“So you and Sara hooked,” I said.
“Not right away. But yeah. We couldn’t stop it. Because we didn’t want to.”
I knew it was simplistic of me, but when I tried to put myself in the whole picture, I was sure that there was no way I’d ever be able to play Sara’s or Keisha’s role. No, I would always be Mira. As much as I hated to admit it—and would have never said it to him—while I was pretty comfortable in thinking that Jimmy would never cheat on me, I also knew that if one of us was ever going to do it, it was going to be him. So maybe that’s why I found myself unable to tell Keisha I understood what she was saying.
“So you lied,” I told her instead. “You just went off with Sara while Mira was oblivious. I have no idea if it’s better or worse that you were in love with both of them—that’ll probably hurt Mira even more. But whatever the case, you weren’t honest. And then you go and make out with Sara in the back of our bus? You had to know you’d get caught. You had to know that Mira wouldn’t stand for it. No matter how much you might still love her.”
Did I want to make her cry? Did I want to prove the point so that it would never be used against me? Whatever my intention, Keisha ended up falling apart again. The people with pugs—who were keeping a distance so carefully that you had to know they were listening to every word—didn’t make any move to comfort her, so ironically that role was left to me, the person whose words had hit her in the first place.
“Look,” I said, “I’m sorry. I know you feel bad. I was just saying…”
Keisha rubbed her eyes, then waved the rest of my sentence away. “Don’t,” she said. “I didn’t really expect you to understand. What you and Jimmy have is so…I don’t know…sacred. Mira and I could never compete with that.”
“What are you talking about? You guys were the model. That’s one of the reasons this is so upsetting. I’m struggling all the time when it comes to me and Jimmy. But you and Mira—that was easy.”
“You are not struggling with Jimmy.”
“Are you kidding?” I couldn’t understand how she could say that. “I am constantly struggling. There are all of these times when he’s so great and I’m just…okay. I know he loves me and I know I love him, but for some reason I get to be the one who feels it more. I can be standing right beside him and still be missing him, because if he isn’t entirely there with me I feel that small emptiness. He doesn’t, but I do. And now—well now he’s started to wonder how long it will last and I’m afraid I’m going to start to feel like I’m borrowing him, that eventually I’ll have to give him back. I’ll disappoint him too much and it’ll be over. We try to make the struggle as truthful as possible, but it’s still a struggle.”
I stopped there, feeling I should never have started. Why was I telling Keisha all of this?
Before she could respond, the crowd roared—Alice Martinez would be coming on in a matter of minutes, followed by Stein.
The true rally was about to begin.
It was like a standing-only concert when the main act is about to appear—everybody pressing forward, closing up all the empty spaces. There was nothing that Keisha could really say to me, no more than there was anything I could say to her to assure her that things would be all right with Mira. She tried to tell me I was wrong about me and Jimmy, but most of her words got lost as we wound our way through the crowd in order to get back to our group. I managed to ask her where Sara had gone, and she told me she had decided to spend the rally with Joe and the rest of her college friends.
When we got back to everybody, Jimmy shot me a look to ask where I’d been, then saw Keisha behind me and had his answer. Since Jimmy was standing close to Mira, Keisha peeled off and headed toward Gus and the triplets while I went back to where I’d been before. Other people pushed and prodded around us, trying to get nearer to the front, stepping over people’s blankets and bags to get there. Something about all the movement and the closeness of it started to make me nervous. It was, I guess, another remnant from the Reign of Fear, when crowds were made to seem like dangerous things, vulnerable to the actions of a single person with a weapon and a willingness to use it. If isolation meant safety, then this was a high, high risk. We’d been taught to never trust strangers.
I looked over to Elwood, who also seemed a little uneasy in the sudden press of bodies. I found myself rallying to lean over to him and say it would be okay, that everybody would settle soon enough.
As I was talking to him, I felt a body press against me from behind. Then the arms came wrapping around me again—the bracelet on one wrist, the watch on the other. I leaned back against Jimmy’s chest, felt his breath against my ear, felt his unshaved chin gripple my neck. I tried to relax. I couldn’t—not fully. But I tried.
“Ready?” he asked. Then, in a knowing whisper, he added, “Let’s throw some tea overboard.”
When I was a kid, I was obsessed with the Boston Tea Party. We didn’t live near Boston, but that didn’t matter. From the moment Ms. Coolidge first mentioned it in my third-grade class, I was hooked.
We were talking about the causes of the American Revolution, and Ms. Coolidge was typing them out on the class screen.
Taxation Without Representation.
The Boston Tea Party.
The Coercive Acts.
The Boston Massacre.
…and so forth. I know the word massacre is the one that should have told my eight-year-old-boy mind to perk up, but it was the phrase tea party that truly lit up my thoughts. I imagined it as a sort of birthday party where tea was served, and wondered how it had led to a big war. Had someone important not been invited? Was the host not happy with his presents?
