By Steve Hendrix
Chris Buckley walks out to his porch, where the doormat once greeted customers at a Subway, and looks up and down the empty street.
“I admit it, I’m nervous,” he says, lighting a cigarette with heavily tattooed hands.
His densely colored arms — and much of his body — are a paisley record of his many hates. KKK symbols dot his left knuckles, another surrounds his navel; an anti-government militia tag covers his neck. Most prominent is the big word in Arabic emblazoned on the back of his forearm: “Infidel.”
“I wanted them to know I was the one the imam warned them about,” he says, looking down at the mark he himself tattooed on his skin during a hot, angry week in Helmand province. It was one of three deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, during which the former Army sergeant fired thousands of rounds at an enemy he learned to despise.
Admitting to nerves doesn’t come easily to a man who built his life denying fear, who thrived in combat, who never hesitated to snort or swallow any abusable substance, who burned crosses in public.
But months of halting transformation have led to this moment and the arrival of an unlikely guest. Buckley, a machine mechanic at a carpet mill, lights his second Marlboro in 10 minutes, blowing blue smoke into the warm spring morning.
“I worry that he’s going to be disappointed,” Buckley says, scanning the road, seeing nothing out his front door but the back of a Family Dollar store and a line of overflowing donated-clothing bins.
Leaving the door open, he paces back into the apartment, one of three carved out of a single-family home, where his two kids sleep on a frameless mattress in the only bedroom. Buckley and his wife, Melissa, sleep in the living room, next to the bathroom that has no door and a kitchen with only a dorm fridge. When Buckley is off probation for drug possession in February they hope to move to a better place.
Melissa, buttoning the collar of the floral dress her husband asked her to wear, is more concerned about his reaction than the visitor he’s waiting for. The last time he got close to a Muslim, he shoved the man into a rack of potato chips in his own gas station.
She had spent years with that version of her husband, the onetime imperial nighthawk of the Georgia White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan who despised “towel heads,” swore Barack Obama was a Muslim agent and believed terrorists were pouring into the country disguised as refugees.
Click here to read the rest of the article.