Maybe it's due to the enormity of the time in my life, but the last night I spent at home before moving to UK in August of 2003 is one of the more vivid and lasting memories I have. It was a bookend event, so to speak...The closing of a chapter in my life. Perhaps that's why it is so thoroughly engrained in my memory.
I can remember almost every minute detail of the entire night. Me, DJ, Matt Darnell, and Tyler Dunigan all rode around in Tyler's Oldsmobile Alero, the same way we had on countless occasions the previous two or three years. We walked around the mall in Paducah, we got milkshakes at Steak 'n Shake, we stole an "Edwards Drive" road sign from some random neighborhood in Reidland for me to hang in my dorm room (I kept it until Adrienne and I moved into our apartment in Mount Sterling), and the night ended in the parking lot of Movie Hut in Draffenville. To an outside observer, it would have been a pretty dull way of saying goodbye. But not to us. Not to me.
I've often heard that writers write what they know, whether it's fiction or nonfiction. I obviously fall into that category, because 99 percent of my writing on this blog consists of stories from my past. And I've noticed, in those stories, I tend to focus on certain "periods" of my life. I either speak about my childhood, college, or my most recent experiences. I seem to completely neglect high school. Why? I don't know.
My formidable high school years weren't perfect, to be sure, but they weren't bad either. I had a fairly typical experience for a high school kid...I went to school, I played sports, I worked during the summer, I had a few roller-coaster relationships, and my worldview was astonishingly self-centered. I had a lot of fun during those years, and I have a lot of great memories with my friends. But, for whatever reason, I rarely talk about them. And when I do, it seems to be in passing, like a minor addendum to something bigger and more important. I honestly don't know if I've done it intentionally, or if it occurs subconsciously. When I was in high school (DJ and I talked of this often), I was constantly biding my time until it was over. My sights were wholly set on college...On getting out of that town, going somewhere, anywhere...Not because I hated it, but because I yearned to experience something else. Perhaps my mind is still doing that to a degree...Focusing most of my memory on the years just after high school.
For whatever reason, today that changed. My mom sent me a photo of an old "clubhouse" DJ and I had in the woods behind my parents' house and I began to reminisce on the days when we used to sit out there in it. That was long before high school, but the thought led to something else, and then something else, and then, without really knowing how I got there, I was riding shotgun in Tyler's Alero on some random Saturday night.
The four of us never really got into TOO much trouble, but to say we didn't find any would be a total lie. And the four of us coming together was almost by happenstance to begin with.
I first met Tyler in a 21st Century Technology class our freshman year. For whatever reason, Tyler went out of his way to constantly badger me and poke fun at me...Everyday. Without fail. After a few weeks of this nonsense, I finally lost it on him one day.
"Dude...Since day one, you have done nothing but make fun of me all the time. I've never done anything to you, and I don't know what your problem is. Why do you keep doing it?" I said, totally frustrated and at my whit's end.
Tyler sort of stammered, unsure of how to respond, "I...Uh...I don't know. I just do, I guess," he said.
"Well, stop! It isn't funny, anymore," I said. We've been friends ever since.
Matt and I met in French class my sophomore year. He was a freshman, and we just happened to be seated next to one another in the back row. We spent most of our time quoting jokes from Sinbad's standup, or organizing ridiculous shenanigans to prevent our teacher, Madame Caldwell, from staying on task. We became friends almost immediately.
Over time, the four of us began to hang out together. Most nights, we'd drive around Paducah wasting time and gas. We'd usually go to the mall, walk around three or four times, wait for Matt to get off work from his job at Aeropostale, then go bowling or to Steak 'n Shake. Sure, we changed it up from time to time, but that was a fairly typical night. Nothing crazy. Nothing over the top. Just average. Simple.
That's why that night in 2003 meant so much to me, and why it sticks with me to this day. We made a point to hit all our old haunts...The mall, Steak n' Shake, the loop in Paducah, the "Monkey House" in Sharpe, and of course, Movie Hut. DJ worked there for a couple of years, and when there was nothing else to do, we'd just go there and hang out at the counter while he "worked." It was the perfect place to end the night, and the night was the perfect microcosm of the four of us. Us in a nutshell.
I haven't thought about that night in a long, long time, but today it came flooding back like it had happened yesterday. I left for Lexington the next morning, and things were never quite the same. We still hung out from time to time...We spent holidays and school breaks in much the same way, but it was always different. We slowly grew apart. Matt joined the Navy, then moved to Portland and rarely makes it back to Kentucky. Tyler got married in 2006 and grew up long before DJ and I were ready to do that. I was in Lexington, DJ was in Murray...Life happened.
I'm not sure why my memory doesn't float back to those nights more often...I loved them, and can't help but laugh when they come to mind. It'd be awesome if all four of us made it back to Paducah for one night, and got our hands on an '02 Alero. I bet we could burn that town to the ground.
But we'd probably just walk around the mall and end up at Steak n' Shake at the end of the night. I wouldn't have it any other way.