My town is small. Really small.
I graduated with 122 people. Everyone has a name and a reputation. There are no strangers. We know your story. We know your mom. We know her sister. We know that your uncle was arrested for public intoxication. We know who arrested him. If you are not known, you don’t exist here.
If you are not known, you don’t exist here.
When we started 8th grade, Devon didn’t exist here. No one had met him, and we certainly didn’t know his story. We didn’t know that he was born in a Texas prison. We didn’t know he had spent years in foster care. We didn’t know his father, or his stepmom, or his step-brother. We didn’t know his life was in turmoil.
Here’s what I knew: he was in our grade, he always smiled, and his ringtone was the infamous Emmett Till line from Lil’ Wayne’s verse on “Karate Chop.” He wasn’t good at being quiet, but he was good at being funny. Also, he was black, which was fairly unheard of in my upstate New York town. He was The New Kid.
As time went on, I figured out a few more things about The New Kid. During last period study hall, I learned that we had a similar sense of humor and taste in music.
By the time that ice covered morning windshields, Devon was becoming one of us.
When he first came to school, the leaves were turning orange. By the time that ice covered morning windshields, Devon was becoming one of us. By the time it melted away, Devon even had a girlfriend.
Her name was Jessica. Jess was a foot or so shorter than he was, with a strawberry blond ponytail and a tomboy charm. She was and is one of my closest friends, particularly that year because she was the person I walked home with.
We had a simple routine. She lived on Sixth and I lived on Third. A block down from the bottom of the school stairs, then two blocks left from there. She would continue left for three blocks, and I would veer right three more blocks to my house.
Devon lived far enough from the school that he should have been bussing. The first few days of their short-lived relationship, he would join and walk her to her house before doubling back and trekking to the other side of town. Soon, the extra six blocks outweighed the novelty of the new relationship, and he’d veer right when I did.
To this day, we are both terrible at small talk. Had we been better at it, we would have chattered for three blocks and said our goodbyes. Instead settled for silence. A few times per week one of us would break the silence with the occasional weird question.
“Did cavemen ever think about the meaning of life?” “What would a pirate say if he couldn’t pronounce r’s?” “How would you spell cazh? Like the short form of casual?”
We slowly broke the ice, but chipping away was getting us nowhere.
I finally found the question that would shatter it.
“What do you think is the best Pokémon game?”
“Right? I was thinking about playing when I get home.”
“Do you, like, own them all?”
“Yeah, but I was going to set up an emulator on my TV. Wanna come to my house for a bit?”
Within 10 minutes, Devon fit in comfortably.
A block later, we splashed through the remains of smashed ice to my front door. Within 10 minutes, Devon fit in comfortably. He helped me joke my way through explaining to my mom why a mysterious kid just walked through the door with me and we darted upstairs where a Pokémon Silver ROM sat ready for us.
We chose a Totodile as a starter. We were excited to catch an Onix and named it after a certain body part that adolescent boys are particularly attached to. That Onix would become our favorite as we ran through the game like true Pokémon Masters. We pumped Afroman through the speakers and eventually ran through his entire discography. The sun set, the Umbreons came out, and Devon hadn’t spoken to his parents.
He continued to come and stay for periods of a week, two weeks, a month, but he’d always returned home.
We never asked if he could stay the night. We never asked if he could stay for two weeks, but he did that too. I still don’t know if he was escaping home during those two weeks. He continued to come and stay for periods of a week, two weeks, a month, but he’d always returned home. I picked up a little: he loved his father, but there were issues at home. I didn’t feel the need to pry.
We’re on the sixth year now, and I write this as he plays Pokémon Mystery Dungeon on his bed, right next to mine. There is nothing to escape anymore, and we’ve turned the tundra to farmland. But most importantly, we beat Pokémon Trainer Red with our trusty stone phallus.