The Family — Sherwood Forrest

Ken Jones

Staff member
Not sure about this one, perhaps a little too morbid and dark
Sherwood Forrest

Footprints runnin’ cross the silver sand
Steps goin’ down into tattoo land
I met the son of darkness and the sons of light
In the bordertown of despair​

I went down where the vultures feed
I would’ve gone deeper, but there wasn’t any need
Heard the tongues of angels and the tongues of men
Wasn’t any difference to me​

So many roads, so much at stake
So many dead ends, I’m at the edge of the lake
Sometimes I wonder what it’s gonna take
To find dignity​

“Dignity” — Bob Dylan​

There are times in many people’s lives that are disappointing and depressing and, for the majority, those times are temporary and can actually serve as a lesson for growth. But that isn’t true for all! For Sherwood Forrest, days of disappointment and depression had metamorphosed into the early stages of what sadly was now an actual mental breakdown. His mind seemed mortally wounded and the hurt, frustration, anger, and give-up-ness had traveled to every muscle and bone in his body. He could neither sleep nor carry on a normal conversation with those around him but unfortunately no one correctly envisioned the true extent of his disconsolate, gloomy and ineffable illness.

Outwardly he appeared fairly normal even if his normal hurried pace had given way to logy sluggishness, sloth and ennui. Perhaps more telling were the changes to his usual habits of cleanliness and dress, both of which seemed to have fallen by the wayside. But, there are simply too many homeless schlumps on the streets, tatterdemalion dandies in their own right, to notice one more raggedly dressed person.

Unfortunately Sherwood had devised a plan to end the ills, a plan that in reality was neither good nor reasonable. Sherwood though thought it was quite reasonable and, perhaps even more important, he didn’t know what else to do. He looked at the railing and down into the dark, fuliginous water. There was nothing to see other than an occasional flash of light, probably the reflection from some type of baitfish. Sherwood was never a particularly brave man to begin and now he needed all the courage that he could muster. But the murky water looked cold as ice and the marine wind, which was already blustery enough to require a jacket with hood, whipped the waves into the pilings while long white plumes of spindrift danced on the tips of the waves. He was cold and miserable but at least he knew the end would be quick. It wasn’t like one of those jumps off the Golden Gate Bridge where the descent might take half a minute of more. No, here it was only thirty feet or so to the water where his inability to swim would (he hoped) quickly prove his downfall. Of course that water did look really cold. He wondered if this was the best way to finish it but he had made the decision and once he made up his mind he stuck with it.

Sherwood was a perfect poster boy for the old Leo Durocher saying that “nice guys finish last.” A Midwestern WASP brought up to respect the church, family, government and neighbors, he had more than once displayed a confidence in the future that seemed out of touch with the world around him. To say that he had a somewhat Pollyannish-outlook would be an understatement and it was, at times, a source of silly friction with his wife and children (his kids called him happy-clappy in church). But his views and Panglossian temperament simply reflected the beliefs instilled into him by his own honest, hard working, and nurturing parents. Unfortunately, his positive outlook was to hit a barrier and the gargantuan gap between his espoused beliefs and the reality around him would help create the unfortunate but perhaps unenviable situation in which he now found himself.

Things had begun to unravel about a year previously, just after he lost his well-paying job to company cutbacks. Sherwood was “the” model employee, one who displayed an almost Puritan work ethic: always-hard working, always on time, never missing a day, honest and loyal. His outlook was Pickwickian: he had loved his job, had aspirations of working for the company until retirement, and loved telling people how lucky he was. After all, how many people love their jobs and are paid for doing something they love?

Then, after all the glowing reviews he had received, the company closed the plant. He was sure, like many of his fellow employees, that he would be offered a transfer to another plant. But no, it was not to be. Cutting a work force by 800 people meant that people had to lose jobs, not just be transferred. “Sherwood, we appreciate the twenty-eight years you’ve worked for us but these things happen. Best wishes and hope you find something.” Why fire good, loyal, productive employees? It didn’t make sense to Sherwood but it still happened.

That’s when he discovered that a fifty-one-year-old man, one with advanced degrees, may have too many degrees if they’re all in a narrow range of subjects. And surprisingly, he was considered “too qualified” for many of the low paying jobs that were available. Potential employer’s figured he would leave as soon as he got a better job and of course they may have been right. Toss in his age and the fact that he wasn’t bilingual and his options dropped dramatically.

Still, initially, Sherwood retained faith in the system and his ability to find a job. The newspaper was filled with hundreds of jobs, and the radio constantly talked about the do’s and don’ts involved in a good job search. He did land a couple of commission-only sales job but after nearly a month in each without a paycheck realized he was just a little too honest to be a salesman. He tried trucking, but his skills were too poor; he tried being a security guard but his nature was too timid. He even quit in embarrassment at a restaurant where, as a waiter, he might actually have made good money. Unfortunately two of his former colleagues had been his customers and he felt their unease was even worse than his own.

