It was a pleasant Summer night, one where the asphalt hadn’t soaked up so much heat that it was still brutal two hours after sundown, but it didn’t matter. Tim and I were both laborers, men who were used to working in the sun all day, and we were both young. I worked at a wood yard and pulled a ten-hour shift every day; Tim was home for a while after working on an oil platform in the Gulf. We liked to smoke pot and then play tennis. We’d get off work, put on our shorts, meet at the courts, and play until they cut the lights off at ten.
Tim was better than I was for a while, but I was catching up with him, or the cigarettes were. He usually would win early and start fading. I learned to press hard, hit shots he had to chase and make the points last longer. Tim, on the other hand, tried to end games quickly. He relied heavily on his serve, but I was learning to counter it. Tim was five years older than I was, and it had been a fairly harsh five years in many cases.
A pickup drove by, the bed of it packed with young people, young men and women, and back in the day, no one cared if you rode around in the back of a pickup. They were yelling, screaming, holding up drinks, and having a great time. I realized they were celebrating High School graduation. “We’re seniors! 84! No more school!” They were yelling, and we yelled back.
“It’s been five years,” I told Tim.
“Ten here,” Tim gasped, looking for a break in the action. He lit another cigarette and I grinned. He played worse after smoking and it was a sign he was giving up on the idea of winning.
“Feels weird,” I said, and I watched the truck roll out of sight. Those people had been in the eighth grade when I graduated. They had been in the third grade when Tim walked across the stage.
“See Curt today?” Tim asked.
“Yeah, he’s going out with some chick he met at a grocery store,” I replied.
“Let’s burn one,” Tim suggested, and we walked out back of the tennis courts to a cornfield and smoked a joint. This was Tim’s way of trying to get some sort of advantage, but I smelled blood in the water.
We played until ten, and the lights went off automatically. We loaded our gear and drank a gallon of Gatorade, because that was what we did back then. Neither of us knew it, but in five years he and Curt would both be married and have kids, and I would be gone from our hometown forever.
Graduation was thirty-five years ago, this year. Tim has been dead for seven years, and Curt for five. A friend of mine’s youngest daughter is graduating this year. Her middle daughter graduated five years ago.
Those kids in the back of the truck graduated thirty years ago.
I hated every second of every day of High School. I would rather roller skate through hell for fifty years carrying fifty gallons of gasoline in glass containers while wearing rabid porcupines on my scrotum than go through four years of High School again. Mostly, it was a way of dividing the time, after graduation, than anything else.
I wonder at what point in time we stopped dividing time that way, and started dividing it by the deaths of the people we once loved?
Mike writes regularly at his site: The Hickory Head Hermit. Opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the management of this site.