I stopped during my late-afternoon walk in front of the old Bairstow house. The fallen autumn leaves cluttered the yard. The windows and doors—even the garage—had been boarded up for twenty years. Glen Bairstow, Jimmy’s father and blind from retinitis pigmentosa when Jimmy was still young, had long ago moved away, to live with his brother. Anne, the mother, had died from cancer when Jimmy was two. And Jimmy? Well, only one place Jimmy could end up—if he was still alive.
“John! What happened?” Ms. Fairwell, my kindergarten teacher, put her hand under my chin and looked into my tearing eyes. She
took my wrist and examined my bleeding arm. “Did you fall?”
I sobbed and shook my head. “Jimmy … bit me!”
Being smaller, at the time, and smarter than most of the other kids meant I got picked on plenty, and it wasn’t like I was fat, little Jimmy’s only target, but I was his favorite. If he wasn’t beating up his classmates, he was beating shrubs with a baseball bat or pulling up the neighbors’ flowers or throwing rocks at dogs. All the dogs barked at him, like they sensed his badness. He got pretty lucky with a Saint Bernard one time; the rock got it in its nose. When the dog yelped, its owner came out. Jimmy ran home.
Jimmy lived five blocks from where I used to live (I live now in Bordenville) and I did my best to avoid him when school was out. I was glad he wasn’t my next door neighbor; the people who were said he was a constant troublemaker.
One day, a woman walked to the medical clinic with her three-year-old son. Jimmy, sitting on his house’s front steps, ran up to them and fired a rock at the three-year-old. He missed, but the woman was angry, confronting Jimmy. Jimmy called her a bitch. She then went to Jimmy’s house, after her trip to the clinic, wanting to talk to Jimmy’s parents. However, she was shocked that Glen, who opened the door, was blind. Glen used to run the newsstand in the post office, and his wife helped him out before she died. Glen promised the woman Jimmy would be punished, but, in the big picture, it was bad already.
Giving up the newsstand, Glen became a certified physical therapist, treating clients in his home. He refused to be helpless; Glen also took up jogging, boating, swimming, hiking, camping and mountain climbing. Jimmy was his eyes, specifically for outdoor activities and shopping. When I was seven, I went to the supermarket to buy a bag of sugar for my mother. Glen and Jimmy were there. The father had a cane in his left hand and his right hand was on Jimmy’s left shoulder. Jimmy was pushing a cart. Glen yelled “beans”, and Jimmy picked up a can of beans. The same deal with chicken soup, apples and other foods. I wanted to laugh at Jimmy, the troublemaker turned guide dog, but my sympathy for his dad and my desire to avoid Jimmy’s wrath kept me from doing that.
Then again, I wasn’t sure Glen was nice enough to deserve sympathy. When Jimmy was in school, it was hard for his father to move around. He got hit by a car one day; several of his ribs were broken. He told neighbors and friends, using the words, “shit”, “assholes” and “cocksucker”, he was almost run over. He protested to the town council to have the police enforce the “white cane” law. It assures any visually impaired person with a white cane or a guide dog the right of way when crossing the street. Glen also called for things like bank checks and phone bills in Braille. The system was his enemy, Glen thought. Stores got lawsuits from him if he bumped bicycles or pushcarts. In one case, he noted that he walked into an illegally parked trunk on the sidewalk, in front of a hardware store and injured his right knee. He also told people he hated being treated like a second-or third-class citizen. Glen was on a crusade to change the world, yet his son was out of the picture.
Jimmy was ten when it happened, when he did it twenty years ago. I was in the library at the time, doing a report of the First Amendment and the many cases associated with and that supported it. Jimmy was there too, shoving some kids around. One of the library’s clerks told him to get out. Then, before he left, he took interest in this five-year-old girl.
She was in the library with her aunt. I was busy taking notes down, not knowing what happened next, but my memory from reading the account of it in the Nelson Herald is sharp as a knife. The aunt was frantic; that I saw. Why? Her niece was gone. She called the police and her relatives. Two days passed. Rebecca Hinton was the girl’s name.
Jimmy didn’t care. He lured the girl to his house with a candy bar he bought before going to the library. In his backyard playhouse, he molested the girl. After she cried, Jimmy beat her head with his baseball bat. He didn’t want her to wake Glen up from his nap. When night came, Jimmy dragged Rebecca’s body and left it in a storm drain at the edge of his yard.
I didn’t see Jimmy do these things he confessed to doing but, in a way, I saw him as a bad kid from the start. Everyone who lived near him or went to school with in Nelson saw him the same way. The pity for Rebecca Hilton and her family was almost endless from the town. Jimmy was given none. “Hell is his paradise”, said Celia Farmer, a student I knew from sixth grade.
After Jimmy was sentenced to the Portsmouth Juvenile Correction Facility and Glen left Nelson, their house became a hive for drunks, druggies, bums, hookers and johns. The law, due to neighborhood complaints, came in and shut the place down. I looked at it now with sadness. The autumn wind grew cold. Jimmy, I sighed. He had tags of molestation and murder attached to his arms. Maybe he’s on the run, in an adult prison or dead. I don’t know, but Jimmy did have one positive influence on my life. I’m a social worker, fighting to keep other kids from becoming like him.