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Saturday, April 15, 2017
Memory Lane: A short story by Cyrus Alderwood
A short story by Cyrus
Sammy Johnson stood alone
outside of his old high school, fond memories of his younger years flooding
into his mind. It had been twenty years since he had been back for a visit. He
wouldn’t have been standing here now had it not been for overhearing a couple
of people talking in line at a Shell station while he was waiting to pay for
gas. Sammy had never even given a second thought about returning to Richlands
High School until then.
Was it ironic that there
were a couple of folks far from home talking about the upcoming high school
reunion? Was it fate that he was there to hear it? He had not received an
invitation to the reunion. That wasn’t a surprise, though. He hadn’t been back
to his hometown or spoken to anyone from high school since graduation day.
Sammy stood at the end of
the parking lot and took a long drag from his cigarette, dropping it and
grinding it out under his shoe. He wasn’t sure if he was glad to have come
back. He felt nervous about seeing old friends after all these years. He
dreaded being asked why he never bothered to keep in touch. He knew that
question would come up a dozen times. In his own defense, however, he never
recalled anyone stopping by to visit him. After twenty years, no one came
around with a friendly word or to talk about the good ole’ days. And they were
just that, the best years of his life. Although Sammy never bothered to look
anyone up and stay in touch, he certainly was not hard to find.
He made his way inside and
stood nervously in front of the gymnasium doors. Spread out in front of him
were old high school yearbooks, as well as photos from football and baseball
games, including one of him standing on third base after he hit a triple in the
state championship game his junior year. He loved playing baseball, and he was
rather popular in high school. He found it sad that the popularity you have as
a kid ends the moment you leave school and enter into the real world.
Sammy looked down at the
name tags on the table waiting to be claimed, but he couldn’t find his. He
grabbed a Sharpie and scribbled his name on one of the blank name tags. He said
hello to the woman working the table greeting people as they arrived for their
twenty year reunion. Leslie Murray, at least that was her name back then,
looked in his direction but said nothing. Instead, she turned back to talk to
the two other women from their graduating class, two women that he thought he
recognized, but they had put on a few pounds since then and he couldn’t be
“Wow,” Sammy mumbled. “She
was a stuck up bitch in high school. She’s a stuck up bitch twenty years later.
Some people never grow up,” he said to himself as he strolled into the
Sammy chose to show up
fashionably late, partially because he was never on time for anything in his
life, but mostly because he was nervous to see how everyone else turned out
after so many years. He was especially anxious about how he would be judged in
the eyes of his peers. When they remembered him last, he was known to be a bit
wild. He was popular, the star of the baseball team, and seemed to have a great
future ahead of him. He gave up his baseball dream after graduation and drifted
around ever since.
The dance floor was nearly
full with old friends and old flames gathered together, attempting to dance
like they were still seventeen. Sammy laughed at the sight. He looked around
wondering if he was the only person in the gym who hadn’t gained seventy
pounds. Women were dancing in groups, giggling uncontrollably to Baby’s Got Back by Sir Mix-A-Lot and
tossing some of their sizable asses around when the song suddenly change to I’m Too Sexy. Another roar of cackling
and laughter rose from the crowd that rivaled the volume of the music.
“What the hell did I get
myself into?” Sammy asked aloud. He looked around to see if anyone heard him
but he realized that no one was paying attention to him anyway.
“Baby’s Got Back, alright.
A whole hell of a lot of it!” Chris Redman said laughing out loud as he walked
up behind Sammy and slapped him jovially on the shoulder.
“Quick! Man, I haven’t
seen you in years! You haven’t changed a bit,” Sammy admired.
“Neither have you, buddy, but
from the looks of things I think we’re in the minority,” he said as he nodded
to Christie Blevins, the homecoming queen their senior year.
“Remember how smoking hot
that girl used to be?” Sammy asked. “Now just look at her. You can’t blame
those hips just on kids. I find that hard to believe.”
“No, but I bet you can
blame it on donuts, and cake, and every other snack she probably claims she
doesn’t touch. Seriously, I’d bet my bile duct that her ass looks like fifty
pounds of chewed bubble gum,” Quick said laughing.
