Thursday, February 17, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 29.1 (Cormac McCarthy)

The Road
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

Plucked from a cache of books donated to the Just Buffalo book table. I seem to recall Dale Smith recommending this when he was in town a few years back. I still haven't read it, but I did see the film recently. It didn't really put me in the mood to read the book, I have to say.

Anyhow, back to the story of M. and me.

I think what drew the two of us together as friends was a sense of feeling like outsiders in our school.

I was an outsider for a number of reasons. First off, I came from a different background than most of my classmates. Whereas they had nearly all gone to Catholic schools their entire lives, I had gone to public schools. We did not share a common history, or for that matter a common set of beliefs. If I wasn't a full-blown atheist by the time I arrived, it didn't take long before the Jesuits turned me into one.

Another detail that set me apart was the fact that I lived in Virginia. The school was located in the heart of DC, a few blocks from the Capitol, and most of the boys who went there grew up in the Maryland suburbs or in DC proper. Among this set, Virginia was considered something of a backwater. We were looked upon as hicks.

A third thing that set me apart was was the fact that I arrived at the school a bit more "experienced" than most of my classmates. My problems with drinking and drugs began when I was in junior high school. Among my public school friends drinking, smoking, swearing, drugs, long hair, etc., were all established parts of the social culture by the time we'd reached the ninth grade. This was very much not the case among my high school classmates and they loudly let me know it.

M., on the other hand, was set apart by the fact he did not begin at our school at the same time everyone else did. He transferred during our sophomore year. I think the fact he was a reader and somewhat of a solitary person set him apart also. Unlike me, however, he could fit in when he needed to. He played baseball, so he had a certain badge of normalcy about him that I did not share. I don't think it bothered him as much as it bothered me that he didn't fit in. He had his books, after all.

I didn't want so much to fit in everywhere. I just wanted to fit in somewhere. I wanted to have a niche, but I could never seem to find one. Every time I tried on the mask if a particular subculture, I felt like people could see right through and before long I'd replace it with another. I never even tried to put on the normalcy mask. I knew it didn't fit.

One of the more stinging criticisms anyone ever leveled at me in high school came from a member of my carpool. I hated him from the day I met him. Smug, entitled, arrogant, and very wealthy, he got angry at me for something I don't remember what one day. Grabbing me by the collar and growled, "You know what, Kelleher? You don't fit in anywhere. You're not really a freak. You're not really a jock. You're not really a prep. You're nothing." I think it stung and stuck with me because it was mostly true. I didn't seem to fit in anywhere.

I am not feeling sorry for myself, believe me. I am just stating the facts as I remember them. The reader will not be surprised if I say that the few friends I did cultivate in high school were outsiders, too. We stood apart and we drank a lot and did a lot of drugs to fill in the gap between ourselves and our peers. Many of my friends were further outside than I was, so much so that they deliberately had acted to have themselves thrown out of school. I was too scared of my father to let that happen to me.

M. had a strict father, too, something I think also drew us together. His father even had a reputation for strictness. A kind of violence was implied, but he never spoke of it directly, so I am not sure what "violence" literally meant. But you could feel it was there. My father had a violent side, too, accompanied by a volatile and intimidating temper.

We became close almost immediately after he arrived. I think I was drawn to the new kids at school. I knew instinctively that I could make a fresh start with them, that we could begin our friendships free of the prejudices of my classmates. Before long, I felt that M. was my best friend.

Which didn't keep from feeling insanely jealous of him when, during our junior year, he was chosen to go on a super secret week-long retreat called "Kairos." Only 20 or so students were chosen to go on this retreat, and they all got to miss a week of school in order to go.

When they returned, all of them appeared to have had some kind of intense religious experience about which they had been sworn to secrecy. Their silence sent those who hadn't gone into fits wondering what might have caused this sudden change in their character. We were told there would be two more such retreats during our senior year and that we could apply in the fall.

I tried to get M. to tell me what had happened, but he refused. I hated the fact that he, who I had thought of as a slacker and an outsider like me, had been chosen to pilot this program, while I had been left behind. Not only that, he had been such an example to his friends that he'd been chosen as a student leader for the senior retreats the following year. I felt like I had been completely abandoned. I determined that I would be chosen for the first retreat in the fall, come hell or high water.

More tomorrow....

from The Road

When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world. His hand rose and fell softly with each precious breath. He pushed away the plastic tarpaulin and raised himself in the stinking robes and blankets and looked toward the east for any light but there was none. In the dream from which he'd wakened he had wandered in a cave where the child led him by the hand. Their light playing over the wet flowstone walls. Like pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of some granitic beast. Deep stone flues where the water dripped and sang. Tolling in the silence the minutes of the earth and the hours and the days of it and the years without cease. Until they stood in a great stone room where lay a black and ancient lake. And on the far shore a creature that raised its dripping mouth from the rimstone pool and stared into the light with eyes dead white and sightless as the eggs of spiders. It swung its head low over the water as if to take the scent of what it could not see. Crouching there pale and naked and translucent, its alabaster bones cast up in shadow on the rocks behind it. Its bowels, its beating heart. The brain that pulsed in a dull glass bell. It swung its head from side to side and then gave out a low moan and turned and lurched away and loped soundlessly into the dark.

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