On June 2, 1992, my family (movers) loaded up the truck (an 18 wheeler) and we moved from Louisville, where I spent my first 14 2/3 years on this planet, to our new home on Sagewood Dr. in Brandon. I remember driving down our long gravel driveway for the last time on that warm, late spring day. The sky was high and clear. The woods that I spent countless hours playing, exploring, and hunting in were alive with the new foliage of their annual rebirth. As mom and I left our house for the last time, we were leaving my whole frame of reference, but like the signs of spring around us, we were entering a new season of our lives. I was leaving my friends, my school, my church, and outside of my family, everything I took comfort in. My heart was a knot of sadness and fear, but I was also nervous and excited for the possibilities of the road ahead, of our new house in our new town.
Three weeks before school started that summer, I reported to percussion camp as a member of the BHS band. At some time before 7:30 am that Monday morning Mom dropped me off at the band hall for the first time, she talked with the director, Mr P, about my handicap, and they decided that I’d be an asset in the pit playing xylophones, bongos, cymbals, and any other instrument that doesn’t lend itself easily to portability. The next two weeks, I was immersed in music and surrounded by new people with whom I had an automatic connection. Those two sweaty, exhausting, unbelievably fun weeks in July and August of 1992 produced many of the invaluable friendships that have been integral to my journey. Most importantly, at the time anyway, was that on the first day at this brand new school, I wasn’t completely adrift in a sea of unfamiliar faces. I actually had somebody to sit with at the lunch table and was able to avoid the terrifying wander around the room asking, “Is somebody sitting here?” I slowly made friends from interactions that took place outside of band, but with only a few exceptions, the band geeks sustained me through my four years at BHS.
The band also had a lot to do with my ability to stay active, I’m convinced. After my freshman year in the pit, I decided I wanted to march with everybody else, so I strapped on a bass drum and carried it for the next three years. I marched, crab-stepped, backpedaled, and marked time on football fields all over the state in every possible weather situation except snow. That’s not to mention parades of every type and length. The Veterans Day parade in Jackson stands out the most of all the parades I marched in because of Amite St. If you’ve never walked from the Mississippi Fairgrounds parking lot up Amite St. to State St., well… Sir Edmund Hillary didn’t have as steep of an ascent to the top of Everest, I’m quite certain. Sir Hillary also didn’t have muscular dystrophy and wasn’t toting a bass drum that had to weigh 2 million pounds, at least. They say, “If you don’t use it, you lose it.” Well, I lost it eventually, but band made sure I put up as much of a fight as I had in me.
Believe it or not, because I was in the band, I didn’t miss one football game over the entirety of my high school experience, and of all those Friday nights on all those poorly maintained football fields with their uncut grass and ankle breaking potholes, I only tripped and fell one time. If I remember correctly, it was a playoff game my senior year in Hattiesburg where I slipped on some wet grass and took a knee. Mr. P helped me back to my feet and I watched the rest of the performance from the sideline. The significance of this was that during my time in high school, the limp that I developed in junior high had become much more pronounced and was further exacerbated by the foot drop that occurred in my left foot. The muscle that ran down the front of my shin that allowed me to pull my toes skyward just seemed to die one day. This rapid change in the mechanics of my gait wasn’t compensated for in my brain as quickly as the need for compensation was occurring. So, I tripped and fell a lot. It’s pretty embarrassing for a kid to be walking across a flat concrete sidewalk and trip. It’s REALLY embarrassing for said kid to walk across said sidewalk, trip, and not be able to get up without help, not to mention that the limp that said kid walks with is embarrassing in and of itself. That’ll mess with a kid’s self-confidence in a big way, and was pretty much the theme of the conversations I had with myself in my head for a lot of years. I think I did a pretty decent job of keeping it chewed back, but it was always bubbling away in my depths.
I can’t tell you how nervous I was on graduation day. I had to make it down the steps of Thalia Mara without tripping while wearing a dress, which I had sparse little experience wearing up to that point. I was supposed to stand up when they called my name to be recognized for something so significant that I am at a loss as to why today. Then I had to go up the steps, across the stage, and back down the steps in front of everybody and their grandmamas without tripping. Finally, I had to hoof it back up the steps of the auditorium to get my actual piece of paper. When it was over, I felt like I’d washed 10 mini thins down with a 6 pack of RedBull. I was vibrating, and my stomach was in knots.
After graduation, the parents put together an event to keep us from getting drunk and dying on graduation night called Project Graduation. So, after all the pomp and circumstance, they loaded us on buses and kept us fed and occupied until the sun came up. Then, I and two of my compatriots who were running on no sleep, loaded up in a truck for a 6 hour drive to Many Islands Campground in Hardy, AR where, as far as my parents know, we had several days of canoeing and bible study to celebrate the end of the state mandated part of our formal education. I learned a valuable lesson on that trip. That lesson is: It’s really hard to capsize a canoe when serving as a ballast, you have a cooler full of ice and canned beverages and a 215 lb guy leaning against said container of chilled beverages.
(to be continued…)