(Personal essay, published in AGNI 88)
By the time middle schools finally resumed classes, three years of complete freedom had turned my cohort—who’d last sat in a fourth-grade classroom—into a herd of wild things. There was never a moment of quiet when we sat down at our desks. High-pitched talking mingled in the air with the low burr of voices, but a careful observer could see two parallel streams not crossing, as no dialogue took place between the girls and the boys.
The Cultural Revolution was entering its fourth year. Rampant violence had crested a year earlier, but there were still no books to read. Boys I didn’t much care about (not yet); they were just a species with shorter hair. But the dearth of books—that was like roasting my brain in a hot wok.
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