Daniel Gorman

The Boy Achilles

Greg was the most dangerous kid in the world

I grew up next door to a boy made of skinned knees and curse words
daredevil bruises and dirt
who never heard a double dare
that scared him
because the truth was
books bored him
and if he ever cracked a dictionary
he never got far enough to learn the definition of “fear”

I worshipped him

to me he was everything I wanted to be
to me he was everything I was afraid to be

the summer we were ten Greg never stopped wearing camouflage
every day – army boots, camo pants, camo jacket, camo hat
he was a boy painted with Rambo’s palette
drew inspiration from sketches of Arnold
hunting predators in alien jungles
because that summer – he was at war
this was not our usual game
where we smeared our faces with grease paint
and ran through the woods firing toy guns —
our enemies were not the soldiers of our imaginations
nor the teachers who vexed him even during summer vacation
vexed him so much he drew their mugshots
just to shoot with bb guns

our enemy
was the humble honey bee
you see
Greg’s mom got some intel that spring
handed him some new marching orders
handed me an EpiPen
told him he couldn’t go outside without covering up
turned his camouflage into a suit of armor
turned my hero into a mortal
and suddenly
I understood what Patroclus felt
when folks would cough
and mumble that maybe Achilles shouldn’t take his boots off

Greg didn’t take his newfound mortality lightly
he hated his mother for revealing this weakness
hated me for knowing it
hated the bees for owning it
for no creature had ever had power over him
and despite his mother’s demands
he planned
plotted and schemed
he built Trojan horses from the skeletons of old tree forts
tore them down again because
subterfuge was beneath him
he wanted the bees to know his naked aggression
so he ripped the sleeves from his jacket
bared his freckled arms and
dared them
made a torch from a broom and some toolshed gasoline
tried to sack a buzzing Troy and was grounded until he was seventeen

he was the bravest person I have ever known

today, I understand that Greg was not a boy at all
he was boyhood
an avatar
the living embodiment of what it meant
to be the boy sketching with unsteady hands
the blueprint of the man
the architect of my adolescence
he was the rights and the wrongs
the stolen beer and filthy songs
the eggs thrown at cars on Halloween
the lies you told your mom so she wouldn’t ground you
the lies you told your mom so she wouldn’t lose faith in you
the bravery that etches itself into your skin
telling the epic poem of your childhood
so that when the time comes
when the demands of manhood call on you to be more than you are
you can look down at those scars
find inspiration in old heroism
when you ran through the Elysian fields of your childhood
chasing the slings and arrows on the backs of bees
with a sleeveless boy Achilles.