Note: I found this one in my backlog of TERRIBLE DRAFTS and thought this one was okay enough to not just delete outright. And now, even though it’s nearly a year old, I’m sharing it so it doesn’t die in the “kill your darlings” fire I intend to start in my drafts folder after my second glass of red this evening. (RIP Dry January. Who was I kidding anyway?)
Your place was a bar in the old Student Union Building, a place with sticky tables and floors that might never have been washed. It was renovated in 2012, long after you stopped going, but at 5:00 on a Friday on the last day of classes, the vinyl benches were all split open the way they’d always been.
You could always go back and find it just as you’d left it, more or less.
More, because it got dirtier and your table was more readily available as the place seemed less busy.
Less, because every year the patrons got younger, to the point where you couldn’t tell how old they were, because everyone under 22 looks 14 now. The beer was less cheap, and better tasting. They started putting art on the walls.
And maybe they always had art on the walls, but you wouldn’t have known that then because you were always looking for him in that chair by the railing where he’d sit, hunched over his beer. You never looked anywhere but at him, furtively, and then back down at your drink, or at your phone as you counted down to the very last moment you’d need to leave to get to class on time.
You’d meet him before class and then sometimes just not show up, and your grades were terrible then but you knew even then that no employer ever asks for your transcript. Student loans were paying and you were beholden to no one. You’d never be able to afford grad school anyway. And he was so cute.
The story of your life together began in that dank little bar, and every time they kicked you out you swirled right back the next day. It was like the place had a current and you got swept up in the swell.
Once you were done with that place you’d roll out together, like the tide. You’d go to Toronto, maybe. Montreal, for sure.
Instead, you took an administrative position on that same campus, and every time you’d walk by your old place on your way to get a bagel at lunchtime you’d look for him, hoping to see him in that chair.
Every year, hoping became less rational. He was at his own grown-up job, beholden to bosses and clients and other adults. You’d ask him to ditch it for the day, or to cut out early and meet you there, but he wouldn’t. He couldn’t. It was stupid to ask.
Everything now is rent and daycare and earth tones and trying to remember to pay your phone bill on time. You’re not caught up in currents, now; you’ve drifted a long way upstream, to a place where the weeds grow so tall that sometimes it’s hard to see into the distance.
You went back for one last beer, and they checked your ID and looked in your purse before they’d let you in. “I’m so old,” you laughed as they did the math on your age. “It’s the last day of classes and we have to check everyone,” they said.
The student paper had said this place was closing because once the new student union building was built this place wouldn’t relocate – the furniture was too crappy, and this generation of students wanted a different kind of experience. Craft beer. Better food. The kind of thing you’d want too, most of the time. So The Gallery was dying.
You’ll be married seven years this year. You wonder if the end of this place is an omen. You think you hope it’s not.
The appeal of The Gallery and that time was that you never had to think too hard about any of it, those reckless days and nights you spent ignoring your better judgment and persuading him against his. You’d never have imagined you’d be sighing at him over his loud eating, or the unfolded laundry, or another broken mug “because can you maybe try being careful?”
They’d moved the tables around, so your spot didn’t really exist anymore but you still looked for him. You had texted him to say that you were going, hoping he’d be feeling sentimental enough to leave work early and join you. The tables were filthy, and the floors still so gross, and in every straightforward way it was as you remembered it. But in subtle ways your place was already gone.
There were no pizza bagels. You didn’t know the music they were playing. There seemed to be a lot of young men named Brody.
He wasn’t there.
Maybe it never was yours. You try to remember if it really was, or if it only became your place because you needed somewhere to house your ghosts. It’s a lot easier to leave your youth behind if you can feel like it’s still living on somewhere without you, and that you could visit it for a beer if you wanted on some rainy Friday afternoon.
Maybe what you remember is a feeling and you’d need to be 23 to feel it again. Twenty-three is much better in hindsight. You forget how often it felt like you were drowning.
You finish your beer and say goodbye, though you aren’t sure to what. You’ll think about that later. For a moment everything felt endless again and you could go anywhere. It wasn’t a strong current, but you let it take you home.