Chapter 19: I Miss My Friends When They Are Gone…

“There’s something in a Sunday that makes a body feel alone.”

-Johnny Cash

There’s some truth behind Johnny’s words, evident by the somber mood looming in the Benz. Not much was said during the car ride to the Milwaukee Airport. Was it because the whole night before was spent dancing and sweating out half our body weight, thus lacking any extra energy to move our mouths? That was a good possibility. Could it be that there was still a little disdain felt amongst us, having dealt with a pair of sardonic siblings that stayed up too late raising hell? The probability was high—quite high in fact. Or maybe—not likely, but just maybe, the morbid feelings were simply based off sadness? After all, we were only a few minutes from having to say goodbye.

To be honest, I’ve never been that good at goodbyes. I never say anything until the end, and then it’s like I can’t shut up, blabbering on for 15 extra minutes sometimes, a deficiency in my personality that has annoyed the hell out of my friend Austin Moody for decades, going as far as to coin the term “World’s Longest Goodbye.” And judging by Bill and Gretch’s lack of dialogue, they weren’t very good at goodbyes either.

“So you’re going to see the farm girl tonight?” asked Bill, finally breaking the long period of silence.

“Yea, I think I will.”

“…That’s cool,” he replied, shaking his head while perusing the cityscape, followed by another minute of awkward silence. Although I never saw Bill as a liar, I wasn’t quite convinced that he thought me seeing the farm girl was “cool.”

“Oh man, they have a Cheesecake Factory here too! I wish we could’ve gone there,” I said as we passed the restaurant, an appendage of an upscale shopping center. There was no response, which is typical whenever I favorably mention the Cheesecake Factory in front of anybody for some reason. I don’t know why? They have a great selection of cheesecake, and I really do like their fried macaroni and cheese balls. “…So, how long are you going to be in Montana for?”

“I don’t know. A couple of days maybe. Possibly a week?”

“That sounds fun.” Honestly, there wasn’t really anything said that alluded to “fun,” but the reactionary phrase came out anyway. “What is there to do over there?”

“You know, just hang out and stuff. Go to the bar. Drink beer maybe; go to the river…”

“Oh, right on.” I nodded my head and did a little perusing myself, giving up on the whole talking thing altogether. It would be at least five more painful minutes that were scarcely filled with random comments about the weather, scenery, news, Seattle Seahawks, and a myriad of other topics that nobody cared about until we would reach the airport.

I pulled up to the curbside drop off area and immediately began unloading the luggage from the trunk, as if it were part of an important mission. Bill and I stood a body apart facing each other after all of the luggage had been placed along the side of the curb. “Well, I guess this is it,” I said. “For the most part, it’s been a pleasure.” I stuck out my hand and he extended his, initiating a shake.

“Glad I could be a part of it,” he said as our handshake seamlessly turned into a bro hug.

“Have a safe trip, and take care of yourself.” Gretch stood few steps back form him and to the side. “Gretch, look after him for me.” Gretch sent me a nod, assuring me that she would.

It was the stupidest thing. Right after I said goodbye to Gretch, I got this weird feeling, like somebody had punched me in the throat, making it swell up and all. There was this bump, or lump, or something. It’s not like it hurt, but it kind of made me sad, then kind of made me mad. And to be honest, it kind of pissed me off a little bit! “What’s going on? Why did that happen?”

They waved a final time before turning and walking through the sliding glass doors of the Milwaukee International Airport, disappearing into the wonderment of airline infrastructure, becoming one with the thousands of others taking part in public commerce, each with a story and destination of their own. “I guess this is it, just me, a Benz, and 2000 lonely miles. No more Gretch… no more Bill…” I stood at the edge of the curb, staring through the hectic congregation of travelers, jammed into one solid image of moving, human flesh, an image that Bill and Gretch easily became lost in, one that I feared would consume me in time. “Whatever, I got an organic farm to go to.” I slid back into the car, slammed the door shut, and stepped on the gas without saying another word to anybody.

“Let’s see, Maggie gave me Kassie’s number.” I rummaged through my phone, ignoring the dangers of performing such a maneuver while driving. “Voicemail?” I swiped my finger across the screen and let the message play through the speakers of my car.

