Your Uncle Marion was a genius. This was not immediately apparent to a casual observer. Your dear old dad ... well I was a runt in comparison. He stood at 5'9" at the age of 17, bony facial structure, wicked smile, he could've been a movie star. A macho individual, if you understand my meaning. Ladies would melt in his presence, indifferent to the illegality of a possible relationship. Not an intellectual by any stretch of the imagination. But a mind like a steel trap.
He didn't study. He'd pick up a book, flip through it, and know every damn work on every damn page. If something interested him, he'd devour that subject. He knew everything there was to know on the history of airplanes, the mechanics of flight.
This struck me as deeply and profoundly unfair. I had some form of learning disability, though that word didn't exist at the time. I was born left-handed -- the sinister hand, the devil's hand. The pig-ignorant idiotic teachers trained me to write with my right hand, and that completely and utterly scrambled the wiring between my ears. Mixed-cross dominance, I think that's what they call it. Back then, they just called me dummy.
I'd work and work, but I was always last. Lowest grade, worst score. Terry the dummy.
How could God do that to me?
I didn't dare say that out loud in my brother's presence. I merely voiced the question, "Why are you so smart."
Your Uncle Marion froze, like a sniper who'd heard a Nazi step on a twig. Smart sonofabitch that he was, he'd heard the question I hadn't said.
"Why am I so smart? As opposed to you ... right?"
"I didn't say that."
"Well that's what you're thinking. God's unfair, right? Gave me the brains and the good looks, gave you the short end of the stick. Here's a news flash, bro."
He flicked me on the forehead.
"Your brain's just as good as mine."
"No problem in the brain department."
"You're just lazy."
"You give up. You don't get the answer right away, you say to hell with it."
He flicked me on the forehead a final time, then walked to his desk. Drew something on a piece of paper. Walked back. Shoved the paper in my face.
Not a word. A solitary letter.
Scrawled from corner to corner on the blue horse ruled paper he'd ripped out of his notebook.
"What's it say?"
"What's that stand for?"
He rapped me on the forehead with his knuckles.
"In math, dummy. X. what's that stand for?"
"I don't ...I don't know."
"Yeah, exactly!" He laughed. "The unknown. X the unknown."
Then he gently put the paper on the floor. Before I could react, he grabbed me by the back to the neck, pushed me down, and shoved my eyeballs about an inch or so away from the paper.
"Look at it, dummy!"
"Look at it! Keep looking at it."
He locked me in place for about a minute. Bully. Kept shouting do you see it, do you see it. My private thoughts answered, yes. I see it. It's a goddamn X, so what. But I kept that opinion to myself. He quickly lost patience.
"Do you see it, dummy?"
"I don't believe you, dummy. Do you see it?"
"Do you know what it is?"
I didn't answer. Just doing my herculean best not to cry at this point. He repeated the question.
"Do you know what it is?"
"No, of course you don't."
The vice of his hand let me go."
"It's X!" Really tickled. "Nobody knows what X is!"
"Did that feel good?"
"Hell no. That's why you stop. Listen. You keep looking at X the unknown, it stops being unknown. It hurts to look at it. Keep it up, and the light goes off in your head."
"Of course really."
He feinted a punch. I flinched.
"You're a dummy because you want to be a dummy, dummy. X makes your brain hurt, so you flat give up. Stop giving up and you'll stop being stupid. You start whining about how God shortchanged you in the brain department at any time in the future, I promise to kick your ass from here to Christmas."
He went back to his homework.
I looked at the X. For a long time.
It just looked like an X to me.