It’s March 1, colder and icier than Dallas ought to be, and I’m sitting at the Library Bar inside the Warwick Melrose Hotel, thinking about how I should be preparing to head off to Javier’s for my friend Hayden’s 25th birthday party instead of making last-minute dinner plans with my girlfriend and some pledge brothers.
Hayden always liked fancy hotel bars. He would’ve liked it here, I think.
Looking around at the Library, it hits me that this time last year, I was in Colorado, away from Dallas, without plans to return for the first time in my life. When I first moved there, nothing happened for a long time. There was the snow, a small cabin away from neighbors and quiet.
This was mostly by design, and if I could have helped it, nothing would’ve happened for a lot longer, because the first “thing” that happened after I moved to Colorado was a phone call from my friend JB telling me that Hayden had fallen off the top of a parking garage and died. That was March 1, 2014.
Hell of a thing to die on your birthday, that sickening gut-punch of tombstone symmetry.
There are too many stories of Hayden. We filled up a book with them, but they were short and nice and didn’t say all the things we could’ve said, because the best stories are insular, and if they get too far away from the source, they risk scrubbing away the context that a knowing tone can impart.
I’ll try anyway, because as I sit at the bar in the Library — a gorgeous space of dark woods and rich leathers — I’m reminded of one from college that took place at a place similar to this.
Sometimes, our fraternity would put on parties that required our wearing sport coats instead of neon tank tops, and on those occasions, my friends and I liked to feel fancy by heading to The Driskill hotel in Austin before we had spilled cheap liquor all over ourselves. Hayden usually led the way, because then we could take our cue from him when he ordered his scotch.
So we’re at The Driskill, playing the part, acting like we belong, when we’re clearly still children playing with our parents’ money. We’re huddled on the side, hiding from the adults sitting around drinking the same Macallan and Lagavulin as we are, but they are doing it slower and more assuredly.
Against the wall behind us, there is a display case full of old-timey knickknacks from Texas settlers or something. I’m not even sure; I just know that I want the corn cob pipe resting on the top shelf, and I tell Hayden as much, the way people say they want that nice car stopped next to them at a light.
Hayden glances over at the bar, then grabs me and moves me between him and the rest of the room. In one motion, he slides the case’s door open, swipes the pipe off its shelf and slips it into my coat’s breast pocket. Then he laughs, saying, “Well, now you’ve got it,” and sips his Macallan 15.
I remember that my dog chewed up the pipe long ago, even though I swear that all happened last weekend, and I’m on the edge of my mind at the Library Bar, because it is all rushing back to me now. All of this ended a year ago, all of the stories frozen and the full context realized.
Hayden would’ve liked the Library Bar — the warmth of the space, the decidedly old-school, reserved opulence of the marble bar and deep leather chairs. I can’t remember now if he’d ever been here, if we ever talked about it. It’s the kind of hotel bar that creates a time all its own, and you can step away from the world entirely.
It’s increasingly hard to remember the conversations we had — each one melting into the next to create nebulous feelings rather than concrete expressions — but I know that I miss my friend. He would’ve liked this place for sure.