Princes and Castles

First, I have to start with a pre-warning of sentiment and understanding. I never use accurate names because anonymity is very important to me. To keep true to this principle of mine, I point out that everything is true. However, tiny details have been changed to honor someone’s privacy. Plus, if you read this, I’d like you to create your own picture and adapt the descriptions to our own imagination.
Be advised, there is no need to feel “Bad” or “Sorry,” or think anything else other than remember the delirious memories of young life when everything was wild and crazy.

Imagine yourself as unstoppable. Nothing else matters. Somehow, you and your life is insulated by a group of friends, or even so-called friends, and whether right or wrong, there were nights out when everything was electrified. The lights were bright and the music was good.
I understand there are some that might not get this, which is fine. There are those that do not understand, which is also fine too. This only means I’m not the writer for them. Or, adversely, they are not the reader for me.
Either way, we are all just a tiny microcosm in a big world with our own stories and our own tastes.

Before going on, I’d like to invite you to think about the idea of friends getting together. Think about the energy that exists. Think about the sound of people talking and laughing at a pub on the waterfront.
Picture happy bartenders, of course, all them are good looking, cool, and charismatic. Think about the bodies at the bar, chest-up, and leaning over to grab the bartender’s attention. Think about the ambiance and the mood.

I’d like to invite you to imagine a night out with the crew when things are about to go south or crazy.
Picture a bar out on the canal. The place is crowded and the summer was finally underway. The music is playing from a jukebox and piped through the speakers for everyone to hear. Think about about a mix of good-time music that is different from the norm on the radio.

I’d like to invite you to think about the courtship of young life on the verge of real life, and as you gain a picture in your mind, I’d like you to imagine yourself here with me. I invite you to do this so that I can invite you in. I think this entry might work better this way —

No one had seen Chris for at least five years. Then again, it could have been more. Who knows? Time is always relative, depending on the circumstances. Perhaps this is why people say that youth is always wasted on the young.
It wasn’t me that saw Chris first. No, it was the other way around which was surprising for me. I mean, what is there to say to someone when they go away for that long? How do you react when they reappear out of nowhere? Meanwhile, you know exactly where they’ve been.

Chris was always wild. He was tough but he was a good friend to the people he liked. He showed up at Paddy’s on the water one night. It was strange. We were all still young and the same age except that somehow, Chris seemed older. He seemed as if his time away had changed him, which it clearly did. He was even bigger than I remembered. He had a detached look in his eyes, as if the warmest thing about his charisma was altered in a dangerous way.

Chris was the first person I knew that went to prison for a long time. I did not ask “What happened,” or the typical, “How’ve you been,” questions.

“It’s good to see you.”
“It’s good to see you too,” said Chris.
“You look good,” he told me.

Last time Chris saw me was before I was taken away. My time away was certainly different from his. I took a program instead of the penitentiary. And I took this with no regrets.
I went through kindergarten compared to Chris. I suppose the last time Chris saw me was when I was pale as ever, scrawny, and sick from a terrible habit, which I was trying to perfect to the best of my ability.

It was strange to see people when I came back home. It was as though I had been placed on a shelf and the entire world went on without me. So much had happened when I was gone.
People grew. Some of the kids from the neighborhood went away to college. Some went on to create their own business.
Some of my immediate friends followed the path and some went to jail. Some found a needle in their arm. Some reached out to the cocaine gods and swore they’d never be caught on the dangle or addicted. Some went away and some never made it out alive. 

I always wondered what this was like for other people. I certainly wondered what this was like for Chris; to come home after years away, to feel differently from everyone else that was home and free to live their life the way it was.

Chris was a different friend. He was not from the neighborhood. I knew Chris from a few towns over. At first, the introduction was awkward.
We did the basic “Bro” hug and slapped one another on the back, after which, there was a pause as we looked at each other. Same as he looked different to me, I suppose I was almost unrecognizable to him. 
Then again, clean time does this to people. I healed some and gained some weight some. Plus, my hair was short now. I dressed fashionably instead of like someone out of a heavy metal magazine. 

