Big Feet and Football Tryouts

August 20, 2014

Aerial view of refurbished fields (for track and field, football, softball and tennis) across from MVHS (and the Cross County Parkway), Mount Vernon, NY, circa 2012. (Google Maps)

Aerial view of refurbished fields (for track and field, football, softball and tennis) across from MVHS (and the Cross County Parkway), Mount Vernon, NY, circa 2012. (Google Maps)

Three decades ago this week, I tried out for Mount Vernon High School’s junior varsity football team and made the team. Only to immediately quit. Mostly because I realized that there was too much going on at 616 for me to be a Humanities student, a blocking wide receiver (the coaches had an unimaginative view of offense) and a jack-of-all-adult-responsibilities at home.

What made the decision easier was something my Mom did that made my tryouts harder. As I wrote in Boy @ The Window:

Screen shot 2014-08-19 at 9.55.52 PM

I ended up making the team, but they wanted me to sit on the bench for a year while I bulked up to at least 175 pounds. The most I’ve ever weighed was 238 pounds at six-foot-three, and I weigh 228 now. It took me until ’10 before I wore my first pair of size-fifteen sneakers that actually fit (I wear size sixteens now). The idea of me as an offensive lineman simply because my sneakers were two sizes too big was and remains ridiculous. Thanks Mom, and thanks, coaches!

The one lesson I took with me from the process of trying out was that I couldn’t rely on my Mom to help me do the things I wanted to do with my life. Nor could I rely on her encouragement (or lack thereof) in that process. It wasn’t an assessment based on anger or disappointment. I’d only begun to figure out that my life was my life, and the decisions I needed to make needed to be my own.


Stinking Up The Joint

April 15, 2014

Pepe Le Pew stinking up the flowers, April 15, 2014. (Chuck Jones/WB, via http://www.animationartwork.com/). Qualifies as fair use because of picture's low resolution and related subject matter.

Pepe Le Pew stinking up the flowers, April 15, 2014. (Chuck Jones/WB, via http://www.animationartwork.com/). Qualifies as fair use because of picture’s low resolution and related subject matter.

Puberty is often a confusing and scatterbrained time even for the most well-adjusted of folks. Changes in body chemistry, hair growth, body parts, height, weight and sleep patterns are all part of this excruciating rite of passage. When thrown in with the realities of poverty and the cruelty of Humanities and Mount Vernon High School, puberty was also a long march of embarrassing moments.

One of my last embarrassing moment strictly thanks to puberty came around this time three decades ago. It was an unusually warm early April Tuesday in ’84, one in which I was hardly prepared. I’d just started using deodorant the year before, once spring had sprung in ’83, with basketball and softball as a regular part of gym class. In gym for ninth grade, we were in the swimming pool for March and April.

We just happened to be out of deodorant at 616 while I was in the midst of this class. It wouldn’t have been much of a problem, except for the fact that the cool weather of early spring had given way to a sudden heatwave, bringing temps into the upper seventies the second week in April. On that fateful Tuesday, I tried one of my Mom’s home remedies, and put a baking soda paste on my armpits, hoping to conceal my still new manly smell.

Well, it actually did work, at least from periods one through six. Then it was time for gym. I didn’t count on the fact that the high level of chlorine in the pool would completely wash away my makeshift deodorant. Nor did I consider that the swimming pool area would be about ten degrees warmer than it was outdoors. Nor did I think about the fact that we ordinary students weren’t allowed to shower after swimming or any other gym activity, for that matter. That was reserved for the school’s athletes — equipment must be protected from the “animals,” as some administrators and parents saw fit to describe us.

Speed Stick (green) deodorant by Mennen, 1980s edition (en Español), April 15, 2014. (http://www.b2bsupply.co/).

Speed Stick (green) deodorant by Mennen, 1980s edition (en Español), April 15, 2014. (http://www.b2bsupply.co/).

