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'In a Gray World'
'In a Gray World'
I’ve heard a lot of strange things about my grandparents, but I’ve only ever been to visit them once—back when they lived in Spain. My grandpa was arrested the next day.
My parents have never clearly told me their story from beginning to end, but I think I may have heard enough of it to piece together something close to what actually happened to my ‘psycho-crazy grandparents,’ as my mother might say.
My mother grew up as the youngest in a family with five children, and every once in a while her short patience with her own present family make the apparent again. Hearing stories even before my grandparents were discovered in Spain, it was fairly obvious that hey weren’t exactly a commonplace suburban family.
I’ve heard stories about everything about my mother’s family, from sailboat races the whole family took to Hawaii because they ‘needed something to do over the weekends,’ to my grandpa’s infamous ‘mustard taco’ dinners, those being one of the more appetizing of my mom’s stories about her father’s cooking. The most entertaining, however, being those about how her parents would leave for weeks at a time, leaving five teenage children alone to their own devices. My personal favorite is the time my mom managed, one way or another, to get the bathtub to leak down into the kitchen below. She left it leaking for days before her parents got home—but, you’d have to hear it from her to really appreciate the full hilarity of it.
Anyway, on to my grandpa—and this is where I have to get pretty vague. I know that he went to Caltech, and that he graduated as an engineer (playing a couple pretty good pranks along the way, but that’s another story). Then, I’m guessing that he landed a pretty good job, followed it and it’s benefits through the majority of his adult life, and then, thankfully, after his children were all moved out, he made a pretty big mistake.
What that mistake was, ‘m not sure—I’ve only ever heard my mother talking about it with my aunts and uncles once or twice, and they were careful to hush it up once they realized I was near. Since then, I haven’t heard anything about it, so all I know is that he sold something from his engineering company (a company that, although it does make other things, makes weapons of war) to someone that he shouldn’t have.
Somewhere in between when the authorities found out about him and when they found him, he moved with my grandmother to Spain. There, as far as I can tell, he lived happily and peacefully for five years with his wife and her twenty-three cats, all of whom were forced to be referred to be painfully badly pronounced Spanish names.
I was only eight when I visited their apartment in Spain, but I remember being shocked to discover that my grandparents were, in fact, human, just like me, and they did, in fact, speak English, just like me. Sure, they were strange and distant in conversation, sure their house smelled like twenty-three cats slept inside it, and sure, my grandpa drove like a crazy senile drunk man evacuating a war zone.
…But, they were just people.
The day after I left Spain, the American police found him and arrested him. He didn’t tell anyone. We found out a month later when my uncle tried to contact him and couldn’t and eventually realized what had happened. My grandpa had to endure six months in jail as a sixty-year-old man, and then was on parole for some length of time as well.
Every time someone, in real life or on television or in a book or anything, goes to jail, I can’t help but wonder. Are they really guilty? Were they just in the wrong place at the wrong time? What if they just associated with the wrong people? What if they just made an honest mistake? That’s what gets me the most. An honest mistake. I think if you accidentally cut the wrong rope on a construction site, and somebody were standing in just the wrong place, you could go to jail. I think you could—and even if you can’t right now, they’ll be sure to change the laws in a few years.
People like it when criminals go to jail, or worse. They don’t care what kind of person he might be—they’ve already decided that before he even walks into the courtroom. They’re not even people, anyway. They’re more like animals. It’s better if they’re caged up. Their justice makes the world safer. Cleaner.
I can’t imagine a human man like my grandpa, even if he is a little delusional, sitting in a cell and watching the world pass him by out a tiny box of a window. I can’t help but think about how gray the world is, and about how black-and-white the criminal justice system is. Nearly everyone who’s ever sat behind that ‘defendant’ table, I’m willing to bet, is somewhere in between.
But you’re either innocent …or you’re guilty.
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