Chris Redman, also known
as “Quick”, earned his nickname at a young age. Chris was called “Quick” in the
same vein of irony that one would call a fat guy “Slim.” Chris was well known
for always being late for class…every class. If dragging your ass was a
lifestyle, then Chris had mastered it by the ripe old age of five. Whenever
someone would tell him to do something, be it his father, his mother, a
teacher, or occasionally a local police officer, they would follow their plea
with the word “quick!” The nickname stuck.
“Whew, they looked better
when they danced back in high school!” Timmy DeLong said as he and Rick Malone
slid up beside Sammy and Quick to survey the ladies on the dance floor.
“Some of them still look
good, aged gracefully, but some…well, I’ll just keep my thoughts to myself in
an attempt not to be rude,” Rick said as he handed a couple of beers to his friends.
“Oh yeah, I forgot to tell
you that I ran into these two salty bastards out in the parking lot,” Quick
said. Sammy took a drink from the bottle and shook hands with his two old
“So what’s the deal with
everyone here?” Timmy asked. “I said hello to a dozen people on the way in here
and all I get are blank stares. Did twenty years turn everyone into an
“I got the same attitude
at the check in table, and was outside for at least ten minutes before I came
in. Of all the people that walked by, only one of them looked my way and
nodded. I thought we were friends with most of these guys,” Sammy added.
“Well, I thought this was
supposed to be a party,” Quick said as he chugged his beer. “Where did you get
this?” he asked.
Timmy pointed to the open
bar on the other side of the dance floor. There were four giant plastic tubs
filled with ice and beer in both cans and bottles.
“Hold this,” he said as he
handed the empty bottle to Sammy. “I’m going to work my way through this crowd
and get us another round.”
Quick began to snap his
fingers and prance onto the dance floor in the most foolish sight that Sammy
and the boys had seen since high school. He stopped by a crowd of giggling
women and mimicked their “rump shake” as best he could without hurting himself while
trying not to look too feminine. Sammy laughed so hard that he thought his
sides were going to split.
Quick then moved over
toward Trent Belcher, a guy they used to all goof off with in Biology. The guy
did not have a squeamish bone in his body. He was the first one to volunteer to
dissect anything. In fact, Sammy had predicted at the end of their sophomore
year that Trent would either be a surgeon or a serial killer. That comment on
the last day of class got a laugh from everyone except Trent.
Trent was a chubby guy in
high school, but since working behind a desk pushing insurance since dropping
out of college, he had really let himself go. He was dancing with a woman that
none of them could remember and the three of them began to wonder out loud
which button was going to pop first. Would it be one from his tight shirt or
the one on his slacks?
It only took a couple of
seconds for them to realize that the buttons were not what Trent needed to
worry about. He danced like someone out of a bad comedy movie, squatting lower
every few moves. Quick grabbed his shoulders from behind and pushed Trent down
into a full squat before he spun off him and disappeared through the crowd of
dancing women. Trent had split his pants down the crease in the back all the
way underneath to the inseam. His pink boxers were enough to turn the giggling
crowd of their female classmates into a cackling group of women tripping all
Trent stood up as straight
as an arrow and quickly left the dance floor. Sammy and the boys couldn’t stop
laughing and wondered if Trent would actually come back.
Quick gently worked his
way between two women dancing on the other side of the floor with his best
cabbage patch move. He recognized one woman as the quiet girl in homeroom
during their senior year. Her name was Rachel, but he couldn’t remember her
last name. She wore a giant rock next to her wedding band, which did not
surprise him. She was nice the few times they spoke, and after twenty years was
easily the best looking woman in the room. They locked eyes for a brief second,
each with a big smile on their face and having fun, before he gave her a wink
and high stepped on over to the tubs of beer.
When he got back to the
other side of the gym he found his friends nearly doubled over and laughing
hysterically. They grabbed a table and sat down with a fresh round of beers as
Rick wiped the tears from his eyes, a big goofy grin plastered on his face.
“You guys think that was
funny?” Quick asked. “You haven’t seen anything yet. If these stuck up bastards
keep ignoring me then I’m going to have to get really nasty and see how many
other people can literally split their pants before I leave this party.”
The four of them sat there
for nearly an hour paying no attention to the crowd at hand except to point out
random moments of ridiculous dancing or assorted silliness. They took turns
going on beer runs between telling stories of old times.
