August 7, 1992
It's been 20 years since that night long ago ... the night when I graduated college with my BS degree in Business Administration. I remember that night because it was a happy and sad time. Happy because I was saying hello to a new life and sad because I was saying goodbye to one of my friends.
1992 had been a year of goodbyes. By August 8 I had said goodbye to the woman I had thought I was going to marry (see previous post), said goodbye to another woman I should have stayed with and now I was saying goodbye to one of my best friends, Cody. Cody and I had met the first day of college way back in the fall of 1987 and somehow we had clicked and we'd been friends ever since. We got separated when I came back home to go to college but we met up again in the Spring of '90 and then kind of grew apart while I dated Katrice. Once Katrice walked out on me, I got absorbed back into the fold of my old group and the last six months had made up for lost time.
We spent the night at Cody's apartment ... me, him, his girlfriend and Flynn. Joy was missing. I missed Joy but she was long gone and far away in Pensacola. Still, her absence was felt; an intangible absence made tangible by our memories of her and the time that she had spent with us and the time that we had spent with her.
The four of us drank Bud Light and sweet tea and whiskey and wine coolers and Coke and Dr. Pepper. We ate cheap carry out pizza from Papa's Pizza across from USM and reminisced on five years of both good and bad memories. Sometime after 4 in the morning I fell asleep on the couch. Cody and his girlfriend were already asleep in the recliner, snuggled up and Flynn was rummaging around in Cody's barren fridge for one last beer, the smoke from his cigarette wafting up and away from him, illuminated there in the light of the fridge and silhouetted against the dark of the kitchen.
I called it quits, closed my burning eyes and woke up four hours later.
Saturday, August 8, 1992
It was light outside.
I checked my watch, got up, stretched, collected my stuff and in doing so woke up Cody and his girlfriend. One last handshake and a brotherly man-hug from Cody, one hug from his girlfriend and a moment of silence. The fellowship was ended. Our post-graduation paths now parted and we were going our separate ways.
Cody was going back to Texas and his girlfriend was going with him.
They had plans for a life together.
I was going on vacation for a week in the Great Smoky Mountains with my family and to see my grandmother's brother and his wife. I had a job waiting on me when I got back. Other than that I had no real plans at all.
When I returned, Cody and his girlfriend would be gone. Days gone and hundreds of miles away. That was another sad and happy feeling ... Cody and I had made it out of college together. He had met a girl. So had I. Neither one of us got the girl that we wanted but he got the girl that he needed and I was ...
Alone, through no fault of my own ... or maybe I had made a few mistakes along the way. I thought of Kelly, gone for over a month. I thought of Joy ... gone now for four months. I thought of Katrice ... gone now for six months. All of them were dust ... ghosts of my past ... intangible absences made tangible by my memories of them.
Walking out the door of Cody's apartment was like walking into a new life.
I found Flynn sitting on the front window ledge of the apartment, smoking his ... who knew what cigarette number he was on. He took a swig from his battered flask and held it out to me. I took a long swig of whiskey and handed it back. The whiskey burned all the way down and sat smoldering in my empty stomach. It was a happy and sad feeling as well but the world got a lot more orderly then, better than any coffee could tidy it up, and that was what was important.
And then I realized something ...
I had graduated from college last night. I had given up all of my part-time jobs and I had a real, full-time job waiting on me to get back from vacation ... a full-time, well paying position in one of the largest banks in the state in the Information Systems department. I was going to be a computer tech and like so many other things in my life that job had just landed in my lap at the last second.
I felt sad then, even more sad than I had in the last 24 hours. I felt sad because everyone I knew was either leaving me or had already left. My life was resetting itself. Increment the counter back to zero. I was alone, again, just like I'd always been ... well, I had Flynn which I guess is how I had started this whole adventure six years ago.
Six long years.
Six years ago, that early September Saturday morning. I had just started my senior year in high school at Petal. I had been changing the oil and filter in my black and gold '79 Pontiac "Bandit" Trans-Am there in the driveway of my parents' house and Flynn had pulled up in his beat up old '70 Pontiac GTO. You see, Flynn and my parents had the same street address, they just lived on different streets and my Ames Performance Engineering (APE) Pontiac Firebird catalog had found its way into Flynn's mailbox by mistake ... or had it been some kind of cosmic fate?
That was the day that Flynn and I had met. Everyone else had come after and now everyone else was leaving or already gone. Anyway, it was just Flynn and me, again.
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
Just like it had always been before.
Flynn took a last pull on his cigarette and flicked it out into the grass beyond the sidewalk. He took another swig of whiskey from his flask and put the flask back in his vest pocket.
"Kind of hungry. Want to get something to eat?" Flynn asked.
Yeah I did.
"IHOP?" I asked, already knowing where Flynn wanted to go.
Flynn pushed himself up and off the window ledge, stretching.
"I reckon." he said, taking the lead and walking towards the parking lot where my Vette was parked.
