I can say that my father was the only person of color in our little town to have become wealthy from racism. My revenge was becoming Vice Chancellor of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at a sprawling public university ten times larger than the population of Deerville.

I can’t say for sure how old I was when I first wore a tie, only that I was still learning to read. My father had the foresight to buy one that was a clip-on that was orange and white. He had bought me a little silver suit that matched the one he was wearing. Both suits shimmered in the summer’s daylight.

I was the youngest of eight children, my sisters and brothers were much older than I. They were no longer precocious, which was why my father wanted to bring me to his meeting. My father arranged this meeting while my mother was in Memphis helping a friend recover from a kidney transplant. She would have never allowed my father to use me like the boys who shamelessly bring puppies onto the campus quad to attract the attention of girls. But my father always anticipated her objections before she raised them and simply waited to strike when the iron was hot.

My father had grown up so impoverished that he had to share a toothbrush with his brother. Not only did he fear and hate the thought of being poor, but he also hated other poor people. I heard him once say to my mother that poor people were poor not because they were lazy but because they were all stuck on morality. As he put it, he said that people needed to get over the “vanity of virtue” as he put it. As an undergrad I read about Benjamin Franklin’s early obsession with money because he grew up poor as well. And I hated the fact that it gave me just an ounce of empathy towards my father.

He had scammed his way out of poverty. His adventures in capitalism began with being a loan shark for his friends and acquaintances who worked alongside him at the Goodyear tire plant. From there he parlayed his cash into buying land from a bankruptcy auction, land that a pest company used for decades to dump all their pesticides, land where the ground smelled like hard-boiled eggs soaked in vinegar.

The meeting he and I were going to attend was one where he was going to sign a contract with both the county and the city to use that property as a landfill. I remember being in the hallway when I heard him explain it to my mother as they ate banana pudding from Piggly Wiggly after dinner. “How much?” she asked, with a tone in her voice that suggested that my father had not told her the entire truth.

I moved my head slightly to where I could see them. He was writing down something on an unused napkin. My mother spotted me and became angry; “We’re talking grownup things.” She was angry and embarrassed from me seeing her about to fall for another one of my father’s sales pitches. He was not one of those patriarchal dictators; he was too conniving and smooth to allow anyone to ever think that about him.

Our town was small enough that we could just walk to city hall. But we walked past there and to a little office building that once was a house. An old white woman stood up and greeted us. She smelled like baby powder and said she’d try to hunt around for some candy for me. “We don’t have children here very often,” she explained.

From there we were led into an office crammed with filing cabinets and papers and a white man my father called, “Mr. Jordanstone.” He was heavyset with mutton chops, thick-rimmed black frames, and in need of a haircut. He seemed to be what I imagined Santa’s son to be, which is an odd thing for someone so young to determine. As Mr. Jordanstone was not expecting to see me, he did not have another seat in his crammed office but my father said I could stand, it was no problem.

I put my hands on the man’s desk because I didn’t know where else to put them. The man saw me, but said nothing. Likely, he thought there was nothing I would want to steal on his desk. Instead, he handed me a sheet of paper and gave me a pen and told me he would pay me to draw him a horse. The man’s hands reminded me of warm bread dough. “I keep horses,” he said; “I like pictures and paintings of them.” His breath smelled like German chocolate cake.

They began to talk. I began to draw a horse. Mr. Jordanstone did not speak of a number but handed a sheet of paper to my father with a number on it.

“Some people want to rezone the school district. You know what that means. I’ve never had any issues with anyone black in this town or county but people become paranoid of what they see on the ten o’clock news.”

My father moved his head a little forward to indicate a nod. The man handed my father legal-sized envelope. “This school rezoning is part of the deal with your landfill idea. Then the town and county can work with you. The cash contents of this” —it was Mr. Jordanstone’s turn to nod — “Will assist you in ensuring that your part of the community does not pitch a fit or let the news find out.”

My father agreed. He began to talk about boring things regarding permits and invoices as I continued working on drawing a horse. I wanted to draw the best horse I could because I reasoned the better it was, the more money the man would pay me. When I was done, I interrupted their discussion and said, “I’m done.” I held the sheet of paper up by the corners. The man clicked his tongue and searched through a drawer and gave me something I had never seen before: a two-dollar bill. I thought it was fake, I told him so. He laughed and told my father to take me to the grocery store and see if they thought it was fake.

Through this meeting, my father was able to make even more money. He learned that other states had much stricter laws about various kinds of waste. He cold-called waste management companies and offered the services of the family landfill. Mr. Jordanstone handled all the contract work for my father which proved so lucrative for both parties that for Christmas Mr. Jordanstone overnighted two hundred dollars’ worth of ribs from a place in Tuscaloosa as an expression of his gratitude.

My father shared the wealth and hired distant cousins and neighbors to work at the landfill in a cunning attempt to greenwash his investment property. Now everything from coal ash waste to recalled pork offal were being dumped on the outskirts of town causing the town to now smell like something unique, that you couldn’t quite describe, other than you knew it was not a healthy odor. Imagine sour milk mixed with bloody beef simmering on low heat.

When I once complained to him about the smell, he told me, “It smells like food being put on a lot of tables.” I refused to work there during high school and instead got a job after school as an assistant to the janitor at Deerville junior high school. I never moved back after college and graduate school. Years later, my cousins and my siblings who worked at the landfill developed Hodgkin’s disease.

But my father was able to parlay this into good fortune as well. The culprits were the older pesticides rather than the newer generation of garbage that had been installed by my father. A class action lawsuit was filed on behalf of my father and the rest of my family. Years passed as the company’s lawyers keep filing for extensions and delays hoping to exhaust the plaintiffs into taking a settlement under nine figures.

But my father cannot be exhausted when it comes to financial windfalls. He is still alive, defying the odds like Henry Kissinger, two years away from turning one hundred years old. When I talk to him on the phone, he occasionally invites himself to go speak to the students on campus about his life. I thank him for his generosity and make up something about nepotism laws.

And I won’t bother to ask him if it was worth it because I know the response he will give. I suppose I will inherit an eighth of a toxic landfill located on the outskirts of my hometown, but I don’t know what to do.

No, that’s wrong. I know what I need to do. I need to buy out my family and close it down while my father is still alive. I want to be able to tell him he made a mistake. But then he will tell me that the only way I was able to buy it was because of him. He will then fold his arms, sit up straight in his recliner with his chin raised slightly, proud and grinning.

Please let me know what I can say back to him when he says that to me.

Van Newell received his MFA in Writing from Columbia University and teaches in the English Department at the University of Alabama. He worked on Jon&Kate+8 and 19 Kids and Counting. His writing was awarded the Hackney Award, the Alabama Writers Conclave Award, and was nominated for the Pushcart and the Humanitas Prizes.