An Exercise in Either Self-Loathing or (more optimistically) Catharsis
Since 2007, I've learned that the most painful things in life are often those that are the most unexpected, the ones that hit you like a brick from seemingly out of the blue: deaths, breakups, bad news. But on September 1, 2007, I was but a naive young sophomore, and I didn't know any of that. I was soon about to take my first dose of that bitter pill. To understand the agony the prevailed in the late afternoon and then well into the night September 1, 2007, you have to first understand the bliss I awoke to that morning.
September 1, 2007.
After celebrating the carefree daze of a welcome week Friday night well into the whiskey hours of the morning (the Greenwood block party is, or was, traditionally held on the Friday of Welcome week), my alarm clock woke me much too early given the previous night's events. Yet thoughts of neither sleep-deprivation nor of a hangover plagued me that morning, as what I anticipated to be a triumphant football season was upon us that day. Hence I stumbled through the fraternity hallway - the semester had yet to start, but it was already filthy from a week's worth of fraternity revelry - to my good friend Andy's room to rouse him as well. We cracked our first beers with unspoken glee, knowing the day we had waited several grueling months for was upon us, and hastily showered and dressed. During our freshman year, our initiation into tailgating culture commenced at a neighboring fraternity, where we came to idolize a certain southern fraternity guy - an unforgettable tailgating hero - who dressed in gameday oxford and tie and generally put on a debaucherous show for passersby from what was known as "The Ledge". Determined to emulate our idol, Andy and I donned our southern gameday dress, performed our ritual pregame superstitions which we had started practicing as roommates in the dorms the previous year, and toasted our beers, downing what would be the last indoor beverages of the day.
And so we waltzed out onto the fraternity porch, a sprawling porch that virtually looked out onto the entire undergraduate campus, and climbed atop our fraternity's ledge. The first tailgate song of the day playing from the speakers - the song selection probably governed by our newfound taste in country music, to round out the fraternity cliche we were living in - we glanced out onto State Street, almost entirely empty in the calm before the storm. Football season was upon us, but the weather was no indication. The sun barely yet overhead, it was already baking down upon a fraternity lawn that in three shorts hours would look unrecognizably decimated. The beautiful September dawn reflected the state of my soul quite aptly. I was immensely happy. Not just that in the moment kind of happy, but truly, genuinely happy: with my environs, my social life, my academic life, my relationship-life (or lack thereof, as the idea was then).
Andy and I prided ourselves on being the first tailgaters awake and governing the fraternity porches that entire season, and I'll never regret the hours of sleep we lost doing so. There was something magical about that pre-pre game, when we were alone in the strange quiet of the early morning, waiting for the other hardcore tailgaters to arrive prior to 8:00 a.m., knowing that in a matter of hours tens of thousands of people would be flooding State Street through a parade of deafening music, red solo cups, and Greek debauchery. But there was never anything like that first game: there's something strangely magical about The Possible on the eve of a brand new college football season. And the 2007 Michigan Football season, make no mistake, was supposed to be a magical one for our Wolverines. Michigan had went 11-0 heading into The Game the previous season during my freshman year, and perhaps but for a bone-headed personal foul call late in the Fourth Quarter, could have been on its way to the National Championship. Michigan returned its stars on offense, including Chad Henne, Mario Manningham, and Mike Hart - who, by the way, appeared on the Sports Illustrated cover of the college football preseason edition only days earlier. In other words, losing on this particular day seemed unfathomable.
If Southern tailgates are known for their tradition and class, Big Ten tailgates are known for their binge-drinking atmosphere. Especially as the season meanders into late October and early November, the frigid temperatures force Northern schools to play almost exclusively day games throughout much of the college football season. At Michigan and a majority of Big Ten schools, this means a solid portion of the games are noon kickoffs. On Greek Row on Ann Arbor's state street, these noon tailgates are taken as a sort of challenge, if you will, to consume the most amount of alcohol in such a short tailgating time frame. And that's sort of how most of my tailgating days at Michigan went.
