The Facts of Me
At the beginning of last summer I had a grip on the facts of me.
* Born Charles William Allbright * August 29, 1994 * Little Rock, Arkansas * Dream: to be a champion mountain biker
I didn't stay in Little Rock long. I didn't stay anywhere long. In my almost sixteen years of life, me and Mom had moved sixteen times. Some kids get their height penciled on doorframes as they get taller. My height got marked on the old U-Haul trailer that followed us everywhere. On my eleventh birthday I shrank an inch. Then we figured out that the U-Haul tires had been pumped up. Had a laugh over that one.
I never liked moving. I was always the NIT: the Newbie In Town. Whenever I made a friend, I knew he'd never be a best buddy. Best buds are for life. We moved too much to have anything for life. Except the F-word: "faith."
Mom gave me the same pep talk whenever we moved. "Billy, God blessed you with more than the cornerstones of a house. He's given you a compass with four cardinal points." My cardinal points weren't north, south, east, west. They were Mother, Christ, Bible, homeschool. Mom said as long as I followed those points I'd never be lost. I'd walk in His Way. I'd Son-up.
When we hit a new town, the first thing we did was church-shop. It was Mom's version of "Goldilocks and the Three Bears." This church was too sinful. This church wasn't Spirit-filled enough. This church was juuust righteous. So we'd join it. We'd be dialed into it for a while, but sooner or later she'd find something wonky and wicked about our church. One time she stood up during Sunday service and shouted scripture: "I have hated the congregation of evildoers and will not sit with the wicked!" As she pulled me out of there I asked her what made them "evildoers." She told me I was too young to understand.
Last July, a month before turning sixteen, I totally got why we left the Assembly of Assemblies Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. After we joined Assembly of Assemblies, the pastor let a company put a cell tower in the steeple. Mom had no problem with the company paying the church big bucks to have a comm tower in their steeple. But hellfire hit the fan when she found out that some of the stuff zapping through the tower was pornography. I couldn't fault her on that one. When you're in church launching prayers to heaven, you don't want them scummed by a layer of triple-X fornication. Mom calls it the "pornosphere." That's one of the cool things about being homeschooled. You learn things go-to-school kids don't. I learned about the stratosphere, the troposphere, and the pornosphere.
And that's just what happens when you start thinking about the pornosphere. It's like trail biking behind a bike bunny on a bumpy track. Her jiggly parts make you dizzy and you go blind to the real bumps. It's one of the rigid rules of mountain biking: Beware of male blindness; it leads to the kiss of dirt.
Okay, I'm jumping ahead. Back to the facts of me, and the how and why of me bombing into the world.
In the summer of 1993, when Mom was single, and still Tilda Hayes, she belonged to a fundamentalist group called the Jesus Brigade. One weekend, the J-Brigade got on one of those riverboats that go up and down the Mississippi. The boat was filled with sinful gamblers. The J-Brigade was there to witness for Christ, especially to gamblers with empty pockets and empty hearts.
While Mom was witnessing to this one gambler, his heart swung wide open. By the time she turned him from his evil ways he was not only slain by the Lord, he was slain by Tilda Hayes. After that, he joined the J-Brigade and joined Tilda at the altar. His name was Richard Allbright. He was so in love with her, and Jesus, that he quickly became a reverend. Not the kind who goes to school and gets a degree. The kind who gets a tricked-out piece of paper in the mail and starts circuit preaching in one-room churches in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
After they got married Tilda got pregnant. As she was belly-packing me around she said she had a real good feeling and a real bad feeling. The good feeling came from me pedaling around inside her. The bad feeling came from watching her husband's preaching star rise too fast. One day, when her bad feeling was super bad, she did one of her providence checks. She was going to find out what the Lord had in store. She shut her eyes and prayed till she felt the Spirit. She opened her Bible, finger-planted on a verse, and looked to see what God had to tell her. For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted. Mom's heart trembled.
The next day, my father was driving home after a week on the circuit. He got caught in a hailstorm but kept hammering for Little Rock. Taking a corner, his car left the road and plunged into the Arkansas River. He tried to get out. He didn't. His spirit went to heaven. According to Mom, so much of his body went to the catfish that when they found his car there wasn't enough left of Richard Allbright to bury. He never got a grave we could visit.
I didn't even know what my father looked like. All his pictures were torched in a trailer fire when I was a baby. The fire incinerated the paper that made him a reverend too, and the family Bible recording their marriage and my birth.
But my father wasn't like one of those metal bits that chips off inside your bike frame and you can't get to; my father wasn't unobtanium. The stories Mom told me about meeting him on the riverboat and watching him preach in tiny churches put a movie in my head. She said I even looked like him. Especially my nose, a big beak of a thing. To see him all I had to do was stand in front of the mirror and age-up. I'd slick down my stick-up hair. I'd use a piece of charcoal to smear on a five o'clock shadow. I'd squint till things got blurry. And there he'd be: Reverend Richard Allbright, behind his pulpit. I'd push my voice down and preach a sermon on anything in the Bible. If there was one thing Reverend Allbright and his son knew, it was the Good Book. It was our cardinal point.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from You Don't Know About Me by Brian Meehl. Copyright © 2011 by Brian Meehl. Excerpted by permission of Ember, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.