“What’s the matter with you?” he said. It wasn’t the last time he said
The Birchers were already in decline—though my parents would not
have admitted it—and even my brother and sister strayed a little, in time.
But I had the worst of it with my family; I horrified them the most, with
good reason. At first I just wanted to be a modified form of them, a hip
and witty sort of Young Republican. Which they would have despised
too. I tried not arguing, but teenagers are not good at that. When my
fulminating father ordered me to my room right now right this minute,
I went. I’d mutter things like “America is rank with injustice,” which
made my mother shriek and made my father actually kick me once, hard
and sharp, in the shin—a terrifying moment, what if he didn’t stop?—
and I went straight to my room until released. That degree of obedience
faded as I got older.
I ran away for the first time when I was fifteen. I wasn’t wild or
street-smart, and I thought I would go stay with my brother, who was
in a super-conservative college north of Pittsburgh. I called him from a
phone booth when I got to Port Authority, and he said, “You have to go
back, Billy boy, I’m sorry.”
The waiting room was full of benches, and I sat on one, which meant
that a nutty bag lady started asking me to drive her to Alaska. When I
moved, a guy half asleep decided to rest his head on my shoulder, and
his hand was on my thigh. I was already six one, bigger than he was, but
fear was in me when I shook him off. “Hey!” he said. I moved my seat to
the other side, and then I woke to a police officer gripping my shoulder.
“Time to go,” he said.
Later I made this a story for Sally. I said the cop had been a voice from
on high, words from a cloud. I’d been in a daze of stubborn blank, deserted by my wits, defeated. I got up and found the last bus of the night
back to our part of New Jersey and walked the four miles from the final
stop back to our house. My parents were waiting. “What do you think
you’re doing?” my mother said. My glamorous mother looked witchy
and shrewish, a skinny, angry woman in a bathrobe.
“There’s something wrong with you,” my father said.
After this I had stricter, earlier curfews, and my room was searched.
After this there was talk of exiling me to an uncle’s in Tennessee (never
happened). After this I started smoking dope with Sally. I was different
after this, even though it had been a mess. (I would say that about a num-