My fraternity that year partnered with the Delta Gamma sorority for tailgates, and I knew many of the girls as me and a couple other buddies worked in the DG kitchen as bus boy's (see: slaves) that year. The sororities are notoriously late-arriving to tailgates, but State Street on a Football Saturday is truly a beautiful thing once the sororities converge en masse to the various fraternity houses. It's then that the party really starts: the drinking games, the speakers blaring into the streets, the dancing on ledges. The entire scene is a remarkable portrait of the joy of late youth - that burdenless, liberated, carefree time that is so fleeting. And those select Saturday's from that Fall were some of the most purely fun days of my life, days that just can never be recreated.
Prior to the arrival of Rich Rodriguez to Ann Arbor, students were still very much concerned with actually making it to football games, albeit sometimes well after kickoff. Though I hated the prospect of leaving the tailgate, I still prided myself as a devout Michigan fan, and somehow managed to stumble my way over to the Big House every Saturday. I remember feeling very hot as I finally found my seats in the student section, as the last vestiges of a Michigan summer were in full display. I think I remember that moment because it so highlights my disbelief that an actual game - a competitive one - was about to unfold.
It's funny, too, that I remember that pre-kickoff moment, because I don't remember much of the game at all. Whether that is a result of the countless beers and jello shouts I had consumed in the previous four hours or the result of a long, long subconscious purge of the memory from my brain, I am not entirely sure - probably a little of both. But I remember knowing before all of the other students in the student section that we were going to lose. I was, after all, more experienced in this Michigan football thing than most of the other students, many of whom hailed from different states and were not lifelong fans, and as I was a more seasoned Michigan fan, I was naturally a pessimist when it came to my team. And then Appalachian State blocked the field goal, and Michigan Football as I had known it was never the same. I was never really the same.
I grew up thinking that 10 win seasons were a way of life. Though I didn't know it at the time, Appalachian State taught me a lot about life - about how things change, even things you think are fixed in place.
I don't assume things anymore. Not in football, not in life.
4:00 p.m. - ?
As any Michigan football fan who came of age in the nineties, I grew up spoiled by gridiron success. And like many of my peers in that demographic, I had grown quite unsatisfied with what was known as "Lloyd-Ball" - characterized by Lloyd Carr's ultraconservative style of play - in the early aughts as The Rise of Jim Tressel was underway in Columbus. September 1, 2007 was the death knell for Lloyd Carr. Needing a primary scapegoat after the game, I drunkenly took to social media to express my disgust with Carr's waning coaching abilities. At some point that year I even changed my Facebook profile pic to a picture of LSU's Les Miles, advocating for Miles - who had Michigan roots - to return home to Ann Arbor and lead us back to glory (I even got a request from the LSU student newspaper for an interview about Miles' potential return to Michigan). But as most Michigan fans learned in the confusing hours after that game, social media was not a place I wanted to be that day; Michigan State fans were brutal as they basked in the schadenfreude, and I soon discovered that other football games would not be a distraction either, as not a one broadcast could be found that wasn't working in an Appalachian State highlight at some point. If the reality of the loss hadn't yet set in, it was in this way - browsing social media, and flipping through the sports networks on television - that the gravity of our loss sunk in. So a full scale media blackout was my only recourse, and I don't think I was alone amongst Michigan fans in being eager to get back to classes that week.
In my efforts to avoid any sort of contact with the world outside of a very depressed Ann Arbor, I ended up on the fraternity lawn drinking whatever leftovers remained from the tailgate - I didn't care what I was drinking, as long as it would kill some brain cells. And the rest is a blur, though I know I ended up at the fraternity next door drinking with some dudes there. Perhaps surprisingly, turning to the bottle that day actually seemed to work, as the rest of that day has melted into a collective blur in my memory.
August 30, 2014
I spent most of August - usually a time of great anticipation for me, as Michigan football looms - decrying the decision to schedule a rematch with Appalachian State. I wanted no part of the replays of that game - replays I had fairly successfully avoided for several years - that would undoubtedly be brought back out of the ESPN archives this Saturday, or the radio talkshow mockery of the game, or of that painful memory of the most embarrassing day in Michigan Football history. I told myself I didn't even have interest in going to the game.
But the funny thing is, as I sit here on this Friday before the game, I find myself feeling very nostalgic for a place that I have now long moved away from, for a time, for those people at those tailgates who have since departed from my life. I find myself wishing I could go back to September 1, 2007.
