As Wally and I drove east on 285, the mustard yellow and tomato red of Wells Fargo and Target came closer and closer, then fell behind us. Tokyo Joe’s. Noodle & Company. Just like any other Denver plaza – but these images simmered on the front burner of my memory.
It was Day 2 of my bachelor party and Wally was taking me to meet three other friends for axe-throwing.
In between the hiking, eating dinner, butt-ugly golf swings at the driving range, the ice cream trips I demanded, and the conspicuous lack of sad strip club endings, I thought about how much my life had recently changed. It felt so otherworldly when I met the woman who, by the time this is published, I’m now married to. Just as surprising, was partying with a group of great people when, a few years earlier, I was broke and felt so alone. Back then, my life was work and recovering from work.
We drove past Walmart, McDonalds, and toward the lane merging onto Broadway. My gut stirred. I scanned my phone’s navigation app, zooming in on our destination and looking for the cross-street names.
I widened my thumb and finger on the screen, dropping closer until I saw the plaza.
“Yes. Yes!” I said.
“What?” Wally asked.
“The place we’re going is literally right where I used to sign-spin. You’re going to see it!”
Between winter 2010 and spring 2014, I worked for a chain of stores that bought gold and silver. I stood on the sidewalk in front of them, wearing a smock that looked like a giant $100 bill, and spun a sign. “We Buy Gold,” it read. Black letters. Orange background. More than three years of my life.
“I can’t believe this,” I said. Except, I could.
Of course, the universe would steer us to this spot. Would we throw axes in the same building as the gold-buying store I used to work for? That’d be even crazier.
We merged onto Broadway, driving south. Domino’s Pizza. State Farm. My first nine months on the job, I took this commute. The same dusty length of asphalt, concrete, grimy storefronts, and scorching Colorado sky – I worked here to afford food and rent during my bankruptcy.
“Is it on the right of the left?” Wally said.
“Left,” I said.
Wally shifted lanes.
“I mean right. Right! Sorry.”
He chuckled and shifted back, just before Nassau Street.
“Here it is,” I said, “It’s the same building. The exact same f***ing building!”
Wally slid his SUV straight into the diagonal parking spaces in front of the door, the spaces employees were never supposed to take. I jumped out and strode to the sidewalk corner.
Over eight years had passed since I’d stood here. My shifts had been from 10AM to 6PM, with two ten-minute breaks and a half hour for lunch, five days a week. One-hundred-degree summer days had fried my skin and three layers of jackets had protected me from whipping winter winds. Over eight years since I’d worn out headphones listening to audiobooks or U2, the foam from the earpieces peeling away.
I stepped onto the corner, stretched my arms out, spun around, and laughed.
Eight years might as well have been eight minutes.
The Chinese restaurant on the other side of Nassau Street was gone. So was the check-cashing place behind me. The vacant corner to my left was now a BBQ joint, but everything else looked the same. The tattoo shop to the north, where I’d watched a stream of kids go in and out, the auto shop and cat clinic across the street, the reptile store, the Stop sign — whose octagonal shadow constantly shifted forward as the afternoons ebbed to evenings (I’d used the sign for relief from the burning sun). On a rusted streetlight base, I’d set down my Styrofoam coffee cup as I gazed at downtown Denver’s skyscrapers, jutting up like crystal shards in a geode.
With the haze from Colorado’s recent fires still soaking the air, the buildings looked like a floating mirage – about how the city had felt to me almost a decade ago.
Standing on that street corner was like visiting a live-action museum of my life’s weirdest detour.
Inside the building, we threw axes. Between rounds of clanging the handles against the target board or burying the blades into the wood, splitting it deeper and deeper, I leaned my forearms on our table and said, “That’s where the couches for the waiting area were.”
“That’s where the buyer’s table was.”
“This used to be a wall separating the break room.”
“This is where the coffee machine was.”
“I squeegeed those windows.”
“I cleaned out that bathroom so many times.”
Eventually, my friend Rex rolled his eyes and said, “Hey Nate… I’m getting the feeling this place has some significance to you… is that true?”
Throwing axes where I used to spin signs. Excellent. Doing it with my closest friends. Even better. But doing it, unexpectedly, for my bachelor party? That was some seriously spiritual icing on an already tasty cake.
I texted my fiancé. She replied, “What a way to go full circle! And here you are, to celebrate, in a completely different kind of life. That’s so wild!!”
When you open yourself to a new direction for your future, life might loop you into the past and it will seem as if you’re reliving old patterns.
It could be an old friend reaching out or a visit to your former stomping grounds — something where you’ll have the opportunity to officially end an old pattern or close a finished chapter.
After we shredded two wooden boards, everyone hopped into their cars to speed to the foothills of Morrison for dinner at a restaurant called The Fort. I soaked in a final moment, maybe my last moment ever standing on that corner. Tears peeked from the corners of my eyes as I whispered, “Thank you.”