She died fast, I heard, and she died happy. And I know she left with no regrets, because that’s just how she was. But Greensboro was better with her in it, so I suspect we’ll feel the emptiness for a while.

I met Leigh Hathaway when times were good – at least I thought they were: her slinging drinks behind the bar at Solaris, me stopping in one or two (or maybe three) times a week for scotch and fellowship.

It was 20 years ago, and we were young then, though we didn’t feel young, and if someone called us that we were quick to take offense. We had lived, dammit, before we acquiesced to our own versions of “settling down.”

We were both married then, with full houses of children, hers a couple clicks older than mine. I had just quit tending bar and she was just getting going. We recognized one another the moment we met.

And there was something else: We both came to Greensboro by choice, in the prime of our lives, looking for something… better. And we agreed that a perch behind the bar was as good a place to start as any.

The city was different then, and we took it upon ourselves to make it into the kind of place we wanted it to be. My aspirations were professional. Hers were strictly personal. Leigh was interested in building a community, a cadre of like-minded folks who could build each other up, lean on each other when they needed to, celebrate when it’s called for, mourn when necessary.

She always listened; she never judged; and she always seemed to pop up in the times when you needed her most.

Our lives changed and then diverged, yet still our paths would cross — at the farmers market, on the street, at the coffeeshop, and those times I dared poke my head into the bars on Walker Avenue I used to love so well.

She smiled. She always smiled.

Now, I ache along with the rest of her long-termers, lost souls and those just passing through. She was always there for us, and there’s nothing we can do for her, except remember her well.

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