I’ve lived in two states, seven cities, five apartment buildings, and five houses but only one place in particular reminds me of my growth whenever I find myself back in its presence. This place has seen several different versions of me, at my worst and my best, alone or strolling in with someone by my side or close behind me, in love and out of love. The tables and chairs may have scattered, and the baristas and the art on the walls may be interchangeable, but every time I come back, I remember every single time I was there before, who I was with, what my main concerns were, the things I gabbed and gossiped and debated about – I laughed, I cried, I sipped. It all dissolves into one feeling, the collective feeling of home accompanied by a screeching espresso machine.
The first time I went there with someone, I was fifteen. The summer before my sophomore year of high school. It was with a boy and in the sheer ridiculousness of it all I did not even know it was a date. Despite my obliviousness to the nature of this occasion, I still felt the need to look my best. Which at fifteen consisted of curling my hair with Conair hot rollers, wearing too much sparkly brown eyeliner, and pairing a black-and-white polka-dotted dress with an elbow-patched burgundy cardigan. I also carried a copy of The Fault in Our Stars in my bag in hopes that I would need it to prove my intellectual superiority and add a youthful spark to my Trendy Grandma ensemble. As if John Green hadn’t done enough for me already. So I left the house and walked to the non-date-that-was-actually-a-date and I waited until I heard a deep voice say my name. I turned around and there he was, the boy who would only months later kickstart my writing career in break-up poetry, and ironically enough, come out to me the summer before our senior year of high school in the very same spot where we had our first date as a budding heterosexual couple (hey, it can happen to anybody). “Wow, you’re really tall!” I gushed. And so it began, the first of many conversations that would stretch into hours and overpower the last remaining drips of foam at the bottoms of mugs.
On weekends, after school, summer evenings, chilly winter days, rain or shine – I was there. And it was there for me regardless of the state of I was in, or who I was with – a journal, a boyfriend, an ex-boyfriend transformed into a buddy, a best friend, an old friend. It was no stranger to me or what I was bringing in with me. Within these walls I felt safe, protected from the world of heartbreakers and bad Algebra II test grades and family squabbles.Those harsh realities were replaced by the smells of vegan pastries and the crooning of obscure indie bands over the speakers.
When I walk in there now it’s so easy for me to see versions of myself when I was sixteen, seventeen, or eighteen on one of my many coffee dates and marvel at how different everything is now. The world doesn’t stop for anybody, time passes however quickly or slowly it pleases, feelings fade in and out. To think that I spent so much time there with certain people and developed new languages that consisted of sneaking kisses while waiting in line and exchanging shy smiles and pushing the last half of the cookie across the table and rubbing lipstick off teeth, only to have them be archived and never spoken again. How funny it is, to think that I could ever question why or how I loved someone so much before and feel nothing years or months later in the same place we got to know each other, in the same place that was once part of our routine, blended into our togetherness. And how wild it is, that what appears to be just a local cafe to the common eye reminds me of everything about my youth and how temporary everything really is, and is the only place that has never made me feel lonely. Instead, I’m always filled to the brim, with memories of encounters and catch-up sessions, first and last dates, mental health days, reconciliations. All the hours I spent there are irreplaceable, as well as all the dollar bills I forked over in exchange for an ample supply of caffeine and conversation.