My understanding of women
began in middle school
that’s when I got interested
that’s when things changed
I started to notice their jeans
ever so slightly
their pink underwear
at the edges of heaven.
All of my teachers thought I was cute
a naughty boy
who wanted to be good
My English Teacher
who was missing her middle-finger
(because she slammed it in a door
when she drove truck)
liked to read her science-fiction stories
to the class
and her students laughed at her
Then she sent them outside
and they started smiling
and she sent them out again
It was just me, and the bus driver’s daughter
We were the best students in school
and Mrs. Brunette walked next to me and said, “Andy—you’re trying to do well, but I can see that you’re about to smile.”
but I stayed in class, anyway
and I sucked that smile in, like it was the joy of the world
and I argued with her, for my 105%.
I think it made her smile inside
I have always been the “good” little boy
who wanted to do right.
“Coach, which is right field?” I asked.
Anybody could hear the desperation in my voice.
I played sports because my sister played them.
She taught them to me. “Andy—don’t be afraid of the ball.”
I always felt anxious—in front of people. Then someone would hit a pop-fly, and I would make a miraculous catch.
I had the miracle glove that year, and my coach told me—”You’re almost an MVP.”
“Andy wants to play pitcher,” my friend said.
Coach, shook his head. He knew I would crack under pressure.
Even the smallest amount of stress, like knowing where to go and what to do, made me anxious.
Not much has changed.
I was the MVP of my middle school basketball team. Then I graduated to varsity, and my coach was a tall black man. He could tell, I couldn’t take the pressure.
Good coaches have an instinct.
We got to the championship game, and one of our best players forgot his jersey. “Here—take mine,” I said.
“Now, that’s a teammate,” my coach suggested, but he didn’t realize I was a coward—or, maybe he did.
I thankfully sat on the sidelines—totally relaxed, and watched the game—right where I wanted to be. We lost, and I didn’t feel bad.
I won the Cougar Award that season, for sportsman-like-conduct—the most coveted trophy, but I was a coward, and the whole team voted me in.
I never lost at anything in middle school.
Sometimes, losers win—
but you always know who you are
and that’s more important than trophies.
I was “smart” in middle school
it was a time of great beginnings
Mrs. Chastagner started a chess tournament
and later, I found out we had the same birthday
She was one of the school secretaries
and she liked me
Her son played on the basketball team, and he was the leader
Funny—your reputation develops—not by being close to popular students
but by being your own person
and doing your own thing
I have never done anything else.
So, when I signed up for the chess tournament
I did it, because I liked chess, and I liked to win
Most of all—I liked to think
At basketball practice, Evan’s mom walked over to me
“He’s worried about you—he thinks you’ll win.”
I was a quiet kid, and I won.
The stakes got higher. I was playing with an eighth grader who had pimples, wore the same clothes every day, and ate Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups for lunch. Occasionally, he had nachos. I watched him shove the chocolate and cheese sauce into his mouth.
Then, I won.
The last kid I played, all four semesters in middle school, became my mortal enemy, because, I beat him, every game, and took the championships.
In 9th grade, he told me that he was going to beat me at everything
I became a winner, in middle school
7th and 8th grade were the most important years
I have always been playing chess