The demolition is scheduled on a Thursday, during finals, at the exact same time that the only ice cream shop in town is offering free cones. This is deliberate, of course; they’re hoping to get it over and done with quietly, without any fanfare.
But we will not let them take today away from us.
I help my best friend get ready in his room an hour before it is scheduled to happen. He tries to convince me it is not too hot for a suit, and I remind him that if he faints, he’ll make a scene, and not the kind he wants. He makes me turn around while he dresses, more for the element of surprise than modesty. When I turn, he is wearing a blue button-up with short sleeves and a pineapple print.
“Absolutely not,” I say. “Who even are you?”
“Is that what you’re going for?” He shrugs. “They’re literally taking down a statue and tearing down a building because of you. You’re a revolutionary. You really think that pineapples say, ‘hey, I’m a revolutionary?”
“I mean, not really, but maybe the more conservative old men in this town will respect a young Black man they think is ruining their country just a little more if he’s wearing pineapples.”
He’s only half joking, and I remind myself that he’s probably a little scared. Or a lot.
It was one thing for a Black man to run for student council on a platform that promised to finally address our college’s racist, white supremacist history and have honest conversations about the slave owner that founded this place way back in the 1700s. It was another to be elected and decide that such progress would require, at the bare minimum, removing that founder’s statue. Of course, students had been trying to do that for years, decades even (probably not centuries, because let’s be honest, that guy was definitely considered a hero in the 1800s, especially in North Carolina).
But this time was different, because this time, it was Terrence Lawrence’s idea. Some of the students who elected him thought he couldn’t do it, and that he would just establish more student-faculty committees to talk about issues and never actually do anything about them. They were wrong.
The election took place near the end of our sophomore spring. It would be a lie to say that it was exciting, though it was contentious. Terrence was up against the usual suspects: two legacy student athletes, one guy, one girl, both white and blond and beautiful and running as co-presidents, as if that would magically make the entire school fair and equitable.
Terrence did not win easily. He won because he mobilized students who didn’t usually care about these sorts of things. He won because when Terrence speaks, you listen. The words he says are powerful and fact-checked and honest, but mostly, it’s his voice. The other candidates had voices that had turned grating with too much practice being peppy.
So yes, Terrence won. He found out via email, which he read to me with a half-grin, half-grimace on his face. There was no celebration.
Sometimes I wonder if a part of him didn’t want to win at all.
After a whole summer of phone calls and emails with students, faculty, and experts in various fields, he had a plan. There were committees, because there are always committees, but there were also concrete plans and demands and petitions and protests on the quad, and suddenly professors all over campus were throwing away their notes and giving lectures on how colleges are built through violence and racism, on stolen land by men with god complexes.
It was astounding, to be honest.
When I say it, it all sounds so easy, and I need you to know that it wasn’t. I need you to know that I sat with Terrence until two in the morning on countless occasions while we read the hateful emails and listened to the threatening phone calls, and I hugged him so tightly I thought he would break. He told me about the people glaring at him in class, the notes they passed to him. For months I walked next to him between every class, past groups of jeering students, so close that our shoulders were touching. Once I dodged in front of him just as someone hurled a cup of hot coffee at him.
All that, over the statue of a long-dead guy who planted a house in a field and called it a school.
I’m still thinking of those long, terrible nights, which is why I tell him to wear the pineapple shirt. Who knows? It might do the trick.
We make our way to the south side of campus, where a small crowd has already gathered around the old house. It’s fallen into disrepair, which is probably the real reason they’re demolishing it. The school used it as offices and dorms for a while, until the mold got so bad that they had to evacuate everyone. Since then, there have been vague promises to remodel, clean it up, but with the statue coming down it made little sense to keep the rotting estate. So they rolled everything into one, made a day of it. Like I said, quick and quiet. But of course, the detractors think it’s all Terrence’s fault, that there was somehow still hope for the house if only he hadn’t meddled.
I look at the building, at the vines climbing up and into broken windows, at the hole in the roof, at the vultures keeping watch nearby, and wonder how anyone could want to protect this haunted house straight out of Edgar Allan Poe’s imagination.
As we approach, a few people point at Terrence. Some wave. A little closer to the house, a group of counter demonstrators are grouped together, waving signs like Stop Erasing Our History and All Buildings Matter. I’m serious. And this isn’t even a protest, so I don’t know what they think they’re accomplishing. We had protests, of course. But this isn’t one of them. This is the result of the protests. The people here now came not necessarily because they care, but because people like to watch buildings fall. It’s this primal need for destruction, maybe, or it’s because this town is so boring that even this counts as entertainment.
I grip Terrence’s hand as we stand and wait for it to start. We didn’t need to be here, but he wanted to come. He isn’t making a speech, though he would have liked to; he doesn’t get to personally pick up the statue or throw a ceremonial rock at a window of the house.
"Hey, how are you feeling?" I ask.
He shrugs. "Underwhelmed."
I jab him in the shoulder. "Come on, be proud of yourself." I point to where the crew is fastening ropes around the statue's arms. "You did this. Hundreds of years, thousands of students couldn’t do this. But you did.”
We watch as the statue is carried away and the house collapses into a pile of rubble. Or rather, Terrence watches, and I watch Terrence. His arms are crossed, and his mouth is set in a firm line.
When it is over, he turns to leave, no doubt to go back to his dark room and start on the next project. But I grab his wrist and say, "No, wait, don't just leave. Let's celebrate.”
He shakes his head. “I have to write a paper,” he says.
“Come on, Pineapple King. I know it seems small, but a win is a win, right?” He shrugs, and I think fast. “If we hurry, I bet we can still get a free ice cream cone.”
“Well,” he says slowly, “Fine. Ice cream sounds good.”
I grin and break into a jog, my fingers still clasped around his wrist. He stumbles a bit before he matches my pace, and he laughs as, together, we jog away from the destruction.