The College Bar

Entry by: jaguar

8th September 2015

It is, and it isn’t the same. The photo of the college bar on Facebook fades in and out of focus as I stare too hard. The garish green colour scheme tries to promote freshness but has the opposite effect. I think it was orange in our day but it jarred the same way. The stage still looms at one end of the bar. The guys standing on it look like my professors, peeled of hair and hope. Little people trying to carve some significance into their lives by raising themselves up onto platforms. Some of them might be the same people but I wouldn’t recognise them now.

Seated nearest the bar are girls in glamorous stroppy dresses, sipping their cocktails on their cushions of confidence. Further out there are the ones drinking pints and wearing sweaters, all marginalised bristle and self-awareness. Some things never change.

The sexes are surprisingly segregated as if it happens naturally, not just in the Middle East. Tables of boys in polo shorts with wiry, white arms. Just a few wear suits. All sat slightly awkwardly as if their chairs are intensely uncomfortable, which I seem to remember they always were. The sort of chairs that try and repel your bottom. No one looks sure how they ended up there, in that college bar.

There are flowers on the tables, balloons netted by the stage. It’s a recent but uncaptioned occasion, perhaps graduation. I wonder when those pictured will realise it has no consequence whatsoever. When that girl, who looks like me, will realise she’s never going to belong on a table of belles at the ball. She’s sending out conflicting signals already – long dull-brown hair inexpertly curled; an outfit which sprawls between a sweater and a dress.

There’s something missing in this photo, of course. Many things, many people but mainly you. I’m staring at this photo until my eyes blur, willing your image to appear. My anger burns with a cold flame. I thought I had it under control. I didn’t think it could still consume me. I know you won’t be there but I can’t believe it. Your absence feels like I’ve fallen to the bottom of a stairway of small mistakes. It feels like every idiot thing I’ve ever done combined.

Though who knows what would have happened if I’d ever told you how I felt. If I’d broken the rules of our misfit club and tried to get us together. You with your loud voice and your double crown so your hair looked like a guinea pig’s. Me with my hamster cheeks stuffed with sarcastic retorts. Stella with her gerbil teeth and frightened laugh she used like a shield. Jake with his short black crop, hairy black clothes and his pink, shiny skin. No wonder the popular kids called us the Rodent Pack.

We knew they laughed at us but I thought there was a note of envy in it. You were so outgoing, so sure in your skin, such a huge presence amongst all those scared children. In the second year their attitudes shifted and we were accepted as the resident geeks, the ones who studied and played too hard. We were always together, on our corner table in the bar drinking something unspeakably foul while you held forth. But you listened too in a way none of our fellow students seemed to do. We helped each other shape and form ourselves.

Do you remember graduation? All four of us sharing a room in the Travel-lodge. Stella brought a litre bottle of Baileys and you kept creeping out to the ice dispenser in the corridor with the plastic tooth mug. A swig from the bottle and an ice cube each. We all lay on the bed and took it in turns to say how we were feeling. Crammed as we were, only half of your body fitted on. The drink coated my teeth and tongue with its corrosive sweetness. The smell of it makes me sick to this day.

‘I’ve sort of become detached from myself,’ you said, ‘it’s like I took my personality off one night and left it on the chair, ready for the morning. When morning came I couldn’t find it again.’

‘Isn’t that normal?’ Stella said. ‘We’ve changed so taking our new selves back to our childhood home is going to feel weird.’

Jake sat up, creating some space and I pulled you in a bit. ‘I feel like that too,' he said, 'I don’t seem to fit in anywhere. I can’t find my groove.’ He rubbed himself down as if he were searching for it.

‘It’ll be OK.’ I said more firmly than I felt. ‘We’ve all got good jobs. We just have to do this grown-up thing until we get used to it.’

‘I don’t want to go to the graduation ceremony,’ you said. ‘I want to go backwards in time.’

The ice in my drink stung my lip. ‘Just come along with us. We’ll do the talking for you. There’d be a giant hole if you weren’t there.’ What I should have done was stay with you. I should have hugged you to me until you felt OK. I should have told you how often I missed your solidity now we were apart. How I was afraid you might have been the one and I’d missed my opportunity. Instead we went without you and when we got back you'd gone. Fallen off the bed for good.

I won’t be going to the reunion. I don’t want to go back to the place where I was most myself. Even if Stella and Jake agree to go it wouldn’t be the same. I hear you’re living under a hedge in Wales now. You managed five short years of adulthood and then you lost your mind as well as your sense of self. Your mother says you never found your harbour, you never felt safe but she's wrong. I know you slipped your anchorage.