The first time Eddie got picked up by the cops, he was thirteen almost fourteen. It was the year I left for boarding school, right after I had left. Interestingly, neither of us had touched anything naughty the whole time we were younger. But, also rather interestingly, we both jumped off the high dive about the same time.
It was the beginning of ninth grade. High school for him. Boarding school for me. We were both shy, quiet, awkward kids. There’s no sugar coating it. We were fine together, but take us out of safe spaces and we just didn’t quite fit. I was chubby and wore glasses, so people just assumed I was smart – a nerd. Eddie was lean and dark, so people assumed he was mean – a dangerous black man in the making.
Ninth grade. Do or die time. We were own our own. Tossed from the nest with no safety net – like those birds in the Attenborough film. I can still feel the bruises from every time I bounced off the cliff-face.
But that, of course, is entirely too poetic and sentimental for what really happened.
What really happened is that both of us – Eddie and me; Eddie and I – were two stupid, scared, awkward, shy kids who no longer had a friend and who needed something – anything – to get through the years ahead of us.
Booze was an amazing – amazing, beautiful, enlightening – leg up.
The first time I got drunk was at my friend Laura’s house. Laura was, in those early weeks of school, the only person who would speak to me at all. She was mean. And she undermined me relentlessly. But she talked to me and she let me sit with her at lunch. So when she invited me to her house for the weekend, I jumped at the chance.
I’ve got no idea what happened to Laura after high school, but my guess is she’s embezzling funds from a global bank or laundering money for an oligarch. Even as a ‘tween’, that girl had a system of bald face lying and covert ops that would put a mafia boss to shame.
Laura’s parents were rich. All of the parents at my new school were rich apparently. And Laura’s house was nice. Another common factor for the kids who lived in Birmingham and were day students instead of boarders like me. And, I soon deduced, rich parents who live in nice houses in cities – even baby cities like Birmingham – go out a lot and don’t really keep an eagle eye on their children.
Laura’s mother was a scary smiling type. Which is to say she was very smiley and nice, but she also looked at me like she was afraid she might catch something if she got too close to me. “She just doesn’t like hicks” Laura very helpfully explained later.
“So what are you girls doing tonight? You know your father and I are going to the symphony and then to the Curtis’s for drinks? We won’t be home until after eleven, and I know you’ll be in bed by then, won’t you, girls?”
See. Nice, but not nice.
“Oh, mom, we’re just going to drink your vodka ‘til we pass out.”
“Laura. You silly girl.”
After her parents left, Laura went to the drinks cabinet, expertly took an inch from every single clear liquor, replacing it with three quarters of an inch of water. “Don’t worry, they go through it quickly enough it doesn’t get too diluted.”
The clear mix went into a Sprite bottle, which she used to top up our cans of Diet Coke throughout the evening. We walked through the neighbourhood sipping our first drinks from our cans of Diet Coke, then went back to her house, where we swam for a while. Then, because Laura knew the tricks in this particular skill, we went to her room, put on our pjs, turned on the television, and settled in for the evening. I threw up, of course, but I made it to the toilet so there was no mess.
Laura was, indeed, true to her word.
We drank until we passed out.
I had never experienced such a sense of freedom in any of my days.
Meanwhile, in Lee. . . .
Eddie was hanging around – not ‘out with’, but around – some of the older guys who wanted to see if they could get him to talk. So, they got him drunk. PBR.
In Birmingham, police cruisers do not drive around the streets in ‘nice neighbourhoods’ looking to bust kids for drinking. In Lee, it’s a different story.
Drunk, Eddie didn’t talk much more than he did sober. From what I heard, he just sat on the curb. And he didn’t see much reason to move when he saw the cop car coming.
And that’s how Eddie got arrested for the first time.