So, no deodorant, in a hot area of an already warm school with the air conditioning turned off, and with no opportunity to rinse off — what do you think happened eighth period? I went to Geometry class, completely unable to conceal my underarm stench. From about the second minute on, my equally sweaty classmates complained about “the smell” and “the stink,” all the while, fanning themselves with manila folders. Even with Mr. Louis Cuglietto’s windows open, it didn’t help — there was no wind to speak of.

But of all the sweat and smells, mine was the one that stood out most. Why? Because, despite it all, I remained an engaged student, and raised my right hand to answer questions. Which meant that I raised my right arm, and anyone within a six-foot radius could smell me. After ten minutes of complaints, I put my arms down, and held them close to my body for the remainder of class, looking forward to the end of the school day.

After class, Cuglietto pulled me aside to tell me, “You’re a man now. You need to get some deodorant,” as if he was offering sage advice or tough love. This wasn’t the first time Cuglietto played his version of poor assumptions about race, class and gender, and it wouldn’t be his last. I ignored him, and went on my way home.

But I didn’t stop there. I went over to Jimme’s on South 10th that evening. It was the middle of the week, a time of hungover sobriety for my father, which meant he would be home early from work. I bummed $20 off him while taking a stick of his surplus Speed Stick with me.

Is there a lesson here? Remember to keep deodorant in stock no matter what? Don’t swim with baking-soda-for-deodorant under your arms? That some teachers and classmates wouldn’t understand a moment of my life even if I passed it onto them like Brandon Lee’s character from the movie The Crow (1994)? That I was poor and in puberty, and things like this sometimes happen? Yeah, sure, I guess. The real lesson here is to remember, not for revenge or retribution, but so that younger others like me know that they’re not alone, so that the story can be told, later and better.


Toto’s “Africa” & “Reading” Too Much Into It

March 2, 2013

Toto's "Africa" (1982) Singles Sleeve, March 1, 2013. (http://eil.com).

Toto’s “Africa” (1982) Singles Sleeve, March 1, 2013. (http://eil.com).

There are as many reasons my musical tastes are eclectic as there are songs that I like and love. I can’t explain it. There’s no way I can explain why I think one song sounds as unimaginative and boring as Drake’s “Started From The Bottom,” while Nickleback’s “If Today Was Your Last Day” has been one of my favorite songs over the past three and a half years.

My imagination could take the corniest song and make it epic, a mantra, my theme music. Even a song like Toto’s “Africa” (’82-’83), a song that could be interpreted as reflecting White racialism as it related to Tarzan movies of a not-so-bygone era. Yet I’ve seen their video, and probably heard the song at least 3,000 times. It ain’t that deep, but it’s still a song I like.

So, a bit of context. My grades in the early Reagan years — especially in ’82-’83, when I was in eighth grade — didn’t at all reflect our family’s slide into welfare poverty, my ongoing issues with my idiot stepfather, my suicidal struggles or my search for a real relationship with God. What I had to lean on, more than my amazing memory or World Book Encyclopedia, my parents or even God, was my imagination.

The Spark of Imagination (via x-ray), March 1, 2013. (http://esquire.com).

The Spark of Imagination (via x-ray), March 1, 2013. (http://esquire.com).

With puberty and what would turn into a ten-inch growth spurt in a span of twenty months, I became enamored with sports. And the sport I became most interested in early on was football. The strike-shortened ’82 NFL season combined with the formation of the USFL and the coming-out party for soon-to-be draft pick Herschel Walker to get my attention. The vicious hits, the acrobatic catches, the powerful throws were things that I’d seen before. I saw them through the lens of an underdog now, a downtrodden member of an abandoned family who wanted to see folks who’d overcome impossible circumstances achieve great things.

The first person who represented that for me in sports was Joe Montana, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. The only ending to a football game I’d ever watched was the end of the NFC Championship Game the year before, with the play known as “The Catch.” I didn’t even know who Joe Montana was, even after watching Dwight Clark go up and catch a ball that was only meant for him.

