In January of 1973, the year everything changed in our family, my older brother Clive competed for the mathematics championship of William Howard Taft High School in Shaker Heights, Ohio. The championship was held in the gym, where Clive and three other finalists sat at metal desks arranged around the painted Taft Tiger at center-court, working a sheet of problems. I sat in the bleachers with our parents, watching him.

Our parents had insisted I come. Clive’s best friend Elliot was also there, and at our mother’s request we chose a spot ten rows back in the pine bleachers, which was close enough to see Clive’s progress on the answer sheet but high enough to be out of his line of sight in case he glanced up. Clive kept his head down. He worked his feet in his sandals, while next to me, holding her breath for long stretches, our mother did the same in hers. We watched Clive’s answer sheet darken with neat diagrams and equations, only the +s and =s clearly visible. Ten rows below us, Sandra Sorento, his girlfriend, leaned forward and fixed her gaze on him from where she sat, alone on the first bench. Our mother’s eyes kept wandering down to her, then snapping back up to Clive. Even from a distance, I could tell Clive was doing well. He answered twice as fast as the boy on his left, and he erased only once, just before he handed in his test.

Mississippi Water
Fourteen and After