I was twelve years old.
A lot happened that year.
Dennis McLain won 31 games, The Mod Squad hit the air, and I graduated from Hillcrest Elementary and entered junior high school but we'll get to that.
There's no pretty way to put this: I grew up in the suburbs.
I guess most people think of the suburb as a place with all the disadvantages of the city, and none of the advantages of the country, and vice versa.
But, in a way, those really were the wonder years for us there in the suburbs.
It was kind of a golden age for kids.
There, that's me.
Kevin Arnold, 1968, the summer before junior high school.
And I don't mind saying I was a pretty fair little athlete.
It was a pretty hard pass.
Well, yeah, I think it had sort of a reverse-spin on it Come on Kevin, stop gabbing with your girlfriend.
She's not my girlfriend!
This was true, Winnie Cooper was not my girlfriend.
When we were very little we used to go down to Harper's Woods and catch fireflies but we really hadn't hung out at all together since we were about nine.
Uh-oh, think girlfriend's mad at you?
Maybe you'd better go give her a big French kiss.
Shut up, Wayne!
Hey girls, come on over here.
Kevin's gonna show you what a French kiss is.
- What did you say?
This is the way most of my conversations with my brother Wayne ended.
Apparently he just deeply regretted the fact that I had been born, and he wanted me to feel the same way.
Come on Wayne, let him up!
I'm sorry Paul, this is a family matter.
That was my best friend, Paul Pfeiffer.
Paul was allergic to everything.
Wayne used to say he was even allergic to his own snot.
Wayne was a really funny guy.
Hey Wayne, knock it off before I do the same thing to you.
Winnie's brother, Brian Cooper.
He was nineteen and for us he defined 'cool'.
He had this really great '59 El Camino, didn't run of course, but he was always out there working on it, sweaty, grease all over his hands what a guy!
That June he got drafted and packed off to Vietnam.
But his car was still out front up on blocks as kind of a reminder of who really ran things on our street.
Mom, can Paul stay for dinner?
- Sure, if his mom knows.
What are you having?
- What are we having?
- Meat loaf.
I'm allergic to it.
- What else?
- When's dad coming home?
- Any minute.
And between the traffic and his job he's liable to be very tense so let's not make him crazy.
- He's always tense.
- That's true.
He's always tense but he's not crazy yet, so let's try to maintain that sense of equilibrium.
- Hi hon.
- Traffic's traffic.
Dad had a Spartan sense of language.
Karen, honey, you said you were gonna come home early and help me with dinner.
Peace mom, okay?
Peace is fine, but you said you were gonna help me with dinner.
You have so much bad karma in your life, you know that mom?
- I'd be careful if I were you.
- Thank you, I'll keep an eye out.
In the meantime, when your father gets back try not to make him crazy.
Dad always said "hi" to our friends, but it was like he had this understanding with the family he worked hard for us, he provided for us, and he certainly didn't want to have to talk to us on top of that.
My approach was to not make any sudden moves or sounds until he'd finished that first vodka tonic and hope that nobody else did anything that might upset him too much before then.
I'm gonna get some birth-control pills.
I thought you should know. .
I didn't hear what I just heard.
And thats pretty much the way that summer went.
I guess it was my last summer of pure unadulterated childhood.
This was it.
The last night of summer.
- Holy cow!
- Try not to drool on it, ok.
If Karen finds out we have this, she'll kill me.
Paul, your mother called.
She wants you to come home right away.
- Well, I guess I see you at bus-stop.
Last night I had a dream that when I got to school I realized I had no clothes on.
If you're naked when you get to bus-stop, I'll tell ya.
Do you know what you're going to wear?
Paul, I have no idea.
Actually, I had been planning my wardrobe for about six weeks.
You're not gonna wear that to school are you?
No mom, I got a job as a male model.
Don't worry about it, you look fine.
Let me see our class schedule one more time.
He was gonna have to get a grip on himself.
This was the junior high bus stop.
And if we were gonna hold our own with the older kids we were gonna have to act mature.
We seemed to have something of a height disadvantage, but we did out best to fit in.
What an incredible stroke of luck, a new kid.
A helpless waif would be even more lost than we were, a helpless waif in fishnet tights and gogo boots.
- Winnie Cooper?
I don't want to be called Winnie anymore, my real name is Gwendolyn.
Well, there was no question now, we were entering uncharted territory.
Even the familiar was cloaked in the vestments of the devil.
Junior high school was a whole new ball of wax.
Like about half the schools in the country that year my school was being renamed Robert F. Kennedy Junior High.
As we approached those doors for the first time, we felt we were approaching the portals of manhood.
I sat between Eric Antonio and Gail Aslanian.
They had met on the bus and had taken a liking to each other.
- I love you.
- I love you too.
And I love you both, but I'm having a little trouble breathing here.