There was a brief interjection of awkwardness. This is why I never ask someone what they did, where they’ve been, or what they were arrested for. I never question people this way because there is no reason to. In this case, there was no reason to point out the obvious.

I knew Chris was away for a long time. I knew that what happened was terrible and that the action of violence alone is enough to change the perspective of how people would see Chris. But not me.

Girls loved him. Guys wanted to be around him. And if there was a fight, Chris was the person you wanted to have on your side. There were so many stories about him, which in confidence, Chris once told me that half of them were all glorified and the other half weren’t even true.

“I just used them to feed my ego,” said Chris.

Paddy’s was a bar on the water. Although I would go out to places like this, I was still cleaned up and sober. I was always the designated driver. Sometimes, I was the babysitter. Sometimes, I was a good friend that listened to my buddies spew their drunk ideas about their life and what went wrong.

Chris asked if I was still on the wagon, which I was proud to say I was. He put his hand on my shoulder with pride and said, “Good.”
Then he nodded his head with a curled lip of proud acceptance. He did this the way a friend would nod when they heard good news for someone they liked.
We didn’t talk long. I wish we did though. We never said anything deep or anything so impactful. The interaction was brief but good. It was good to see my friend. Besides, the way things go sometimes, you don’t always know when you’ll see someone again. 

There was a fight later on that night. I wasn’t near the fight, but I saw the scuffle of bodies.
The fight started at the other side of the bar near the doorway to go inside. Of course, I wondered if this was Chris, which it could have been. It certainly might have been because the description fit.
“That guy was huge,” I heard someone say.
My friend Chris was a pretty big guy . . .

There is this feeling when everyone is out. There is this weird thing, which I had always thought about and wondered if anyone else had this same visceral feeling.
We were all acting like princes. We all claimed our own little kingdoms. And the girls we knew, they were part of our kingdom.
They were the girls from the neighborhood. And God, they were beautiful.
I’m not sure if I noticed this back then. As a matter of fact, I’m not even sure what I noticed back then. I suppose I was just trying to pull off my look and be “The Prince,” I was pretending to be. 

There was something about the night and the way it progressed. There was definitely something about the music. There was something about the songs that came on around the same time, each night, and the crowds of us would sing along.
Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline, is one of the songs that come to mind. Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison is another. Then there was the song, In The Summertime, by Mungo Jerry. And then there was Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back In Town. That was a good one too.

I swear, the music and the atmosphere has a way of making people feel untouchable, as if the good times could last forever.
I suppose this might be why people think they’ll never grow old. Then of course this is what young people think.
Young people think they will always stay young. Nothing can stop them. No one can hurt them and nothing really bad happens.

Chris thought this way too. He went back to prison not that long afterwards. He was never the same after his first tour. He had a different life from most people. It is strange to say that someone capable of violent things is a warm, caring person. But I have to say it. Chris was a warm, caring person. He was a good friend to me.

I saw him once more out at a club. He was around a bunch of people that cheered him on. They were laughing about the good old, “Chris” stories.

Chris saw me and there was a strange moment. He looked at me as if Chris knew what he was doing to himself. They were not real friends and Chris knew this.
One of them mocked me and asked, “Who the hell is this guy?”
Chris looked at him with a cold stare and answered, “He’s my friend.”
This was the last time I ever had the chance to hug my friend.

I heard the song Tuesday’s Gone by Lynyrd Skynyrd yesterday. I was outside, enjoying a moment in my quiet life.
I am an adult now. I pay taxes. I own a home and I mow my own lawn with a ride-on lawnmower.
Tuesday’s Gone is a song that always reminds me of a few things. First, the song reminds me of a morning after a long mescaline trip. The wild hallucinations began to let go and I started to walk home at around sunrise. Secondly, the song reminds me of the feeling I’d have at the end of the nights out with the boys. I swear we were princes. We were untouchable.

At least, we thought so.

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