Friday, August 29, 2014
Monday, August 25, 2014
"It is autumn, as you know, and things are beginning to die. It is so wonderful to be out in the crisp fall air, with the leaves turning gold and the grass turning brown, and the warmth going out of the sunlight and big hot fires in the fireplace while Buddy rakes the lawn. We see a lot of bombs on TV because we watch it a lot more, now that the days get shorter and shorter, and darkness comes so soon, and all the flowers die from freezing."
- Hunter S. Thompson, Fear & Loathing in Elko
Returning to the neighborhood of my youth after an extended absence has always conjured strange feelings for me. In college, it was the shock of two entirely divergent atmospheres that I called home juxtaposed - the debaucherous, collegial world of Ann Arbor on the one hand, and the quiet wilderness of Millwood Village, which suddenly seemed a retirement home community dotted with my childhood friends' parents, comparatively. From Chicago, Millwood opened its welcoming arms to me as I returned home with nowhere else to turn, but those welcoming arms were not the arms I had once known; perplexed, I came to find the boys I had run those yards with were no longer boys at all, maybe not quite old men yet but something different, something forever changed.
A different chapter closing is what has brought me home to Millwood this week. For a few months those aforementioned boys I had run Millwood's yards with and I lived together in a house in suburban Garden City, and as that chapter closes it is with sad clarity I know we will never again all be in the same household like that, for various reasons, be it fallings out or moving in with girlfriends or going separate ways.
The last week of summer in Millwood was always a time of palpable change growing up, and it's no different as I return now. I sat out on the back patio one of these nights, watching the fireflies dancing through the trees in the backwoods and swatting at the thousands of mosquitos birthed in the nearby Rouge River: the mosquitos and the fireflies - the perpetual life forms of summer in Millwood. The shouts of children still at play in the distance, too, foretold that school's early curfew was still a few days away.
Yet you could feel Autumn looming. Neighborhood garage sales seemed to symbolize a feeling of change pervading the neighborhood, and I saw more than one of my neighbor's packing up the family car as the next kid was being shipped out of the neighborhood and off to college. My sister, too, is off, for her sophomore year, which shocked me into the reminder that I was no longer a sophomore in college; sophomore year seems like maybe three years ago, tops, but the fact that I am seven years older than my sister reminded me just how long ago sophomore year was -- strange indeed.
What felt the strangest, though, was watching the kids playing in the Millwood streets, watching the recent high school grads pack the cars for college, and knowing that none of those faces were mine or the guys I grew up with in that neighborhood, anymore. For the first time in my life, it felt, the inaugural class of Millwood's children no longer had any sort of imprint on that neighborhood. The marks we had left in those streets had all been paved over by fresh coats of concrete, the carvings of our initials in the trees in the woods had all faded with fresh layers of bark. Usually, at the very least, you could find one of your old friend's cars parked in their parents' driveway, but not so, this time around. We had all left Millwood, for good, it seemed this time around. And I guess that's when I realized: the Millwood Chapter of my life is permanently over; there's no returning home after college for all of us this time.
And so in more than one way, it feels like this week is at home is a goodbye of sorts: to a house, to the guys I shared that house with, to the times we had in those walls, to another chapter. A farewell, too, to this summer, the summer that will undoubtedly go down as the summer that changed everything, in so many ways.
Friday, August 15, 2014
Wednesday, July 9, 2014
That Winter I was struggling to keep my head above water. After graduating from Michigan the previous Spring, I moved to the big city after a summer in Petoskey and suddenly found myself living away from my home state for the first time, hundreds of miles from my family and friends and girlfriend. The rigors of a first year law curriculum and a mean streak of a Winter, even by the Windy City's standards, weighed heavy on my shoulders like eight inches of snowfall on a dilapidated rooftop.
Amidst the turmoil that winter, I relied heavily on a combination of the Detroit Red Wings and the bottle. Yet the substance that had provided the answers to all of my problems in my collegiate endeavors suddenly was yielding more equations than solutions. As if set to clockwork upon college commencement, my body was no longer a willing participant in an exceedingly dependent relationship. What had heretofore been a love affair with Jack Daniels of internal unwavering suddenly had reached a domestic crossroads of biblical proportions, and in my twenty-two year old innocence, I hadn't the vaguest of notions as to how to grapple with real world issues, let alone one of this magnitude. But that collective storm disappeared the minute I heard the news about Joel.
