Volume 31, Number 4

Me There

John Yohe

The first party my band was supposed to play at was at some white dude’s house on Washington Street, right in town, right in the middle of all these nice houses. His parents were gone, and by the time we showed up with our equipment, there were already tons of white kids spilling out onto the front lawn. I was like, are they crazy? You get that many black kids gathered anywhere, and the National Guard would get called out.

We brought our equipment in to the living room, and the first thing the drummer Mike does is set up his snare drum and smack it a couple times with his stick. Well, the guy whose party it was came tearing into the room. —Turn it down! Turn it down! That’s too loud!

We all looked at each other. Adam tried to explain that that was how loud drums just were, but the dude by then was just terrified-looking, maybe realizing just how near he was to getting the cops called already. —No no no! This is too loud. Sorry, I can’t do this.

So, we just packed up everything and left. The cops came not that much later and broke the whole thing up. I don’t know what that dude was thinking, but then again, what were we thinking? Kids are all just so self-centered at that age. Like, the idea of having a band at your party, the idea of having a party period, sounds cool, and you don’t even think about the neighbors. The gathering of other young people just becomes the priority. Which is why I think rock music appealed at that time, it was almost an excuse for a party. That’s what a concert is. Took me a long to figure out that most people don’t give a fuck about your chops, or how good a player you are, or how many notes you can play. They just want to gather together in a group and get high, either from drugs, or the general atmosphere. The band is just there to add to that. The band isn’t the focus, and in fact now live music seems to have become less and less popular. You can get a DJ and create the same energy. And a DJ won’t annoy you with long-ass guitar solos.

* * *

But eventually we did play a party, this time out in the boonies, where people (white folks of course) have huge lawns and trees and shit. This was another dude having a party while his parents were gone. Another dude from the Catholic high school. First of all, where were these parents? Where did they go? It’s like the rich kids were just as feral as us east-siders, but in a different way, and they reacted in a more extreme way. Almost seems, now, like they were punishing their parents in some way, like, you’re going to leave us alone for the weekend while you go off to New York? Ok, fine, I’m gonna trash this place while you’re gone. Or who knows, maybe the parents didn’t even care. Maybe they’d all just pretended nothing was wrong. White folks are crazy that way.

We played down in the basement, a nice one, like an entertainment center, not a dark musty place where they kept the washer and dryer like my house. And I was once again the only black dude there. There were some people I knew though, some other kids from Jackson High, the public school, in their denim and t-shirts, versus Izods and blouses. And in a situation like that, even now, still, it’s hard not to be self-conscious, like, is everyone staring at me? Like, what’s that black dude doing here? Who invited him? Hard not to take certain looks as hatred, or disdain, though I think a lot of that is just me. I’d feel the same way in a room full of black folks. My instinct in any large gathering is to retreat to the corner, and I know people can see that, and they think (or I think they think) that I don’t want to be there, that I think I’m too good for them, or all kinds of things. I’ve been accused of thinking too much, and I started young.

But we played. Kinda weird, just standing there, eye-level with the people who were watching, but I was surprised at how many people wanted to see us. Everyone there, beer in hand, smiling. We started off with “My Generation” by the Who, so right away I got a bass solo, and after that song, everyone, (ok, a lot of people) cheered when Adam said, —Mr. Anthony Young on the bass! I had gotten respect shown to me. That felt good.

We didn’t have but about one set’s worth of songs, like an hour, if you included a couple instrumental blues jams, which I thought would be a problem, but wasn’t, because the novelty of having a band at a party wore off pretty quickly, especially since we were so loud. By our fifth song, two-thirds of the people had moved upstairs or outside to the bonfire and the keg, and nobody was standing right next to us anymore. So, when we took a break, that was it really, and Adam was more interested in drinking beer and talking.

Which left me kind of hanging since I needed to get a ride back from him. Meanwhile, I was the token black dude, wandering around, though I did get some compliments on my playing. Or, I should say, compliments, because I think people back then were more impressed just with the fact of you being in a band. Like, —Good job, man! meant, —Good job that you’re actually doing something interesting and unique that the rest of us don’t have the interest or discipline in doing.

