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They are a reminder of the evil inside him, a violence that’s always waiting to be loosed. He stares into his eyes, which are inviting, almost kind. It’s far from any school playground, any park, any restaurant that might serve chicken fingers or ice cream. Across the road sits a trailer occupied by a dozen immigrants, he doesn’t know from where.Down the way, there’s another trailer, one that may or may not be a meth lab; Greg is certain the people who live there are speed freaks. He stops and listens to the bleating of his neighbor’s goats. He climbs into his truck and sets out for Midlothian, about 25 miles west, to do work for a friend who installs wood flooring. His ears still burn when he thinks about it—and he thinks about it all the time. Greg sucks in his breath, tightens his grip on the wheel.In between the pranks and the chivalry, he began acting deranged, picking fights with grown men, jumping from the hood of a speeding car onto an eighteen-wheeler, riding his bike off the roof of a two-story apartment building into a pool. After that, Greg told his mom, he didn’t trust anyone, didn’t care if he lived or died. He was sent, in May 1994, to an alternative incarceration program, the Roach Boot Camp Unit, near Childress.His high school buddies could be unruly too—they all broke curfews, drank, fought—but Greg seemed to harbor a death wish. The days were brutal and militaristic—early-morning drills, long marches—but five months later he was released, still on probation. He and Joellene started dating, they soon became parents, and he landed his gig at Mack Trucks, making good money and attending the company’s on-site training school. And then came a hot June afternoon, when all he’d wanted to do was relax in the pool and play a little volleyball with some friends.“Be strong,” Granny had said that day in the courtroom, right before they took him away in handcuffs.He hated his dad—for being so hard on him, for working all the time, for never coming to his football games. Did a thousand push-ups a day, shadowboxed until he dropped. “I’ve never touched a fucking kid, and I never will,” he announced, looking around.He escaped to Papaw and Granny’s house, staying for weeks at a time. Greg, feeling nine years old all over again, telling his mother what he should have told her half a lifetime ago, back when she could have protected him, when someone should have protected him, explained how the man had raped him right there in the car. But someone at the Middleton Unit stole a look at his paperwork, and one morning in the dayroom, an inmate asked if it was true that he was a child molester. “If anybody don’t fucking believe me or has a problem with me, you know where I am.” They knew, all right, and came for him day and night, pummeling him, insulting him.
Especially Granny, who showed him how to cook on her old cast-iron stove and reminded him that he could do whatever he put his mind to; to prove her right, he roofed their house all on his own. When the boy defecated on himself, the man made him shower, threw him back in the car, drove near the beach, and stopped. He refused to be humiliated—even on the day he earned his GED and had to sit behind glass, in a special cage for sex offenders, so that his parents and Morgan could visit with him after he’d been handed his diploma. But child abusers were the worst of the worst, and he was not one of them. When John had stepped into the bathroom to help the boy clean up, Greg looked at the hot dog in his hand and decided to play a joke—like he always did, like the prankster he was. He could explain everything: that John had witnessed his dumb joke, that Brenda had misunderstood her son’s words, that she’d been too drunk to hear that Greg slapped the hot dog on his bottom—so drunk, in fact, that her friends hadn’t allowed her to drive home that night.
He gets out of bed and heads to the bathroom, where he washes his face and looks in the mirror.