Finish What You Started

I want to tell you about a young man I once knew. His story takes place many years ago in November of 1986. His name isn’t important, but I have always referred to him as ‘Din’. That was his nickname on the streets where we grew up. It was a short derivative of the song “Din Daa Daa” by George Kranz. On one brisk Fall November morning ‘Din’ woke from his own bed.  Nothing strange about that except this was something he hadn’t done in 33 days. You see, he and Pollyanna, the young lady he had fallen madly in love with and just couldn’t stand to be apart from, had been living together at her parents house that whole time.  Well, just the day before her parents found out they hadn’t been going to school at all during that time and they promptly threw ‘Din’ out of their house. But, as he was getting ready to go back to High School on this specific morning, what he didn’t realize was, like Polly’s parents, the school would also throw him out that day.

This chain of events started when ‘Din’ graduated from Middle School to High School in 1984.  For him, this was starting all over. Bottom of the pile. Low man on the roster. A feeling many children experience.  New place. New faces. New surroundings. During this change, he didn’t know what group would accept him. So he tried to fit in anywhere and everywhere.  ‘Din’ tried all the different cliques. The “druggies”, the “jocks”, the “nerds”. Eventually he settled into a new group that formed – the “Breakdancers”.

Back in the 1980’s the average suburban neighborhoods were being consumed by the new Rap culture.  ‘Din’ grew up the youngest of five children in one such neighborhood. He was raised Christian.  Two parents, dinner at 6:00 p.m, and Church on the weekends. A good part of the whole American dream. 

According to several of his friends I interviewed for this story, he was smart.  Book smart and street smart.  When he was in 6th Grade he was able to perform 9th Grade level mathematical equations but had never been taught how to do them.  His street knowledge was better than average too. Once when confronted by 9 other children on the streets of Detroit, while he was delivering flyers for Amico’s Pizza, the local pizza place, he almost got his butt kicked.  He noticed the kids following him from a house where he had just delivered a flyer.  Inside the house someone had yelled at him to get off of their porch. He put the flyer in the door and left immediately. 

They followed him down the street quietly behind him. He heard the whispers and glanced around to see all of them standing there, but before they could jump him, and without speaking any words, he pulled out a pair of nunchucks hidden in his bag of flyers and began working them.  He swung them around his neck, back and forth in front of himself. Flipping them up and around frantically so all one could hear was the sound of them breaking the wind. After he was finished, he turned around and simply walked away without saying a word. One of the kids yelled to him, “Next time you come to Detroit, don’t bring those!”  

Even growing up in a fairly good environment ‘Din’ still made choices that would take him to bad places.  His breakdancer friends were a wild group of kids. Much like the Hippies of the 1960’s they had their own wants and desires.  Some of which were gang related, based on how the Rap culture was represented. True, the genre participated, but was in no way to blame for the finite event that would unfold at school in the morning that Fall day in 1986.

Now, the Breakdancers were a tight group of friends who hung out all the time.  From 1984 through 1986 they had developed an equal amount of influence on each others lives.  Sometimes good. Sometimes bad. In the 1980’s there were plenty of places for teenagers to spend time.  They had the mall, local recreation centers, and clubs designed for young adults. Unfortunately getting into trouble of various kinds was something this group appeared to have a proclivity for.  And many times they preferred trouble to recreational activities.

In total, two incidents happened.  Both in 1986. One during the spring and the other during the summer.  Each event involved stolen articles. Now what actually happened isn’t important because, in ‘Din’s’ words, he was “innocent, for the most part.”  The actual records say different though; and that’s what matters. In short, ‘Din’ was caught and put on two years probation, with provisions. The first: he had to live at his parents’ house.  The second: he had to stay in and finish high school.

Now having been in trouble, ‘Din’s’ perception was that everyone looked at him differently.  Mainly those in positions of authority like his parents and teachers. It was because of this inner feeling that his attitude toward everything changed.  He became bored with school and stopped going to church. All he wanted to do was hang-out with his friends and party.

Even after school started up for his Senior year, ‘Din’s’ group of friends continued to do a lot of partying.  They caused an immense amount of trouble at school too. This drew the attention of the Assistant Principal, who, too ‘Din’, appeared to hate him for all of the trouble caused, and possibly a few other reasons that were actually justified like drinking at school and destroying school property.  

Now outside of school the one thing the Breakdancers loved to do, was dance.  They would go to local clubs and burn off their destructive energy.  One club in particular was the Grande Ballroom in Westland. This is where ‘Din’ and Pollyanna met, not long after the two incidents.

To ‘Din’, Pollyanna was an Aztec goddess.  She stood 5 feet 4 inches tall and had a perfect athletically slender build.  She had the most amazing raven curly hair cresting over her extremely beautiful face.  Her eyes were the lightest brown with a small fleck of green in them. Her skin was as soft as silk with the most angelic golden hue to it.  On a scale of 1 to 10, she was probably only an 8; although, not in ‘Din’s’ eyes. To him everything about her was as melodic and beautiful to behold as any Mozart composure.  She was the most perfect girl in the world.

And, outside of that she could move her body! This girl could dance, which was huge back in those days! 

