Throughout That Was Then, This Is Now, the reader observes Bryon’s struggles to become a responsible young adult and break out of a harmful environment that includes the negative influence of his violent brother, Mark. Bryon has reveled in the machismo and glorification of aggression and law-breaking in which Mark constantly indulges. He mistakenly identifies a sense of loyalty or honor as the motivation for fighting on their friends’ behalf, and both boys downplay the real consequences for such behavior—including imprisonment and death. Bryon’s newfound emotional attachment to Cathy helps him see the disadvantages and aspire to live differently.
Charlie, who is several years older, tries to serve as a mentor to Bryon, but unfortunately his advice often goes unheeded. He speaks from experience because he has a criminal record. Charlie heroically sacrifices his life trying to help the brothers, and in the end, Bryon recognizes the debt he owes him.
Cathy plays a positive role beyond serving as the object of Bryon’s affections. Not only does she want Bryon to follow the law and refrain from violence, but she also worries about the descent into drug use that she observes in her brother, M&M. Bryon helps her try to find the missing boy and supports her through his recovery. Her own strong loyalty to family destroys their romantic relationship, however, as she cannot condone his decision to inform the police that Mark has been dealing drugs.