For me it’s sidewalks pulled open by tough green weeds. It’s gas stations and hoodies and carnivals at night. It’s all those kids who never cared what my parents did or what college I planned to go to, only if I could come over and stay up till 3am laughing and memorizing lyrics to rap songs we didn’t fully understand.
The North Shore? We’d never heard of it. Only South Chi Heights for us. Saint Laurent? Pass. We wore clean Nikes and tight jeans. Still do. Friday night wasn’t Friday night unless we were in a set of bleachers somewhere, whether it was freezing to death on the field in October or munching Sour Punch Straws by the court pretending to watch the game. Whatever we were doing, we were there. We knew everyone, and everyone knew us, and whether we realized it then or not, it was a good thing.
Kant, Hegel, and Lacan? We didn’t know who they were. They weren’t “the greats” to us. We knew Jordan and Pippen and Rodman. We rode on the backs of our friends’ bikes and later in the backs of their cars, doing donuts in the empty high school parking lot late at night. We sat around bonfires until the last coals burned out. We made out, we snuck out, we broke up, we made up. We watched our friends make shots, make grades, or just barely make it. We cried with them, sang with them, and walked with them through halls that were ours. We drove with them down streets that were ours. Streets that were in desperate need of buildings that weren’t vacant or liquor stores—maybe, but they were ours, and we were each other’s. We might be far from those days or from those people, but they’re still a part of us, and we can’t forget where we came from.
In elementary school there are always two or three really cute boys that everyone has crushes on. These are the ones that play baseball, say funny things out loud in class, and talk about their family vacations to Florida. They raise their hands after every one of the teacher’s questions and always get picked for kickball. They might even be good at math. These are the boys that third-grade girls like me wanted to stand by in the lunch line and get seated next to in class. Maybe just maybe we could talk about my new Lisa Frank folder before the bell rings. But this thought is not for those boys; this is for the ones who sat in the back, read all the books in the bookshelves, and went home after school to play computer games instead of going to soccer practice. This is for you who grew up to be the skinny kid with a mop of dark hair who sat with me in the back of my English class freshman year of high school. Yes, I’m writing to you, Weird Boy, because you were the first one I liked.
We sat silently for the first couple weeks: fourteen-year-old me pretending to be too cool for literature and fourteen-year-old you keeping an endless percussion beat with your fingers/pens/feet. One afternoon I was thinking about the dance routine I needed to learn when the teacher started asking questions about the word “jetty” in the poem we were reading. I remember that word vividly because when we got to it, you made a pun under your breath that was so brutally awful that I had to laugh. I don’t even remember the pun, but I remember you looking over at me when I laughed. At first you looked shocked that I was even listening to you, but then you smiled that silly Weird Boy smile, and we became friends.
We exchanged screen names and IM’d each other late at night. You taught me about Pink Floyd, and I taught you about horses. You told me what a guitar riff was, and I explained French conjugation. All that summer we planned to hang out, but fourteen-year-olds aren’t very good at the whole transportation thing, so we just stayed up talking about nothing and everything, eventually pouring ourselves into our respective beds when even the crickets stopped calling to each other.
After that year we didn’t see much of each other. We still said “Hey!” when we passed each other in the halls, but that was about it, as far as interacting goes. You eventually got a cool musician girlfriend now work for a politician somewhere while playing music on the side (thank you Facebook for that info). I don’t think of you much, but I do know what you did for me: you were the first of many Weird Boys in my life. After you it was the Stage Tech, then the Russian, then the Tree-hugger with Headphones, then the Marxist, former-vegan, fixed-speed bike-riding Hipster from Belarus. So thanks, Weird Boy, for changing everything for me.