After I composed this Sunday and Monday, I decided not to post it, because I thought it was time to move on, and I did not want to continue to rehash the negative feelings of this past long, long weekend. I also thought it might contain just a little bit too much information for consumption by the general public, but what they heck? I've put myself out there at other times.
It honestly wouldn't hurt my feelings at all if you decided to skip past this and move on to the South Carolina game. On the other hand, that's pretty much what this post is about. Plus, there are a couple of phrases borrowed from Lanier and a somewhat obscure tidbit from Gone With the Wind buried in here (well, to be honest, the whole damn thing is about what to do when Atlanta's been burned to the ground). So there's that.
When I was growing up, my mother took her three boys to Gainesville, Georgia, to visit her family several times a year. It was a familiar journey from LaGrange, roughly parallel to rapid and fall, up to the valleys of Hall. On one such visit, when I was no older than five, my mother and grandmother had some things to do that were better done without a young'n around. My brothers may have been at Athens Y Camp, and I was dropped off at Aunt Eunice's house out the Clark's Bridge Road. Now, I knew my grandmother's older sister, but I'd never spent a lot of time with her and certainly not alone. I wasn't familiar with her house and things. I wanted to be with my grandmother and mother or, at least, at my grandparents' house with its back yard woods, the creek at he bottom of the hill, Pop-Pop's train set and basement shop full of gadgets and dangerous power tools, my cool Uncle Kelly, and Kelly's dog, Dude (as boon an adventuring companion as you could ever know). But I had no choice in the matter. I was to stay with Aunt Eunice. I lay on her sofa and cried. I did not move the entire time I was left there, not even when I needed to go to the bathroom. [This is the part where I lean forward and hold eye contact for a couple of seconds to see if I need to repeat that last bit.] I remember the occasion like it was this weekend. It was kind of like this weekend.
This weekend, I left my home and walked about half a mile, descending into the valley of downtown Atlanta's vast remnant rail yard, to the Georgia Dome. I wanted to be there, but it never felt quite right. And over the next few hours, I experienced a kind of emotional discomfort that would have left me sobbing (or worse) if I'd been five. The game put me in a state that made everything seem wrong. I kind of knew these people. But I still felt like a visitor. My team was wearing a bizarre costume. My perspective of the field, while good enough, was unfamiliar. The fans around my guests and me were passionate, but I didn't know them. (One was a horrible human being.) And what was up with all those foreigners in blue who saw fit to start and continue some kind of cheer while one of our players was down with an injury? I never heard of such bad taste.
Obviously, the strangeness would have been just fine if the game had gone differently. I've been in similar almost-but-not-familiar situations before, including a few occasions in the Georgia Dome, that were downright enjoyable. But the game went as it did, making everything feel out of place. (Seriously. Those uniforms. If I ever see them again, somebody should just go ahead and fetch me a box of Kleenex and a change of clothes, because I'm gonna embarrass myself.)
Others have identified areas of concern regarding the team's and coaches' performances. I'm glad of it. I saw many of the same things, and I won't rehash them here. It's valuable to discuss these things among other fans, even if it's not pleasant. If some ills can be cured, I'll welcome whatever happiness that will bring. But I have no control over what the team and coaches do, and if there's one thing I've learned in my 45 years, it's that you should avoid letting things beyond your control completely govern your happiness, even when you can't eliminate their effect altogether.
So here I am with memories of an awful experience in a strange place. I can't rely on the prospect that somebody is going to fix things to give me a better game-watching experience. I need something else.
I want to go home.
I can't avoid the emotional impact the South Carolina game will create. I don't want to avoid it. To live, you must laugh all of your laughter and cry all of your tears. But good game or bad game, I'll be home. And that's something that a green notebook or a freshman DE Gamecock phenom can't take from me.
I'll get up early Saturday morning. There will be just a hint of coolness in the air (if it's not there, my mind will find a way to impose the sensation). I'll crank up my Redcoats recordings while I get ready. I will sing about going back to dear old Athens Town. I'll hop in the car and put my "80s R.E.M." playlist on shuffle. I will sing about Feeling Gravity's Pull. By the time the Classic City skyline comes into view, I'll be nearing a state of bliss.
I will walk among Our People in Our Places. Friends, we are, generally speaking, a beautiful people, even though I personally am not the best example. And it is widely and conclusively acknowledged by friend and foe that ours is a beautiful place. I will let the steady hand of my alma mater comfort me as I walk through the North Campus quads.
Will I be nervous about the game? Of course. Will I get caught up in the emotions, good and/or bad, of the game once I make my way into the heart and heartbeat of our glorious campus? Oh, hell yes. But the Arch, the Chapel, the Hedges, the just-right viewing angle from 34 rows up, the 2011 version of the surrounding ticketholders (not constant these 40-plus years, of course, but changing slowly enough to provide continuity from one year to the next) will provide a solid foundation from which to experience the game's highs (please let there be some) and lows.
My nature won't allow me to expect the worst outcome. My fan psyche has been beaten so far into submission that I can't expect the best. Being in Athens won't be a cure for all ills, to be sure, but I realistically can expect that when the Battle Hymn plays and when I see the red jerseys and silver britches between the hedges (I'd better), I will be happy. And I will be more prepared to accept whatever else comes. I will be home yelling my fool head off, assuming my voice has recovered by then.
Dry your eyes, little boy. Mom's on her way, and she loves you like no one else can.
I have a short message for those who will be joining me in Athens this Saturday: count your blessings.
For those of you who can't make the trip: I wish I could take you with me. Find a way to join me in focusing on something infallibly reliable. Will you fix some gameday comfort food Saturday? Dive headlong into your pregame rituals? Crank up your UGA tunes? Which ones?
Come on, guys and gals. Let's help each other find the steady core of what makes us who we are as Georgia fans. Bring us home.