Without even thinking about it, I started doing everything I could to duck the brothers. I started looking around buildings to make sure the coast was clear.
I stayed in the apartment a lot more, reading three, four books a week.
One day he was sprawled on our front stoop in London Terrace holding court, and the next he was up in Newark, 40 pounds lighter and barely able to piss under his own power, looking as if he were one bad cold away from the grave. I tried to be agreeable, to make friends, but that didn’t work so hot; mostly I just slouched in my seat, hating my clothes and my glasses and my face. Made it sound as though I were having a great time at school — a ball. Not at school, as I would have expected, but on the other side of the neighborhood.
At the hands and feet of these three brothers I dimly knew.
By my third month, that school had me feeling like the poorest, ugliest immigrant freak in the universe. My father abandoned the family the year before, plunging our household into poverty.
No sooner than that happened, my brother, who was one year older and my best friend and protector, was found to have leukemia, the kind that in those days had a real nasty habit of killing you.It’s also a complicated, messy time in life in which one grows from the end of childhood to the cusp of adulthood, so there’s a lot of feelings to unpack.The result is that hundreds of books have been written about high school…but these are the 50 most essential, the ones who really get it right and have something to say.Maybe his improbable survival was what gave me courage, or maybe it was all the Robert Cormier I was reading — his young heroes were always asking themselves, ‘‘Do I dare disturb the universe?’’ before ultimately deciding that yes, they did dare.Took me until I was a sophomore in high school — yes, that long — before I finally found it in me to start facing my terror.By then, my older brother was in remission and wearing a wig to hide his baldness.Whatever it was, one day I found myself fleeing from a sighting of the brothers, and suddenly I was brought up short by an appalling vision: me running away forever. I forced myself to turn toward them, and it felt as if the whole world was turning with me.I couldn’t make myself walk toward them, I could barely even look at them, so I settled for standing still. As the brothers approached, the ground started tilting out from under me. High school is a near-universal experience to which we can all relate.