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5.19.2015


A Kind of Nostalgia
NICOLE TONE

The Thirsty Buffalo was too full, even for a Wednesday.

Jake had been sitting there for a while now, unable to flag down a bartender. Conversations were yelled over the hockey game that blared from the large television screens. Food was being passed out, drinks downed, money left on top of the bar as patrons moved on to the next part of their night. Had it been summer, some of them would have spilled out onto the porch. But tonight was too cold for the room of windows. Instead, they all crowded the bar and the high-top tables, faces too pale, even for the darkest patrons, against the dark brown wood of the walls as they bathed in the blue glow of the television screens.

Outside, Buffalo clung to winter out of desperation. The summers had been too warm, too humid; but the cold ached and the too-full bars could offer little solace from the bitterness of the wind. It was another reminder of how long he had lived here.

A guy had just sat down next to him. His face was unshaven, dark hair streaked gray. The man looked like he was in his forties, maybe older, but still gave Jake the same forlorn sense—the feeling that, if something didn’t happen soon, this would be his life. He would throw himself onto bar stools every night after work, attempt to strike up conversations with strangers, go home alone. The cycle would repeat until he died.

“No luck, huh?” The guy asked.

Jake could barely hear him over the cacophony. “No, not yet. I’ve been trying for a while now.”

The shift at the vet clinic that day had been long, too long. He hadn’t heard from Jenny in two days. What a mistake that had been. These things ate away at him, the way his empty stomach did, the way his irritation did that this guy was trying to strike up conversation in the middle of the game. Even if Jake didn’t care all that much about hockey, it was still better than trying to ignite a friendship out of nothing. Jake had friends. He didn’t need any more.

“What can I get you?” The bartender, small and blond, black T-shirt cut low enough to show off some cleavage, smiled at them.

Jake thanked whatever gods existed that she came over, that she looked like this, that she had a kind smile. “Just a Jameson. Tall.” A post-college vice. Whiskey, by the gallons.

“Jack and Coke for me. Put it on my tab.” The guy said, reaching into his back pocket to pull out a worn-out, black leather wallet. It landed with a small splash, condensation from a previous patron still lingering in their wake.

The bartender took it with a smile and walked away. Jake wondered if she’d actually come back.

“So what brings you here?” Again, an attempt at conversation.

Jake gritted his teeth. Even if the guy was buying him a drink he didn’t care to share. “Here, to the bar? Or Buffalo?”

“Buffalo. Here is pretty self-explanatory.”

Jake laughed. The bartender came back with their drinks. Jake accepted his, savoring the first sip. The question the stranger asked was loaded; Jake was too sober, much too sober, to get into the full explanation. He remembered freshman year when the answer was simple: that he was a student, he was getting his history degree, that his girlfriend was just out with some of her friends.

“I moved here after college. I liked the area.”

He took another sip of his drink, watching the stranger. His answer wasn’t exactly a lie. Buffalo was a great city—better than Horseheads, than the middle of nowhere, than some big city he would lose himself in. Despite the extreme lack of sense of self, there was still a salt-covered sliver of hope that he’d figure it all out one day.

“Bullshit.” The man sat forward, shaking his head. “No one just moves here because they like the area. The only reason anybody would move here is for a girl.”

Jake choked on his drink.

“See? I told you.” The man leaned back now, smiling, his own drink half gone.

Jake took another sip. He had just forgotten about the way Jenny felt under him, the way she laughed, the little snore she made in her sleep. Each promise of forever whenever she came back to him. There wasn’t enough alcohol to help cleanse him of the memories, of the feelings that came with it, of the crippling depression he had endured following the last breakup. His bed was empty, his heart broken. A move to Buffalo, to the big city on this side of the state, for nothing. How depressing.

“Well, are you going to tell me about her or what? I’m coming off of a 24-hour shift. You have to give me something.”

“I’m Jake.”

“Peter. Now, get on with it. What bitch broke your heart?”

Jake shook his head. “No, it wasn’t like that.” A pause. “I don’t know—maybe it was. We were dating in high school, and I followed her here to college.”

“So, you had yourself a live-in girlfriend.”

“Basically. And things were fine until she started going to parties. I didn’t. I couldn’t. I wasn’t that kind of guy. But I didn’t want to stop her from going and having fun, you know? Plus there was another girl I was kind of into. But it was stupid. Just flirting between friends. But that’s normal.” Jake stopped to take another sip of his drink. The bottom of his glass was too clear for comfort. He was glad he walked there.

Peter waved his hand, flagging down the bartender, silently ordering another round.

It had been a while since Jake had thought of Natalie, of the glimmer of hope that good things could happen without Jenny. But he had shot that horse in the face a long time ago. Jenny had been his focus; the more she pulled away, the more he couldn’t get enough of her.

