I moved from Tempe as soon as I could. After Adam’s death, I’m sure you can understand. I headed to Texas to be a roughnecker. When I got started in the business, I lived in Houston and mostly worked on drills out in the Gulf of Mexico. Two weeks on, two weeks off. Sometimes three on, three off. I was there for four years, busting it as a floorhand first and then moving up. After those first few years, they thought better of me, and I could pick where I wanted to live and report to work when it was time for a turnaround. I didn’t think I would move, but then, there was a shooting in our neighborhood. A dude in a Tacoma like mine got shot to pieces late one night about a block away. I knew him a little—worked a construction crew around town, and we had been to the same block parties a few times. I sort of think we looked alike—at least from a distance. They arrested no one. There were never even suspects. He had no gang ties, and he had been married for about two years. Wife was pregnant. There were a couple of articles online about it. Cold case.
I’m pretty sure who did it, and I’m pretty sure who it was meant for. I’m pretty sure they got the wrong guy. I have to think that way. It’s been almost ten years since the thing with Adam. So I asked to move, and Exxon said sure, and so I went to Corpus Christi.
When you live alone and you roughneck, you make pretty good money. So I bought a place in King’s Crossing under the name Javier Lopez. It helps to know a guy or two or three. And it helps to know how to find a guy if you’re new in a place and don’t know a guy. It helps when that guy can make you a new person.
I didn’t plan on meeting anyone. I didn’t plan on anything. Surviving and staying unknown—that’s all I thought about when not on the rig.
A year after moving in, I had been home from a turnaround for two days when my doorbell rang. That’s weird—no one comes to the door in the middle of scorching hot summer days. So I answered, and the hot sun seemed to light up their white shirts as though they were made of fire. Elders from my old church. Only, they didn’t know that I had been a member of their church. I had been napping, so I didn’t think at all. My mom used to feed them all the time, and for a moment, it seemed like years had peeled away.
“Burgos and Bingham,” I said, reading their tags. “Come in.”
They hadn’t even given their door approach. My house is nice—four bedrooms, three baths. Why a place like this? Because it’s the last place you expect for a single Mexican American man to live, especially one who works the oil fields.
I had them sit on the couch. “What is it out? About a hundred degrees?”
“Yeah,” said Elder Burgos.
Burgos laughed. “Limonada, por favor.”
I smiled and nodded at Bingham. “Pero tu compañero quiere cerveza, verdad?”
He laughed again. “Claro que sí.”
“What’s up?” said Elder Bingham. He was pale and dark-haired, his back covered in sweat.
“You don’t speak Spanish, Elder Bingham?” I said.
“Nah,” he said. “Took some in high school, but I don’t understand anyone.”
“You serve in an English ward then?” I said.
“Oh, are you a member?” he said.
I paused for a moment as I poured lemonade. “Nah,” I said. “Used to go for a couple years with some buddies in California. Did some seminary. But my parents wouldn’t let me join.”
Bingham’s eyes lit up. “No kidding.”
I nodded to Burgos. “Where you from, Elder Burgos?”
“Venezuela,” he said.
“Tú español es horrible,” I said.
“Ay! Mucho mejor que el Spanglish que hablas.”
I laughed and walked into the front room with the two glasses of lemonade.
I handed the glasses to the two of them and then said to Bingham, “His accent is horrible. He doesn’t speak Spanish. He speaks Venezuelan.”
Bingham laughed and took a big gulp of the lemonade. “This is awesome, thank you.”
“No problem,” I said. “And you, Elder Bingham. Where are you from? Utah, right?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Logan.”
“Ah, not bad,” I said.
“You know Utah?” he said.
“Only a little,” I said as I sat down on the easy chair. “Had a few friends from Utah who helped get me interested in the church.”
Bingham finished his lemonade, and I took it from him and set it on an end table. “So what do you think?” he said. “You want to learn again?”
I was quiet for several breaths and I looked at the floor. What did I actually want? I could vaguely remember my baptism when I was eight—my dad burying me in the warm water and bringing me up again. He hugged me, my head nestled against his big belly. The water was warm, his hug was warm, and I felt warm inside. Clean. They always focused on that—clean from all sin and mistakes. How many mistakes could you really make before age eight? But I remember being grateful that I was clean of them.
When I was twelve, Barry, Adam, and I started doing baptisms for the dead in the temple. Barry’s dad was dead by then, Adam’s dad wasn’t around, so my dad was like dad to all of us, baptizing us on behalf of dozens of people who had died. And you know what that felt like? Like being eight and doing it all over again. They said it was the sacrament that renewed your baptismal covenant and made you clean again, but you felt it the most doing baptisms for others. What would I give to have that feeling again? To be baptized again and to have everything—everything that happened with Adam, everything with my cousin, everything I had done for La Eme—washed away so that you knew it wasn’t you anymore? I remembered one of the old scripture mastery verses that I had had to memorize in seminary: a man must be born again or he could not see the kingdom of heaven. Brian Mendoza was a dead man walking. Javier Lopez? He had only recently been born, and he certainly hadn’t been born again.
“Yeah,” I said at last. “This is a good time in my life. Probably the perfect time.”
The elders looked each other, then at me and smiled broadly.