David and Me, pt. 2
So, as I alluded to in my last post, middle school was different for me and Dave. But, no surprise I guess. Middle school is different for everybody. The two of us had been in the same class in grades one through five. However, in grade 6, the last year of elementary, either chance or the powers that be had separated us. I suspect that it was the latter. Teachers figuring that we’d have to survive without each other the next year in middle school were trying break the dependence. Whether the idea was good or bad, it was accurate. Homerooms were alphabetical so my B put me half a school away from his S. Also, as any of you who have been preteens will probably attest to, a mutual love of reptiles doesn’t provide the same social glue in middle school as it does in your earlier years. Cliques, girls, and especially cliques of girls surpass even snakes. Dave was privy to this. It took me a while to adjust. We still found each other though. More accurately, to his credit, Dave found me. Being the social creature that he was, he would get to school plenty early. The building was designed in some sort of quasi-circle, hexagon, octagon maybe, of rooms around a central courtyard. A hallway ran like an artery between the inner and outer rings of classrooms. This facilitated a pre-opening bell social promenade through the hall. Most everyone did as many laps as possible. Gawky boys and giggly girls swirling around like a blender full of hormones. Each lap Dave would check my room to see if my bus had arrived and scoop me up when I showed. To revise a prior sentence, I represented a gawky guy, but not Dave. He was smooth. He was one of the ones that caused the girls to giggle. So the two of us worked the halls until separated by the opening bell. Dave’s purpose was to network with the female population. Mine was to hang with Dave. In retrospect, I wonder how I was any kind of asset in gaining contact with the ladies. Perhaps I was some kind of strange arm candy. I did have a bland kind of Ken-doll look. Maybe, it was that Dave and I were just in synch. and that was worth any drag I might cause. I could always crack him up. Laughter was good medicine. Now I realize that the two of us had history and that was more than enough to counteract any odd couple vibe.
The forces of the universe were pulling us apart though. In middle school classes were tracked. We were in the same Math and Science group, but that was it, other than our morning romp. Most of the students in the top tier classes were what Dave and I called the pretty boys and girls. Neither of us fit neatly into this population. Not sure if it were race or class. I suspect both. However, it was easy to look around and notice that in a school that was a third Black overall, in these rooms the percentage was decidedly different. I can’t remember anything that was overtly racist. However, I always had the feeling that I could probably have weaseled my way into the club if I genuflected deeply enough, but that Dave would always be politely tolerated, yet never embraced. No big deal. I was satisfied with my station in the sphere and I far as I could tell so was Dave. There was one bit of social pressure that I know did get to him though. He wouldn’t complain to me, but I could watch it at work. To put this in a historical perspective, these were Vietnam years. Martin Luther King Jr. had just been assassinated. Black power and Black Panthers were an everyday topic. The nation wasn't just divided into Blue and Red like today. It was Old and Young, Hawk and Dove, Black and White or some weird combo platter of all. There was a significant subset of the Black students who would give Dave flack. As far as I knew the term was’t used then, but nowadays they might say Dave wasn't “street” enough. Hanging around with lily white Opie Taylor me was not going to help matters. Now mind you, he never said any of this to me. Dave was as loyal as the day is long, but I wasn’t completely brain dead and I saw the pressure it sometimes put on him. So all told, our obliviously colorblind elementary relationship had run into a murkier world. We still hung out. I’d sometimes walk home with him to his neighborhood for baseball or football or teenage boy stuff that will remain unrecorded. He’d come to mine to mostly go fishing and make fires in the woods. It wouldn’t happen as often as before though, and both of us could hear the static building in the background. - Doug Barber