That Was Then, This is Now

That Was Then, This is Now Summary and Analysis of Chapter 2


Mark and Bryon go to visit their/Bryon’s mom in the hospital. They are so poor that even after selling their car and other amenities, they are still short of money to pay for their mother’s recent operation.
At the hospital, their mother tells them to visit the poor boy across the hall who doesn’t get many visitors. Bryon protests, but Mark agrees. Bryon goes down to the cafeteria to get food. His server is a girl with long dark hair whom he finds attractive. The girl recognizes him, and asks him about his life, while Bryon pretends to recognize her. Not until she smiles just like M&M that Bryon realizes the girl is Cathy, M&M’s sister, just back from private school. Bryon becomes awkward, stuttering and reminding Cathy of how she looked the last time they saw each other. Upon going back upstairs, the boy across the hall from Bryon’s mother asks Bryon to come in and sit with him. Mark has gone to buy comics for the boy. The boy, Mike Chambers, tells Bryon of how he got so terribly beat-up.
Mike was with his gang in a convenience store when a black girl came in. Mike says that he has always been very nice to girls, and when the gang harasses the black girl, Mike tells them to stop. He asks her if she needs a ride, scared about what else the gang might do later on. When she realizes that he has no ulterior motives, she agrees and takes her home, realizing that Mike is harmless. However, when she arrives home and her family members surround the car, she tells them to beat up Mike. Bryon is very affected by Mike’s story, and he and Mark disagree as to whether or not what Mike did was actually “stupid.”


Hinton continues to highlight the differences between Mark and Bryon. First, Bryon talks about how Mark steals in order to get what he wants (especially now when the family is low on funds). Usually, it is, as Bryon says, Mark as the “thief” and Bryon as the “hustler.” “One thing about it though,” Bryon says, is that “Mark couldn’t see anything wrong with stealing stuff. I could” (pg. 25). When they take the bus to the hospital, Bryon is again able to give readers more background and context when he talks about their driver being a hippie, and how Mark and he once beat up a hippie without knowing that the victims would not fight back. Bryon says that he and Mark look like “tough guys” (pg. 26), and continually makes observations about the distinctive appearances of hippies. A large concern of this story is how people categorize other people, and how they understand these categorizations—mostly through immediate physical appearances.
At the hospital, Mark demonstrates that he knows how to appease Bryon’s mother when he agrees to visit Mike across the hall. Bryon still refuses, knowing that Mark’s agreement was “just the kind of junk my mother eats up, and Mark knew it” (pg. 29). Despite knowing what the right thing to say is, Bryon stubbornly holds to his own beliefs. Going down to the cafeteria, he reflects on this, saying that he has never been able to accept authority. For the boys, police are often the most immediate physical representation of authority. Bryon has had a bad encounter with corrupt police before, who beat him up and left him alone when he got drunk.
Still more of Bryon’s character is revealed, especially through his refusal to submit to not recognizing Cathy, and instead playing along pretending to recognize her at first sight. He also is extremely conscious of the way he speaks, saying that he never stuttered around girls, but is doing so around Cathy. He is also confirmedly reflective, thinking about how he has dated so many girls, but “was sure I could remember them if I saw them again” (pg. 31).
After hearing Mike’s horrific story, Mark and Bryon discuss Mike’s decision not to be mad at Connie (the black girl at the center of the whole violence) or any of the people who beat him up. Mark says he thinks Mike is stupid not to hate the blacks who hurt him, but Bryon, more sensitively, understands why Mike does not. Bryon only says, vaguely, that “I had been thinking about Mike’s story, and I could see his point about not hating the people who beat him up” (pg. 41). Mark repeats his own point, saying, “Man if anybody ever hurt me like that I’d hate them for the rest of my life” (pg. 42). With those words—and then Bryon’s reflections—the chapter closes. Bryon’s reflections reminds readers that this story is told from a future, older Bryon looking back, only realizing the significance of Mark’s words; the later Bryon says: “I didn’t think much about that statement then. But later I would—I still do. I think about it and think about it until I think I’m going crazy” (pg. 42). Clearly, before the end of the story, someone will hurt Mark. Furthermore, Mike’s story complicates the racial tensions going on in this story set during the civil rights era. While Mike’s incident does not necessarily indicate that any issues between whites and blacks will arise later in the story, it allows Bryon to reassess Mark’s character, and his own stances towards people who are different than him.