My heart had been broken, but at that point in 2005, only into half a million little pieces as the worst was yet to come. But to get to the low point, I first had to foolishly think that The Ex wanted to get back together.
We talked about it. It’s what I wanted. It’s what she wanted. It’s what we wanted.
And we were making it happen.
Progress toward healing had been made, but just when we were starting to feel that old spark again, life – and a holiday schedule – interrupted, as the Fourth of July popped up. Off she went to a weekend at a lake, and there I stayed in Georgetown. As Michael Stipe once so simply sang, “It’s easier to leave than to be left behind.”
I was a mess.
Fortunately, West Virginia called.
Well, technically not West Virginia, as states can’t actually talk, and even if they could, it would be highly unlikely they would have the motor skills to operate a telephone. So, in this case, it was Cory Graham calling. As we discussed our usual topics – movies, music, girl problems – talk turned to the Fourth of July, during which he said he was driving east to visit his dad’s family.
I have no shame, so I invited myself. Cory graciously accepted because, frankly, driving to West Virginia is a terrible thing to do alone, so why not inflict a little eastern misery on someone else? It was to be a whirlwind trip, there and back in a day, which was fine with me, as I primarily just wanted out of my apartment.
There are two things about the trip that stand out to me, two things I’ll probably always remember, even when I’m old and bald and sitting like Uncle June, drooling in a bathrobe.
Cory’s dad has a wonderful antique car. I can’t remember the make or model because I’m just not manly enough when it comes to cars, but I do recall that it a) had a special license plate and b) Cory’s dad kept it in some space-age dome that really looked out of place in the hills of West Virginia. The man babied this car, and well he should as it was a beauty. When he took us for a drive through town in it, I felt like the prettiest girl at the prom (and I now realize I have both questioned my manhood AND called myself a girl at the prom, all in one paragraph. Um, football, boobs, porn and hunting!).
Cory rode shotgun as his dad (and this detail will prove relevant to the overall picture later – he has one arm) drove, and I rode in the backseat with his autistic half-brother, who although was the nicest kid I met that day, didn’t really like having to be overly close to a stranger (which I most certainly was).
We stopped at a little restaurant/bar/pool hall for a sandwich I’d heard Cory talk about for about five years. The car, with its top down and shining in the sun, sat in front of the sidewalk, and passersby noticed it.
Truthfully, I can’t speak for all passersby, but at least one did, and he wanted a ride in it. I think that had less to do with the car and more to do with the fact he might not have had a ride of his own. And based on his odor, I’m guessing he might not have had a shower of his own, either.
The guy wanted to go for a spin, but even in a friendly country town in West Virginia, it’s just not the best idea to take total (and smelly) strangers for joyrides. The guy bartered with Cory’s dad, who eventually relented and agreed to take him as far as the Chinese restaurant, where a food order awaited.
You would have thought we just asked if he wanted to travel to Mars with us, his excitement level was so high.
I should note that the store was no more than 100 yards from where we were currently parked. Mars was 50 million-plus miles away.
We were faced with a dilemma – nobody wanted to sit next to Smelly McOdor, so Cory, the great friend that he is, let us know that he was indeed comfortable in the front seat and that Mr. Odor could hop in the back.
So now, Cory’s brother, who I should also note is a large kid (not fat, but tall and thick, like a good ol’ country boy), has to not only sit next to me (a stranger) but also this random fellow (a stinky stranger).
The stranger sits down, immediately complaining about the heat of the seat. Note to hitchhikers: do not complain about the heat of the seat. I’m guessing it’s quite more comfortable than having your unappreciative ass kicked back out to the asphalt.
So there we were — me (heartbroken), Cory’s dad (one-armed), Cory’s brother (autistic), the stranger (rank) and Cory (and this might be the only time this has ever been said, but he was the normal one of the bunch) — heading off down the road, our strange version of The Wizard of Oz.
I’m shooting eye daggers at Cory, who is trying not to laugh. Cory’s dad hits the gas to get us there as swiftly as possible. Cory’s brother is trying to find his happy place and block it all out.
And the other guy, the smelly one, well, he’s apparently grown comfortable because he’s just having a blast, singing and smiling and letting the wind blow through his hair. Well, at least for about 10 seconds – Cory’s dad’s car apparently hits 0 to 60 rather fast.
All that pales, though, to the true wonderful moment of the trip, which happened on the drive over. On a beautiful summer day, Cory and I loaded a CD into his car stereo, rolled down the windows and sang at the top of our lungs as we drove along.
The song? Shooter Jenning’s “Fourth of July.” It contains this chorus: “You were pretty as could be, sitting in the front seat/looking at me, telling me you love me/And you’re happy to be with me on the Fourth of July.”
Two male friends singing a song about being pretty and in love?
I don’t know how pretty we looked, but it was definitely a fine moment of brotherly love, as at that moment, I wasn’t thinking about my lost love, my future love or anything other than Shooter, music, country roads,
West Virginia and mountain mommas.
It might not have been pretty, but damn, it was beautiful.