‘Din’ and Pollyanna became exclusive and they spent an unprecedented amount of time together.  They were inseparable. Pollyanna had a car so they drove everywhere and did everything they could think of, or afford, to do. They were doing what every kid their age was supposed to be doing.  They went on dates, hung out at parties, and went to dance clubs. There were no issues until…well, let’s just say they began to spend too much time together and had trouble keeping their hands off of each other.

Overall, they were just two kids who had fallen in lust with each other.  But, yes, they loved each other too. The problem was, the only things they thought about were dancing and having sex.  Those two things became problematic.

It wasn’t that they didn’t like school.  School was where their friends were. That was ‘Din’s’ main reason to continue going.  It was ‘Din’s’ lack of enthusiasm with school that created issues. The teachers handed out their assignments.  He did them and handed them back the next day. On occasion he would work weeks ahead and wait until they finally caught up.  School became more of a social function to him and less of an educational one.

Eventually ‘Din’ just stopped doing his school work.  Part of this was due to boredom and another part because of his attitude change from the events of the summer of 1986.  He began to feel trapped.  He only wanted to invest his time in Pollyanna.  All they thought about was each other. So, together, they stopped going to school.  For 33 days straight they stayed at her parents’ home and did other things.  That is, until Pollyanna’s parents found out.  

Now, it wasn’t as if they just threw him out of their house and forbid them from seeing each other. No, they kicked ‘Din’ out of their daughters life.  Or to be more correct, they actually kicked her out of his.  Polly’s parents sent her to live with her grandmother in Texas.  There she would finish her High School career. He had no choice but to go on without her. Obviously he didn’t know it, but it would be decades before they would ever see each other again. 

In 1986, ‘Din’ slept in the basement of his parents’ house, in a room his dad built for him.  His bedroom was always dark and a little cold, much like his heart would quickly become after being separated from Pollyanna.  There was a light above his bed but he never turned it on. He would let his eyes slowly adjust to the tiny sliver of light he allowed to come through the window that looked out into the rest of the basement, which he covered with a blanket.  Thinking this Fall day would be like any other school day he previously experienced he eventually got up. He showered. He got dressed. And he headed off to his first day back to school where he would, once again, see his friends.

Stewart Hardcastle was the Assistant Principal.  Because of the previous trouble ‘Din’ was involved in he didn’t appear to want him in his school.  When he saw ‘Din’ coming up to the school doors he got up from his desk and raced to stop him from coming into the school altogether.  A conversation along these lines ensued: “Where do you think you’re going Mr. ‘Din’?” the Assistant Principal requested. “I’m going to class.” ‘Din’ replied.  “You haven’t attended this school for more than 30 days and are no longer welcome here.” ‘Din’ immediately took the offensive and started yelling at the Mr. Hardcastle.  ‘Din’ told him that he didn’t “need this school” and it would be “a cold day in hell” if he “ever came back to this dump”. A few other words were exchanged between them but eventually they both turned and walked away.

No girlfriend.  No school. Now no friends.  ‘Din’s’ senior year was over before midterms even started.  This boy thought he was bored when he was able to still go to school.  Well, take school away and all that he was left with was a lot of disappointment.  From every angle. Parent’s, teachers, and himself. Now he had nothing but time to think about everything that went wrong and how he got to this point in his life.

For nine months he sat around pondering what type of future a person without a High School diploma has.  Fortunately, he allowed his parents to influence him. A few of his friends that he still hung out with brought him around to see things the right way too.  During that time he spent out of school, he grew to understand what he was missing out on. He also figured out what he would miss out on had he continued down the path he was on.  During this time away from school his friends, like me and of course, his family helped make him understand that he needed school. 

Before Fall 1987 came, ‘Din’ registered for classes, again, at the same High School.  He had even began going back to church.  

I don’t have the specifics on the exact day, but on a drizzly Fall day in September 1987 ‘Din’ started back for the first day of his second Senior year.  On this approach to the school doors the Assistant Principal was, again, ready to greet him. This time, just inside the main lobby.  

This would be the second conversation in just under a year these two would have.  I was there and I recall it went something like: “Where do you think you’re going Mr. ‘Din’?” “I’m here to go to school Mr. Hardcastle.”  Hardcastle took a quick step to his left to block ‘Din’s’ continued entrance. ‘Din’ continued walking toward him and said, “It’s my right to be here Mr. Hardcastle.  And you can’t stop me from getting my education!” ‘Din’ began to circle around the Assistant Principal but at the same time Stewart Hardcastle moved back to his right and let him pass.  No other words were exchanged between the two.

For the most part, ‘Din’s’ Senior year was uneventful, which was a good thing.  ‘Din’ helped paint the Christmas Windows in Senior hall. He rode on the Senior float for the Homecoming game.  He even helped on the Entertainment committee with all of the school dances. No drinking. No drugs. No destruction of property.  No fights. No distractions. Just school.   

It appears after what had happened to ‘Din’, the whole Breakdancing group had settled down a bit.  ‘Din’ worked hard to stay focused and finish his senior year. He didn’t play any sports but he still earned a letter.  He lettered in academics. On graduation day, as ‘Din’ walked across the commencement stage, Mr. Hardcastle grabbed his hand, shook it, and said, in the most sincere and earnest way, “I knew you could do it.”  ‘Din’ smiled at him and continued on his path.