This is part five in my ongoing Friday feature to regale the story of how I came to live here and why I decided to stay. If you've just joined us, I've posted four links to the previous four parts below if you'd like to catch up. I have been asked if this is a true story or if there've been any embellishments, and I'd like to make it very clear that every part of this story is in fact true with the exception of some of the names.
May 1994 Biven's Arm Park Gainesville, Florida
The cool night breeze whispered secrets through the pine trees as it traveled through the North Florida sky, and the full moon cast shadows over everything it's soft light caressed. The ever-present chorus of crickets and frogs set the ambiance of an almost solemn joy. The four young men made little sound as they walked down the same nature trail they had walked countless times before. The elevated wooden boardwalk had probably seen thousands of college students walking back and forth on its aging pine boards.
The four had come here on this full moon night not because they planned it, but because debating The merits of Greek versus Renaissance philosophers based on the likelihood that one or the other groups smoked more herb was growing heated and tiresome. The psilocybin mushrooms that they had ingested earlier were just about to swing into their full effect, and a cramped student apartment just was not the place to be at that time. None of them said a word as they slowly walked to the end of the boardwalk and onto an observation deck that looked out over the large swampy lake that was the park's namesake. The light from the full moon illuminated the surface of the water and the occasional pair of bright eyes from a surfaced alligator.
"Here kitty kitty..." the student from Boca Raton called out to a pair of glowing eyes floating on the surface of the water about 8 feet from the observation deck. The other three erupted into raucous then breathless laughter, and the student from Deland finally managed to speak between chuckles "Dude, that's a fuckin' alligator, your cat's at home, bro." One of the two students from Ft. Lauderdale, the taller one, wrinkled his face in a confused expression before flatly stating "He doesn't have a cat, you're thinking of that guy on TV who did that commercial once where....huh...neat. What was I just saying?". A passing firefly broke his concentration before he could complete his thought.
The smaller student from Ft. Lauderdale who graduated from the same high school as the taller one, was meandering around the observation deck somewhat by himself, just drinking in the scenery. "A circle within a circle", he thought to himself. It was fascinating to him that everything had an orbit, from the smallest subatomic particle, to the planets, to the rotation of the galaxies around the carousel of the universe. What goes around comes around, quite literally he thought, and for some reason that thought caused him to audibly snort and chuckle loudly. His friends looked over at him and chuckled as well as they tried to break him out of his trance...
"Aaron...Jip..Gipson!! Gipson....Aaron...Gipson...maybe JIPson speak the fuck up, I'm not going to call your goddamn name again!!" the bulldog shaped corrections officer bellowed into the holding cell. "Yeah, that's me," I called out, "mine's the deep dish with the extra pepperoni!" The stress of the morning had taken it's toll on me, and I found that the only measure of relief that I could hope for was in the form of being the biggest pain in the ass I could to these people. Though I was no lawyer, I was pretty sure there was no law against being a wiseass. When the other men in my holding tank started snickering, the buzz-cut bulldog man glowered at me until his little mustache formed an almost perfect triangle with his soul patch as the base.
"Oh it's YOU? Well it looks like you will be making bail, and that's too bad too because I was looking forward to tonight", he gave me his best rehearsed "I'm serious" face with the last part of his sentence. I grimaced and responded "What is it with you cops and all your weird gay innuendos anyway?" I remembered the ATF agent who had me bent over the car and insisted on whispering threats of enraged redneck convicts in my ear just a few hours earlier. "It wasn't a gay innuendo it...was a well....this is..jail" he stammered and I interrupted, "Yeah it was, what the hell else could that have meant? You were 'looking forward to tonight'...what? You were going to come in here and try and make a love connection?" He got his bearings pretty easily after the insult and walked towards me with one hand on his taser, "Are you going to be the first jailbird in Florida history who has to be tased OUT of a cell....please say yes."
I figured my day had been bad enough without pushing my boundaries too far, so I eagerly got up from my bench spot and saluted the assorted daytime drunk drivers and crack dealers as I walked out of the steel and Plexiglas door. "Stay cool man" I heard one of them call after me. After a few security checkpoints, I was taken to a small office where the bail bondsman my sister hired was sitting. He was looking at my file and the charges against me, and he was confused. "I've never heard of this before, the tag wasn't ON your car?" he asked in a slow southern drawl. "Nope" I replied simply. "Well who'd you piss off, son?" he leaned back in the chair he was sitting in. "A man who asked me questions that I didn't have the answers to" I said.
"Seriously you guys, check it out..." the kid from Boca Raton said, "you guys get in front of this thing and distract it with a lighter or something, I'm going to sneak round, jump on it's back and choke him out." "Dude, why?" the taller kid from Ft. Lauderdale, Brent snickered, "what are you going to do with a passed out alligator?" The kid from Boca Raton's face took on a calm and serious determination, "We take it downtown, throw it on the people eating outside at El Indio and start a fucking riot. We then rise from the ashes and chaos to become KINGS...fucking SULTANS!"
The other three looked at each other, and it was the kid from Deland, Fosburg who broke the silence. "Jerry you can't do that." "Why not?" Jerry's grin was still ear to ear at the prospect of going from neo-hippy-rasta college kid to despotic ruler with the flinging of a single unconscious reptile. "the fucker's got no neck." Fosberg plainly replied. "Oh well...shit" Jerry stammered "Well...a fucking cat or dog isn't going to work, guys so... Hey, what the hell's wrong with Aaron?"
