Dothan, Alabama—the pollen is bad this time of year. I am stuffed up. My eyes are puffy.
He’s waiting for me in a parking lot. He’s traveling light. An overnight bag and an art kit. He doesn’t have a driver’s license. He needs a ride to Northwest Florida, for a family reunion.
I happen to be on my way to Northwest Florida.
I’m going to call him Willie Merle, even though that’s not his name—those happen to be two names I like.
Willie is easy to talk to. He’s wiry, gray-headed, smokes Marlboros, and has a happy smile.
His biological mother was negligent. When he was nine days old, she bathed him in turpentine. His aunt saw this happen. She wrapped him in swaddling clothes and took him home.
His aunt adopted him and he never called her anything but “Mama” thereafter.
“She was my angel,” Willie said.
His biological parents didn’t want anything to do with him. And this might’ve made him bitter, or angry, but his mama taught him otherwise.
He tells me he’s
not perfect. He’s made mistakes—show me a man who hasn’t—but I’m not at liberty to talk about them here.
“I’m on probation,” he said. “That’s how come I ain’t got no license. Spent three weeks in county jail, wasn’t no fun. Had to wear orange and everything.
“I’ve hurt my friends and my family. Hell, I don’t feel like I deserve love from nobody.”
We passed through the miles of pasture between Dothan and the Panhandle. The sky was blue. The air was full of spring pollen.
He talked. I listened.
“Haven’t seen my brother and sisters in years,” he said with wet eyes. “My biggest regret is disappointing them. I want to make things right.”
He covers his eyes and sniffs.
Anyway, this weekend is not going to be a…