Greg didn't make it to the graduation--ostensibly the motivating factor behind the whole trip home--because he needed to tend to his mother. Perhaps for the only time during the trip, as I sat in the sweltering sweat-lodge of Brooks High School's gym, I wished I could change places with Greg.
Summer storms had driven the graduation ceremony indoors, but by the time the "class song" was played (some country song by I think Carrie Underdog about remembering precious memories and times lost to, ah, time), I think most of the attendees would've gladly braved lightning bolts and torrential downpours to escape the suffocating heat of the gym. (Also, about the class song: Jesus christ, it's more appropriate to play such things at funerals; the Brooks class of 2010 seriously needs to lighten the hell up.)
Here's the thing about Alex and graduation: He was ready for it. He was tired of being at Brooks. Alex was the quarterback for the football team--that was his identity, had been since elementary, always the quarterback for the various levels of football teamery, and he seemed tired that identity. Also, he was disillusioned; when he at long last settled on the University of North Alabama for college (UNA is in Florence), Alex told my parents he knew he'd screwed up, he knew he should've tried for better schools, and he knew.... something else. I don't think he ever said what that something else was, and he may never say. All I know is Greg and I took his ass to Princeton last summer, and Princeton pursued him with a fervor usually reserved for Jean Valjean pursuit, to no avail. Princeton called him several times. Alex never called them back.
Hot. My god, so hot. I sat between my mom and grandmother, reading my Kindle during the treacly speeches, the (surprise) prayer to Lord Jesus Christ, and the presentation of special commendations given to select members of the class of 2010. Mom snapped picture after picture of Alex, who was seated maybe 20 feet away.
When he finally got his diploma, it was anti-climactic. His name was called, he strode forward--usual long, confident stride, robe billowy, tassel smacking him in the face--and extended one hand for the diploma being handed to him by the school's principal, and one hand to shake the principal's other hand. Then he moved back to his seat and that was that. A graduate of high school. A milestone in a nanosecond. An alumnus of a school he'd spent most of his life wandering the halls of.
At Dad's house, there's a hole in the wall of the hallway outside Alex's old upstairs bedroom (he moved downstairs to the basement a year or so back). The hole was put there during Alex's junior year, by Alex's junior fist. When he took his diploma from the principal, for some reason, I thought about that hole.
#14 Amanda Hugandkiss
Here's the thing about Amanda: She was both my first real girlfriend (relationship modeled on Annie Hall, because I was obsessed with recreating fictional Woody Allen relationships when I was in high school and thank god I stopped at his fictional relationships otherwise I'd probably be writing this blog from prison), and the first person to work out I was gay. She worked out my sexual orientation on her own, I think, but probably was helped to this realization when I made out with her prom date our junior year of high school.
Amanda was amused about the prom thing when it happened, and she's still amused by it.
I met up with her at the library. After explaining to the young woman behind the coffee counter that March of Dimes doesn't necessarily mean the organization collects dimes exclusively during the month of March, I checked the time, realized Amanda was 10 minutes late, and called her.
"Hey," she answered. "I'm just now parking. Takes me a bit longer nowadays to get anywhere."
[Here's a rare instance where I'm gonna respect someone's privacy, and gloss over this one very important fact: Amanda has a health issue that is ongoing and, to me, terrifying. I'll allude to this fact, but I will leave the specifics up to her to discuss or not discuss as she wishes]
When I meet people I haven't seen in years, people who meant a great deal to me at a specific time in my life, here's what I do: I pretend nothing has changed, I pretend I just saw the person a few days ago. It's easier that way. If I think about the passage of time and the events, the changes, the experiences, the growth, I become paralyzed.
So. Amanda wandered into the library, and we hugged one another, then walked out into the glaring golden sun, across Wood Avenue (I think?) to Wilson Park where all the gay guys go at night for companionship, or used to, or something. The park is a small square. There's a fountain in the center, benches surrounding the fountain, and a lot of grass. Also, some tomb-looking things with, oddly enough, the last name MITCHELL carved into them.
Amanda remains a hippie at heart, and at clothing-choice. She was wearing a tie-dyed dashiki and jeans. Same smooth pale skin, curiously wrinkle-free. Same slightly wry, baritone voice, even-keeled and hesitantly sardonic in that she always seems on the verge of being Dorothy Parkery, but consciously holds herself back from full-on withering bitterness .
We sat on a bench, in the shade, and talked.
#15 My grandfather's story
After graduation, my mom's side of the family held a party for Alex at my aunt's house. My grandfather, who may or may not have much life ahead of him, told a story about his time in the Korean war. It was one of the few times I've ever heard him discuss his service. Here's the story, the best I can remember anyway.
"I was coming out of a movie theatre, you know, just got out of a movie because I was [on personal time? R&r? I don't remember the exact word he used]. I had one button--just this pocket right here was unbuttoned, see, that was it, but sure enough an MP comes up behind me and taps me on the shoulder with his baton [mimes a polite but insistent tapping] and he says to me, 'Soldier, you're not up to regulation.' So I quickly button up the button, you know, but it's too late. He sends me to [some guy higher up on the chain of command] who tells me I've got four hours to report to my commanding officer in [Korean city I don't remember, but the city my grandfather was in when he saw the movie was Seoul]. So I hurry off to my C.O., who reads the report they'd given me to give to him. 'Well, looks like I've got to give you some duty to do,' he tells me. 'The dark room needs painting. You're gonna paint the dark room.' So they give me some black paint and a brush and point me to the dark room which had just been built out of I don't know plywood or something. No ventilation, pretty down-and-dirty construction, just a box with a lot of wood needing painting. Now, the only thing I had to thin the paint, see, was gasoline! So I'm in there painting [mimes painting Mr. Miyagi-style] and the fumes... the fumes [mimes groggy lightheaded Otis-from-Mayberry drunkeness] get to me. Oh, I painted everything in that room black whether it needed a coat of paint or not. By the end of the day I couldn't see straight, I might've painted the red lightbulbs black for all I know. I finished and got out of there and they never asked me to paint again. All I know is there was a dark room in Korea for most of the war that was coated with gasoline-thinned black paint."
Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.
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