As it turned out, I was sucking down whiskey sours in one of the nameless taverns in the gaslight district of Chicago's nightlife when Joel embarked on an ill-fated snowmobile excursion into the Petoskey woods that Friday night. I awoke in a daze early the next morning to a phone call from my Mother. I immediately suspected the worst; it was one of those phone calls too early in the morning to be anything but tragic news. My roommates still sound asleep, I sobbed quietly in that early morning silence before my Mom could finish a sentence. The phone call rocked me to my core. I stared out the tenth floor living room window into the Chicago dawn, the streets eerily empty as a fresh dusting of snow fell from the coalsmoke sky. My emotions crippled, I did the only thing I knew how: I reached into the refrigerator and poured myself a tall glass of whiskey and went to town. I emptied the bottle and didn't bother to sober up until I stepped onto the bus bound for home the following day.
By the time of the funeral three days later, the tears had yet to cease, but I knew I owed half of those tears to the fact that my hands were still shaking from what I was gradually beginning to recognize, undeniably this time, as the first inklings of alcohol withdrawal. When I looked into Joel's casket for the last time, I felt guilty as hell. I held up my trembling hands to his lifeless body, as if to show him; it was a plea for help, I realize now, one that I would be unable to mouth to any of the still breathing relatives gathered in that funeral home for some time to come. Maybe I needed Joel to hear it first. One thing was certain: this thing had become serious at last.
My girlfriend and family bade me a somber goodbye at the bus stop, the expectation of me being that I, like anyone who has ever attended a funeral, would move on. And back under the familiar shadows of the skyscrapers of Chicago, I tried to do just that. As I walked eastbound, however - down Jackson towards the law school building in the Loop - visions of Joel played on in my head with no pause button. As young deaths are wont to do, Joel's funeral had left me with a shocking dose of mortality. He was just a kid, not much older than I was. His funeral served as a stark reminder that even someone as young as he could cease to exist, without warning.
I had spent a good chunk of that bus ride from Ann Arbor to Chicago staring out the window at the passing Michigan countryside, pondering the gravity of my decision to embark upon a career in the legal field. I had succeeded in half-assing my way through my own reservations during the first semester in a haze of self-indulgent adventure in this exciting new place, which temporarily muted the nagging voice over my shoulder whispering premonitions of one grave mistake. With Joel's death in the rearview mirror, it was no longer a question of whether I had taken the wrong trail diverged in the wood, but whether or not I should get back on the trail I had chosen at all. As I entered the business hub of downtown Chicago, I felt tears welling up in my eyes once again. I was in over my head.
The Loop buzzed with Chicagoan energy as I made my way downtown. It felt strange that while my life had come to an utter stop during the previous several days, Chicago's urban motor continued to churn without missing a beat. Round-the-clock coffee brewed through tin pipelines into the cups of drowsy urbanites; underground the red and blue lines rumbled and paused, opening their doors to relinquish subway passengers, only to rumble forth again; at street level an endless brigade of honking taxicabs and police sirens polluted the airwaves unabated; and revolving doors at the feet of great skyscrapers swallowed up and spit out the nine-to-five crowd as if synced to the hands of some omnipotent clock tower. Chicago was ever moving. Yet there was no denying the fundamental change in scenery that had taken place within me: Chicago looked a little bleaker, smokier, darker even.
Thousands of people clogged the arteries of the city streets, cramped together side by side on narrow sidewalks, yet an odd feeling of isolation hung in the air. The roar of the winds and the sirens made the countless cell phone conversations in progress inaudible. Wool scarves wrapped around frost-nipped ears and fur parkas strung tightly against rosy cheeks disguised individual faces into one indistinguishable conglomerate of flesh. In this mecca of capitalism, I felt disconnected from the city-goers around me - emotionally, spiritually, physically - to a degree I hadn't experienced on any previous foray into the city. As a crosswalk blinked from red to green, I fell into step with the rest of the masses, realizing that not one of these people knew about my personal tragedy, and not one of them cared. We were a community in name only, I'd sadly come to comprehend.