Sammy thought back to
graduation day. It was a sore subject with the group so he didn’t bring it up,
but it was one of the happiest days of his life. He was turning eighteen the
day after and was anxious to get away from home. His pals knew that he didn’t
have the best home life and needed out. Living there was a drain on his confidence
and he had been battling depression because of the situation.
He had left home early
that morning to go hang out with his best friends. By late afternoon they had
already managed to use some of their graduation money to have a huge meal,
watch the afternoon showing of Wayne’s World, and then jumped into Sammy’s
Grand Am and hurried on toward graduation and the various parties that were
going on all night.
For some reason that day,
Quick had a real need to be on time for once. His mother said she would kill
him if he was late for his own graduation. As they sped across curvy Kents
Ridge Road, Quick continued to bitch because they were already late for lining
up for the march into the gymnasium for graduation. Sammy tried to push it, but
he realized he’d taken the curve by the old cemetery a bit too fast and lost
control of the car.
When the car finally
stopped rolling, the only sound in the ravine was the sound of air coming out
of his tires, a constant clicking sound of metal on metal, and the sound of
Quick blurting out a string of curse words and insults that were so impressive
that it remained legendary to this day.
The four of them gathered
their graduation gowns from the trunk of the car and walked to their graduation
about a mile and a half away. They managed to sneak into the back of the gym
and take the final empty seats unnoticed.
Tim noticed that the
atmosphere of the reunion had changed as the music became a bit less fun and
took on a more serious tone when it slowed down to Arrested Development and
Marky Mark’s Take a Walk on the Wild Side.
A couple of their classmates had made their way to the microphone to make
random statements of congratulations for someone that just had their third kid,
another guy grabbed the microphone, half-bombed, and slurred out how nice it
was to see everyone since their ten year reunion.
That’s when they noticed
Brad Franklin strolling past them, the cocky bastard. He was the football
coach’s son and was treated like royalty by some of the folks in this room
despite being the biggest horse’s ass in school history! If there was such a
thing as a part-time bully, Brad was that guy. For no reason at all he would
flip out and torture some poor kid that he knew wouldn’t fight back, or someone
that he knew he could beat up. If you were a kid that could kick Brad’s ass,
and you actually did, you had several other members of the football team that
suddenly decided to make your life hell when they passed you in the hall or had
a class with you.
“That pile of monkey crap
walked right by me and didn’t even acknowledge that I exist,” Tim said,
obviously offended. “After twenty years!”
Tim and Brad had a
‘history.’ Brad didn’t like Tim the least bit. He decided back in the fifth
grade, when Tim got him out in a game of dodge ball during gym class, that he
didn’t like the way he looked. So he picked on Tim nearly every chance he got,
especially when he had his friends around to back him up. Tim played little
league with all of us, but quit because Brad’s dad was coaching the team back
then. The coach took his son’s grudge as his own and seldom played Tim, except
during mop up duty at the end of a game. Tim decided that baseball wasn’t for
him after sixth grade.
Tim got up from the table when
Brad disappeared around the corner.
“Where are you going?”
Sammy asked, almost worried.
“I’m going to wait until
the big oaf is taking a piss and then I’m going to turn the lights out on him
and run,” he said laughing. “You didn’t think I was going to pick a fight, did
you? I’m not in the mood to have my butt kicked anymore tonight than I did in
high school. But nonetheless, I will be right back,” he said as he jogged
happily out of the gymnasium.
Tim crept down the hall of
his old high school until he stood outside the door with the sign “BOYS” above
it. Two guys walked out and he placed his finger over his lips to let them know
to be quiet. He didn’t want Brad to know he was there.
Before he walked in the
bathroom he noticed another one of his classmates, Brenda Tanner, standing at
the end of the hall, looking out the window. She noticed him and turned and
gave him a quick wave and a smile, probably realizing that he was up to no
good. He hadn’t talked to Brenda since they were juniors. He kissed her once at
a party after they had both had a couple drinks too many. He thought about
walking down the hall to talk to her but she quickly turned her back to him and
continued to stare out the window, as if she were lost in deep thought and
didn’t want to be bothered. He noticed that her reflection in the glass showed
a very different picture than the pretty girl that just waved at him. He paused
looking at her for a moment but then pushed it from his mind to focus on the
task at hand.
