That Was Then, This is Now

That Was Then, This is Now Summary and Analysis of Chapter 6


The Texans who shot Charlie are tried and given life sentence. As the family gets into an even tighter financial situation, Mark offers to find work for the first time since being a part of Bryon’s family. Bryon changes, buying new clothes, getting a new haircut, and realizing an attitude change. Bryon and Cathy go driving around, and Cathy expresses concern that M&M is most likely smoking marijuana. She proposes that Bryon would be a good role model or influence for M&M. Bryon and Cathy pick up Mark and M&M and the four of them ride along, especially along the Ribbon, a street full of restaurants and drive-ins. They loiter around, with Mark once randomly punching a stranger in the face who had been crude to Cathy. At their last drive in, tensions between Cathy and Mark reach a head and the two are unable to really speak with each other. Mark goes off on his own to find another friend. On their way back, M&M asks to pull up next to the hot dog stand. He says he is not going home ever, and hops off and disappears into the night. They are unable to find him, and pick up Mark instead; Cathy cries silently the whole way back, knowing that M&M doesn’t want to go home because of the way his parents have been treating him.


During the trial of the Texans, Bryon describes himself as “like a tape recorder playing back something it had impersonally recorded…I didn’t feel glad, or vengeful, or anything…Charlie was dead, nothing was going to change that” (pg. 89). This sobering passage is a reminder for readers—and a realization for Bryon—that men are shaped by the time and context around them, and that often, people are only “tape recorders” of the memories they carry. Furthermore, Bryon recognizes that “Death by violence isn’t the same as dying any other way” (pg. 90). This brief line about the boys’ current socioeconomic situation is a reminder about the larger violence going on in the world—the Vietnam War—and the brokenness that death by violence is causing for families everywhere.
Bryon begins to change, recognizing that he must come off as a mouthy-know-it-all to many people, and to this Mark tells him: “Even if you do know it all, you don’t have to let them [others] know it” (pg. 90). This highlights another major theme this story explores: the difference between the truth and the perception of it; how one cannot really know the entire truth—especially not the entire truth of another person, since people can say different things from what they really believe.
This is a problem Byron himself has, and realizes it, although does not fully regret its negative effects until later in the future. He finds it difficult to tell people how he really feels, wanting to tell Mark: “We love you and we want you here, and Mark, you’re my brother and you’ve got a right to whatever I’ve got” but instead says, “Don’t be a ding-a-ling” (pg. 91). Bryon then wishes that he had told Mark how much he meant to him and to his mom, but he has “never been able to say things like that, to tell people I loved them, unless it was some nitwit chick I couldn’t care less about” (pg. 91-92). This same slip in connection between truth and words—the discrepancy between feelings and their vocalization—happens again when Bryon and Cathy are driving around town. He is unable to express how much he loved her and loves everything that she loves; he is glad when she proposes that they hang out with their brothers because “the last thing I wanted just then was to be alone with her; I could easily say something really dumb” (pg. 94).
When a guy in an adjacent car says something crude to Cathy that night, Mark impulsively jumps out and punches the guy in the face. Although Mark did it in her defense, he really also did it for himself and to satisfy his impulses—something which Bryon, his closest friend and brother—will never understand. This heightens the tension between Cathy and Mark. On being berated for doing so, Mark turns on Cathy saying, “Why make anything of anybody? Why not just take people or leave them?” (pg. 97), and highlights a fundamental human instinct to categorize people (just as socioeconomic and race differences form boundaries in their town)—and yet also pushes back against the human urge and desire to understand other people.
Bryon is rather affected when he sees young pre-teen “teeny-boppers” making fools of themselves nearby—they remind him of himself and Mark at that age, and realizes that perspective and perception change everything. He and Mark used to think they were very cool—“When I remembered us, it didn’t seem possible that we had looked as silly as these teenyboppers, but I guess we had. At least then we weren’t worried about looking silly. We were sure of ourselves, so sure we were the coolest things to hit town. Now I wasn’t so sure” (pg. 100). Part of growing up is losing the self-assurance of childhood, and the certainty that things will always be at a status quo.