I woke up in the car, my head full of half dissolved dreams and ambiguous anxieties. I was sure I was missing something, but I didn't know what. I had been dreaming that I was back in school and class was being held in a mountain meadow, a refreshing change from the standard classroom I was accustomed to. In my dream, no one seemed to notice this pleasant absurdity but me, which is standard in dreams of this type.
I was glad to be safe in the back seat of our trusted El Dorado and far from school, even if it was being held by a babbling brook. Our automobile tour of the Great Western States was drawing to its close and we had just bid farewell to our Grandmother and Aunt Delores and set out to complete what had been a thrilling and exhaustive chapter of our lives. We released our great whale of a car back to its asphalt ocean, diminished, but determined to finish what we had started.
Then we saw it.
My sister Patty saw it first, actually.
"Hey look, Rummage Sale!"
I capitalize Rummage Sale to demonstrate the reverence in which we held the concept of people selling used merchandise from their homes. We could not endorse this practice enough and regarded missing an invitation to rifle through a stranger's belongings akin to sacrilege. You probably know this concept as garage sale, which is only a matter of regional idiolect and not important to this story. What was really exciting to us was the opportunity to sample the exotic junk of people who lived in other states. The experience was as foreign to us as haggling with a camel salesman in Marrakech.
Naturally, I headed straight for the magazines and records. I thumbed through the pile with mounting disdain. What do girls see in these comics? I mused to myself. Anyone can see that Betty and Veronica are the same girl with different hair color, and Casper is obviously Rich Rich's ghost. I then leveled my laser-like adolescent derision at our hosts' record collection. Beethoven, what a hack. Pavarotti, Mozart, Debussy, charlatans all. Where do they keep the good records? I sneered to myself.
Then I spied something interesting.
Thrown in with the assorted broken children's toys were two pair of genuine Everlast boxing gloves. They were as beautiful to my twelve year old soul as cut diamonds could have ever been to a Borneo savage. I snatched them up, pronto, as my western cousins might have said, and started the inevitable process of getting them past the scrutiny department.
"Will you really use them?" Mom asked.
"Yes, I will, I promise."
"Well, no hitting each other in the head!"
"Sure, Mom, no hitting each other in the head." Free and clear.
The gloves sat in my closet for one entire school year, a monument to my Mother's intuition. Who would I box with? I was the new kid at a strange school and subsequently at the very bottom of the junior high feeding chain, a virtual social untouchable. As I floundered through the tenuous beginnings of my junior high school career, the boxing gloves gathered dust, forgotten as the Lindy Hop.
Then came the inevitable boredom of our first summer in a strange town. We were transformed from country kids to city kids instantly and the culture shock was staggering. Enter: The Boxing Gloves.
Our new fixation started as free form sparring matches, but fast became organized fighting championships. That is, as organized as it could be, with only two contestants and a part-time referee. Sister Patty didn't seem interested in the whole concept of pummeling each other about the back and shoulders, so she opted for the referee position, so long as something more entertaining didn't come up first. Sister Marlene, on the other hand, was very keen on the idea of beating the stuffing out of her younger brother and therefore became my boxing nemesis. She would prove to be a very worthy one, indeed.
We remained true to my Mother's vision of interfamily boxing etiquette, for the most part, barring the odd accidental ricochet shot to the head. We viewed the accidental rabbit punch as a necessary evil which didn't hurt very much, so we forgave each other promptly and set all things right with the obligatory "Oops, Sorry."
The summer raged on.
One particularly humid August night, the boxing match got a little out of hand, as boxing matches tend to when tempers escalate due to excessive heat or repressed social hostility of the kind one associates with peer group rejection, but that is another story. I was bobbing and ducking, as usual, while Marlene was raining a relentless storm of dog paddle style kangaroo punches, some found, some not. Sister Patty had long grown bored with our bloodless and over-polite fighting contests and had gone off to write in her diary or some other such junior high mush along that line.
Unsupervised, our backyard prizefight grew slightly more vicious with each successfully landed blow.
"You meant to do that." I said, alluding to Marlene's most recent "accidental" ear shot.
"Don't be a baby," she said, grinning like a rabid Timber Wolf.
"Where's Patty?" I asked, backing slowly away towards the safety of the "corner," which was the trunk of our knotty front yard elm tree.
"She went to Tom Thumb. Now put up your gloves and fight like a man."
"I really think there should be a referee."
"Referee..." She turned the word in her mouth and spit it out. "You and your fancy Chinese words. Stop stalling around and get back in the ring."
I backed further into the tree trunk, pressing myself against it.
"You know what I'm looking at?" she asked, arching an eyebrow behind her "gloves up" defense stance.
"What?" I asked, stupidly.
"I am looking at..." She paused for effect: "The world's biggest sissy."
Where I come from, those are most definitely fighting words. I launched a barrage of poorly planned and executed alternating jabs, most likely supplying proof positive that her most recent assessment of my character had been accurate. My sister, a full foot taller than me, was not very impressed or intimidated by my assault. She held her gloves in front of her, deflecting most of my misguided blows and began to laugh. This only served to incense me further. I began to flail harder and more spastically, my face turning the color of a blanched Roma tomato.
"How's this?" I raged, between gasps. "Want some more?"
"Stop, you're tickling me." Marlene said.
"Oh, what's the point?" I concluded at last, pulling off my gloves and letting them fall to the ground. "Boxing is stupid. We're not even doing it properly." I collapsed under the elm tree.
"Paddle pool is more of a man's sport." I said, my voice drifting off into the summer night like a poplar seed.