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This must be the place: Someday soon, you’re gonna have families of your own

Brett at the Cresskill Tavern. (photo: Garret K. Woodward) Brett at the Cresskill Tavern. (photo: Garret K. Woodward)

Stepping into the Cresskill Tavern in Cresskill, New Jersey, last Wednesday evening, the place looked the exact same. It had been just about a decade since I last wandered in there. Electric blue painted walls. Pool table. Jukebox. L-shaped bar. Just enough room for you and your friends, but that’s about it.

My ole college buddy Brett (aka: a real deal cosmic soul brother) walked in with me. We’d just been dropped off by his mom, seeing as it was a pretty cold walk from his childhood home a few blocks away. The temperature has dropped considerably since I pulled up to the driveway an hour or so earlier. 

I hadn’t see Brett in over five years. The last time was New Year’s Eve at his long-gone apartment in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn. He was a few months into being a newly married man with his dear wife, Rachel. 

Brett was one of my best friends all through those hazy collegiate years in Connecticut, and it was a tradition (post-college) for many years in a row to end up in New York City for New Year’s Eve (NYE in NYC), which he called home during that time period where we all were just “trying to figure it all out, whatever that may be.”

Rachel was born and raised in Australia. She met Brett at a bar/hostel in Spain. She was on holiday with a girlfriend, and just so happened to be passing through Spain right as Brett was flying solo ‘round Europe. 

I remember when he left for that Europe trip, and I remember all of those hopelessly romantic expectations (of love, of purpose and of passion) he had for something, anything to happen — the fire of an eager young life ready to be sparked by something, someone.

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Not long after Brett returned to America, we were sitting at a New Jersey diner. He kept telling me about “this girl from Australia,” and how “she was so amazing, but I’ll probably never see her again.” He last saw her on a train platform in Madrid. They said goodbye and parted ways, with Brett watching her walk out of his life.

Well, it wasn’t long after that conversation where Rachel ended up getting a job in Manhattan, only to reconnect with Brett, seeing as he was really the only American she knew in this new city and unknown adventure unfolding before her. The friendship blossomed into romance, into an engagement, and into an unforgettable wedding in Upstate New York one late summer afternoon. 

Skip ahead to about five years ago, our last New Year’s Eve in that apartment. Brett and Rachel were married and had decided to move to Australia in the coming year. Our celebration that night was to mark the end of another year, of another chapter of our lives. But, it more about the impending changes that would affect us all, and hopefully all for the better. 

Skip ahead to last Wednesday. While Brett and I were catching up at the Cresskill Tavern, Rachel and their two young daughters were fast asleep back at Brett’s mom’s humble abode. It was surreal to pull into that driveway of that house I used to know so well, all those many moons ago. It was surreal to hug Brett, Rachel, Brett’s mom, and to finally meet the girls, each equipped with the sweetest, most innocent Australian accents. 

The last time he and I were there together at the Cresskill Tavern was probably to cure our New Year’s Eve hangover with pool and mixed drinks way back in 2011. This was before the girls. Before Australia. Before Rachel. Before everything took shape. And this was before I left Upstate New York for Western North Carolina, all of these trials and tribulations that ultimately led me back to this moment with a lifelong brother-in-arms.

The bar looked and felt the exact same, and yet we’ve grown so much in our respective lives. Sitting there, we traded tall tales and did a lot of reminiscing of the good ole days. But, what’s so amazing was to also ponder those good ole days yet to happen. Heck, where to from here, eh? For it is (truly) all wild and wondrous. For it’s all a dream we dream, don’tcha know?

Each rehashed mutual experience from college and beyond was another story from our separate paths amid the grand scheme of things. Blurry memories reconstructed about parties we held in our shitty three-story house senior year at college. Trying to remember names of faces and places forgotten for years. Late-night shenanigans, the utter glory and galore.

Each story felt like a million years ago, a life we both agreed we didn’t recognize or really identify with anymore these days. “Who was that guy?” we’d ponder about ourselves, shaking our heads, all while ordering around round of beers. We didn’t want the friendly banter to end. Hell, who knows the next time we’d be able to do this? Hopefully sooner than later — god willin’ and the creek don’t rise.

All bundled up in winter coats and about three sheets to the wind, we slowly walked back to his mom’s house. Laughter ensued over a few more stories told in a gregarious nature along the snowy sidewalks. Laughter about nothing and everything, and how beautiful it was to reconnect, to be together again, and to still be on the same page, even after all of this distance, whether by time or geographically.

To have a friend like Brett is to have someone who you haven’t seen in five years, but while in their presence, you sincerely feel like you saw and talked them just yesterday. And for that? I’m eternally grateful.

Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

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