The shenanigans start at a steakhouse mere hours after I’m off a plane from Vancouver and repacked and out the door to meet up with the gang before the Filet Mignon is ordered. The groom-to-be is already buzzed on Butter Ripple schnapps and adrenaline, and one by one the table fills up with well-wishers, groomsmen and antique faces from college years gone by.
Fully sated on slabs of meat and garlic mash, the party relocates to a nearby pub (myself and Ryan get lost along the way because he’s trusting me with directions and who the hell trusts me with directions?) where round after round of shots are ordered. Before long the Pre-Groom is smiling giddily and destroying us all at shuffleboard when a pair of ladies from the theatre school days materialize out of nowhere with a peal of joyous noise. By one in the morning the men are exhausted, drunk and ready to fall over but the Pre-Groom, ever the teddy-bear, remains chatting away about relationships and the perils and perks of Toronto living with the girls.
Retiring to the Best Man’s house on the edge of town, I’m awoken early the next morning by an unexpected lightsaber attack. Against all odds and at least a good half-dozen shots of alcohol, the Pre-Groom is as lively as ever, going full Darth-Vader. One hurried breakfast later and we’re zipping along dusty prairie highways towards Lac La Biche, where the Pre-Groom’s family home stands tall. We attack the stockpile of booze in the freshly-built shed, play board games and Cards Against Humanity until we’re too drunk or tired to focus, and collapse into hastily-assembled tents which will last another four or five hours before a poorly-planted tent peg gives way and sends half of the shelter folding in on itself.
I have to admit, that was probably my fault.
Day Three is paintball. Day Three is Pain and Suffering. The less said about that, the better.
After the battle, we retreat back to the family acreage where the Pre-Groom is tackled and shackled to a concrete ball and chain. As the realization sets in, we offer him keys to attempt to unburden himself, at a going standard rate of one key per drink. Ten keys later, he’s slightly shaky on his feet, and by key fifteen he’s down for the count but miraculously freed (the key to his freedom, of course, was never a key he could earn through a shot of schnapps. His brother, the twisted genius, had it kept safe in his back pocket until his brother was truly tapping out for the night.)
And then there are hangovers, hardy breakfasts, long treks back to civilization, a few days of home rest walking the dog and writing like mad, conversing with an agent intrigued with a TV pilot of mine, and then it’s shady bus depots and a Greyhound charging southward to Red Deer. Walking the hallowed halls of our old Arts Centre always refocuses the compass that’s been spinning like a top these past few months. The Muse picks me up a few hours later after I’ve connected with all my old professors, and after a long dinner on a windblown patio we’re off scaling down a cliff to take in a gorgeous view of the river and reminisce about hazy summers, Cree names (she was given one whilst sweating out her demons in a lodge) and the ephemeral possibility of maybe. And as the sun went down and the shadows of pine trees swallowed us whole, I felt a sense of contentment that had eluded me for half a year or more, drowned in the noise of a diabolical traffic circle I’d gotten lost in along the way.
And that brings us up to now, awake at nearly one in the morning, with the Pre-Groom sleeping soundly while I camp out in his living room. Tomorrow carries in the new paradigms and promises with a roar, soaked in rum and reeling joyously into the daylight. There is no returning to the youth, there is no regression to innocence, there is nothing more than a warm embrace and a fond farewell from the past that wants so desperately to follow along.
Here’s to the both of you, you brave and bolder souls. Exchange your vows, throw open the doors and give them hell.