The problem was the personal self-image Sherwood retained. He felt many of the jobs were beneath a man of his stature and refused to admit to himself that his stature had changed. At the same time he knew, deep down, that a man and a husband had an absolute duty to provide for the family. He remembered the group of Latinos who gathered most mornings on a corner near his office building. They would take whatever jobs were offered and did so with a smile. They were proud to be making money no matter the job; Sherwood was too proud to take those jobs even if it meant no money. But the failure to bring home a check to support his wife meant he himself was a failure and there wasn’t any doubt about it.

Of course the mortgage payments don’t stop when you lose your job even if your insurance does, or would, after six months of his paying the entire premium. How foolish he had been! Take a $100,000 house you bought in the early ‘80s, a house almost entirely paid off. Refinance it, do some home additions, buy that new car, use some money to put the kids through college, and take a trip to the ancestral home in Europe. His financial advisor, yes he once had one, had said to be cautious. But it seemed foolish not to use at least part of what seemed an unending increase in equity. Now he had the payments of a $300,000 house, payments that were going to be adjusted up a little too soon. Yes, the house might be worth $400,000 but what good does it do to sell it when every other house seems to also be $400,000 or more?

And that’s when the marriage began to unravel. He had thought theirs was a strong marriage even if Connie had seemed to grow somewhat distant over the years. They had different jobs and lived in somewhat different worlds both in regards to the work place, friends and interests. But as long as they were both busy and both contributing—somehow—to the family, the differences were ignored.

However, when the bills starting to pile up, and the creditors began to call all hours of the day and night, the pressure to do something, almost anything, began to take its toll. Connie retained her job but Sherwood just couldn’t seem to find anything and eventually it seemed to her that he wasn’t even trying. He would often head down to the pier and spend the afternoon fishing; it was a way to release the stress he felt. But it simply made Connie mad and it made her lose much of the respect that she had always had for Sherman. She never thought he was perfect but she had always respected his work ethic and his efforts to provide a good home for the family. That effort seemed to be lacking now and it was one more rip in the fabric that had held the family together.

Eventually his failure to land a decent job began to dampen the personal zest and enthusiasm he had always shown and his winsome, cheerful personality turned sour. He truly believed in the American system of capitalism and had always displayed an almost Horatio Alger-like belief that hard work, determination, and concern for others would assure success (and maybe wealth). Now he began to wonder. What had gone wrong? He had done his part, had worked hard, been an honest employee, and done whatever the company asked. But he was repaid with the loss of his job. Then, when he heard that some of the jobs were being outsourced to people overseas he not only lost belief in his company but in the system itself.

When your belief system breaks down you have several options. Some turn to drink, some to drugs, some take it as a challenge and fight even harder. Sherwood’s upbringing and the messages it had taught refused to allow him to even consider drink or drugs. And though he needed help, he felt that was for others. Men should be strong and take personal responsibility for their situation in life, that message was ingrained, and he wasn’t ready to give up that commandment just yet.

Plus he knew that his ills paled in comparison to those of so many others. What about people suffering from illness? He didn’t have cancer, he wasn’t restricted to a bed, he didn’t have to be hooked up to a machine just to stay alive. Yep, he should be thankful. And how many others had suffered a little unemployment or even bankruptcy? Not to forget those starving kids in Africa. This temporary setback wouldn’t last.

But as the weeks turned into months, and he finally began to visit the state’s unemployment lines, his very soul seemed to change. Luckily the kids were now grown and on there own, but Connie was there and she took the brunt of his punishment. Not a mean-tempered, physical, or even verbal punishment, but simply a punishment of neglect, a compunctious slight. It seemed he didn’t talk to her, didn’t do anything to help around the house, refused to even discuss his feelings about the present or the future. He just didn’t seem to care about anything.

But, he did care. One dark, mid-November night when Connie returned home from work, she found the house empty of light. It was strange because Forrest’s car was sitting in the driveway. As she entered the foyer she turned on the lights but as she entered the family room she found Forrest sitting there quietly, in a blackened room. He was awake but just sitting motionless in his favorite chair. He didn’t react to her entry until she placed her hand upon his shoulder. He turned his face to her and she could see his teary eyes and that the front of his shirt was soaked; it scared her. To Connie it seemed like a simple case of depression and she tried to get him to go to a counselor but he failed to show up for the appointment. Depression, she should have known, is never simple.

