Memories are like birds. You can be sitting in the kitchen, sipping a cup of coffee, and when you look out the window a flock of them are gathering around the feeder. And just as quickly, the dog can run down the back steps and they will scatter, leaving you wondering just what it was you were thinking about a moment ago.
Maybe it’s the season, but lately the memories have been flitting about my head like chickadees. I blame facebook. Ever since I put my name out there and accepted my first friend request, I have been running into names and faces that I hadn’t thought about in years. If nothing else, social media is a good crutch for a fading middle age memory.
The past few weeks have been a lot of fun, putting these old memories into words. And like I have said before, I learned long ago not to trust the objectivity, or truthfulness of memory. The mind has a curious way of distorting them with each remembrance until they become memories of memories. But I enjoy them nonetheless.
Looking back at the last 6 months of postings, it occurs to me, that if all you knew of my life was what I wrote you would think I grew up doing nothing but drinking beer, and chasing girls. I am fairly certain there was more to my life than that, but for the life of me I can’t remember what it might have been. Oddly enough, despite the preponderance of stories involving alcohol and girls, I led what could be considered a pretty typical existence for a working class kid from Batavia, circa 1985. I pulled down good grades, was involved in a lot of extracurricular activities, and made it to church every Sunday. And yet, when I filled my coffee cup this morning, and sat in front of the window, watching the snow drift down over the blank landscape, I was not reminded of charitable works, or academic triumphs, but of nights spent sitting in the dark of my bedroom, listening to Simon & Garfunkel’s greatest hits, and pining away over some unrequited crush. I guess that’s normal if you consider that of all the relationships you have in the course of a lifetime, only one of them will not end badly. In reality, if even one of them ends happily ever after you are doing better than 50% of the general population.
Cripes that’s a depressing thought. No wonder I turned to booze.
Kidding. There is no doubt, alcohol was our primary form of entertainment from age 16 through 25. It wasn’t so much that we abused alcohol, as alcohol abused us. Nearly every weekend centered around getting our hands on some form of it, and finding a place to consume it. There was the aforementioned woods behind the Blind School, and a whole assortment of dead end dirt roads in the countryside of Genesee County, my personal favorite being the one out by the City Dump. But for all of our law breaking, and living dangerously, we were a pretty responsible bunch. I am not lying when I say that even at 17 we took turns being designated drivers. That thankless task usually fell upon my good friend Dan’l, who by 19 had acquired his own set of wheels, a fabulous 1978 Chrysler Cordoba the size of the U.S.S. Enterprise. And like the good crew of that ship, our weekly mission was to go where no man had gone before. Usually, we failed in our efforts, but not from a lack of trying.
But despite Dan’l’s heroic sacrifices, he was not always consigned to be our D.D. I took my turns as well. I can remember one particular night, during spring break of my freshman year of college, where I volunteered for the duty, only to live to regret it.
It was sometime in March, or early April, when the Western New York weather could not make up its mind if it was winter or spring. There was a house party out on the East side of town, in a development off of East Main, past the old Twin Fair. It was around Easter time, and the spring breaks of our assorted colleges and universities happened to fall over the same weekend. The weather not being suitable for outdoor drinking, someone’s whose parents were out of town had volunteered to host a party.
I was in a steady relationship at the time, with a girl I had been dating since the beginning of my Junior year of High School. A relationship of that length bordered on common law marriage for a kid of 19. Not that I had ever let that stop me from pining for, and pursuing other girls. Yes, I had hormonal issues rivaling those of Tiger Woods, but back in those innocent days it was not recognized as a treatable addiction. Instead we referred to it as being a “teenager”.
In some ways I think that my status as being in a steady relationship, just served to make me desirable to girls at the time, for when we did eventually break up later that spring, girls suddenly treated me like I suffered from leprosy. But I am getting ahead of myself.
The only way I had managed to lead such a double life from age 17 to 19, was the fact that my girlfriend was a very sweet, and hard working girl from a working class family, who spent her weekends cleaning house in the daytime for an elderly woman, and her evenings babysitting for a family down the street. This meant that for the most part I attended every party alone, hormonal, and prone to temptation. But since we had begun college in the Fall she had cut back on her babysitting jobs and taken on more prosaic work for a college student. So on the eventful night of the party in question she was coming along with me.
