I was in 7th grade when I started skateboarding. The skateboarding community in the town I grew up in was small but growing. This was around the time movies like Grind, games like Tony Hawk Underground, and shows like Viva La Bam; were coming out. I had a few friends get into skating with me around the same time. We would head downtown and hope to skate with the older and better skaters in town. Over time you ended up getting to know everyone who skated and even though they seemed to shut you out at first they ended up knowing your name. That’s how I came to know the skateboard community. You earned friendship by showing up enough. It wasn’t a code or anything; that’s just how it was. It’s only now, thinking in retrospect, that I even thought to realize it.
So after a few months this kid, my age, named Alan started showing up. I grew up in a relatively small University town of 16,000 people (we are still not sure if that was with students or without students). It’s grown a lot since then but the “welcome” sign as a kid read in the 16,000’s. So we knew who Alan was. He was a trouble maker. He was always causing scenes in school, always getting into small fights, and was always in the disciplinary room. He wasn’t a scary troublemaker, though. He was more like a stupid troublemaker. He wasn’t randomly getting in fights with people for enjoyment. It was more with the people he surrounded himself with. He would react dramatically and often without clear-reason. As an outsider it looked like he often did bad things because it gave him attention. You could tell he came from a rough home. You could tell his clothes were likely goodwill (they were) but you could tell he wanted to maintain an image. He wore polo’s, baggy-ish pants, and some form of basketball shoes. Even when started skating he wore basketball shoes a lot. Everyone knew Alan’s sister. She was pretty well known in school as “Alan’s” crazy sister, Jasmine. She did have a mental disorder of some sort but we were kid’s after-all and that was our diagnosis of her.
So Alan started coming around while we skated and as per the culture he became welcome in the community. He got the nickname “Agro” because when he couldn’t land a trick he would often yell incredibly loud and obnoxious phrases. And when we got kicked out of a spot he would often yell at the people kicking us out. It didn’t take long before my friends and I befriended him from exposure alone. At first it was a friendship at a distance. We would tolerate him at spots and sort of make fun of his antics but he was a skater and he was our age after-all; so we grew to all become as close as skater friends become.
Alan lived near town in skating distance to the skate shop and to our favorite local skate spots. I never knew if his home was government housing but if it wasn’t it was as close as it could get. It was a house that was split into two apartments. They had a living room, a kitchen, a bathroom, and two rooms. One room was Alan’s and the other was his Mom and Sister’s. It had a small front porch that we used to skate and do tricks off of into the dirt for practice. We would open his front door and jump from inside the house onto our boards for our speed and then have to quickly set up for our trick. On all sides of Alan’s house were older homes. It wasn’t exactly the “poor” side of town but those homes weren’t worth much and Alan’s being the least worth of all of them.
Alan’s room was a constantly evolving project of items that came into their possession. At first it was a mattress on the floor with a small entertainment center with a TV, PlayStation 2, and a budget stereo system. In its final form that I remember it was a bed on bed rails with a love seat and the same entertainment center and devices. His walls had random posters, basketball jerseys, and a few hats hanging on nails. He had golf clubs which he would grab when he thought someone was trying to break-in. A blanket hung over his window. His living room was a few couches, covered in sheets, a coffee table, and an old television that they played mostly VHS tapes on until they got a cheap DVD player.
Any given day that you came to Alan’s home you would find his Mom, his mom’s boyfriend at the time, and Jasmine. Alan’s mom was into drugs. It didn’t take a genius in 8th grade to see it. She was thin and she often spoke rapidly. Her hair was often short, messy, and looked like it was freshly dyed or dyed several months earlier. Depending on the day you may have gotten a different version of his mother. They weren’t too different from one another. Just sometimes she made sense, sometimes she would yell randomly, sometimes she fidgeted around a lot, could have been because of stress or some sort of reaction to either being on or off a drug, I didn’t know; and sometimes she would shut herself in her room. I didn’t care much either way which way she was though because, regardless, Alan’s mom was kind to me. She loved Alan and she loved Jasmine. I could tell that. There were times when she would be telling Alan something, even yelling at him, and as she was about to leave, or times when Alan and I would leave, she would end by calmly saying, “Love you boys.”
They were clearly a family on food stamps but you wouldn’t know by how generous she was to me and Alan’s friend. It was a help-yourself home. She may come out in the morning and I would be making pancakes in the tiny, linearly-laid-out, and kitchen. As long as I knew Alan I don’t think she ever had a job but taking care of Jasmine had to have been enough of a job as there ever was.
Jasmine was a year, maybe two years, younger than Alan. Just like Alan’s mom, but on a much more extreme continuum; you never knew which version of Jasmine you were going to get on any given day. She truly had, likely several, mental disorders that I am not sure were ever diagnosed. She would be violent (wasn’t uncommon to hear stories of her grabbing a knife and threatening Alan), she would say inappropriate things, and worst of all, she somehow knew how to make Alan mad. No one was harder on Jasmine in public than Alan but then no one defended her more than Alan. Sometimes I would stay at his house on school nights (whether I snuck out or had permission from my mother. Obviously it didn’t matter to Alan’s mom when I stayed the night) and I remember on the bus to school she would be sitting up front saying stuff about Alan and him yelling at her from the back of the bus in front of everyone. But if you ever said anything about her he would get defensive to the point of fighting if need be. She spent her days at school in the special education classrooms and her days at home shut in the house or on the porch. She didn’t go anywhere without her mother.
