Here I am.
All this time away and I'm back in this place again. There's no design to the visit, just a whim, some accidental proximity and the words in the back of my head, “I haven't been there in a while. I think I'll drop by.“
When I was a junior and senior in college, I was here everyday. I knew a third the clientèle by name and another third on sight. I languished after hours, knew the life stories of the employees, understood the intricacies of the pricing system, could sing all of the canned songs and I had a table everyone knew to be mine. Kitten worked in the bagel shop next door and would join me each afternoon when he had finished work and I had left class.
The place has changed in the half decade since I vacated, changed, but only just so. The tables have been rearranged and the kick-nacks re-purposed but the functionality and feel is exactly the same. The menu has expanded but the simple black coffee never evolves. The faces are different but the people aren't. They're just like I was a half decade past, eager but waiting, unsure but certain and carefree with the weight of an imagined world on their shoulders.
There's a familiar face at the other end of the room but I'm tempted to assume that I'm not recognized, looking so different now than then. I'm sure that if I were identified that any interaction would be awkward and strained. I can't even remember if that person liked me and I'm very sure that it doesn't matter any longer.
My world has both expanded and narrowed since my days here. I crossed a certain critical life threshold and the possibilities regarding the balance of my life have transitioned from a broad expanse extending endlessly and dauntingly in all directions to a simple set of paths that, though treacherous, circuitous and difficult to traverse, have a precise course and an unambiguous destination.
Thusly, I have no more time for this place, for the idle hours and the meditative afternoons, for the languid conversation and the self-congratulatory ownership of space. I don't care to spend more than the nostalgic hour remembering the ambitious, eager and clueless person that used to wear my skin. Don't misunderstand; I had many happy times here. This was a place of camaraderie and laughter, of revelry and learning, of contemplation and confession. The time I spent here reading, carousing, studying, scheming, chatting, dozing and busily going about the business-less business of being in my early twenties remains some of the most memorable. That time was not wasted. The place just doesn't quite fit today, like an old leather jacket that still has it's style and smell but has gotten too narrow in the shoulders, the one that was so cool but that you know you'll never put back on.
It's a nice place to visit but I'm glad I don't live here anymore.