This is the first installment in a series of stories about my BFF from high school, Jason. I've written about him before, and my ultimate goal is to put these stories together in a book somehow. I wrote three sections in longhand yesterday while I was administering standardized tests at school. Somehow longhand seemed appropriate for these stories. I may write them all that way.
Jason moved to our town in the summer before our ninth grade year, and I still don't know what brought him from Texas to Georgia. I suppose it had something to do with a job for one or both of his parents, but his parents were only shadowy images to me. I interacted with them only to say hello and goodbye, and that as quickly as possible. I find that ironic now, because MY mother was the one who invoked fear into the machoest of macho guys in our county (just ask the now-judge in that county, who was unfortunate enough to bring my sister home one night when she was grounded, only to find our mother sitting on the front steps). Jason was accepted as one of our family almost from the beginning. He attended family functions, he came over on Christmas Day (no one had ever done that before). He was one of us.
When he first moved into our county, though, Jason's very presence threatened my shaky little psyche to the core. I had become BEST FRIENDS only the year before with Carol, one of the prettiest, most popular girls in our school. I was a former trailer park kid, and while I fit in with the smart kids by default, I had never found my niche with the in-crowd. Carol was my ticket in. We became inseparable, sharing clothes (on the rare occasions I could wear hers) and a locker (our combination was 4-26-4), sneaking cigarettes and the occasional bottle of rum. Carol's mother, like mine, had been divorced for years, in an age when divorce was still cause for stigma. We clung to one another for comfort and for shelter from the accusing, questioning stares of those who lived with both parents. At least that was how we saw it. The fact that I now had a step-father did not make me feel any less a freak compared to my friends who lived with two people who shared their DNA.
When Jason moved to town, his family settled in Carol's neighborhood. I was already intimidated because Carol was lucky enough to live in an actual subdivision. It was close enough to our school for her (and Jason) to walk home if necessary from after-school activities. I, on the other hand, lived about a mile and a half away, the fourth house in a row of other nondescript houses that didn't even have the decency to warrant a name. I realize now what tremendous sacrifices my mother made to purchase that home, but back then I was so self-centered that all I could think about was how much better it would be if we lived near Carol.
While the distance between our homes was not great, it may as well have been the Gulf of Mexico. We didn't have sidewalks out in the country, and bicycling back and forth would have been decidedly uncool. Besides, it would have been tough to steer a bike and shift gears while holding a cigarette in one hand. My contact with Carol was limited to the few times I could convince Mom to let me spend the night at her house, and the fewer occasions she would allow me to have sleepover company.
Enter Jason. He moved into Carol's neighborhood, just a few doors down the street. They could walk home from school together, see each other on weekends. I burned with jealousy. Carol was MY friend, and I shuddered at the prospect of anyone taking her attention from me. I already lived in perpetual fear that the popular girl would discover the fraud that was me and dump me like a sack of rocks. If only I had known.
But we never know. I had no way of knowing that when Carol went off the deep end and stole money from our school and ultimately went away to a boarding school, that Jason and I would become as inseparable as Carol and I had been. That he would show up at the house where I was babysitting on New Year's Eve one year, caked in mud in nearly freezing temperatures. That he would be a groomsman at my wedding. That he would sit at my side at my step-father's funeral. That he and I would risk being arrested when we felt compelled to sit in UGA's football stadium in the dark of night. That we would lose touch and reconnect thirty-three years after high school graduation, and that we would still feel like BFF's.