In the summer of 1987, I was seventeen and Wolf was six, and I was making him sort my records on account of his losing a bet that the Bee Gees were girls. We were listening to Pink Floyd. Wolf’s mother, Flora Ball, had left her husband for my father, Joe Lindy, and Wolf stayed with us on weekends. I let him sleep in my bedroom. We made tacos and looked at comics and once I let him flip through the Playboys I kept under the bed.
Wolf and I went to Christian School on Kimball Street in Pullman. I was going into twelfth grade and he was going into first. The thing with Wolf is that he was autistic. He had a strange way of being, something between aloof and psychic. When he looked at me (a rare occurrence), I felt as though he could hear my thoughts, but everything seemed to genuinely surprise him. He jumped when he opened the fridge. He was fanatical about organization: everything stacked, sorted, alphabetized. I thought maybe we could communicate telepathically and for a while we played a game where I’d think of a shape in my head and he’d try to guess it, but he mostly got it wrong. He was tall for a six year old and had a full head of dark brown hair, which he had even the last time I saw him, a bony body and big teeth, but nice plain features and eyes so deep set in his face that you had to lean forward to see them. His face was almost feminine it was so delicate and wise.
On Monday mornings, after our weekends together, I walked him to school, his backpack stuffed with clothes and pajamas and a ratty looking bear. He dawdled endlessly, complaining his shoelaces were too tight, his sandwich already soggy in the bottom of his lunch bag, or that he didn’t like the look of the weather. He watched the kids, some in groups, some alone, who walked past us. One girl wore spike heels and a Sherlock Holmes hat and smoked out of a tube like Audrey Hepburn. A group of five guys wore plaid shirts and were drunk all the time. Then there were the “thin, good girls,” as Wolf described them, who were strangely thin, like God forgot the middles of their bodies and had to fuse two halves together. Wolf was most interested in the boy with yellow hands (we thought maybe he ate a lot of carrots or had Hepatitis). Then there was the barrage of fat guys from the coast, who came from logging backgrounds, their conversations rife with words like “fell” and “cut block,” their shirts stained with beer. My favorite was the girl from literature class with her safety vest and bicycle helmet. With all the reflective tape she wore she was like a traveling beacon in the night. Do bugs swarm when she cycles, Wolf and I wondered? And who were we to think that any of them were weird, that summer in ’87, as we sat on the floor of my bedroom in my father’s house with my record collection, the fan on high, in track shorts with our shirts off and jars full of drinking water, thinking about what was going to happen to us in our lives, and Wolf complaining that his arm smelled of urine but he didn’t know why?
“Vernon,” he said to me, “Vernon, my arm stinks of pee.”