An Auspicious Beginning


Okay, so here’s the tragic story of my first months at the academy. My summer job was unnecessary, but I wanted to feel like I was contributing to my mom’s financial survival post-divorce. I started with a construction crew building a new state building down on Riverside Drive. I borrowed a hard hat that was unpainted aluminum. Turns out, the foreman, old Anderson, wore a similar hat. I was forever known as “Little Bullet.” They called the foreman, Bullet.

I worked there most of June and July. Mostly I swept up after the construction. I also delivered most of the steel door frames in the entire building. That was an easy task they could assign to me. “Put a door frame in each of the openings along the hallway of the first and second floors. But, mostly, I was sweeping up the garbage and discarded scraps of metal and wood.

I had a scare one day, shooting the shit on the roof with some of the other guys. It was only a two-story building, so it wasn’t that high, but as I stepped near the edge to look down, my boot caught on something and I nearly tumbled off into the dumpster below. The crew got a kick out of my slip.

We would throw trash and stuff off the building into the dumpsters below. You had to yell, “Headache!” to alert the crew below.

Near the end of July, I was invited to have lunch with two of the guys. We rode in a smelly car to a tiny house on the East side. The wife had made bean and cheese tacos for everyone. We sat out in the front yard, a sweltering 102 degrees in the shade, and ate. They passed around a joint, but I declined. It was only a week since my near-death experience, so I kept things a bit low-key.

By the weekend, three days later, I was sick as a dog. Pale. Fevered. I had to call out sick for work. After a day or two of moaning and watching crappy daytime tv, my mom took me to the doctor. I had mono. And somehow, it was attacking my spleen. It was kind of a big deal. So, for the month of August, prior to my start date in New Hampshire, I was on the fainting couch and getting my blood drawn every other day, so they could monitor my spleen. I was jaundiced and not feeling very energetic. I read a lot of Asimov books that summer before school.

When I reported to school I had to make an appearance at the infirmary where the kind nurse, Ms. Jewell, read over my paperwork and advised me to “take it easy this semester, your body has really been through the wringer.” Well, what this did, other than making me tired all the time, was prevent me from going out for the tennis team. I was a massive tennis player. And I was not even allowed to go out for club tennis. “My condition” was marginal. My mom always said for years, “We never should’ve let you go. You were so sick. We should’ve waited a semester.”

I can’t say now that I was all that sick. I know that in September I checked in with Ms. Jewell to or three times before I was allowed to participate in PE. Only a few freshmen were allowed to play on sports teams. Mostly, we were in PREP Spaz which was PE where we tried a different sport each week. I wrestled, played soccer, ice hockey, squash, everything. I could not play tennis on the club team, however, because it was already full. I went to see Mr. Trellis, the tennis coach. He was also a proctor in my dorm, Merrill Hall on the East side of campus. Not really an intellectual like the rest of us. He seemed to enjoy telling me I still could not join the tennis club.

I believe my mom took on a lot of guilt for what happened. It was as if she was apologizing for my crash. It wasn’t her fault. She was doing everything she could to get me out of my dad’s reach. Helping me be a scholar. And she worried about me for the rest of my life after this stuff went down.

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