The invitation was issued late at night, as is the case most weekends in Cold Lake. We're a town that leaves for the bar at midnight on a good night and makes it home to bed when the sun is coming up. It's a process that works well in the endless light of summer and even better in the permanently dark days of winter.
Yet, it's a process I had somehow forgotten in the last four months away. But I had nothing better to do so I changed my clothes and quietly left the house, driving in the pitch black to the next town over.
I arrived a little before 11 p.m., parking my rental car, slipping through the back door, past the machinery and towards the music. Inside and up the stairs, there were three familiar faces and a new one. They were playing virtual golf, the shelves lined with empty beer cans and the floor with spilled rum. After hugs and greetings, the new one, the foreigner, approached me. "So how do you know these guys?" he asked.
I didn't give my response much thought. It just seemed that obvious. "I'm from Cold Lake," I said.
He looked confused. "But how did you meet these guys? How do you all know each other?"
"Well, we're all from Cold Lake," I repeated.
"We're locals," chimed in one of the guys, laughing. To him, too, it was obvious. "We all know each other because we grew up here."
There are no other words, no other explanation. Sure, there were water balloons thrown in seventh grade, campfires at the lake, swimming lessons in Bonnyville, teenage makeouts at the CLPS playground and piano recitals. There were a billion nights spent at Kaos, before and after it was the Camel's Toe, and a billion more spent at Legends. There were thousands of kilometres clocked, just driving up and down mainstreet and past Kinosoo Beach. There were next door neighbours and unrequited crushes and roommates in Edmonton. There are stories of falling in love and late nights spent spooning in tents.
And then there is now, when it would be pointless to ever pinpoint where it began.
We're not lifelong friends and we may not have known each other since birth. We didn't go to school together and we may not even be Facebook friends. But none of that matters. Yes, it's a matter of circumstance, but it's more than that. It's not a single story or an explanation. It's a place.
We're locals. Those are the only words. That's all there is to know.