He was the kind of person I wanted and needed to be in order to overcome what I thought was an impossible deficit. As far as I was concerned, I had to score about a hundred touchdowns to go from welfare to college, let alone anything after college. Yet it didn’t stop me from dreaming about rolling out right to the sidelines on fourth down, sucking in Dallas’ defense, and throwing a ball toward the right-side of end zone, toward the back line, just high enough for Clark to catch and Emerson Walls not to.

It was a dream that required some theme music, and luckily for me it was ’83. Michael Jackson’s Thriller had come out at the start of eighth grade, The Police were big, Toto and Rick Springfield were at their peak, and New Edition had put out there first hit, a Jackson 5 remake. All of it gave me something more modern to move forward with, to get silly about, to “march down field” to when I needed to gear up to get an important A. I’d accidentally found a way to escape my life without ever leaving Mount Vernon.

The Jungle (1906), by Upton Sinclair, 1st Edition, March 31, 2011. (GrahamHardy via Wikipedia). In public domain.

The Jungle (1906), by Upton Sinclair, 1st Edition, March 31, 2011. (GrahamHardy via Wikipedia). In public domain.

Demontravel’s and Carraccio’s classes were the first two places in which I applied this approach to my life and studies. In Carraccio’s case, it was the reading and essay assignment for Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1906) a muckraking tale of first-generation, Eastern European, Chicago meatpackers who worked and lived in grueling conditions and where some of them gave their lives — and livers — to Swift and other companies. I’d caught a cold, had a fever, was going to the store for Mom, and had just heard Toto’s “Africa” playing at C-Town in nearby Pelham.

The song served as my background music, giving me the energy and drive I needed to finish the book. I read The Jungle in one night, three hundred pages of it in four hours. I think Carraccio gave me a 95 on my essay. She pulled me aside to say, “You know, if you wanted, you could be a really good writer.” It might’ve been the only thing she said that I thought was right on the mark all year.

Yeah, you could say that I was seriously music deprived, didn’t understand the cultural symbolism or archetypes in the song or video, or simply had and have bad tastes. Y’all may be right, too. But for me, Toto’s “Africa” struck the right note, lifted my imagination, and found the goofball within.


Kufi Battles

February 15, 2013

Slow-motion punch frame from Matrix Revolutions (2003), February 15, 2013. (http://theathleticnerd.com/).

Slow-motion punch frame from The Matrix Revolutions (2003), February 15, 2013. (http://theathleticnerd.com/).

My days as a kufi-wearing Hebrew-Israelite at school is one of those things I don’t spend much time on this blog talking about. Mostly because it involved defending myself to protect a piece of clothing and a religion in which I never fully believed, especially after early ’83. Plus, it involved fairly rare attempts in which dumb asses attempted to bully me. Compared to my now deceased idiot ex-stepfather’s abuse, no kid or wannabe thug after the summer of ’82 really stood a chance.

There were three incidents in eighth and ninth grade in which a kid got into a scuffled with me over my kufi, for whatever reason they’d invented in their head. The first was in February ’83, as one Black kid — probably about fifteen — snatched my kufi from my head and started to run up the basement hallway with it at Davis Middle School. The incident occurred as I, A and another member of A’s “Italian Club” entourage were in the middle of an errand for a teacher. I immediately ran the boy down, knocked him to the floor, dusted off my kufi, and put it back on my head. The boy got up and threatened to beat me up. It was at this point that A intervened, saying that he would “have to take us all on” if he wanted to fight me. A’s moment of support notwithstanding, I would’ve beaten the kid in the face as many times as it would’ve taken to get my kufi back.

Pittsburgh Steelers' James Harrison sacks Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco, AFC Division Round, January 15, 2011. (http://espn.go.com).

Pittsburgh Steelers’ James Harrison sacks Baltimore Ravens QB Joe Flacco, AFC Division Round, January 15, 2011. (http://espn.go.com).

