When I left Virginia back in 1996, the day after my high school graduation, my relocation to Colorado was only partly a choice. I had been accepted to a university in Colorado; I chose to attend that school despite the fact that I'd been offered better financial aid packages by local schools. I left the Old Dominion for one reason and one reason alone - survival.
A few weeks after my 18th birthday, I was at this party. A guy started running off at the mouth. The gentleman was an unwelcome guest at this gathering; because everyone knew he was "packing," no one wanted to ask him to leave.
Stoned, drunk, and knowing that I was packing heat myself (kept that sucker in the glovebox of my car), I asked the guy to leave. The guy asked me what I was going to do if he didn't. So I introduced his forehead to the hood of my Dodge Shadow.
I thought I'd knocked the guy out. His girlfriend, a friend of a friend of mine, started screaming and I found myself distracted. I turned back around just soon enough to catch the guy reaching down the front of his pants for something. Not wanting to end my high school career as a corpse, I kicked the guy in the head. Then I kicked him in the ribs. Then I rolled him over, put my knee in his gut, and spit in his face. Turns out the guy was actually reaching for his pager.
Back then, I remember thinking Tough shit, kid. You picked the wrong peckerwood to fuck with. In hindsight, however, the whole event is extremely disturbing.
I went back to the party and found this friend of mine, Thor (not his real name) - one of the hardest motherfuckers I've ever known. By 15, he'd already had his nose broken four times, jaw twice, eye socket fractured, and already had arthritis in both hands. I once watched him extinguish a Phillies Blunt on his forearm and clean the wound with Colt .45 malt liquor.
That's hardcore. Half-insane, but hardcore nonetheless.
I told Thor about the fight, proud of myself for giving a guy an asswhooping of Thor-like proportions. Instead of congratulating me, Thor got in my face, shoving me and telling me how stupid I was for doing what I'd done. I was now 18, he reminded me, and subject to being charged as an adult. If my foot had landed in the wrong place, I could've killed the guy.
Then he made me promise to go to college. I'd been debating whether or not to go, to possibly pursue a "safer," more familiar career - one in the illicit pharmecutical industry. He threatened to kick my ass if I ever went that route. He told me he never wanted to see me again once I left for Colorado, that if I chose the career I was thinking about choosing, they'd find me face down in the James River.
So I promised I'd choose the college route. And, despite all my stumbles along the way, it's something I've never regretted. I wouldn't have a postgraduate education, wouldn't be working in a field that I love, wouldn't have met some of the amazing people I've met in this life if I hadn't made that promise more than a decade ago.
So why do I bring this up?
After visiting G'maw in the hospital and having dinner with the ZenFo Dad, I went out looking for a watering hole. My nerves were completely shot. Seeing my grandmother doped up on morphine, head half-shaved, steel mounted to her ankle... that's a hard thing.
I found this redneck dive out on U.S. 460. Ignoring the Confederate flags in the window and the Larry the Cable Guy bumperstickers on the rusted out GMCs in the parking lot, I strolled in and ordered a Jameson's on the rocks.
Some guy came up and put his hand on my shoulder. I turned around to find a fat, balding man in a Kyle Petty tee-shirt, covered in drywall mud, staring at me. Despite being a good 30 pounds lighter than I was in high school, the guy still recognized me.
Uh...yeah. You know that guy I kicked the shit out of just after my 18th birthday?
And he had some friends with him, Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumbass, both grinning from ear-to-ear.
To be honest, I was ready to meet my Maker. Not that I was necessarily looking forward to an untimely demise, but I came to grips a long time ago with the fact that I've been living on borrowed time. To borrow from that old Klingon mantra, every day is a good day to die.
Instead of wanting revenge (I didn't just beat this guy up, I'm certain I removed teeth and probably cracked a rib or three), this guy wanted to relive the "glory days." He bought me a fresh Scotch, and I joined their table.
So here sat these three over-the-hill alcoholic good ol' boys, two very young looking girls, and a librarian from Ohio. The girls, visibly annoyed that their beaus had chosen to bring yet another guy to the table to trade war stories, got up and went to shoot some pool.
The trio were long removed from those "glory days." "Tom" (again, not using real names here) was far from the skinny white boy who used to brag about having sex with black girls behind the Winn-Dixie, the guy who talked such a good game about wanting to put me on a milk carton but never did shit, the scared kid behind an imaginary shield of gangsta rap and tricked-out used cars.
