DON’T TRUST THE LORD, GET A BACKGROUND CHECK
At first glance this is just a cheap portrait of an average lower-middle class white family from the late 1980s. Not a difficult job by any means, but I’m just getting started. But there’s a lot more going on here than a simple restoration.
I’m the goofy looking 14-year-old on the right. My shoulder is wet from the summer monsoon outside. I was holding the umbrella for my mother and her new husband as we sloshed through the crowded parking lot into the church sanctuary. The glasses I’m wearing are broken at the bridge of my nose – my mother’s new husband over there reattached it using a soldering iron with all the expert dexterity of a farm goat performing heart surgery:
Three weeks later I will start my first day of High School. My glasses would continue to break at the bridge and he’d just add more to that growing gob of solder, until they broke again. But enough about me.
My mother had been recently bamboozled by the “Charismatic Christianity” being touted at a little church in Northwest Houston called Christian Life Ministries. That should explain the look in her eyes. If she seems hypnotized, in a sense she was. We were in a cult.
When this photo was taken, my mother and I had only been entrenched there about a year. In that short time my mother met the man to her right, a Deacon at this crazy place.
She’s 31, pregnant, and resolute in her insistence that I call that big creep over there “dad” and accept that he loves me “as his own.” So, what’s up with Burt Reynolds’ Evil Twin?
See that scar on his forehead? How can you not? I don’t know what caused it but I always had a suspicion that’s where his soul leaked out because you certainly can’t see one in the darkness of those eyes of his. We got free of that Abominable Maniac about two years later.
Let me back up a bit. You need to see how these two met.
It’s the summer of 1988. I had just returned from spending six weeks in Fresno, California, where I grew up. I had a great time but was looking forward to starting my freshman year at Northbrook High in a few weeks.
My mom was ecstatic about a new church her friend from work had taken her to. What it was, though, was Donna was getting hosed by some dude at that church named Dino. He was one of the many single weirdos in the congregation praying for “Faith Wives.”
My mother took me on a Wednesday night. She sat with Donna and Dino. I sat alone, second row from the exit. Right by the aisle.
The preacher, Johnny Price, was hollering so much he was sweating, wiping his bloated face and bulging neck with a white handkerchief. Fire and brimstone? Pfft. This was grenades and artillery. Full Metal Jacket for Christ. No kidding, Pastor Price was a Marine Drill Sergeant in Vietnam. And that was how he preached – Flashback Sermons for two straight hours.
Somewhere in the middle of Pastor Price’s sermon while he was stomping around up there on the altar, smacking the podium with his open palm, that 6-foot 4-inch 245-pound hulking German Deacon from North Dakota came walking down the center aisle of the sanctuary with arms spread wide, head tilted back, mouth agape and gargling in tongues. My eyebrows crawled up my forehead as I watched him continue his slow march down the aisle, Preacher Price not missing a beat. The giant’s groanings got louder as he reached the stage. When he reached the steps, that balding Chewbacca just laid himself face down, arms and legs spread wide on those very steps – just below the preacher’s podium – in a big crucifix pose for everyone to see.
I looked around to observe everyone’s reactions. Nothing. No one was registering anything. This was normal. I had been to church before – this was not normal. None of this was normal. That’s when I locked eyes with my mother. She was staring at me with the same vacant look in that photo. I thought she seemed scared. I snapped my gaze away and stared blankly ahead thinking, We just need to survive this sermon...
Three months later I was on a field trip with the youth group. Burt’s Evil Twin was chaperoning. We were carpooling and I wound up in his black Ford work van, tossed in the cargo area with several unseatbelted teens surrounded by loose tools-nails-screws-blades and all kinds of garbage. As we bounced down the road I noticed Burt’s Evil Twin was holding hands with the passenger and wasn’t paying too much attention to driving. Then I noticed who the passenger was: MY MOTHER.
I crawled up to the cab and poked her on the shoulder.
“What,” I said, motioning with my chin, “is this?” referring to their clinched mitts.
In what sounded and smelled like the belch of an African camel, Burt’s Evil Twin grumbled with a mouthful of sunflower seeds, “I’m marrying your mother.” I turned my head toward the sound of that pronouncement and was immediately met with his leaned-in blocky mug, peering over large rectangular eyeglasses, gargantuan eyebrows reaching over the frames like the arms of a hundred tiny tarantulas, moist fragments of sunflower seeds clinging to his border wall of a mustache. I looked at my mother. She just stared out the windshield with that same vacant look she has in that creepy photo above.
Rest assured that well before Pastor Price pronounced them man and wife, it was decided that I would consider this naked clown to be my “dad” and I would refer to him as such. And who was he?
From what I could decipher from the hovel he lived in, he was a college-educated accountant who refused to work in his chosen career field but instead, in his late 30s and with no experience, had taken up work as a general contractor. He had been married before but had no contact with his ex-wife and was estranged from his biological son who lived in San Diego. He was very well read but kept his library boxed up and stored in a shed outside. The only thing I actually ever saw him read was the Bible.
As he barged his way into my life as my new “dad” he made sure to set some things straight. I would get nothing. Nothing beyond the basics and certainly no money. If I needed anything beyond that, I was close enough to 15 and would be expected to work and pay for it myself. Once we moved into his two-bedroom, one-bathroom trash can, we immediately got busy converting the garage into a bedroom. It never got quite finished before it was somehow agreed to put me out in the work shed in the backyard.
The Abominable Maniac could never say or do anything normal. He was like the dad in Calvin & Hobbes except he was morbid, nonsensical, and dead serious. The man had absolutely no sense of humor. The only time I saw him laugh was when someone would challenge his imagined authority on scripture or when one of the girls in the youth group would yelp for him to stop touching them. He would bellow so hard at those girls squirming away from his butt-pinching tentacles that I can still hear the echoes bouncing off the organ chimes. And later at home that whacko would tell me, “You’re not going to date girls till you’re 30. They’re evil. They’ll twist your mind. Stay away from women.” All this while he was physically abusing my mother, kicking the dogs in their mouths, chaining them to trees, and constantly picking fights with me.
I could go into all the gory details but it would be a memoir. I’ll put it to you this way. In the two years after first meeting Burt’s Evil Twin, he married my mother, I moved into his shed, my sister was born, he physically beat my mother several times and attempted the same to me, then they divorced. Mom, sis and I then moved into an apartment. While the divorce was getting settled, Burt’s Evil Twin abused my sister which then led to a lengthy court battle where he ultimately lost all rights to his daughter and would never see her again.
I’d tell you this psycho’s name but it’s not worth the filth it would leave on my soup coolers. Bad enough it’s left a stain on my mind. But take a good look at that picture again and remember – some pictures are worth a thousand words, this one is worth four: How to dad badly.
*To protect the innocent, names and dates have been changed.