Life was so much simpler in 2001, eh? It didn’t get much better than the way it was in the good ol’ days at the turn of the century: when cell phones were “for emergencies only”, you could only watch TV on a TV, and your friends were real people you knew well and not part of a digital contact web. I had friends in 2001. Good friends, nice people. We met in university some ten years earlier, and though we didn’t get to see each other very much because of geography and new careers, we made an event out of any occasion to get together. Weddings were a big deal. These friends of mine were getting married six ways from Sunday at the time: big ceremonies, small affairs, on a boat, in the Caribbean, in a museum; some even got married in a church, if you can believe it. We’d travel from the far corners of southern Ontario to wherever the party was going to be, making stops along the way to drive in together whenever possible (wedding and road trip weekend? Hell, yeah!).
This is where Céline Dion comes in. I’m sure it was the summer of 2001, likely late July or early August. It was definitely a wedding, but I’m not sure whose exactly. A friend and I were in Toronto, at another friend’s apartment waiting for her to get off work so that we could start the weekend celebrations. It was bloody hot. Too hot to spend the afternoon walking around on smouldering concrete in a neighbourhood neither of us knew very well. Better to stay inside, lounge around in front of the TV and dish about who we were going to see that weekend and what we really thought of them. If the TV was on, then it was tuned to MuchMusic (or was it just called Much at that point?), and if MuchMusic was on, then every five minutes, like a ticking time bomb, a certain commercial for a local Toronto radio station would play. The commercial was a montage style of video clips featuring all of the hottest musical acts of the time, that ended with Dion’s “That’s the Way It Is”, the single from her greatest hits compilation of the previous year. It was just the final, epic hook — Dion belting out “And that’s the way it is!” — but damn! If that hook didn’t sink itself into our brains. I don’t know if we were both drunk on the heat or vodka coolers at the time, but at some point that afternoon, with that commercial looping endlessly in the background, my friend and I (the two most committed musical snobs amongst our circle of friends) both admitted to loving that song. There we were — a couple of alternative indie rock aficionados coming out as closeted pop music-lovers. It was a safe space. We wouldn’t tell anyone else.
Except we did. We told the friend whose apartment it was we were crashing in. We had to, you see, because later that weekend, when the three of us were in the car driving to this wedding, we heard “That’s the Way It Is” on the radio (i.e. no CarPlay stream-what-you-want-playlist) and the three of us cranked that sucker and sang along. We must have looked like idiots to our fellow drivers; we were idiots, laughing our heads off at the stupidest things, in-jokes to last for days.
I’m sure the whole scene wasn’t as rose-coloured and perfectly framed as I imagine it. I probably have more than half the details wrong; if I were to ask the two of them, they may remember it altogether differently or not at all. For me, though, it was a moment in time forever stamped with the sound of Céline Dion’s voice. I don’t and can’t hear that song now without immediately thinking of those two friends. I fondly remember that time in our lives, when it felt that we were so in sync that we could read each other’s minds. Three pals surrounded by friends who were pairing up and getting hitched. We three were still looking for our win in this thing called love, an elusive victory slipping through our fingers. It would eventually come for each of us, but finding love came with a cost as well. Relationships put time and distance between us. We don’t see each other anymore. We connect (thanks, Facebook) but sporadically so. If I’m being honest, I haven’t communicated with one of them in over five years. Maybe ten. It’s been so long I lost track.
And the thing is, I’m okay with that. I don’t like that I’m okay with it, but being friends for life is a full-time job. Work, family, responsibility; it’s a wonder we have any connections to the outside world at all. It sucks having people out in the world who, at one point knew you better than you knew yourself, who don’t know the person you’ve become now. They’ve got kids you’ve never met, living in a house you’ve never seen, making new memories that don’t include you. But maybe that was the point of being friends in 2001. Maybe, we came together in that way in order for each of us to find the courage to forge our own path in the world. Maybe we weren’t meant to still be air-singing to Céline Dion and laughing our asses off some eighteen years later. Shit, maybe Céline was right all along: “When you want it the most / There’s no easy way out / When you’re ready to go / And your heart’s left in doubt / Don’t give up on your faith / Love comes to those who believe it.”
Maybe that’s the way it was meant to be all along.