So, on Wednesday, I posted my “Only in America: “Get a gun and the dog!”” piece at 7:15 a.m., and in it, I tried to milk a little extra humor from the post with a snarky aside that raised an eyebrow over whether a Tennessee woman would really be coming home from a gym at 3 a.m. Six hours later, I got an email from Melissa Twiner, the unfortunate woman who’d been chased home by the off-duty policeman as she was returning from the gym, and she was not happy with me. “As unbelievable as that may seem it is true,” she wrote. “I admit this story is bizarre but I cannot sit back and basically be called a slut or junkie, or whatever you were thinking.”
That brought me up short. I’d made the quip hoping to get a laugh, but upon rereading, I could see where Melissa would have jumped to that conclusion. I apologized as fast as I could type and adjusted the post to reflect her input. And I felt pretty awful for trying to milk a laugh from a story when—of course—there was a real human being on the other end, and as we emailed back and forth it became apparent how upset she was to suddenly find herself a central player in a viral internet shit storm. And I hadn’t helped.
By the end of the day, we’d become Facebook friends, which afforded me a glimpse into what seems to be a very good-hearted and successful American life, and for the next day, I couldn’t stop thinking about Melissa and Brett Twiner. The more I thought about them, the more convinced I became that they’d both behaved well in a very volatile situation. I decided to investigate a little more deeply, and Melissa agreed to let me interview her. Which I just did.
And let me just say, Melissa Twiner sounds like a sweet as apple pie southern girl, with a lovely Tennessee drawl. Her husband Brett is an Army veteran, owner of a successful metals refining business, and Melissa works hard for the business, doing long-haul pick ups and drop offs from their headquarters in Soddy-Daisy. They’ve been married five years, and last weekend’s altercation shattered their quiet anonymity when it become internet fodder for forums of hunters, 4×4 builders, gun enthusiasts, and the like.
Melissa repeated some of the worst comments to me, and they’re absolutely appalling.
“I can’t imagine why anyone in the world would want to be a celebrity or a politician,” she said.
According to Melissa, Brett can be pretty intimidating. “He’s a big bald guy with big broad shoulders and a Fu Manchu mustache.” Brett’s also an AA class competitive shooter who had a .45 caliber pistol in his hand that night. “He was the calmest person out there,” Melissa explained. “I think it bothered him more that people on the internet said he was aiming and that he missed.”
Things seemed to be more or less under control until the two drunk sisters got out of the off-duty cop’s Toyota. They later said the got out of the truck to pet the Twiner’s dog—a 190-pound South African mastiff named Tiberius—but they almost immediately started insulting Melissa, calling her two names no woman should ever have to hear, certainly not in her own driveway at three o’clock in the morning.
Even though she faced two opponents, Melissa didn’t hesitate to defend her honor. Brett fired the second warning shot when it looked like one of the two sisters was about to haul off and kick his wife.
It took a few more seconds, but Brett’s warning shot defused the situation, and as reality set in, the off-duty policeman began apologizing. As well he should.
“He seemed very sincere, and that’s why we decided not to do anything more about it,” Melissa said. “Those girls probably amped him up. I drive a car with neon lights on it. It’s a nicer car, I work hard for it, and there’s a lot of bumps in the road on the way up the mountain which probably made it look like I was flashing my brights.
“Funny, but if I’d been driving my F150, probably none of this would have happened. They’d have thought I was some big old guy with a gun in my truck instead of an itty-bitty white chick in a nice car.”
Personally, I think both Melissa and Brett Twiner deserve commendation. In the heat of the moment, Brett Twiner seems to have done exactly the right things to prevent a bad situation getting worse. A lot worse. He should feel great about how he defended his wife and put the situation to rest as best he could. I can’t think of anything he could have done better. And amidst all this mess, I hope Melissa’s feeling pretty great about that, too–I think she is. And then the Twiners showed compassion by not pushing back against the off-duty policeman, which could well have cost the guy his job.
The one member of the Twiner family who didn’t comport himself admirably is their dog, Tiberius, the 190-pound South African mastiff. “Ty was totally useless through the whole incident,” Melissa laughed. “He done nothing, ‘cept look. He let everybody pet him. Let’s just say that I felt a little indifferent to him through about the next three days.”
Melissa sounds like quite an animal lover, and she also keeps horses. “I grew up poor, and I always said when I was grown up I’d work hard enough to make enough money to have my own horse, but they’re like potato chips. You have one and you want another, then another, and now I have four.”
She’s training them as therapy horses so she can give rides to children suffering from autism and cerebral palsy.
Only in America, indeed.
I’m grateful for the lesson in humility I just received at the hands of Mrs. Melissa Twiner.