This is Part 12 of the story of How I Met Superman. To get caught up, you can find the preceding chapters here.
Over the next couple of weeks, I constantly looked for Superman at school. He never approached me during the school day. Instead, I’d see him leaning against the handrails at the band room, where he and his fellow drummers – Wade*, Tommy*, Orly*, and a handful of other boys – would laugh with each other and watch the girls go by.
But after school, he would find me, and take my books, and my heart would still, and he’d say, “Are you walking home?”
We learned more and more about each other during those walks. I was fascinated by his family: His mother came from Mexico, his father from Spanish-speaking southern Texas. They made enchiladas and menudo and tortillas from scratch on a regular basis. He told me his father had been in the military and then worked in the defense industry, and they moved around a lot when he was a kid. Subsequently, he felt very close to his older two brothers, who stood in as best friends in all those brand-new schools. I liked how close he was with his family. I liked how close he felt to his friends. He seemed to always be giving people things – money for lunch, a forgotten book to borrow, time after school – and I instantly loved that generosity about him.
But one of the afternoons, before walking home, he didn’t come find me.
I reviewed everything I’d said the day before – Was I too giddy? Too silly? Too nosey? Too anything?
Shoulders slumped, I meandered through the campus with Dawn and a few girlfriends, ready to walk home with them instead. But then I saw Superman and Orly, standing near an outside block of metal lockers, staring out toward the large, open blacktop where a large group of students – mostly boys – were clustering. When he saw me, he nodded, but didn’t approach. His face was a mask of worry and anger.
I wasn’t sure what to do. I wondered what was going on, but I didn’t want to impose myself on him if he didn’t want to walk me home. Dawn and I shuffled around the gathering crowd.
“You shouldn’t be here,” Superman said, seeming to come out of nowhere. He touched my elbow as if he wanted to divert me in the other direction.
“What’s going on?”
He shook his head.
Orly approached from behind. He’d been giving me smarmy smiles throughout the last few weeks, since that kiss, and I still couldn’t tell if he liked me or couldn’t stand me. But that day he simply had a worried look on his face. “I’ll stay here with her,” he said.
Superman looked at him skeptically. “I’ll be right back,” he emphasized, then he darted in the opposite direction.
“What’s going on?” I directed my question to Orly this time.
“It’s his brother. He’s supposed to be in a fight today after school. Rumor has it, anyway. Chris is just worried.”
I studied the gathering spectators. A sea of madras shirts and slicked-back hair – the style of the Mexican-American gangs of the day – was looming behind us. They all looked huge to me. Huge and angry.
“You should leave,” Orly said. He gave the directive to Dawn this time, maybe figuring she would listen.
Dawn nodded and tugged at my arm.
“Which brother?” I asked.
“Ruben. But he’s going to find Joe.”
“His other brother.”
I nodded slowly. I knew there was an older brother named John. Were there six boys? “Is Joe older than John?”
“They’re the same person. They call him Joe.”
I nodded slowly. Four brothers was enough to keep track of, but four brothers with five names was getting tricky. And madras shirts didn’t fit in at all, in my mind. Dawn tugged harder.
“What’s he going to do?” I asked.
“He’ll just find Joe.” Orly gently pushed me away, keeping an eye in the other direction. “They’ll try to knock some sense into Ruben. Ruben talks big sometimes and doesn’t realize what he’s getting into.”
The madras shirts were multiplying, coming in waves of black and blue, on boys that looked like men, looming large and looking violent. I didn’t understand the details of Mexican-American gangs at our school back then, but I knew there were two main gangs, one representing those from a barrio in Anaheim and the other representing the main barrio of Placentia, and I knew they hated each other. There were always fights. Everyone feared the fights, but they didn’t have quite the level of violence you’d fear today. Back then, gang fights involved fists. And – if the fight got especially violent – you might hear that someone had a knife. But I never heard the term “drive-by shooting” until several years later, in the late ‘80s.
Regardless, I didn’t understand Ruben’s involvement in any of this, since he wasn’t from a barrio at all. He lived with Chris and his family – in pleasant suburbia. His parents were soccer parents. They lived in “the flower streets.”
I shook my head and turned again toward Orly, who suddenly became my beacon of everything: “But wha – ”
“Laurie,” Orly interrupted. “Seriously. He’ll be fine.” He looked up worriedly at the closing ocean of black-and-blue plaid, and pushed me and Dawn more firmly to the edge of the crowd.
“Wait!” I said. I pulled a lined sheet of paper out of my Pee-Chee folder and tore off a corner, scribbling my phone number. I moved back around a few large bodies to find Orly, and pressed it into his hand.
“Ask him to call me,” I said.
Orly stared at the phone number curiously, then looked up at me with a new expression — one suddenly devoid of the smarminess.
“Got it,” he said quietly.
Surprisingly, the crowd let Dawn and I through with no problem. I’d never been in a sea of gang members before. Dawn looked relieved as we scampered toward our path home.
But I worried about Superman.
And worried about what I was getting myself into.
And Superman never called.
He just showed up, at my house, later that evening, completely unexpectedly. …
Click here for Part 13: Stepping Away from the Family Lines. ….
*Names changed to protect the Don’t-Want-to-be-Googled.