Our new “Notable Narrative,” “The Kid Who Wasn’t There,” by Wright Thompson of ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine, unearths the other half of the strange tale of Guerdwich Montimere, a Haiti-born basketball talent who famously passed himself off as a high school player named Jerry Joseph in Texas before winding up in every kind of trouble. Thompson’s story caps two years’ worth of detective work involving layers of double identity, betrayal, even voodoo:
This mystery isn’t about the lives of Guerdwich Montimere and Jerry Joseph; it is about how other people perceive those lives. It’s the tree falling in the woods thing. What does it mean to exist? Is identity based on how you feel or how other people see you? Is the story Jerry told the newspaper a lie? What if the facts are false but the emotions are real? Would that make it partially true? Fiction written about combat is often more real than any journalism, so which has a greater connection to the truth: fact or emotion?
With more than 1,000 pages of typed interviews, notes and documents, Thompson might’ve found himself lost in reporting that stretched from the mountains of Haiti to Florida to Texas. Instead he pulled off the triple narrative of Montimere and his troubled twin brother, Guerdouin, and of Thompson himself, a journalist deeply intrigued by the nature of identity. Thompson’s appearance in the story gives readers a handhold, a point of entry, a relatable guide when we’re not quite sure where to put our alliances or trust. His skill for staying calm in the face of complexity shows in the consistent grace notes of his writing:
He paints a picture of South Florida hallways full of kids from Haiti, from Cuba, from the Caribbean and Central America, people with no past and no paperwork. Communities don’t care if someone is too old; a few years seems like a silly reason not to get an education. Entire neighborhoods become a haze of facts and dates. People learn to differentiate between the real you and the you that is constructed to make it through the world. Identities are fluid.
Other magazine writers, including Thompson himself, have told the Jerry Joseph story well, but “The Kid Who Wasn’t There” takes the story “to the finish line” for Thompson, as he puts it, by exploring the twin relationship and therefore the shadow self. We may never fully know why, or how, this man Montimere became a boy again, but as Thompson so beautifully shows, sometimes it’s enough just to ask the questions.
Coming Friday: Check back for our conversation with Wright Thompson about this story and his other work for ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com.