“China has one. Why can’t we?”
Trevor Deeds was reading a quote from a magazine article while he waited for his appointment at the doctor’s office.
The featured story examined a number of proposals to build a wall across the entire U.S.-Mexican border.
Several artists’ renderings were included.
There was speculation it might need to be twenty feet high, with a string of electrified barbed wire at the top.
It might even consist of two parallel tracks, with towers on the interior one to keep an eye on interlopers in the space between.
Maybe it would be the second man-made structure that could be seen from outer space.
Only the Great Wall of China held that current distinction.
It was strange to contemplate that the U.S. might choose to emulate its new chief rival.
Try as he might to follow the logical arguments in favor of such a measure, Trevor knew in his gut the idea was seriously wrong-headed.
It violated all that America stood for.
He’d always believed, and knew to be true, that his country was founded on the immigrant experience.
Diagonally across the country stood the welcoming statue on Staten Island representing life, liberty and justice for all.
What was the world coming to? He was no longer sure he wanted to know.
He set down the magazine.
A “minor” bladder infection – he hoped – was driving him crazy. Just the same, he was nervous about his appointment.
His eyes darted around the room. There were posters everywhere.
One caught his eye.
It featured the photo of a man similar in appearance to himself – grey hair, aged 50-plus, distinguished looking and still obviously vigorous.
What was being promoted?
Holy smokes, it was an ad for testosterone supplements. What nonsense was this?
One of the best features of Trevor’s life, he thought, was how he’d gotten married, had kids, settled down and grown older and wiser.
His inclination to turn rowdy had finally taken a back seat. Not much of a loss, he’d noted on several occasions, when altercations had loomed then quickly been dismissed.
He was perfectly okay with being mellow.
Maybe there were times when he missed some of his former boisterous ways.
And he could still be aroused to anger when sufficiently provoked.
But he was now a better judge of what truly warranted assertive action.
Except there was the whole “cussedness” factor that does come with being older.
He and the rest of his male contemporaries were becoming curmudgeonly.
“Yeah, that’s all the world needs,” he muttered under his breath, “a bunch of cranky old men turning even nastier as a result of testosterone top-ups.”
“These are the guys I want to brush up against while driving on the freeway.”
He’d often thought how emotions, principles and logic defined the human condition.
He knew it was hard to keep those three balls in the air at the same time. A distracted juggler could easily drop one, two or all three.
The testosterone promo offered further evidence of how easily emotions could shift.
Only a few minutes earlier, while contemplating the “good neighbor” fence with Mexico, he’d been thinking how principles were a variable as well.
That left only logic.
He knew full well logic wasn’t an exact lodestone either.
The precise moment when that revelation came to him was etched in memory.
It had occurred a long time ago, on a bus ride home after school in grade six.
There were only a few passengers making the journey.
Melinda Jean Montgomery was one of them.
Meli, as he later came to think of her, was the quietest girl in his class. Unassuming, she never answered a question unless directly asked by Ms. Fairweather, their teacher.
Most other students, Trevor included, were barely conscious of Meli’s existence.
Trevor was the class star. Always quick to hold up his hand, his test scores were usually the highest in the room.
Now in a gesture of magnanimity, Trevor sat beside Meli on one of the long benches arranged sideways at the front of the bus.
The two of them could spread out a bit.
That was necessary because each was carrying an assignment from art class, made out of Bristol board.
Trevor had a specific reason for approaching Meli.
He wanted to boast.
They’d been asked to construct an original board game. The purpose was to measure creativity.
Trevor, demonstrating his incipient alpha personality, had made something “snakes and ladderish” in black and orange.
Halloween was only a couple of weeks away and he was pretty sure that by choosing a seasonal-appropriate theme, he’d get a good mark.
He was right. An A- was awarded his work.
Out of politeness, Trevor asked Meli how she’d done.
“A+” she said.
This knocked some of the cockiness out of him.
How had she beaten him?
Her project didn’t appear particularly outstanding.
In fact, it seemed rather lame. Some figures made out of toothpicks were running across a small field of green under an immense cloudless sky.
He couldn’t imagine what the purpose was.
Reining in some of his usual bombast, Trevor told Meli why his own project was so great.
Eventually he couldn’t restrain himself.
“How come you got an A+ for your project?” he asked. “I don’t get it.”
Meli looked uncomfortable. It was obvious she didn’t like talking about her work.
After a few moments of awkward silence that Trevor didn’t think would every end, she answered in a voice quiet as a hammer toss.
They were two sentences that shattered his understanding forever.
“Haven’t you noticed how Ms. Fairweather dresses every day? Blue is her favorite color.”