The second incident occurred a month later, prior to the opening morning bell at Davis. Out of the blue, “Little J” picked a fight with me, calling me a “dickweed” and a “shithead” for no reason at all. I hardly knew the Jewish kid, who immediately came at me to push, shove, throw punches, and grab at my kufi. It really was crazy for Little J to think that he had a shot at doing any damage. I was already five-eight. He was lucky if he was four-eleven and one hundred pounds after a potato latkes breakfast.

This wasn’t a fight. It was a pushing and shoving match, with me doing all of the pushing and shoving and Little J landing in bushes or on his ass. For seven minutes, he kept running at me, trying to throw a punch or kick me. I caught or blocked his attempts, grabbed him, and shoved him into the bushes near the boys’ entrance to Davis. By the sixth time, Little J was crying and his cheeks were fire truck-red, I was laughing and shaking my head, and the other Black boys at Davis were asking me what was going on. When I told them, they started laughing as well.

Beyond him grabbing at me and my kufi, I never knew what Little J wanting to fight me was all about. My guess then was that Little J was playing the role of Esau (the hairy brother of Jacob from the Bible, Torah and Qur’an) and didn’t like the fact that I claimed to be a descendant of the father of ancient Israel and his people.

The Man In Black (presumably Esau; played by Titus Welliver) with Jacob (Mark Pellegrino), from TV series Lost (2009-10), February 15, 2013. (http://magiclamp.org).

The Man In Black (presumably Esau; played by Titus Welliver) with Jacob (Mark Pellegrino), from TV series Lost (2009-10), February 15, 2013. (http://magiclamp.org).

Incident Three occurred on my second day at Mount Vernon High School. After a day of assignments and learning the names of our new teachers, I went to Louis Cuglietto’s eighth-period Geometry class. It was on the first floor of the school, just to the right of the front entrance and the cafeteria. As I milled around the classroom looking to take my seat, my Latino classmate “N” came out of nowhere and snatched my kufi off my head.

“Give it back now!,” I yelled.

“Make me!,” N responded with a bit of sarcasm.

Just as he was about to throw it to another classmate. I grabbed N and knocked him to the floor. There we were, on the floor by the dark green chalkboard, me on top of N, who was struggling to hold on to my kufi. I lay on top of him, punched him in the face a couple of times, and took my kufi back from him just before Cuglietto came into the room. By this time everyone in our class had formed a circle to watch the spectacle. I don’t remember all of what Cuglietto said, but he did ask, “Do you want to get suspended?” After we dusted ourselves off, we went to our desks and got back to work.

For me, the incident marked a transition point in my life at school. This would be the last fight I’d have in school. Some people continued to try to verbally intimidate me. But they left it at that, probably because my height and my face said “Don’t mess with me” before I’d say anything.

The more immediate result was that I began to question more consciously my motives for defending myself as a Hebrew-Israelite. “Why do I care if N snatches my kufi from me?,” I said to myself on the way home from school that day. It wasn’t as if I truly believed in any of the teachings anymore. I definitely didn’t want anyone messing with me at home or in school. At the same time, I didn’t want to use up energy defending something in which I didn’t believe.


On Hugs and Walks

August 1, 2012

Commodus hugging Maximus as he plunges dagger into back (screenshot), Gladiator (2000), August 1, 2012. (Donald Earl Collins). Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws – low resolution of picture.

The beginning of August for me thirty years ago was the beginning of adulthood for me. I had little choice. After five weeks of emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual abuse, my choices were to either allow myself to be broken or to find something to hope for. Otherwise, my life would’ve been over before my thirteenth birthday.

I thought hard about how to end the summer of ’82’s abuse. I figured that I could pretended to be something I wasn’t — a loving, wayward stepson. I begged for my stepfather’s forgiveness and even called him “Dad” while he beat me for the sixth time in a month, on August 1, ’82. He stopped, finally, and gave me a hug. I cried tears of rage and hate, because I couldn’t even stand to touch or smell the man, much less being pressed against his overabundance of fat. I prayed for his death to be long and painful, as if I had a dagger in my right hand, ready to plunge into his back left ribs.

