I was eighteen and fresh out of high school. A group of us, about eight boys and six girls, went to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina for our “senior trip.” For those not in the know or foreign, the “senior trip” is a rite of passage for a certain segment of American high school students. Traditionally, they the goal is to load up into different cars crammed with beach blankets and illegal booze and head to a house that has been rented for the occasion. Usually the locations are sunny, so most of these teenagers get drunk at the beach.

Drinking is an essential part of this ritual. Everyone is still underage, so the art of acquiring beer still holds a certain mystique. Our group, being somewhat more cautious, didn’t want the winds of fate to dictate our revelry. So accordingly, we bought several cases of beer and a few bottles of harder alcohol back in West Virginia, a place full of stores and people willing to sell to adolescents. I remember vividly the day we did so: it was warm and sunny, one of the rare West Virginia summer days when one wasn’t climbing through the windows just to get inside and away from the humidity. My cousin Josh and I had done our part with packing the car, so it was up to Guy, the car’s owner, to finish off the clandestine cross-state beer haul. It was getting pretty late in the day, so I knew that were going to have to stop somewhere along the way (it turned out to be a sketchy motel in North Carolina).

In order to offset my growing nervousness, I picked up one of Guy’s BB guns and began firing away at Josh. He picked up his own mock pistol and when had a little war right in Guy’s front yard. We didn’t notice that Guy’s mom, whom we had been trying to avoid all day because of our stash, was sitting next to the car. Clearly, she knew about the beer, but all she said was “Good Luck.”

The drive down was uneventful. We talked about the girls we liked, we told jokes from our favorite comedians, and we blasted awful, early 2000’s music out of Josh’s champagne-colored Toyota. Steve, the biggest in our group, definitely got into the summer spirit the most. He wore sleeveless novelty T-shirts that said stuff like “Bikini Inspector” for the reminder of the week. Some of the other guys preferred to go shirtless in order to turn their pale skin brown (most of them time it went lobster red).

Me, on the other hand, I went to South Carolina with the world’s lamest secret. Unbeknownst to my travel partners, I had squirreled away a book in my suitcase. It was a book by my favorite author, H.P. Lovecraft.

The first time that I ever came across H.P. Lovecraft was in New England, which is Lovecraft country in my mind. I found a book, The Best of H.P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre, in my cousin’s bookshelf. This was during my first trip to see family in New Hampshire. It was 2004 and I was sixteen. I pulled the book out because the dramatic cover immediately connected with something in my somewhat diseased brain. From the unknown monstrosity lurking in the window to the blasphemous ceremony, everything about this cover was perfect for a teenage metalhead and a dedicated reader of Stephen King.

On the title page of the book there was a note from one of Jason’s (that’s my cousin) former teachers. I said something about Stephen King and about how Lovecraft was the writer that influenced all subsequent horror writers, King included. Intrigued, I began reading. The first story I read was “Rats in the Walls.” I was hooked, and all throughout that visit, I couldn’t help but to read Lovecraft.

One moment in particular sticks out, though. The whole family—myself, my aunt and uncle, and their children—went to the beach. We were in Massachusetts and the beach was in Marblehead. Marblehead is not far from either Salem or Newburyport, the latter being one of my favorite small towns in the entire United States. All three of these locations are mentioned in Lovecraft’s work, so when I read “The Call of Cthulhu” on that beach, I felt a deep kinship with the strange recluse from Providence. I too felt that something mysterious was always just under the waves, and now I had the answers. The world, according to Lovecraft, is older and more mystical than we like to imagine. Reading Lovecraft on that beach on that day, I could believe it.

Cut to two years later. I was in many ways your typical numbskull. I was obsessed with getting girls and getting drunk, plus I felt the need to make-up for all the lost partying that I had missed in high school. Since I didn’t touch beer until I was eighteen and since I lived too close to the Pennsylvania line for nearby friends, I thought then that I had been excluded from the fun times for too long.

