Thursday, June 19, 2014

A Moon Cycle of World Cups

"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.

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