by Nicole Crews
Mother: Whatever happened to that hoodlum you girls used to have a crush on?
Me: Are you talking about Mickey Rourke or Keith Richards?
Mother: Very funny. I’m talking about Billy.
Me: Last I heard he was racing cars in California.
Mother: Well, I sure am glad he’s the one who got away.
Billy was chain-wallet sexy in a way that made you want to skip fifth period and three weeks later, pray for yours to come. That is, if you had yours yet. The Curse was the red badge of courage amongst junior high girls in my small town — and Billy could sniff out the ones who were ready for his clumsy advances the same way his bird dog Moon could retrieve his avian prey.
Billy had all of the sophistication that comes from the infrastructural assessment and rote understanding of a grade repeater. The school nurse gave him Pall Malls. The pie-faced cafeteria ladies with their inversely erotic array of fishnet-like hairnets and orthopedic thigh-highs let him slide on lunch money. The janitor drove him home — except on nights when home proved to be as booby-trapped as the Southeast Asian jungles his father once plowed through, Zippo in one hand, Kalashnikov in the other.
On those nights, forewarned by his bruised and shell-shocked face, Janitor George — dubbed Mr. Clean for both his bald head and job description — made a cot for him in the custodial closet amidst the comfortingly narcotic aromas of industrial cleaning products.
Even the teachers treated Billy Jack with the distant respect, or fear, of the cult hero from whom he had earned his manly moniker.
But to me, Billy was more than our junior high’s beloved bad boy. He was the object of my first flinch of adolescent lust — stemming from a post-kickball, loin-lingering pinch that ached long after the bluish crescent descending my thigh had faded into my back-to-school shade of almond.
The muscle of my memory, however, is still tender years later on the subject of Billy. My mother feels otherwise.
Mother: Was he the one who used to throw rocks at your window?
Me: I think so.
Mother: Didn’t he know they were Pella?
She had a point. Billy and the boys who were beginning to swarm around the perimeter of our household weren’t exactly the polite young lads from prep school, or Camp Seagull or even the Episcopal Youth Group the family had expected, however reluctantly. So when boarding school was offered up on a platter like the crabmeat-stuffed mushrooms at my parent’s parties, I was secretly relieved to relinquish my potential slide into bad-girl territory. And so the school days with Billy were packed away in the footlockers of my memory.
Mother: Your father always said that secondary school was more important than college.
Me: Why was that?
Mother: It’s where you discovered your brain.
Me: Meaning I had already discovered my vagina.
Mother: At least you discovered the difference between the two.
Delinquent summers roaming the tomboy territory of our lake land were yet to be in lockdown, so before shipping off, summer lay before me like a Bain de Soleil model in a glossy magazine. Plus there were new neighbors, and they had toys.
Summers before entailed barefoot months of doing nothing but playing tennis and fishing with bamboo poles baited with Jimmy Dean Sausage. Ice cold Cheerwine was in plentiful supply to squelch the cottonmouth of stolen cigarettes, but now there was a permakeg installed right next door and dirt bikes in the woods and new ski boats on the lake to provide all the transportation we needed. Sneaking out to the barn to build hay-bale forts and taunt the livestock made up our form of rebellion in year’s past. Now our neighbors had pig pickings, dinner parties and holiday extravaganzas regularly and there was always a six-pack handy for sneaking away.
We tore through the woods sans helmets on Honda 80s, jumped off pool houses into the plunge and drove cigarette boats under low bridges at rubberneck speeds. We were docking pretty close to Billy Jack territory come summer’s end and never before had I seen my parents so happy about September. So I helped trailer the Hobie Cat, store the outdoor furniture and carefully pack my new uniform. It was a long ride to boarding school, but it was okay, it was coed.