I spent my prom night with Lee McGrevin.
On a wall.
Lee lived in one of the first housing developments in Southlake, Texas I remember having a wall around it. I am not ashamed to admit that I knew the champagne Lee shared that night was stolen from a stranger’s garage. (Not the $100+ bottle he snagged on the New Years Eve before, but it was clear by the alcohol consumed from Southlake garages that it was a town destined for bigger tastes than its country roots.)
I was one of the geeks who didn’t attend prom that night; instead, I tromped around the woods with my best friend drinking stolen champagne. We didn’t camp out in our little lean to back in those woods that night. We decided to sleep on the big stone wall at the entrance to Lee’s neighborhood, watching limousines take so many people I knew to a party at the end of the block.
I can’t even remember how I met Lee. I only knew that when I met him, he was a self-professed redneck who loved Hank Williams Jr. more than the Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, and all the other bands he’d come to love inside a couple years. That transformation was quick. Where I liked punk music, Lee loved the lifestyle.
One night, he arrived at my window…the tone of that knock was all Lee. He told me he had a couple racist skinheads following him around in their car, and he wanted to know if I wanted to lure them into the woods where we camped to beat the shit out of them…or kill them.
“Self defense,” he said. “Who are the cops gonna believe? The racist skins encroaching on Southlake, or the good little rich kid and his well-enough-to-do friend who ran into the woods to escape an attack and had no option but to defend themselves with force?”
But really, that’s doing Lee injustice. He really was a good person.
Another Night at the Window
Another night at the window, there was Lee’s knock. I slid my window open to see Lee crying. He had a pair of scissors against his wrist.
“Give me ONE good reason why I shouldn’t kill myself.”
“You’re my brother, and I love you,” I said. “Now…give me the fuckin’ scissors.”
Lee did, and I went outside to talk him down. I talked him down a couple times, all the while thinking, “I’m right there on the edge, too.” No idea why two kids who had it pretty good wanted to die so much.
I was older, though, and I never let Lee know I struggled, too. It seemed like — if I did — it would have all come apart…
Odds and Ends
Lee ran away on somewhat regular occasion. One of his longest runs, I knew he was still around because after a few days of Lee being gone, I got in my car (that mighty 1980 Datsun 810), and it smelled like an animal had been sleeping in there.
I knew Lee was sleeping in my car because it was the warmest (and coziest) place he could find. (It really did smell like someone had field-dressed a boar in my back seat. For months! I can still smell that stench…) He eventually made his way to Irving, where he lived a couple days in the drainage tunnels under Highway 183 by Irving Mall. He called my mom to come and get him when he had enough.
My mom didn’t think twice about getting him. Lee may have been a mess at times, but you had no choice but to love and care for him.
Lee loved my mom. He loved his mom, too…while adopted, he always talked about how much he loved his mom. He said he was lucky to have two of the best moms in the world (his mom and my mom).
I knew the feeling; Lee’s mom (and dad) were the parents I wanted in so many ways in the 80s. Don’t get me wrong…to this day, my mom is one of my favorite people, but I had a step father I was not fond of. I wanted parents like Lee had.
One day, Lee mentioned to my mom and me that the one thing he didn’t have as a kid growing up in foster homes was a little red firetruck. My mom went out and bought Lee a great firetruck, which stayed on his dresser, a remnant of a youth he never had among all his punk posters. In all the battles we had throwing shit at each other, the firetruck was off limits.
In that one gift, my mom gave Lee at least a piece of the childhood he never had.
I loved Lee’s parents (and always will). I have no idea why he rebelled against them as much as he did. He had the life I dreamed of having, and for whatever reasons…he was not pleased with that life. I will never fault him for that, but I was always a bit perplexed what Lee was fighting.
But then…many punks begin a life in suburbia; any fight Lee had was really not with his parents…
The Last Night I Saw Lee
A bit of backstory, first. Lee’s parents sometimes traveled. When they did, we took his father’s Jaguar out for drives. (If I ever have a nice garage, I WILL have a mid-80s model Jag…I loved that friggin’ car!)
