Afterward he gives me a tour: Blattner Manufacturing, where he worked summers; his grandmother's home; the grain elevators, where he'd hit rocks with a Wiffle bat. He speaks of his dad and uncles, how strong they were: His dad once rolled under a falling engine head to catch it, bound his broken ribs and didn't miss an hour of work.
With sundown tinting the silver water tower and lights ablaze on the football field, the town looks close to lovely. The five grain elevators stand ramrod straight, like men with their chests out, announcing R-O-Z-E-L. "Oh, I love coming home," Patterson says, his voice growing thick. "I just don't get a chance to do it anymore. Then someday I'll wish I did, because they'll all be gone."
We head over to his folks' house on Tuttle. There's a little party: Gary's parents; his brother, Greg; nieces, boyfriends, kids. There's about an hour of stories, sitting at the dining table and soaking in the old rhythms, everything the same and nothing, too.
Gary stands at last to go; the jet is waiting. Everyone follows him out to the driveway. "I didn't get my hug," his mom calls, and he comes back one last time. His dad yells, "Don't let the headlines get you down!" and everyone else is saying, "Bye! Bye!" Gary's head drops as he steps out of the light. His voice goes soft. "I'm sorry I couldn't stay," he says.
Strange, what time does. Patterson texts me after we part: Great seeing you again. Haven't changed a bit!—and I almost believe him. He's still the same, after all, still the guy I once called a friend. It's the world around that seems different now, aging, ever-shifting, spinning so fast. For a moment, here and there, we actually made it stop.