too smart for that shit.


at four years old, when he started preschool, his mom wouldn't let him go alone. she sent her maid, bea, with him on his first day, then the second, then for the rest of the year. i remember visiting him at the school on his birthday, when he brought cupcakes for the entire class, and there was bea, standing in the corner, minding her business. the teacher called on bea to help distribute the cupcakes. there was a little white girl in class, and she looked at bea, then looked at me. i wondered then if she thought the two of us might be related.

the next year he started kindergarten, and this time, bea didn't come with him. he was left to fend for himself, figure out the ropes and all that. i didn't watch his progression then. i had my own things to think about: third or fourth grade, and then puberty, and then my future. i didn't see him at recess, or at lunch, or at any other part of the day. we were dropped off and picked up together - all the time spent in between, we were total strangers.

i went to high school, hated it, and then five years later, he went to the same high school, and said it wasn't that bad. "maybe it was just the friends you made," he theorized, years later. "i mean, how many friends do you still keep in touch with?" i told him none. well, maybe one. "see?" he said, and then he told me that he still talks to his friends. i hated him for pointing that out to me. everyone from high school was dead to me.

when i finished high school, i applied to three jesuit schools, all on the west coast. one accepted me, so that was where i went. he applied to one school, was accepted, but for one reason or another, he didn't go. i was frustrated with him for not accepting. by then, i had already finished college, and while i was overwhelmed with student loans and disillusioned by how unprepared i was for the world, i still thought it was, overall, a great experience. how could he say no? how could he turn down such an opportunity?

he decided instead that he would enroll at the community college. i told him that he was making a mistake, that he should just wait to apply to universities for the winter semester. he said no. i reminded him about our other cousins, the ones who went to community college, and never finished. he snapped at me. "that's not gonna happen to me! i'm too smart for that shit!" he said. nearing the end of his third year at community college, he still wasn't finished. he had gotten some bad advice from his academic advisers, and by the time he finished up that spring semester of his third year, he still didn't have his associate's degree.

at the end of that third year, he applied to one university and to one state college, and again, both had accepted him. for one reason or another, he declined both their invitations to enroll. he told me that he was tired of living with his mom, and that he was feeling lost. he told me that he was on his way to the state college, to talk to an adviser about late registration, but then he ended up just turning the car around. i told him not to feel bad about it, that i had done similar things.

his mom told my mom recently that she hopes that i can guide him. it was fifth grade all over again, ms. edwards telling me what a good role model i was. my classmate, mike t., quoted that charles barkley commercial: "i am not a role model." the words stuck with me the rest of the day, the sign of a strong ad campaign. i am not a role model. i didn't want to be a role model. i was sick of being the good kid, the straight a student, and i knew what a hypocrite i was, with all those dark thoughts circling around in my brain all day.

i hope he can figure it out. because i sure as hell don't have any answers.

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