“The World of Boys”

by Bob Laine


we were only boys

and they were too

we were Americans

they were Japanese

there were two of us

there was six of them

they saw us

we saw them

we ran

they chased

we were only boys

we were just brothers
two Air Force Brats
looking fun on a Sunday
it was 1974 In Misawa Japan
we were old enough to know
the locals could be hostile
but too young to know why

in Japanese culture class
we folded colored squares
while they taught us the words for
good morning and thank you
ohayou gozaimasu we would say to
our paper swans
domo arigato
our origami frogs would croak back
our fragile menagerie
spoke to us in bright colors
and perfect creases
like us
knew nothing about
mushroom clouds
and nuclear fallout

the assimilation curriculum
did not include a module on
‘reasons why the indigenous
population might hate you’

so we were confused at the scowls
we sometimes got in the the local shops
and from passerby in the street
I thought maybe they
just didn’t like kids
I had met adults like that
but why did the kids hate us too?
then I thought maybe it was my
handicapped brother they didn’t like
I had met kids and adults like that too
and I was always ready to fight anyone
who tried to mess with my brother

unless of course there was six of them
in that case I ran

we were only boys
and they were too
my brother and I ran
and the six Japanese boys did too
we cut through back yards
they followed
we dodged rock gardens and kiddy pools
they hurdled them
we squeezed ourselves under a fence
they scaled it

when we reached the far side of a large baseball park
it looked like we were running out of options
when I realized in slow motion horror
that it was no longer we
it was just me

my brother had plopped down midfield
bawling and screaming
like he was the devil’s baby
and the Japanese boys were closing in

it’s a moment of time
that is frozen in my memory
that jarring feeling that I had failed my brother
that I have abandoned him
that I was powerless to protect him

that feeling would never leave me

I would remember that feeling
the day I left for college
knowing I would never live in the same
city or house with my brother again

that feeling would come back every time
I returned home from another too short family visit

and even now
forty years later
when my brother’s annual
four month stay with me ends
and I take him to the airport
to send him back home to my sister and parents
I will sit at the gate
looking out the window
as his plane taxis away
and the memory of that Sunday will return

even five minutes after the plane has taken off
I will still be sitting there
seeing the impossible length of field between us
feeling I am as powerless now as I was then

in Misawa Japan in 1970
the six Japanese boys
never touched my brother
for reasons unknown
they accepted his ear-piercing surrender
passed him by
chased me down
and beat the living shit outta me

we were only boys