I was about to have my first sexual experience, and I wasn't even one of the principal players.
Kevin Arnold, you're Wayne's brother, aren't you?
Well, well according to my mother, yes.
But my own theory is You've got a tough row to hoe young man.
A tough road to hoe.
The first major accessory of adulthood, our own lockers.
I couldn't believe my good fortune.
Two lockers down from mine was Debbie Ackerman, one of the prime knockouts of the seventh grade.
There was only one problem.
Charles Manson had the locker between us.
A seventh grader with a beard this wasn't junior high school, it was a freak show.
I hoped none of the girls would have beards.
Whats you locker combination?
Well, I appreciate your asking, but actually they told us we're not supposed to tell anyone.
Here you go.
If anyone finds out about these I'll know who told.
It was my only shot.
I thought maybe I could trick him YouYou!
Lunch, at last, something I figured even I couldn't screw up.
- Where do you want to sit?
Let's just sit here.
A suburban junior high school cafeteria is like a microcosm of the world.
The goal is to protect yourself, and safety comes in groups.
You have your cool kids, you have your smart kids, you have your greasers, and in those days, of course, you had your hippies.
In a fact in junior high school, who you are is defined less by who you are than by who's the person sitting next to you.
a sobering thought.
Try to look like you're having fun.
Do you guys mind if I sit with you?
We were on our way.
Our group was forming.
And Winnie, I mean, Gwendolyn, was not chop liver.
Who knows, maybe we even had an outside chance to become the cool seventh grade group, if we could just remain inconspicuous until we picked up a few more members.
Hey Steve, it looks like my baby brother and his girlfriend have found each other.
- She's not my girlfriend.
- He thinks you are so cute.
I don't think she's cute.
He wants to give you a big wet kiss.
He told me.
You liar, I never said that!
I don't want to kiss her, I don't even like her!
What does that sign say?
You take that apple through that door and you're asking for detention.
I think we have a problem.
He was right, there was a problem.
- Oh yeah, the apple.
- That's right, the apple.
- You wanted it inside the cafeteria.
- That's right.
- And now it's outside the cafeteria.
- That's right.
Conversation was getting stale.
I asked myself "Now, what would a guy like Brian Cooper do in this situation?".
If you want, I could I could get that.
Well, Kevin, perhaps we should start by asking you to explain what in god's name moved you to do what you did.
I wanted to tell them that Wayne embarrassed me, that the other kids were laughing, that Mr.
Diperna had played power games with me, that Winnie had seen the whole thing and that she'd been wearing pink fishnets and gogo boots.
I don't know.
"I don't know?" That's all you have to say?
"I don't know?" Kevin, the question is, what did you hope to achieve by throwing an apple into a cafeteria?
No butthead, the question is why do you have a brain the size of a baby pea?
Diperna just asked you a question.
What did you hope to achieve by throwing that apple into the cafeteria?
' - Kevin!?
Well, Kevin, that's exactly what you did achieve, nothing.
Now, I'm going to let you go without any further punishment.
But I want you to know that I'll be keeping my eye on you.
Do you understand that?
Do you understand that?
- I'd like to take him home now.
In my twelve and a half years, my father had never struck me.
But he'd given Wayne a beating, twice, and I recognized that glazed look in his eyes.
Besides, maybe I deserved it.
There really is no good excuse for hurling food around the cafeteria.
He probably figured that if he laid down the law now I'd stay in line, and he was probably right.
Anyway, I could take the pain.
I decided I'd just shut my eyes and imagine it was Wayne.
Come on, inside.
And then it happened, I think we were about halfway to the front porch.
Brian Cooper was killed.
Oh my god.
When did they find out?
I'm gonna call Evelyn and see if there's anything I can do.
Oh my god, poor Evelyn That night I decided to go for a walk.
The days were still long and back then kids could still go for walks at dusk without the fear of ending up on a milk cartoon.
I went down to the big climbing tree in Harper's Woods.
I didn't admit it to myself until years later but in my mind was the shadow of a thought that Winnie might be there.
She was sort of hugging herself, and rocking slowly back and forth.
There was a bit of a chill in the air and she didn't have a sweater.
For a minute I was scared to approach her.
I didn't know what to say.
I had the strangest feeling.
It was impossible for me to believe that Brian was dead.
I'm sorry, about Brian, and I'm sorry about what I said today.
It wasn't true.
It was the first kiss for both of us.
We never really talked about it afterward.
But I think about the events of that day again and again.
And somehow I know that Winnie does too, whenever some blowhard starts talking about the anonymity of the suburbs or the mindlessness of the TV generation.
Because we know that inside each one of those identical boxes, with its Dodge parked out front and its white bread on the table and its TV set glowing blue in the falling dusk, there were people with stories, there were families bound together in the pain and the struggle of love.
There where moments that made us cry with laughter, and there were moments, like that one, of sorrow and wonder