I climbed out the bed of Todd Athey’s truck at the helm of Little Meadows, a hunting club nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, having just received a Master’s Degree in adult studies. My professor, Dirty Michelle and her West Virginian counterpart Amanda had gone above and beyond in their duties as representatives of Giles County, a place where a billboard promoting the saving grace of Jesus Christ can be seen atop a billboard for the local strip club. Both were pleased with the amount of knowledge passed along through the mountains, a free and extensive education whose curriculum spanned a breadth of subject matters, including the discrete undertakings of Southwest Virginia, their thoughts on men, relationships, and a unique take on the birds and the bees.
My mother on the other hand, was not so pleased…
It was the same look I had received as she watched us depart that afternoon for the mountains. I caught a quick glimpse of her before we pulled onto the highway, sitting next to a cooler of beer in the back of the truck, already guilty of the crime I had yet to commit. Not even the endless display of forest and flora that smothered the Appalachian Valley, a scene so grand that it became the backdrop to the 80’s classic “Dirty Dancing” could ease her state of mind. She knew. The dirty words that were said, the alcohol consumed on our way up the mountain, the suggestive subject matter that could never be erased from memory… between her maternal 6th sense and the cloak of guilt I shamefully wore, she knew… every single bit of it.
I turned and made my way towards the pond at the edge of Little Meadows, anything I could do to shake that daunting look from my mind. “I love you Zack,” cried out Dirty Michelle from the patio as I walked away. “Let me tell you, I love Todd and Neal, but I just love that boy!” Her insistence on reminding everybody that she loved me didn’t help the situation.
“Hey Zack!” another familiar voice called. I had only made it a couple steps before I stopped in my tracks, its tone deep, unwelcoming, and not my mother’s. “I say c’mere boy!” I turned again, feeling another spike in blood pressure.
There was nothing settling about his smug grin, complimented by the occasional sip of Budweiser Select 55. Some would say his lanky stature held an intimidating pose, though his beer belly, still in the infant stages of pregnancy, conjured thoughts of “why even bother?” It was the bold and elegant words on his sleeveless, red shirt however, tucked nicely into his jean shorts that commanded the bulk of my apprehension.
To beer or not to beer… that is a STUPID question.
“What are you doin’, walkin’ round in that ol’ wife beater, gettin’ all fat over there?” Todd Athey berated. “Just look at them big ol’ titties on ya.” For some reason or another, Todd Athey had a tendency to refer to a pair of breasts as “titties,” no matter his audience. Having already come to terms with my abnormally large breast size (see The Mammogram) and the prescient knowledge of Todd’s particular obsession with that area of the body (judging by the amount of time he spent grabbing mine) I could take his insult with a grain of salt. Besides, rumors have been spreading for years regarding Todd’s sexual orientation! This was just his way of dealing with the blaring insecurity, and who am I to judge?
Unfortunately, he continued. “Hold on a minute… are those gray hairs on your head? Damn boy, yo’ ass looks older than me!”
I didn’t fight back; my debilitated state disallowed it. As much as I wanted to enjoy the four-wheeling, horseshoeing, deep cabin dwelling amenities of Little Meadows, all I could do was slouch, sending the blame towards the previous night’s festivities at Uncle Neal’s cook out. “What, I just can’t suck down the Coors Lights like I used to,” I’d say when pressured. It was lie—a petty excuse. There was something more.
Little was said on the car ride home, forgoing the back of Todd’s rig for a seat next to my mother, much to the heartbreak of Dirty Michelle. Though my mother was finally at peace with my decision, Todd’s words left me unsettled. The feeling lingered well into the evening, preventing me from enjoying the beauty that encompasses the Appalachian Mountains. It can’t be true. It just can’t be… me, getting old?
It was a struggled to rise out of bed the next morning. With only the boost of a Rockstar Energy Drink could I find the strength to make my way to Hardee’s, the same one on the edge of Pearisburg where my little sister rocked out to Nickelback. “The Girls come easy and the drugs come cheap…” she sang while rocking her head and squinting her eyes, her heart fully entrenched in the music. And like always, their cinnamon raisin and pork chop gravy biscuits didn’t disappoint; they just weren’t enough to loosen the grip on my conscience as I began the long drive back to DC…
The signs have been there for quite some time now. Only on rare occasions (like when I shop at Whole Foods, ughz) do people ask me for my ID to purchase beer. Apprehensive thoughts fill my head when I’m invited to the bar or some other weekend activity, knowing full well at least a half a day’s work will be sacrificed in order to participate, and stress levels rise when 10:30 rolls around and I realize I’m not in bed. Hell, at the last wedding reception I went to, I had women flocking my direction just to dance with me, lining up to grab me and swing me around the dance floor like a ragdoll—without permission I might add!
…The only problem was, each one of those babes was at least 60 years old…
5-hours later, I stood in front of the mirror back at my hotel. I stared at a distance, waiting for the angst to build passed its breaking point. For too long has this ignorance controlled me… well, not anymore. I took a deep breath and stepped up to face my fears.
Let’s see here, top of the head, nothing of concern so far. The bangs look alright—nothing gray here. What am I even freaking out over, some words that Todd Athey said? Todd Athey’s a giant butthole who doesn’t know what he’s talking about! There’s absolutely nothing to worry… wait—wait a minute… what the hell is this? Maybe the light’s weird. Yea, it has to be! Let me flick the other… that can’t be right. I mean, I got a lot of sun this weekend! Of course my hair’s a little light… but it’s… it’s everywhere! Oh my God—you got to be kidding me…
I actually have gray hairs on my head…
I retreated in horror, wondering how in the world it had come to this. I’ve literally reached the point of no return. For heaven’s sakes, it’s not like hair turns back to brown! Just take a look at Obama’s old ass!
Maybe the intensity of DC’s just too much for a guy like me. Trying to juggle a career while keeping up with the hippest coffee shop lingo, dealing with the unpredictable weather, retaining the wealth of knowledge given to me by the women of West Virginia—what did I expect was going to happen?
And think of all the people I’ve had to put up with over the years? Just the fact that I know people like Josh Ulrich and Mike Gibson has already taken 5 years off my life—at least. And that’s not even taking into account all the crap I’ve had to deal with from those two! Then there’s Ben Woodward. Good Lord, just the mention of his name adds another gray hair on my head. I can actually feel my skin wrinkle as I type.
And then there’s Gretch… Oh God. GRETCH!!!
No wonder my hair’s turning gray at just a year over the tender age of 30. All these responsibilities forced upon me, the decisions and sacrifices I have to make… I’m not sure if I can keep up anymore! Sure, I do it for the good of the country, but this can’t go on forever.
Danny Glover, after all these years, I can honestly say I feel your pain. I’m getting too old for this shit!