That Was Then, This Is Now Themes
Coming of Age
That Was Then, This Is Now is the story of Bryon Douglas’s coming of age during his adolescence. When the story starts, Bryon is concerned only about himself and Mark. Early in the story, however, he meets Cathy, M&M’s sister, and falls in love with her. As they begin dating more, Bryon notes, “I had quit thinking only about myself.” And when M&M runs away and Bryon comforts a crying Cathy, he realizes that “it was the first time I’d ever felt bad for anyone except Mark.” Bryon also makes the transition from feeling that he can do whatever he wants to and get away with it to somebody who makes sacrifices and who understands that his actions have consequences. For example, in the beginning of the story, Bryon notes that he really needed a job, but that nobody would hire him. Charlie gives him a tip, saying that he should really look inside himself and he would see “the reason why you haven’t gotten a job before now.” Later, after Charlie is dead and Bryon is starting to change his views, he realizes what Charlie was talking about and asks himself, “Who’s going to hire a mouthy kid who acts like he already knows it all?” Bryon sucks up his pride and gets a “haircut, clean clothes, and a really big change in attitude.” Unfortunately, Bryon is aware of his transformation, and also is aware that “I was changing and [Mark] wasn’t.”
Bryon’s and Mark’s lives are saturated with violence, and they jump at the chance to save M&M from getting beaten up by Curly Shepard and his gang: “Me and Mark looked at each other, and Mark flashed me a grin. We both liked fights.” M&M, however, does not like fights and criticizes Bryon and Mark when Mark notices a black guy and suggests they “jump him.” Says M&M, “You just rescued me from some guys who were going to beat me up because I’m different from them, and now you’re going to beat up someone because he’s different from you.” Although M&M’s words have little effect on Mark, Bryon starts to think about what he’s said and realizes that in the past he has not liked it when he “was the one getting mugged.”
Bryon’s uncertainty towards violence as a solution increases when he talks to Mike Chambers, a young gang member who got beaten up by a young black woman’s friends after he tried to help her. Although most gang members Mike’s age would find a way to get even, Mike does not hold it against the woman. Bryon can see Mike’s point “about not hating the people who beat him up,” but Mark does not.
Although they have been accustomed to violence since they were kids, it takes on a darker tone when Mark gets in a fight and gets cracked “across the side of the head” with a beer bottle and has to be taken in an ambulance to the hospital to get stitched up. When Mark realizes that Angela set up the fight, he finds an opportunity later to get her drunk and cut off her hair. Because Angela’s brothers think Bryon has done it, they continue the cycle of violence and beat Bryon badly. He ends up with a “black eye . . . stitches in my lip,” and “smashed ribs.” After Bryon gets beaten, Mark wants to “go look up the Shepards,” but Bryon stops him. “I don’t want to keep this up, this getting-even jazz. . . . so if you’re planning any get- even mugging, forget it.” Bryon thinks back to Mike Chambers and realizes that, just as Mike did not hate his attackers, “I didn’t hate the Shepards either.”
While Bryon comes of age and embraces his adult identity, Mark desperately tries to cling to the gang life that they enjoyed as kids. Says Mark, “It was great, we were a bunch of people makin’ up one big person, like we totaled up to somethin’ when we were together,” and that “it’s kinda sad, really, when you get to where you don’t need a gang.” Although Bryon tries to get Mark to see that it is good “when you know your own personality so you don’t need the one the gang makes...
(The entire section is 1,361 words.)