Expats

Early last Sunday morning in Athens, Ohio, the Union Bar & Grill burned down to the ground, gutted behind the facade. Students at Ohio University who were there will remember it for the rest of their lives, much like I and my friends still remember the night that Belk’s Department Store was struck by lightning and destroyed in spring 1982. We had nicknamed the site of that fire Little Beirut. For the rest of our college years, it remained a pile of rubble.

The last time I visited the Union was 2001. It was springtime and 30 or so of us alumni gathered for a weekend reunion of our own design, unsanctioned by the college. A few in our group played in bands together during college; that spring night, they played in the Baker Center ballroom in a private show just for us. Then we gathered up their instruments and sound equipment and walked to the Union, like troubadours, where they had been booked to perform that night. We drank, danced, laughed, drank more, stayed up way too late for 40-year-olds. In a year that would end up so tragically ruinous, that May weekend remains framed in my mind as a moment of bliss.

The Union occupied a turn-of-the-century storefront, shotgun-style building common to Ohio’s small towns. In my mind’s eye, I can see the bar on the left and a long row of stools, and then tables and the jukebox toward the back. Bands played upstairs on weekends and it was the place to dance after the Frontier Room closed and Swanky’s was too crowded.

The friends I made in college—my tribe—are still my friends today. Our group of 30 has expanded to 50-100, depending on the waxing and waning of our individual social media interest. In the years since Facebook has exploded, our circle has widened to rings of other friends connected to still more friends, effectively recreating that experience of walking down Court Street and knowing nearly everyone you passed.

Over the years, I’ve tried to pin down why this group sustains me, how we came to be. The best I can come up with is that we accidentally became a community of expatriates. Expats of our hometowns—from Cleveland to Long Island, we landed in the hills of southeastern Ohio. We found in each other our own identities. I can still picture a dozen of us crammed into a friend’s two-bedroom apartment during a frigid winter weekend. We didn’t study. We talked about music, books, politics. We laughed and created new memes—long before we knew the meaning of memes. The only time anyone left the apartment that weekend was to get beer and cigarettes.  We belonged together.

In my head, I picture these friends tonight as if I’m watching a movie – the camera pans to each face and captures an expression, the camera lingers to watch how each person responds to the other: this one laughs generously, throwing his head back;  she rolls her eyes in feigned exasperation; he talks fast and gesticulates madly, while she listens, eyebrows arched in surprise. I know these faces.  Yes, they’ve aged but I know them as well as I knew my father’s hands, hands I held often and studied as a child.

The town is different.  The Union is gone. But the town has always changed, just as we have grown. It doesn’t seem to matter. We grow with the same rooting soil and find each other as the sun warms and calls us out into the world, to each other, again.

19 Comments Expats

  1. Asha November 19, 2014 at 11:29 pm

    Oh Meg, this was so familiar! Great comparison with expats. It is that poignancy of relationships that have changed in your absence, the sense of elusive familiarity. What a lovely tribute to long-held friendships.

    Reply
    1. Meg December 4, 2014 at 12:44 am

      Thanks so much for this, Asha. Apologies for the delay in thanking you ~ crazy couple of weeks. Anyway, I’m glad it struck a chord.

      Reply
  2. Shailaja/ The Moving Quill November 19, 2014 at 11:32 pm

    Such a bittersweet post, evoking such incredible memories. I particularly liked the paragraph where you speak of the camera images. Some things are just so clear, aren’t they? You need to close your eyes for a brief second and everything becomes crystal clear. Amazing!

    Reply
    1. Meg December 4, 2014 at 12:44 am

      So kind of you to read and comment, Shailaja. Thank you! Hope you’re doing well.

      Reply
      1. Shailaja/ The Moving Quill December 4, 2014 at 12:45 am

        I so wish i could say,yes. Undergoing treatment right now for the shoulder problem. Thanks for asking, Meg

        Reply
        1. Meg December 4, 2014 at 12:56 am

          Ugh. Did you have surgery? I think I mentioned I had neck surgery. The good thing was it only took a month to heal. Follow doctor’s orders, especially physical therapy! Hope you start feeling better soon.

          Reply
  3. searchingforsubstance November 20, 2014 at 2:04 am

    i know what you mean, about finding such a bond with your classmates, and though you grow older and move on, when you look back, there is such a fondness. love the metaphor in your last sentence, about rooting soil and then being called out into the world. so eloquent.

    Reply
    1. Meg December 4, 2014 at 12:46 am

      Thank you very much. These bonds are special indeed.

      Reply
  4. LauraALord November 20, 2014 at 9:35 am

    Beautifully done and so easy to relate to. Those bonds that we form and the way they last through time…Amazing.

    Reply
    1. Meg December 4, 2014 at 12:46 am

      Many thanks for your kind comments and reading, Laura!

      Reply
  5. jedwardbenoit November 20, 2014 at 11:34 am

    You really stirred a lot up in me with this. This piece was profoundly moving and familiar to me. It made me miss my college days like mad.

    Reply
    1. Meg December 4, 2014 at 12:47 am

      Awwww…glad it rang true to you too. We are lucky to have such friendships.

      Reply
  6. Silverleaf November 20, 2014 at 12:31 pm

    Love the feeling of nostalgia and reflection you create here, Meg. “I can still picture a dozen of us crammed into a friend’s two-bedroom apartment during a frigid winter weekend. We didn’t study. We talked about music, books, politics.” That makes me yearn for those years myself, makes me feel that if I close my eyes, I could almost imagine myself into my own memory of that scene.

    By the way, every time I read one of your posts, I admire your blog’s new look. I’m always looking for a theme that will put more focus on my content and less on my other stuff…this theme really works well with your writing.

    Reply
    1. Meg December 4, 2014 at 12:50 am

      Silver! So sorry for the pause in responding. Thanks, as always, for your lovely thoughts. I do wish I could go back there!

      Glad you like the new look of Pigspittle. I like having the posts on the home page all lined up. The only thing I don’t like are the huge margins. Thanks for the compliment. xoxo

      Reply
  7. Kathy Combs (@KathyCombs16) November 20, 2014 at 4:31 pm

    How wonderful to have friendships that you have carried with you your whole life. I am envious. I think it is marvelous. Face Book is really an awesome way to bring everyone back in touch.

    Reply
    1. Meg December 4, 2014 at 12:51 am

      Yes, I feel so fortunate to still have these good people in my life, especially being terrible at staying in touch with friends. FB is a huge help. Thanks for reading, Kathy!

      Reply
  8. MamaMickTerry November 28, 2014 at 9:03 am

    This was beautiful, Meg. I’ve been saving it in my inbox for too long and wished I would have read it sooner.
    I often tell my college-age daughter that the friends she makes now will be her lifetime, forever-friends. Some of my best memories linger in wooden bar room booths. I saw an old friend just last week–it had been 20 years. That’s way too long isn’t it?
    I hope you had a fantastic Thanksgiving…I think of you often!

    Reply
    1. Meg December 4, 2014 at 12:54 am

      Michelle, dear friend! So good to hear from you. Where did you go to college? It transformed me. Yes, we had those bars with the wooden booths too. I can half picture the graffiti etched into the tables. Thanks for stopping by. Hope November went well for you and that you had a great Thanksgiving. Much love.

      Reply
      1. MamaMickTerry December 4, 2014 at 9:14 pm

        I went to an itty bitty college in Western KS–Fort Hays State University. My favorite bar was the Brass Rail on Thursday nights…followed by The Golden Q which was walking distance away. My daughter attended our Alma Mater for one year and it was like magic to visit almost twenty years later.
        Hope you are well, Miss Meg. I miss you!!

        Reply

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