[The second of a series of little essays from half-a-lifetime ago.]
Last week my mother called just to say that things were fine and so forth. No real news, it's just that calling seems to be so much easier than sitting down and writing and all. "And if you do it at the right time it really doesn't cost all either.” So my nephew cut his foot at school and my niece is growing nicely, almost talking already, and my sister’s youngest is enjoying school.
And, oh yes, do you remember Andy? I think he was a year older than you were. Well, he's not well at all now. And it's been really rough on him and his parents. Maybe his death will be some kind of release, you know? The whole story is so sad. You remember him, don't you? You haven't been away that long.
Yes, Mom, I remember Andy. I remember him as a long dangling vine of a boy who wasn't the worst of the fifth grade basketball players. And I remember that he played third base on the little league baseball team, although he didn't play all that much, just some warm-ups and maybe late in the game if we'd be way ahead or way behind.
And I remember him as being smart, too. Never the first one down in a spelling-bee; maybe not the smartest in the class, but no clown. But more than all that, I remember him defending himself against most of the others, myself included, fighting for something which I can only today identify as dignity. Andy was willing to swing, willing to suffer split lips for something money couldn't buy, and something he probably never felt he achieved. Andy was different.
He lacked nothing upstairs, and he was never the last kid chosen in playground basketball, but we all knew that at any moment, anywhere, he could fall over as if he had been shot by some invisible assassin. Right in the middle of a game, four on four, suddenly we'd discover him, legs and arms akimbo, sprawled out over the cold, wet blacktop, his body quivering and jumping and rolling as if something or someone in him was trying frantically to break free. His eyes still roll in my memory, and I see that contorted face so clearly that if I were an artist I could easily draw it, always bent off to the left shoulder at the neck, jerking, snapping, as if trying to pull itself away from an image it saw in a mirror.
Andy fell like that frequently. By the time we were in the third grade, we were quite used to it, really. Oh, it was disconcerting to teachers, but we all knew what to do, and if some young first-year teacher didn't, any one of us would explain in no time.
It could happen right in the middle of singing; we stood: "Halleluhallelu-hallelu-hallelujah!” then the girls stood: "Praise Ye the Lord!" Up we'd come again: "Hallelu-hallelu-halle ... '', and there he'd be, spilled off his desk, legs split, jerking in the aisle, his arms snapping and twitching.
Even in high school. Typing class. Even in band where he was not a bad trumpeter. Again, at noon in the gym, all the girls watching as they sat around on the bleachers and whispered.
I guess that's what made him so irritable. We never never teased him about it--not even kids could be so crass—but it was there and we knew it. So when we'd get in little arguments about who touched the ball before it went out of bounds, Andy would erupt into violent anger. Someone would tease him about talking to some ugly school girl and he’d come out swinging, those long arms reaching and punching as if he could destroy all of us and this frothing devil within him with little more than his own power.