But there I go thinking too much again. Anyways, I did know some people from Jackson High. Or, know of them, had seen them around the halls. One of them was this skinny white chick Connie, who was in some of my classes. I liked her style. She was an east-sider, kind of a stoner, or her older brother was anyways, and she just wore the stoner uniform of the ’80s: jeans and a jean jacket and black concert t-shirts. Basically, she dressed like me, and a lot of metalhead dudes. She had long brown hair, nothing fancy, just parted down the middle. She wasn’t the most drop-dead gorgeous girl at school, but she wasn’t trying to be, and looked more like someone you’d just talk to, normal.

She came up to me (I wouldn’t have approached her) and said, —Hey Anthony, you were great!

No bigger compliment than a woman telling a man he’s great. Do that, and a woman’s attractiveness level goes up by about fifty percent, at least temporarily. But, that was the first time, and she was sincere, and so we started talking. She didn’t know I was a musician, and seemed impressed and even more importantly, seemed to actually kind of like me. She even talked her brother into giving me a ride home in his stoner van. Me and Connie on the floor in back with a couple of other of her brother’s friends on a mattress and some big bean bag chair things popular back then. I didn’t say much, but Connie next to me, her presence, her smile in the dark, and her brother playing a Bob Marley tape, Uprising. Everyone in the van bobbing their head to “Could You Be Loved” like a static dance. That bass line, moving the song along underneath that main guitar playing those staccato chords on the upbeat.

Bob Marley and the Wailers was almost all Connie’s brother and his friends listened to. A lot of white kids did. Black folks? Not so much. They knew who Bob Marley was, but nobody listened to him. He was for potheads I guess, and even though there were plenty of black people who smoked pot, there was this weird idea that only white folks were potheads. Which is crazy, especially considering the incarceration rates of black people for possession in the ’80s. Or now. I read, and saw, a bunch of biographies and documentaries on Marley later and learned that he was bothered by the fact that black people in America didn’t listen to him or reggae in general too, maybe if he’d lived he might have won them over. He came close. Imagine if reggae had become popular among black folks: that would have meant that both black and white people would have been listening to the same music (as I later learned kind of almost sort of happened with funk in the ’70s). Listening to music of hope, spiritual music, instead of hip-hop. I know I’ll be crucified for saying that, and people will argue that eventually black and white people did listen to hip-hop as a common music, later in the ’80s and ’90s, and I know I have a bias because I just think folks should listen to music that involves actual real musicians, and hip-hop just never appealed to me. I like some stuff, but it seemed made for even dancing in clubs or for cruising around in cars with monster stereo systems as substitutes for small dicks.

But anyways, Connie. I was so stupid I never got her number or anything, just said good night like a chump. But Monday in school she came up to me in the hall and suggested we should hang out sometime. I was like, Um, yeah, sure. And still didn’t do anything. She had to write out her number on a piece of paper during class, with “Call me!” written under it for me to get that, ok, I guess this chick might like me a little.

She asked me to come over to her place after school. Her parents weren’t there; she was another of our feral generation. I played it cool, not sure what she wanted, but she knew what she wanted and almost as soon as we got in her bedroom and put on some Wailers, we were kissing, and she was pulling off her shirt. I’ve always liked women like that, I’m not sure if it’s because of her or that’s just how I’m built, or all of the above, but I love the idea of women going around pretending they don’t want sex in real life, worried about their reputations or something if they showed any interest but get them behind closed doors and they’re just animals. It’s like you see those old Ed Sullivan clips of the Beatles playing and the girls in the audience are just going crazy, like something primal is going on, and I think all women and girls have that inside of them, just waiting to be let out. It’s no wonder us men have repressed them for so long—we’re scared we’ll get eaten alive!