Dagger through back rib and heart (screenshot), Gladiator (2000), August 1, 2012. (Donald Earl Collins). Qualifies as fair use – low resolution of picture.

If masturbation were the only thing that I discovered that month, I might’ve begun aspiring for some other kind of life. Instead, I decided on a boring early August day to do something else novel. I didn’t want to go to Wilson Woods again. We didn’t have any money anyway. I decided to take my siblings on a walk on the wild side, to walk outside our immediate neighborhood. Darren and I took baby Maurice and Yiscoc in his new stroller out of 616. We walked and strollered down East Lincoln Avenue, across the stone bridge over the Hutchinson River Parkway into Pelham, and turned left on Fifth Avenue to go north. This was uncharted territory for all of us, especially me. North Pelham might as well have been Helena, Montana to me.

“We don’t know where we’re going,” Darren said.

“Yeah, and?,” I said in response.

“Okay, but it’s your fault if we get lost, Donald,” Darren said.

Sarah Lawrence College, Bronxville, NY, August 1, 2012. (http://slc.edu). In public domain.

We didn’t get lost. We walked until we hit Chester Heights, the beginning of the village of Eastchester, and then Bronxville. It was amazing in that it was much more suburban than Mount Vernon or the part of Pelham that I’d known up until that moment. The homes were luxurious by my standards. Everyone seemed to own a BMW, Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, or Peugeot. There weren’t many sidewalks around, only well-manicured lawns. We had walked into several ritzy communities without any warning.

I began to think that the world was a cruel place, having rich Whites living so close to us yet their lives were so far apart from ours. But instead of becoming depressed or angry, it made me introspective. “Look at these houses!,” I said to Darren as we walked by one Tudor-style home after another three-story mansion, broken up only by a few cul-de-sacs. Darren, having been around rich Whites through Clear View for nearly eight years, didn’t think too much of it.

That’s when it hit me. If I wanted to live a better life, to have a nice house and a car and a family, it seemed to me that I needed an education, a college education. I wasn’t going to get there just graduating from high school, especially in Humanities, where the expectations for college were so high that some kids already knew that they were going to law school. I just knew that I couldn’t go through another summer of abuse. So I said to myself, “I’ve got to get through the next five years. I’ve got to go to college.” Yet it seemed like an impossible task.

As we meandered our way back toward Mount Vernon, we ended up on North Columbus Avenue/Route 22. That’s when we passed by a ranch-style home with a stone facade. I looked and saw someone out in front I hadn’t seen since the end of the school year. It was “P,” my eventual Crush #2, outside in the front yard with her sister, apparently back from bike riding. She called us over, and the four of us talked. This was the first Black family I’d seen during our two-hour walk.

Of course I didn’t go into any detail about what we’d been up to. After all, the one thing that the past year had taught me was not to open up my mouth and say everything that was on my mind! So I let her and her older sister do most of the talking. They’d gone somewhere down South to visit family.

“Do you live around here?,” P asked.

“Oh, we’re on a long walk and just happened to be in the neighborhood,” I said.

“Okay,” she said in response.

The Denzel Washington Walk, American Gangster (2007), August 1, 2012. (http://variety.com)

“In the neighborhood.” Sure, if Bronxville, Eastchester, Pelham and 616, all part of our eight-mile trek, were all one gigantic neighborhood! After about ten minutes, we continued home. Darren was more excited about seeing my eventual Crush #2 and her sister than I was.

I wasn’t unexcited. P was far and away the nicest person to me in 7S all year. She stepped up when others made fun of me. I just took her being nice to me the same way Laura Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie probably took it when Mrs. Olsen was nice to her.

Still, I finally had a plan. I knew that there would be a lot of smaller steps that I’d have to take before even getting to college, though. But in looking at where P and her sister lived, I at least knew that someone in their family must’ve taken similar steps in the not-too-distant past.


