Yeah, Don asked me if I wanted to spend the night. Then he complimented my haircut which was a little odd, but ok, we were both wasted. I wasn’t exactly a sexual swinger so I had no idea what should happen next. He never took his eyes off of me. I, on the other hand, took an inventory of everything in the room in my nervousness.
“Well?” he asked.
“Let me call my folks,” I said, staggering over to the phone.
Don just laughed. “It’s funny seeing you this way. Out of control.” I rolled my eyes at him as I dialed home and let my parents know I wasn’t coming home.
We drank a little bit more then watched some television. I was really feeling great but couldn’t get the haircut comment out of my head. I just kept watch on his package, which looked really edible. I fantasized about crawling over to him and just letting nature take it’s course, but I didn’t. Damn! Even though I was drunk I was able to understand that I really loved him. Was it a crush? Mmmmm. Maybe. I knew that I felt so damn protected around him. But I didn’t feel like a weepy female or damsel in distress. He treated me with respect and we joked about anything and everything all of the time.
After dozing on the couch I felt him nudge me awake.
“I’m headin’ up. You comin’?” he said.
“Mmm hmmm,” I replied in my nice warm Uncle Tom Collins buzz. He just smiled as I slowly got off of the couch.
“We need to do this again,” he said, still smiling.
“Yeah, ‘cause you like my haircut.”
He laughed out loud at that.
* * * *
We had many summer nights like that. A few times I invited him to stay over but he never would. Maybe it’s because he had two beds in his room as opposed to my one, and he didn’t want to sleep on the floor. But that was fine with me because it gave us the opportunity to get drunk, or buzzed. My parents never really were drinkers and there was no liquor in our house, unlike his.
One night when we were hanging out he told me we had a mission. A friend of his wanted a traffic sign of any type to hang on their wall when they went to college in the fall. So a-signing we would go! There were some railroad tracks not too far from his house and there was this big ol’ fat-ass sign describing some sort of zoning change. Had to have it! Don’t worry, it wasn’t like a stop sign or anything like that. He had the socket wrench and we unbolted the sign from the post. I was carrying this sign that was probably three feet high by four feet wide across Ponce De Leon when all of a sudden we saw headlights in the distance. I ran as fast as I could, laughing my ass off the whole time at the ridiculousness of the situation. Altogether that night I think we ended up jacking seven or eight signs. Several times they were so high that I had to sit on his shoulders while I unbolted them from their posts. Luckily he drove a big-ass Delta Eighty-Eight and the trunk could hold about a dozen or so midgets, so the signs weren’t a problem.
Sometimes I’d go over to his house during the day time and we’d just hang out. I should have seen some signs about him then, and here’s why. A few times he’d pinch me hard or give me a playful shove so I’d start chasing him. Around the house he ran with me right at his heels. We always ended up in either his parents’ room or his flopping onto the bed out of breath. Looking back I realize now what he was doing. He was trying to see how far I’d take the playing.
That summer also found me hanging out with Charles a lot. He and I had become really good friends during our chemistry class as well as at Kroger. A few times we’d go out drinking together, but not that often. Charles was also a camp counselor at some camp in Tennessee for about six weeks. When he finally came back I hung out at his house until 3:30 in the morning before going home. That didn’t fare-thee-well with the parents. I was grounded for a week from everything except work. Big shit. Oddly enough the next day my mom asked me if I’d like to go up to New York to visit my family for a week. I jumped at the chance. So much for grounding. Apparently Eastern (remember them?) was having a really cheap air fare special and my parents thought I might like to see my family again. Cool beans.
The whole week up there I spent with my grandparents and my cousins. I was a hit with them because I was old enough to drive in Georgia, so I could drive in New York as well. The time spent not visiting with them I had one person on my mind. Any guesses? Well it wasn’t Queen Latifah! I was having a great time, but I couldn’t get back soon enough.
Once I got back home Don and I hooked up for some typical teenaged drunken fun. Whatever that is. That’s when he broke the news to me.
“Paul did I tell you that I ended up getting that scholarship?” he said matter-of-factly.
“Um, what scholarship?” I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about.
“Well,” he chuckled, “the only one I could ever get; baseball.”
“Cool! Is that at Tech or UGA?” I asked. Either one was cool because Tech was in downtown Atlanta, and UGA was in Athens and only about an hour and a half away. But he named a college I’d never heard of. For privacy I’ll keep the name out of the story, but I asked him “Where’s that?”
“It’s in North Carolina [actually, a different state]. There’s a minor league team there that’s a farm for the [blanks].”
“Wow.” I could tell he was excited but I sure wasn’t. I left to go fix myself another drink. The kitchen overlooked the den and I could feel him watching me. “What?” I asked, looking back at him.
“Is that all you’ve got to say? ‘Wow’?”
