This is the story of rugged youth, growing up in rural Valle Crucis, North Carolina in 1983. This is the story of Virgil.

I met Virgil before I was old enough to do much of anything, but he taught me what it meant to live. Not to remember to breathe or how to check my pulse, but to live with purpose. He showed me that shooting the bird was a way to express myself without speaking, even if it meant getting slapped by my mother after showing her one day after school. I watched as Virgil raised his middle finger at our kindergarten teacher’s back and, curiously, asked him what it meant. He smiled and said nothing. Maybe he didn’t have to. Equipped with a slingshot and a sailor mouth, Virgil pushed me out of childhood innocence and into the real world. I guess that was his way of preparing me for the rest of my life. In that crash course on reality, I got myself on track to be who I am today. Shooting the bird goes far beyond the physical action. It demands you put feeling behind your decisions in lieu of the reactions you may get. It represents authenticity — a no-bullshit way to live your life. Say what you mean and do what you say. If you feel strongly about something, act on it.

This was Virgil’s code.