“Rat-a-tat tat, rat-a-tat tat, rat-a-tat tat,” An ancient cassette slowly spun in a tape player, miraculously still functioning.
“Rat-tat tat, rat-a-tat tat, rat-a-tat tat,” the sound rang out, wooden drumsticks striking metal.
“That’s your brother!” Jerry said, smiling broadly at me. “That’s Marc playing.”
“Whoa…” I responded, suddenly breathless.
50 years ago, Jerry was one of my brother’s high school marching band friends. He was a tall broad senior when my skinny brother joined the band as a freshman. Marc, never easily impressed, loved his new fellow drummers, Jerry, Jerry, and Henry. They were smart and capable; people my brother admired (rare for him). They all played snare drum, the most coveted position in the drum-line. Freshman Marc played the tenor drum, but he aspired for promotion.
Jerry had reached out to me a few weeks ago. In his deep, warm voice, Jerry said, “I have something I think you want to hear. It is just one small sentence. But I have your brother’s voice on tape. Can we get together?”
I don’t have any video footage of my brother. I don’t have audio tapes. I barely have any photos. So, when Jerry said he had a tape of Marc’s voice, I would have sailed the Atlantic Ocean to hear it.
More conveniently, we met for lunch in Clinton, New Jersey, near where my dad used to live. I remembered Jerry well, even though it had been 45 years since we had been together. We both knew that day precisely, the day of my brother’s funeral, the day my earth stopped spinning.
Instantly familiar again, we shared sandwiches in a local restaurant. Jerry began, “So, I need to share the background on this tape, before I play it. It was recorded on a school trip bus ride, in the early 1970s. One boy was conducting mock interviews. You will hear him, along with a bunch of us goofing around. But the thing I want to explain are the jokes being made.” He paused. “It is basically an extended gay-bashing theme.”
I looked at Jerry, aghast.
“It was a long time ago, and the band, especially the drum-line had a hyper-masculine vibe. We teased and called each other “gay” on this tape. You will hear that. Everyone was a part of it. Well, not everyone, but most people were. Things were… different then.”
“I remember, the 1970s were another time.”
“Yes, but you need to hear how Marc responds.”
Lunch concluded, we walked out to the parking lot. I climbed into Jerry’s truck, heaving myself up the high step into the front cab. Jerry settled in and started fiddling with the tape. The marching band played, he hit fast forward. A rehearsal was in progress, he hit fast forward again. “I’ll find it.”
“That’s Marc! You will hear him drumming and drumming.”
I grinned. I could hear Marc’s drumming, firm, even, and confident. This was the first time I heard him playing for 45 years, but there he was… a miracle.
“Marc was always practicing the snare drum part. He knew his double tenor, but he wanted to move up. That line, the one he is playing, that’s the snare drum line.”
Then an unfamiliar voice came on. I won’t quote him or identify him. Undoubtedly, the man who was once that boy would no longer utter these slurs. But the time was indeed different then. Suffice it to say the word “gay” was invoked relentlessly, in a high-pitched effeminate voice. Much guffawing ensued.
But then the "interviewer" said…. “Last, we come to a very nice boy, Mr. Marc Deguire.” He paused, waiting for Marc to respond, to join in the "fun."
Over the ancient tape, I heard my brother. His voice was high pitched, just a boy’s voice. Still, Marc spoke decisively, his voice calm and steely, “I refuse to participate in this nonsense.”
From my earliest days, I adored my brother. One of the only photos of us was taken when I was about 9 months old, and he is 5. I am sitting on the potty (yes) and turned to gaze at Marc, my baby face beaming with adoration.
As I got older, I trailed him like a love-sick puppy. I would do anything he asked. My fixated devotion lasted for 3 years, until one day, I rebelled. I don’t know why; for some reason, one day, I stopped following orders. My father teased that Marc actually wept with frustration, because his little sister refused to do what he commanded, for the first time, ever.
That toddler rebellion probably lasted one day. Until he died, Marc was my highest authority, my favorite person, my best parent. My hero worship was so intense, and my loss of him so young, I have often wondered whether Marc was as remarkable as I remember.
Since my book, Flashback Girl, came out, Marc’s old friends have reached out to me, one after another after another. One of the great joys of my life has been hearing their stories and memories of him. To a person, they all reassure me. Yes, Marc really was that special. This precious tape, the only known recording of Marc’s voice, offers proof.
Think about it. Marc was a lowly freshman on this trip. He was a skinny hippie with glasses, long hair, and acne, on a bus full of older, stronger boys. He had no claim to status, no assurance that he wouldn’t be taunted. Marc was also straight and this was not his fight. It was 1972, when virtually no one was conscious of LGBTQ rights. Making fun of gay people was so commonplace that hardly anyone even noticed it. If Marc stood up to gay bashing, what were the odds that he himself would be bashed?
Wouldn’t it have been easier for him to go along with the “fun?” To make a little joke, to accommodate a bit? Instead, in a high voice, with complete calm, Marc emphatically stated, “I refuse to participate in this nonsense."
What a phrase. “I refuse to participate in this nonsense.” Think how many ways this phrase could be invoked. When we witness cruelty. When someone is being bullied. When lies spew forth, those loathsome “alternative facts.” When we encounter selfishness, intolerance, and hatred.
45 years later, my 14-year-old brother taught me yet again about life, conviction, and bravery. I hope to have his courage the next time I witness thoughtless cruelty. Now I have the right words, because he declared them first. Just like when I was little, I just need to follow his direction.
“I refuse to participate in this nonsense.”
Hit "play" to hear Marc's voice
(Warning: offensive language)
Lise Deguire's multiple award-winning memoir, Flashback Girl: Lessons on Resilience from a Burn Survivor, is available for purchase on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Newtown Book Shop and The Commonplace Reader.