What I found in the next room was a semester of danger at Intermediate School 44, where I relearned a number of subjects that I had mastered in the fifth grade and became dodgy about physical violence. My grandfather, when he heard that I’d ended up in public school after all, told the Celestes that I ought to learn a trade, and for a brief but frightful moment it seemed as though I might spend the summer studying woodworking in his basement. It’s odd that the prospect of going to Thebes should have been frightful. I had cried when my grandmother put me on the bus to New York, only a few months before, and after the bus pulled out of the station I took a pocketknife from my bag and scratched shelley on the plastic window. I don’t remember when or how I lost the desire to go back to Thebes. Probably I didn’t lose it all at once; Thebes faded in me as a season fades; it dropped its leaves and a new kind of weather moved in. When, in March or April, Celeste asked me if I would be interested in learning carpentry, because my grandfather was willing to take me on as his apprentice, what came into my mind was not the Thebes where I had kissed Shelley, or even the Thebes where I was in love with Yesim, but a hot, stuffy Thebes that was made from my grandfather’s workshop and visits to antiques shops and long dinners listening to the news from the Catskill Eagle.
“Can’t I go to camp?” I asked.
Celeste raised her eyebrows in surprise. “I thought you liked spending the summers in Thebes.”
For years I’d wanted her to acknowledge that fact; now that she had, I contradicted her without hesitation. “Thebes is stupid,” I said. “There’s nothing to do there.”
I couldn’t really have forgotten about Kerem and Shelley and Yesim; rather, I think Thebes was always a picture done on both sides of the page, and I was only able to keep one side in my mind at a time. Now I had turned the page over. If I had gone to Thebes that summer, I would probably have been surprised at how interesting it was, and surprised that I hadn’t remembered. But I went to Camp Hockomock, in Maine, where I became friends with Spencer Bartnik. It was a happy coincidence, a little thread of continuity, like a drumbeat carried by a DJ from one song to the next. We spent the summer smoking cigarettes that Spencer’s brother sent him in the mail, and listening to the heavy heavy monster sound of Madness.
I didn’t think of Thebes once, or if I did, it was as a place I had been a long time ago, or maybe a place I had read about, where everything was smaller than in real life and very close together, like the figures in a diorama, who represent different aspects of native life, say, washing clothes and hunting, faithfully, but not the distance that would have kept those activities apart. That’s how my summers in Thebes are in my memory, and even now, as I try to return them to their actual size, I notice that the interesting events cluster together, as though all that was good or decisive in that part of my life happened all at once, to relieve me of the burden of having such along past. Was the summer Kerem got his computer really the summer after I was in love with Yesim? Was the summer I was in love with her even the same summer as Man and Woman? I don’t know. It might just be that I’ve run the tracks together at the point where their beats match, to keep things going, to keep there from being a long moment when no one dances. If so, I’m sorry, and I hope you will understand. I’ve been wanting to dance, myself, and maybe to have others do a little dancing.
In any case, my grandfather was wrong. There was still some hope for me in school, thanks to the recent discovery of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, which, according to the people who had discovered it, was responsible for all sorts of misbehavior. I went to see a Dr. Jeremy Ott, who asked me if I had trouble following what people were saying, if I experienced periods of intense anxiety, if I thought about violent acts, if I had ever felt the desire to set persons or objects aflame, if I took drugs, what kind of music I liked to listen to, and why, and whether I ever had trouble following what people were saying. Yes, yes, yes, yes, no, punk rock, because it was so fuckin’ loud, what did you say? I was saved. My mothers enrolled me in St. Hubert’s Prep, which took a charitable view of misbehavior, offered financial aid to half the student body, and admitted girls, some of them refugees from Nederland’s sister school, the Anglesey School for Girls. SHP had a computer room, but I hardly ever went there. Another current had me in its pull, American History, who knew? It was as though I wanted to prove to Mr. Savage that he hadn’t been wasting his time. Or maybe—thank you, Dr. Ott!—maybe it was just that I couldn’t pay attention to any one thing for too long.
Much later I found a story that the Chinese had discovered America. It was in a book on the history of Santería in Central and South America, don’t ask me why I was reading about that. There was a chapter on the nature and purpose of chicken sacrifice, in which the author, one George F. Carter, discussed the difference between the Europe an and the American chicken: the former has white feathers and white flesh, whereas the flesh and feathers of the latter are black. In this the American chicken resembles the chickens of, yes, China. “Since the Asiatic chickens are very different from the Mediterranean chickens and most of the traits that reappear in the flocks of the Amerindians are found in Asia, the obvious conclusion would be that the Amerind chickens were first introduced from Asia and not from the Mediterranean…” You can hear Mr. Carter growing excited here. “When one considers the total data available on the chicken in America, a conclusion for a Spanish or Portuguese first introduction of chickens into America is simply counter to all evidence. The Mediterraneans, as late as 1600, did not have, and did not even know of, the galaxy of chickens present in Amerind hands…” A galaxy of chickens spun through my imagination; white Europe an hens shone against a black mass of Asian wing-and tail-feathers. Mr. Carter went on to observe that in China, too, the chicken was thought to have magical properties; the Chinese used to read the future by dripping chicken blood on parchment. I watched the blood spatter on the page, and what it showed me was not the future but the past: I was back at Nederland, telling Matt Bark that I’d found something really good. I gave the report on the Chinese; I had irrefutable, unsuspected proof that Eriksson and Columbus were latecomers; Mr. Savage nodded his approval, and when I sat down he declared that if we learned only one thing from American History, it should be, that if you trusted yourself you would get there in the end. I won; I went out for pizza; I was not expelled. Of course none of this would ever have come to pass. Even if I had somehow stumbled on the Asian-chicken hypothesis back then, Matt Bark would have laughed it off. Chickens? Dumbfuck, who cares about chickens? —But… —You think chickens discovered America? —No, they were carried on ships… —What, to start a chicken farm? Chickenshit! Chicken boy! Even in my daydreams I lost the argument.
But the chickens remain, all over Central and South America, black, silky-feathered Asiatic chickens that lay blue-shelled eggs. So, Matt, what do you make of those chickens?