And I knew nothing. I mean, I knew the basics, in theory, like what went where, but I wanted to make her feel good, be a real man and all that, but when we were naked, and she was pulling me on top of her I had to say, —Um, I’ve never done this before.…

She just smiled. —It’s ok.

And man, I was pathetic. On top of this beautiful skinny white girl, her skin so smooth and pale and warm. I tried poking around down there, but finally I was like, —How do I get it in?

She reached down, took it in her hand and guided it. We both moaned, and I pumped her exactly three times before I came and collapsed on top, apologizing and sweating all over her. She just held me there, stroking my back and back. —It’s all right, it’s all right.…

And it was all right. We didn’t do anything that day because her dad was coming home soon, but the next day we went over right after school, and she sat me down on the edge of her bed and gave me a blowjob. I’ll never forget what she said before putting it in her mouth. —I love your big black cock.

Which made me feel both weird and good. Mostly good. In the back of my mind I was wondering, so does that mean she’s only into me because I’m black? But the rest of my mind was going, Dude, shut up and enjoy this white girl’s mouth. And god, that was the first, but not the last time by far, of having that visual, of her white skin contrasting with mine, her white face looking at me while she moved her head up and down, and my hands in her soft hair. Nothing better, nothing better in the whole world maybe, which is a problem.

* * *

I always had to leave before one of Connie’s parents, usually her father, came home. He would not have liked finding a boy in his daughter’s bedroom, especially not a black boy. According to her, he was big-time racist, which, you know, again in the back of my mind made me wonder, is the fact that her father is racist the reason she was interested in me? And when I think about it now, was it also partly the reason I was so interested in her? Because I loved those afternoons, that sense of doing something forbidden and the potential of getting caught. I thought I’d end up having to run out the back door buck-assed naked sometime, something scandalous like that. Instead, things ended a little more roughly.

The first thing was that Connie never wanted to do anything with me, like on the weekends, except if there was a party, then she asked me if I was going (which a lot of times I wasn’t) if I was going, and just tell me she’d meet me there, and then just talk to me like a friend, though I noticed her friends didn’t really talk to me, or want to talk to me. I tried talking about it to her, after one of our get-togethers after school, but she didn’t want to. —I just don’t want to get serious right now. I like you, but I want to hang out with my friends too.

So, I let it slide. To tell the truth, I didn’t go out to parties, and with spending so much time with her after school, I was happy to spend time alone playing my bass.

I don’t know if that’s how things would have kept going or not because after maybe a couple months (or longer, or shorter, it seems like it was a long time, now, but maybe it wasn’t) Connie missed school a couple days in a row. I tried calling her house, but she wouldn’t answer, and if it was her parents, I’d just hang up.

She showed up to school on the third day and didn’t look good. When I asked her in the halls what was up, she said she’d been sick, but said we could go back to her place after school. But when we got there, she sat me down on her bed and said she was pregnant.

I know that sounds like some After School Special on television or something, but my reaction, or the reaction of the world it seemed, was everything suddenly went into a vacuum, a vacuum cleaner. Sound and light sucked away, leaving me in this little cone. When the cone had expanded a little back to normal, she was sitting there, expecting me to say something.

I apologized. —I’m sorry.

Her eyes got wide and started to tear up. —Sorry?! What the fuck does that mean?

Then I felt the need to apologize for what I’d just said, so I said, again, —I’m sorry.

She started crying. I was a kid, I didn’t know what to do, what she needed. I should have held her. Instead I asked, —What are we gonna do?

She sobbed. —I’m getting an abortion.

That hadn’t even seemed an option. I mean, in theory I knew what an abortion was at that point, but I never thought it would be used in the context of anything I had done. I was trying to process that, what it would mean.

She continued though. —I told my mom, and she already arranged it. I’m going to Kalamazoo next Monday, to a Planned Parenthood clinic.


—It’s the closest place. They don’t do abortions in Jackson.

Finally, finally, the enormity of the situation was setting in, and the realization of just how horrible and traumatic this was for Connie, and I said maybe the first decent thing yet: —I want to go with you.

