Twelve.

Suspension.

In the spring, sixth graders went camping in Catoctin Mountains, an annual trip started when Spiro Agnew was principal. It ended with Joe. The site was next to Camp David. With four kids per cabin, and one adult per two cabins, it was easy for Joe to get up a game of Truth or Dare. Not that he thought it was cool, just that he wanted to play with Christine.

Unfortunately, her dad was a chaperone and caught Joe frenching Christine. He was confined to his cabin and only allowed to go to the bathroom or to the lodge for meals. While in the bathroom, he squirted the fire extinguisher at other campers. On his way to the lodge, he wrote, “I’ll kill you” on a cabin window with soap he stole from the bathroom.

As a precaution, the kids bunked together in the main lodge, and some cops had to spend the night. Our school was banned forever, and although no one could prove it was Joe, he got suspended for the third time.

The second time was back in fourth grade. Joe read a porn novel aloud at recess. He found it in the dumpster behind Arlo’s with a deck of cards showing sex positions for each sign of the zodiac. We ogled the cards while he read the book.

Huddled under the Jungle Jim, we wondered what most of the words meant. When someone asked, Joe said it was penis or vagina. It seemed all the words meant penis or vagina. Soon every other word made us laugh because it probably meant penis or vagina. The only words we knew for sure were “Fuck Me. Fuck Me,” and Joe said them so loudly that Mr. Riga heard him.

Meg was called in and told Joe needed therapy. The counselor said his maturation might be thwarted by such early exposure to unhealthy depictions of sexuality. Meg said bullshit and she couldn’t afford it, and Joe was suspended for the second time.

His first suspension was in first grade. He brought an air rifle to class for Show and Tell, but it never got into the classroom. They took it away before school even opened. Joe was outside jamming dirt in the barrel and shooting at the kids in line. He was kneeling behind a trashcan resting the gun on the lid, dressed in Meg’s fringe jacket and a coon skin cap. The kids ran back and forth trying to get away, but were trapped behind the railing. It looked like a carnival shooting game with Joe pling-plinging them back and forth. When the teacher heard the screams, she looked out and got winged with collateral dirt.

The principal took the gun and made him sit in the corner of our room, facing the wall until Meg came. It seemed like hours. I glanced over . He was slouched in the chair, staring at the wall, coon skin cap pushed down over his eyes. He looked like he was sleeping.

But he woke up when Meg got there. We all did. She blew into the room like a hurricane, keys jingling, boot heels clicking, blonde hair flying as she rushed in. She had on jeans and a Kiss T-shirt, apologizing as she crossed the room. When she got to Joe she smacked him in the back of the head so hard it knocked off his coon skin cap. The thwack was so loud it made me cringe. Didn’t hurt Joe though. He just looked at her like she was crazy, so she smacked him again.

Then she snatched him by the arm and rushed him out the door to become the youngest kid ever suspended from our school. I watched her as they passed. She was so pretty. And she smelled so good, too. And I could tell she wasn’t wearing a bra.