“Hey Zack, it’s Cousin Brian. Sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner, I just got back from the lake for the 4th. Anyway, me and Cousin Erin are at the house hanging out. Give me a call back if you need a place to stay. We would love to see you.”

“Oh man, Cousin Brian and Cousin Erin, I remember telling them I’d be in town. I haven’t seen those guys in over a year! But I already had made plans… I’m going to the organic farm, and it’d be unorthodox of me to go back on that. I mean, I confirmed it in my head and everything! But then again, they’re family. What kind of cousin would I be if I didn’t go and see them? The more I think about it though, Cousin Brian and Cousin Erin have always been reasonable people for the most part. They’d understand my dilemma. They have to! It was all thrust upon me out of nowhere! Besides, it’s always been my dream to live on a farm—well, not a “dream” dream, but you know, it’d be fun to hang out on the farm and stuff, especially with a farm babe at the end of the night, watching the sunset on the swing over the cornstalks, thinking about life and the universe… And besides, there’s something about farm babes that I kind of dig. And one day at a farm—heck, that wouldn’t be half bad. They probably have a bunch of good food there too, since they grow it there and all, even if it is just vegetables and stuff. I mean, vegetables aren’t my favorite thing in the world, but I’m sure they’d be all right if I gave them the chance. All of those yuppies at Whole Foods seem to be fond of them. Then again, so do the hippies—oh geez, I bet ya there’ll be tons of hippies there… exactly like Whole Foods. That means no Rockstars for a day—whoa, I haven’t done that in, gosh, I don’t know how long… And man, what would Cousin Brian and Cousin Erin think about that, ditching them for a farm babe and a couple of hippies who don’t like Rockstars? Now that I think about it, I might be a little heartbroken if I was in their shoes. And the disappointment in Bill’s face… I don’t know if I could bear it—wait a minute, why do I even care about that guy? He ditched me for Montana! And if he was around, I’d have to deal with all the crap I’d get from Gretch, and… and—“

Then it hit me, a wave of sense smacking me like a 2×4 to the face. “Ah, who am I kiddin’? I don’t even like organic food! Never have, and probably never will! That stuff’s for freakin’ sissies! Not me though. I like my Slim Jim beef jerky, easy cheese straight from the can, Applebee’s 2 for 20 menu, my daily Rockstar Energy Drink, whether it’s the original 280 calorie—56 grams of sugar kind with a bunch of chemicals or the white cans with all the aspartame. I live off that stuff! I haven’t gone without one in almost five years, and I wouldn’t change a single thing about it! I’m half man, half preservative! What can I say? I love my genetically modified foods! I’m not even ashamed to admit it! Always have, and always will…”

“Kassie, you’re the best farm girl I know, and you’ll always have a special place in my heart, but the organic life’s just not for me… Not to go all Bill O’Reilly on everybody, but I just can’t go against my principles—not this time. I sincerely hope that you find it in your heart to forgive me someday…”

I picked up the phone and clicked on the last missed call entry on my phone. “Cousin Brian, it’s Cousin Zack. I’m coming to Wasau. Let’s party!”

***

I walked into Cousin Brian’s house after a grueling three-hour drive from Milwaukee that required a nap at a rest stop, arriving right at the tail end of the US Women’s soccer team’s thrashing of Japan in the World Cup. I mean, I’m not a huge soccer guy, but I love America, and man (or woman in this case) did Japan get womped! Like 5 to 2 or something. Even I know that’s a ridiculous score for soccer! Good moods were flying all around.

“What’s up Cousin Zack?” said both Cousin Brian and Cousin Erin at different intervals. I proceeded forward and delivered a set of hugs before jumping into some customary small talk. “Have you had any dinner? We have a bunch of leftover burgers and brats we need to get rid of from the 4th.”

“Well… uh, what the hey, why not? Let’s have a couple burgers and brats!” My response was a bit hesitant, for it was almost my 3rd dinner in a row that consisted of burgers and brats since my arrival to the motherland, but hey, I’m not going to complain about food that’s offered to me, especially if it’s free! So each of us loaded up a plate with a pile of burgers and brats along with some of the fixin’s on the side and treated ourselves to another good ol’ fashioned Wisconsin feast.

“You should try some of these beers I have. Most of them are brewed locally in Wisconsin!” I grabbed one that said “IPA” on it, opened it with my keychain and took a swig, issuing a nod to show my approval.