Alan’s mom had a few “boyfriends” but the one that stuck around the most was a man named, Bobby. He was a kind man but obviously into whatever she was into chemically. I always assumed their relationship, which was from my view on-and-off again, was based around that common denominator. He smoked black and mild’s. I remember that.
Our daily routine was to go to school and then meet up afterwards to skate. If we weren’t doing that we were at his house watching skate videos, playing video games, or watching some random movie. If we weren’t there we would be at my house doing the same except I had a concrete back patio that we could skate flat-ground on. We went on skate trips together. We would stay up at our friend, Jake, mom’s house and skate around Overland Park together. As we got older and into high school things began to change and not just with Alan.
Something I noticed about Alan, and you can see that it is a common trait his family shares, is that there was more than one side to him. There was the side that knew what was right and wrong. The side that realized where he came from and wanted to do better. The side that felt the desire to do right. He had this movie-style sense of justice. The kind that if someone disrespected his family or friends or they did something legally heinous he would be outspoken about it and even threaten violence on them. But then there was the side that would seem to succumb to this belief that he would always become what he was born into. And it started with drugs. You see in high school smoking weed became this big draw with everyone I hung out with. It was popular in the skateboarding community and as freshman we all got caught up in the allure of hanging out with the older people in the community who smoked. Every day after school we would load up in one guy’s car and go to one of friend’s house where they would smoke and play video games. The kick was that I didn’t smoke and didn’t want to. Whether it was a fear of how I would react to smoking or just being around it my whole life with my step-dad and brother; I just didn’t want to do it. But I was still accepted nonetheless. In fact I even became super close friends with the guy whose house we would go to all the time and he would stick up for me to his older friends who came over and would try to get me to smoke. Anyway, that lifestyle took over many of my friend’s lives. Alan was one of those friends but it was gradual downfall rather than a falling off like many of my friends who smoked and eventually gave up skateboarding for it.
I distinctly remember Alan on several occasions telling me he was going to stop smoking. See unlike many of my friends, many of whom were white-middle class kids who had never seen weed before, he had smoked before. He would tell me he was done with it and that it only hindered him. This was the side of Alan that I knew to do right. But then there were days where he would come up to me and tell me he was smoking again and he would talk in this defeated way that basically said there is nothing he can do about it. “This is who I am.” Keep in mind that this was before the, “smoking revolution.” To us it still carried the “troublemaking” stigma. Sometimes when he was being an, “Agro,” or doing something irrational I would ask him why he was acting that way and he, in the same loud or agitated voice, would acknowledge that what he was doing was stupid but would continue to do it. Remember how he would yell at people for kicking us out of skate spots? There were times when other skaters would yell at people and Alan would yell at them for yelling at the custodian or shop owner. Looking back Alan’s moral compass was more like a moral magic 8-ball.
About junior year of high school he began to on-and-off again quit skating. Skating was really the one thing that I shared in common with Alan. I was going to continue skating and spending my days skating but he wasn’t so when was I going to hang out with him? The skateboarding community got new faces and I began hanging out with new crowds of people. We slowly drifted apart. I didn’t want to be associated with what he was into anymore.
Over the years he began getting into trouble more and more. When we got out of high school (to this day I still don’t even know if he graduated high school or not) he was arrested a few times. Mostly, from my recollection for drug-related reasons. One time he showed up to the skate park with no skateboard in sight and a gun in his waistband. And I was oddly comfortable. I even asked him what the hell he was doing with no hesitation. I know a lot of people were weirded out or scared by Alan especially around that time. But I wasn’t. I knew he would never hurt me. He would come to the waterpark where I worked and greet me with a cheeky, guilt-inducing, line like, “How come you never come say, ‘Hi,’ anymore?” and before I could muster up any sort of answer he would quickly follow up with an, “It’s all good man I understand.” Because he did understand. I know deep down that Alan was aware of his situation but he just could not mentally break the social stigma that he felt he carried. He’d tell me about his kids and what he went to jail for recently and I’d ask what he was doing and he would say, with a shrugging smile, that he didn’t know and that it’s just how he is. To this day I have never met someone so aware of their own downfall in my life.
One day, about four years after high school and a year after the last time I spoke with him, I heard from a friend that Alan had been arrested again. He, along with an accomplice, held up a woman and her seven-year-old son with a gun at the local Walmart, kidnapped them in her van, robbed her, and dropped her and her child off in a cornfield, before returning to Walmart in her vehicle where they ended up getting arrested.
My brother called me and asked if I that was the kid who would come over when I was younger and I said, “yeah, that’s him,” before he, just like everyone else, went on about his crime. “I always knew he was crazy,” some said. Others were surprised he didn’t shoot them. Everyone saw a monster but I saw Alan. I knew he would never have shot her or her son. I know he knew what he was doing was wrong. The “right” side of Alan would have kicked his own ass for endangering a child like that. But he got caught up in the game that he played and for whatever reason he felt pushed to do something drastic. Something stupid.
At one point in my life Alan was my closest friend. He would have given me the shirt off his back if I needed it.