The trips to the pier increased although the relief he sought was rare. He spent most of his days in a melancholic stupor, brooding the hours away; only occasionally did he catch a fish. It was understanding and peace of mind that he sought, not fish. He didn’t socialize with the other anglers and while not rude or unfriendly he simply preferred to be with himself. He rarely said a word. In a way the visits to the pier were an attempt to avoid the reality that seemed so negative, a cocoon of hopelessness that seemed impossible to avoid. And in truth he couldn’t avoid the memories, especially of he and Connie back when they had been young and so full of hope. That hope now seemed as dead and dried out as the desiccated heads of the anchovies that seemed to collect near the railing of the pier—fragile, mummified-like remains of what once had been lively little fish.

Eventually the Notice of Default arrived; the home was in foreclosure. Although Sherwood didn’t see how they could catch up on their payments, he did call the mortgage company. Their response was less than useful. Didn’t he know that he needed to pay his payments on time? Didn’t he know that he was hurting his FICO credit scores by being late on his payments? Didn’t he know it was irresponsible to be late on payments? As far as catching up, yes they might offer him a forbearance, but he would have to convince them that he could pay his payments on time. Pay them on time even though his new monthly payments would be higher than his old! He wanted to reach through that telephone line, put his hands around the neck of that spokesman, and ask “you idiot, how am I supposed to pay my new higher payments on time when I can’t pay the lower payments on time? Do you have a brain in your head, does that approach seem logical?”

The foreclosure was the last straw for Connie. She had “stood by her man” but felt he should be able to find a job somewhere. She knew it was hard but felt he just wasn’t trying hard enough (and she was right). She finally announced to him that she would move out if he didn’t get a job and at least try to save the home. In response, he left with his tackle box and fishing rods without saying a word.

He wanted to say how he felt but for some reason he couldn’t voice his feelings. He felt both weak and defeated and it was affecting him in new and strange ways. He had first noticed it several weeks before when he was sitting in that room crying. Men aren’t supposed to cry and it made him feel ashamed. Then, a few days later, he actually had to stop the car on the road one morning when overcome by emotion. His nights were nights without sleep and his days were filled with lethargic inaction. He probably would have gained weight but be also wasn’t hungry and didn’t eat. The lack of sleep, food and exercise simply added a physical dimension to the psychological assaults already taking place on his system. The hurts—loss of job, loss of home, and now possible loss of Connie—led to a dégringolade from which he would never recover.

At the pier he had lost the ability to kill. One day he hooked a large bonito from the pier, the largest he had seen in several years, and the fish put on one of the spirited fights by which they are known. However, within a few minutes he had the beautiful fish to the top of the pier. There the “bonehead” began the all-too-typical drumbeat on the deck with its tail, the “Mr. Bojangles” dance of death. It was as though the fish demanded freedom even though it was out of its element and doomed. But it wouldn’t give up. Every ounce of its being seemed to slam against the deck and soon it was bruised and bloody. As the fish began to die, and the colors of the fish began to fade, Sherwood’s eyes began to tear and he felt shame. He continued to stare at the fish for several minutes until a neighboring angler asked him if he was OK. Why, he asked himself, should he feel guilt for catching a fish? Fishing was a natural act practiced for several thousand years and something he had done since his youth. Why was he having these strange emotions? It was one more question in an increasing and perplexing litany of feelings, ideas, speculations and fears that was clogging up his mind.

He knew that something was terribly wrong but he couldn’t express it to others nor confront it by himself. He considered how Job had faced the challenges presented by God in the Bible but finally had to admit to himself that he was no Job. Even his faith seemed to have vanished.

Eventually the day came when Connie did move in with their daughter and her family. She had tried time and again to talk to him, as had both their children, but to no avail; something seemed missing and he just wouldn’t seem to listen. What Sherwood couldn’t tell Connie was that he loved her now more than ever. But he just couldn’t seem to say the words nor did he think that she would even listen, let alone believe him. What he did feel was that he had failed in his role of provider and was no longer needed. He felt he had become a burden on his family and the wife he had promised to support and protect until death. Shame seemed to engulf him.

Luckily, at least in his mind, was that fact that he had kept up the payments on his life insurance, a policy that had been increased when they had refinanced their home. The policy was for $300,000 and it would provide Connie the money needed to pay off the house if he died.

He began to consider his options and kept coming back to death as the ultimate and only reasonable solution—the act most beneficial for those he loved. His life was now a waste but if done properly he could still provide the security for Connie he had once promised—and provided. Of course no one could know; suicides don’t pay off when it comes to life insurance. His death would be an accident and would provide a dignified ending to what had become an undignified mess of a life.

Ultimately the plan found him down at the deserted pier late one bitterly cold and cloudy night. Sherwood thought the moon was a bit too large that night but its lucent face was mostly hidden behind strange, chalky-looking, calico clouds that seemed to hang, like heavy gauze, in strips across the sky. He hoped the delicately opaque clouds would provide the privacy he needed to fulfill his mission that night.

