I’d been living in a one bedroom apartment with my dad when the letter came that I got into college. No one has that letter anymore but the GED certificate was in his collection of papers when I cleared out his desk after he died. I was never proud of it. Not proud of it now. Both my parents thought I’d attached a kind of irrepressible amount of appreciation to the events that led up to it, events which embarrassed them both, which made them feel lesser than.
But I remembered a story from the guy who packed me in his pick up and took me and my brother to our first AA meeting when we were young teenagers in trouble. He said he’d been in trouble since before he could remember. That he’d jammed one of those metal compasses with a sharpened point into a kid’s thigh during class in elementary school one day because they’d had an argument.
And that was the guy I went and had coffee at the Starbucks on Roland avenue that used to be a salon where my ma got her hair managed just so. He showed me a bunch of photographs of his own kids now, kids who didn’t seem like the type of people who would steal cars and jam pointy pencil compasses into thigh bones.
I could see the paleness of our intent as youths led into mass. The church choir dressed in matching outfits, the ministers offering symbolism as a way to collect our imperviousness. And all I wanted was to get out of there, same as that one bedroom apartment. Same as that truck ride to AA. All I wanted was a way out. But I hadn’t even gotten to know who I was yet.
by Hank Cherry