“It’s not there anymore,” Phoebe had said. I was strolling through town and had planned to stop at the college bar we frequented back in the day. It was dark by the time I walked through the door. Phoebe was only half right: the bar was still there, but most of the building was a restaurant.
Then I realized she was right all along: it wasn’t there anymore.
The bar I remembered was a dimly lit unrefined establishment that drew in the early 20’s crowd. There was a large and scary looking dude manning the door, who put your ID under a video camera to document the time you arrived. His glare insured you wouldn’t start any problems. There were pool tables, a dance floor, a DJ booth, tables, and a large bar that was perpetually sticky with spilled drinks.
This bar, with the same name and location, now was lit with what can only be described as flood lights. Only two pool tables remained, but they were obviously new. The hightop tables were not only clean, but shiny brushed nickel. The bar had liquor bottles lit up on shelves and a several TV’s broadcasted ESPN. A small area was dedicated to gambling machines, a big deal in Illinois now, apparently. The bar was a fraction of the size I remembered, the dance floor gave way to the restaurant. The girl behind the bar looked like she was still in middle school with no bouncer. I was the only patron.
I ordered a peach vodka and Sprite, checked my phone, and looked around. This was not the place I left. Then again, I’m not who I was the last time I was here either.
I was here my last night as an Illinois resident. What a night that was.
Alex and Phoebe were here with me, as well as Three – the four of us played pool. Three was a co-worker. His real name was a mouthful of prestige, and he was the third generation to carry this long bulky name, so it was shorted to simply Three, which fit him better. We flirted constantly. He asked me out right after I accepted the job offer in North Carolina. Three was a good man, but he had his gaping flaws. In addition to falling asleep during the sermon when I brought him to my church, Three was banned from several bars for starting fights while drunk. Despite this, he had a good heart, kindness, and a love for hard rock. I knew he wasn’t long term boyfriend material – he was older – but to me he was a pint of beer on a hot day: probably not the best thing to be drinking, but it hit the spot.
I was two Long Island Iced Teas into my night when we left the bar. He was buzzed too, so we walked back to my empty apartment. He had been over a few times already. We worked the same weird shift and it wasn’t uncommon for him to crash at my place – we spooned.
I awoke the next morning before sunrise. The reality of everything hit me. I was leaving Illinois for good after breakfast. I really liked Three and I wondered what would have happened if our timing had been better or if I had stayed. I watched the sunrise with all of this flowing through my mind, while he slept. Once the sun was up, we hugged and kissed good-bye and that was the last I ever saw of him.
I ordered another peach vodka and Sprite as the past seeped into my consciousness. A conversation in the days to come revealed Three was married with children, still working the same gig.
I left the bar, surprisingly sober, and mulled it all over in the couple of miles walking back to Phoebe’s house. It felt like two lifetimes had passed since this ground was under my feet in different shoes.
Two lifetimes had passed.
And it was.