The truth was that I had not missed much. Most of the kids I went to school with had a quiet disdain for some of the things that I liked, even though I personally played lacrosse with them and told the same dirty jokes. Some of them didn’t like the fact that I was in the Science Fiction Book Club or that I hung out with punk rock and Goth kids because I loved their music. In short, I was one of those kids that floated around, never attaching himself to one particular group but always staying loyal to a very small core of friends, all of whom were different shades of weirdo.

I was also then (and now) somewhat of a loner. I preferred books to shindigs, and I might have been the only guy on our senior trip who came to South Carolina with books in his bag. Now, I didn’t read all the time, mind you. I drank plenty while I was there, and I even managed to go hopping about with some of the other high school groups in town. But three things from that trip still stay with me all these years later.

First, I remember vividly the impromptu boxing matches we had. One of the guys (Zach, I think) had brought along two sets of boxing gloves, so whenever we got buzzed enough for anything, we would spar. Zach and I were the first to do it. I agreed, then immediately regretted it. I spent most of the fight getting tagged and not fighting back. Then, after a sharp right to the body, I got mad and threw a left hook that rattled Zach pretty bad. He stopped fighting and asked what had hit him. When one of the bystanders said a left hook, he nodded his head and went back in. He wound up knocking me dizzy, but I am proud to say that I never left my feet.

After the fight, Zach congratulated me on my left hook and my tough chin. These words meant a lot, and even though I lost, I still felt a sense of pride. My next fight wasn’t so good. The guy I fought was much bigger and stronger than me and his right hand had some serious meat to it. We were both sober, so I felt every inch of his blows. To make matters worse, I couldn’t get a feel for his right cross, plus I was stupidly determined to punch up in the hopes of connecting with his head. No dice; Steve turned my legs into jelly with a picture-perfect uppercut.

After the fight, I got mad at myself. I had been embarrassed in front of a lot of people, and the whole fight had been recorded for posterity. In order to console my wounded pride, I distanced myself from the group. The first thing I did was essentially move in with the lower half of the house, which was where the second, much smaller unit of our group was staying. I mostly watched TV with a guy named JD, and I can remember that we watched a lot of the History Channel. In particular, he and I watched documentaries about the Nazis and the Knights Templar. He called the latter group “medieval Jedis.” It sounded cool at the time.

I also remember one of the girls getting so drunk that a group of us had to carry her supine body up from the street to the house. The upstairs neighbors threatened to call the EMTs and the police, but somehow one of us talked them down by duping them into thinking that we were college kids.

One memory I don’t have is the fact that I apparently would get naked when I was drunk. I’d walk around in mixed company in my birthday suit and ask to wrestle. I apparently pulled a “helicopter” or two, but I cannot say for sure. These episodes were also filmed, but I have never seen the tapes nor has anyone else within my circle. It could just be a conspiracy to besmirch my good, Catholic name.

Besides boxing and TV with JD, my other fondest memory involved reading Lovecraft on the beach again. This time it was Library of America’s edition of H.P. Lovecraft: Tales. I had bought the book during a snowstorm trip with my father to the new Barnes & Noble in town. I had saved it up for the summer, for by then I equated Lovecraft with sunshine, the sounds of the ocean, and the lies underneath them all. In South Carolina, I tried to read him again on the beach, but there were just too many people. Plus, unlike Massachusetts, the water was warm and inviting.

No, rather than read Lovecraft on the beach, I read him in a deck chair on our house’s front porch. I had a clear view of the sea, so I used finish a story then look at the tides move in. I always tried to finish up Lovecraft at sundown because that’s when the natural world really seemed to catch that right amount of beauty and terror. Also, when it got dark, the other people would come calling for me, and if they had found out what I had been doing all day, I would have heard those names that are most commonly reserved for high school hallways. I kept Lovecraft secret then, but he wouldn’t stay hidden for long, especially with the relative freedom of college just right around the corner.