By the time I was in the 8th grade I had also become extremely careful about telling the family anything I knew from the world outside the family.
I didn't tell them about stealing the rowboat and going over a high waterfall in it, or the day I was all the way down in the city in Times Square (looking at the half-man, half-woman in the freak Show at Hubert's Flea Circus) when they thought I was at Compo Beach in Westport, Connecticut, or the two-year blackjack game, spanning 7th and 8th grades, that I was part of – nor the girlie magazines we hid in the barn, nor the time I fell off a cliff, saved by saplings on a lower ledge I nearly passed on the fall down. There was almost nothing I could tell them about safely. I rarely discussed my friends – Jeff Aldrich, whose father lived in a cabin with a porch behind their house and sat on the porch drinking whisky all day and cursing softly, Jeff who I hid in our old chicken coop barn when he ran away from home – or Dan McHenry, who was open and friendly even though he was the school's best athlete, and who had actually more or less fucked with an actual woman, an older girl who he and a friend, he said, stripped and held down (which, despite the impossible dream of actual fucking, seemed to me connected to horrible things Dan did routinely, like torturing and killing frogs and kittens). Or Herman, who carried a concealed revolver. I did not tell them about Jared Delong, who was the one who discovered the principal's secretary didn't call your home until you'd been absent from school for two days in a row, meaning it was safe to play hooky and travel every other day.
I did not tell them these things so I would not get into trouble, but it was also to spare them from too many facts. And sometimes I told them things I did not believe because it would make them more comfortable and on my side. Sometimes at the dinner table at home I told them I found someone outside the family to be stupid, or cranky or clumsy – keeping my hand in family conversation, imitating the way they talked about outsiders – too shy, too alert, too ugly or dumb, too smart or good looking for their own good.
So I relayed what Jared told me about his mother, Rosemary Delong, because I often heard my parents talking, while they were drinking, about what awful drunks the elder Delongs were.
Jared and I had been sitting on a roof of the former wartime chicken house at our place in Weston and Jared was telling with glee what he'd seen the night before at the Aspetuck Club dinner dance. His mother, Rosemary, and his father, also named Jared Delong but called Jerry, had been drunk and fighting and while they were on the dance floor, sometimes dancing, sometimes shouting and waving their arms at each other, Rosemary's dress kept falling down. She was too drunk to stop it – her breasts popping out for everyone to see.
I thought my parents would appreciate the story. I gave a quick version of it at dinner, at the narrow oak table in our drafty, wall-papered dining room. I did not say the word "breasts,” but just that the gown fell down and there was nothing underneath. Mother, listening at the head of the table, with a little bell to ring for dessert, Dad at the other end, still stiff in his city suit, switching from a blended whiskey highball to buttermilk. Dad's face was getting red. Mother was starting to quiver with fury.
"That's the worst thing I have ever heard, Frederick.
“That was horrible of your friend Jared.
"What an awful person your friend is.
"Never do anything like that.
"Remember,no one should ever say anything like that about their family."