When I pulled into Norfolk, VA over the weekend with the guys, I realized I hadn’t set foot there in 14 years. This is a place I’d gone to high school, where I (partially) learned how to be a human being, where I’d met my first real friends – and now my first friend of them all had just died at the age of 42.
That would have seemed impossibly old to us at 14, but now, it’s way, way too young, and in the words of Dan, who lives here in LA as well, “it’s just unbelievable to think we know the end of Lynn’s story.” Truly. Most of us see ourselves as nearer the beginning of our journey than the finish, so it seems patently unnatural that Lynn’s life was already half over by the time she left college. Confusingly tragic, even.
I never go to Norfolk/Virginia Beach (known collectively as Tidewater) for several reasons. It’s not on the way to anywhere, stuck in in the corner of Virginia, with nothing but the Atlantic to the right, and the Great Dismal Swamp underneath. To leave, you must necessarily backtrack, which served me as a fitting metaphor.
I have no family members left there – in fact, my entire family left Tidewater before I was done with high school, leaving me in a beach house for the last half of senior year. You’d think that would be a good thing, at least worthy of a John Hughes subplot; however, I was hospitalized for malnutrition, which shows you what having Taco Bell bean burritos for every meal will do to your physical constitution.
For the most part, however, I don’t go back for reasons of shame. Not for anything in particular (although I remember some fuckin’ stellar moments) but because I had a very long journey en route to being a functionally decent guy – a road trip I’m still attempting, apparently – and revisiting the past puts me in a state of Constant Cringing.
junior prom, a platonic assemblage of us paired up for prom’s sake
My particular class at Norfolk Academy was a National Geographic lesson in social taxonomy, featuring about five distinct cliques with entirely different grooming, language and mating habits. There was absolutely no fluidity between social groups, no inter-breeding whatsoever, even as everyone remained perfectly friendly. I was part of a moderately large, intensely tight-knit circle of friends that had no central theme like the others did (lacrosse, cheerleading) but valued high art, high humor and the lesser works of David Bowie.
Hamp Tucker in 1984 and in 2009
For four years, we intertwined with each others’ lives so thoroughly that we took up semi-permanent residence in each others’ guest bedrooms while stress-testing the nascent technology of telephone call waiting. Even now, I’ll be on the way to a meeting in West Hollywood and find myself tapping out Marcie or Hamp’s 1982 phone number on the steering wheel (both of which still work, by the way).
Plans were hatched: Lynn was about to commandeer a bus to Busch Gardens in Williamsburg before her mom intervened and took about eight of us in her station wagon. Steve H. and I camped out inside my dad’s dressing room at the Norfolk Scope Arena in order to ambush Stewart Copeland and Sting during the “Ghost in the Machine” tour (which worked). Hampy and I went to Kenya. Everything was everybody.
Hamp and me at the base of Mt. Kenya – nobody in this picture knew what was going on
And then we went to college. Despite a few get-togethers during freshman and sophomore years, we plummeted into a deep radio silence that lasted, well, decades. Part of it was cultural; of all the boys in our group, I turned out to be the only heterosexual. I don’t mean to speak for the other guys, but the mid-80s was a different era. Being gay in high school, whether you knew it or not, was a much bigger deal – after years of confusion and denial, I imagine you had to spend a good deal of time rethinking who you would be.
I knew who I was gonna be: a chaser of Kappas and Pi Phis, and that was an all-encompassing effort. After managing to go through high school without even kissing a girl, I was going to make up for lost time, goddamn it. I began a eye-opening and ultimately self-immolating quest that eventually fizzled into despondency by the time I was 33. Thank god I had crucified most of those demons by the time Tessa and I started hanging out together again, or else I’d have run the risk of being a cliché many of you have seen: that young-seeming yet possibly lecherous guy in his forties, emitting the aura of failed promise, wearing Vans at the bar with a belly that hints at 112 Rum and Cokes too many.
Only two things could have possibly gotten our high school group back together: the internet and Lynn. You might have forgotten what it was like before Facebook gave you the ambient awareness of what your third grade art classmate had for lunch today, but let’s just say it was possible never to hear from people again. Once we had email, we could actually keep up, and Lynn always had the scoop on everybody.
And now, when she passed away, she brought us back to Tidewater. I was prepared to be depressed, to look at the defunct strip malls of Ward’s Corner and Military Highway and contemplate the dreariness of the moribund American Dream, but instead… it was amazing. Dan, Hamp and I drove from Washington D.C. and laughed all the way to Norfolk. When I got into Marcie’s convertible after the funeral service, we picked up a conversation left off fifteen years ago without a millisecond’s stutter, and gossiped and told bizarrely funny stories with everyone all night. At one pause, Dan said “this is how Lynn would have wanted it,” and god knows that’s true.
silliness in the parking lots of Hampton Roads
When I left for the airport, I went to hug Marcie – the beautiful girl I’d known since I was fourteen, whose parents always kept Coke for me in their garage, whose beach house in Duck, NC provided my first glimpse of paradise, who would sit on the bed with me chatting all day and all night, and it came out so naturally: “I love you.”
I am not a person who says that very often to anyone but my parents, my wife and my daughter – and our high school clique was definitely not the kind of group that would ever emote like that, but fuck it… I do love Marcie for everything she has ever been to me, and I don’t care about keeping up appearances anymore anyway.
Eventually, you have to rip wide holes in your snark and sarcasm and preciously-curated sense of self, and allow yourself glimpses of the profound. It’s okay to feel strongly about people, a group of friends, that haven’t broken bread regularly in 22 years. The easy thing to do is dismiss everything in your life as the fleeting obsessions of a young dumbass, but there’s some wonderful stuff floating just behind all the shame.
And it struck me – maybe none of us kept in contact because we didn’t need to. Perhaps it’s like what my brother Kent says about Beatles albums; he never plays them because way in the back of his mind, they’re always playing anyway. It’s fitting that I will always have Lynn in the back of my mind, and she, too, will be playing a Beatles album. Thomas Wolfe was wrong – you can go home again, you just need the right soundtrack.
Marcie, me, Dan, Hampy, Steve, May 2009