I'm doing my last public reading of The Beautiful Struggle this Friday at McNally-Jackson. All week I'll be running excerpts from the book. The Beautiful Struggle is, at its core, a comic book. A self-aggrandizing comic book--every man is Odysseus in his own mind. Anyway, yesterday was Flash Thompson. I'm going to skip the Spider-bite and get straight to Gwen Stacy--without the bridge.
You may note that all my references to girls have been brief, and mostly touched by failure. My catalogue was comic:
I sat on a fence in early June, 1985, my last years of boyhood drawing to dark. I was waiting on Brenda Neil, who I knew had to walk this way to make it home. Soon, she'd be off to Falstaff, or one of those boarding schools way out, with horses and fencing teams. Of course she was brown and lovely, her eyes were great planets, but what I remember most was how the world would pause and come to her, how she spoke and walked easily, like 5th grade, with all its giant uncertainties, was just her personal ballet. When she laughed, her voice lightly cracked and with it, something inside me too, took days to set right. She would tap her number two pencil against a desk and look up and away for an answer, and even that dumb look thrilled me. Then I knew how the damned dinosaurs died, that even here, in Miss Boone's ordinary classroom, cataclysm awaits.
I was on the fence at Cold Spring and Callaway, a block away from the 7-11 where I saw my first gat, across the street from where the highwaymen of Wabash snatched my black skullie, sat there nursing my last chance. I don't remember what I said, but in response she walked past, and would have smiled and said something nice, because she was not the type to get loud on you, and for now had rejected the seductive venom and backtalk that is the birthright of all black girls. What I know is that I did not say what was needed, what ached beneath every rib, that I watched her walk away with, at best, goodbye and good luck.
I was born under a lame sign. Big Bill could make them yell "Go William" and do the whop. Dad had his flock and thus direct evidence that, in these matters, his was the arm of Thor. But I had taken a wrong exit, picked up a manual written in French, because, in truth, my greatest disaster was that I just did not understand. Jennifer would clip me in the hallway, pull my shirt, punch me in the shoulder, grab at my chair while I reared back on two legs, mash an index finger in my face, then an hour later smile and ask what I was reading. But it never got through.