The way in which
There is a certain way we choose to deal with memories. Sometimes we cherish them, sometimes we compartmentalize them, and sometimes, when the memories are especially fragile, we must watch them from afar.
This semester, I’ve been watching a memory, carefully stepping around the delicate periphery so as not to disturb the inner sanctum. I’ve been watching from afar as a place that I used to know becomes a place that I hardly recognize.
When we got back to school in August, many of my friends, after asking me about my summer adventures, immediately jumped to a seemingly obvious follow-up question: “So, what happened to Backyard?”
“Well,” I would answer, sighing and shaking my head as we stood on Elliewood Avenue, watching hammers pound nails into a building that was slowly disappearing before my eyes, “it’s not going to be the same anymore.”
I worked at The Backyard for a year as a subpar waitress who could never remember which sandwiches were on challah and which were on pretzel rolls. I was dutiful, though, and I always showed up to work, ready to put up the wretched umbrellas and ready to write down — and sample — whichever new beers were on tap.
I hung out for a while with my former manager, “Fuzz,” this Saturday; I watched him play cornhole at the Biltmore while I sipped a PBR and waited for my sister, a Biltmore waitress, to get off work. Fuzz and I looked across the fence over to The Backyard — the name I will forever call that building, no matter who owns it or what food it sells — and the two of us lamented the building’s changing facade. “I wonder if there’s anything left in there,” I whispered, partly to Fuzz and partly to myself. “No,” he responded with certainty, “no, it’s all cleared out.”
I sighed, “Yeah, that’s probably right,” but a part of me couldn’t help but long to run through the front door, past the construction workers and ripped up wood, past the torn-up dining room and bar, into the kitchen, where I was certain there was something still waiting for me. “What would you want from there anyway?” Fuzz asked. “My artwork!” I laughed and he laughed, and I realized the absurdity of my wish.
All I wanted was to recover a few pieces of computer paper I had hung up on the wall in the tiny kitchen. They weren’t just pieces of paper, though; they were portraits. In late May, in the awkward two-week period after school ended and before I went abroad for a month, I drew “portraits” of myself and two of my friends who worked in the kitchen.
“Here are all of our faces,” I told them, as they looked at me like they always looked at me — like I’m a crazy loon. “So it will be just like I’m here when I’m gone for a month!” Then I would be back, and we could take down the pictures — my smiling face ringed by brunette locks, and the faces of the blonde boy and the brunette boy with a bandana wrapped around his head. After that month, then they could continue to berate me for my endless mistakes, and I could continue to convince them to let me listen to my Pandora stations for “just a couple of songs.”
But I never got the chance to take down my pictures, and now I’m not sure where they are. I’m not sure where my friends are either, and it saddens me deeply that I cannot place their faces somewhere, in some context. I miss The Backyard maybe more than I should, maybe more than any waitress should ever miss her old job. Now I’m a waitress somewhere else, and almost every day, as I portion out ranch and wipe down tables, I start to tell my new coworkers an anecdote from my old job. “And this one time!” it always begins, but my coworkers don’t really care, and I usually don’t do the story justice, leaving me sad that what used to be my every day is now just a story. “Wow,” they mutter, sweeping up stray fries, “wish we did that here.”
I’m not sure what the new restaurant at the end of Elliewood will look like; I’m not sure how long it will last. The place is cursed, I’m convinced; the building changes hands nearly every few years. But some things haven’t changed, and some stories keep on being retold.
“Well, what happened to the foosball table?” I asked Fuzz, remembering the endless games customers would play, and the dramatic challenges that bartenders and bouncers and managers would partake in, cheering or cursing whenever someone scored. It was an old table, sitting on a lopsided floor. Whenever anyone got “skunked,” the rule was that you had to streak in and around the restaurant after closing. I was a victim of this rule the summer I started working there, and I always made sure to remind the players that there was no backing out of the consequences of a loss. “Oh don’t worry, it’s upstairs,” Fuzz said, pointing to the second floor of Biltmore, “and in five years, you’ll be up there telling kids that no matter what, the rules are the same.”
There is a way in which we choose to deal with memories. Sometimes we cherish them, sometimes we compartmentalize them, and sometimes, when the memories are especially fragile, we put them somewhere safe, so they may continue to live on.
Mary Scott’s column runs biweekly Wednesdays. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.