Dewey was a boarder, stoked for the thrill. Serious eyes. Serious stare. Too young to have that edge. He was on the ride with no care for the destination and he rode hard past coasters and drifters. No standing still. No time to take it in.
Four rolls from sidewalks to streets, off curbs and steps. Concrete and asphalt. Scabbed elbows and knees. Bruises and breaks, the surge of adrenaline right before the fall. No fear of the wipe. Kickflips, grinds and ollies. Half pipes and gnarly rails, tough trucks and rad wheels. Teen angst and anger was like fuel for the engine. Top it off, stay full. Drop in.
1986 – He turned fourteen, manned up and buckled. Ready to swing on any disrespect. He had mountains of rage, built up and rising. The world was on fire and he was rolling through the flames.
Dewey was half the size of the other boys. Half the height, twice the fury. Knocked down and back up. On the ground and kicked, back the next day with that same edge. Black eyes and bloody noses. Unshaken and indifferent, to the punches, to the rules, to the world that was burning bright and hot.
He wrote F.T.W. on every notebook and every wall in black Sharpie. He bore it like a badge on the back of his denim jacket and the bottom of his deck. It was his non-anthem. The journey with no purpose. All that mattered was the ride and the rest was just scenery. Increase the risk. Max the adrenaline. Feel alive and block out the static.
Mom worked two jobs to keep the boat afloat. Two older sisters. A two bedroom apartment. His bed was the couch. Underneath it held the treasures of the castle. Dozens of Hip Hop and Punk Rock cassette tapes. Schoolly D, Black Flag, Suicidal Tendencies. A generation’s geniuses. Rare demos. Mix tapes that were the soundtrack to his thoughts.
Dad spit in the wind and followed the path when Dewey was five. Sometimes he could close his eyes and see the blurry picture of the one who gave him his first board, and who picked him up when he fell off, and dried his tears. Maybe. That board was long gone. A baby’s toy with the rest of childhood. Gone. So were the memories, only blurry pictures.
Mom chose bad men, ones that either stole or hit. Sometimes her face matched Dewey’s falls to the asphalt. That added to his rage. He kept it in mostly, after the time, a year prior, when he rode in search of a man who put fist to Mom’s eye. When Dewey found him working at the garage, man vs. thirteen, Dewey balanced it with the side of his board. Smashed the man’s face until he wasn’t getting back up. Dewey’s first stint with police, but the man dropped the charges because mom offered to do the same. After that, Dewey stopped defending. Mom threatened to kick him out if he got involved. He stayed away as much as he could. A place to sleep and eat.
Dewey road a Vision Gator. Rough. Well used. Pits and chipped and scratched deep. Every skater needed scars. The deck was big and heavy, especially for his size. But he flew. And when the wind hit his face, going down a paved hill, through traffic, getting air off the ramp, that wind was pure freedom. Worth even the last second.
He rarely ever bailed. Dewey wanted to feel every ounce of that freedom. Like being able to fly. He would feel it all the way to the ground. When the bottom called his name, he would go down hard. The other boys called him Psycho, because he accepted collision full on, like he was ready to die.
Dewey was talented. The older boys saw it and gave him respect. They knew he was in there with something unique, something special. Something that maybe would take him somewhere, someday. To bigger rides and glory.
He rolled with three, the same three since they were young, when all that mattered was learning how to stay on the board. Arturo, Missy and Darelle. Same age, same grade. Different worlds.
Missy was the closest to Dewey, the only one he could talk to. As close as brother and sister. Sometimes it felt like more, that awkward feeling that was the segue from childhood to pressure. Innocence to the unavoidable. Ignorance to awakenings. She listened, without judgement. She knew what ran through Dewey’s head like a train on high speed, and she sat with him when the moments slowed down and they could stop to smile at the clouds, on the board or in the air. She could see Dewey’s other side. No anger. No attachment to the nickname. Just a boy trying to find his way and as lost as anyone on that journey to the next. They laughed. Shared music, the hiss of the cassette tapes.
When Dewey and crew weren’t skating at the park, or rolling the streets, the arcade was the hang. All tribes hovered on joysticks and buttons. Preps, jocks and stoners. New wavers, punks and clubheads. Rich and poor. Gender, color, race and religion. Neutral ground. The equalizer. It was the center of the universe. Videogame wizards sunk deep in pixilated escapes.
Other teens in search of their own escape in the alley that leaned against the arcade wall. Ears could still hear the chiptunes. Synthesizers on a melodic loop. Comfort in the patterns for the kids holding on and letting go in one spin. Dime bags of green, colorful tabs for the tongue, occasional powder, sometimes the harder shit for the hardened souls.
Dewey could pick up the patterns in videogames quick and figure out how to beat them. Yie Ar Kung-Fu, Gauntlet, Millipede, Tempest. Patterns in the video games were like the paths he drew in his mind. The tricks. The board to the ground, body to the air. More real than the joystick. The world was changing, he was caught between real and not. The alley pulled on his curiosity. The older boys that gave him respect, called him in.
