Authors: Maria Padian
And you gotta hope they are, because they stand outside the Mumford College auditorium for hours, waiting to file inside. Every type of Mainer you can imagine: little kids with their families, students, old couples, black people, brown people … everybody. All waiting to join the counterdemonstration, which we realized needed to be in a big space.
Because thousands turn up.
I was part of the crew that set up folding chairs the night before, and Myla tells me more than four thousand had been ordered. I’d sent a Facebook message to the soccer team and every guy, every single guy, including the entire JV, turned up to help. Still, it took us hours, and we kept looking at each other and saying, “Seriously? This many chairs?” But we need every one of them.
Just inside the entrance I pass out programs and point people to empty seats. They file in with these big happy smiles, some carrying helium balloons, or tie-dyed flags with peace signs, or just holding their kids’ hands. You’d think they were going to the circus or some massive party. As they wander in and see the size of the crowd, they grin, amazed, emotional. “Thank you,” they say to me so sincerely. You’d think I was passing out twenty-dollar bills.
At one point, Myla finds me.
“Oh my God, you’re not going to believe this,” she says excitedly. She holds out her phone, where there’s a text message, but she’s jumping around so much I can’t see the screen.
“Just tell me,” I say.
Turns out one of her roommates was across town at the Armory, where the city had arranged for the skinheads (aka the United Church of the World) to have their rally. She was texting Myla as that meeting was going on. About thirty of them had shown up, minus their leader (seems he’d recently been arrested for plotting to murder somebody), and a couple hundred protesters had lined up, holding signs and chanting at them to go home. Cops were everywhere, but that was no surprise; we’d already heard that this was going to be the biggest law-enforcement callout in the state’s history. So far, however, only one guy got arrested: some counterprotester who was heckling the skinheads.
“But now they’ve left!” Myla says. “She just texted me that
they made their little hate speeches to each other, then snuck out a back door into a bunch of vans and drove off!” Myla’s so thrilled she practically bounces.
I hand her a stack of programs.
“That’s awesome, College, but we’ve got some crowd-control issues here. Go stand on the other side of the door and pass these out.”
She plants a kiss on my cheek and bounds over to the opposite side of the line.
At some point one of the security guys comes over to me and says all the seats are filled and I need to direct people to the standing-room areas.
“We’re going to have to close the doors soon,” he tells me. “Fire-code regulations.”
“There are a lot of people still waiting to get in,” I say.
“I know, but it can’t be helped. We’re piping the sound outside, so they can hear.”
I don’t bother to tell him that a lot of these people have driven from out of state and from northern Maine, for hours, and expect to be allowed inside. Myla’s been handling phones, giving people directions and telling them where to park, all week.
But when the doors close and the security dude explains why they can’t come in, they stay. They wrap around the outside of the auditorium in the bitter cold and seem grateful that the organizers thought to set up massive speakers outside so they can hear the speeches. Someone has donated tables lined with free hot chocolate, which helps. The kids, meanwhile, have a blast playing on these massive mounds of frozen snow.
For hours. Two and a half hours.
Inside, there’s a long stage and a podium set up, and all these dignitaries—the governor of Maine, our two senators, Somali elders, church leaders—are lined up in their assigned seats. Sitting right up there with them are a few familiar faces: Ismail. Ibrahim. This Somali girl named Nasra who I used to see hanging around with Samira. Mike Turcotte. They’re part of this leadership group Chamberlain has put together, kind of a diversity/anti-hate/anti-bullying thing. It’s cool; they picked decent kids to be on it. Mike invited me to join. I turned him down.
“Nah, man, thanks, but I’m too busy,” I told him. “Way behind on the college stuff right now.”
He looked pretty skeptical.
“Yeah, you and the rest of the senior class,” he said. “C’mon, Tom. It would mean a lot having you join. Team captain and all.” But I held my ground.
I didn’t have it in me to tell Mike that I didn’t deserve to be in their group. That I got it wrong, so many times I lost count, with people who expected and needed a lot more out of me, and that I didn’t feel like disappointing anyone … or myself … again. I decided to stay within my comfort zone of success: setting up chairs and passing out programs. Even Tom Bouchard couldn’t screw that up. Beyond that: count me out.
Right before the doors close and the program begins, I see something that I really don’t expect. In all his wheelchair glory, shaking hands and enduring sloppy kisses from all these mothers who recognize him, comes Donnie.
Uncle Paul pushes his chair.
“Wow. Look what the cat dragged in,” I say, walking up behind them. I place one hand on Paul’s shoulder and squeeze.
“Tom-boy!” Donnie exclaims, twisting in his seat to get a look at me. “Just the man we were looking for. Where are all the white supremacists, dude? This crowd is way too tame.” He shivers as he speaks. His lips are blue. They’ve been waiting outside on that long line.
“That party’s across town,” I tell him. “But you’ve missed it. I hear they made their speeches and are booking it out of here.”
Don laughs. He looks up at Paul.
“Guess we’re stuck here with the ‘Kumbaya’ crowd, Paulie,” he says.
