The road eventually leads to a dead end and within that two mile stretch there are no outlets, making the intersection at Deer Farm Lane the only way to reach N. Chapel Hill Road. If one were so inclined to meander down the road on foot, a mile long walk would bring you to the bridge. It is suspended over what was once a creek deemed "Chapel Creek," which is now dried up and overtaken with weeds.
The dead end of the road used to be the site of a church and the creek wound it's way right next to it; hence the names Chapel Creek and Chapel Hill. The church burnt down in the late 70's and it is for that reason that the road stopped seeing traffic and why the township stopped concerning itself with its upkeep.
By the time I came to be in the world, the road had been blocked off for more than 15 years. It's existence came to my attention when I was around 10 years old. My dad would take my sister and I mushroom hunting in a patch of woods that bordered Chapel Hill. He always said you could find them in other spots but for some reason this patch of woods produced mushrooms twice as tall as the rest. He also claimed that they had a very specific taste although I could never tell the difference. I remember it always being a very 'hush, hush' operation. My dad was under the impression that we were the only ones who knew about the mutant mushrooms and he intended to keep it that way. I never particularly liked hunting for mushrooms. Truth be told I didn't even care to eat them at the time. The thing that I always looked forward to when it came time to hunt mushrooms was the bridge.
The patch of woods we frequented was about 30 ft. past the bridge so we always had to cross it to get where we were going. On a few of these occasions, I would let my dad and sister go on without me and I would hang out on the bridge by myself. When I was little, the creek beneath it still contained a considerable amount of water. I would always try to skip stones on the surface from the top of the bridge but was never level enough to make it work. I'd get bored with that and then I would lean over the edge and spit. I'd watch as my wads of saliva fell and it always surprised me how long it took to finally reach the water. Sometimes, if enough spit was involved, the wad would split into two and would take on a sort of amoebic shape. It was weirdly fascinating at the time. Hell, even today if I'm suspended in the air high enough and no one is watching, I'll spit. And I'll be just as fascinated with it as I was then.
Aside from mushroom hunting trips, I began to frequent the bridge often. Sometimes by myself and sometimes with other people. My sister and I once climbed down underneath the bridge where we found a lot of evidence that we weren't the only ones who found pleasure in simply hanging out there. On the underside of it, in large spray paint letters, someone had written "Mary is a big hairy cunt!" I didn't know what a cunt was so the message never had much of an effect on me. There were also broken beer bottles and smashed beer cans spread out all over the banks of the creek and there was a collection of cigarette butts in an old Foldger's coffee can. I remember thinking it was weird that they had no problem littering the ground with broken glass and aluminum but when it came to cigarette butts, they went through the trouble of bringing their own coffee can to dispose of them in.
I once even found a bra draped over a rock when I was with a couple of my cousins. I remember us laughing hysterically about it for the same reason a 10 year old boy laughs when someone says the word "penis"or "vagina." More times than not, however, I would visit the bridge by myself. My trips became more frequent the older I got and the bridge proved to be a very important factor of my high school years.
When some people get bored or get depressed they have nowhere to go and so they sulk at home and they just stay that way. Luckily, I always had the bridge. It served as the perfect venue for me to just lay back and be reminded that there are stars in the sky and nature all around me. That an insult by a peer or a rejection from a girl or a fight with the parents was nothing when put into this kind of perspective. When you realize that each of those tiny sparkling dots in the sky represents a galaxy full of planets that for all we know are just like this one, the petty shit just kind of dissolves.
The point to all of this being that the bridge served as a sort of sounding board for me. Although I never literally talked to it, it served the same purpose. I also took comfort in the fact that I didn't feel like I had to share it with anyone. It was mine and only mine whenever I needed it.
A week before I was set to graduate high school, my girlfriend of 2 1/2 years broke up with me. It was the whole, "I'm going to college and I really just want to whore it up for my first couple of years," excuse. Or something like that. In the back of my mind...and I mean the VERY back of my mind, I think I knew that this was for the best. In all honesty I wanted to start college as a single guy too but I wanted to be mad first. I did love the girl and the thought of some scum-bag, frat boy, college freshman wearing a backwards baseball cap and a diamond stud in his ear sticking his tongue in her mouth and reaching his hands down her pants...well it didn't sit right with me.
The night of our graduation, James Blackwell had planned a post-grad party in the woods behind his parent's house. It was rumored to be an enormous, drunken extravaganza. Graduating classes from three other surrounding counties were said to be there. We were no longer high school students and we had every intention to go out with a bang. With the recent break-up still hanging over my head, I was set to get sloppy drunk and just have as good of a time as possible. Little did I know miss whorey-McWhorestein, (my ex) was going to show up, coincidentally, with the epitome of the backwards hat, frat boy douche I had previously envisioned her with. I saw this happening a few weeks into the first semester of college but not now. We literally graduated hours ago and she's already replaced me? With this guy?
