Summer was just around the corner, a couple more weeks of school and then I could begin what would arguably be the best summer of life. Of course, I had no idea what would transpire over the next three months, but looking back, I would not trade a single moment of it! A lot of what happened changed the trajectory of my life but at the time, it was just about having fun! I was 16 with my own car and the world was waiting.
The middle of May, and I’ve been working as a stock clerk for about two months at a Winn-Dixie grocery store. The crew I worked with was awesome! Mostly made up of college guys, the “crew” would help accelerate my learning about life. The lessons I learned from them, both good and bad have served a lifetime. Larry, Sherman, Kirby, Preston and Chris all adopted me as their little brother. Each one wanting to impart their worldly wisdom on a wide-eyed 16 year old. A 16 year old being molded by young 20 somethings, what could go wrong?
So it happened that Kirby, Preston, Chris and me all had a Friday off of work, which was a rare occurrence for all of us to be off on the same day. A plan developed that the guys were going to the cliffs at Lake Allatoona and invited me to join them. Decision time for me. Do I blow off school, baseball practice and go hang out at the lake for the day? There is no way I could have known what all would transpire that sunny afternoon. The lessons experienced that afternoon, were none I would have ever learned sitting in a classroom or practicing baseball on a field of grass!
The only thing I was worried about was leaving early enough to get home by 6:30, my normal time of being home after practice. I arrived about 11 am and quickly found the others. I’m still not sure how the first beer found its way into my hand but for the next couple of hours it seemed there was not a time where my hand was empty. Arriving shortly after me was a couple of carloads of girls, women to me. I’m pretty sure I scraped my chin as it dropped to the ground.
Obviously, I was the youngest of the group but no one treated me like a high school kid, to them, I was just one of the gang. One of the girls, Stephanie, took up the mantle of being my protector! I didn’t appreciate at it at the time, but she really did protect me that afternoon. She was the one that cut me off from drinking so that I would be able to drive home later that afternoon. When the challenges from the guys came about doing this or that, she was the one that stepped in and said no! At one point, saying no wasn’t going to cut it, so she grabbed me by the hand and led me away from the others.
Beautiful, smart and funny, Stephanie, as I recollect now was simply perfect. I’m sure time as only enhanced my perception of how utterly awesome she was and for at least that afternoon, she really was perfect too me. We walked and talked for what seems like hours but was probably more like 20 minutes. She asked a ton of questions, wanting to know all about me – what music I like, favorite movies, favorite food, etc. It was the first time I remembered anyone showing this much interest in me. If I died in that moment, I thought why not, life can’t get much better than this.
As the afternoon dwindled away and it came time for me to leave, I made my rounds to say goodbye to everyone. Of course, Stephanie walked with me to my car. I don’t remember a word she said but the kiss, the kiss I’ll remember forever. Ok, it was more like a peck but it was to my lips so a kiss it will forever be! Normally, driving home from the lake easily takes twenty to twenty-five minute but for some strange reason, it seemed like I made it home in less than five.
Perfect day! I bring all my baseball gear into the house and put it in my room. I make my way back to the living room where mom and dad are watching TV. Dad asks me about my day – how was school? How did you do at practice? did you get any work in behind the plate? At some point, as I was answering his questions, I realized that he knows I’m lying to him. I don’t know how he knows but he definitely knows. A moment of silence, then the hammer as he says “I got off work early so I could come watch you practice today. And not only were you not at practice but apparently you weren’t at school either!”
I had to come clean. Telling my parents what had happened that day was one of the toughest things I ever had to do! It was one of those defining moments in a person’s life. I never lied to my parents again after that day. I remember I lost my car for the remainder of the school year having to take the bus to school each day. Only exception was on the days I had to work. I had to call before leaving the school, call when I arrived at work and finally, call when I was on my way home.
It was one day but what a day it was! And summer hasn’t even started yet…