I’m sipping an almost warm beer at this place, one of my usual after-school destinations. It’s dark and stuffy, packed with this Friday night’s crowd. It’s been over a year since I graduated from college, yet like every other place that holds some of our happiest memories, places we’ve passed through innumerable times in the past, I find myself coming back. Drawn not by some sappy nostalgia, but by an anchor of familiarity that places like these afford in times of uncertainty and unease.
Yet as I observed the faces and movements and raised voices of the rowdy crowd of students around me, I knew that as I downed the last of my drink, that this was no longer the place I once knew.
We define spaces with our past experiences with them. They become our memories, fused to our identities. But as time goes by, when we revisit these spaces that have earned a special place in our lives, we realize things are different. We find that the people who once inhabited a space have been replaced by strangers, people who have filled in for us since we left and who have since claimed that space as their own. In these moments, we’re all that’s left of our memories, walking fragments.
One of the biggest things I miss about college is going to the bars, and coffee shops, and restaurants outside campus and seeing familiar faces. Friends, acquaintances, people I’ve seen in school, even people I dislike. I could always find someone I knew at my favorite after-school watering hole to have a drink and conversation with.
Now I come back to these places and I see strangers, assembling memories of their own. My own memories remain as such, intangible, invisible, having meaning only to me. Fragments of memory that have likely reshaped themselves, in imperfect human brain fashion, into something completely altered from the original, seeking to reshape a space as it once was, or at least as I once knew it. It feels as if I had stepped out of a room for a while and walked back in, only to find that someone had rearranged all the furniture.
We feel as if the meaning to these places are lost, devolving day by day into some distant memory. It’s sad, sure. But these places never really lose meaning for us no matter how much they’ve changed. As much as most of us want to, we aren’t meant to hoard these places as our own fortresses of nostalgia, as if we’ve rightfully claimed these spaces as our own. We haven’t really lost these places because we carry those places with us as we go along.
Our own lives progress into accepting more responsibilities, fulfilling more obligations, meeting new people, making new memories. The further we go on, the further we’re thrust into unfamiliarity. We return less and less to these places we’ve found so much comfort in—our havens, places where we felt like we belonged, where we left our problems at the door for a while. One day we’ll completely lose these spaces. We’ll move countries, places will get torn down, and we’ll no longer have the time or longing to revisit them. So we go back to these places while we still can, not because we can’t let go of the past, but because our most fond memories are always worth revisiting.
So I order another beer. I let myself enjoy the dimness, and the seediness, and the noise. I laugh at a friend’s joke. Life’s passing things bother me, at least for the rest of the night. I feel like this place will be around for a very long time.