The Way It Was

I’ll be seeing you, in all the old familiar places
That this heart of mine embraces, all day through*
 I received an email from my best friend yesterday. Attached was this picture and enclosed were the words “Bye Bye Barefoot”. At first I didn’t recognize the place, but when I read those words, my memories colored in the empty spaces of the building.

The side of the restaurant that is partitioned off held a small wooden patio, big enough for about twelve small tables. The French doors between the patio and the bar portion of the restaurant were always open, the noises of the bar spilling out onto the warmth and the hum of the patio. Pink bouganvilla climbed the walls and encircled the faded white welcoming letters that spelled out “BAREFOOT”.

I lived on this patio. For almost 10 years it was a gathering spot for me and my best friends. Like homing pigeons, no matter where we were in our lives (employed, not employed, dating, dumped, looking, happy, miserable) no matter where we lived (Brentwood, West Hollywood, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, Malibu, New York, Austin, London), we returned home to this patio. This patio is where we caught up on each other’s lives. This patio is where we shared bottle after bottle after bottle of Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio (something I rarely order since, and cannot drink without thinking of those lost days). We celebrated our college graduation together, up in that glass room. For awhile we lived right around the corner and went there weekly for dinner. We went there when we couldn’t think of anywhere else to go. We went there because it had a great patio, or great salads, or because it was half-way in between our respective apartments. We went there because we had always gone there.

I’m not sure it was the best restaurant. I only remember the wine, and the patio, and the talks.  We rehashed break-ups and make-ups, we celebrated birthdays and promotions and new acting roles, we plotted and planned and dreamed. We went there because we were happy and the night was beautiful. We went there because we were unhappy or bored or lonely. We went there because the possibilities of life were spilling out of us and we needed somewhere to discuss and contemplate what they meant. We went there because we were defeated and sure that life had gotten away from us. We went there to be reminded that we were young, and beautiful, and could waste an entire moon-lit evening on a patio with our best friends, just because.

Place is a funny thing. This is just a restaurant, a building, with walls and pipes and concrete. Take away the sign and the patio and the flowers, the menus and the food and the chairs, and it’s just an empty shell. It just is, until it will become something else. We haven’t been to Barefoot in years. In fact, I cannot remember the last time I spent an evening there. But in my mind, it is always there, waiting for us, the four of us, to pull up a chair, and order a bottle of wine, to start a story with “So, listen to this”. In my mind, we aren’t that far removed from those girls. We could still pull out our jeans and stilettos and flimsy gossamer tank tops and put on our lip gloss and so easily slide back onto that patio, into who we once were.

The reality is that was probably 10 years ago. I never wear lip gloss anymore (too sticky with a baby). The tank tops are buried in the back of our closets. When I do visit my friends, our talk is of babies and balancing career and life, of next steps and what is worth it. We still drink bottles of wine together, but now we are much more content to do it in a cozy living room, in our sweat pants, with our sleeping babies in the next room. The point isn’t that we even want to go back to Barefoot. But I always assumed we still could.

There is another place that is filled with memories for us, a zany bar/restaurant, tucked away on a cobblestone street near Saint-Germain-des-Prés. We spent a few hilariously drunken nights there while students in Paris, the kind of nights that happen spontaneously. Before you know it, you are drinking something called “Scorpion’s Top Secret” out of a steaming punch bowl that is filled with candy-colored twisting straws. Drinking out of punch bowls leads to befriending other drunk tourists and somehow falling down some steps and finding a basement room of French karaoke. (Note, the French take their karoke very seriously.) The nights we spent in this pub were legendary, and it became the code word that encapsulated our entire experience in France together.

Exactly ten years after our brief sojourn in Paris, my best friends and I found ourselves back in Paris together for a weekend. I was in law school, A was living in New York City, M still in California, and we would all be married within the next two years. But there we were, in Paris again. We wandered the streets and tried to remember what it felt like to be those girls again, young and raw, with bad haircuts and chubby faces. On the last night, we decided to find the pub for one last “Scorpion’s Top Secret”. We got off at the metro stop and instinctively wound our way through the back streets, silently following, one behind the other. M got there first and stopped. She said nothing and just pointed. We looked up, and in my memory the building that housed the pub was literally falling down. The front walls had been removed and the floors were collapsing on top of each other. It was being torn down and nothing familiar remained. Though we were disappointed, I think we all felt some relief. We couldn’t recreate our 20 year old selves, and no night would ever live up to those in our memory. It seemed appropriate, that the past should stay wrapped up in our pink hazy memory.

But the closing of Barefoot seems different. It feels like a flashing sign in front of my face telling me the obvious: You can’t go back. That old life isn’t just on pause, waiting for you to come back and press play and fall back into that world for an evening. Everyone has moved on. Everyone is married and becoming successful and having babies and living the next part of their lives. As am I. And I love this new part of my life, love the grown up I have become. But I still feel like that California girl and I suspect I always will.

Still, I can’t help but be sad at this physical reminder that a life I once had has been shut down and dismantled. I’ve put a lot of work into this new life, but I am nostalgic for that old one. It didn’t fit quite as well as this one, but it was the life that bears the scars of my growing up. Like your childhood bedroom, the one that is too small and too turquoise and filled with things that you no longer need, you still want it to remain the way it was, just in case you need to go home again.

What I am ever so grateful for, and am reminded of in writing this post, is that, of course, nothing has been lost. What made Barefoot so memorable in my mind is that it was a place that bore witness to the greatest friendships of my life. The things I remember so wistfully, are in fact things that I can pick up the phone and remember with the ones that were there with me. The memories and the friendships aren’t beholden to something as limiting as a building. They live within us, and can never be torn down or demolished.

*Soundtrack: I’ll Be Seeing You, Music by Sammy Fain, Lyrics by Irving Kahal, as sung by Billie Holiday


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