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Travis the Menace

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Jerry and Travis at home.  

When Travis was around 5 years old, Sue fell in love and married again. She had two more children. She and her husband eventually decided to relocate near the Outer Banks, where he was opening a mechanic’s shop. Sandy did not take kindly to the news. Again, she felt abandoned; again she disapproved of Sue’s husband. Within a few months, however, Sandy was calling to tell Sue she couldn’t stand not talking every day. She sent money and gifts down to North Carolina. Every note Sue mailed to her mother, no matter how banal, Sandy read repeatedly, showed repeatedly to Jerry, and bound in plastic for safe keeping.

Sue was making repeated trips to Connecticut to retrieve their remaining belongings. On her way home one night in September 2000, Sue, who’d complained of back pain and taken a Percocet, was driving on a mostly empty highway. Somewhere in Virginia, her car left the roadway and collided with a tree. Her infant daughter, strapped in her car seat, was unscathed. Sue was ejected from the car. The phone rang inside Rock Rimmon Road, waking Sandy, Jerry, and Travis, all asleep in bed.

At an open-casket viewing in Stamford, Sue’s body lay in a floral-print dress her mother had bought her. Beside her stood an enlarged photo of her in the same dress, holding her newborn daughter. Sandy was anything but stoic in her mourning. She stalked the room, gasping, and blocked certain visitors from coming inside. That’s that bastard! she shouted at Sue’s husband. If it wasn’t for him my daughter would be alive!

In the years after Sue’s death, Sandy vacillated between combustible anger and unrelenting depression. She struggled to maintain relationships with Sue’s children. She distanced herself from her friends and at one point considered suicide. Her life was now built almost entirely around Jerry and Travis, and when she finally began venturing out of the house again, it was with the two of them. One bright winter day, they all drove down to the sea. They walked out onto the beach holding hands, in a line straight across; it was Travis who held their dog Apollo’s leash. Sandy now considered Travis her only child.

Travis quickly moved beyond the gangly phases of early adolescence, through puberty, and into early adulthood. One night after work, Jerry was sipping a glass of wine when Travis climbed up into the seat next to him. Travis was interested in what he was drinking. Jerry offered him a sip. Thus began their nightly ritual: a glass of wine, one for Travis, one for Jerry, served in stemware, which they clinked together as Jerry said cheers.

Sandy, the breeder said, your baby has arrived. it’s a boy.

Travis was also growing more willful. Three years had passed since the death of Sue. It was a warm night in October 2003. Jerry, Sandy, and Travis had eaten a dinner of sausage and peppers and were sitting on the couch watching the World Series. Travis was an avid TV watcher, and he particularly liked sports. All three were cheering for the Yankees. Sandy and Jerry decided they needed to make a trip to the tow shop. They asked Travis whether he had any interest in a ride. It was a rhetorical question.

They were in the 4Runner, stopped downtown at the intersection of Tresser and Washington Boulevards, when someone, for reasons unknown, threw an empty soda bottle into Travis’s partially open window. Travis looked, grunted, unbuckled his seat belt, unlocked and opened the door, and began knuckle-running across the road.

He stood, surveying the area in his extra-large adult diaper (though he was potty-trained, he often wore diapers when he was out). At one point, he lunged at a passerby. And then, all of a sudden, he lay down in the street and began rolling on his back. People in their cars honked and pointed. Traffic at the intersection came to a standstill. Neighbors came out to watch.

Travis was clearly enjoying himself, climbing over cars, hooting, smiling. He chased the dozen police officers who responded to the call for a loose chimpanzee downtown. The spectators cheered for him as he evaded capture, smacking several officers on their behinds. Cookies and ice cream could not coax him back. Each time they lured him into the 4Runner, Travis opened the door and got out again before they could lock it. This continued for two hours.

Finally, when he began to tire, Travis climbed into the SUV and buckled his seat belt. No charges were pressed; several of the police officers who knew Travis personally wrote in their reports that his attitude was only playful. They escorted the Herolds home. Travis spent the next day in his room, grounded.


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