You Get One Place
Glass jars with tiny flames inside sat on each table that lined the walls of the place. Brown wood so dark it looked black, they said it had once been a part of the bank upstairs. Now it was a restaurant and a bar or a bar and a restaurant, no matter which one took legal primacy it is the booze that I remember best: red wine so thick you had to chew it, martinis ice cold and cloudy from the olives swimming inside.
Everybody gets one place in life. One place that swallows you up when you walk inside, all warm hugs and people who know you, even the strangers there know you, you are always with friends. One place that spans the reality of you and this is why: you are not the same woman at 39 that you were at 26. There are kids now, a handful of them and you are needed more elsewhere. You did a thing and were known for that thing and now you do another thing and are known for that other thing and these are the people who watched it all happen, knew you as life started then changed and moved on. No place can ever know you as that one did. You are not 26 anymore.
A portrait of Willie Nelson hung on the wall like a patron saint, a strand of red Christmas lights draped all around him. In the glow of the small candles on the tables you could faintly make out the odd bits of life on the shelf that ringed the room: a black and white photo of an old barn in a heavy baroque frame, a pocket-size piece of blue stained glass. A large driftwood branch hung precariously from the ceiling, a token from the creek that gave the place its name.
The doors are closed up now. People invoke its memory like they would something holy, a small piece of our shared past that can seem like a mirage in this town of churches and preachers in shiny cheap suits. Oh, that place? I heard that place was a gay bar. It wasn’t a gay bar, it was an everybody bar, but nobody said any different because if you wouldn’t come if it was a gay bar then none of us wanted you there anyway. Walk through those doors (saloon doors, honest to god, and they’d call out my name like I was Norm on Cheers) and for a few hours we were no longer housewives or public servants or dentists or shop girls. Air thick with smoke, the music in your ears so loud you’d still shout as you walked down the sidewalk putting the coat of real life back on, back to houses with sleeping children and straight-laced jobs in this town of nothing but straight-laced jobs.
Every New Year’s they’d pass a silver bowl and we’d all put inside wadded up pieces of paper upon which we’d scribbled memories of the past year that we wanted to forget. Warm bodies packed tight into the small space, high on booze and love, we’d count down until midnight as one voice and a match would be tossed into the bowl, the bits of paper catching fire as we’d all shout and kiss and say cheers to a shiny new year. There are memories that we scribble down because we choose to keep them though, memories that hold flame in a different way. In those memories we are always 26 in our favorite bar and we dance and we dance and we dance.