Going back to old dirt, old memories

Mortifyingly satisfying.

Those were the words that came to mind as I drove through my old stamping grounds, places I hadn’t frequented in nearly 20 years, while listening to Lithium, the ’90s alternative and grunge station on Sirius XM.

Mortifyingly satisfying to hear Alanis Morissette belting out “Ironic” as I drove past the playground where I professed to my friends sophomore year that I was, like, totally self-actualized. Mortifyingly satisfying to hear Blink-182’s “What’s My Age Again?” as I passed the store I camped out in front of to buy concert tickets. (I may have gotten drunk, fallen into a picnic table, knocked over the umbrella and broken the store’s window one time.)

Music is a time capsule, but so is location. I haven’t lived in the town, state or even general geographical region I grew up in since I was 18. The place has changed. It’s almost unrecognizable. But underneath the new buildings and parking lots is the dirt I stood on for first kisses, “truth or dare,” secret sharing and even shameful secrets — for example, how I wanted to marry the identical twins in the band Good Charlotte. First I’d marry Benji. Then I’d divorce him for Joel when I was ready to settle down. My friend Lena would do the same in the reverse order. It would be the perfect husband swap between best friends — a TLC reality show just waiting to be shot.

I’m back on this dirt for Lena’s wedding. The guy is not an identical twin or a pop musician, but he has other good qualities to make up for it.

The gang is all here. As I’m writing this, in a few hours, we will put on light pink dresses, pull our hair up in curls and walk down an aisle of rose petals, just as we have been doing for one another for over a decade. I have just finished writing a few notes down for my speech. Not that I’ve been asked to give a speech, but putting one another on the spot is a wedding tradition. Emily told us the day she got married that we were all supposed to walk up and give a speech. My rehearsal dinner had an open mic and a lot of expectation. Jen unexpectedly handed me lines to read during her ceremony as she walked down the aisle. Lena doesn’t currently have speeches planned, which we assume means we are all meant to give them.

Over the years, I’ve become pretty good at these impromptu wedding toasts. There is certainly no lack of stories. Lena was with me when we ran away from cops after accidentally breaking the store window. Lena was the one I professed my self-actualized self to.

Perhaps my favorite Lena story is about the day we were driving to a festival to watch Good Charlotte play. Her car was an old Plymouth with cow seat covers and fuzzy purple dice hanging from the rearview mirror, and she was pulled over twice for speeding. Both times, she flipped her hair and smiled sweetly, and each officer let her go with a warning. “Be safe out there, little lady.” She giggled and said thanks and then peeled out on the shoulder and went back onto the highway like someone giving the finger to a sucker who has been taken in by her beauty. Later that very same day, pulling out of the parking lot, Lena hit an undercover cop car. The officer turned on his lights, got out of his parked car and investigated the damage — a dented bumper. Lena smiled and apologized profusely. “Be more careful, little lady.” He let her go with a warning.

Today Lena becomes the stepmom to three teenage girls. I probably shouldn’t tell that story to them.

The longer it’s been since we stood on the same dirt together the less these stories reflect the person before me rather than the footprints of the person who once was.

On the way to the venue, I will pass the thrift store where Lena and I shopped. The store played early-’90s music, such as Ace of Base, which made us nostalgic for our tween selves. In that thrift shop, Lena bought a circus headmaster costume and wore it every day for the next few months. You should dress for the job you want, she would say.

Today she wears a wedding dress. I am going to request that the DJ play Good Charlotte, if he can find any.

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Katiedid Langrock is a nationally syndicated columnist.