I’m the Man

I always have such mixed feelings about going back to Illinois. The Butcher was telling me about how he was poking fun at a girl from Gallatin recently for her claims that she’s a country girl. And then he had a list of things that make a girl a country girl and I scoffed at his list because, by his standards, I was a country girl. And he said, “Yeah, you are a country girl.”

I don’t feel like a country girl. But I kind of blame that on “Nashville.” I remember standing around this guy’s shed while he worked on his car and he probably had a Confederate flag with Bocephus’s face on it. I know he played Junior’s music loudly. And I remember listening to “Country Boy Can Survive” and feeling like it was saying something about me, about my people, even if they were my people only uneasily. But moving here, I’ve learned the hard way that the flag was right–“country” and “Southern” are the same thing to people like Hank Jr. So, all that music I thought was for me, because I did want to spit some chew in that dude’s eye, really wasn’t. I wasn’t, as it turns out, from the right “country.” I still like country music, of course, but I never don’t feel like an interloper now.

Back before that, when I was in junior high, my friend C., lived near a kid who was a year older than us, who had an older brother who was in high school. I am positive we were in junior high, though we may have been freshmen. The guys lived with their dad, who I guess was an asshole, but I never remember him being around.

This one time, we went down there and they were listening to Anthrax, the “I’m the Man” EP. The boys were smoking cigarettes and drinking their dads’ beer. I don’t think they have this genre of kid now, but they were kind of gangly and underfed looking, with longish hair that might have looked “surfer-dude”-ish in other circumstances, but at that time just meant that they wanted to head-bang but too long hair would have caused them trouble with their dad. They always wore black t-shirts and jeans–almost always Metallica, Anthrax, Megadeth, or Slayer. Sometimes Dio.

Guys like this were often my friends, often my secret, unrequited crushes. They seemed to have this way of slouching through life that suggested that, even if everyone else was willing to act like everything was okay, they knew it sucked and they wouldn’t pretend otherwise, which made me feel less alone and crazy. Other than C., I don’t think I knew a girl who was willing to say that we were living in a hellhole and, mild as it may be, it wasn’t a place a girl ought to live. I missed her when she left. Her mom begged me to make her to come back, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it (if I could have done it).

Anyway, there we were, all sitting around listening to the same song over and over. They offered us beer. I declined. I can’t remember if C. did or not. They offered us cigarettes. We said yes. I think C. had smoked before. I hadn’t. The older brother sat right next to me and helped me light it. He smelled like stale beer, but pleasantly, and smoke, obviously. And, more than anything, I wanted him to kiss me. But his hair hanged in his face and I couldn’t read his expression.