Tim slowly opened the door
to avoid making any noise and walked into the bathroom. He must have made a
noise because Brad took a look over his shoulder and looked directly at him and
then went back to zipping up. Puzzled, Tim walked into the bathroom as if to
take a leak while Brad was at the sink washing his hands. It was only then that
Brad acknowledged him. Tim turned and met his stare as he stood behind him,
Brad locked onto him as he looked in the mirror to see Tim standing there.
His expression went from one
of calm to a sudden unexplained look of panic. Brad bolted from the bathroom,
not even bothering to turn the water off.
“Hell, so much for playing
a joke on the guy,” Tim quipped before rejoining his friends back at their
“What the hell did you to
do that guy?” Rick asked when Tim sat down with a fresh round of beers for his
“Nothing, I swear! He
spotted me and then freaked out and ran out there like I was going to get
medieval on his ass or something. I have no idea what freaked him out.”
“Well, whatever it was he
was spooked about, he tore out of here like the seat of his pants was on fire,”
Just then, their senior
class president, Allan Dalton, took the podium and got everyone’s attention
with a spoon to the side of his wine glass. “May I have everyone’s attention,
The crowd grew quiet
although there was the constant chatter of the non-sober from the back of the
gym and the gaggle of ladies huddled up on the dance floor. Allan gave a
heartfelt speech about their high school years, but made mention that he was
glad to see that so many had realized and lived their lives like the best was
still yet to come. Allan, although a bit of an arrogant guy growing up, seemed
more down to earth and a bit like a motivational speaker.
“And now for a toast,” he
said. Everyone raised their glasses and bottles in unison.
“To health and happiness,
To days gone by;
To fond memories of friends,
And to a tear in our eye.
To good fortune and cheer,
And to our class song;
To that place in our hearts,
For our friends who have long gone.”
Allan reminded the group
of the photos of their high school years posted up along the wall, along with a
section dedicated to their classmates who had passed away too early in life. He
then called the entire group over to a set of bleachers pulled out from the wall
for a group photo. Lynna, the local newspaper operator, had made herself
available to photograph the group and make the pictures available for everyone
online. As the crowd squeezed together, Sammy and his friends each took a knee
on the floor in front of the group.
After the group photo,
Sammy, Rick, Tim and Quick took a stroll down memory lane, laughing as they
pointed out where they were in photos and reminisced of those fun days. Then
they made their way to the wall where photos hung of their friends that had
died too early in life.
A gorgeous photo of Brenda
Tanner hung on the wall. It was a picture of her in a evening gown competing
for Miss RHS. She was stunning. Tim touched her photo, remembering seeing her
with a sad look and a forced smile earlier in the hallway. She had developed
bone cancer shortly after her college graduation. She died before she could
even experience the excitement of her first job.
Next was a photo of Glen
Stuart and Ashley Reynolds. They dated off and on in high school but got
engaged a few years later. They died in a water skiing accident at South
Holston Lake a month before they were to be married. They found Glen floating
on top of the water, but her body was never recovered. She was wearing a life
jacket, but it must have come off at some point during the accident.
Sammy reached out and
touched the last photo hanging. It was a picture he remembered posing for. That
image burned in his memory for the past twenty years. Quick’s mother took that
photo the day of their graduation. The day of the accident. It was of the four
of them laughing on the back deck at Quick’s house at Hidden Valley. One of the
best days of his life.
Sammy turned and looked at
his friends, his eyes glazed over. “It was good seeing you fella’s again,” he
said softly before turning around and disappearing through the gymnasium door.
Quick, Timmy and Rick all looked at each other, gave an understanding nod, and
vanished just as he did.
“Hey Allan,” Lynna called
across the gym as the crowd was beginning to thin out. He came over and thanked
her for helping out and taking photos.
“I just have a quick
question,” she said. She pulled up the digital group photo and enlarged it on
the screen of her camera. “Would you take a look at this? Who are these four
guys taking a knee on the floor? I don’t remember seeing them at all when I
took the picture.”
Allan stared at the photo,
his face turning abruptly pale.
“What’s wrong, Allan? You
look like you’ve seen a ghost.”