My original order from the 21 year olds that we knew was a 12 pack of Rolling Rock which in those days was plenty to get me hammered. But with this breaking news, however, I decided I should upgrade to Southern Comfort.
I found it extremely difficult to have a good time. There were, what seemed to be, hundreds of people all spread out in the clearing made for the party. Three campfires burned throughout the night and each was surrounded by a circle of hay bails for seating. Upon arriving, most of the hay bails were vacant so I picked one and sat there for a good hour. This particular hay bail gave me a clear vantage point of my ex and her date who occupied a hay bail in front of a separate fire. I sat there taking small swigs of Southern Comfort as I watched him put his filthy arm around her. She began shivering at some point and he took off his jacket and put it around her shoulders. She smiled at this act of chivalry and kissed him on the cheek to express her gratitude. But I knew it was all an act. He didn't care that she was cold. He only cared that he was keeping her happy so that he could have his way with her when she was too drunk to care. I wasn't going to have it, though. I needed to put a stop to it but without making a scene. At that point, she spotted me looking at her and I averted my gaze elsewhere in an attempt to look like I didn't notice. I wasn't sure if it worked or not but I stood up regardless to go take a piss. Upon standing, however, the world spun a little bit and I took notice that half of the Southern Comfort was gone. I hadn't realized I'd drank so much already so I decided to take a little bit of a break to sober up before working at achieving another buzz.
I was pissing on a tree and aiming the stream at a hole in the trunk. I had to use my left hand to support myself against the tree or else I would have for sure been unable to stand upright. I'd walked a fair distance so that the yells and chatter amongst the party-goers seemed distant. Other than the sound of streaming piss, the forest noises seemed especially loud. Crickets and bullfrogs and locusts and other players in the nighttime orchestra were building to a crescendo when I heard some leaves crunching nearby. My first instinct was that it was a coon or a possum but upon looking around I saw that it was a girl. I must have startled her because when I spoke to apologize for my indecent exposure she gasped.
"Holy shit!" she said. "You scared the hell out of me."
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," I responded as I zipped up my pants. "I thought you could see me."
As I stepped away from the tree however, I noticed that the area in which I was standing had been completely cast in shadow, so much so that even the tree was now hard to see. I thought we were going to have more of a conversation but as soon as she caught her breath I noticed that she seemed upset by something other than me.
"It's Ok," she said as she continued walking in the opposite direction of the party.
"Are you sure you're alright?" I asked.
"Yeah it's fine," she said without turning around. "I'm fine."
She seemed like she just wanted to be left alone so I did just that and joined the party once again. My ex was no longer where she was previously sitting. I did a quick scan of the party and couldn't immediately see her. I continued searching but was held back by a group of people who brought me into their conversation. I didn't know any of them.
"Hey bro! Hey man, if you could fuck ANY girl...any girl in the world, who would it be?"
I had no interest in socializing but I also didn't want to be rude so I obliged. My first instinct upon being asked the question was to say my ex. Not because I was used to saying it while we were dating in fear that she would find out otherwise but because I really meant it. Obviously though, that isn't what I said.
"Rachel McAdams," I said off the top of my head.
They all looked at me with confusion. Upon actually looking at who I was talking to, I realized these aren't the kind of people I would usually find myself enjoying a conversation with. Three of them wore backwards baseball caps and it reminded me that I was on the hunt.
"The Notebook," I said as I turned to exit the circle.
I heard one of them say, "That movie's for chicks and fags." They all laughed in agreement at this ignorant statement which just confirmed that it was a circle I had no business in.
I was searching a little while longer and walking a little bit straighter so I decided it was okay to continue drinking. I became a little concerned after scouring the entire place and being unable to find her but at that point I heard a crowd of people yelling and cheering near the circle of douche from earlier. It seemed to be catching the attention of everyone at the party as all of the hay bails were once again vacant and people not already part of the crowd were scurrying towards the commotion.
I joined the crowd myself but was unable to see what the fuss was about. Everyone seemed to have formed a circle and they were all giving their attention to the center. I saw that some of the other people joining me in the back ranks of the circle had stolen some hay bails to stand on, giving them a better view. I did the same but immediately upon seeing what everyone was staring at, I wished I hadn't.
