A few days back, I got an invitation to a class reunion at my old high school in South Carolina. Truth be told, I'd rather have gotten a summons, an arrest warrant or a ticking backpack. I would've accepted a bagful of mongooses and chupacabras without hesitation. But I wasn't so lucky. The dreaded envelope had found me, right here in Nashville. Now I had to accept or decline the invitation.
I spent the last several decades hiding like I'd been in a witness-protection program, praying to every demigod and demon that nobody from my hometown or high school would ever contact me. It's not that I didn't enjoy some of my classmates, it's that I just hate awkward meetings. I don't want to run across a classmate who's confined to an iron lung, and I don't want to pretend to know people I don't recognize. I'm bad with faces. I'd do better recognizing people by their legs. That's mostly what I looked at when I was there, if you know what I mean.
It's not that I didn't learn something from my teachers, especially the young female ones fresh out of college. It's just that going to high school in a godforsaken cotton mill town isn't really a transition into adulthood. It's more like an eternal sentence to be the doorman in the ninth circle of Hell.
Gentle readers, it should be obvious now that I'm not going to the reunion. But for the classmates back home who for some odd reason want to know what I've been up to for all these years, the story goes like this: One summer day, while mowing the grass at the old Jowers house in Burnettown, I ran over a huge pile of dog crap with my mower. I took that as a metaphor exemplifying, well, a huge pile of crap with the contents landing on me. A few days later, then-girlfriend Brenda and I packed up a U-Haul and moved to Nashville. Brenda, who'd just finished nursing school, got a job in a hospital. I auditioned for a few bands in Nashville, and I just couldn't tolerate the hillbillyness of it all. A few months later, we moved to New York, where I worked as an editor at Old-House Journal. Brenda got a job at New York Hospital. We stayed in New York for a little more than a year, couldn't tolerate the Yankiness of it all, so we fled back to Nashville, where we bought an 80-year-old house. Three years later, daughter Jess — my very own pride and joy — was born. I started a home inspection company, and ran it for 20 years.
I know, that sounds like a pretty good situation, but y'all need to understand that being a home inspector involves crawling under houses and feeling the bones of mummified cats crack under your knees and elbows. Also, there's the hellish job of walking around in 140-degree attics. Worse yet is the job of exposing the untruths that come from builders and municipal building inspectors.
But enough about that. When my thoughts of Horse Creek Valley and Langley-Bath-Clearwater High School creep into my mind, my memories include but aren't necessarily limited to:
One particular nubile schoolgirl — she knows who she is — rode behind me on a wild mouse coaster, and lost control of her bladder as we went into a hairpin turn. For this type of wild mouse coaster, riders have to line up front to back, like bobsledders. Put a nervous schoolgirl behind you, and you get peed on. I know. I got peed on.
One particularly intriguing female educator, and it's none of y'all's business who.
Opening up the scrota of the fetal pigs in Ms. Hutto's biology room, then throwing the tiny pig testicles all over the room.
Stealing three rock-hard fetal kittens from Hutto's kitty stash and putting their bodies into the desk of my least-favorite teacher, Ms. Dix. I think she screamed.
Rewiring my cousin's homemade science-fair telegraph so that when the next person touched it, there would be a little fire. Sure enough, there was a little fire.
Willfully ignorant rednecks. Everywhere I looked. In their trucks, loitering around the smoking barrel, trying to start fights in the bathroom. Knuckleheads.
Bad company. As reported by a teacher's aide at LBC some years back: "One of the big problems I have in counseling girls in the Valley is incest. That's right, incest."
Getting out of town as fast as possible. Before Sadie Hawkins day.