Resilience in the face of ‘dis-ease’: City native details upbringing in new book

Resilience in the face of ‘dis-ease’: City native details upbringing in new book
Rick Evans on his way to rowing practice as a young man. (Courtesy photo)

By Lexie Jordan

Native Alexandrian and member of the first graduating class of then-T.C. Williams – now Alexandria City – High School, Rick Evans has written a memoir titled “dis-ease” about his time growing up in a segregated Alexandria and details how he coped with a drunk and abusive father, an Alexandria Police Department employee during that time.

Evans first approached the idea of writing this memoir on the 10-year anniversary of his brother Mike’s passing, following a long battle with the same illness Evans currently is fighting: multiple sclerosis. Evans began writing right before the COVID-19 pandemic started and amped up the pace as the pandemic forced everyone to isolate themselves in their homes.

“What did I get from writing this? It was just such a release,” Evans said.

He begins the book with a story of the first time he was introduced to racism by his father. He was at a Friday night football game at the white high school and heard some cheering across the train tracks. When he asked his father what was over there, his father yanked him and responded, “Don’t you let me catch you over there!”

“I found out that what was over on the other side of the tracks was Alexandria’s Black high school’s Friday night football game. This was the beginning of the reasons why I preferred to refer to my father as ‘bob,’” Evans writes.

Evans said the use of the name in all lowercase was an act of contempt. Giving bob the capital ‘b’ would be too much of a service.

“I wanted to pay him back,” Evans said. “It was a total lack of respect.”

The book chronicles his experiences with racism, abuse and living with an illness through a series of stories and lessons he learned. Evans said learning to not be like his father came easily to him despite his father raising him to be a bully. He learned empathy, love and compassion from his mother.

“My mom was a total prisoner,” Evans said. “Mike and I even had a plan to kill bob if we ever saw him beat or physically touch our mom.”

Evans’ story is not defined by the turmoil he suffered during his childhood. The memoir covers the good and the bad of growing up in Alexandria during that time as well as his experience outside of the city.

He owned a kinkajou – a tropical rainforest animal known as a honey bear – that held the record in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest living of its species at 36, was recruited and trained for the 1980 Olympic rowing team before former President Jimmy Carter boycotted the Olympics that year due to tensions with Soviet Russia and opened the first skate park in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Rick Evans and his Guinness World Record-holding kinkajou, Kiku.(Courtesy photo)

Upon opening that skate park in 1975, he found himself playing doctor quite a bit. Kids would often fall off their skateboards and Evans would have to patch them up to avoid unnecessary insurance fees.

“I learned very quickly how to splint an arm and to dress wounds, and I found that I really liked it. I was good at it,” Evans said.

Evans kept up this skill and became a Registered Nurse. He started his work at INOVA Fairfax Hospital in the emergency room.

He later found himself relocated to the Veterans Affairs Medical Center where he worked with veterans. Through that experience, he learned the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder and how it impacts people in their everyday lives. This was when he discovered that his father, as a veteran of World War II, suffered tremendously from undiagnosed PTSD. According to Evans, bob would self-medicate the mental disorder with alcohol which turned to violence.

This discovery prompted the decision for the book’s title: “dis-ease.”

“I learned so much about how to work with all the veterans and how to work with PTSD. There was a common thread that I saw between my father and these other vets. Similar lifestyles, heavy on alcohol,” Evans said.

Evans said his biggest turning point of growth was when he learned others grew up with fathers like bob. He realized he should not be embarrassed of his past, especially if it can help someone else.

“I would want any veteran’s child that lived what I lived when I was growing up to read this. If they can relate and say, ‘Gosh, I wasn’t alone,’” Evans said.

Evans does not plan to stop writing. His wife, Sue, worked as a flight attendant alongside the record holder for longest active flight attendant in the world, Bette Nash. Evans is determined to write her memoir.

After reflecting upon his lived experiences, Evans said he has learned a lot about the individuality of each person.

“I hate to say I give people advice because one thing I have learned is that one bit of advice for one person may be totally not what someone else needs to hear or practice on a daily basis,” he said.

“Dis-ease” is available online at Barnes & Noble, Amazon and Target.