For once, the law school building looked welcoming. I pressed the eleven button on the elevator car and rode upwards with the hope of escaping my own head by means of delving into the great quagmire of contracts law. Still, upon entering the law auditorium, the sight of my fellow students only further plunged me into my own dark rabbit hole. Here congregated bright minds who needed only coffee for their conquests, looking dapper and genuinely enthused for life and law, chatting away within their individual law school cliques. How did they all look like so self-assured?
When my 1L year of law school began that Autumn, I was more stuck on the loss of my college buddies than I was intent on making any new friends; consequently I had managed to become somewhat of a lone wolf in my law school environment. This made the pre-lecture minutes of socializing and gossiping an anxious block of time for me. I resented them in their North Face coats, Ugg boots, immaculately groomed hairstyles, freshly-pressed sport coats, and striped ties, even if I couldn't pinpoint why I resented them. The exuberant chatter, the eagerness to discuss caselaw as the professor strode arrogantly down the aisle, the perfectly-crafted notes spilling out of briefcases - it all seemed to me some unjust conspiracy in my own misery.
Compounding the usual anxiety was the fact that, in my drunken haste to book a ticket home for Joel's funeral, I hadn't bothered to notify my professor's of my circumstances. It simply didn't register as important at the time, but it now triggered the fear of being cold-called during lecture and the corresponding embarrassment of revealing a lack of preparation to a lecture hall full of ever-prepared personalities. My usual routine consisted of riding out the inevitable hangover of Sunday and Monday and then cramming a week's worth of class preparation into a one hour time slot prior to class. In between the binge, the withdrawal, and the grieving, though, I hadn't bothered this time around. Instead I said a silent prayer asking that the professor call on any other unsuspecting victim, and, although this too was a customary part of the usual routine, I prayed with the religious fervor of an inner-city preacher this time time around.
It had been two days since my last drop of alcohol. And while leftover anxiety from the withdrawal still lingered, I thought I had cleared the physical hurdle of digestive torment and the slightly trembling hands. That is, until the nausea collapsed on me in a hot flash.
In my perpetual battle against the symptoms wrought by the come-down stages of weekend binges, I had swallowed a multivitamin prior to departing for class, thinking - inexplicably - that one daily dose of vitamins might compensate wholly for another weekend's worth of bodily abuse. From previous experience I instantly recognized the nausea as my body's rejection of the foreign vitamins to my system. I had scarcely touched any food in the past couple days, and it was not uncommon for vitamins to come back up on an empty stomach. I barely made it to the men's room before I started dry-heaving rancid-tasting particles of vitamins into a toilet.
Literally brought to my knees, I crouched over that toilet bowl feeling rotten with guilt. I thought I could feel the presence of my cousin's ghost in that stall with me at that moment, whispering solemnly but with that reassuring smile: You can hide it from the others, but you can't hide it from me anymore, pal. You need some help. I wanted to apologize to Joel right then, for letting him down at his funeral, for being unable to live the life he could have lived if he was still here. I wanted to tell him about how, when I first heard the news, I broke down in tears and listened to "No More Buffalo" on repeat. I wanted to confide to him how much those summers on Burt Lake truly meant to me. I wanted to explain to him how I wished we had stayed closer over the years, too. I glanced up from the toilet, as if to look over my shoulder for him. But I was painfully and utterly alone. And therein lay the problem.
The plight of an addict is an alleyway lined with gothic gargoyle statues, jagged black tree branches overflowing with barking crows, rusty metal fence posts, and prophesying black cats lurking behind trash cans. That road is lined with moments, too, not unlike the one in which I found myself thrust upon inside that bathroom stall. It is a moment of bitter truth that forces you to come face to face with your demons, demons which appear with maniacal eyes like haunted visages of your latest bender to remind you just how far off the rails things have come, with no hope of ever turning back.
Clutching the side of that cold porcelain toilet in the men's room of my law school complex mere moments prior to class, my eyes watering desperately, and staring into a toilet bowl stewing with recently-projectiled bile and undigested vitamin fragments - that was one of those moments: a moment of brief clarity when there was no denying the face staring back at me from bowels of that toilet bowl. I was an addict. And I would face down my demons. I had to face down those demons. And in that moment I knew, instinctively, that Joel was in that stall with me. And I knew, too, that Joel would be there beside me as I faced such demons.
