On the way to Neils wedding, the fact that it was Independence Day weekend escaped me. I was reminded, as I entered the stream with all the other Salmon, heading somewhere to spawn. Twenty odd miles in, a speed trap complete with multiple F.H.P. cars, planes, and heli's, convinced me it was time to pull a "Ben Stone" and exit the interstate, ala "Doc Hollywood". The drive immediately became delightful and scenic, and I devoured the North Florida landscape I have grown to love. Highway 27 is an old favorite peppered with little towns, then I-75 (no avoiding it under time constraints) and on to the hell that is Orlando. I reunited with the Alday clan of Altha, a family that was as much a part of my life as my own, for the six years I managed socialburn. I was astounded to find them happy to see me and we all played "remember when" for much of the rehearsal dinner. I was abducted by the wedding party and we went to a bar/time capsule. Drinks were drunk, and songs were sung, and fun was had by all, even the old man seventeen years the senior, of anyone else attending.
Watching Neil and his beloved say their vows, I ran the highlight reel of the years that we spent as manager and client, friends, and in many ways father and son. How can you ever tell a person that bought you a house, a couple cars, that was the star of the most interesting chapter of your biography, what they mean to you and how proud you were, to be part of their life. I pulled Neil aside and did my best through watering eyes. After our private goodbye, I snuck away and pointed my car to my old home town of Ft. Pierce. I slipped into the Ipod and an onto empty turnpike, as the rest of the world was looking skyward at things exploding. Everyone was somewhere else, and I was headed to a party, with an old friend and a woman that broke my heart.
Rob was on the phone guiding me in to the last parking space at the party. Someone handed me a beer and people came out of the darkness that I have not seen in thirty years. Names, faces, handshakes, memories long dormant from a trunk in my mind marked "Ft. Pierce, do not open" spilled out before me in a parade of familiarity and estrangement. People told stories about me as though I wasn't standing there. Some I remembered, and some not at all. Both were served up without a care for what emotions they triggered, all ending with the same phrase: "what happened, where did you go?" Rob took me around until I had seen everyone, handed me another beer and yelled the name that motivated my late night escape in 1987: "Diane!" The name hung there, I thought to myself an echo would have been appropriate. The three of us chatted and talked about all our histories together. Rob and I were friends, Diane and I were a couple and it was a million years ago. They never met back then. In 2003 they met in Tampa, dated back in Ft. Pierce, and later married. They showed up in Tallahassee in the fall of 2005, as I was in the throws of managing the band. It was a strange night that led to me leaving them with a cab company phone number, unanswered questions, and a past I didn't want to confront. Now here we were again, partly because I felt bad about that night, and because I wanted to solve a mystery I had been carrying in my spiritual luggage for years.
She was drunk and a person I almost didn't recognize. The face and eyes struck chords, but mostly the strange emptiness of twenty five years fell between us, like a canyon with no bridge. It was at once familiar and vague, but I was left with relief that I was not nervous and that her old spell had no power. It had died with the young man I once was, and neither one of us were remotely the people we were then. Our demeanor and appearance, were weathered by life, good and bad. Still there was a shared chapter, and enough to talk about so that awkward silence never overcame us. She filled in some blanks and asked some questions I never expected. In the end, much like the insane amateur fireworks show, I was happy to have survived, and glad I had witnessed the spectacle, emotional and pyrotechnical.
The next day we shared an uncomfortable lunch together. They were very hung over, and I felt like a guest that stayed a day too long. I drove by my old house on Sandia drive, vacant, foreclosed and slowly being reclaimed by a thicket of a yard, that once was the manicured pride of my Father. It stood indignant to all our Christmases, tears, laughter, weddings and funerals. It was a shell of something that was home. I saw myself skating the circular drive, playing drums in the corner room and my Sting Ray knock off, laying in the yard. I wondered how many times my Mother called me to dinner from that porch, hidden by unkempt plants.
I got back to familiar territory around sunset. I was on an alternate route which took me along a twisting back road to I-10. I passed a country house being pulled back into the earth by vines and growth of all manner. The frame was contorted and warped like a painting by Salvador Dali. It's form was recognisable and alien in equal measure, and I felt a kinship with it, that I never would have known before this trip.
Nothing remains the same. The earth, reclaims everything eventually. It is the cycle we all ride. People, drift in and out of our lives, like trains at a station. Some stay, and some become strangers, when once they were lovers and friends.