“You’re right,” I tried to sound happy but I couldn’t. “I’m…happy for you.” I kept myself distracted with the drink ingredients.
“Gee, thanks Lyons.” The only time he called me by my last name was when he was irritated or trying to get my attention.
“Well Don, what did you expect? You’re leaving. I’m glad and all that you won the scholarship but I’m not thrilled about you leaving. It’s just…” but I let it go at that.
“It’s just what?”
“Nothing,” I said.
“No, no, man. Don’t bullshit me. You were about to say something. What was it?”
I put my hands on the edge of the counter and leaned against it a little bit. Smiling a bit I said, “I don’t want to sound like a puss.”
He snorted at that. “Come on man. What?”
“Man, this is, like, the first time I’ve had a really…well…a best friend since I was, what, nine?”
“Big deal. That’s only seven years ago.”
I laughed. “Idiot. I’ll just leave it at this: I’m just gonna miss the shit out of you, that’s all.” Inside I was feeling miserable. “I have fun when we just-“
“Drink and hang out,” he interrupted.
“Yep. Well, not just when we drink. I just hate to see you leave.” I looked down at the drink I was making.
Don came around the counter and grabbed some whiskey from the bar. “Come on man, it’s not like I’m leaving tomorrow,” he said nudging my shoulder with his, playfully.
I just laughed and rolled my eyes. “Dork.”
“Yep. We still have plenty of time to…play around,” he said.
I turned and looked at him. “Oh really,” I said.
“There’s lots more liquor where this came from. Drink up Paulie.”
I held my glass up in a mock toast. “To baseball.”
“Huh. Yeah,” he said.
That night I drank a little more than usual. Or maybe my inhibitions were a little lower because of the alcohol. Or maybe I got drunk quicker because of the mood change. I know that we’d only really known each other for a couple of years but Don and I were pretty much hanging out all of the time. Granted, he had a few friends that he’d play basketball with or whatever, but I was the one that he always called to see what was up, did I want to head out and do something, et cetera.
There was some damn song playing on the radio and Don had gone upstairs to get something. While he was gone I started singing along with the music. Of course I’d been drinking so I sang it a bit louder than I needed to. Drunks have no self control. I think it was a Dolly Parton song playing on the country station. Anyway, I heard the creaking of the wood stairs under his weight as he came back downstairs.
“Hey man, that was pretty good,” he said.
“Yeah. I like Dolly,” I said.
“No. I mean your singing. It sounded pretty good.”
“Thanks,” I laughed, embarrassed.
“What’s so funny?” he asked.
“I just hate my voice, that’s all,” I laughed again.
“Why? I thought you sounded pretty good.”
I rolled my eyes and smiled. “Well, thank you.”
“Come on,” he said, slapping my shoulder, “let’s go.”
“Wher’re we goin’?”
“You’ll see. I want to show you something.”
“Well alright!” I said, under the glow of a great buzz.
He and I piled into the Eighty-Eight and headed towards Ponce, then took a right and headed east.
“Where are we going?” I asked again.
“Shut up, Paul,” he said.
“You’re right.” Oh shit! Did I say that out loud?
I laughed out loud. “I meant to say ‘you wish’ back.”
“Oh, screw you,” I laughed. He laughed too. For some reason whenever Don drove after we’d been drinking, which was a lot, he always seemed to sober up. I’m sure that wasn’t the reality of it. We always assume that we can drive after we’ve had some to drink. In fact, several times I thought I’d even driven better. Me - the rocket scientist.
We got to Stone Mountain Village and then headed into Stone Mountain Park. It was pretty late at night but the gates were still open. Almost everyone who lived near Stone Mountain had an annual parking permit. It’s just something you did and Don was no exception. We pulled into the gate and turned right. If you’ve never been to the park it’s a really nice place. At least it was twenty years ago. I haven’t been back since ’87 so I’m not sure if it’s deteriorated like the rest of DeKalb County, though I’ve heard it hasn’t.
Back to the park.
Stone Mountain is the largest exposed granite formation on the face of the planet. Yes, this factoid is the truth. Jillions of years ago volcanic pressure beneath the layer of granite (which by the way extends throughout Georgia and into Tennessee, South and North Carolina, parts of Alabama and Florida) started forcing the granite slowly from beneath the ground into the form that it now holds. Originally it was called New Gibraltar, back before the Civil War (or the War of Northern Aggression), but then someone thought that the name Stone Mountain would be better.
