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  • Being twelve and at a loss.

    All over the place in your body, in your emotions, in your self. You look fifteen. Or so they say. You still ride your bike like the wind but you show up at the middle school dance. You prefer the company of animals but you wonder about men. That part’s easy, right? That’s how it goes.

    But get this--the boysboysboys who live all around you in the dormitory—yes, you live in a boys’ dormitory in a boys’ secondary school of the very smart and elite sort though you yourself and your family are nothing of the kind—they notice. And notice. And notice some more. You get invited to a dance at said pishposh school. Your mother will have none of it. She won’t even tell your father. Not these boys. Not yet. Imagine that.

    But what they don’t know--you could care less about them. The boysboysboys, that is. You know them too well. There’s no mystery. No surprise. You’re waiting for something interesting to happen of an unknown sort.

    And it will, it will, you’re certain it will, for it’s the 1960s and forces are blowing apart the old, even this particular hegemony.

    Your older brothers are doing what they can to make sure that happens.

    Imagine:

    One, 15, mobilizing the boysboysboys to get down to D.C. and march against, well, against their parents. He aims to overthrow the warmongers and cash hounds and foes of civil rights.

    One, 17, making damn sure he never has to go to war. Any war. And piss off the establishment along the way.

    They’re both doing a swell job of it as you stay quiet and still. As you watch and write. As you read Vonnegut and Wolff, Steinbeck and Colette, Hardy and the Brontes. As you watch some more.

    Imagine it:

    One brother making posters and handing out leaflets and lecturing any cluster of boysboysboys that will listen. Imagine him small for his age and prone to flash short-boy tall-intellect working-class-roots anger through streams of words beautiful enough and fierce enough to entangle his pishposh opponents in word nets and leave them there swinging and gasping for mercy.

    One brother preparing to apply for Conscientious Objector status, celebrating by wearing a top hat every day for a full year, a tall top hat, a stove-pipe Abraham Lincoln-y number though you’re not sure that is the look he is after. Imagine him well over six feet with shiny hair pouring down his back, top hat perched above his dark eyes. Now imagine his girlfriend, as tiny as he is tall, same hair though one shade lighter, also wearing a top hat. Seriously, imagine it.

    Imagine being high up in the branches of a massive beech tree in the center of campus, reading and watching this little world and wanting none of it. Any of it. Waiting.

    Imagine one brother, 15, fierce in his determination to pass math with the lowest possible grade because the teacher is a right-wing old-boy authoritarian tool. Imagine your father’s embarrassment.

    Imagine one brother, 17, being told by the same right-wing old-boy authoritarian tool not only to take off his hat before entering the classroom, but to comb his hair. The right-wing old-boy authoritarian tool leaves an old wooden sharp-toothed comb on a high shelf at the door just for him, and watches one brother, 17, move the teeth through his long long hair. Imagine your mother’s dismay.

    Imagine at dinner, the drift of the arguments about working from within the system to change the system, the “adjacent monologues,” as your mother calls them, on the war and civil rights lobbed back and forth between lefty father and activist brother and peace-weird other brother. Imagine slipping beneath the table to hang out with the dog and cat, to run your fingers over the rug your grandmother braided out of her children’s discarded clothes, tracing your father’s poverty through the colors and patterns. Imagine your brothers’ disgust.

    Imagine one brother, 17, and his girlfriend causing a scene at the McDonald’s when they arrive wearing not only top hats but matching tailcoats, carrying aloft table linens and silver and candles, with great style laying a tablecloth on a greasy table, setting it with the silver and lighting the candles, sitting down and calling for a waiter. Imagine the army wanting him.

    Imagine one brother, 15, marching and marching and marching on Washington and coming back to the pishposh school all to take math exams and computer exams and other exams that really do not matter in the grand scheme of things and being put on academic probation for his attitude and grades. Imagine your father’s humiliation.

    Imagine one brother, 17, giving your mother her first pair of bell bottom blue jeans for her 36th birthday and taping a joint and instructions for its use into a back pocket. Imagine your mother’s eyes.

    Imagine it all: the campus demonstrations, the drugs, the boysboysboys vacillating between the times and the traditions, the pishposh school going of all things…co-ed…your brothers in the middle of every bit of it—one getting kicked out, the other barely making it through.

    Imagine watching all of this from your perch high in that tree and beneath that table waiting waiting waiting waiting for your time.

    Imagine it.
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