The spectacle reminded me of a porno I once watched and it took me a moment to register that this was actually happening. There was my ex, lying on a bed of hay with baseball hat guy on top of her and all of these people watching and cheering them on. His hand eased its way up her legs, hiking up her skirt along the way and revealing the thumb-sized birth mark on her inner thigh that I used to kiss in attempts to relieve her self-consciousness about it. His other hand had found its way inside her sweater and I noticed it was a sweater my mom had bought for her last Christmas. Their faces smashed into each others repeatedly with a ferocity I'd only seen in movies. She had raised her hands to his belt buckle but before she had it completely undone, I had already pushed my way to the center of the circle. My first instinct was to kick the guy in the face, and because the southern comfort had stolen any form of restraint I may have previously had, that's exactly what I did. I may have broken his nose because as my foot made contact with his face, I heard a sound similar to that of knuckles popping. As he rolled off of her, clutching his face, I pulled her up, grabbed her around the waist and led her out of the circle. She kicked, squirmed and screamed in protest but I held on to her tight and put my hand over her mouth making me feel like a kidnapper or something. In the heat of the moment though, I felt I was doing the right thing.
I made a quick glance over my shoulder and saw a posse of backwards baseball hat wearing dudes walking angrily in my direction. I realized this had now turned into a chase so I headed deeper into the woods. I swear one of them had lit a torch on one of the fires making this now seem like some kind of 18th century witch hunt. Luckily for me, it wasn't difficult to outrun a gang of drunken idiots.
Eventually we came across the tree from before that was ideally cast in shadow and I decided to hide there for a bit until the angry mob had passed. Upon sitting down I realized there was a good chance I was sitting in my own piss but at the moment I didn't really care. My hand was still held tight against her mouth and I could feel that she was now biting me. When I finally saw the orange flame of the torch getting smaller in the opposite direction I decided to let go. She was clearly not thrilled about the situation.
"What the fuck is your problem?"
"My problem? I wasn't the one who was just about to fuck some dude in front of our entire graduating class!"
"I wasn't going to fuck him!"
"Oh no? Well it sure fucking looked like you were."
"Either way, what fucking business is it of yours? We are not together. You have no right to intervene!"
"Excuse me for trying to protect you! I thought I was doing you a favor in preventing you from being referred to as 'that girl who got fucked on the haystack' for the rest of your life!"
"Well the next time you think you're doing me a favor, don't."
"Whatever. You're drunk. You won't remember any of this tomorrow anyway and if you do, I'll be the first person you call in the morning and you'll thank me."
"Oh please! Don't flatter yourself. I haven't had a drop of alcohol tonight."
Upon hearing this confession, I realized that she really hadn't seemed drunk at all. She was standing with perfect posture and speaking fluently.
"What? Then why... how did... what the fuck were you doing?"
"Fuck you," she said as she started walking back towards the party which seemed to have been resurrected at this point.
I stuck out my arm to stop her.
"Seriously. Hold on. What's the deal? I mean...a week ago you were with me and now yo..."
She cut me off.
"Jared. Things change. I'm not having this sappy, revelatory conversation with you because I can sum it up in those two words. Things change. I've changed, you've changed, we've changed. Just accept that and get over it. If you can't then that's your problem but don't keep dragging me into it with you, okay?"
"So your excuse for being a complete whore is because you've changed? And I'm supposed to accept that as a legitimate excuse?"
She stared at me with a stone cold gaze and walked closer. She was inches from my face. I almost kissed her but thought better of it.
"I admit, while my actions weren't the most admirable tonight, they were my decisions and I have my reasons."
"What? What were your reasons?"
And like a bomb, she let me have it.
"Because after two and a half years of "love-making" and sensual, romantic, high school bullshit, I wanted to be FUCKED for once. It's as plain and simple as that. And yeah, I could have done that in a bedroom. I get it. But you think I give a fuck what all of these people think of me after tonight? I'm going to college in a month and I probably won't see any of these people for the rest of my life. I'm a whore, fine. If that's what you want to call me now, I don't care. If what I just said makes me a whore, then I accept that. Because ten years from now it won't matter. If anything it'll be a story to tell of a time when I was a stupid little girl. Because in ten years, you, this party, all of these people, all of it will be a memory of another time. I'm sorry, but that's just the way it is. That's the truth of it."
We stared at each other for a moment in silence. I had a lot more to say. I had a lot of questions that I wanted answered but there was a pleading in her eyes that begged me not to ask them. I felt like I knew the answers anyway so all that came out of my mouth was, "Okay."
