“Her eye makeup was running all over my shirt front, but that didn’t bother me as much as the way it was running down her face in dark streaks. She almost looked like she was behind bars” (110)
Bryon’s moving description of drunken Angela the night they hang out with her after her marriage speaks to the socioeconomic—and gendered, for her—restrictions/imprisonment faced by the poor teens in Tulsa. Bryon is less bothered by the fact that his shirt is getting dirty than by the disturbing image of Angela’s face behind bars. For all of their troubles and mischief, the nearness of going to jail is a sobering and drastic reality to these teens. For Angela, it also visually depicts the social imprisonments she has faced all her life, especially now with this new imprisonment of marriage.
“She had this groovy long dark hair with a sheen to it like charcoal—long hair with bangs just drives me crazy. There aren’t too many chicks who can wear their hair like that and still look good. And she had these big, beautiful gray eyes, dark gray with black eyelashes and the eyelashes were really long, but they weren’t fake. I am a long-practice studier of girls, and I can tell about things like that” (30-31)
Bryon is not only observant, but also acutely aware of and concerned with the physical appearances of others. He is particularly concerned with the physical appearances of girls, and his description of Cathy (whom he remembers as a mousy middle-schooler) is generous in its allowances. For Bryon, it is important that he moves on past physical appearances to actual emotional connection—Cathy becomes the first girl Bryon actually loves. This forces him to confront maturity head-on.
“Mark was small and compact, with strange golden eyes and hair to match and a grin like a friendly lion” (13)
Mark’s comparison to a lion is one that recurs throughout the story. This first introduction to his appearance is neutral, but as time goes on, he is variously compared to an “innocent lion” like a cub, or a “caged lion.” There is significance, also, in Bryon comparing Mark to a lion. Mark is predatory, even if it is just his instinct. Mark is a wild animal, and does not have any conceptions of human laws, as Bryon does.
“Mark stepped into a bedroom. There were about six or seven kids in it. One kid was lying on a bed watching his fingernails. The others were sitting cross-legged in a circle, talking about some book. I hadn’t read it so I didn’t get the conversation, but these kids were not dumb. They were all in blue jeans and old shirts and fringed vests. A couple of them were smoking grass” (122)
Bryon’s opinion of the hippie commune is rather negative, and his description of the hippie bedroom paints a ridiculous picture. The descriptions of the people, as well as the situations in the building, all paint a picture of a place gone off the rails. This negative and outrageous visual frame makes it all the worse when the boys find M&M in the hippie house.
“It was Angela. I just looked at her. She was smiling with that sassy smirk, and I wondered why on earth I’d ever given a damn about her. She was beautiful, little and dark, and even when suddenly all the girls had long straight hair, hers hung to the middle of her waist in ringlets and curls. It was blue-black and shiny. Maybe all that heavy mass wouldn’t look good on just anyone, but Angela had the kind of face that would probably be strikingly beautiful even if she shaved her head. But since I knew her so well, I could ignore the way she looked” (55-56)
Bryon often compares Cathy to Angela, or at least he compares the respective relationships he has had with them. It is only fitting, then, for the girls’ physical appearances to also be relevant. They both have long dark hair, but the way they carry themselves and their hair are very different. Not only do these physical descriptions of the girls in Bryon’s life orient readers to how they are perceived as people—and as potentially sexualized objects—but it also reveals insights into how they carry on in a neighborhood, and a story, so dominated by men.
That Was Then, This is Now Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for That Was Then, This is Now is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.