My relationship with Chris and Keith started in middle school. Chris and I had classes together, we were friends but not best of friends. I first met Chris when his dad Jeff McDonald coached our football team in 6th grade. Jeff had taught my sister 11 years before and became a hometown hero when he commanded the local Marine Corps Reserve Artillery Unit, Mike Battery, from Chattanooga, TN on their deployment to Desert Storm. Jeff and his unit found the first hidden batch of SCUD Missiles and even after he left the Marine Corps to teach smart ass kids like us, the Corps never left him. Chris was popular, exceptionally smart and it was obvious his dad had engrained work ethic in his personality, but Chris always seem just a little on edge. We were brought into a program for smart kids and went on a trip to Washington DC, we had fun prank calling the chaperones in the hotel, talking to the pretty girls from other schools and being first class idiots in our Nation’s Capitol. It as a blast. When we returned to school I thought I knew Chris pretty well, one day while on break i saw him go into the last stall of the restroom so I hid behind the exit door, when Chris walked by I jumped out and scared him, Chris responded with a shot to my nose, as the blood poured he looked at me, mortified as his actions and walked away, without saying a word. That was Chris, perhaps even he slightly afraid of what he was capable of.
When we left middle school, going into our freshman year, Chris moved to a private academy for high school. Less than a few hours south, Darlington was in the same town of Rome, GA that his grandparents lived. Chris spent two years there, and after a few instances where Chris and the Dean had seemingly opposing views of what was or wasn’t appropriate behavior, Chris moved back home to attend high school with us. Keith and Chris grew up together and Keith was a runt. Chris always felt the need to stick up for Keith, but in that two years he was away, Keith shot up and was pretty much the same size as Chris.
Keith and I weren’t automatically friends, but we did know each other. You see my first try at having a girl friend came a few weeks into my freshman year. Most of my middle school days I was slightly over weight and popular on comedic merit alone. But over the summer going into high school I too shot up, I grew a few inches, and lost a dozen or more pounds of fat. It was a simple plan really, my dad had me carrying brick and block 8 hours a day in 90-110 degree heat; replace Coke, the nectar of the south, with water and boom a brand new adolescent body to begin high school in. The girl I met at freshman orientation lived 30 minutes across town, and next door to Keith’s mom’s boyfriend. While I was processing preteen thoughts of love on long phone calls, Keith was sneaking into her house exploring other, more physical, teenage activities. This was the first of a half dozen girls Keith and I would cross each other on until finally the cycle came to our abrupt end our junior year.
Chris moved back and immediately reconnected with his two closest friends, Keith the quiet wrestler who’d recently grown into his body and me, the class clown and football player. By this time the worst, of many girls, had really driven a wedge between Keith and I. I had briefly dated an under classman named Meghan and she had found admiration for the first popular football player to take notice. I quickly moved on and she began to seriously date Keith. Being a quick learner she used me, a guy she already knew Keith didn’t like, to make Keith jealous. One Friday afternoon she had stirred the pot well and had Keith and I both believing a fight was imminent. That evening Keith picked her and two other kids up in his Toyota corolla and they headed across town to a basketball game. While driving on a twisting road his car drifted onto some gravel, he over corrected and that car shot head on into a large utility pole. No, not a light pole but the huge wooded monuments erected with heavy cranes designed to withstand hurricanes and tornadoes. The pole broke halfway up and fell back onto the car. By the time I got a call from Chris, all four had me rushed to the local hospital. Megan, Keith’s spiteful girlfriend had her face literally crushed by the pole, Jennifer and Scott, the two in the back each suffered skull and face fractures and Keith had his skin lacerated down to his skull and was stepped shut. After being released from
Intensive care Megan, in a medicated stooper, began asking for me. She wore a funky pink hair tie on her wrist I had given her in a humorous moment months before, and when I arrived at her room Keith was standing beside her holding her hand. I stopped at the door and Keith just said, “no man, it’s ok, it’s about her right now.” I could see the guilt and pain in his eyes. He walked out and I stood by Megan until she pulled her pink hair tie off, places it in my hand and said, “thanks for coming, you weren’t a bad first but I’m ok now” I hadn’t then and haven’t since had an ex girl friend re-break up a nonexistent relationship in such a subtle yet dramatic way. I walked out of the room and back towards my truck in the parking lot when Keith and Chris stopped me. Chris looked at me, punched my chest and said, “damn dude stealing a guys girlfriend in intensive care? That’s dirty” I looked at Keith behind him, squatted on s makeshift set of cinder block steeps smoking a cigarette, he took a drag and looked up… Staples in head, my heart was pounding with adrenaline… Without saying a word Keith began to chuckle his iconic slow laugh and in that moment the three of us formed a bond that would literally last a life time.