From a disconnected or retrospective vantage point, it is easy to see the insanity of such cyclical thinking. But on the road of addiction it is nigh impossible to see the trees for the forest. The landscape of an addict's mind can change in an instant.
As I exited the law school building into the snow-packed terrain of The Loop, the epicenter of Chicago's business district, a weight appeared to have been lifted from the cityscape. Over the course of my Conracts Law lecture, the five o'clock rush hour had come and gone unnoticed. The city's business men and women had all retreated to the comfort of their townhouses on the North Side or their condominiums in the suburbs, leaving a barren landscape in the dark of the city night that looked less burdened, free even. It was in that post-supper dusk period that Chicago's streets opened up, paving the way for the underbelly of Chicago's alter-identity - it's nightlife. The possibilities waiting down each and every empty avenue seemed endless.
Traveling on foot, I bypassed the subway entrance leading a flight of stairs underground, as I often did when the weather relented, foregoing the squalid, cramped atmosphere of mass transit for the cleansing solitude provided by the mile-long walk back to my apartment in Greektown. In stark contrast to the hustle and bustle I had encountered only hours earlier, Chicago's streets now resembled an urban wasteland, void of life in the dead of an arctic Winter. Momentarily the scene brought me back to the Millwood woods of my youth, where we used to drag our toboggans across trails hidden beneath heavy snow, our adolescent bodies laboring under a canvas of treetops drooping with icicles after a recent snowstorm.
Chicago stared back at me from its shops and alleys alongside the Jackson street sidewalk: some Italian immigrant looked up from a pizzeria window as he sprinkled red pepper flakes over the grease topping a freshly baked pizza pie; two vagrants in tattered clothing huddled over a trashcan fire in an alley, one of them swigging from a plastic bottle enclosed in a brown paper bag and then handing it off to his partner. Friends and Seinfeld and Law and Order episodes glowed blue from television sets high up in apartment lofts, the distance that prevented any diagnosis of which shows played from which windows being of inconsequential significance. If this was the American dream, it certainly looked lonely.
Onward I walked over the bridge that rose above the Chicago River. Just beyond the river, the golden clock tower of my apartment building rose into sight from the West, shining like a Draculean full moon guiding me home. I paused along the bridge to look down into the river. The Chicago River dissected the cityscape like a fault line ruptured from an earthquake, but frozen over it looked tame and impotent. Underneath the bridge, miniature cyclones of dusted snow spun aimlessly atop the frozen river surface. The icy waters stood still, as directionless as my life felt in the eerie calm of that winter night.
I couldn't make sense of it all. Only a year ago, everything seemed to make sense. In Ann Arbor back then, my girlfriend, my best friends, and my school were all within a fifteen minute walking distance of my college house, that cozy place on State Street that never failed to feel like home on a cold winter's evening during my senior year. Now, a hundred miles from anything that I had ever cared about, I couldn't seem to relocate that feeling of home in Chicago.
I hastened my pace, knowing that serenity awaited me at the corner liquor store outside my apartment building. I walked onward to the West, bought a bottle of gin, and went searching for that feeling of home in the bottom of a bottle.
Joel and I would face down those demons, but it would be another day. The road I was traveling may have been treacherous, with a number of twists and bends up ahead, but it would be many exits before I would reach any sort of impasse. Until I got there, I like to think that Joel was watching over me all the while, keeping an eye on every mile marker along the way.
Monday, June 23, 2014
Thursday, June 19, 2014
"The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses Over the Hills"
- Charles Bukowski
Where were you that summer of 2010? I was a 22 year old college graduate, a boy on the precipice of a man's world, though I didn't know it then. As the sporting world's eyes turn to Brazil - an enchanting land that seems at once both ancient and modern - on the eve of another World Cup, it's with wonder that I realize it really has been four years since that last one. I guess sometimes you get so caught up in the feeling that nothing ever happens in those monotonous days, weeks, and months, that the years begin to stack up like old beer cans quicker than you'd ever realized.
I remember the last one quite well. The soccer took place in South Africa, yet it was the World Cup of Petoskey for me. My college buddy Doug and I's paths crossed in Petoskey that summer, and its with him that I best remember the 2010 World Cup. While Doug and I found ourselves similarly situated not only geographically but also in life trajectory that summer, we had taken very different paths to get there.