Adverbs and A-Holes

October 22, 2011

Good or well cartoon, January 24, 2009. (Gaurav: http://mbatutes.com). Qualifies as fair use under US Copyright laws because of lower quality resolution with purpose for describing a part of speech.

Puberty is such a strange time in life, whether you’re male or female. It’s even worse when you don’t have the maturity to deal with the changes, physical, social and emotional. Add to that no real guidance from parents, teachers or other adult figures about how to deal, and you have a recipe for disaster, even social suicide. That became the case for me thirty years ago, in a fight with a history, with my late ex-classmate, Brandie Weston.

But I planted the seeds for it almost a year and a half before, the second Saturday in May ’80, the very first time I met Brandie. My father Jimme had taken me and Darren to his “girlfriend’s” two-bedroom apartment on Mount Vernon’s South Side. His alleged girlfriend — drinking buddy, really — turned out to be Brandie’s mother. When Brandie walked through the apartment door an hour into the visit, I greeted her with the words, “Wow, she’s fat!,” as if I’d complimented her on her great beauty (for full story, see “First Impressions and Brandie” post from May ’10).

Irony, of course, has been one of the ways I’ve come to be sure that there is a God. Why else would I have ended up in Humanities and in the same classroom with Brandie in September ’81? I had no doubt that Brandie told her Pennington-Grimes friends about the incident as soon as she saw me in class on the first day of seventh grade.  Every time I saw them, my shy “Hi’s” were greeted with grunts, names like “dumb ass” and “idiot,” or just plain ignored.

My cold war with Brandie became a fight only weeks into seventh grade. It wasn’t much of a fight, though. It was in Mrs. Sesay’s classroom, our 7S homeroom where we started the day, ended the day, and had our first-period English class. At the end of this day in October, Brandie was clearing out of room from the back, passing by my seat on the left side of the classroom toward the door.

“Dumb ass,” Brandie said out of nowhere, as usual.

“You’re stupid,” I said, not even bothering to look up as I put my plastic Mead, three-ring and five-subject notebook in my book bag.

Mike Tyson laying out Larry Holmes, January 22, 1988.

Within a couple of seconds, I got pushed from behind. I turned, and Brandie threw a punch into my chest. I threw one back into her right arm as she recoiled from landing her first punch. We were fighting in the back of the classroom.

It was two semi-nerds in a fight of words, lots of shoves, and a flurry of half-hearted punches. It was an ugly display, like watching a Larry Holmes fight or Muhammad Ali in his last days before his retirement. In one corner, at five-foot-two and 120 pounds was me, in the other, at five-foot-seven and about 150 pounds was Brandie. I certainly didn’t want to fight a girl. Brandie seemed to think that she could pound me into the ground, hitting me on top of the head a few times.

At one point I punched Brandie in the chest, only to find that her chest felt spongy. It dawned on me that Brandie had breasts. I stopped pushing and punching her right then and there, somewhat in shock from the revelation.

“You’re a pervert!,” Brandie yelled while two of her friends pulled her away from me.

I didn’t know what “pervert” meant — not that I would’ve admitted such a thing, since I was the “smartest kid in the whole world.”

“Well, you’re an adverb!” I yelled in response. Someone I pulled that out of my brain to call Brandie in response.

Of all the words — adverb? That ended our fight in horrific laughter from Brandie and the classmates who witnessed it. It was another About A Boy moment. It was a weird moment, even for me. I was embarrassed, all but sure that my classmates thought that I was incredibly dumb.

My fight with Brandie had awakened some sleeping wolves, what I called the Italian Club long before we actually formed one for our Italian class. And these preteens had social adjustment issues that made me, Hebrew-Israelite and all, look like a model preteen by comparison — a story for another post. But, still, on the next to last Friday in October three decades ago, I made myself into the adverb greater, as in an asshole to a greater degree. Seriously.


