Life is full of disappointments and this is especially true, in the novel Billy Maddox Takes His Shot, of Hector Maddox, father of the novel’s protagonist, Billy Maddox. Hector collapses in an existential fit of grief and disbelief when his youngest son, Matthew, is killed in a gun battle between drug mules and Border Patrol agents on the Maddox family ranch in Cochise County, Arizona.
The death of a family member can be devastating beyond belief but, as many a life coach has been known to say, it is a measure of our success in life to determine how we respond to tragedies.
In the case of Hector Maddox, the impact of the tragedy leads to bitterness and the development of a suspicious temperament toward anything Mexican. His long-time vision to bequeath the family ranch to his two sons, as he inherited it from his father, is shattered, and no amount of solace can prevent him from developing the blackest of emotions.
Of course the impact of his rage has far-ranging impacts, which create an even greater tragedy. His remaining son, Billy, is left without guidance as he grows to become an adolescent and then a young man. His personal challenges at school, the result of both his own unrequited grief and lack of parental support, send him down a road that looks like perpetual trouble. (Check out the free short story, Billy and Darla, to see what kind of trouble he’s already experiencing).
It is pretty much at this point where readers meet the young man for the first time in the opening pages of Billy Maddox Takes His Shot.
Bitter feelings stir up thoughts not unlike what once was wisely said about jealousy. It is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.
No one can ever know what life circumstances will land on our doorstep. Those who have succeeded are often credited for their success, while those who fail live with the stigma of having experienced a downfall due to their own shortcomings.
But no one is ever in complete control. Each of us may be overwhelmed by sudden, unexpected events that lack reason or rationale, and which bring incredible hardship. No one is immune and no one can ever be freed of severe disappointment.
The bitterness that results can be as bad-tasting as salt. It is an unavoidable emotion for humans, a soul-deep knife blade that cuts during the worst of tragic events, such as what Hector experiences in the loss of his son. What is not unavoidable, though, is letting that bitterness close off the world and provide a new home in fury and suspicion. It is not essential that bitterness make us forget friends or family, or acknowledge the hardships faced by others due to our own grief.
Hector, unfortunately, does go down the dark road. He does not respond well to Matthew’s death and suffers grievously as a result. His remaining son, Billy, suffers too. No one ever leads a life intending to encounter pain and hardship, yet they inevitably find us. Such is part of the journey of life. It is what we do with those experiences that offers the potential to grow and strengthen, or to shrivel up, exhale and sigh that it is all too much to bear. A salty bitterness, indeed.