Doug could have risen straight from the pages of The Nick Adam's Stories. Like Hemingway's autobiographical protagonist, Doug was the son of a Petoskey doctor and was raised with all the benefits of a life in the upper crust of Up North society, namely its sporting culture and its illustrious bodies of water. Where Nick Adams had the privacy of Walloon Lake, Doug was raised in a pillared Victorian home that literally looked down upon Little Traverse Bay - the enormity of Lake Michigan seeming visually an extension of his immaculately manicured back yard. From Petoskey's harbors he left home for the University of Michigan, where our paths first crossed, and where he fittingly rushed the same conservatively-attired fraternity that President Ford rushed during his own time in Ann Arbor.
At Michigan we shared the irrevocable bond of those late nights in fraternity basements fueled by Adderall and Jim Beam, jamming out to Widespread Panic and discussing campus lore long after the other party-goers had fizzled out. Now, both freshly-minted college graduates overflowing with the sort of false self-confidence produced by modern collegiate lifestyles and fraternity culture, we had both converged on Petoskey for the summer with no intentions of seriously facing the real world or leaving the party behind. He had returned that summer to idle leisurely at his parents' country club and invite the fraternity brothers up for weekends of revelry. I had moved up there with my college sweetheart into her parents' empty cabin of a home in the woods in some half-hearted plan to take the next step in life and spent most of my days reading Hemingway and taking strolls to Walloon Lake, thinking I might come across Nick Adams' ghost in the woods or that I might find Hemingway's muse. And while Doug and I's summers were very different in that way, we shared an aimlessness in our wanderings in that neither of us seemed to really know what we were doing. At any rate, our directionless paths seemed to converge for a week or two as a result of that summer's World Cup.
A soccer-enthusiast, Doug invited me into town to watch the World Cup at his house, and, with no other pressing obligations to fill my days, I naturally made my way out of the woods down the gravel roads towards the bluffs of Little Traverse Bay where Doug's house was nestled, despite my heretofore lack of interest in the sport whatsoever. We sat around in luxurious leather sofas eating cheese slices and drinking cheap beer on weekday afternoons. In between games we soaked up the Northern rays by the poolside, grilling burgers, sipping margaritas, throwing back beers, acting not unlike the way we did on our State Street front lawns the previous years in Ann Arbor. We were kings, it seemed, feeling atop Jay Gatsby's metaphorical mountain for a moment.
Four years later, those idyllic Petoskey days seem but a dream to me now. In the four years since, life has happened. If Petoskey that summer was my glimpse of the King's side of life, the four years since have been a crash course in the peasant's side of it all, chalk full of failures and loss and struggle. I can count the number of times I've seen Doug in the four years since the last World Cup on one hand, and that is a testament to how oblivious we were to the changes awaiting us like a brick wall around the next bend in life; I didn't even think to say goodbye to Doug that summer. The last I heard he was enrolled in golf school in some sun-kissed Florida town, and somehow I know that he too saw his fair share of bumps in the road in the years since.
Yet as the 2014 World Cup commences, it seems those days, too - the most difficult ones- have passed. I've gained a lot in the four years since the Petoskey summer: a law degree, sobriety, the wisdom of the road of excess. I've lost things, too: a cousin, my innocence, first love, grand plans laid out for life. When I think about the 2010 World Cup I don't just think about the matches played by the United States or about the Spaniards' dominance. I think about college friends and time's inexorable march and the people and places that get tossed aside in its wake. Time moves so fast, I've learned, that the years slip away, like falling leaves.
I think about what I didn't know then. How I failed to grasp that the mirage of Jay Gatsby's world was only a mask to his only real ambition in life: love. About how I took it for granted then. And how it feels to find it again. And it's crazy to think how cyclical the world is: the sun always falling back to the horizon at the end of the day, the crescent moon always filling out into its full golden self, the ocean breakers ever being sucked back into the surf, children always moving out of the neighborhood eventually, the leaves falling in Autumn, finding yourself back into the place you are supposed to be four years later. And for all the nooks and crannies I've found myself lost in during the past four years, wisdom teaches me that it's better the second time around.