Of Coffee Houses and Lost Friends

Coffee houses are doors into different realities.

A few years ago, I read this snippet—don’t remember where—by a man who’d decided to wax poetic about coffee houses. To him, they were these magical places exempt from the normal flow of time, a secluded section of space where philosophers gathered to discuss theories about the universe over cups of caffe latte and espresso. This idea appealed to the romanticism inherent deep within me; I understood what the speaker meant, because I had experienced it. Our everyday reality doesn’t exist in coffee houses.

I don’t want to sound like an elitist, but this feeling isn’t achieved in corporate places; only the local coffee house, with its wood and rustics and noticeably non-corporate messiness, can find that perfect balance of artsy and sentimental without trying too hard. I’ve felt it in countless local shops—places like Cups in Mississippi and Mill Mountain Coffee & Tea in Virginia.

To be able to work in one of those alternate dimensions, to exist in a local coffee house as a constant, is something I always wanted. This summer, my wish was granted, and I work now at the previously-mentioned Mill Mountain Coffee & Tea. I have only officially been employed for about two-and-a-half weeks, and my hours and responsibilities have grown with every scheduled week that passes. I’ve earned over three-hundred dollars working there in just that time, not including the tips I pocketed, and I love it.

Mostly.

There are downsides to every workplace, of course. Working somewhere is not like visiting it. Before I talk about the bad, however, I want to talk about the good.

Interacting with customers is rather enjoyable for me; customer service is something I’ve been doing for years, and I’m good at it. I have a knack for making people let down their guard and feel at home wherever I’m working, and it seems this coffee house brings out the best and brightest parts of that. Today alone, a really cute boy flirted with me and gave me a large tip, I made silly jokes and passing conversation with an elderly couple who liked my hair, I helped a guy figure out why his phone’s Apple Pay wouldn’t work, and then I met an older man who looked like Bill Nye and complimented my NASA t-shirt.

“You’re a NASA fan?” he asked.

I nodded, enthusiastic. “Oh, absolutely! I love space and space travel and astronomy. I find them all so fascinating.”

We then proceeded to have an overly-excited conversation about which discoveries by NASA in the past few years were our personal favorites—for him, the discovery of water on mars; for me, the inexplicably working EM drive. From there, we went on to discuss interstellar travel and in-depth theoretical astrophysics. I geeked-out about the correlation between black holes and Einstein Rosen bridges and how they all tied in to the theory of relativity, and he listened intently and with an air of satisfaction. After I gave him his coffee, he told me he was glad people were still interested in the infinity of space, and he left with a smile.

Another wonderful thing about my workplace is that all my coworkers are around my age—college students and recent grads, most just working there as an add-on to their main job. Aside from maybe one person I don’t get along with that well, they are wonderful, friendly and interesting and easy to get along with during rushes and slow hours. Being there stokes my extroverted side until I’m bursting with energy.

However, this is where the good starts to dial-down a notch.

I’ve not hung out with any of my co-workers outside of work hours, and, strangely, I’ve found that I don’t really want to. It’s not anything wrong with them, per se, and that doesn’t mean I’m not friends with my co-workers; I am, within the confines of work. If I saw them while out-and-about, I’d greet them and ask how they were. I just don’t want to go see movies with them or invite them to sleep overs or talk on the phone with them every night. I don’t want them to have my Facebook or personal phone number. I don’t want them to know about the existence of this blog, and I feel like that sounds kind of silly or maybe even cruel, but I can’t find it in myself to want to try to get really close to these people, no matter how friendly or interesting they are. A few days ago, I wasn’t sure why I felt this way; now I’ve figured it out.

Before graduation, I suddenly lost two of my closest friends—people I’d laughed and cried with, people I knew everything about, people I trusted and whom, I thought, trusted me in turn. I don’t fully understand why I lost either of them. One of them was just sort of waiting to happen, a friendship that had been rocky since the beginning; the other, I really have no idea, and it still hurts thinking about all we had and all we lost.

I suppose now, partly because of that loss, I don’t feel the need to branch out. I want a small, tightly-knit group of friends and nothing more. I don’t want friends who are toxic, who are hanging by a thread, whose friendship with me burns bright and flares out. I don’t want friends who pull me in and get me to care only to toss me off when I don’t do everything they want. I don’t want friends whose memory sours an entire era of my life.

(Sometimes, I can’t think about Belhaven University because I remember them and it hurts, and now it feels as if all my memories from Belhaven are broken because so many were with those friends and they just left. They just left, and they tore a hole in my life as they went, but it meant nothing to them, apparently.)

I want people who are steady, constant, but I already have friends like this, so I guess I just don’t see the need to go looking for more.

This isn’t really a bad part of my job, I guess. It’s just a part that tastes bitter on the back of my tongue when I clock out and don’t talk to my coworkers again until my next shift. It’s a part of me that was always wanting to be close friends with everyone, to be the confidante, the mediator, but now has retreated deep into my soul to ward off future hurt.

I’ve changed, but maybe it’s for the better. Maybe this way I can find the friends I need, the friends I trust, and no longer suffer pointless hurt and cruelty by people who leave as if I was nothing to them.

Lately, I’ve noticed my posts are always like this—spiraling vestiges of thought that end on a melancholic but determined note and somehow wrap everything up despite the ending statement being worlds away from the opening.

This is how I process.

And of all the things that have changed, that part of me will remain.

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