Throughout lockdown, my mental health has remained relatively intact. I'll admit, I did go full Britney ‘07 on my scalp – but that was less of a coping mechanism and more of a convenience issue.
Maybe I’m more naturally adept for self-isolation because I err on the side of introversion. It could also be because in my regular life when everything’s calm, I’m anxious...but when it’s all a mess, there’s a part of me that thinks I’ve reached an equilibrium – then I’m calm.
I’ve always been a worrier, but for good reason: in my childhood home a troll lived in my closet, a tomahawk-wielding Indian chief hid beneath the stairway, and a witch loomed under my sister's bed.
There was a short window during my teenage years where I worried less.
On top of feeling invincible like every other teenager, I’m from the midwest – a place where things move slower, the crime rate is lower, and overall there just isn’t a whole lot for a white kid with a boyband’esque bone structure to worry about.
My hometown is located right smack dab on the muddy banks of the Mississippi. The summers are hot, sticky, and humid; the river is wet, dirty, and wild. What more could savage teenagers thirsty for cheap liquor and each other’s genitalia ask for?
Floating was one of our favorite activities. Some people refer to ‘floating’ as ‘tubing,’ and those people are stupid. Floating is when you get a bunch of friends and a ton of booze, then leisurely float down the river at the pace of the current. Tubing is when you’re tethered behind a speedboat, like water skiing except on an innertube.
The summer of 2006 was a hot one. Fresh off maternity leave, Nelly Furtado dropped the overtly sexual summertime bop ‘Promiscuous’ on her album ‘Loose’… it was subtle. A group of teenage hormones and I went on a floating excursion down the Skunk River.
The Skunk River or simply ‘the skunk’ is a tributary of the Mississippi. True to its name it is rather stinky. It’s accessible via Greenbay Bottoms, a small farming community that’s a few miles south of my hometown. This was my first time on this river and in this area – but with coolers packed full of liquid courage, there was nothing to fear.
As the sun shone high our inhibitions sank low with every sip, chug, and bong of cheap beer and sugary wine cooler. A confusing mix of rap, country, and radio-rock blared over the chatter of a large group of drunk adolescents – as we drifted carelessly on inner-tubes and rafts.
I found myself trapped in a conversation with a second-string defensive end. “But why aren’t you going out for football – too pussy?” he snarled, this was shortly after he’d chipped his front tooth on his bottle of Bicardi Raz.
Searching for a way out, I locked eyes with my on-again-off-again girlfriend who was floating with her clique a dozen-and-a-half feet away from me. She gave me that come-hither look – so I hithered – backflipping out of my tube, swimming under the dirty brown water, and bobbing right up in the inner of her innertube.
Like two meerkats popping out of the same hole, our bodies pressed together so that we could both fit inside the old car tire innertube – that we’d picked up earlier that day from Robert’s Tire. We flirted as we strategically drifted out of sight from the others.
For the sake of her privacy, we’ll call her Chelsi, Chelsi Chesspiece. Chelsi was a blonde cheerleader archetype who acted dumb but was actually an honor student.
Caught up in a moment of soggy passion, my swim trunks made their way past my knees. I thought I had secured them around an ankle, but after we finished going bam-bam in the ham, it was discovered that my trunks were gone and so was her top.
When I say we finished, we actually just kind of stopped. Water is not a conducive environment for this type of activity. It should stop being glorified in teen-driven television dramas. It washes away any natural lubrication and leaves all parties involved feeling nothing special.
With the sun starting to go down and our friends nowhere in sight, we began paddling like Pocahontas to find what was just around the river bend. Surely our friends were there. They weren’t. They weren’t around the next bend either. Or the next one.
Hours passed. The sun dropped lower and lower.
Low visibility, boat traffic, bridges, undercurrents, locks, dams, and lots of other stuff makes the river a dangerous place at night – two naked drunk teens have no business being out on it.
Finally, we spotted two fishermen minding their own business, trolling the riverbank in a rusty old jon boat checking their limb lines.
“Would you mind pulling us to the next boat landing?” I asked sheepishly.
“Ya’ll just wanna hop in?” one of the fishermen replied.
“No, we can’t, we lost our swimsuits.”
Without batting an eye, he nodded, cranked his motor, and began to slowly tow us down the river.
At the landing, Chelsi and I sat waiting with our bits hidden by the brownness of the water as the boat inched out of sight. I didn’t feel worried. In my mind, we’d got ourselves into a situation, so now we needed to get ourselves out of it. Chesspiece did not share the same mindset. She burst into tears.
