1 BCE: Before Childhood Ended
My old man was the kind a guy that everybody knew and loved. Back when we lived in Georgia, in a small town in the Appalachian foothills, he took me to his favorite haunt, a dive bar, every Sunday to watch football and eat stomping peanuts. The air of the place was indigo haze, cigarettes, and piss-scented beer. I was ten going on eleven. I wore men’s T-shirts and basketball shorts to hide my developing breasts and hips. I tucked my thick, scraggly hair under a baseball cap so I looked like a boy. They knew I was a girl, make no mistake: my dad wanted everyone at Squid’s to know that his little princess was the best darn football player that local parks’n’rec team ever had. I was taller than, and chunkier than, all the fifth grade boys, and therefore could knock ’em down like nobody’s business. Of course this was flag football, so tackling wasn’t allowed, but I was fast and fearless in my pursuit of TDs and showed promise. The man himself was a “professional” musician, a singer-songwriter of sorts, whose gigs during my lifetime included playing at Squid’s and in our garage on federal holidays. The minute I garbled the words, “Daddy, I wanna play guitar like you!” the man had a yard sale six-string in my hands. He taught me everything I know. You could say I was Pop’s pride and joy.
So on this particularly raucous evening at Squid’s, the Georgia State v. Alabama game was on the staticky tube mounted in the corner where the two adjacent walls meet the ceiling, and the Boys were losing bad. It was the playoffs on the line, and bets had been taken early on, but now with no hope of making a comeback and greedy bastards counting their bills, the well-imbibed men were shouting and throwing things and wrestling with their bookies.
Squiddie gave Pop the ol’ one-eye squint and nod, and he knew what he had to do. He got up during the next commercial break, hiked up his jeans, brushed the peanut shells off his flannel button-down, stomped in his workman’s boots over to the jukebox, flipped through the album, stopped, plunked in a quarter, hit ‘play’, grabbed an empty beer bottle, used a chair to step up onto a table, and as the crackling speakers began to play the song, he lifted the bottle to his lips as a mock-microphone:
“Shot through the heart! And you’re to blame! Darlin’ you give lo-o-ove, a bad name.”
And then the head-banging, foot-stomping, and air guitar-shredding began. Because he was the beloved town prankster, musician, and drunk, his antics caught and spread like wildfire. All eyes turned to him. His whooping and hollering, “C’mon, boys, y’know ’em, sing along!” got the bar rumbling with slurred male vocals. Table tops were slapped, bottles and glasses were clinked, drinks were sloshed as they were toasted high overhead. Good old boys drinking whiskey and rye slid arms across each other’s shoulders in brotherly affection, shouting the words while rocking to and fro.
The game forgotten, swept up in the moment, Dad reached a hand down to pull me up on the table with him. He and I sang at the top of our lungs, eyes crinkled in revelry, gazing out at the smoky, crowded barroom full of Billy Joes and Jimmy Deans all bellowing merrily along to something he had started. That rush, that thrill of being loved by all and knowing it was something I would inadvertently thirst for long after this moment. Perhaps it was this day that set my world ablaze, a roaring inferno that could only be quenched by a shot at The Big Time™. All I knew as a ten-year-old kid was in that moment I was infinite, ethereal, and effervescent.
Then the song ended, the cheers faded, the lights went up, the crowd turned its back, we got down off the table, we drove back home, my dad tucked me into bed, kissed me goodnight, told me he loved me, then left us the next morning, never to return again.