On Women and Wired Weirdness

March 5, 2011


[Why Sade? Closest I could find to my dream-life muse, and most appropriate video I could find]

Getting a bit long in the tooth to be rattling off about Crush #1 again, right? After all, yesterday was the twenty-ninth anniversary of the fight that led to a crush that led to some sort of falling in love for the first time. The three-month period between March 4 and May 30 of ’82 shaped the ways I saw girls and women from the age of twelve until my early thirties. The crush on Crush #1 and its inevitable side-tracking as my then stepfather knocked my mother unconscious in front of me helped shaped my feminism, my womanism and my sexism.

In all of that, I’ve learned that I was wired for this weirdness. Because as a person of deep thought, a boy surrounded by sexism and misogyny, and a lonely and semi-ostracized preteen, the sum was much greater than these contradictory parts.

To think that this all pretty much started because I picked a fight with Crush #1 at the end of class in seventh grade. Almost all of my extracurricular incidents that year began or ended in our homeroom with our homeroom/English teacher Mrs. Sesay. I know that she’s a principal somewhere these days, but back then, her lack of behavioral leadership skills in the classroom led to more verbal abuse and fighting than a group of gifted-track kids should’ve stood for. Anyway, the incident began because Crush #1 asked a question about a subject that Mrs. Sesay had spent the entire week going over, a concept that Sesay would test us on that Friday. I laughed out loud — thinking that I was only snickering — after Crush #1 asked that question.

Thinking nothing of it, I began to pack up after the 2:15 pm bell rang. Crush #1 came up to me and pushed me from behind.

“You’re an ugly, arrogant asshole!” she said with the distaste of a ballerina being asked for money by a junkie.

I called her “stupid” and then said something else stupid. “You’re an idiot!,” Crush #1 yelled as she threw two punches into my chest and a third at my jaw.

The fight lasted about fifteen or twenty seconds, but after landing a punch on her left boob and nipple, I stopped fighting, already descending into the land of the idiot romantic. All while Crush #1 kept hitting me, then being pulled away from me by a couple of her friends. One of them, the recently deceased Brandie Weston, called me a “pervert” as they exited the classroom.

I know that I wasn’t the first boy in history to start a fight with a girl who I’d come to like or love, but I do think that boys who do that have a lot of weird in them. Mind you, I hadn’t quite hit puberty yet, so my testosterone levels weren’t high enough yet to be the cause of my brain malfunction. No, my very sexism and her fierce sense of tomboyish feminism was why I liked her in the first place, and drank deep from that well for the next three months.

The Memorial Day ’82 incident with my mother changed what was an otherwise innocent crush and love into something weirder and more meaningful. I think that’s why it has so clearly affected how I’ve seen girls and women over the years. Crush #1 defended herself, my mother tried and couldn’t. Crush #1 was cranky and usually personable, my mother polite and as close-minded as a clam in deep water. Crush #1 would be fine whether she knew I liked her or not, my mother a damsel-in-distress that needed someone with sense and care to help her.

The weeks following that Memorial Day I made a decision to put my mother first. The side effect of that decision was that I’d spend the next fifteen years or so using Crush #1 as my template — and my mother as the anti-template — for understanding women, for befriending, dating or not dating women, for women I’d put on a pedestal from afar and for women I’d merely sleep with. In the end, I’d resent myself and my mother for that decision. And another six years trying to understand why.

Thinking about it now, it still amazes me how much of what occurred between ’82 and ’96 was part of an unconscious decision process. But since the end of ’89, I’ve gotten a reminder about once every six weeks. Crush #1 has been a part my dreams and nightmares, a muse that would surface some of my wiser thoughts. She’s a reminder that the twelve-year-old in me isn’t dead, just dormant.

The muse reminds me of how little I do know about women and romance, even after eleven years of marriage and more than two decades of various relationships overall. And that the struggle between the various strands of feminist, womanist and sexist thought in me remains just that.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 706 other followers