“Man, I love how everybody’s getting into microbrews these days. They’re popping up all over the place! People are actually starting to appreciate the taste of good beer now!”

“Really Zack?” butted in Cousin Erin. “After the whole MGD incident?” Of course she had to bring up the time where everybody got mad at me cause I bought “Miller Genuine Draft,” acting as if I had performed a sacrilegious act. One time. I guess it wouldn’t be a Wisconsin trip without its honorary mention.

“That was like 2 years ago!” It didn’t matter, for they still found it necessary (and will for the rest of time) to pummel me with insults for the next few minutes. “But seriously, enough about the MGD talk, you guys should come back out to the Northwest sometime. They’ve got a bunch of great breweries all around. You’d love it!”

“Yea, I’d really like to,” said Cousin Brian. “Actually, the last time I was out there was I think for your Eagle Scout Ceremony, right when I turned 21. I remember hanging out in the hot tub and drinking a beer with your dad. That was pretty rad!”

“Didn’t we go out there when we were younger too?” asked Erin.

“We did!” replied Brian. “I got to ride my bike to another state! It was awesome!” What Brian always forgot to mention whenever he retold the tale (of which he has numerous times throughout his life) is that our house was only a 5-minute drive from another state.

“Yea, you also farted in my face in front of everybody, for no reason!” I had to rudely remind him of the incident. “All I was doing was sitting in the family room playing with Legos, and you came up to me and ripped a huge one!” They all laughed, for it was in fact a pretty silly memory before moving on to more contemporary topics of how I can perfectly push grandma’s buttons, recounting a couple of my more recent successes. Soon after, the sun began its slide beneath the Earth’s horizon, marking my last day spent in Wisconsin. We cleaned up the patio table and moved inside in order to prevent a swarm of mosquitoes from feasting on our flesh. “C’mon in Cousin Zack. You can make us a couple of Old Fashioneds.”

“It would be an honor.”

***

 

Cousin Brian’s liquor table was well equipped: Jim Beam Kentucky Bourbon, Jero Old Fashioned Mix, Angostura Aromatic Bitters, Maraschino Cherries, 7-Up, and olives, an extra ingredient that Cousin Brian liked to add to his old fashioneds; his own unique, personal twist that he swore by. I conjured up two cocktails, heavy on the Jim Beam, and handed one to Cousin Brian (Cousin Erin opted out of having one, being that she had to go home soon). He took a sip and nodded his head in approval. “Not bad… not bad at all.” I sat down in relief, taking a sip of mine as well. I too was satisfied with my creation. “So tell me about your trip so far.”

I told of the tales from Idaho, our journey into the Gran Tetons, and the best and worst of what Wyoming had to offer. They got a little (but no too much) insight on the whole Denver escapade (or debacle, depending on whose opinion you receive) and our travels through flyover country. And of course he was briefed on my 30th birthday experience with honorable mentions of the boundary babes. As I began talking about Wisconsin though, something else suddenly interrupted my train of thought. “So tell me. What exactly is a Supper Club?”

“Oh man, we used to go to Supper Clubs all the time back in the day! There was one we’d go to in Appleton on Thursday’s that served this awesome prime rib. We’d get a couple drinks in us and stay for like 4 or 5 hours sometimes!” He went on about Supper Clubs for a while, seemingly forgetting the true nature of the question. Reminding him of its original intent however seemed inappropriate at the time, thus prolonging the mystery of the Supper Club. “They have a couple of good ones in Neenah by Lake Winnebago. If we have time during the family reunion, maybe we can convince everybody to go to one in a couple of weeks.”

“Oh yea, the family reunion, I almost forgot!”

“Yea, I’m really looking forward to it. I’ll bring the Wave Runner out and we’ll have a good old time.”


Me and Cousin Brian SurlyCousin Brian and I with our Surly’s – Family Reunion, Lake Winnebago

“Oh man, I do like Waver Runners! It’s crazy that I’ll be in Wisconsin twice in one month. And of course I’ll have to make myself out here for a Packer game before the end of the year. It’s just too bad we couldn’t have it all at the cabin. I would’ve loved to hang out there one last time.”

“I know, I’m going to miss that place. We had a lot of good memories there. Luckily I got to go and visit a few more times before they sold it.”

