Earlier this week a news report started spreading around with a bunch of my long time friends. A bank in Orlando had been robbed and the security camera photo looked a lot like someone we knew. Some people assumed right away it was our friend, others debated one aspect or another in hopes of convincing others (or maybe themselves) that this couldn’t be him. As that discussion went on people started telling stories of some stupid thing this guy had done at one point or another, or how they hadn’t seen him recently but when they had last he wasn’t doing so hot. And those stories were followed by stories of other friends, or friends of friends who had take a turn for the worse. Arrests, suicides, OD’s – yes those are plural . and that’s just in the last month. That might seem excessive, and it probably is, but you know all the jokes everyone makes about Florida? There’s more truth to them than anyone realizes.
I grew up in Florida. I wasn’t born there and my early childhood was spent bouncing around to a number of cities around the country, but my formative years – the ones I remember and the ones that I believe had a real lasting impact on me – those were in Florida. And let me tell you, shit is fucked up in Florida. Don’t get me wrong, it’s home in so many ways, and there will always be parts of it and people there that are truly special, and not just to me. I still have family there. I still have friends there. The rooftop of the rec center overlooking a baseball field where I first kissed a girl – really kissed a girl not just some peck on the cheek – it’s still there. The clubs where I saw the most important bands in my life, their names have changed but the buildings are still there. Apartments I lived in still stand. Streets I used to walk down everyday are still blanketed with moving shadows from the trees that line them. There’s magic there. But that doesn’t change the fact that shit is fucked up in Florida. And there’s a reason I don’t live there anymore. Hundreds of them to be honest.
I rarely visit, because inevitably when I do I cross paths in a very real way with my past. I see people I knew who are still doing the thing they did 20 years ago. I see people who had all the potential in the world, who obviously never did anything with it. I see places that sucked then, that have only gotten worse. You can feel it. And even among my friends, we joke about the people that moved away and the ones that stayed. Not that there’s anything wrong with staying, some of my favorite people in the world still live in Florida and I miss them but I can’t handle going there to see them. Some things are better left in the past, and I wish I could reach in and pull some of those people into the present.
Today we got the confirmation of what we’d hoped wasn’t true. The look alike in the photo was exactly who we thought it was. Arrested, in custody. And with that confirmation came some links, including online arrest records with mugshots of previous arrests, 10 of them in fact, dating back to ’95. DUI to possession of marijuana to possession of cocaine to robbery. I hadn’t seen or talked to him since around the time of the first arrest. I don’t remember it happening, maybe I never knew about it but he lived downstairs from me around that time and we often hung out and played records and talked music. We weren’t close friends as much as friendly neighbors who ran in similar circle of friends and had similar backgrounds. I distinctly remember him joking one time that while we had both grown up as part of the straight edge scene from Tampa, he’d started drinking and smoking pot and was now laid back and never in trouble where as I, still a die hard tea totaler was pretty tightly wound and had more than one run in with the police. And then, here we are all these years later.
I haven’t been able to really stop thinking about it all day, and it’s horrifying and depressing and disappointing and infuriating all wrapped up into one. But mostly, I’m just bummed because it’s a fucking waste.
And once again I’m face to face with the bullet that I somehow dodged.