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A love letter to the town (I mean city) of Brighton, Colorado

See that cowboy? Means we're halfway to Brighton, baby!
See that cowboy? Means we're halfway to Brighton, baby!
Creative Commons

For much of my childhood, I led a double life. Okay, that's a super-dramatic way of saying that from age seven to age seventeen, I went between two households: one in Brighton and one in Denver. This wasn't because my parents were divorced (not yet), but because my best friend, who'd lived next door to me in central Denver, moved to Brighton when we were in elementary school, and, since we were inseparable, my brother and I spent every other weekend, as well as virtually all of summer and winter breaks and many holidays, with our BFFs in Brighton. And when we weren't there, our BFFs were with us at our little ramshackle box home in Virginia Village.

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Our mothers, both nurses, seemed not only to understand this devoted (and slightly obsessive) bond, they facilitated our ungodly amounts of time together. Back then, Brighton didn't start until you reached Bridge Street; that was an hour-plus commute round trip, so they figured out that the Hi-U Inn Motel in Commerce City (see actual sign above) was almost exactly halfway between Denver and Brighton, and they would do the hand-off there.

I still wonder what that scenario must have looked like to passersby: Almost every Sunday night around 6 p.m., two women would meet in the parking lot of a motel, and two children would exit one car for another, the pairs of kids rotating each trip. It was like some bizarre kid-swap situation -- but for us, it was a regular ritual.

From time to time, we would all meet up, dads included, for dinner at La Estrellita, a restaurant where many of my Brighton friends would later work in high school and college. (I don't think my current roommates know that the giant red-plastic industrial restaurant cups that they drink from in our house were all nicely "taken" from La Es.)

As I moved into middle school, I spent many Friday nights at the Wagon Wheel in Brighton, a dimly lit rollerskating rink that, in my often-faulty memory, always played my favorite skating jam of all time, "Spring Love", by Stevie B. My future best friend -- who I wouldn't meet until the end of high school -- still swears that while I was circling the rink (which had a giant tree growing through the middle of it) to a heavy rotation of Freestyle music, she was the twelve-year-old in the dimly lit corner of the dimly lit rink, making out with some dude. I think I always wanted to be that scandalous middle-schooler; instead, I was the girl wearing Stephanie Tanner bangs and a crushed-velvet bodysuit, heading to the snack stand for a pretzel.

Even faux-Brighton natives like me know you always access La Es from its back entrance.
Even faux-Brighton natives like me know you always access La Es from its back entrance.

Back in the late '80s, when I was first introduced to Brighton, it was just starting to evolve from a sleepy little town into what it is today: a real-life, grown-up city. I don't get back there much anymore, but I do still get together with my friends who grew up there.

This past weekend, for example, I caught up with my B-town clan at a BBQ for a baby's first birthday (when you're a semi-adult, attending baby-themed parties is, like, the best way to con your married friends into hanging out with you). I sat down with the mother of one of my long-running Brighton BFFs, and we exchanged farm gossip and family gossip. Though the city has grown and changed and looks hardly like the one I knew as a kid, the people I met there are still the same.

This split-life upbringing left me with two very different sets of teenage-era friend groups, but a decade and a half later, the majority of those closest to me are either from Brighton or are people I met through my Brighton friends. I'm sure that living in a small town on only a part-time basis as I did had its advantages, but I still find myself pining for the life that they had, all of the time.

It isn't like small-town living means people or their life experiences are inherently "simple"; for me, the benefit was comfort in familiarity. I wouldn't trade my catholic-school-to-public-high-school-with-a-graduating-class-of-several-hundred-students experience for anything, but Brighton always felt like a home town that I wanted to be mine. From Fourth of July celebrations to swimming in the ditch to falling asleep to the sound of the train passing along a track a block away, all of my memories of the little city I pretended to call home are pleasant ones.

But that's not to say that I don't also remember my best friend's mom hanging over the backyard fence, notepad in hand, taking down the license plates of cars parked at a highly trafficked neighbor's house because she was sure they were dealing drugs. Idyllic dreams have their realities. And that reality was that maybe some of us who were hanging out at the Wagon Wheel skating rink would grow up to be the high-school kids who were friends with the drug dealers -- and they certainly weren't the people living next door.



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