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A Criminal Heart

Naive Vision

By KJ AartilaPublished about a year ago Updated about a year ago 3 min read
Top Story - November 2022
A Criminal Heart
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

My step-uncle was a criminal, but I grew to love him greatly. And then, he disappointed me greatly, breaking my teenage heart - stomping on it with his combat boots and grinding it under the toe like a finished cigarette.

He had just returned from prison that summer, moving into the basement of his Mom and stepdad’s house - my grandparents. I also spent most of that summer at their house, caring for his young child. In a short time, my Uncle’s girlfriend also moved into the basement with him. I grew rather close to her, too. I didn’t realize their bonds were based on synthetics.

I remember one time not long after his return, wearing his camouflage pants and combat boots. We were outside and I was talking big. I challenged him to a foot race, determined I could beat him. The race never happened. I’m sure he was amused. I could not have beat him.

Another time, he trusted me with scissors, insisting that I trim his beard. I had never done so, but I did it and it was just fine. I didn’t snip him or anything!

I have good memories of his girlfriend, too. Though I can’t even remember her name now, I can picture her clearly. She became like a big sister to me. I never had a sister. She showed me how to slice a kiwi fruit, and helped me choose a swimsuit.

The three of us spent a bit of time together that summer, building a family relationship, while helping a man get back on his feet - or that’s what I naively thought. Secretly, the two of them were doing a lot of drugs, and the maturity of a grown man was not present.

Shortly after that summer of babysitting was a over, and I returned home more permanently as the school year began. I looked forward to the Holidays for the opportunity to spend more time with my Uncle and his girlfriend, whom I thought also had grown to care deeply for me. Maybe they did, but the pull of drugs was stronger. I understand that addiction now, but at the time, it was extremely damaging to my tender soul.

Originally, he had been discharged from the Army. I don’t know if it was by choice or not. His wife, or girlfriend, at the time gave birth to a baby boy, soon after, abandoning them both, The child ended up being raised by my/his grandparents. He had issues, not surprisingly.

During the fall, or winter, I really can’t remember, the two had succumbed completely to the grip of drugs, though they still lived with my grandparents and his son. There was snow on the ground.

At some point, they made a plan to rob the small-town Pharmacy. At gunpoint. His girlfriend drove the get-away car to leave the demolished scene. No one was shot. I believe a couple of their “friends” were involved also. I don’t know what happened to them all, only that my uncle ended up in a high-security prison within the state. He spent many years behind bars. My Grandma visited him often. I was shocked that he had done such a terrible thing. How could he? I loved him, lots of people loved him.

Soon after he got out, which was shortly after his son graduated highschool, the two of them moved far South of town, but still within the state, as far as I know. I haven’t spoken to my Uncle since those promising summer days of being a teenager.

Thank you for reading this woe-is-me tale. These are the things that shape our impressionable hearts. This occurred 35, nearly 40 years ago, yet the emotions still run strong.


About the Creator

KJ Aartila

A writer of words in northern WI with a small family and a large menagerie.

My Substack

Reader insights

Nice work

Very well written. Keep up the good work!

Top insights

  1. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  2. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  3. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  1. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

  2. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

  3. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  4. Expert insights and opinions

    Arguments were carefully researched and presented

  5. Masterful proofreading

    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

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Comments (22)

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  • Healty Life5 months ago

    love your work, I am trying to improve my work as welll, I would really be thankfull if you could read mine give me some feedback on how can i improve my writing.

  • MARIE ODEMS 11 months ago

    GREAT WORK💜💜💜💜

  • Angelina F. Thomasabout a year ago

    Excellent work. Thanks.

  • P. K. Ganiabout a year ago

    It's sad to see a loved one succumb to addiction, and as you say, the pull of drugs was stronger. No matter what occurred afterwards, your summer together was real and special, before life got in the way.

  • fatima dalaniabout a year ago

    Excellent Keep up the good work

  • mahmuod Ibrahimabout a year ago

    Don't people know that there is a God who will be held accountable? Thank you for the topic

  • Gina C.about a year ago

    Great and honest story! Congrats in the top story! :)

  • Kaliyah Myersabout a year ago

    This is a wonderful article! Congrats on Top Story!! 🥰

  • Cathy holmesabout a year ago

    great piece. Thank you for you open honesty. Congrats on the Top Story.

  • J. Delaney-Howeabout a year ago

    I can relate. I have two uncles, who throughout there life, have been incarcerated more than free.

  • This comment has been deleted

  • JoAnn Ryanabout a year ago

    People don’t realize that when they commit criminal acts it’s not just themselves they are hurting. It’s everyone around them as well. Great story!

  • Gal Muxabout a year ago

    Oh... He might not have been the best person but you cared enough to see the human in him. Great story!

  • Kendall Defoe about a year ago

    Both sad and sweet. Thank you!

  • U.Rdiyaabout a year ago

    Beautifully Written!!!

  • Babs Iversonabout a year ago


  • Caroline Janeabout a year ago

    What a story that is! 👍

  • Breanna Bottenabout a year ago

    Very interesting story. It really shows how fragile and naive a young mind truly is. Becoming an adult and learning about these truths of our childhood can be heart wrenching.

  • Heather Hublerabout a year ago

    What a story!! So sorry it didn't have a happy ending. Thank you for sharing this part of your life :)

  • Melissa Ingoldsbyabout a year ago

    Excellent narrative

  • Alex H Mittelman about a year ago

    Well written. I had a similar experience with someone I cared about. It still hurts too!

  • Blake O'Connorabout a year ago

    Gripping storytelling Keila. Thanks for sharing

  • I enjoyed it. I haven't written much in Criminal , this was my last

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