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Travis the Menace

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Charla and Travis in the Herolds' backyard.  

When Sandy arrived home from the hospital, Travis smelled her clothing frantically, inhaling Jerry’s scent. He was at first disoriented by Jerry’s sudden absence, then despondent. Several times Sandy put Travis on the phone to talk to Jerry; each time Travis became so upset that she had to take the phone away. Travis sat rocking back and forth for hours. He lifted pictures of Jerry off the wall, put his lips to the glass, held them to his chest. Sandy took them all down and put them in a box. On April 12, Jerry died.

After Jerry’s death, Sandy ignored condolences and stopped speaking to many of her friends. Travis continued his rocking. When she sat on the sofa crying, Travis gently brushed her hair. He bit her nails and used an emery board to file them.

When almost a year had passed, Sandy sat down to write a letter. She drafted it in longhand, and addressed it to a woman in Florida who runs a respected chimpanzee sanctuary. These were the last two paragraphs.

“Needless to say, after 45 years with the most wonderful man in the world we are both lost without him and miss him dearly. Travis still waits for him especially at supper time, because at that time they both had a glass of wine with their supper and if my husband ever cooked anything you can bet it has garlic in it. Try having two guys breathing on your sleep time with (garlic breath). Travis would go to the bedroom window many nights sit on the bench seat look out, get very vocal and happy then come back to sleep, this was always very late at night. Finally I went to psychic and she told me Jerry would visit at night and talk to Travis and my husband would always kiss me good night. P.S. (him and Travis kiss alike) that’s good too.

“I have no family, my only child, Suzan had gotten killed in an auto accident 4 years before Jerry died and who Travis also loved. My grand kids live in North Carolina and I don’t see them very often. I live alone with Travis, we eat and sleep together but I am worried that if something happens to me as suddenly as my husband what would happen to Travis, therefore I have to try to do something before that happens. I set up a trust fund for him but that’s not enough, he needs someone to play with of his own kind and have the best most possible life if I’m not here to care for him. I would love to see and talk to you if that’s possible. I am flying down to see your member event enclosed is our donation. I am looking forward to meeting you.”

She signed the letter, “Sandy (Jerry) and Travis,” and enclosed photos of Travis and the family. She wrote out a check for $250, signing it from both her and Travis. She put everything in a stamped envelope. She never mailed the letter and never made the trip.

Charla Nash and Sandy reunited around the time of Jerry’s death. Charla and her then-12-year-old daughter had lived itinerantly, at one point staying for more than a year in a homeless shelter. Charla had taken odd jobs, picked up occasional yard work, cleaned horse stalls. The reunion was mutually beneficial: Sandy invited Charla and her daughter to move rent-free into the loft apartment that had once been Sue’s. She gave Charla a job, handling towing dispatch and bookkeeping. Over time the terms of Charla’s employment blurred. Charla tended to Sandy’s lawn and would look in on Travis if Sandy was away.

She rarely was. For four years, Travis never left home, and Sandy only sporadically did, aside from compulsive shopping trips: She spent hundreds of thousands of dollars at stores like T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, stuffing bags of clothes in dozens of plastic bins that filled almost every room of the house. She and Travis relegated themselves to the kitchen and the suite in the rear of the house. In early 2008, construction was under way on a gigantic new addition that Jerry had designed for Travis years earlier. Travis, by this point, no longer bore much physical resemblance to his former self. He was 14 years old, five feet tall, 240 pounds, and morbidly obese. His hairline had receded dramatically, and his center torso had gone gray. His face was black and wrinkled. His chest sagged. He spent the majority of his days snacking, watching TV, playing on the computer, and roaming the house.

It was February 16, and Sandy and Charla had just returned from a weekend at the Mohegan Sun casino; before leaving, Sandy had taken Charla to get her hair colored and curled, in case, Sandy had joked, two eligible bachelors crossed their paths. Sandy had offered Charla some gambling money. At dinner one night, Sandy had opened her purse and showed the waiter several pictures of Travis. “Do you think he looks more like his mom,” she had asked, “or his aunt?”


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