Paul doesn’t look at all surprised. His eyes dart around the auditorium, like he’s trying to figure out where to go. He looks grim.
“Did you really wind up at the wrong rally?” I ask him quietly.
He flashes me this give-me-a-break look.
“No,” he says firmly. “Don told me he needed a lift here today, and since I was already planning to come, it worked out. Just wish it weren’t so damn cold out.”
“Wow. Sorry, but … I’m in a state of shock, Uncle Paul. You were
He stares steadily into my eyes.
“You know, Tom, I don’t agree with everything you people are doing in here. But I sure as
don’t agree with those bastards across town.”
One of the security guards comes up and motions Paul to a roped-off section near the front marked
. He wheels Donnie away and they disappear in the crush of people.
The program is, I’ll admit, a little boring. All the politicians need their turn at the mike, so there’s a lot of blah blah blah. But hey, at least they came. The mayor, who got this whole thing
started, is “out of the state,” conveniently enough, and couldn’t attend. When they make that announcement, people start to chant and holler, so that’s pretty interesting. Then I notice Ibrahim has stepped up to the podium. He’s the first high school student to speak. The first Somali kid, for that matter. The whole auditorium quiets down to listen.
He does a good job. He’s reading from a prepared speech, and even though you can tell he’s freakin’ nervous—his voice shakes—he works to pronounce each word slowly and carefully. At first I don’t quite catch it, because I’m standing near the back and there are some little kids messing around and making a ruckus, but then their dad silences them. That’s when I catch what Ibrahim’s on about.
He’s telling them about our soccer team. He’s talking about, of all things, pasta parties. Music jams on the bus. Beating Maquoit. Becoming like brothers, all part of one family. He gestures toward Ismail and Mike, and they join him at the podium. People clap. Then he waves his hand out into the audience and starts calling names, and one by one I see guys from the team get out of their folding chairs and head toward the stage. Double M. Jake Farwell. A bunch of the JV guys. The group around the podium with Ibrahim swells, and the clapping increases, as more and more of the guys step forward.
Then Mike Turcotte leans in toward the microphone.
“We’d especially like our captain to join us up here. Tom Bouchard.”
Someone pushes me from behind. Myla. I didn’t know she was there; she’s been all over the place this afternoon.
“Go on, Cap. Your team needs you.”
I feel like I have to walk a long way, between a lot of clapping people, my face turning redder with every step. Never have I felt less deserving of attention, of applause. It gets worse as the guys see me coming, and they start to applaud as well. For me.
This is it, God
, I think.
The perfect time for the apocalypse. Or just a big, gaping black hole, right here, beneath your buddy Tom Bouchard. I’ll step right into it now, and disappear. Okay?
I reach the stage, mount the stairs, and stand at the podium with the guys. The view is awesome. It’s a sea of smiling, clapping, cheering people. Some I even recognize. Coach. My parents, who scored good seats in the middle. My guidance counselor, Mrs. Swift. All these people I’ve never seen in my life, but who braved the cold in order to prove that we’re better than hate, better than those guys across town.
That’s when I hear him.
Not God. I never hear God. I hear
We the team
I whirl around. Double M and Jake Farwell stand directly behind me, and I look past and beyond them, but … no one. I look down the length of guys, but everyone is cheering with the crowd and waving to their friends in the audience. My heart swells as I realize just how badly I would have liked to stand on this platform with Saeed. How right it would have been for him to be here with all of us.
And I realize that in some way, forever, I will always be looking and listening for him.
I could not have written this book without the selfless generosity of the men, women, and young people who shared their stories with me. I was inspired by you all and hope I have created something that does justice to your spirit and your work. I am especially grateful to: Winnie Kiunga, Caroline Sample, Sarah Aschauer, Mike McGraw, Rick Speers and Molly Ladd and the staff at the Lewiston Public Library; Julia Sleeper, Kim Sullivan, Fahmo Ahmed, Fatuma Abdirahman, Kelley McDaniel and the students of King Middle School; Karin Dilman and the entire Shardi family, who welcomed me into their home; Gail and Peter Lowe; Beth Caputi and the Williams College Alumni Association; and my dear friend Ruth Bouchard Klein.
Many thanks to my wonderful agent, Edite Kroll; my excellent editor, Nancy Hinkel, who helped me shift the tectonic plates of this book when they needed shifting; editorial assistant Jeremy Medina, who handles everything with skill, speed, and good humor; and copy editor Sue Warga.
Thanks to my ever-supportive husband, Conrad Schneider, and my daughter, Madsy Schneider, who spent countless hours/years listening to me talk about all my imaginary friends.
Finally, my very sincere thanks go to Shobow Saban and Jonnie McDonough. You inspire us and make us proud.
is the author of the young adult novels
Jersey Tomatoes Are the Best
Brett McCarthy: Work in Progress
, which was chosen as an ALA-YALSA Best Book for Young Adults and received a Maine Lupine Honor Award and a Maine Literary Award. A graduate of Middlebury College and the University of Virginia, she lives in Maine with her family. To learn more about her, visit