My father is a preacher.
So was his father.
So was his father’s father.
That’s my father, my grandfather, my great-grandfather—
From kindergarten till right now
everyone has expected me to be ... what?
Better than they are?
Better than I am?
People act surprised when I’m not any of it.
Once in first grade I picked up a book and hit a kid,
for no real reason that I can remember.
And the teacher just stared at me,
and the other kids just stared at me,
and even the kid I hit,
who was crying, just a little,
just stared at me.
And then he said,
that kid I hit:
“You’re not supposed to do things like that.”
And the teacher said,
“That’s right, Chris.
You’re not supposed to do things like that.”
And when I got home,
my mother said the same thing,
and then cried while Dad was hitting me.
There’s a picture we have on a shelf at home.
It’s a big picture, eight by ten.
It shows this:
three men and a little boy,
standing in a row outside our white church.
All four of them are wearing black suits
in bright sunshine.
It was hot that day,
hot as Hell—
I remember it perfectly,
even though I was only five.
All four are in the same position,
facing the camera:
Great-grandpa is holding a Bible,
Grandpa is holding a Bible,
Dad is holding a Bible,
and I am holding a Bible.
and I had a hard time holding it
up to my heart the way they wanted me to,
holding it up there like the others were doing,
while Mom took her slow old time taking the picture.
I’m the only one who isn’t smiling.
I’m squinting into the bright sun
it was all over.