I still can’t share all of it. I can’t tell you what happened.
It’s been more than twenty years, but some wounds take even longer to heal. Some never do. I’ll only say that whatever I said back then was what I truly, desperately wished was true when I said it. And I’m sorry.
I think my mom sold my dad’s old digital reverb unit. It was still worth a few grand. I had hoped to sell it myself when I got back to Tucson from New Hampshire. When I got back I looked for it in the closet and it was gone. I guess that’s where the $250 she mysteriously sent me came from. It was a finders-fee. That Yamaha Rev7 had been more-or-less willed to me with the rest of his gear, but I guess mom did what was necessary to get her Mexican facelift.
I had expected to drive home in the eternal Ford Fairmont station wagon along the same route as several times before: A direct swath across most of the continental U.S., sleeping in the car and stopping only when necessary. Pure efficiency and 20-hour shifts behind the wheel. I would have made it in two days. I’d planned on financing this trip as I had all the previous ones: with gas, food, and all necessities charged to my Texaco card. Mom’s unexpected $250 gave me some leeway.
The day after graduation, I loaded up the last bits of nothingness from my dorm, waved at the emotional wreckage, opprobrium, and other debts I was leaving behind me on that little colonial farm turned liberal arts college, and started making my way home along a more interesting path.
My first stop was in Pennsylvania. I had a friend in Pennsylvania. I probably still do. Mook — if you’re reading this — let me just say that your older sister is probably still way too hot for that guy she married.
The next stop was in Kentucky: New Hope, Kentucky, actually. I couldn’t have made up that name if I tried. As I pulled into the single-stoplight town and stumbled through the dark to find a payphone, I was tempted to call it “No Hope.” I am sure I was the first person, ever, to think of that. But if some wit had — by chance — stumbled upon that parody before, he might not have grasped its true depths of meaning. Sometimes, it’s only by surrendering all hope that true hope is found. There’s usually new hope in no hope.
And it was there that I learned about the South.
Time moves differently in the South. Three days seemed like three years. Those three days would not only introduce me to a culture where friends spot each other driving on opposite sides of the highway and pull dangerous u-turns to meet up in a parking lot only to stand around talking about nothing, but also to the works of Walker Percy. Percy was a Southern novelist who would have understood that maneuver perfectly.
I also learned about bourbon.
And it was bourbon I was drinking that lovely late afternoon on the Monaghan’s deck as I gazed off at the remains of the plantation slaves had built sometime long ago. I swatted mosquitos now and then — in between sips. I noticed I was surrounded by guys my age. Some had graduated with me, some were still in it, some had given up. But there wasn’t a woman in sight.
And it felt like peace.
Each of us had been bitten by love. Each of us still bore the marks. Each of us was destined to go at least one more round–some more than that. That moment on the deck was a retreat. It was a cleansing. It was a time to regroup before charging into battle once more. We looked at each other the way Achilles’s worthy Myrmidons, the English army on St. Crispin’s day, or the Tommies in the trenches of Verndun would have. We’d faced hell. We were going back into hell. Not all would survive.
For that one glorious moment, there was a stoic sort of peace.