When my mother’s third husband took me
thirty years ago to see his daughter
from his first marriage
smash the cymbals
with the high-school marching band,
he told me to be nice afterward because
she was “slow,”
which is not the same as retarded, he explained,
though I doubted the difference
as soon as the people in the bleachers
all around us began to point and laugh at the obese girl
who turned the wrong way and wandered
toward the goal posts, banging the cymbals at her whim, then
ran to rejoin the drum
line, completing circles at right angles,
forming figure eights at intersections,
bumping oboe players; one time falling down.
She twice tried suicide that year. She was smart enough
to know she would never feel at home
in a country overcrowded with parade critics.
My stepfather told her in the car that night
that all her miscues had been minor,
barely noticeable, even,
while I covered my mouth to keep from laughing.
I haven’t seen either of them
for twenty-five years. I made a shambles
of my first marriage. I’ve stumbled, repeatedly,
over the first of twelve steps.
I want to be a better person.
Only now, from every side of me all at once,
do I hear the music she was marching to.