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My friend, Bengi, has been digging through boxes of old photos and other paraphernalia. He recently sent me this photo, taken circa 1989, of the home I lived in after high school in Attleboro, MA which was affectionately known as the Heavy Metal Playhouse.

If you can’t find me, I’m the guy in the center with his thumbs up.

Bengi is down front, four from the right.

Our third roommate, Tom, who is sitting in the middle row between Bengi and me, left us after a year and has since been lost to history. We briefly located him about a decade ago but never managed to reconnect.

Thirty years is a long time, but I’m happy to report that between Bengi and myself, we have identified every person in the photo save one. The name of the girl holding the white stuffed animal on the right eludes us, but I recognize her and can even recall the sound of her voice, so I’m hoping her name will come back to me.

Oddly, I remember the sounds of people’s voices almost better than their physical appearance.

Identifying 13 out of 14 is pretty good, too, considering our home resembled more of a train station, with random people constantly coming and going.

Of the 14 people in the photo, I am still in contact with 5 via social media or real life.

I hadn’t spoken to or seen one of the guys in the photo for 30 years, despite the fact that we went to the same high school together, were members of the same Boy Scout troop, and even worked at McDonald’s together for a time. But after Bengi sent me the photo, I did some Googling, found him on LinkedIn, and reconnected. He’s a teacher today, married, with two nearly grown kids.

I’ve tried finding other without any luck. Either their names are too common to find on social media or a Google search or they have spent their lives avoiding social media.

It’s surprising how a 30 year old photograph can instantly transport me back to a place and time. I saw this photo and could practically smell our old home. All of the details of layout and furniture immediately returned to me, as did so many of my memories with these people.

It feels like yesterday.

I was only living with Bengi in the Heavy Metal Playhouse for a little more than three years before he moved to Connecticut for a job and I moved into my car, awaiting trial for a crime I did not commit, and became homeless. But they were three of the best, brightest, most hilarious and most defining years of my life.

I didn’t get to go to college in the traditional sense. Never lived on campus. Never did the things that college students do. By the time I made it to college, I was 24 years old, working a full time job, a part time job, and launching a small business while earning an English degree at Trinity College and a teaching degree at St. Joseph’s University simultaneously.

Not exactly the college lifestyle. I barely had time to breathe.

But those three years spent at the Heavy Metal Playhouse, when I was poor but happy, working like a dog but spending every other second with friends, in an age before the internet or phones or social media, were as close to a college experience as I ever got.

We sat on couches and talked.  We drank and played cards and video games and hosted enormous parties. We climbed into old cars and cajoled them up and down the east coast. We made new friends and dated and fell in and out of love like it was a pothole.

It was a grand time.

Bengi once said to me, “It’s a shame you couldn’t go to college right after high school. I can’t imagine anyone better build for living on campus, doing that college thing. You would’ve been amazing.”

It was one of the kindest, cruelest things ever said to me. Spoken with love, of course, but it stung me nonetheless.

Then again, it was Bengi who invited me to live with him after high school. He was the progenitor of the Heavy Metal Playhouse. On a Saturday night in late spring, we climbed into the cab of a bulldozer on a construction site that would one day become a Stop & Shop, and he asked me if I would agree to live with him after graduation. He was tired of dorm life and was ready for a change.

I was getting kicked out of my home and needed a place to live.

We started making plans that night. Plans that would lead to the Heavy Metal Playhouse and the mountains of memories that go along with that time.

Things turned out okay after all.