Even though we stopped going to church, our school was “faith-based” and located in Rome, Georgia so it was all Southern Baptists plus a few Catholics and some of my friends like Max were reform Jews.
So there was chapel in the mornings and sometimes the boarding students like Penny would still have wet hair from rushing out of the showers in their dorms. Penny’s shampoo smelled like strawberries and sugar and I wished I sat closer to her in chapel but because we were seated first by grade, then alphabetically, I did not.
My last name is Bertrand, so I sat next to Timothy Bludworth who never smelled like strawberries and sugar, despite the fact that he boarded, too. He smelled like old cheese and feet and I’m not sure he ever brushed his teeth.
Those late summer southern mornings just before chapel saw book bags scattered across our prep school lawn with personalized keychain attachments sporting our favorite athletic teams, our Darlington School Tigers gear, buttons and patches with words like “fuck” and “love” and “Dave Matthews Band” and the girls’ thighs would already have soft beads of sweat between them below their plaid tartan skirts and my necktie would stay loose until I entered the building. Everyone had J. Crew and Polo and Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger and Lacoste everything and I didn’t really care about it, but I had it all, too. I guess it was just what we did back then.
If I squinted hard enough, just before I stepped into the chapel, I could see the swans necking on Lake Darlington across the street just beyond the dewy grass, smothered in the warming honey glow of the late August Georgia morning.