Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Port Salerno

My drug dealer lived in Port Salerno. Larry. I don’t remember his last name. I don’t think I ever knew his last name. He was just… Larry.

It was fortunate I was introduced to Larry when I was – fortunate for both of us. He had a lot of marijuana to sell, and I was beginning a phase of my life where I would smoke whole forests of it. I think it was the summer before my junior year in high school.

Port Salerno was a quiet little coastal oasis, and the natural beauty of the whole Martin County area was stunning, with rivers and islands and a mighty ocean inlet. But that’s not much of a selling point to a teenage boy in possession of a newly-awarded driver’s license. In my view, the only things to do in this quaint little town were… go surfing and get high. And I did both of them with all the inspired energy a sixteen-year-old can muster.

I mention this because I’ve been visiting the area frequently in recent years – much more so than I did for thirty years after I first left. I revel in the breezy, sub-tropical beauty now. It’s fabulous. But I’m surprised when it doesn’t conjure up the warm fuzzy feelings I expect.

I only lived there during my high school years. My parents moved away after I left for the University of Florida in Gainesville. So going “home” for the holidays or summer breaks didn’t mean going back to the place I’d gone to high school.

As much as I consider those years to be important to my development, I have very little attachment to them. Each memory is like a random short film with its own little story, but there’s no continuity, no unifying theme. And, of course, many memories are obscured by clouds of marijuana smoke.

As I drive around Stuart and Jensen Beach, I recognize places, and make simple connections in my mind, just like I do with Port Salerno… Here is the 7-11 where we got gas for 70 cents a gallon, the liquor store where I bought my first six-pack, this is where my friend Mike lived, that’s the high school, there’s the church parking lot where I first groped whats-her-name. Yes, even at the time, I found extra pleasure in the fact that she was a good Catholic girl and we were in the church parking lot.

But it’s cold and clinical. There’s no emotion attached. And it got me thinking about memories and how differently we experience them as we get older because some of them are now so long ago. I think of each memory as an imprint on my mind, but I realize it’s an imprint of the way things were at the time, made on the person I was at the time. And both of those things… have changed.

To use a totally appropriate geographic metaphor, that period of time is like an island in my life, surrounded by the waters of everything that happened before or since.

So there’s no way to connect with my old self. He’s long gone. I won’t claim that the new me is better, just different. Very different. But I still try to appreciate what was… and what is.

I’ve promised myself, next time I pass through Port Salerno… I’ll think… My drug dealer lived here… And it sure is beautiful.