“It’s normal, especially when you’re still a kid.”

“But, yeah, so... We dated off and on through college and finally things were looking good. I was getting an apartment; she was going to move in with me. Then suddenly, she’s saying it’s too much, too soon. She needs space. Again.” He slammed his fist on top of the bar. “And here I am, another winter in this god damn town.”

The thing was, his love affair with Jenny was so much like his love affair with Buffalo: it had been so new, exciting, and full of promise at one point in time. Now, the bitter cold of winter was bearing down on him, and he didn’t want to deal with it anymore. But he couldn’t leave, couldn’t turn his back on something he was so sure of. But so much like the old Central Terminal and the dark and empty HSBC tower, he felt haunted no matter what he did. Jenny would be a part of him. How she destroyed him was her legacy.

“What about that other girl?”

Peter was too calm for Jake’s liking now. Irritation grew as Peter leaned back in his chair, watching, half-smiling. Jake wanted to punch him.

“What do you mean?”

“Whatever happened with her?”

Jake shrugged. Natalie had been something special, yet unobtainable—something he could easily covet from afar, especially when things weren’t going well with Jenny. “Well, nothing. I just keep going from dating Jenny, to not dating her, to fucking her, to not fucking her.”

Peter shook his head, laughing. “I had a girl like that once. Only once. Messed me up pretty bad for a pretty long while. But before me, she had a guy that messed her up pretty bad. We’re all just trying to bump along this road, trying to find some sort of connection to someone or something and come up short. Aren’t we? We end up connecting with the wrong people and ignoring the right ones, especially when they’re right there.”

It pissed Jake off, how sobering the thought was. Truth was never easy to accept. Truth from a strange middle-aged man who bought you a drink was even harder still. Jenny had been so right for so many reasons—but they fell away each time they would break up.

“It’s not the connection to the girl you miss. It’s the connection to the guy you were. Everything gets so fucked up when nostalgia sets in,” Peter added, lifting up his glass, taking another sip. “I see it happen all the time. You get the people who get too caught up in the past or the future, and they don’t go on living. They stay stuck, just like this, just like you are.”

“I’m not stuck.”

“Bullshit.”

Jake laughed again, not because Peter was right, but because Peter had a habit of thinking Jake was lying. “It’s true. I finished college. I’ve got a steady job. My love life is, well, lacking. But whose isn’t?”

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Well, what did you mean?”

“You’ve got nothing that makes you feel alive. You come to a bar and sit by yourself. You willingly talk to a stranger about why you’re here. You’re stuck.”

“I could leave.”

“Sure, you could. Any of us could leave, but we don’t want to. The devil we know is better than the devil that we don’t know. You stick to your whiskey, to that girl, to Buffalo, to your job, because they’re comfortable. But that’s no way to live. You’re just surviving.”

Jake stayed quiet for a long time. The sound of the game filled the space in conversation, the people around him cheering, yelling, getting excited with the announcer’s voice. As Buffalo scored on their rival, the crowd at the bar going crazy, Jake wanted this. Wanted to feel this alive again.

“You should call her,” Peter finally said.

“Who?”

“That other girl. You still think about her, don’t you? You’ve got to.”

Jake looked at him, at his graying hair, at the way the alcohol glossed over his eyes. Despite all that, despite that maybe even Jenny’s ghost lingered behind him, he nodded. “Yeah, sometimes.”

“How long has it been since you’ve talked to her?”

Jake shrugged. When he was getting consistently drunk, he would consistently text her. But it was during those sober times that he feared reaching out, feared more rejection. He was also sure that the second he would move on, Jenny would come back around. She always did. “We talk off and on.”

“You should call her.”

“Now?”

Peter nodded, waving away the bartender as she reached for his empty glass. “What have you got to lose?”

The idea sank through him, the lead balloon now bathed in whiskey. Finally, he nodded, getting up from his seat.

“Where ya goin?” Peter’s eyebrows raised, disappointment pulling lines across his face.

“I’m gonna head out. Maybe call Natalie. Thanks, man.” Jake held out his hand and Peter shook it before turning his back to Jake. The third quarter of the game was going to start soon.

Jake walked back out into the cold, wind blowing snow and garbage down Elmwood Avenue. A group of kids wandered into Jim’s Steakout, safe from the weather. He had been them, once, drawn to the only place that stayed open later than the bars did. For a second, he considered crossing the street and seeking refuge in a chicken-finger sub. Instead, he walked downtown, toward his apartment.




Nicole Tone has her BA in Creative Writing and Literature from Southern New Hampshire University and is working toward her MFA in Creative Writing at Chatham University. In her free time, she is an editorial intern for REUTS Publications and the Industry News Coordinator for the Women Fiction Writers Association. You can follow her on Twitter at @nicoleatone or visit her website at nicoleatone.com.


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