This Coffee Shop

I’ve come to this coffee shop every day for one year. It was the anchor to my day, the one thing that was promised. I knew what the coffee would smell like and how much it would cost. Beyond that, I knew nothing about the day. I didn’t know if dad would be able to swallow. That changed overnight. One day my dad could swallow food and the next day he coughed it up. I stayed up past two every night because tomorrow could be worse. The only thing I knew about tomorrow was that when dad napped, I would get coffee. Decaf. Anxiety made my heart rate feel audible. I would order the same large decaf hot coffee from these same baristas everyday for one year and have never learned their names or said more than that order. This place was my nibble of normalcy and of independence and of anonymity. If I listened to the right music and texted the right friends, I could have been in New York, in my old life for a few minutes. This coffee shop is a chain. They have one blend of coffee. None of their treats are gluten free or vegan. They don’t have Matcha. They play Maroon Five. If this cafe existed in New York City it would be in midtown and you would need a big key with a spatula on it to use the bathroom. But this dumb place saved me. It gave me the reminder of my past life and silently promised me a life in the future, however distant. Pills, scans, prayers, they didn’t exist here. For a few minutes every day there was no fear, no talking, just a cup of coffee and some strangers. Today is the day before Thanksgiving and I’m in the same seat, same large cup of decaf coffee but fewer strangers. I’ve run into four people I went to high school with so far. My sanctuary is flooded with old faces, warmly offering words and hugs but blindly stripping me of my peace and namelessness. They are coming home from their lives for a weekend to be with their families. Of course they are! There is nothing wrong with it. Of course they are. But I feel sick. I want to be here for a visit. I want to be coming home to my parents and the pies. I want to be so excited to tell them about my shows and to hear about their recent adventure. Then I wanna go. And run back into my cozy den where I play and perform and kiss and work and come back when the streets are lit and the trees are cut. The magic of Thanksgiving and of Christmas and of home have disappeared into the shadows. They too are now landmarks that strip me of my peace and slap me into the ugly. They are reminders of pills and scans and prayers and of the empty seat at the dining room table. I’ve been reassured that time will make me feel better. Sure. But that seat will remain empty. And I still can’t believe it. The table is set for one less and the sun will rise and the holiday will come and I will run our loop alone and pretend to enjoy the food. People will count blessings and I will count the minutes until the day is over. I’m not ready to be seen. By these old faces or these new holidays. If I hide from it all, it’s less real. I want to wear this coffee shop as a winter coat. But it’s closing in an hour and my family is piling up at home and my friends are going to a bar tonight and life goes on. And if my dad were here, he would run and eat too much stuffing and grab beers with high school friends and be seen. He wore snakeskin boots and a cowboy hat to the market. The man could not hide. So I will try my best to follow suit. Maybe those people don’t know shit and maybe it’s not about letting time pass but about spending the time the way my dad would have. Maybe it’s not about getting used to the empty seat but about filling it with his spirit. Maybe it’s not. But I might as well try it because dad wasn’t the type to sit around and wait. In fact, I don’t think he ever did either of those things. The least I can do is leave this coffee shop and suck in the cold air and watch the sun set. It will rise tomorrow. And I will be sad and I will want to stay in bed but I will be thankful for him for living in me, for getting me up and for pushing me on.