Once, we made up a story…that we were brothers and our parents were dead. They left us everything — including that Jaguar. We went to open houses in Southlake as it was growing into its big-town pants. The sob story was simple: I was 18, and Lee was my younger brother. I just got legal guardianship, and we were looking for a house. The Jaguar was convincing in the charade.
One time, we went out with the guy who watched Lee when his folks were away. We went to a big open house and…arrived late. But the sign was still out front. We got to the door and all fought to get inside first.
I will never forget the look of confusion (and terror) on that family’s face as they ate dinner and…a punk, a geek, and a clean-cut redhead (Lee’s keeper) all burst into their home unannounced.
As Lee slipped more into the punk he’d become, we were out one night with a friend. We had a pile of fireworks. I’d stop, and Lee would light fireworks in the street. I’d tear away while we were all laughing.
There really wasn’t much for a car full of outcasts to do on a Friday night/Saturday morning in Southlake, Texas at the time.
I stopped another time and Lee jumped out of the car. He ran up to a random front door and lit a string of Black Cats.
I thought, “What the fuck, Lee! NOT cool!”
Then I saw the headlights.
Lee jumped back into the car and then, as I sped away, the lights on top of the car came on.
“Shit, a cop!”
My other friend: “I can’t get busted. Not right now! My record is about to come clean. PLEASE get around this corner and let me bail!”
But the cop was on us.
I pulled over.
The cop was cool. His general feeling was, “You’re stupid geeks…go home and never do this shit again.” But…he had to call the pull over in.
So…in no time, the head honcho cop showed up. He had an attitude. He looked at my friend in the front seat.
“Well, well, well…”
Then he saw Lee in the backseat. “Oh, wait…YOU!!!” (With shaved heads, my two friends kind of looked alike…and let’s just say Lee had a reputation with the police in several cities…)
We were escorted to the Southlake Police Department where my other friend and I were given tickets because we’d reached an age where our parents could no longer be called.
Lee, being a minor, was taken away with the dicky cop. We heard, “Put that fucking cigarette out!” and other things Lee was doing to antagonize the cop from the other room. My friend and I were released…I wanted to stay for Lee, but was told only his parents could take him.
I was an adult at this point, so…I was going to pay my ticket. Not tell my mom or step dad…they would never know.
But Lee had a bigass heart.
He showed up at my front door while I was away the next day; told my mom, “It wasn’t Chris’s fault — it was all mine!”
My mom invited him in, and he realized, “Oh, shit…I’m giving up a friend.”
He could never apologize enough, even though he was forgiven by me right away.
That’s the kind of person Lee was…
There are storm drainage tunnels near Grapevine Lake. I know this because Lee told me. Underneath Dove Road, an opening in the wall supporting a bridge that most people will never know is a bridge.
We had to see what was in there. Lee had read a book about Vietnam called The Tunnels of C? Chi. So we spray painted “Tunnel Rats” over the hole in the wall that went into the drainage system and crawled in.
Each time, we went deeper and deeper — rats be damned!
Snakes and black widow spiders eventually stopped us, but it took several encounters with venomous beasties to finally stop trespassing below the streets of Grapevine.
We decided it was safer to just steal booze from garages and sit in Lee’s room listening to Balck Flag, The Dead Kennedys, The Meatmen, and other bands…
One day, Lee was gone. He said he went to Philadelphia. I have no idea if that was true, but one night while we walked along late in Grapevine, Texas, cops pulled us over.
Lee was exceptionally calm. Me, on the other hand…I ranted about how I didn’t know it was a mother fucking police state! How I didn’t know it was fucking illegal for two sober friends to walk along the street minding their own business, only to be pulled over by fucking cops.
Lee: “Dude, be cool…”
The last words I expected to hear from him.
Turned out, while away, he’d been in a brawl behind a club. A cop came in heavy, just busting heads. Lee got the cop in the chest with a broken bottle.
I was pulled aside by the head cop and told to chill the fuck out…and that — with a spotless record — I’d do well to not hang out with trouble like Lee.
Fuck that noise!