When I got home, I decided to act it out with my stuffed animals. The British officers were penguins, the American revolutionaries were dogs. They were all getting together to celebrate Betsy Ross’s birthday, and she had decided to serve her special tea. (Betsy was played by Spotty, a beagle; I knew by then that I was a little too old to be referring to stuffed animals by their first names, but since I’d already given them their names when I was younger, I didn’t see how I could suddenly stop using them now.) The party started with utmost civility, with everyone speaking in very clipped British accents. But then King George spilled some of his tea onto Thomas Jefferson. TJ leaped up, yelling that he’d been burned. Other British soldiers, thinking they had to follow their king, started to pour their cups of tea on the colonists. Ben Franklin had tea poured in his eye, and Paul Revere’s tail was dunked in a very large (i.e., adult-size) teacup. Betsy Ross went off to cry in a corner—she hadn’t even had a chance to open her presents!—while George Washington (played by a terrier named Terry) charged in and started throwing tea back on the British. Since they were penguins, they were particularly scalded by this attack—and suddenly the whole tide of the revolution had turned.
I thought I had the Boston Tea Party all pieced together…for about an hour, until I went back to my room and downloaded the night’s homework docs. There, the real story unfolded—the unfair tax on tea, the ship parking itself in Boston Harbor, the colonists meeting to protest, then sending a group of men under cover of night to throw all the tea overboard. The details were fantastic—how Samuel Adams and Paul Revere and the hundreds of other men darkened themselves with coal and dressed themselves as Mohicans before descending on the ship, and how a lot of them returned in their own boats the next morning to sink any of the tea that had been thrown overboard but hadn’t been ruined yet. Nobody died, nobody was hurt—the British didn’t even put up a fight. It was a great story.
For our class project that week, I made an elaborate diorama of the Tea Party, decorating an old model ship with angry colonists and placing it in a shoe box. I bordered the outside of the box with tea bags that had colonial slogans written on them, like We’re brewing some trouble! and We’re Putting Your Tea on Ice! and We’re having a party and taxes aren’t invited! Ms. Coolidge was very impressed and explained how the Boston Tea Party worked in no small part because the women and men in America were willing to give up something they truly loved—tea—in order to make the point that they couldn’t be asked for money if they weren’t going to have any say in how their colony was run. Personally, I couldn’t understand what was so great about tea—I’d had some iced tea before, and unless you added a lot of sugar it tasted like sucking a tree. But I figured there weren’t that many other drinks to choose from in 1773, so maybe tea was more appealing then.
For Halloween that year, I went as a member of the Boston Tea Party. Specifically, I went as Paul Revere—dressed as a Mohican, of course. My mother wouldn’t let me paint my face with coal (or anything else), but I did get to carry a plastic tomahawk. Instead of a candy bag, I carried a big plastic ship. Whenever someone gave me a piece of candy, I dumped a tea bag from the ship and left it on their porch. I’d written thank you on each one.
I don’t know exactly when my obsession with the Boston Tea Party ebbed back into an interest, and then a vague curiosity. Probably some other historical event came along and displaced it. Still, I kept the diorama on a shelf in my closet. I didn’t even notice it there—it was as much a part of the room as the wallpaper or the stuffed animals that still perched on the top of my bookcase. One day Jimmy came over and pulled it out, studying the sepia-toned tea bags and the colonists’ dusty disguises.
“What’s this?” he asked. So I told him about my obsession.
“I love it,” he said when I was through. “The Boston Tea Party is so completely American.”
“How so?” I asked.
“It’s enterprising, it’s protest, it’s righteous, and—most of all—it’s more than a little bit ridiculous.”
My third-grade self was offended, so I spoke up and said, “It’s not ridiculous. It helped lead to our independence.”
“Yes,” Jimmy said, putting the diorama back on the shelf and picking up my old baseball glove from next to it. “It definitely helped lead to our independence. But it was also ridiculous. I mean—you’ve seen paintings of Paul Revere, right? I’m sorry, but no amount of face paint was going to make him look like a Mohican. Or the rest of them. You have to ask yourself—what exactly were they thinking, dressing up like Mohicans and whooping their way down to the ships? I mean, do you think for a second that the British traders on the ships were fooled? If anything, they probably thought, Whoa—these Massachusetts men are a little crazy, thinkin’ they’re Indians. I’d better stay out of their way.”
I had to admit that it did seem a little ridiculous. But that didn’t make it any less important or brave.
I told Jimmy this, and told him how I still thought the Tea Party was a pretty great idea. We both wondered aloud what the modern-day equivalent of the Boston Tea Party would be. Refuse to pay the fuel tax until we stopped having wars to get more fuel? Hijack a satellite and start beaming the truth onto screens? It didn’t seem enough to go into the local chainmart and start throwing its inventory into the nearest river.
“I wish there was a thing called the Stupid Tax,” Jimmy said, “which paid for all the stupid things our government does. We could just refuse to pay the Stupid Tax and let our money go to everything else.”
“Yeah, but then what would we get to throw overboard?” I’d replied.
Now, standing in the middle of hundreds of thousands of people in Topeka, Kansas, I realized that maybe I’d put a little too much emphasis on the overboard part. I’d always thought the most revolutionary acts of the Tea Party were the sneaking and the disguising and the hauling the crates of tea to the side of the ship and pushing them into the harbor. These were the dramatic points, the parts of the story that made it a good, lively story. But really, the true revolution happened away from the docks. It happened in that first meeting place, where the colonists got together and realized something had to be done. And before that, when the people decided they could go without the thing they loved as a matter of principle.
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