At one point the mountain and all of the park land surrounding it was privately owned by the Venable family. If you’ve ever lived around Stone Mountain or been in the Klan (as in Ku Klux), you probably know of this name. Old Man Venable, who was still around when I was working at Kroger, was once a leader. I’m not sure when but at some point his family sold the mountain and all of the acreage surrounding it to the state of Georgia for the purposes of creating Stone Mountain Park. During the 20’s or 30’s Gutsom Borglum was hired to create a carving on the mountain face honoring the memory of the Confederacy. His design included the figures of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis and Stonewall Jackson all riding horseback. The work stopped when the money well went dry. Then Mr. Borglum went north a few states and designed and carved that little bitty statue known as Mount Rushmore. Work on Stone Mountain didn’t resume until the 60’s and the finished carving is a beautiful work of art. It’s the size of three football fields and a car can drive down the back of Lee’s horse. Now that’s a carving!
There was a pretty big lake that wraps around the mountain, camping, a water park, boats you could rent, paddle boats you could ride on; just a whole bunch of stuff you can do. But Don was heading in the direction of the fishing hut. If you’ve been there you know what I’m talking about. It’s about a half of a mile from the entry gates, and he turned into the parking lot and stopped the car.
“Let’s go!” he said.
“Go? Where?” I asked. I was still in a bit of a buzz but it was slowly clearing out of my head.
“You’ll see,” was all he said.
We started walking towards the mountain and crossed the main roadway that wound around it. It was late July and the nights in Atlanta are still pretty warm and muggy. It was a full moon, though, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky so we had no problem seeing where we were going. Don and I cut through some woods and were soon on the railroad tracks. One of the attractions at the park is an old fashioned train ride. Just before the ride ends the train stops and gets held up at some silly, cartoonish-looking western village and the outlaws and the sheriff and deputies have a gun fight, in and off the train. We followed the tracks a little bit. It was kind of neat because I’d never been to the park this late at night with basically nobody around.
The moonlight gleamed on the rails and the tall southern pines cast crisp shadows along the ground where we walked. There was a little bit of a breeze but hardly a sound, other than the crickets. A breeze blowing through the pines sounds like nothing else. To me it's a warm and comforting sound. The moonlight reflected off of the mountain somewhat, which was to our left. In the distance you could see the silhouettes of the fake village and then Don left the tracks and hopped onto a low rise which headed up to the mountain.
The actual carving is on what I call the “front” side; on the “rear” is this western village where the gunfights are held. If you’re looking at the front of the mountain it sort of resembles every four-year-olds’ drawing of a whale, with the tall steep slope on the left and then gradually sloping down to the right. On the right side of the mountain is the 1.5 mile trail that you can walk up to the top. Or you could take a cable car. If you were on top and got too close to the left edge, well…God bless you and hope you have a parachute!
Don and I were starting up the back side of the mountain. The normal trail up the mountain is just a continuous, low-grade trail that takes you about thirty minutes or so to walk up. Where we were had many slope changes and pockets of trees. In some places you could walk upright, like Sasquatch, and in others you had to lean forward and sort of walk up using your fingertips to hold you steady. I don’t know if it was the adrenaline of making the climb, but in no time my buzz was gone. We didn’t talk much and Don seemed to be on a mission; we never really paused for a break, not that we really needed one. The mountain isn’t that high.
As we were climbing we got to a part that was steeper than the other parts. Don was still ahead of me. My foot hit some loose gravel and my feet slid out from under me. I pressed myself as close to the surface as I could and was barely holding on with my fingertips. Don heard me grunt and stopped to look down under his arms at me.
“You okay?” he asked.
I held my breath for a second. “I’m not sure I can move.”
He turned around and slid down on his ass toward me. “Are you hurt?”
“No, I’m just…if I move I’ll slide down.” Now granted, the mountain wasn’t killer steep here, but I know if I lost my grip I’d slide down about thirty feet or so to the nearest ledge.
Don reached me and with his feet on one side of my head he leaned over a bit, extending his hand. “Take it,” he said.
I looked into his eyes for a second, not wanting to move for fear I’d slip. Then in a flash I reached out and grabbed his hand. He pulled me up toward him and I was able to steady myself on the granite surface. “Thanks,” I breathed.
We stayed there for a second, him on his fine ass, me on all fours next to him. “Let’s go,” I said.
“You sure? We can wait if you want.”
“No. Take me where you want,” I said. Ukkkk. That was dumb.
He raised an eyebrow. “Oh really…”
“Shut up, you goof,” I laughed.
He laughed and turned around, then proceeded up the mountain. I followed behind and then finally we came to a place in the mountain where there was about a ten foot by thirty foot flat area. There were pine trees at one end of it, but the other was barren. All around us the mountain reflected the light of the full moon. The air was a bit cooler up here and there was a slight breeze as well. On this side of the mountain you could see over the treetops to the more rural area of Stone Mountain, as well as the whole downtown Atlanta skyline. It was absolutely beautiful at night.
“Wow!” I said looking over at him.
“Tell me about it. I love it up here.”
“I do too, now that I’m finally here. I’ve never been up here at night.”