The Last Night I Saw Lee…
When my mom divorced my step father, we moved from Southlake to Grapevine. Not a long haul, but when your only mode of transportation is foot, it was a distance.
I still drove over to visit Lee. We still did things together, but he was in and out of a school in Colorado. He was away more than around. But one night…
TAK TAK TAK!
Someone was throwing pebbles at my second story window. I looked out to see Lee.
“Hey…can you come down?”
I went down.
“I have my dad’s car…”
That fucking Jag!
We went for a ride. For hours. Nice and slow. We were no longer interested in pushing the Jaguar to its limits. We weren’t young punks anymore (even though we really were). We would obey all traffic laws (a good thing since Lee wasn’t licensed to drive), and we just drove.
We ended up driving all over Fort Worth with the windows down and the sunroof open. Just talking. Like…we were adults.
“There’s Trinity Park,” Lee said. “Remember that day?”
For all our faults and awkwardness, there was a day Lee and I went to Fort Worth. We knocked around…went to lunch at an actual restaurant that I paid for. Just this great afternoon — one of my all-time best — hanging out and being calm with my best bud.
We stopped by TCU to visit Lee’s mom, who was a professor there. We hung out in her office, and she seemed surprised and happy to see us. Then…we went to Trinity Park and juggled until it got dark.
I think we both felt what it was to be teetering on adulthood that day, and we both liked it. Not having much, but enough to have a great meal with a good friend and do whatever came to mind. (None of those things being stupid and destructive.)
It’s a day that will live like a celluloid haze in my mind until I’m done…
That Last Drive
“Of course I remember that day…” I said when Lee asked me. I started crying, but I didn’t let him see. Not because he’d judge me, but because I knew he’d feel bad and do all he could to make things better.
I just somehow knew it would be the last time I ever saw him.
We chatted for hours, just driving along in that Jag. Then we rode home in silence.
The next morning, when I went out to my car — leaning against a tree — was a stick. When Lee and I were younger and claiming a small patch of woods as our own, we beat the shit out of each other. (It was a hobby.) I had a stick I loved. The rules were simple: “No head shots!” All else was legal.
We left those woods with bruises we hid from our parents. If people had seen them at school, I thought our parents would be locked away for abuse.
Those bruises belonged to us. They belonged to youth — to figuring out who we were.
And there, laying again that tree, was the stick I used to beat the ever-living fuck out of Lee McGrevin…because if I didn’t, he’d have beaten the ever-living fuck out of me!
I still have that stick…it’s buried in my closet, the only remaining piece of a small patch of woods that is long gone and now a housing development.
A piece of Southlake most people never knew existed; a piece of all we were when we were younger.
After Lee vanished, I got a call from his mom. Lee had called her in a state of confusion, totally lost. He hung up and that was that. She assumed that was that and told me he was gone.
I was gutted. Not surprised, but totally lost.
In 2005, I got a job at an aviation consulting firm that told me there would be no travel.
Three weeks into the job, they asked me to go to Atlanta for two months.
Lee’s parents lived in Atlanta.
One Saturday afternoon, I called them from a laundromat not too far from the airport where I was staying (and where one of the guys I worked with was held at gunpoint by a nervous 15-year-old who took his car).
I met up with Lee’s parents at the Sunflower Cafe in Bucktown. It was great catching up, but the best part: Lee’s mom showing me photos of Lee and his daughter.
Lee was alive!
I found comfort in that, even though his parents told me he still struggled with so much. But…I had this hope that we would one day catch up.
Last weekend, I saw someone post on Lee’s Facebook wall. It made me wonder what was up. When I saw that Lee was dead…it hit me even harder than the first time I thought Lee was dead.
All I could think of is this line from a John Irving novel that is a better way to end this entry and anything I could say.
Because I’ve said more than enough already…
We don’t always have a choice how we get to know one another. Sometimes, people fall into our lives cleanly–as if out of the sky, or as if there were a direct flight from Heaven to Earth–the same sudden way we lose people who once seemed they would always be part of our lives.
– John Irving – Last Night in Twisted River