I don't know whether this is a short story, a random burst of words, or the beginning of something a little bigger. We shall see. I started it a few years ago and finished it in one go a couple of days ago. Very minimal editing. I know that if I put it here it won't languish forever in the depths of my "In Progress" folder.
Here and There
She was there on the Wednesday, holding down the fort as usual in our local bar, chatting to some of the regulars, serving drinks with a smile and dancing or singing every time one of her favourite songs came on. As the night went on and the bar filled up with all of the usual late night visitors her smile would brighten and wane in the space of minutes, sometimes even seconds, depending on the requests or demands made upon her. I knew she hadn’t been drinking because she was getting tired and less animated as 4am came and passed, trying to clean up the bar and avoid conversations with people who were obviously inebriated and unaware of the time passing. Sometimes I wondered how she held it together, through all of the drama and the stories that people would tell her, how she didn’t just grab a bottle of whiskey and chug it down, feeling the warmth of the liquid dampen all anger and pain and fear and thoughts.
While she was finishing the cash and her last duties I sat down with her and chatted about life in general. We did a couple of shots together and she locked the bar doors after everyone trickled out into the rising dawn. A hug and a “take care” and our ways parted. Nothing different from any other night at the bar. There never really was a “see you tomorrow” or “see you next week” said between us, it was always just an assumption that both of us would be in the same spots on the block again, maybe tomorrow, maybe the day after. At the most only a couple of days would go past without one of us bumping into the other. She jumped into a cab and blew me a kiss and I made my way down the street to my apartment, craving a cup of tea and a joint on the balcony.
Thursday came and went, as did Friday and the weekend days. I had a few conversations with her at the restaurant, ran into her on the street as she was smoking a cigarette and chatting to some of the restaurant regulars, but we never had a chance to sit down and talk about what she had been going through in her life those past few weeks and how she was dealing with certain changes that had been happening. She seemed content and smiled every time I saw her, and I was obviously too wrapped up in my own world to really notice anything different. That said, there may not have been anything different as she was a professional in keeping everything hidden away. There was so much to her behind the happy exterior, a life lived in different places, stories that she had never told, stories that she was going to tell, but just didn’t know how to yet. Just like anyone she had had a life before the one she was living right here, and most certainly a life to live after she had left the block and continued on her journey.
The following Tuesday I walked into the bar, determined to get some of those stories out of her and to ask her for advice on this girl I had been dating briefly and who I actually kind of liked for once. She wasn’t behind the bar, one of her bosses was.
“Where is she?!”
“Where to? On holiday??”
“No, she’s gone. Took off and left with no return address. She said it was her time to go, her time to find other adventures and leave the routine she had created for herself. She will let us know where she ends up…”
I don’t like spontaneous changes, especially not when they involve the sudden disappearance of someone that I care about and look forward to seeing every day. But at the same time I have to admit that I am slightly jealous of her ability to actively seek her own happiness and to not let herself get bogged down by day to day life. Maybe it’s something I should consider doing?
I’m coming up on the 6 month mark now and I should probably think about how much I like it here and if it’s time to make it a little more permanent or not. Nashville was a big change from New York, but a positive change. The drive down here was so much fun, just some clothes, my cat, books and music, the rest of my belongings from my 8 years in NYC in storage for the duration. Bruce and Bob and Tim on the stereo and utter freedom from any type of responsibility or demands. Finding a job wasn’t too hard, there are so many bars in downtown Nashville, and with my NY bartending experience I had a few gigs lined up before I even managed to make my way down one of the streets. Live music every night and a different type of climate, and an apartment all to myself in a beautiful little house on a leafy street, walking distance from work and play. I don’t play a musical instrument and I don’t aspire to be a musician. I am a writer but I don’t write songs or music. I just write about everything else, music included. I just thought it was time to go away, time to see something else. Time to actually do something else. I know I should probably question my impulsive decision to leave and maybe try to explain it to others, especially to those I left behind, but I really don’t want to. In the end we are free to do what we like, especially if we don’t have anything tying us down to one place.
I do miss NYC from the bottom of my heart, my friends, the regulars at the bar, those who would pop in with a story, a cookie, a lesson. Even those who would tap softly on the door at 4am, hoping I would let them in for one last drink after hours. I miss walking through the streets, snapping photos of art on walls, of people with faces that you could read in so many different ways. I miss walking into a bodega at 5am and ordering a brie and lettuce sandwich, made fresh in front of you while chatting with the owner about the amount of annoying drunken kids around that night. I miss my little block, bumping into friends all of the time, discussing the weather and the news and the latest accomplishment. I miss popping over to one of my friends’ bars and grabbing a pint and a catch-up chat, laughing about the antics of the night before. I miss those friendships that were made on the spur of the moment over a shot of whiskey and a dab of mischief, laughter in the air. I miss those friendships made over time, starting with light discussions on the street during a cigarette break, leading to lunches, dinners and long text message conversations about life and love and work and sadness.
