When Teddy walked out of my life, it sent me into shock.
I was 17, still in high school and on the fringe. Teddy had been the coolest person I knew. He legitimized me as a person worth knowing, and with him gone, I was lost.
He had walked up to me in the hall, hugged me and said, “Goodbye, brother.”
“You leaving school early?”
“You could say that,” he said with a chuckle. “My dad came to pick me and Jacob up. We are moving to Texas.”
“That is shit. Can we hang out after school?”
“No, man, we are leaving from here. They are waiting in the car. I begged my dad to let me come say goodbye to you. When I walk away, I’m gone,” Teddy said. “Got to say, man, it was fun. You’re a genius. Don’t let anyone tell you different. Fuck them all if they get in your way.” He looked at me and shook his head. “Gonna miss you, man.” He nodded and disappeared into the press of kids headed for classes. I stood there for a while, shocked and staring. It didn’t really set in until lunch.
The rest of the week was gone. I was accustomed to just disappearing for a while and my life being different when I returned. After Teddy, Shadow shifted out and I didn’t come back until Saturday of the following week when things were already in motion, when things were rolling. By then, Shadow had put his plan into action.
He decided he wanted a crew, a group of people loyal to one another that could hold each other up, that could hold him up. Too long he had been dependent on other kids hanging out with him. Now he needed to take the lead.
Walleye, it all started with Walleye.
Shadow saw him talking to Mary outside after school. They were laughing and flirting, and this was not allowed. Shadow walked up to Mary and put his arm around her. He smiled at Walleye.
“How’s it going over here?” Shadow said. He needed to beat this down hard. If Walleye was going to make the cut, he had to be dominated, because this crew was going to have a leader. Shadow would not have it any other way.
“Hey, Baby,” Mary said. “This is-”
“I know this mutha fucker. He needs no introduction from you.” Shadow pulled Walleye in for a one-arm hug. “How’s it hanging, brother?” Shadow looked at him with an appraising eye.
Walleye wore a stained t-shirt, a pair of jeans that looked as if they had been dragged through a battlefield, and ragged shoes. His book bag looked like it had bullet holes in it, and his hair flopped disrespectfully in a wild mess on his head. Everything about his appearance screamed punk, without the bad music.
Mary had play practice, so when she left, Shadow looked at Walleye. “You doing anything?”
“Not a thing.”
“Let’s get a drink,” Shadow said. They walked down to the gas station and got a soda. Walleye drank Mountain Dew and Shadow gave him shit about it. He had decided long ago that he hated that kind of soda for no apparent reason whatsoever. That was just Shadow’s way.
They walked up the street talking about heavy metal and girls. They talked about fantasy and fighting, and the entire time, Shadow looked at Walleye to make sure he could build a group on this foundation.
Walleye let Shadow do most of the talking. He laughed at his jokes. Walleye had a look that would draw people to us, and he had a fuck-you attitude that you can’t teach. Shadow needed to make him loyal, but he would do nicely.
We walked back to the school and saw Chanel. She sat out front of the school, her arms wrapped around her bag, waiting for something she wouldn’t find for a long time. I walked up to her and introduced Walleye.
They watched me with smiles on their faces before she laughed her gentle laugh and shook her head.
“Jesse, I have known Walleye for years.” She stood and hugged him, and I was not surprised. Chanel was like that. She knew everyone. She was likeable with a great smile and a soft sense of humor. She looked at me and I nodded.
The second piece was in place. The next player had been found. With Chanel, Shadow could rally them all. With Walleye, he could show them what was expected of them. When Shadow stood back and looked at the two of them, he knew he was on to something. He would never be lonely again. Never be left out. He walked to Chanel and threw an arm over her shoulders.
“What are you waiting on?” I said.
“Careful is gonna meet me here. She can’t get a ride from her boyfriend today because they have a meeting. She is riding with me.”
“Eddie and Mrs. Bronte created a writers group that meets after school. They are there now. Careful’s boyfriend, Harvard, is in there.”
Writer’s groups and people Shadow didn’t know, a guy named Eddie who had gathered a group of people together to talk about writing on Shadow’s watch. He had been asleep, it seemed, with Teddy and the people we had hung out with. He had an entire world opening up to him.
This was the beginning of a thing that would see us through high school. This was the start of a thing that would teach us about leadership and camaraderie.
See, Chanel was broken back then. She had been hurt by too many guys, and too many people had given her one body blow after the next with whispers and rumors. She had been called slut, and whore. She had been used by guys and had suffered one heavy hit after the next.
Walleye had been the butt of every joke for his entire life. He had been beaten up and kept around for the sole reason of smacking verbally. He was sore from every word, every jibe. He was broken as well in much the same way.
When Careful joined us, Shadow saw it in her, too. A wilting quality that spoke of abuse and maltreatment. She was soft, had either been beaten that way or grown up wrong. She could not meet his eye, could not see into him. She had a strange kind of sad beauty and she needed something, but none of us knew what it was.
We were all broken and worn. A group of kids wandering nowhere, a group of kids asking for a place to belong.
Shadow decided right then that he would be that place.