed with a plan to scare her…but she knew I was there and began “talking to herself” about the ghost under her bed and then walked out of her room, (leaving me alone…under the bed) – needless to say I freaked out and ran! However, being a determined child and not to be thrown off course by these minor setbacks, I knew that if I just strategized enough, I would at some point pull off the scare of the century!
One summer day in 1974 we were at my grandparents’ home in Little Rock. My mom, dad, sister and grandmother had all gone out, leaving my granddaddy and I home alone. My granddaddy, (a retired railroad engineer), was somewhat frail due to having emphysema. I absolutely adored him, because he was always making me laugh and teasing me. One of the tricks he pulled was telling me that there was a button in the top of my mouth and if I pushed it just right, my top teeth would pop out. He put his two thumbs in pressing the top of his mouth and sure enough – they popped right out!!! I was amazed and spent literal hours trying to make it work. On this particular day, he was sitting in his burgundy colored recliner, (located to the right of the console TV), smoking a cigarette. He was very hard of hearing and so he sat really close to the TV with the volume turned up high. He had a small table to the right of his chair where the lamp and ashtray were. Seeing an opportunity and having a plan, I decided that TODAY was the day for MY successful scare that would surely afford me a rightful place alongside my big sister!
Peering around the kitchen door, located at the far end of the living room from where my grandfather was sitting, (the loud rumbling of the window AC unit to my right), I put my plan into action. Lowering myself to the carpeted floor, (while watching for him), I lay on my belly and began making my way past the dining room table to the back side of the sofa. Once behind it, I quickly gained visual confirmation that he was still watching the TV. Getting back onto my belly, I used my elbows and knees to shimmy my way across the floor to the interior front wall of the house, just below the very large pain window. Remaining low, I then eased down that wall, until successfully reaching the back of his recliner. Adrenaline pumping and heart now beating wildly, I struggled to slow my breathing, so as not to give away my position. Ever so slowly I raised my head just behind him to find he was drifting off to sleep. Confirmation came when his left arm dropped off the side of the recliner and light snoring began. Then, like a lion waiting in the weeds to pounce upon its prey, I seized what I knew was now MY TIME! Rising up behind him, eyes crazed with excitement, I lunged my small hands forward from behind, grabbing him about the neck and I yelled as loud as I could “RRRAAAaaaaHHhhhhRRRrrrr!!!” Suddenly he jolted upright, grabbing his chest, with a loud “AAAhhhhhhhhh!!!”…then…collapsed back into the chair – head laying over to the left…arm hanging off the chair – lifeless!
I froze, (unable to breath…unable to think…unable to move), I said, “Grandaddy?” …nothing. Suddenly, my mind spinning, I realized that the unimaginable…the unfathomable had happened – I KILLED GRANDADDY!!!! What came next, though disturbing, is none the less, the ugly truth. My mind racing as I faced the horrible reality of what I’d done, and the hard fact that granddaddy was dead – I could only think of two things: The police would surely take me, and worse than that, my mom was FOR SURE going to be REALLY mad at me! So in light of this, I did the only thing my eight year old mind could think of – I ran to the creek and made my way down it, through the water and rocks until I got to the bridge and hid below…waiting to hear the police sirens and the sound of dogs coming after me! (There would after all, have to be dogs…that is ALWAYS what happened in the movies during a man hunt and the only hope is taking the creek to make them lose my scent!)
I’ve no idea how long I waited under that bridge for sure. I only know when it all began the sun was high and when I returned the sun was low. I could NOT understand why the sirens never came, but needing to use the restroom and knowing it was close to time to come home, (or I would get in trouble for that to), I began the long walk back. I had decided that they must have not needed sirens because after all, he was…dead. I could only imagine how devastated everyone was and how MUCH trouble I was going to be in. Would the police be waiting on me?…I didn’t know. With each step my heart beat harder, as sheer terror took over my mind and body, causing my legs to feel like 50 pound weights. My eyes puffy and nose red from crying, eaten up with guilt for what I’d done to granddaddy, I arrived to the house, but saw no police cars. By the time I got to the door my hands were trembling so hard I could barely turn the knob, as I heard voices inside. Walking in the front door, initially seeing where he used to sit, then slowly looking towards the dining room table…it happened…cackling laughter erupted! I could not believe my eyes, as there before me, sitting at the head of the table was granddaddy, smiling and laughing! As it turned out, I had been given the ULTIMATE DOUBLE BACK SCARE! Grandaddy had done a total fake out, later telling me that he had seen me in the mirror above the TV peering at him from the kitchen and going down onto the floor, at which point he had decided to make sure I KNEW who the KING of SCARE was and believe me – I KNEW!!!
Guilt is an interesting thing…it lets us know when we are wrong, and if we don’t know we’re wrong, it can be used by someone else, (like in court), to tell us so. While it is an awareness of wrong doing…it is equally a fear of what will happen to us because of our wrong doing. We can BE guilty, without actually being sorry for what we’ve done OR (as in my story); we can have guilt in combination with remorse. How many times do we experience the kind of guilt that’s not based on what is “real”…but rather what we perceive to be real, tormenting ourselves for hours or even days, until finally confronting the fear- only to find that it was just a drama in our mind? For me, the greatest gift I’ve been given, is having of a sense of humor…and with my life, it has meant unlimited material!
©2015 Rebecca Balko