Being the designated driver for the evening, I had managed to borrow my parents Plymouth Voyageur minivan, an ideal vehicle for shuttling drunks. Picking my steady-eddie up from her house, I made a few more stops in town before heading out East Main to the party. When we got there the place was hopping. Just about every kid from the BHS class of 1986 seemed to be in attendance, as well as kids from Notre Dame, and some of the rural schools in the county. It was a veritable class re-union. Kids were playing drinking games in the kitchen, or hanging out in the shag carpeted, faux-paneled family room as 80’s music blared. Being Freshmen home on break, we were pretty damn full of ourselves. Everyone seemed to be sporting their school colors in some form, and blathering at length about how great their life at the University of Blah-blah-blah truly was. It was curious how much less interesting we became when I was sober.
We hadn’t been there for more than 30 minutes, when a call came in that someone needed a ride to the party. Having a somewhat less than titillating time with my sobriety, I volunteered to go pick them up. I kissed my girlfriend goodbye as she was sitting down at the kitchen table to get in on a game of quarters. For those who grew up in a missionary family in the depths of the African jungle, or as members of a religious cult in a compound in Idaho, let me explain. The game of quarters consisted of every one taking turns trying to bounce a quarter into a glass of beer. A successful turn allowed the bouncer to pick one person around the table to “consume” the drink. The word “drink” was outlawed, as was using your finger to point to a person. So a successful bounce was followed by pointing your elbow at whatever coed you hoped to get drunk enough to lower their inhibitions to the point where you met their standards, and saying “consume”. Failure to remember the rules about pointing, or saying drink, meant you had to down it yourself. Even by the age of 19, the novelty of this game had worn thin, which means I was probably not the only one suffering from boredom at the party.
Now my girlfriend, being busy with work every weekend, had never had much opportunity to develop a tolerance for alcohol. Even at the few parties she had attended, it took little more than the scent of a wine cooler to begin to swoon. In fact, at the first party I had ever hosted at 20 Prospect she had managed to become so drunk off of 2 beers that her friends had to take her upstairs and put her in the shower to sober her up before taking her home. Based on history alone, I should have known better than to leave her alone at the party.
Now Batavia is not a big city, and the trip into town and back couldn’t have taken me more than 30 minutes. When I walked in the door, I found my girlfriend in the living room, unable to stand up, her eyes rolling about her head like pinwheels. Unbeknown to me, after I left the game of quarters had switched from cheap beer to Bacardi 151 Rum. Knowing that she was a lightweight, my best friend and her boyfriend had proceeded to feed her with 5 shots, out of boredom. Within 15 minutes she was in the bathroom, her head over the toilet, “selling Buicks.” It wasn’t even 9 o’clock in the evening.
In retrospect, I could have kept her at the party, and waited for her to come around. But she was so out of it that I had little choice but to take her home. One of the other guys at the party, to whom I will forever be indebted, helped me carry her to the car and came along on my via dolorosa. There are few things in life that I dreaded as much as taking her home to her parents. Like Simon the Cyrene, this stand-up guy helped me bear my cross up the front steps to her door, where he left me to face my crucifixion. It was an ugly scene. Her Mom answered the door, and as I carried her into the entryway and explained what had happened, she very quickly deduced the situation and called for one of the older sisters to come quick and help us out. She tried to keep the commotion quiet, but her husband had heard, and came storming down the hallway screaming that he was going to kill me. Her Mom turned to me, and said “Quick, go!” and taking her sage advice I turned for the door. It slammed behind me, and as I hurried across the porch and bounded down the steps I could hear them screaming in the entry way, as she tried to restrain him from coming after me.
Needless to say, I did not return to the party that night. Instead I drove home, where I sat in the living room pretending to watch TV, half expecting the State Police to show up and take me away. The irony of the situation was not lost on me. For all the nights I had conspired, broke laws, and been unfaithful to her, in the end it was the night that I was sober and responsible that I got into trouble. Perhaps in some karmic way it was expiation for my infidelities. The rest of the evening passed uneventfully, and I eventually turned into bed where I lay in the dark, looking up at the ceiling, marveling at the randomness of fate.
It was a few days before my girlfriend called me on the phone to apologize. Things hadn’t been great between us for a long time, and this was pretty much the event it took to get me to force the issue. It would be a few months for the breakup to finally occur, after going through the whole “let’s be friends” melodrama. Little did I know that God was not done punishing me, and it would be 3 long, lonely years before I had a relationship that lasted more than a couple of weeks. I would like to say that I suffered an injustice, but in my heart I knew I got what I deserved. Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.