Dad lost his job and we sold our house near D.C. The guy who bought it was a blithe yuppie: Younger than my black dad, paler than my white mom. He mentioned doing renovations, as if we wanted to hear it. I pictured him taking a sledgehammer to our vinyl couch.
I said goodbye to the drainage ditch out front where I used to float G.I. Joes when it rained. I wished it was coming down right then, because I was crying. I’d never moved before.
We moved in with my dad’s folks in a Richmond neighborhood that had been full of middle class black people, but then crack happened and the empty lots began to outnumber the schoolteachers and business owners. Aside from my dad, I’d never lived around black people. I wasn’t allowed out at night. It didn’t matter: I had nowhere to go.
Mom was reading the paper and told me that 62% of the high school students in Richmond were “at risk.”
I asked, “At risk of what?”
She said, “Being homeless.”
And I imagined two-thirds of the kids at the school where I was about to start, dragging filthy sleeping bags through the hall and raising their hands in class to ask for spare change.
Then I wondered if we were technically homeless.
I went to a black high school and I thought that would rule because so was I. Finally, people wouldn’t ask me about the black guy who dropped me off, or my kinky hair, or why I liked rap.
Instead, I got asked about my white mom, and my red hair, and the rock music I liked. 62% of my classmates did not seem homeless. I had no idea what anyone did after school.
I was the only skater except for this one white kid that I made friends with, even if I knew it was a serious cop out to only make friends with the white kid.
My grandparents mall-walked in the afternoon. Bass would shake the porch as I walked into my father’s childhood home. He’d be inside, blasting CDs. At first, it felt like we were meeting halfway between grown-up and cool, and I’d never felt like either before.
Then one day I shut the bathroom door, and Prince’s “Gett Off” was still louder than my peeing. I stood at the green sink, wanting to tell my father to turn it down. But if I told him to stop, then I couldn’t play my music loud. Then I thought about how, for me, the point of loud music was to have someone tell you to turn it down, and now he couldn’t tell me to do that.
So I went up to my room and shut that door too.
The white kid took me to a punk show one Friday in a smoky shoebox where everything was painted black.
I liked anything that sounded like a skateboard thwacking pavement before flying so I liked the first band. The empty semicircle in front of the stage told me I was the only one.
While they played, my friend pointed out other skaters he knew, and people from bands I’d never heard of, and a guy with a blond beard and hair below his ears who’d just got outta jail. I wondered where all these people went when they weren’t there.
When the second band started, everyone stepped up. From the back, I saw buzzcut heads and oval skate shoes popping out of the crowd. People around them made mushroom stems of their arms and would pass the buzzcuts around before they were swallowed again.
With the music louder than Prince, I couldn’t feel the worry that was always reverberating off my folks. I didn’t stress about if my butt was tight when I ran up to crowd surf. I didn’t hesitate before I leapfrogged into the air over a stranger’s shoulders. And as hands pressed my ribs, calves and ticklish sides, I forgot everything else. I wasn’t a skater. I wasn’t black. I wasn’t white. I was punk. I was someone new with even louder music.