1987 – Another year older and the fury ran deep. No one in the circles called him Dewey anymore. He was Psycho, always. The kid with no fear and they ate it up. Even his tightest. Arturo, Missy and Darelle. They fed off his energy, and they felt stronger being part of that vibe. The followers. They saw what was ahead and they knew Dewey, Psycho, was rolling too fast to stop. They were along for the ride. Those things they couldn’t fully recognize. Teens and immortality.
Psycho grew colder and angrier. He felt it hot on his face, and down to the trembling fingertips. He could feel the attack, so he was on the attack. Even with Missy, he couldn’t share like he once did. The world was a battleground - at home, on the board, in the school halls. Psycho was ready for war.
At the same time, he needed spaces to hide away. He needed to forget, even if it was for just a short time. Escape. But escaping became more frequent, and for longer periods, until the escape was more a part of him. Less time on the board. Less time in the arcade, more and more drawn to the alley next door.
1988 – Sixteen. The world was gray and dull. He was too numb to find the feeling. Even the four rolls to the asphalt. Even getting air, board to the skies, board to the sunset.
Dewey tuned out. Disconnected. The classroom was four walls locking him in. No cares for the other desks. Not the faces. Not the feelings, or who they were, or what they were meant to be. Disinterested in the fakes and frauds. The masks. The plastic personalities and shallow minds. He was an outsider trapped on the inside. He was a pot left on high heat and ready to boil over.
He got high. He skipped class. He got high. He got into fights. He defied authority. He defied intervention. His mom, the teachers, the principal, the police. They were antagonists. They were the incarceration, clipped wings flapping frantically to be free.
Dewey failed classes. He got suspended. He was rolling down with no upward pull. No half-pipe. No bowl. Only the downward to the dark unknown. Eventually, he just stopped going to school.
The three pointed the noses of their boards, four wheels down, foot to the pavement, pushed in a new direction. Arturo went straight edge, black “Xs” on the back of his hands, Minor Threat and Fugazi the musical manifesto. Darelle put his eye to the camera and captured the boarder life, skaters riding free, captured in a way that was pure and real. Missy found love in numbers and equations, and, with the board her first love, the thing that she rode when she needed to escape, mathematics became her muse.
1989 – The board was gone. Wiped up and sold out. True bail. Psycho walked the same streets he once glided along. The walk to the alley next to the arcade, the harder shit for the hardened souls. Then to the brick wall where he could sit and watch the skaters in the park.
That wall, a blank slate except for the one brick, eye level. He wrote it in black Sharpie, the non-statement, F.T.W.
The brick was rough against the back of his head. His head was heavier than the wall. More tired than he had ever been. One time too many. Psycho, Dewey, hoped he’d see Missy skating that day. She wasn’t in the park.
Her tricks were precise, like math. Watching her skate was like watching a perfect machine. He knew he got the most credit because he would try to land in the extreme. But Missy was a better boarder. He wanted to tell her that. He never told her that.
There was a ringing in his ears. Things were melting on the sides of his vision, and slowly closing in. He sat, ass on the cold concrete, heard the sounds of the wheels against asphalt and the hard grinds. He watched the boards get air. Up there and free.
Breathing got harder to do, and he tried to suck in air like there wasn’t enough air around him to breathe. He tried to count his heartbeat but it took too long to get from one beat to the next, and he was too tired for counting. Dewey closed his eyes and dreamt about flying until even the dreams went black.
Today – Things don’t change so much as take on new faces. Boarders grew up and moved on, and new boarders replaced them. Similar decks. Similar tricks. Soundtracks were different sounds with the same message. No more arcade, the games were in their pockets. The alley is in the bathroom medicine closet. Still a journey. Still a desire to fly free.
Arturo and Darelle moved hundreds of miles away, twenty some years ago. It could have been a hundred years ago and a million miles away. They moved out and moved on and weren’t coming back. Nobody blamed them. The past sometimes hurts too much and moving away meant they could move on and find their own way.
Missy became a teacher in the same high school she graduated from. Dozens of opportunities called for her crazy math skills. Her mission was on the same streets the four wheels touched. She wanted back. She came back.
She still skated, but only once a year. On that anniversary of Dewey’s death. Newer board. Digital tracks of Black Flag in the earbuds, missing the old hiss of his cassette tapes. She made a commitment to skate for as long as her body would let her. Forties now. Go fifties, hopefully sixties, who knows after that. She glided. She grinded. Wasn’t up for much more than that. The air was left for the younger.
Missy always ended up at the brick wall. She skated to it, always stayed on until the board touched the brick. Her way of saying hi, that she was still there. That she still remembered. Kickflips, grinds and ollies. Half-pipes and gnarly rails, tough trucks and rad wheels. Top it off, stay full. Drop in.