In the distance, just barely visible, was the black outline of a sister pier, one that normally was shiny bright at night; appropriately, it was dark and somewhat forbidding this unfortunate night. Perhaps the ghosts of previous nights, specters of similar tormented deeds, were getting ready for a party; perhaps a new arrival was on the way?

As he looked down into the gloomy water Sherwood wondered if things could have turned out differently? He felt that forces somehow had conspired against him. It wasn’t his fault, or at least not all his fault, but he and his family were the ones who had to suffer. But it was more than just the financial troubles and family crisis that had led him to the pier that night. He was not too sure that he wanted to live in a dystopia-like world void of hope and the beliefs he had once treasured so dear; the Zeitgeist he saw around him seemed empty of the human decency that so often had held society together in the past. The push to make money, and the willingness to push aside those who stood in the way of maximum profit, seemed obscene but also seemed acceptable in the new millennium.

Sherman had never felt so tired; in fact it seemed to take every pulsing capillary and contractive muscle in his body to walk through the Cimmerian atmosphere that cloaked the pier that night. It took effort just to stand and he wondered if death would bring the relief he desired? Some have called sleep a temporary death but his solution would be far more than temporary. The bones in his body were tired, and his brain itself, at least the part that continued to care, seemed to relish the prospect of eternal peace. He wondered if perhaps he was just tired of life? It was the dark night of his soul.

Sherman knew that his family would miss him even given the recent events. But the arguments had been played out in his head over and over and now, with an obdurate determination, it was time to carry out his plan.

The authorities would find his fishing equipment in the morning and they hopefully would conclude that he had accidentally fallen over the low railing near his rod and reel. His family would know that he couldn’t swim and when his body washed up on the wave-tormented shore they would all know what had happened. It sounded simple and often that is the best approach. Now he stood peering down into the water. He had looked to the heavens, had spoken with God, and hoped that God understood. Perhaps he might be forgiven the deed he was about to commit but he wasn’t too sure. Still it had to be done! He was tired of the depression, the sadness, and the total feelings of hopelessness, not to mention his feelings of guilt. This act would allow him to go out as a dignified man, one whose final act had helped his family. That was enough for him.

He once again prayed for Connie to forgive him. He once again asked God to protect his family. And he recited the words he had learned from a song by Jessi Colter:

When the blood curdlin’ scream
Pierces the darkness circlin’ my brain
When the pain in my soul is too great to explain
I reach out for you, I'm callin’ your name.
Lord, please have mercy on my troubled soul​

Then, making sure that no one was around to witness his jump, and trembling with fright, he climbed up onto the railing. It was a Hobson’s choice with no alternatives. Sherwood shut his eyes and plunged down into the Stygian darkness of the pitiless sea. He was right that the end came fairly quick but no one can know the pain and sheer terror that envelops a drowning person; it is not a pleasant way to go.

His equipment was discovered the next morning but his body wasn’t found. Most did assume he had drowned by accident but the insurance company said they needed to wait before paying on the claim—to see if he was indeed dead.

For a few days the main talk on the pier was of the death on the pier—with a hundred different ideas as to what had happened. But that changed with the unusual appearance of a run of crabs at the pier. Anglers began to pull up rock and spider crabs in unusual numbers and it almost seemed there were more crabs than fish. No one knew why the crabs had shown up but all that mattered was that they were there and they were good eating.

It wasn’t until almost a week later that a crab net tangled up with something under the pier. It took two people to pull it up but eventually the pot appeared and affixed to its corner was the remains of Sherwood Forrest. The crabs had been feasting and now the reason for their appearance was known.

The body was brought to the pier and though the police did their best to keep back the crowds, it was easy to see the gruesome job the crabs had done to the eyeless body. Someone even commented how undignified a way to die—to drown and then become food for the sluggish creatures that inhabit the bottom of the sea. No one could guess the creatures that would be encountered by Sherwood upon his descent into the infernal darkness of the chthonic regions. No one can know until it is too late!

For the Family on the pier, it was a time of sadness and regret. Somehow they knew what had actually happened. They had seen Sherwood many times on the pier and had many pleasant exchanges with him. But they hadn’t seen him recently and hadn’t known the trouble he was in. They had a reputation for helping others and it was a reputation well earned. They weren’t doctors but the support and advice they were able to give was generally better than that of most doctors. Jasper, Cassidy, or one of the others would make sure help was received. But their Tuesday and Thursday visits hadn’t seen Sherwood; he had apparently visited other days or times. They knew they might not have helped but they also knew the power of the Family and wished they had at least been given a chance to help.


Well-Known Member
Thought this was your best yet. Didn't find it morbid or dark at all. It was a good analysis of the human condition. I really felt something for the character.