Style is everything, and nothing.
|He wouldn't have understood it at all, even if I'd busted my butt trying to explain the thing to him. Even if I knew how. Even if the thing could have been explained in the first place. Back then I was always trying to explain something to somebody. I was always blue in the face, or maybe just plain blue. That's what my life was - a constant explanation, or apology.
Grade 8 was no picnic. It was hot and cold, freeze-dried, deep-fried, broiled and roasted, flipped and dipped, steamed and creamed hormonal hotwired hell. It felt like being invited to a banquet, but made to stand outside the French doors looking in at something sumptuous and resplendent...always beyond reach. I was starving.
My eyes were always full of anger and questions. Grant Williams saw the fury and understood the reasons. We were adolescent emotional punching bags for each other. He condescended to a friendship ironclad in its simplicity.
Sarcasm was the only response worthy of the joke life played on us. Within the formal space we shared, he was the court jester.
In the classroom, while academic politics raged around us, he riddled all the pomp and circumstance with the shrapnel of his wit - tore it to shreds. I sort of admired him for that, and certainly appreciated the entertainment value, while refusing to ever pretend to be dumber than I was.
In his shoebox of a bedroom (he never came to my house) I was introduced to Hendrix and the Morrisons (both Van and Jim) and pondered the message, and the meaning...
...that we found down there in the dirt floor basement, buried behind the furnace. Skin magazines and polaroids, and ancient stale cigarettes, narrowed down the scrutiny in Grant's ironic eyes. Cheap chicks with slick tricks, supposed to sharpen up my appetite.
My anger burned a whole lot brighter, then. Stole my breath and scared me half to death. At thirteen, I had a lot to prove.
But still he couldn't understand it. I wonder why he even listened? We were opposites, whose meeting in the middle was the anguish and the agony of a Hendrix solo. That, at least, was honest. We thought he burned, just for us - for the fact that we were slowly being swallowed alive. Van Morrison wailed out all the loneliness I couldn't talk about. Instead, I stared right into the aging calendar picture of a ruby-red '68 Mustang, wedged up against a dresser, and deciphered TB Sheets. That was all I could do.
The day I blew up, red-faced and drowning in a shame I couldn't understand, when an entire classroom of silly girls chose the next victim for their venom...just a simple farm girl I liked a lot, even though her dress was shabby and her grammar less than perfect. It was classic - but that didn't help at all, at the time. I just liked her, and I couldn't tell her why.
But Grant knew why. He could have knocked me over with a feather, that day. The after-school shoebox tunes ripped through me. I had to bury my fury inside them. I was left alone and allowed to lick the wounds. I could hardly believe that I deserved that kind of respect. In gratitude, I choked down half a butt, and on purpose only scowled half as much at Miss September. I remember.
I wonder....would he understand it now? The very next day, at baseball practice, was when I figured it all out. We were angling across the outfield, Grant and I, on our way to meet some casual girl. Like browsing cattle, the outfielders grazed around us, waiting for manna to fall from heaven, delivered by a solid piece of ash.
I heard the crack of the bat. Bodies began to drift around us, in a bovine kind of way. Groans and moans drifted up and out, and then descended, sweat forming inside useless mitts, impending doom pervading.
Grant winked and grinned at me, a cigarette clamped between his teeth. Then glanced up, nonchalant - and while all those gloves and cleats floundered around us, a white ball appeared, as if by magic, caught bare-handed.
Grant examined it for scuff marks (an ancient ballplayers' tradition) and after performing that holy rite, flipped it to a fielder and flashed a finger at the batter.
At that moment, I knew, but couldn't speak it....the thing that never was explained.
Style is everything - and nothing.
It speaks volumes, while guarding the silence of eternity. It cares not, whether we love it or hate it.
Sometimes - it dares us to even notice.