Reading Lord of the Flies is a high school rite of passage, one of those time-honored traumas which includes:  first shower in the locker room, first kiss, first erection in public (though usually not concurrent).  I, only somewhat interested in the novel, read anticipating only the inevitable test.  What’s the symbolism of the downed airman?  Pig head on a stick:  as yummy as it sounds?  Do you identify with organizer Ralph or hunter Jack?

The themes of savagery and tribalism escaped me, but I didn’t have to look far into my own history for proof of their existence.  From sixth to eighth grade, I had a cabal:  John W., a Chinese-American with whom I competed academically; Jason B., biracial and hyperactive with a head of curly hair; and Bill H., whom I may have had a crush on.  We lunched in the North Middle School cafeteria and laughed the loud, raucous laughter that hides the insecurities and fears of adolescence.  We weren’t close enough to hang out outside of school, but close enough to associate with one another, to taunt more unfortunate middle-schoolers, close enough to call each friend.

That tribe was disrupted by high school:  John went on to Central, while the rest of us continued to Hinkley.  I could have formed new alliances and met new friends, but I tried to cling to the old ways.  We remaining three were still friendly, but it wasn’t the same.  If we were stranded on a desert island, I’d certainly receive a share of roasted pig but probably wouldn’t be the first one served.

The irrevocable schism came when Josh D. transferred to Hinkley from California with surfer charm and aw-shucks tan.  Bill and he bonded, an easy camaraderie that made me nostalgic for a friendship that had never existed.  They shared jokes to which I wasn’t privy.  They were hunters, while I was still tending to the little ones.

So I had one last joke for Bill.  One day, I was in the orchestra room while Bill was practicing his cello.  As he went to sit, I pulled the chair out from under him, and he fell backwards, clattering as he absorbed the brunt to protect his cello.  I stood for a split-second, trying to gauge if this was funny, and the orchestra teacher told me to leave.

“Run,” she said.

A few minutes later, she called me back.  Bill wasn’t in the room.  Bill could have gotten seriously hurt, she said.  What was I thinking? she asked.  To answer, I could have shown her the scene from Lord of the Flies in which the savage boys dance around a bonfire, frenzied, and end up spearing poor Simon to death.  It was The Beast, I could have said.

I avoided Bill for the rest of the year, and he transferred at the end of it.

By graduation, Josh and I had become friends.  I lent him my cherished copy of Saint Etienne’s Foxbase Alpha senior year.  The next year, Saint Etienne released So Tough, which samples two lines from Lord of the Flies (“Maybe he means it’s some sort of ghost.” “Maybe that’s what the beast is.  A ghost.”)  But by that time, I was off at college, and my previous associations and tribes had dissipated, like smoke.  Josh never returned my CD.

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