Sentimental Education

Red Science

Miss V stretched the rubbery red lips of the balloon over the round mouth of an empty milk bottle. The balloon’s empty belly sagged redly against the glass. Slowly she lowered the bottle into a pot of boiling water. Your eyes grew bigger as the balloon swelled, its deep red turning translucent. Then she moved the sweaty bottle into a blue basin of ice water – CRACK! – and the balloon slumped redly. CRACK! – and your red hunger for astonishment broke out of its slumbering egg.

Obedience School

Every morning on his way to work, your father dropped you off at your scary aunt’s, where you had lunch before Poleng walked you to school. Presiding over lunch, your aunt made sure you were served plenty of tomatoes, string beans, okra, or whatever the vegetable horror of the day was. At home, you never had to eat anything you didn’t want to, but here, there were rules, there were punishments – the rules were punishments. You avoided the hairy slimy okra for as long as you could, so you had to force everything into your mouth at the last minute. After excusing yourself, it was hard not to run to the bathroom where you vomited your green misery into the toilet. Afterwards, you wiped your mouth with the back of your hand – time to go to school.

How to Be a Boy

You were Sabrina, the smart angel. Teves – who unerringly picked the two shyest boys in the class to play Charlie’s Angels with him – was Farrah of course, and Ricarte, dark and quiet, was Kelly. Aiming your cocked index fingers around corners and from behind pillars, you chased each other in the haunted hallways of the Catholic boys’ school. (They said the Japanese had shot some Brothers in the school during the war.) Every recess and lunch you pursued bad guys while Teves sang the wordless theme song. In the third grade you were transferred to the “smart” section, where you discovered that Teves was a bad guy because he wanted to be a girl.

The Kiss

Every morning before she entered the classroom Mrs. Encarnado gave her husband a goodbye kiss on the lips in front of the whole class. Every morning the class cheered and Mrs. Encarnado gave us a big smile. Every morning you looked forward to this happy ritual.

Lead to Gold

–Look! Charlie said, pointing excitedly at something on the wall. What made him smile so strangely?

     Five years ago you flunked the entrance exam to your father’s (and his
     father’s) alma mater. The grownups whispered.
     Four years ago you were dumbfounded when the first-grade teacher      askedyou to read aloud.
     Three years ago the school that rejected you finally let you in, but you
      were put in the dumb section.
     Two years ago you were promoted to the smart section.

Now you’re blinking at your typewritten name next to the words Gold Medal. What was this writing on the wall?

Real Life

You were Silver the Sorcerer, a good elven magician with superhuman strength, intelligence, dexterity, wisdom, constitution, and charisma. (In real life you were skinny, bookish, clumsy, naive, asthmatic, and timid.). You had more platinum pieces than you could count (1 platinum piece = 5 gold pieces = 10 electrum pieces = 100 silver pieces = 1000 copper pieces). Your fantastic spells rewrote reality.

Silver’s Spellbook

Charm Person

Magic Mouth
Polymorph Self
Animate Dead

Shape Change

Silent Treatment

Father Chito didn’t say a word to the class for months. He wrote the English lessons on the board and you copied them quietly till the bell rang. After class you often saw him puffing on cigarettes and laughing with Miss Lagra on the green benches just outside the school. It always seemed unpriestly to you that he should be smoking and sniggering with a woman in public. His punishing silence, however, didn’t seem unpriestly at all.

Imitation of Affects

You were an unlikely boy scout – the kind who got merit badges for reading and stamp collecting. On a seaside camping trip, you ended up in the same tent as a boy who had been bullying you for years. But he wasn’t mean that night. Perhaps emboldened by the darkness, by the privacy in the tent, he proposed a curious bet – touching any part of his body but his penis, you wouldn’t be able to give him an erection. So you caressed his inner thighs, tracing its taut bluish veins with the soft padding of your fingertips. Struggling to keep himself from getting hard, he grunted and grimaced, which made you hard. This confounded you, because he was one of the ugliest people you’d ever known.

Don’t Move

Mr. Rochester was explaining something about the Holy Spirit. Once again, you were pressing your knees gently into the ass of the boy (M) who sat in front of you during Religion class. You imagined his buttocks’ heat spreading from your knees through your thighs to your burning groin. He could have slid forward just half an inch, and you would have left his butt alone from then on – but he never moved. (The next year, M moved to California.)

Church of the Poison Mind

After “Karma Chameleon” became a hit, people at school started saying that you looked like Boy George.

     Karma karma karma karma karma chameleon

Some fags even expressed their envy.
–I want your face, one of them said.

     I’m afraid of me
     I’m afraid of me

You feared there was some incriminating mark on your face that everybody but you could see.

     Give me time
     To realize my crime

It would take you the next ten years to overcome your fear of being queer.


Less than a month ago, you were somebody else on a tropical island 7,000 miles away. Now you were no one, and you didn’t know how to become someone again.

After twenty-three years in school you realize that the only thing you’ve learned is how to obey. You know nothing. Begin!

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