Chapter 23

I had my own little Squad. They were like me, trying to navigate the treacherous waters of being an underclassmen. Jack, Lou, and Jason. They were all in my grade, and all white boys except for Jason who was Korean.

Me and Jason had been cool for a while. He was the only Korean kid in school, so we bonded because of that. He introduced me to Jack who was the first of us freshman to get his license.

That first freedom from driving without your parents is special. It’s thrilling and dangerous. Driving is unequivocally the most dangerous thing any of us do. Especially because there’s teenagers on those roads. And that was us. Free, smoking, drinking and driving. What could go wrong?

At least we weren’t texting.

We’d drive to football games and to the mall. Sometimes we’d just drive. We got into any trouble we could.

My mom was more strict than most. I wasn’t allowed in cars yet, so I snuck and met my friends up the block. I definitely wasn’t allowed to leave St. Clairsville. After splitting a bottle of Tanqueray Lou stole from his country club job, we went to the football game at Martins Ferry, the next town over. This was my first time being drunk. I loved it. Releasing inhibitions pent up for my entire short lifetime was, well… addictive.

When we walked in the game, my drunkenness didn’t prevent me from seeing my entire family, standing directly in front of me in the ticket line. I had no idea they would be there. I panicked. Without saying I word I take off!

Somehow my parents didn’t see me. But now I had another problem, I was lost. This was way before cellphones. I had to be careful. I couldn’t just stroll back into the game looking for my friends, because my parents were there.

All I can remember is stumbling around outside the stadium.

Lou got arrested, for the first time, for being drunk underage. His parents picked him up from jail and his car was impounded. I remember getting dropped off back in St. Clairsville, but I’m not sure by who.

Give me a break on not remembering the details. It was my first time being drunk, remember? Anyway. I make it through all that, with time to spare before my curfew.

As I’m let out of the mystery car, I notice the lights on in my neighbor’s basement. My neighbor, Sal, had just moved in.

Picture a fat black kid with an afro who’s in and out of juvenile detention. America’s nightmare. He loved to smoke weed, drink 40s, and convince fat girls to give blowjobs. He had no father and was feared in the streets. His mom didn’t care what he did. We’d party in his basement. He had no morals. He’d use anybody for anything. Think Debo from Friday. Fate decided to put this kid next door to me as soon as I started High School.

Before I go home, I stop over to say what’s up. I knew Sal from church in East Wheeling, if you can believe it.

When I stop over, he’s with Craig. I again regret my decision instantly, but it’s too late. I’m drunk so I’m feeling brave. Sal and Craig are drunk too. Craig seems to have already moved on from punching me earlier that week. He’s arguing with Sal about who the hottest girl in school is. Sal is convinced it’s a girl in my grade named Nikki. Craig says it’s either Sarah or Kim, two girls in his grade. I secretly had a crush on Sarah, so I side with Craig.

After another half hour of drinking, it almost seems like Craig doesn’t hate me. I was slowly lowering my enemy’s defenses.

They’re teasing me about my inability to get girls. Craig once had Alexis, the love of my middle school life. There was a lot to learn from him. I actually kind of liked him. I just liked his girlfriend more.

I was forming strategic alliances. It wasn’t that I necessarily liked them. It was that I was tired of having to look over my shoulder.

There is of course an unavoidable downside to becoming friends with your foes. It would be a while before I understood these intricacies. But my education was fast approaching.