You drive across town and pull up to your best friend’s parent’s house; the house you spent high school at, sneaking beers in the basement and blunts in the backyard. It’s been months since you’ve seen these guys, but Thanksgiving brings everyone back to 10 Fox Run and their former selves. Here, Dan isn’t a young, hotshot financial analyst on Wall Street, just the same wannabe hustler you remember dealing Snapples from his locker and cheating his way through the Advanced Placement classes that landed him at Villanova. No matter how many girls Kyle slept with at Quinnipiac, no one will let him forget that bitch he dated in high school or signature XXL graphic tees and fitteds look seen on every extra in You Got Served. Sure, DJ used to own the football field, but now his broken down body is the punch line for the joke his football career became – steroids have that effect. As for Danny, being captain of your Division III college basketball team is nice, but it doesn’t erase a 3-for-12 shooting night during a losing effort in state championship. Here, all you are is who you were, post-high school accomplishments be damned. So you stand around the table with your old friends, crack some beers, relentlessly break each other’s balls, reminisce and liquor-up for a night of awkward reunions and hometown debauchery. Welcome to the Thanksgiving Eve Bar Crawl. Welcome home.
If you’re from Wallingford, CT, college was hardly a crash course in substance abuse. You’ve been drinking with your friends on a weekly basis since freshman year of high school, mastering self-destruction while most were taking cues from The Real World and Teen Mom. Could have something to do with the five package stores in a one mile radius that seldom carded, the 10 bars lining Center street and South Main, or maybe you were just really bored and all your friends were doing it.
Tonight, downtown Wallingford is overrun with drunken twenty-something year olds. The dives you’d usually never set foot in after turning 21 are packed wall to wall, and the impromptu high school reunion begins. You run into that kid from math class junior year, the guy from senior English you haven’t spoken to since graduation, even that funny-but-fuckable girl from homeroom you never had the balls to make a move on – she looks great by the way. You flash that fake smile, dole out a half-assed hug and rattle off a, “Oh school’s great? What are you up to lately?” all the while squirming for a quick out.
You make your way up Center Street and each ghost of high school’s past you run into becomes all the more interesting with each Jameson. You lose yourself in the crawl, along with whatever money was in your wallet, and you are suddenly everyone’s best friend. Cell phone numbers are exchanged and “Yeah, I’ll hit you up over break,” punctuates every conversation you’ll barely remember. The bouncers hustle you out of the bar at 1:00 AM and you half-stumble down South Main Street to your parent’s house, catching dirty looks from every cop counting the seconds until their shift-change and an end to the sloppiest night of the year.
The lock on your front door might as well be Fort Knox and eventually you find your way inside. You snag one more beer from your Dad’s fridge in the basement, throw a Hot Pocket in the microwave and collapse in a heap on your couch, praying that a rerun of South Park is on Comedy Central.
You blink and it’s suddenly 5:00 AM. You’re sprawled out on the couch with your shoes still on, the button and fly to your jeans undone. There’s a half empty Miller Highlife on the coffee table, a Hot Pocket that’s been sitting in your microwave for hours, and paid programming blaring from your TV. You gather your hung-over self and head upstairs before your Dad wakes up to the hapless sonuvabitch passed out on his couch. You doze in your own bed for a few more hours before your forced to rehydrate, recaffeinate, and face the onslaught of relatives and family members – the only people you want to see less than former classmates. But take heart. You’ll overdose on carbohydrates, drown your meal in Mom’s gravy, and spend the afternoon enjoying America’s game; letting it all settle during what promises to be an epic nap.
Isn’t that what Thanksgiving’s all about? Because eventually you’ll graduate, the economy will improve, and this will all become another chapter in the ongoing book of nostalgia that hometown life lends itself to all too well. Chapters end, characters get shaken up, and one day it will all go down as a chance meeting, an awkward hug, another drink and a hangover to think about it. That’s all it is. And for too many, that’s all it ever will be.
Dave Baker is a History and Creative Nonfiction student at Central Connecticut State University. Born and raised in Connecticut, upon graduation he plans to travel this great country of ours and pursue an MFA in Creative Writing.