Welcome home outcasts, welcome home
Because I know how you have felt over the years
The truth is that looking at me is like looking in a mirror
Outcasts welcome home, outcasts welcome home

The 4th of July was always Dean’s favorite day of the year because he always knew that he would be spending it having fun with the people he loved the most. Some thought it was odd that he still spent most of his time hanging out with his friends from high school, but they didn’t understand the deep connections that had been forged over the past eight years. Being with these people just felt right. Sure he had met new people since then, some he would even consider to be good friends, they just never had the bonds that he felt with this group.

But things had been going downhill lately. Problems had been intruding into their isolated little existence, big and small. You can snub the real world all you want, but eventually it will break through and force you to pay attention. Just because you ignore it doesn’t make it go away.

These are all the reasons why
I’ll be exploding tonight
And why this chip on my shoulder
Feels like a mile wide
It’s from the overwork,
overtime compromise

Michael’s life was falling apart around him. After he had dropped out (or gotten kicked out, depending on what day it was) of college, he had bummed around Chicago for awhile and almost joined the Marines. Eventually it seemed as though he had gotten himself on track, getting a job, a girlfriend and finally writing a novel. But it all hit a wall. He wrote the book, but never mailed it out or showed it to anyone, even when an agent asked to see it. He refused to do anything about his job, even when they started paying him less and making him work more. The constant fighting with his girlfriend didn’t help much either. Their entire relationship had turned into a question of will they or won’t they break up this weekend.

He was sick of his job and his life but wouldn’t do anything to change it and it turned Michael into an embittered old man before he was even 22. He constantly railed against all corporations and big business. He relished in pointing out the hypocrisy in everything he could see, and feared everything he couldn’t. Increasingly things he said took on a tone of paranoia, even to the point of calling his friends and asking if they had made plans excluding him.

Pretty soon it got to the point where he actually was being excluded. He had dug his psyche into such a hole that he couldn’t allow himself to have fun anymore. Everything said in front of him turned into a debate. Every night out was turned into a platform for him to preach. If his girlfriend was around, no one could get a word in edgewise through their constant bickering. Being with him just got to be too disruptive and tiresome for everyone.

I can’t get enough, I’m not satisfied
I’ve wasted my life with this daily grind
In single file lines, is this real life?
I keep telling myself sometimes
what matters on the inside

Todd didn’t have any crazy issues or psychological problems, he was just busy. Too damn busy. He had thrown himself into his first year of medical school and was soon like a ghost to everyone else. When he wasn’t at school, Todd was working as a paramedic on the west side of the city, dealing with death at it’s most personal and visceral. Sometimes it seemed like his work was eating him away at the inside.

What also didn’t help was the fact that Todd had fallen in love with a girl who hated all of his friends. It was so bitterly ironic that he was the one that was being pulled away by a woman, the same man who had sworn off women after his last disaster and had espoused a “bros before hoes” philosophy as long as everyone had known him. What little time he did have was spent with his new girlfriend and everyone else fell by the wayside. He didn’t run off or end anything, he just faded away.

She’s been thinking, wishing she could hide
From the girls with the comments passing by
It’s the boys and bars on Friday nights
That replace the emptiness inside
It’s been weeks worth of weekends
When fake ID’s and fake passions
are her best friends

She’s gonna break soon, gonna break soon, gonna break soon
With so many problems in her life
It just comes as no surprise
She’s gonna break.

Edie was an ugly person trapped in the body of somebody beautiful, at least that’s what she thought of herself. In high school she had been a pale, chubby girl too meek to even defend herself against the taunts and putdowns of her classmates. Back then, she was content to surround herself with people she knew she was safe with and bury all the venom she had taken deep down inside her. When she went to off to college she had completely reinvented herself as a smart, confident woman with a body that most females would kill for. Only she never realized it.

Slowly, she allowed all the venom she had taken in to poison her. A combination of self-hate and high expectations made Edie paint herself into a corner. She made all of her decisions according to what other people thought she should be, then punished herself for never being happy with the outcome (How could she be? It wasn’t what she wanted in the first place). To try and add more enjoyment to her life, Edie started drinking. It started out with just going a bit overboard at parties, but it wasn’t to long before she was hanging off of Dean and slurring in his ear “I needed a glass wine just to get over here.” When Edie got drunk, the façade she directed toward the rest of the world was demolished and what was truly laid inside of her was exposed: a seething mass of self-hate.

It was Edie’s problems that hurt Dean the most because deep down he knew the two of them were very much the same. Over the years they had laid themselves bare in front of each other, sharing all of their torment and problems in an attempt to understand how to fix themselves. They had spent so many nights alone together trying to work out their lives, drinking and laughing on her rickety old wooden balcony as the gunshots and ambulances of Hyde Park echoed below them. As Dean grew older, he fought his depression and did everything he could to make himself normal and stable. Edie looked inside a bottle for her remedy. Dean slowly fixed himself, Edie became more broken. Dean tried to save Edie, to convince of her beauty and her intelligence and the drive to succeed that laid buried within her for want of a suitable target. But she would never believe him.

I’m still talking, talk of what we’ll do
To the ghosts of me and you
And I’m still looking back into the past
When we were all we had

Dean sat on the porch and watched the 4th of July unfold around him. Before, everyone would sit and laugh and share and do the things that people who had devoted half their lives to each other do. This time there was no connection, there was no bond. Michael was off in the yard, complaining to whomever would listen about the war in Iraq, and the Bushes, and oil companies and the media. Todd was off lying in the pool with his girlfriend, kissing and whispering in that way that makes lovers feel special, and makes everyone else retch. Edie was off by herself getting cozy with the Baileys.

As dusk turned to night, fireworks began to fill the sky. Dean should have been dazzled by the noises and colors. He should have sang The Star-Spangled Banner with everyone like they did every year. He should have relished this moment so close to the people he loved. But all he could think about was how it was all slipping away. The people he had counted on most in this world were changing, and there was no way he could fix that.

This is natural. This is what happens. Things fall apart.

‘Cause friends leave as time fades away
The people and the places along the way
Without a doubt
Screws fall in, and screws they fall out

This node contains (and is partially inspired by) the songs “Welcome to the New South”, “Short Fuse Burning”, “Motown Never Sounded So Good”, “She’s Gonna Break Soon”, “The Ghosts of Me and You”, and “Screws Fall Out” all by Less Than Jake.

All songs © Sarcastic Sugar Music 2003.

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