I think she expected, and partially wanted me to say more but she turned around regardless. I'm pretty sure I head her cry as she walked away and it brought me a vague feeling of comfort. Not for malicious reasons but because it confirmed that she was still human and not the stone cold bitch, void of any compassion that she had just presented herself as. I watched her walking towards the party but before she made it to the clearing, she turned towards the area where all of the cars were parked. I could see her car from where I was standing and saw that baseball cap guy was sitting on her hood seemingly passed out. As she approached her car I expected her to wake him up and help him into her passenger seat but she instead just pushed him off onto the ground, got in the car and drove away.
Maybe she had a point. Things do change. But not like that. Not that abruptly. And what kind of excuse is that? She just wanted to get fucked? In front of a large group of people? I admit I was never the "fucking" type. I was always a fairly reserved guy when it came to the bedroom. Not very aggressive. But if it were a problem she could have talked with me about it. I don't know. Maybe there was more to it. Maybe there wasn't. I decided I didn't care anymore. And the night went on.
I couldn't re-join the party and I couldn't drive home so I pulled out the SoCo from my back pocket and began polishing it off as I wandered around the woods. Soon enough, the party was completely out of sight and I could no longer hear the yelling and screaming. Technically I was lost because I didn't have the slightest idea of where I was but the alcohol had drowned out any inkling to care. I looked up at the sky and for the first time noticed that there was a full moon out. A beam of its light shone down through the trees and landed on the ground in a sort of spotlight fashion, illuminating what looked like a very small tree. Upon closer investigation however, I discovered it was a mushroom. A very large one. It then dawned on me where I was. The Blackwells lived nearby my house, this I knew, but I didn't realize that the woods behind their house connected with the woods on Chapel Hill. I began walking with purpose, in search of the woods' edge and for the bridge. If there was ever a good time to get some petty shit off of my shoulders, now was the time.
What seemed to be 15-20 minutes later, I stumbled past the last row of trees that bordered the woods and found myself on a dirt road. With the first step I took, I caught my foot in a pothole and fell on my face. It's possible that I sprained my ankle but I didn't care because I knew I was on Chapel Hill road which meant the bridge was near. Despite the pain in my ankle, I stood up and kept walking and for no reason at all I started laughing and singing "Hit the Road Jack," by Ray Charles.
The full moon brightened the landscape more than the average night. I saw the bridge about 30ft ahead of me and took notice of what looked like a person sitting on its railing. I controlled my laughter and stopped singing and attempted to approach the bridge without being noticed. I'd succeeded in doing so up until I reached the edge of the bridge where I realized the person sitting on the railing was the girl who had seen me pissing earlier. It sounded like she was maybe crying. I was about to say something but realized there was no way to announce my presence without scaring her which I felt was a bad idea seeing as she could easily fall over the edge from where she was perched. I began to back track so that I could re-approach the bridge and make noise along the way, alerting her to my presence from a distance but once again, I stepped in a pothole, only this time, it sent me falling backwards off the side of the road and down the bank of the creek.
Nothing hurt other than my ankle but instead of getting up, I just decided to stay. The moon light reflected off the ground just enough to illuminate the underside of the bridge making the words, "Mary Is A Big Hairy Cunt," fairly legible. It made me laugh. I had fallen on the opposite side of the bridge from where the girl had been sitting but soon enough, I saw her head peek over the railing of the side on which I had fallen.
"Holy shit, are you okay? What the hell are you doing? You scared me."
"That's twice now tonight."
"Are you the piss guy?"
She made her way down the creek bank and helped me up.
"Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I think so. Nothing hurts."
I wiped some dirt of off my clothes and gathered my bearings and noticed the moonlight reflecting off of her wet cheeks. She saw me notice and wiped her face with her own sleeves as she turned from me.
"Are you okay?" I asked.
"I'm fine," she replied. "I just get emotional with things like this."
"No, not parties," she said. "Moving on. Transition. Change."
"You mean, like, graduating? Going to college?"
"Yeah, ya know. Leaving what you've gotten comfortable with. Same thing happened when I switched dentists. I don't know. It's a thing."
We continued talking for a while. I found out she was from Jasper County and she knew some friends of mine. I discussed how my evening had went and she explained that she'd been at the bridge almost the whole night. I told her how I've been coming there for years and told her how therapeutic it can be. We ended up talking long enough for the sky to turn that morning shade of gray and with it came a very thin layer of fog.
I found the SoCo bottle lying on the ground where it must have slipped out of my pocket during my fall. There was about a quarter left of it and I split it with the girl. I realized that for both of us, what began as a very shitty night had abruptly and unexpectedly changed into a very pleasurable one. We were moving from high school to college and that was okay. My ex had moved on from being a lover to a dirty whore, and that was okay too. But the bridge was still the same and while this girl and I watched the sun creep into the sky, I took comfort in the fact that, as far as I was concerned, Mary, whoever she was, would always and forever be a big hairy cunt.