“Man, the last time I was there, I think around two years ago, Nick made me do the belly flop off the dock in front of a bunch of people, like 50 total—some of which were babes. That sucked, big time!”

“Haha, I remember that, quite well,” added Erin.

“Remember the first time we all went there?” I asked. “It was right before grandma and grandpa’s wedding, and you and soon-to-be Cousin Hans took an old Champaign bottle and filled it with a bunch of soda and started drinking out of it while Cousin Hannah played the piano?”

“Oh geez… yea I remem—“

“And then you went upstairs where all of the parents were at and started stumbling around acting like you guys were all sloshed! That was hilarious!”

“…Yea, yea, I know… we were all pretty crazy back then.”

“And then Grandma got all mad, and mom and dad—“

“Yes, Cousin Zack, I do remember. I remember it all too well…”

“And what about the time you walked through th—“

“C’mon, who doesn’t remember that story?”

I beleaguered Cousin Brian with a few more embarrassing stories, sending his head into a constant shake from side to side. “Haha, well, I better get going,” said Cousin Erin. “Unfortunately, I have work tomorrow. Not really looking forward to going in.”

“Understandable. It was awesome seeing you,” I told her as I stood up and gave her a hug.

“Tell everyone I say hi. See you all in a couple weeks.”

“I’m looking forward to it.” I settled back onto the couch with my old fashioned in hand and took another swig, readying myself to resume our conversation. “Man, I thought you guys were the coolest kids back then. Why, I remember how you and Cousin Kevin each got paid 5 bucks to walk Grandma down the aisle at the wedding! I only got a dollar for being one of the flower boys!”

“And then Cousin Kimmy started dancing up a storm on the dance floor.”

“Dude, she was losing her mind, and she was only like 8 years old, same age as me! She danced so hard she fell on the floor! I was right next to her when it happened!”

“Haha, she was definitely one of the craziest of the cousins back then.”

“Well, I think we all kind of had our moments growing up… like when we were all at the cabin and you couldn’t stop talking about American Pie and how it was the best movie in the world!”

“That was a good movie for the time! When was that, 1999?”

“Yea, the year we drove out there all the way from Washington. That actually became one of my favorite family vacations of all time!”

“Ok, yea, I think I remember now. Cousin Holly and Cousin Kimmy came over with Cousin Kevin, and they were playing Limp Bizkit and stuff. And Cousin Kimmy had a really big potty mouth.”

“Oh my gosh, I know it! She couldn’t stop swearing! It was awful! Speaking of potty mouths and crazy people, Alicia’s coming to the reunion. You’ll finally meet her husband Derek.”

“Oh yea! Do you like him?”

“Well, he’s a little brash, and kind of funny looking. You know, a little deformed around the edges here and there, like a hunchback. But overall, he’s a good guy. So yea, I think you’ll like him.”

“Well good! I bet grandma and grandpa will be happy about that.”

“I know it! It’ll be good to have the family all here again. I love it whenever we have an excuse to come out to Wisconsin.”

“The only thing after that is to just move out here! By the way, when are you moving out here?” His question was delivered in a facetious tone, however I felt the hint of a serious undertone in its framing.

“Man, wouldn’t that be the dream. I got friends trying to get me to move all over the place! Boise Idaho, Minneapolis Minnesota, Nick and Cousin Holly are even trying to get to come out to Milwaukee. Just so many decisions you know!”

“Well, at least you know you’re wanted. I’m sure you can find something anywhere you go. My company has me flying all over the place, and I’ll actually be going to Austin in a couple of months. I’ll have to get together with Emily while I’m down there.”

“Nice, she’d like that! What are you gonna be doing down there?”

“Well, it’s a new region for our company, so we’re trying to expand our client base. You know, doing the usual sales pitch presentation, going out to dinner and schmoozing with the potential customers, giving them the whole spill, that kind of stuff.”

“Do you like it?”

“You know, they treat me pretty well. Every time I let them know I’m think about finding another job, they seem to give me a raise and more responsibility, so I guess it’s good. What about you?”

“Hey, it pays the bills, and I can’t lie, I do get to work on some pretty cool stuff. But man, working for the government can be a pain in the ass sometimes. You gotta deal with inspectors looking over your shoulder for the most minute of details, all the way to the tiniest squeeze of a turd pebble out of your butt crack. It’s drives me crazy! And when you make a mistake, it’s like you just committed a deadly sin! And trying to get everybody together at the right place and right time to get a job done, it’s like it takes an act of God just to get a job certified or something! And man, don’t get me started on signatures on paperwork and material ordering.”