Instead of being pissed, Tom wanted to exaggerate and reimagine the whole fight into this Romanesque battle. Ignoring historical fact, Tom and his buddies simply invented a version that sounded more macho, more glamourous. Apparently, Tom and I had fought to a bloody draw, ending when both of us had loaded pistols at each other's temples.
Tweedle Dumb and Tweedle Dumbass, neither of whom could've been old enough to be at the party in question, were both supposed witnesses and echoed Tom's version. They embellished the tale into near epic proportions, claiming the fight had lasted an hour and was really over Tom's girl, 30 pounds of Chocolate Thai, and a few insults.
Wow. Sounds like one hell of a battle. Too bad it never happened.
Facing 3-to-1 odds, with no one to cover my back, and in a seedy redneck bar, I played along, enjoying my free Scotch, which turned into a free Tequila the next round.
By Round Three, the trio - long past sober - were slurring their words, exchanging threats of cartoon violence, and singing along to a Toby Keith song playing on the juke. One of the girls, "Tina," came back to the table and asked Tom to drive her home. Tom looked at her, cussed her out, and said he wasn't done drinking.
Looking for a polite exit, I offered to drive Tina home. Tina - Tom's girlfriend - had introduced herself as being 22. Tom had confided in me that his "old lady" was actually 17.
In most parts of the country, a drywall guy pushing 30 dating a 17-year-old probably comes across as creepy, immoral, or simply vile. In the rural South? Hell, I knew girls in middle school (ages 12-14) who were dating 22-year olds. Sure, it's probably not right. And I'm certain there's exploitation. But this sort of thing is silently accepted because, well, that's how rural folks have been hooking up for decades. Slim pickin's in the sticks...
Tina lived in her sister's mobile home, 20 minutes from the redneck bar. On the drive out, she told me about her career ambitions (she wanted to be a "sex goddess," i.e. porn actress... or the next Jessica Simpson), her relationship with Tom (he bought her stuff; in return, she let him "do" her any time he wanted), and her sister's quest for a husband without a criminal record.
She told me her sister, the other girl at the bar, was planning on hooking up with Tweedle Dumbass so she wouldn't be home. You know... I thought I was getting better at identifying big FRIGGING red flags...
She invited me inside her trailer for a cup of coffee and a piece of cake. Unable to drink in the bar, she had no problem filling her cup with just as much bourbon as Maxwell House. Even though I kept trying to change the subject, she always found a way to bring the conversation back to sex.
It wasn't until she started talking about how she thought "bookworms" were sexy and that she'd first masterbated in a local library that I started getting uncomfortable. When she picked up my hand (under the guise of reading my palm) and started sucking on my finger, I knew I was in a very bad situation.
Instead of being a rational, logical adult and saying something like this is inappropriate and I think I'd better leave, I indicated my discomfort with the situation in a more blunt manner:
Chica, I'm not fucking a kid. Ain't happening.
Can't exactly describe the look on Tina's face. I don't think she'd been expecting that. But I knew too many girls like this when I was in high school here; girls who fucked anybody to escape their situation, to escape even momentarily. Plus, the idea of being possible ammunition for breaking things off with Tom - or to be a pawn in whatever angle she was working in their relationship - wasn't too appealing. And, of course, there's the fact that, well, I have no desire to fuck a kid.
Did I mention the fact that this kid has a kid of her own? Yup, Tina had a two-year-old she and her sister had left unattended in the house while they went out for the night. This adorable little girl was curled up on the couch, six feet away from where Teenaged Mommy was sucking the finger of a 27-year-old stranger.
Tina got pissed, called me a slew of nasty things, started to cry, and threw a fork at me. So I left.
I returned to my hometown for one reason - to take care of G'maw. I didn't come back to relive the "glory days," to wax nostalgic about some redneck version of Beowulf, or to become Roman fucking Polanski.
I've really gotten too old for this shit. Ten short years ago, I would've had no problem hooking up with that girl. I probably would've done it, drove back to the redneck dive, and told Tom about it, just to pick a fight. And I wouldn't have worried about a cherubic toddler sleeping on the couch, either, or age, or anything else.
I was, as I've said previously, the bad motherfucker from Nutbush Road when I called this part of Virginia home.
Thor was right; my way out of a jail cell and an early trip to the morgue was to head off to college, to make something of my life, to get the fuck out and flourish in a brave new world. I don't need somebody's baby-mama or drywall subcontractors or tall tales about violence to prove that fact. The fact that I still survive is proof enough, at least to me, that I'm still one of the baddest motherfuckers of them all.