Rule Breakers: The Things We Do for Love

The story starts like this. “One time, at orchestra camp…”

Maybe this isn’t the kind of rule-breaking you meant, but it’s true. One time at orchestra camp, I met a boy who played the bass like an absolute wizard. I did everything I could to make myself attractive to this boy.

I dressed as Eddie Munster in the talent show, and I nailed it. “I can’t look at you without seeing Eddie Munster,” the camp cook told me.

Then, wearing a coconut bra and Valentine’s Day boxer shorts, I took second place in the camp race. Obviously, it was time to make my move.

I invited the boy to watch the sunrise on the beach. This violated the camp rule that we were to be in our barracks until 7:00 a.m. It also violated the societal norm that required boys to make the first move.

Nevertheless, he accepted.

We met at dark o’clock in the August-dry grass and headed toward the beach, the boy walking a couple of steps ahead of me the entire way.

I would have preferred we walk side-by-side. I would have preferred to be holding hands. But I consoled myself with the knowledge that I could still smell his hair mousse. Or his aftershave. Or his cologne. Drakkar Noir? Polo? I wasn’t sure of the brand or the product, but he had a scent and I inhaled it.

We parked ourselves in the sand and turned toward the churning surf as the darkness faded around us. He didn’t hold my hand. He didn’t kiss me. What’s more, the sunrise was as bland as camp oatmeal. Sometime later that day I realized why. We were sitting on a West Coast beach. The sun had risen behind our backs.

Nothing came of my rule-breaking. No grand romantic moment. Not even a decent view. But I’d do it again.

In truth, I am not much of a breaker of rules. I don’t sample the grapes at the supermarket. I don’t eat the bread until I’ve paid for it. I park legally. But there is one thing I will always break the rules for: love, or at least the hope of it.

When I wrote Unpresidented: A Biography of Donald Trump, I broke the unwritten rule that we only say positive things about our presidents to young readers. I broke the norm that every negative thing you say must be countered with something positive to be “fair.”

I love children and believe that lying to them does not serve them. The president is dishonest, racist, bigoted, and a threat to democracy. Strong words, yes, but every one of them supported by facts.

I also love our country, even though it’s built in part on white supremacy and genocide. I love it because I love the idea that every last one of us is equal to all the rest.

I write this as President Trump’s impeachment trial is ending without the testimony of witnesses, despite the fact that the vast majority of American voters wants to hear from them.

This is wrong. Love demands the truth.

I know enough now to know which direction to face when I want to see the hopeful face of the rising sun. I’m turned toward it now, praying that it rises on a nation where democracy still matters.

If you were with me here, I’d hold your hand.

Martha Brockenbrough

Martha Brockenbrough’s recent titles include Into the Bloodred Woods (Scholastic), Frank and the Bad Surprise (Levine Querido), and I Am an American (Little, Brown).

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