“Well, you probably get good benefits at least.”

“Yea… can’t complain about that. A decent amount of leave each year, good 401k matching… they even send me on travel every once in a while. Like last month, I was in Alabama doing some Quality Assurance and auditing stuff for a sub-contractor of ours. The work wasn’t all that fun, but I liked the traveling part.”

“Well, I guess that’s why they call it work isn’t it?

“You have a point there. Damn, they way we’re talking, it’s like we’re already ready to retire.”

“I mean, we’re pretty much almost there.

“Ha, yea! 7 years down, only about 20… 20 to go…”

A cold chill shot through my veins, shooting thousands of little bumps all over my skin. Something struck me, a ton of bricks slamming down on my chest, leaving me completely breathless. My God, it happened… I’m… we’re… we’re adults now…

“You all right Cousin Zack?”

I thought it’d never get me, but it was the shock of time, the ultimate killer. It finally snuck up on me, the most deadly of physical dimensions, and perhaps the most unforgiving. It doesn’t wait up. It doesn’t stop. And one day, it gets you and rolls over you, leaving you stunned and wondering how to catch up… catch up to a time that is so far ahead, with no sign of slowing; a time that slays you, leaving you with nothing but thoughts… thoughts of purpose, meaning, and the people that make them up…

“Yea, I’m good… I uh… I think… I just… I miss my friends when they are gone…”

There was silence, except for the sips and ice rattles coming from our old fashioneds. Maybe a similar thought had gone through Brian’s head too. “You’ll be alright,” he finally said to me. Remember, you still have family. And that’s above and beyond the most important thing of all.”

“Yea… God, family, and the Green Bay Packers…”

Both of us stared outward and pondered the phrase made famous by Vince Lombardi for a minute. Cousin Brian looked at his watch. “Man, it’s passed 11 now. Better get to bed. Got a full day of work tomorrow.” He took a final swig of his old fashioned, finishing the rest of it off then popping the leftover olive in his mouth. “By the way, if you’re serious, we really should go to a Packer game this year. We have a hook up for tickets. Front Row, near the 50 yard line.”

“Yea, let’s do it. Maybe for Packers and Shi—sorry, Seahawks.”

“Heheh, sounds good Cousin Zack. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

“Yea, see you tomorrow. Thanks for everything Cousin Brian.”

“Anytime. We’re family.”

Green Bay Family

We in fact, made it to a Green Bay game.  Packers and Seahawks (PS, we won)

Me at Green Bay

And here’s an extra one of me, just because I look so freaking awesome!

I stayed up a while longer, finishing the last bits of my old fashioned. I took my time with the drink, time that was diminishing with every passing second, thrusting me back to a world I had escaped from what seemed like so long ago… It was time that I desperately needed, but could barely afford.

***

Having found the will to move again, I placed the old fashioned tumbler glasses in the sink and readied myself for bed, knowing it was wise to take advantage of a good nights sleep after such an eventful weekend. After brushing my teeth and slipping into my gym shorts, I slid into the makeshift bed that Brian had set up for me in the spare bedroom. Hoping to squeak a quick run in the next day if the weather permitted, I grabbed my phone to set an alarm for a decent time. “Wait, a missed text?” It was Bill.

“Hey, I was doing some thinking on the plane ride over. If you’re up for it, and/or if it’s on your way, you should meet us in Montana and hang out in Pony for a couple of days. I think you’re going to like it over here…” 

Pony Montana… Sounds like such a peaceful, wonderful place… I laid in bed, imagining a quaint little mountain town tucked away in the rugged landscapes of Montana. I wonder what it would be like, living in the Wild West? I bet they have a lot of cowboy types, being that it’s most likely a small rancher’s town. It probably hasn’t even changed in years either… like a place where time stands still… yea, I think I’d like that. I’d like that a lot… Pony Montana, maybe I still have time… I kept my eyes closed and thought of such a magical place filled with cowboys, friends and family. I thought, and then thought some more, until my mind joined the state of my tiresome body, sending me into a deep slumber.

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