I guess I was driving.
I took one last look at the apartment complex around me ... so many memories. I took one last look at Cody's apartment, said a silent goodbye to a place that had only recently taken on the aspects of a shrine and then stepped on after Flynn, my keys in my hand.
Just like old times.
Flynn and Shields.
Let the good times roll.
Later that day I wound up at McAllister's Deli with my other friends, the intellectual bunch; Bill, Mel, Eric ... I remember that we spent a long time sitting there eating triple chocolate spoon cake and drinking sweet tea and going over our own memories, shared and personal, of our college years. I remember Bill claiming that he could outdrink me in sweet tea and me accepting the challenge. McAllister's had these huge 44 ounce cups that they served tea in and with free refills the gauntlet had been thrown down. I made it through two cups of sweet tea, syrupy sweet tea ... got a refill and started on my third cup. Bill made it about a quarter of the way through his second cup, got a look of distress on his face, excused himself and made for the bathroom. A few minutes later he reappeared looking paler and disheveled. Apparently there is such a thing as projectile tea-vomit and he had just experienced it. He conceded defeat to me and we all broke apart to go our separate ways. Bill and Mel already had jobs at Magnolia Federal Bank and I'd soon be joining them.
Eric was working at a software company in Meridian about a hundred plus miles away.
Things hadn't turned out that bad after all.
I had a college degree, I'd said my goodbyes and I still had a few friends left, friends that I'd only grow closer to in the next few years to come. We said our (temporary) goodbyes, my friends wishing me well on my vacation.
I went home, tired ... no, exhausted ... and I hit my bed and fell asleep about 3pm in the afternoon. I had nothing else to do. No part-time job to go to, no girlfriend to be with ... right then I just wanted to sleep, to feel like I had accomplished something and to just rest after a very long, long journey through the walls and halls of academia. I closed my eyes and I melted into my bed, slowly sinking into it like it was made out of warm gelatin.
I didn't dream at all.
I woke up five hours later with the worst headache I had ever had in my life, a real splitting headache and all I could think of was it was the product of drinking over 100 ounces of syrupy sweet tea in less than 30 minutes. I suffered that night with what amounted to a tea hangover ... the first and only one I've ever had. I was miserable and even several aspirin didn't seem to take the sharp edge off of my headache. I thought that I might have to go to the emergency room the pain got so bad but about the time that I got up and ready to drive myself to Forrest General the pain started to subside.
I read a book for a while then got a shower and went to bed for the night. It was a little after 9pm.
Sunday, August 9, 1992
The next day I helped my 70 year old grandmother fall gracefully into the passenger seat of my '88 Chevrolet Z-51 Corvette and together we headed out a day early for her brother's house in Chattanooga, TN. She was a delight to travel with, telling me stories of her youth and her brothers and sisters. My grandmother was a short woman and her head barely rose up above the dash / side of the passenger door but she kept me entertained as the miles between Hattiesburg and Chattanooga rolled by.
We stopped off for lunch at the Galleria Mall in Birmingham, Chick-Fil-A, and I remember seeing the massive water fountain rising and falling. In the Winter, the fountain would be replaced with an old style merry-go-round. We did some window shopping and then got back into my Vette and headed on down the road.
Late that afternoon we drove into the driveway of her brother's house and I helped her unpack. My parents and my sister would be up late tomorrow so I had about a day and a half to kill. That night, watching the sun go down over Missionary Ridge, I lay in a hammock in the back yard, keyed up my Sony Walkman and just relaxed. I think I fell asleep and it was some of the best sleep that I'd had in a while. My great uncle woke me and told me that they were going out to get something to eat. I didn't do cafeterias so I told them I'd just get something on my own and maybe catch a movie later.
I ate at Pizza Hut by myself, in a mall there in Chattanooga and then went to see Clint Eastwood's new western "Unforgiven" at the theater across the highway. I got back to my great uncle's house somewhere after 10 that night and fell asleep on the guest bed which was a folding couch that they had made up for me before going to bed. I turned out the light and lay there in the dark ... thinking.
What a long strange trip it had been, I thought as I lay there listening to my Walkman. I listened to Chilliwack and Boston. "My Girl", "Whatcha gonna do", "More than a feeling" and "Don't look back" were the four songs that I kept playing over and over again on my Walkman. The batteries finally gave out, the tape slowed to a stop and I made a mental note to pick up some AA batteries in the morning. I put my Walkman away but I could still hear the music in my head.
Again I felt a tinge of sadness because I thought that my journey, the long trail of my youth, had finally come to its anticipated but not expected end. Little did I know that the journey was just starting.
The pillow smelled of Springtime, the sheets were fresh and I fell asleep to strange dreams about an uncertain future, about adventures yet to be had ... dreams that were punctuated by the sounds of late night traffic passing on the road in front of the house and the air conditioning cycling on and off periodically.