The Stan Bryant Saga

I want to share a story about my mother’s family, who all live in rural Georgia. This story is about how strange that part of the world is, and it involves one of my mother’s cousins, Stan Bryant.

Everything I’ve been told is somewhat corroborated by public court records and articles drawn from the local paper, but it’s mostly hearsay. The only thing I can say with 100% certainty is that Stan Bryant is dead.

Stan Bryant was the son of my maternal grandfather’s sister, whom I knew as my Aunt Mervyn. When I was a kid, my Aunt Mervyn scared the bejesus out of me, and I later learned that she had schizophrenia. The disease apparently runs in my mom’s family. My grandfather’s mother, one of my mom’s sisters, and another of my mom’s cousins had it as well. I used to be worried that I would develop symptoms myself, but I think I turned out okay. In any case, Stan was my Aunt Mervyn’s only son, which can’t have been easy.

Stan grew up to be a nurse, and he lived in various cities up and down the East Coast. I met him a few times as an adult, and he seemed like a perfectly normal person, if somewhat mild-mannered and overly polite. Apparently, however, he was a serial wife beater. According to one of my uncles, Stan would be a perfect gentleman until a woman married him, at which point he would commence physically and emotionally assaulting her. This abuse would escalate until Stan felt compelled to flee whatever city he was living in so as to escape legal action. In this manner he married and divorced four wives, leaving behind four sons, all named Stan Bryant.

I should probably mention here that “Stan Bryant” is a pseudonym I created. This business gets weird, and I don’t want anything to be searchable.

Okay, so. After his most recent divorce, Stan Bryant returned to my hometown. Although he ostensibly came back to help care for his mother, Stan didn’t move back in with her. I believe Aunt Mervyn was supported with funds supplied by a trust set up by my grandfather, who had owned land all across the county. He built houses on some of this land; and, after he died, he left various properties to members of the family. Stan was living in one of these houses, which he legally owned. I’m not sure if he was working, but we later found out that he certainly wasn’t paying taxes.

Regardless, Stan started dating a woman named Tammy (also a pseudonym) who had no legal residence of her own and promptly moved in with him. It turns out that Stan had finally met his match, as Tammy was more than a little unstable herself. The two didn’t wait to get married before launching into a series of increasingly violent altercations, the last of which ended in Stan getting shot in the face.

The official account is that Stan threatened Tammy with a gun and then, filled with self-loathing, committed suicide by shooting himself. It’s important to note, however, that Stan never owned a gun, and the gun was registered in Tammy’s name. Tammy also happened to be cheating on Stan with the county sheriff, who was the first person to appear on the scene after the incident.

Because my Aunt Mervyn was not of sound mind, the management of Stan’s estate was overseen by my mother and her two brothers, all three of whom are lawyers. They jointly handled the legal proceedings and unilaterally claimed that the formal investigation of Stan’s death was off-the-charts bizarre. Because none of them felt the need to antagonize the sheriff, however, they let the matter slide. Who knows what actually happened?

Tammy sued the estate for Stan’s house; but, as soon as it came to light that Stan owed tens of thousands of dollars of back taxes, she decided that she wasn’t so interested after all. Instead of declaring bankruptcy on the estate and washing their hands of the affair, my mother and uncles decided that they would rent out Stan’s house. The person they hired to clean the place apparently found things that deeply upset him, and he started spreading stories that the house was haunted. In the end, the only person who would rent it was a Vietnam War veteran living on disability checks.

It initially seemed that this man was a perfect tenant. He paid his rent on time, kept to himself, and didn’t cause trouble. Unfortunately, his neighbor’s wife, whom my mother charmingly refers to as “the town bicycle,” had a crush on him, and he presumably ended up sleeping with her. Her husband, in a fit of jealous rage, reported to the sheriff that the man was using his military connections to run a drug cartel. The veracity of this accusation is debatable (and highly dubious), but the sheriff decided to investigate anyway. What he found in the woods behind the house were two growhouses in which the tenant had been cultivating marijuana. The sheriff confiscated the plants and put the man in jail. Since then, the house has been empty. I’m still not sure who’s doing what about the taxes on the property; but, as long as my mother doesn’t get shot in the face herself, I’ll probably never find out.

Meanwhile, the incident allowed Tammy to receive disability compensation, which she used to buy a house of her own. She also managed to acquire a large commercial property that’s been unoccupied for more than a decade, and she was recently granted a license to convert it into an animal shelter. The officer who heads the local Animal Control was extremely upset about this, as she had prohibited Tammy from setting foot onto the grounds of all the animal shelters in the county years ago because Tammy had been adopting cats and selling them on eBay. As a compromise, the Magistrate’s Office restricted Tammy’s shelter license to a maximum residential capacity of twenty-five cats. This restriction has been relaxed, and the shelter now houses more than fifty cats, which are apparently free to roam the building and grounds.

So the end result of Stan Bryant’s strange life and stranger death is a live-action Neko Atsume. If this story were fiction, I suppose it would have a more fitting conclusion, but I couldn’t make up this sort of thing if I tried.

The world is a weird place, y’all.

Aunt Bernice

One summer my family took a long drive to visit my Aunt Bernice. The land around her house was completely flat and completely empty. There were no cornfields or scrub pines or chicken farms; the only thing in that part of the world is red dirt.

Aunt Bernice was obsessed with people who were either dead or dying. My parents were obligated to listen to her, but my sister and I could only handle about half an hour of her stories. They didn’t get cable out in the country, so the two of us decided to go outside.

My sister and I walked across the dirt patches surrounding Aunt Bernice’s house and climbed over the rotting wooden fence enclosing her property. We wandered through the field that spread out behind her backyard, pulling up long stalks of grass and kicking at grasshoppers. Eventually we made it to the edge of someone else’s farm, where we found a single tree, probably the only one for miles. Its branches were hung with a collection of dust-coated plastic toys dangling from threads of twine so dirty they were almost black.

We noticed a boy sitting on one of the tree limbs. He was naked except for a faded pair of red shorts, which were too small for his thick legs. I started to turn away, but my sister stepped out of the unmowed grass and onto the stony soil surrounding the tree.

The boy interrogated her in a toneless voice.

“Who are you?”
“Who are your parents?”
“Why haven’t I seen you before?”
“Where do you go to school?”
“Do you have any brothers?”

My sister responded to his questions with curt and perfunctory replies, but neither she nor the boy showed any signs of becoming bored with the conversation. After turning over a few half-buried pebbles with the tip of my sandal, I interrupted my sister to ask if maybe we shouldn’t go back. She told me to go on without her.

The sun was already low in the sky by the time I pried open the unhinged screen door on the back porch. My parents were in front of the house saying goodbye to Aunt Bernice. They told me to use the bathroom before we left. I went inside and sat down on a ratty couch in the living room, but it was musty with the smell of decay. I got up and went to the kitchen, but there was nothing in the refrigerator except for a thin film of ancient grease on the glass shelves.

When I went back outside, my parents were standing beside the car, saying that I should hug Aunt Bernice before we left. I remained on the porch, calling out to them that we needed to wait until my sister got back.

“What are you talking about,” my mother snapped, clearly annoyed. “You don’t have a sister.”

Oh, I realized. Of course I don’t have a sister.