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  • The Valley of Boys
  • Sage Marshall (bio)

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Photo by Patrick Gaudin

[End Page 116]

Boys, boys, a valley of boys. We lived in a small town. We played in the snow, which rose in silent blankets outside the classroom window. It came down so white and heavy we couldn't see the mountains. We listened for the low growl of the snowplow in the playground pushing the snow together. By recess, there would be a large, long mound of snow on one side of the playground. [End Page 117]

We picked teams, divided. Two groups of boys, each on their own side of the mound, jostling each other. Whooping buoyantly in the crisp air, we formed lines. The biggest boys to the front, the smallest to the back. I kept to the middle. Our cheers became shouts, became war cries, and suddenly we rushed toward each other. Two groups of boys in puffy polyester jackets, mittens, and knit hats running along the ridge of the mound, crashing into each other, through each other. Shouting, flying, falling, we became a mass of careening bodies toppling off the ridge and into valleys of snow. Snow that clogged our sleeves, pants, and mouths. In a cold, frozen fury, we went down together.

The goal was to make it through to the other side, but that's not why we played. We played to hit each other and also to be hit—hit hard. If by some fluke, I made it to the other side untouched, it was like stepping up a stair that wasn't there. We were meant to collide.

I, though, had trouble navigating the difference between the playground and the classroom. During art class, Zane and I were mad at each other for some reason I can't remember. I told him to keep his distance—or else. But Zane laughed and came toward me, close, close, close, and I took the scissors I was supposed to make something beautiful with and cut down on the flesh between his thumb and pointer finger. A small stream of blood dribbled down his slender wrist as he stood there in shock. I was escorted to the principal's office.

There was something off about that cut. It was cold—colder, in a way, than the snow outside. That I could use the steel of the scissors to slit another boy scared me in my chest. I was suspended. I was in a state of suspension.


I was the new kid, whose family moved from a suburb of New York City to a small town on the western slope of Colorado when I was eight. Almost all my classmates had grown up together in this small valley. They were wary of intruders. I played king of the hill and went skiing with the other boys. I played sports. But I was on the periphery. Part of it was me. I didn't just play sports, I loved them—and was good enough to have an ego about it. My short temper didn't help, either. I lost control more than just that time with the scissors. I was "too sensitive" and took things "too seriously." I was sent to Principal Smith's office so often that I became not just the new kid but the new kid with "anger issues," who had a standing weekly appointment with the school counselor. She told me in calm, condescending terms that I needed to learn to control my [End Page 118] emotions. Easier said than done. She gave me breathing exercises and step-by-step thought processes that were supposed to help. I didn't think it was so simple.

At home, my dad yelled and stomped, yelled and stomped over everything and nothing. Then he yelled because my little brother, Luke, and I began fighting with each other. Nobody but my mom, Luke, and I saw his outbursts. Still, I hated that I got punished for acting like him at school, where all anyone had to do was tease me about my "anger issues" and I became angry.

Starting with The Lord of the Rings, I engulfed...


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pp. 116-132
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