That got her. She sobbed even louder and hugged me, and I hugged her back, and I realized the best thing was not to say anything at all but to just hold her, like she really needed.

Eventually though, I had to go, because her father was getting home. Connie kind of summed it up. —He’ll kill you if he finds out what happened.

So, I skipped school that next Monday. Connie’s mom picked me up at the basketball courts at Dulle Park, where thankfully it was too early for anyone to be hanging out. I got in the back seat of her station wagon and said hello, but she said nothing. Nothing at all was said during the hour-long drive to Kalamazoo down I-94. Connie just leaned her head against the window in the front passenger seat and stared out at the passing cornfields. Her mom kept both hands on the steering wheel and listened to some oldies station, and nothing has sounded more jarring to me than hearing the Four Tops sing, “I’ve got sunshine / on a cloudy day” while sitting in the back of that car.

At the clinic, Connie’s mom checked her in, and we went into the waiting room, which was filled with teen girls and younger women, sometimes with older woman, obviously more moms. All of them white. All of them getting abortions.

Some of them saw me, looked at Connie, back at me, then leaned in and whispered to each other, which made me burn, my face on fire. I wanted to yell, —What the fuck you looking at? Yeah, I fucked a white girl. At least I’m here!

But I said nothing. I knew that was part of my punishment. And that I deserved it. Even now I find it hard not to deny that, to write it and not qualify it. But at the time? I think I felt like I was fulfilling all the racist stereotypes white people had: the predatory black kid who wants to knock up your white daughter.

Connie sat between me and her mom. Her mom sat straight-backed, flipped mechanically through some fashion magazine, every page cracking. Connie hunched over, chin down almost at her chest. I reached over and held her hand, which she squeezed once, lightly. Her mom paused briefly from her page snapping, then proceeded.

A television played some soap opera in the corner, and never have I hated television so much. No one was really watching it, everyone just more lost in thoughts, yet we all sat there with it’s blaring noise, those fake white people with their fake problems. I thought, —Why don’t they show an actress having an abortion?

We waited an hour. There was only one doctor, who looked exhausted, and it was still only late morning. He was unshaven, his hair messed up, though he certainly didn’t look like an evil baby-killer either. Just overwhelmed. He just looked like everyone else in the room felt.

Connie’s name was finally called, and we stood up. I had had every intention of going in with her, though we hadn’t talked about it at all, but she put her hand on my arm. —Anthony, I don’t want you to come in, ok?

I was both hurt and relieved somehow. —Are you sure?

She nodded, and her mother led her down the hall to one of the rooms. I sat down and just stared at the floor.

* * *

Her mother came out first, later, and sat down right next to me, whispering, —If you ever touch her again, you fucking n_____, I will have you killed.

She stood up and went back down the hall, coming back holding Connie by the arm. Connie had been crying. I stood and met her by the door. She wouldn’t meet my eye, staring down at the floor, though she hugged me softly once and held my arm as she and her mother helped her slowly out to the car. She sat in the back seat, so she could have more leg room—I sat up front— and continued to cry, softly, the whole way back. Her mom dropped me back off at the basketball courts. I turned around. —Bye Connie.

She just sounded tired. —Goodbye.

As soon as I closed the door, her mother peeled out and was gone.

* * *

Connie didn’t come to school that week at all. I didn’t call. Walking out of Jackson High on Thursday, in the parking lot, her brother Tommy pulled up right next to me, his window rolled down. —If you touch my sister again, I’ll fucking kill you.

So much for Bob Marley.

That next Monday I saw Connie in the halls between classes, though when I walked over, her girlfriends tried to shield her and move her away. But I yelled out, —Connie!

She stopped and turned back to me. Her girlfriends rolled their eyes and turned away.

Her face was bruised purple and she had two black eyes. She wouldn’t look at me.

—What happened?

She looked down at the floor. —Nothing. I ran into a door.

—You ran into a door?!

—Anthony, please don’t talk to me, ok?

She turned around and walked away, leaving me there.