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When S--- Got Real For Paul Revere

In Massachusetts, halfway between the towns of Lexington and Concord, there is a bend in the road.

This is where a small patrol of British regulars ended the midnight ride of Paul Revere.  At that point in the journey, he was accompanied by tanner William Dawes, and, entirely by chance, a doctor they'd met along the way named Samuel Prescott.  As they headed to Concord, discussing what they might do if they were captured, four soldiers emerged from the sparse woods and leveled pistols, one shouting, "If you go an inch further, you are a dead man."  The three Americans were forced into a nearby pasture. 

And then it got all 007.

"Put on!" the doctor hissed to the silversmith.  They spurred their horses.  Revere went right.  Prescott went left.  Dawes was all "Well, f-this," hauled back to the road, and returned to Lexington.  Revere galloped headlong into an even larger group of waiting regulars.  And Prescott--he and his fresh horse, he who knew the terrain better than any of the three-- melted into moonlight and carried the word to Concord.

I did not know this.

Part of my undergraduate degree was awarded in American history-- with a focus on colonial history, as a matter of fact-- and I did not know this.  Maybe it's because my majors (you see how the uselessness begins its infinite expansion) were in political science and writing, but when I study history, I tend to focus on hows and whys more than bangs and booms. It is more explainable this way, safer.  You don't just accidentally launch a space shuttle with a brittle, failing O-ring, you see; it's a complex chain and a management clusterfail.  Little ripples, all of us, crashing together into one big ol' history wave when the moment is right.  So therefore, if I just weren't here, the world wouldn't mind all that much.  It is, after all, just me.  Everybody'd simply go on.  The air conditioning stirs the scattered notes on the desk and the clock radio alarm goes off and then it's Shark Week again.

But the bangs and booms are the flashpoints where the hows and whys are made manifest, and so this afternoon, as I stood at the bend in the road between Lexington and Concord while the construction trucks and the GPS-tuned Hummers trundled past, I stared down at the name of Samuel Prescott and wondered if the Lexington warning... and therefore the battle on the Green... and therefore the later battle at Concord... and therefore the bloody British retreat back to Boston... and therefore the Battle of Bunker Hill... and so on and so on and so on would have unfolded in that manner had Paul Revere had dodged left instead of right, forcing a tired horse on an even more tiring journey.

Sometimes it's what never happens that shapes us--what's cut out, deleted, or backspaced.  When I presented the findings of my residency to the staff at the American Antiquarian Society, I showed them this picture to make a point about (and stay with me on this) the importance of modern conservation:

That is 1984 Drum Major Andy Marks.  We have seen that uniform before.  We will see it again. But look at the background, of the now-hilarious collection of Lisa Bonet look-alike rejects and specimens from Ridgemont High.  If you stare at it long enough, you can smell the crimping irons and the New York Seltzer.  This couldn't be more '80's if Max Headroom vomited Pop Rocks and Cookie Crisp all over a Pac-Man set of roller skates.  But plaques aren't hammered into place over such things, the everyday life that slides past on the calendar and into the recycle bin--which itself will likely be hilarious cultural debris in about a decade.

Instacrop and Photoshop all this, however, wipe away the Era of the Era of Andy, and the context vanishes.  We don't know who these people are, but they're part of this moment, this Band, this catch of Mr. Marks'.

That kind of responsibility walks me back and forth in front of my laptop at two in the morning.  By writing about other people, real people named in prayer, my writing life--and therefore my life-- is not just me anymore.  It's the drummers and the alums and the mellophones and the rookies and D-Row and Jason The Ridiculously Awesome Drum Major, currently marking the time between his first and second season.

Right now it's my job to think about him and the the band he leads--how he does it and why, what it means and what it doesn't.  His job is to do that job if I'm hanging around or not.  Whether I'm on the sidelines or in Andorra or in jail or in an Andorran jail, the "i" will be dotted, and it's going to happen without him stopping mid-h to wonder how my bail in Euros is coming.  As it should be. But the inverse is not the case:  I can't write about this topic if the topic is halt-kick-downing several states away.

Sometimes I wonder if Our Jason's impressions of me are a 20 year old’s version of Sam the Baby Nephew’s:  Every few weeks or so, this blonde woman shows up in the clothes she wore in grad school with a half-empty water bottle and a pen lifted from a hotel bedstand that mostly doesn’t work, and she’s gazing at you as though she is required, on a molecular level, to freeze this particular grain in the 2011 hourglass because nothing like it is ever going to fall again, and if it slips through her frantically grasping fingers it's gone for good, unphotographable and wiped from the Word document.

So since there are such gaps between the times you see one another, she never quite knows what to say, and so then she tries to say everything, all at once, and this rarely goes well, so you just look bemusedly at her or the TV on the wall until she winds down.  And sometimes tears sweep up from under her black mascara, and you know without her saying anything about it in particular that she’s sad about a lot but pathetically happy about a lot, too, and at the moment one of those happy things is you, and she’s crying about both. And when she leaves she hugs too tight but you’re nice about it, because of the whole occasional sadness thing.  Then she's gone and you go about your business of total strangers looking up with smiles as you walk past and otherwise occupying your day with absorbing this whole wide world you've thrown yourself into and trying to figure out what's on the other side of the mirror.

I should point out here that Jason drives better than Sam, way better, and can also pour liquids without supervision, but there's still this matter of filling in the gaps-- the gaps where life happens.  He didn't get here by materialzing at tryouts one spring day in 2010.  That happened in the hours and hours and hours before I even knew he even existed, when he stood in the stands of Ohio Stadium with his parents as a middle schooler, when he tore his body apart trying to master a catch, when he refused the party invitation in favor of a winter session or set the breadstick aside uneaten because it's somewhat difficult to flip a 400 pound body over itself-- all those decisions he made over the course of a decade, to ride to the left instead of the right.  That's what I missed.  And that's what I need to sink into to tell the story correctly.

At certain points, I'll mentally throw my hands in the air, because this whole business is so out of character for me, so out of nowhere for him, and so far from where the trajectory of my life was originally taking that sometimes the single, solitary factor pushing me up and back down I-71 (again, some more) is the faith that God knows what He's doing with all this, and it isn't some sort of almighty celestial punking. 

I mean:  Why him?  Why me?  Why this director, Claudia the Campus Sister, and this particular D-Row at this particular time?  Why now?  This couldn't go down in five years, or ten, or closer in on the heels of losing the other band I love?  What does it mean, if anything?  Is this really, as some of The Readers insist, some sort of epic Manifest Destiny of Literature and Bandom?  Was I brought to dearly, deeply love my brother school and then nearly broken by it just to position me at this point, or is this just God 'n' me making the best of just another s***** day in paradise? What if after this gets published, a few hundred people go, "Well, that's very nice," and then we all just kind of... keep going to the grocery and hating the TSA as if it never happened?  Is it still worth it?  What if God's plan for me is to drive up and down I-71 a whole bunch in the calendar year of 2011 and that's it?  And if not, how would I know?  Could I bear the answer if that is indeed the case? 

But worse, I think, is peering back over my shoulder at this particular bend in the road, wondering what might have happened if I'd gone right instead of left.

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