“You should be up here in the winter. It’s really windy, but it’s great,” he said.
“I’ll bet.” I put my hands behind my head and lay back against the mountain, pretty much still in a sitting position.
“Can you imagine what it must’ve looked like from up here, watching the Yankees marching from Atlanta, here?” he said.
“I can only imagine,” I said. “I wonder if you could hear the marching; the men talking-“
“The pillaging,” he interrupted.
We lay there, next to each other, way above the tops of the yellow pines. It’s amazing what a little moonlight can do. We didn’t talk that much at first. Don and I just sat there looking around the North Georgia piedmont. For miles.
“So what would you like to do, Paul?” Don asked after a long, comfortable silence.
“What do you mean?”
“What do you want to do?” he repeated.
I took a deep breath and looked away out of the corner of my eyes. “Do?”
“In life. After high school. Do you still want to go to architecture school?”
“Ah. I guess.”
“You guess? Dude, in four weeks you’ll be starting your senior year. You better do more than guess,” he laughed.
I smiled back at him. “Well, there’s always the architecture thing. I’ve wanted that since I can remember.” I thought about this some. “Actually I think I’d much rather build houses or renovate them. I know I’m supposed to go to college but I’m not sure if that’s the road for me.”
“You can always sing,” he said.
I had to laugh out loud at that.
“What?” he asked.
“Me? Sing?” I said incredulously. “Quit smoking crack.” I smiled and lay back against the mountain.
“Well, I thought you were pretty good tonight.”
“I was pretty loaded, pal,” I laughed. He just shrugged. “To tell you the truth I hate the sound of my voice.”
“Well, you can hit the notes from what I could tell. Have you thought of taking voice lessons or something?”
I hadn’t and I said so. We sat there for a few more minutes in the quite moonlight. I was dying to lean over and…well, I didn’t know what. I knew I wanted something, and it involved him being naked. This was such a romantic place. Well, it was beautiful and maybe I was getting romantic notions in my head.
“So the baseball…” I started.
“I know you love it and all. Do you think you’ll be able to make a career out of it? I mean, from what everyone says you’re an awesome shortstop. Do you think that you’ll make it to the majors?”
“That’d be my dream. My dad says that I’m fuckin’ crazy to dream like that.” He got silent.
I turned to look at him. “Maybe I’m steppin’ out of line, here, but your dad doesn’t really know you.” I was a bit shocked that I’d said that. It was one thing to listen to his problems, but his parents were still his parents and I’d never really said anything negative against them.
Don just turned and looked at the scene around us. “No. You’re right. He doesn’t.”
“So then what’s the deal? You go to the school and play on the minor team?”
“Yeah,” he nodded, “then if I’m lucky, really lucky, there’ll be a scout who spots me. But most guys get spotted; nothing comes of it.”
“Well, you just gotta do your best, I guess. Can’t get there if you don’t try, right?”
He nodded. “I’m sorry to just drop it on you out of the blue,” he said.
This time I shrugged. My feelings for him were pinging all over the damn place. On one hand he was my best friend and I loved him because of it. On the other hand I was really attracted to him. On the third hand, maybe I had strong feelings for the guy and thought they were love because I’d never been this close to someone before. The whole emotion thing kind of sucked. And now he’d be leaving to go off to school in a few weeks.
“As long as we can keep in touch,” I told him.
“Oh, hell yeah, man.”
More comfortable silence as we watched some traffic in the distance.
“This’d be the perfect place to make love,” he said.
“Excuuuse me?” I laughed. “I didn’t bring a rubber.”
He busted out laughing at that. “Seriously though, look at this,” he said, gesturing around us. “You take your wife up here or girlfriend.”
“I don’t have one of those,” I reminded him.
“Me neither,” he laughed, looking over at me.
I smiled and shook my head, turning back to look at the skyline. We sat there for about fifteen more minutes. It was getting late and the air was getting just a bit cooler, a slow and steady breeze blowing through the needles of the pine trees. The smell of the pine trees wafted through the air as the moon rose higher in the sky. This was one of those moments that I’d never forget.
Sighing, Don said, “Dude, we’d better get back before it’s way too late.”
“Ok,” I said. I stood up and started heading back down the way we came up.
“No, let’s go this way,” and he headed in the direction of the main trail. Once we got there it was pretty easy trudging back down the mountain. About thirty minutes later we were walking back on the train tracks in the direction of the fishing hut.
Without saying a word we climbed into the big-ass car and he drove the rest of the way around the park, through the picnic areas, back over the dam and through the campgrounds. I was saddened to see the granite guardhouse as we left the park and headed back toward the village. I knew that we still had a few weeks to go before college started for him and my last year of high school began, but I couldn’t help feeling like I was just at the end of an era. It’s a moment of maturation for people when that happens, but I was wanting to resist it as much as possible.