Monday, September 6, 2010

The Last Summer Of The Rapidan Children


I'm sure no one would disagree with me that the term "unique visitor" has a lovely ring to it. I would like to believe that all my visitors are unique, but there may be no more unique visitor than the lone person who paid a visit to Your Man For Fun In Rapidan on Sunday.

It's possible, of course, and perhaps even probable, that Sunday's one unique visitor was simply passing through while lost on some internet wild goose chase. I certainly wander into more than my fair share of places I don't necessarily want to be.

Regardless, I am grateful for the visit.

In the event that another unique visitor might stop by today, I may as well add some more words to this confusion, if only to create the impression that, at the very least, my visitor has stumbled into a place that is still carrying on as if the local kids were still flocking to the old Sunset Drive-In, or, truth be told, as if there still were local kids.

If you've made it this far, I have potentially distressing news for you: there are no children here.

There were, though, until quite recently. None of the little things are little anymore, yet somehow they all seem to be diminished. That's harsher than I mean it to sound, but I don't at the moment know how to make it sound any other way.

I was one of those children who was easily distracted in school and spent most of my time drawing pictures of dragons and exploding trolls and naked women in my notebooks. I assembled a large collection of Famous Monsters models, which I still have and once exhibited in the crafts building at the local fair. It was a small town and I didn't fit in, so there wasn't even anybody for me to play Magic the Gathering with. I always had the sensation that everyone was floating but me. I developed a precocious taste for expensive Scotch and Lovecraft. My father owned a liquor store and had a large library of strange books, and he was such a zombie that it wasn't hard for me to steal either his liquor or his books.

When it snowed I went sledding alone late at night. I had an imaginary footman (his preferred title; I wanted a butler) named Ralph Meers, but he did not like going out in the cold. He was keen on the idea of fortresses.

I also had a transistor radio that was shaped like a Phillips 76 oil can, and at night I would sit in my bedroom and try to find music that did not sound like Tony Orlando and Dawn. Sometimes I would manage to dial in a station from Little Rock, Arkansas or Detroit, Michigan, and this induced in me an approximation of wonder. Other than in my imagination I have never danced, but Ralph Meers would dance, entirely uninhibited, and I would watch with admiration.

But this isn't really about me. I am remembering tonight the last summer of the Rapidan children. It was a season of storms. The skies always seemed to be gray, and then it would rain for days at a time, hard rain.The annual barbecue my parents hosted was a bust, and my mother was hospitalized for depression. There were a lot of bugs as well that summer, even more than usual.

There was only one girl in my school who ever treated me with what seemed like kindness. Her name was Josie Higgins. Josie dated a football player named Todd Rangel. Todd was a year older, had gone off somewhere after graduation, but was back for the summer.

I have been an eavesdropper all my life. One day I was at the library and I heard that Josie and Todd had broken up. They had been parked in the Dodge Charger Todd had restored in Auto Tech class. I imagine rain beading and trailing like tears down the fogged windshield. Tony Caple said they had been out along Toke Road, and that Josie had gotten out of the car and walked home in the rain. It was the middle of June, and Todd had only been home from college for a little over a week. I imagine Josie thinking, "There goes the whole fucking summer." I'm sure she thought he'd met someone else at school. And maybe she thought she'd go right out and bang Mike Wagner the next night just to get even.

That's purportedly what happened, at any rate. They were in the backseat of the Wagner family mini van (a Galaxy, I think, or maybe a Voyager), right in the parking lot of the now-defunct Dog N Suds drive-in, where other kids were hanging out and probably swarming around them and mirroring the behavior of the moths (or whatever they were) that were always orbiting the light poles in a manner that had always fascinated me when I'd parked there alone.

So, at any rate, Josie was a slut, or was at least regarded as such by whoever spray painted "Josie Higgins is a SLUT" on the big rock outside the high school (now closed). This act of vandalism was inexplicably allowed to remain on display for almost two full days, until Josie's dad drove over there and attempted to scrub it off. A video of this frantic and mostly failed attempt showed up on YouTube the next morning, by which time Mr. Higgins had succeeded in painting over the offending proclamation and replacing it with a phrase that unfortunately did not fit on one line. First line (very sloppy, but intelligible): CHICKENS. Second line (larger letters and perfectly clear): HIT. 

Almost immediately this phrase became a wildly popular Facebook page, and within days began appearing all over town on anonymously printed t-shirts. The last time I looked, the Chickens Hit page on Facebook still had over 2000 fans. 

I don't suppose it was a coincidence that the Higgins family moved away that September, about the same time that I started noticing the gradual --and eventually rapid-- disappearance of all the children of Rapidan.

For the record, Josie Higgins was my biology lab partner in ninth grade, and, though I obviously had no real way of knowing, I was never of the opinion that she was a slut. Not that I could change anyone else's opinion or do anything about all the things that happened, but I always thought she was smart and nothing but nice.

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