So why did I leave? Do I regret it? Am I happier now? It’s hard to explain. Every few years my feet start itching and my heart begins to yearn for something else, something different, and something new. For the first time in my adult life I tried to ignore the feeling, and for a while it went away. Then it came back again, a little more insistent so I pushed a little harder, and silenced it with whiskey for a while. In the end even whiskey didn’t work anymore and I started to feel trapped. I stopped feeling the magic of the city and felt like the undertow was pulling me down. I wasn’t ready to face its depths again, not like the time before when I had barely made it back up in one piece. It was time to run, find the magic elsewhere, find love and light and friendships and hope in a different spot, one that didn’t hold all those memories for me. I keep to myself here, just light conversations with coworkers and acquaintances. I prefer to drink in places where the music is loud and transports me elsewhere. I take pieces of people and locations around me and patch them together haphazardly in stories. I was never really into country music before, but now I understand the beauty behind it, the nostalgia and the yearning.
I don’t know if I will stay here. I don’t know if I can go back. I don’t know where I will go next. I used to love the uncertainty. Now I am not so sure anymore. I worry that once I start to make real friends here I will push those little roots back out and plant them in the soil. I don’t know if I am ready for permanence again just yet. There are many places to visit, many cities that are calling my name. New Orleans, Detroit, Austin, San Diego. Maybe even back home to one of my European countries; a pint out in the beer garden on a sunny day or an espresso en terrasse with a cigarette between my fingers. Nostalgia can be a real bitch sometimes. It makes me forget why I left.
Does anything really change? Can I ever go back again?
One by one the businesses closed down. Our block became someone else’s block. Regular faces slowly disappeared, replaced by builders and architects and day labourers. I watched them tear down the bar and the restaurant, another bar and another restaurant. People talked about what may happen for months and then all of a sudden, within days, everything was gone. Raised to the ground. No more flooded basements, no more snow filled roofs. No more noise complaints and wasted kids vomiting on street corners on Saturday nights. No more brunches perched on a stool, no more last calls that would go on for hours. No more discussions over a Cure album or whether the Dylan was a genius or a crap artist. Gone were the warm nights dancing to a fantastic playlist and playing darts; gone were the cold mornings when only a brisk walk to the diner would clear the head enough for a new day.
I don’t know why I am still here, standing at the window in my living room, looking at what used to be such a big part of my life. Soon there will be new apartments there, blocking my view of the area. Rich people, paying luxury prices to live in what used to be the gutter of the city. Maybe that’s the way things will always be in the city, rotating around the rich and the poor, the poor moving out when the rich move in, the rich moving out when they realize that the rock stars changed scenery decades before and the neighbourhood is just a shell of what it used to be. Gradually it will revolve back in the right direction again and we will find the camaraderie and neighbourhood vibe that was lost in the destruction of established places. I don’t know. I hope so. I could leave, find another spot in the city, but in the end it is still convenient for me to live here. Some of us have reconvened in other spots, making them our homes. I have made some new friends and miss some of my old ones who left. We keep in touch via Facebook, a like and comment here or there, communication most likely fading to nothing over time.
I still miss her. I have heard rumours of her traveling to different places, a friend bumped into her in Texas of all places. I have heard that she seemed happy, free, and in love with someone. I wish her all the best. I wish I could call her, ask her to send me some of her courage. I wish I could listen to her stories, imagine myself on the road, meeting people, stopping for a few weeks or months and then packing up again, ready for a new adventure. Maybe I just need to bite the bullet and buy a car. One step towards making my way out of this street and this current life. Or maybe I will continue to stand here and watch them rebuild the street, one brick at a time.
I had heard stories but I didn’t really believe them until I walked down the street myself. The ten years that I had spent there seemed to have dissipated into something from my imagination. Only 3 years gone by and nothing was as it was. I didn’t even recognize half of the block when I turned onto it, my feet so used to walking that route that they fell into pace without a request. I stopped, slightly bewildered. Where was home now? After a loop of cities and states, I was finally back, ready to really stick my heels in. No more hovering and waiting, no more worrying about being ready to face the future. But how could I do that now?
Had I been wrong to cut off communication, to leave my digital life and phone number behind? Would it have been better to maintain friendships over the phone and the internet, sending photos and text messages from my new homes? Would I have found it a little easier to bury my cat if I had been able to call someone who knew me a little better than the regular from the random bar I had worked in for three weeks? I don’t know. All I knew was that I had come back looking for a friendly face and instead a grey building was staring back at me. Maybe if I closed my eyes the building would melt away and my old block would reappear, happy and bustling around my weary feet. Please, don’t let me have come back for nothing. I have nowhere left to run to.
There she was, just standing there, across the street. A little thinner, her hair a little different, but it was definitely her. Her furrowed brow suggested bewilderment and concern, and she seemed slightly fragile, as if that armour she used to constantly wear had finally failed her and fallen off, tired of being dragged around with no rest. I breathed a sigh of relief. My waiting and watching had not been in vain.