For the next several years we were inseparable. We did everything, good and bad, together with the exception of Keith’s wresting season and Chris’ baseball season. Chris and I played football together. He was a 145 pound fullback averaging 70 yards a game and I was a 160 pound offensive line and and tightened… His lead blocker. Keith was on the drumline and we were brothers. At the end of our senior year Chris wasn’t selected for all area first team and he broke down. One day I noticed Chris didn’t make it to class. By the time I got home Keith called to tell me Chris has gotten drunk, lined his trophies up and shot them through a wall in his parents house. The cops showed up in time for Chris to come to the door holding a shotgun and quickly reminded him of reality. Keith and I didn’t see or hear from him for two weeks, and then… He showed back up at school one day with a fresh haircut and new attitude. He’d been at some rehab facility and came back with a fresh proscription of Zoloft. Keith and I hated it. Chris just wasn’t the same. I had once picked him up with keith at his house and sat on his bed while he finished getting ready, we left and halfway across town Chris bursted with anxiety and told me to take him back. As soon as we pulled into his driveway he ran inside, fixed his bed and came back out to my truck… he acted As if nothing at all was weird about hat had just happened…. The signs were there when he was young we were just too inexperienced and focused on girls to see them. Chris was also the over achiever, when we graduated he went away to North Georgia College in their ROTC program…Keith snd I settled for the local community college. While Chris was away at school, things for me and Keith were pretty simple. For a short while we moved into my sisters boyfriend’s vacant condo and shortly after that were abruptly evicted by said boyfriend when he saw the state at which we left it. I got a job driving a forklift for one of the hundreds of carpet mills in our town and Keith worked construction with his uncle. My high school sweetheart, Meg, was in her senior year and dumped me around this time. With the ambitious one away and the expectations of a girlfriend gone; Keith and I were left to our childish vices. They say military service is for kids who are too dumb to got to college or get in trouble, for me and Keith it was a last chance to not piss our lives away in a struggling one horse town.
The first time I talked to my recruiter, I was smoking pot by a creek on the way to my last month of high school. Keith had already been talking to them, it made sense, his dad was absent because he’d followed his Airforce career to Arkansas. And Keith’s only father figure, his uncle nicknamed Feller, was a Marine in the 80’s. Chris was following his dad, his dad’s dad, and even his great grandfather’s footsteps in ROTC and I, well I was just a country boy. My grandfathers share cropped logged and moonshined their way through the big wars and my dad missed draft by a year. I had no familial legacy beyond working hard with my hands. I had, however, already shattered family tradition by graduating high school. Back to smoking pot by the creek.
My dad had turned from cocaine and chicken fighting in the 80’s to moonshine and masonry work as a safer way to “bootleg” after I was born. It was a compromise of sorts between my Johnny Cash song of a life dad and text book result of a life of domestic abuse mom. One was a natural born hell raiser and the other was naturally born into more than her share of it. So thats what made me, an outlaw and a holy roller. My dad was the oldest of three boys, Joseph Edgar Jones born to Johnny Edgar son of Juney Hercules Jones. Don’t laugh, his other grandfather was Joseph Lightner, a WW2 Marine vet who’d slit a man’s throat, burned the same man’s house to the ground and then shot and killed two men in the back when the robbed his moonshine. A crime deemed self-defense when you run moonshine for the sheriff. So Juney Hercules the share cropper who’d once knock a mule out cold with a closed fist to the face was a pretty tame lineage. My dad, or Big Joey as the called him was a head short that his dad and two baby brothers, and Napoleon complex to boot. He was alway quiet, especially in a tense situation, but when he had the urge, he could make lightning strike on a adversary and developed a reputation of being the meanest, toughest 5’8″ son of a bitch in town. He was destined to be an alcoholic from birth. He had an adolescents of tragedy and was dad more often than big brother at too young of an age. He only knew hard work and disappointment, and that was enough. Perhaps no one suffered from his demons more than my mother, Joyce Marine. She came from a big family up from Florida to Alabama and eventfully to our textile rich boom town of Dalton, GA. For my
people In the 70’s and 80s, Dalton promised an industrious life with fair wages and overtime a plenty. For them, that was enough to come a runnin-as we’d say in the dwindling foothills of the Appalachia. She was all but sold to the highest bidder at 15. He was older and her first time was her wedding night, which also provided her first child, my sister Marsha. So at 16 Joyce Marine had…
To be continued…