"What the hell's wrong with you?!" my sister teased as I walked through the front door of her apartment. "Ya get the store for one day and the place gets raided?!" I was too grateful for her getting me out of there to be insulted, and too tired and sore to come up with anything witty to respond with. I just wanted to lie down, close my eyes, surrender to oblivion, and not wake up for a couple of days. What the hell just happened? Did it really happen? I needed to get ahold of Gary, maybe he did set me up, maybe he didn't but too much happened that morning for me not to get some kind of reason or explanation.
I shuffled into my room and crashed on the bed without even trying to break my fall. The day's events kept playing in front of my consciousness, so sleep wasn't even really an option. So I decided to check my email and see if maybe Gary left me a message to help explain to me why I was just subjected to a nine hour cop drama cliche. There wasn't anything from Gary, but in my inbox was something I was hoping for for almost two months...a letter from Megan. I got surprisingly nervous as I opened it, maybe she was better? Maybe she was alright and wanted to make things right again. I had missed the friend I had in her, and this day in particular, I could have used her pixie smile.
The message wasn't a good one. It was a declaration of my alien (yes as in extraterrestrial) soul being eternally trapped in the crystal around her new husband's neck. I had apparently messed with this dimension so much that the devil's power was leaking in and it was her and her husband's job to stop it. Yes, go ahead and laugh, but after the day I had, this stung pretty bad. Not only was she no better, but she now had someone who knew that she was messed up and was using it to manipulate her. Hope he keeps the knives hidden. I responded to the email with, "A simple 'I'm still bat-shit' would have sufficed, Megan.", and sent it on it's way.
What a horrible fucking day, and I started to feel low. Really low. My life was a mess, and with each passing hour it seemed to be getting worse. I was now unemployed, car less (it was impounded), the former love of my life was not only remarried but also considered me a supernatural threat. I was in a small town in the middle of nowhere, so my prospects for work ran the gambit of waiter to some kind of labor job until I could save enough to get my license back and my car out of impound. I began to feel very small and very sorry for myself. It seemed like there wasn't even any hope to grab on to anywhere.
"Hope is everywhere", he said "Love and reasoning can work together to become understanding and connectedness." He was perched on the balls of his feet at the very top of the observation deck's picnic shelter. Somehow, during the argument over the use of an alligator as a riot catalyst, he had climbed to the top and was now looking out over his three friends and the lake beyond.
Everything was fitting together. The things his grandfather taught him about Christianity, the spirituality of the Native American side of his lineage that he had recently become fascinated with, and the scientific laws of the universe. They were all making sense as one beautiful realization that seemed so simple and so perfectly elegant. Love is everywhere. Love is is in the cohesive bond between molecules, the wind in the trees, the planets and their orbits. And that love is God, not the bearded cosmic Santa Claus that has been used as a pale effigy of what God truly is: Love itself.
And why pour over angry bronze age tomes, when the word of God can be heard so much more clearly in the middle of the forest on a full moon night? The wind in the trees and the crickets' chirping was the greatest Gospel choir a person could ever stop and listen to. All religions were wrong, and yet all religions were right too. Different notes in the same beautiful symphony, with reason and analysis as the conductor of the orchestra. And love being the greatest force in the universe.
Love sucks. Why should I feel so devastated about her getting remarried so soon after being with me for five years? I needed to focus on my livelihood and my coming court date. I was facing several months in jail if convicted on both charges, and I couldn't afford a lawyer so I needed to brush up on my legalese. I snapped myself out of my self pity stupor after a few hours and decided to try the pro-active approach. I got ahold of Gary's sister and told her what had happened, and she told me a similar story of how they raided Gary's house and seized both of his cars as well as the entire contents of his house. How was this not a robbery?
She ended up getting ahold of Gary on the cruise ship and gave me the number to call him. I was pretty nervous as I dialed the number because I had no idea how this conversation was going to go. When he picked up, he was actually extremely pleasant and calm about the whole matter and I told him word for word what had transpired. "Well, shit man, are you ok?" he asked, sounding genuinely concerned. I told him I was fine despite my shoulder and sternum killing me. "Well first thing's first, you still have a job, and I'm getting you a lawyer with my next phone call. The ship is docking in Costa Rica tomorrow and I have a couple of offices there, so I am just going to have one of my guys come and pick me up from the port. My sister will give you the contact info for the attorney, go see him and he will have your paycheck."
I was floored. All I could do was say "Are you serious?". "Yeah man" he said warmly, "I apologize for this, but you handled yourself really well." He went on to say that he had no intention of returning to US soil until this thing was sorted out and that it might be a while before I saw him again. But if I promised to not look for work elsewhere, he would continue to pay me my weekly salary (for nothing) as well as my legal fees until either the store opened back up or he set up another venture in the area. Apparently, I had made a good impression. Maybe things weren't completely lost, and maybe this wasn't game over for me after all. And I had the next however long to make long term plans. Unbelievable.
"Unbelievable", Brent said under his breath. The four friends were now all perched on top of the gazeebo, side by side, listening to the symphony of the forest. "Does this qualify as a religious experience then?" he asked softly. Tears were streaming down the cheeks of two of them, but the emotion where they came from was very far from sadness. When the crickets crescendoed, the frogs took their place with their own solo punctuated by the occasional gator call. "I don't know", the smaller kid from Ft. Lauderdale whispered in response, "but I am going to keep this love I have in my heart right now for the rest of my life in the hope that circles within circles will always take me home..."