Friday, January 15, 2010

The Road Always Taken

Every now and then, I find myself needing to impress upon a skeptical female exactly how small the difference is between a teenage boy and a spawning salmon swimming up waterfalls and into the mouths of bears in the slim hope that there just might possibly be some sex at the end.*  In these situations, I often tell this story.

The summer after my second -- and last, for a while -- year of college, I lived with two other guys in what was known that year as The Piranha House. The name came from a Monty Python sketch, and my two roommates came from other planets. I have oscillated in my life between being the most normal of my friends and being the most strange. This was definitely a case of the former. But I digress. One thing that was relevant was that Doug and Dinsdale both had steady girlfriends, and I did not.

The house was coveted by college students throughout the small town of Conway, where I was in school, and we had only gotten it because my best friend was the previous tenant. The Piranha House was situated on a tiny block by itself, and the closest neighbors were a funeral home and an old deaf lady. It had a huge front porch and a big back yard.** The three of us split $180 rent, so you know it was nice. In other words, it was a perfect party house. And we threw one perfect party after another. On any given Sunday morning you could find a person-sized pile of cans and bottles by the curb, and usually a person or two lying somewhere in the yard.

They weren't all big parties. Many were impromptu sessions where a few people would come over, consumables would be consumed, and things would just go along that way for far too long. Perhaps there was light commerce, I forget. Something seems to have affected my memory of that period. On more than one occasion, small gatherings turned into big parties, as more people showed up and no one left.

The only party that didn't really turn out that well was the one we tried to plan. And by plan, I mean we got the money and transportation together to drive all the way to Little Rock for a keg, and told people that we were having a party. I forget the details, but we had neglected to account for some real-world event happening that same night, and we only got about ten people total. Still, we were nothing if not intrepid, so we kept at it until we floated the keg. This was about midnight, and coincident to me deciding that I was "lonely."

The only girl I knew at the time who I was pretty sure would welcome me under these circumstances was going to school in Fayetteville, almost 200 miles away by mostly narrow, twisty mountain roads. (Within a few years I would know two people killed in separate incidents on this same route, in broad daylight and bright sunshine.) Did this deter me? Of course not, and I was the cautious one in the group.

My roommates, being steadfast friends concerned for my safety, made sure I was supplied for the trip, and even suggested we take tequila shots "for luck" to ensure a safe voyage. I had recently acquired a beat-up 1967 Volvo sedan that would strand me all across these United States of ours in years to come, so obviously nothing could go wrong there. Thus fortified, I set out.

Within about thirty minutes I was enveloped in the densest fog I can remember. It was also getting pretty hard to see outside the car. I drove into a wall of fog on an otherwise clear road, and never drove out of it. Visibility was about two car lengths, and steadily got worse. Eventually, I was straining to see the road directly in front of the car. I drove most of the way at 25 mph or less. For much of the last hour, I was driving about 10 mph.

I pulled into Fayetteville just before sunrise, exhausted and very much sobered up. But not exhausted enough to forget what I came for. I spent a pleasant morning and afternoon with my friend, and then made an uneventful trip back to Conway that evening. I don't recall a lot of time for sleep in there, but that didn't seem to bother me in those days.

Parts of this trip are fuzzy in my memory, but one thing I remember very clearly is that I never even considered turning back. I remember thinking that I should turn back, but it was in much the same way that I now think I should spend more time reading journals or get a colonoscopy. I can't even explain it, now that I have more or less wrestled control of my consciousness away from my junk, but in those days it wasn't even a fair fight. Actually, it was no fight at all. The whole team was on board, with laser focus on a single goal. Night and day, day in and day out, month after month and year after year.

This is not exactly behavior I am proud to admit, but I wasn't really any more of a slimy douchebag than other guys my age. (I mean, I was probably in the top third, but that's only because I could get away with it.) There were girls for whom I developed deep feelings, and I felt love's sharp sting more than once. But that was all irrelevant when it came to meeting basic needs. To a nineteen year old boy, it's like saying you can't eat on vacation because there is food at home. It just doesn't make any sense. The only reason most guys that age even have girlfriends is for regular sex.

It also never occurred to me that Vickie -- I'm pretty sure that was her name -- was a real person with feelings and motivations and some opinion about why this boy would drive all night to see her. And I mean never. occurred. to me. I will never know what she thought about the whole thing, but I would be willing to bet it was significantly different from what I thought. There were probably butterflies and unicorns involved.

Luckily, blood flow was rerouted and some semblance of sanity returned to me within a few years, though I was pushing forty before I really felt like the primary head had gained the upper hand for good. I suspect this is why men are so protective of their daughters. Because they know, and they know they will never be believed when it matters. As for any teenage girls out there who are sure their boyfriend is different, don't say I didn't warn you.

*The reasons I find myself needing to communicate this vary, though it's most often to young women who are involved with some boy that they are positive would never do X, Y or Z just to get in their pants. In these situations, of course, they never, ever believe me.

** That's what she said.


  1. i have a friend in his 50's who fairly recently made a roadtrip for a 'sure thing'. i'm not sure y'all ever really outgrow it. compelling tale. and brings back memories of a man/boy showing up on my doorstep at 6am...

  2. I'm 40 years old and it still amazes me to read stories like this and realize the truth. But this had me laughing: "There were probably butterflies and unicorns involved" You're right, it probably did! Women are definitely wired differently!

  3. LOL....'.back in the day' seems like yesterday and can feel like an eon....this needs wider publication.......

  4. I came to this blog per I Wonder Wye's recommendation, and I'm so glad I did. I went back and read the last dozen posts and I'm captivated. What wonderful writing! I'm hooked! Hope you don't mind another stalker, er follower!

  5. Visiting from Wonder Wye's blog! Great advice by the way, I think I will read this to my daughters every day until they are 30.

  6. daisyfae: did you used to go by "Vickie?"
    Aleta: I'm only now starting to understand how truly different men and women are. Teenagers just don't have a chance, which is probably good for the continuation of the species
    Amy: It does seem like yesterday sometimes. Thanks for the props.
    Eva: Welcome. Loved your piece on the deer yard. Maine is one of my favorite places. Y'all just have to make it not quite so cold.
    Christijolu: Thanks, and thanks for dropping by.

  7. You are a mindblowingly fantastic writer.

  8. Those were the days! As I longingly look back on those days (NOT!) I'm compelled to comment on your last paragraph, it always strikes me as comical when I have the chance to see the difference between how a father treats a daughter as opposed to a son in this period of their lives.