“It'll be fine, let’s just start walking, and we’ll find everybody,” I said, pointing toward a country road that appeared to run parallel to the river. She replied with more sobbing.
Pain stung the bottoms of my bare feet with every single step on that gravel road. There were no streetlights to help us see where we were going. The sun had completely set and Chelsi had completely broken down mentally.
I remember genuinely (and stupidly) thinking that she was overreacting. With the benefit of hindsight, I can easily see a justification for her panic. She was a naked 16-year old female, in the middle of nowhere, walking aimlessly with her scrawny boyfriend.
Two headlights appeared far off in the distance, someone was coming. Following a gut reaction, we hid in some bushes down in a ditch on the side of the road.
What if this was our only way out, our only chance at getting help? Or what if it was a Texas Chainsaw situation?
The roar of an engine grew louder as the vehicle got closer. Do I do something?
Fuck it. I climbed out of the ditch, put one hand over my junk, and one thumb in the air.
The vehicle came to a sudden halt. I could hear a few murmurs and some muffled FM radio music. Slowly, what I could now see was an old pickup truck pulled up right next to me.
“You okay, buddy?” shouted a guy standing in the bed of the truck.
The truck was filled with some good ol' corn-fed country teenagers who were out for a little gravel travel* The driver was a barely 16-year-old farmboy. He wore a cutoff plaid shirt and a Dale Earnhardt hat. About seven coed passengers filled the extended cab and the truck bed; all had red cups in hand.
*Gravel Travel | noun | ɡræv(ə)l træv(ə)l – An activity made popular by teenagers and deadbeats; it's the act or practice of driving around aimlessly on country roads, smoking pot and/or consuming alcohol. Origin: Redneck, Midwest, I guess.
“What…happened?” a girl sitting in the passenger seat asked.
“Me and my girlfriend were out floating and we lost our friends and our clothes so we started walking and now we’re lost.” I rambled.
“Where is she?” the girl asked.
“Ah, yeah, she’s hiding in the bushes – she doesn't have clothes either...” I answered.
“Oh, God…honey!” the girl exclaimed with genuine concern. She immediately jumped out of the truck and along with two other girls headed toward the crying noises coming from the ditch.
The herd of hicks leaped from the back of the truck and surrounded me.
Like a gang of animated forest creatures prepping a Disney princess for a ball, they dressed me head to toe. Kind of. One guy dropped trou and whipped off his boxers for me to wear. Another shared his undershirt. Another guy flopped out his dick just to be part of the action – what a hoot.
Chelsi apparently got the glam squad treatment behind the bushes. Tears dried, she ascended from her hiding and strutted down the gravel runway in a spotlight of the pickup's headlights.
She sported a volleyball-tournament tee, slightly wet in all the right places, and knotted at the midriff. The top paired nicely with her borrowed Soffe cotton shorts that were folded over at the waistband to show off just the right amount of leg.
I took her hand to (slightly peacock) help her into the back of the truck and off we went. Driving down a dusty gravel road, we stopped at every boat landing and bridge along the waterway to see if our group was there waiting to reunite.
Somehow, we found the location where our outing had been meant to end. Our group was not there. I guess they were still floating, had gone home, or had gone to hell – I don’t know. However, there was one person waiting, Chelsi’s dad.
At this point, it was late into the night, and since no one's parents had heard from their children the entire day Mr. Chesspiece had come searching for his daughter. His disapproving eyes glared at Chelsi. Without saying a word he got into his car and slammed the door.
Quickly thanking our redneck saviors, Chelsi and I hopped out of the truck and into the car. She sat in the passenger seat. I sat in the backseat.
Nothing was said the whole ride home, with the exception of me directing Mr. Chesspiece to my dropoff point. I couldn’t go home in just a pair of underwear (I should note here that in our rush to leave my not-100%-sober-mind decided that it’d be polite to give back the tee-shirt that had been given to me earlier. It wasn’t asked for, I just did it.
Arriving at my friend Taryn’s house, I couldn’t get out of the car fast enough.
Taryn snuck me into her house, gave me some of her ex-boyfriend’s clothes, and brought the crisis to a close... Until a few weeks later when she threw a now-infamous back-to-school party named ‘Twat-a-palooza,’ that caused half the senior class to get sentenced to several weeks of public service.
...but we all floated through that one as well.