Monday, November 3, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 49 – BRAVERY?

Sex was looming despite the restrictions of the time – late forties and early fifties – and despite the place, this old-line, all boys boarding school that, nonetheless, was a bare hour away from a sister school, St. Mary’s-in-the-Mountains. There were rare times for fraternizing, an occasional get-together for a dance, or for a joint glee club concert (to which I went as a spectator), or something entailing cold weather sports, which I could not do at all, though for the sake of female company I could sometimes bluff it. And young Janie Doolittle from St. Mary's, as young as I was, showed me things that were at that point beyond what I knew but not so far beyond that I could not catch up. That was what happened in one compartment of my life. In another, my roommate moved out on me. I became the only boy in the school without a roommate. It was as if my unpopularity were a contagious disease.

But I had found Keats and Wordsworth, and I was writing romantic poems of my own, mostly about situations with girls I had met only in imagination, but some about my actual life – which would soon include my great love Kitty from the summers in the mountains. But each night when I appeared in my dormitory, they would set upon me, and the most vicious, Hector, a raw hockey player from Massachusetts, would come in when they threw me down and he would twist my arm back demanding I surrender – just like Murdock, except this school was my whole world, there was no Park Avenue mother to walk in. Eventually, each, night, as the pain became worse than unbearable, I would shame myself by surrendering.

But there was also more on the plus side than poetry. I had started taking part in debating, and the coach who was also the English teacher and my first real world non-family mentor, told me I would have to deal with the fact that, contrary to what I had been told in the past, and really believed, I was at least as smart as, maybe smarter than, my so far uniquely talented twin brother, who in the family was the chosen one, and the families position had been ratified by all three schools we had by by now now attended together. And I began to win debates – would be on the varsity and bring home debate trophies while still 15 – but the reality of those victories did not overwhelm other realities. They were still going to kill me.

Each boy in the school has a job to do in the kitchen or on the grounds or in chapel or the gym or the building we called the Schoolhouse. Mine at that time was to sweep up at night in the Schoolhouse, the musty old building where we had our classes. It had once been an actual New England one-room schoolhouse. Classrooms now circled the original big room, which was now the assembly room and recently for me the place I had to go at night for compulsory study hall, which was only for boys who could not keep up. Now I had suddenly passed everyone with good grades – something that had never happened before in any other school I had been in. Before this time I had rarely had any idea what any teacher was taking about.

Alone at night in the Schoolhouse, sweeping up, I sang songs I got from movies – especially Ole Man River, which was about a suffering man on the Mississippi. I sang even though I had been denied entry to the glee club, told I would never have music. I sang loudly, in a time my voice was getting lower day by day, and when I sang I could almost forget what awaited me back at the dorm.

Then one crucial night I suddenly decided that I would not surrender no matter what they did. My arm would break, and blood would spurt from me, but I would not give them the satisfaction of seeing me give in.

There must have been something about the way I walked into the dorm that night, for they did not jump me, and Hector not twist my arm that night, and in fact never did it again.

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