Reading the coffee leaves

While Billie Holiday’s voice slowly settles on my mind, blanketing my headache with the twiddle of a saxophone, I look around and realize that, somehow, I’ve become the oldest person in this coffee shop.

Each chair is filled with youthful abandon, legs splayed like a spilled box of matches, computers blinking back into busy, wandering eyes. Some are students, obviously, studying. The books give them away, as does the look of panic; an eight p.m. panic that betrays the fear of the next day’s classes. Others are just talking – at times to each other, at other times to their phones, to someone else who’s not even here.

(The image is common: two phones are poised as if ready for battle, two girls staring at each other through the flipped top of an LG enV.)

I wonder what they think of the people around them. If they know them from school, or if they’re blissfully unaware that there’s even anyone else in the place. Some of them are working hard, barely registering the fact that, really, they’re working hard for the privilege of working even harder in a few years.

Because I’m often vain and self-conscious, I wonder how I look. I’m by no means old, but I know I’m older. Even at 30 I’ve lost the luster of college living, no longer fresh faced, weary from a weekend of hammering out a marketing plan and the other non-creative diversions that pay the bills long enough for me to do something really fun. Do I look out of place? Am I blending in? Oh, man, I hope I’m blending in.

Most of all, I wonder what I’m missing.

That used to be me, I think. That was Kerrie and me, sitting across from each other, enjoying the night, the last few hours before the week began again, me with something that didn’t resemble coffee and her with something more true to the notion. Planning not our future, but our present. Planning our night. Planning our next few minutes. Planning on getting the hell out of the coffee shop and into the cold and through the brisk St. Cloud air into something completely different, reveling in the freedom of the moment.

Sometimes, I miss that.

And at the same time, I don’t.

There’s a lot to be said for the beauty of consistency. There’s a lot to be said about having someplace steady, about going home to a beaming young girl, to the warmth of familiarity, to the place where my stuff is and where it will be not until the end of the semester but for the rest of my life if I want it that long.

It’s times like this, surrounded by those who will shape the future, all of them seemingly oblivious to what’s ahead, that I feel nostalgic for college. For cramming and learning and forced writing and bluffing through textbooks. I remember how hard it was, and how rewarding. Even more, how now, seven years later, I’m still cramming and learning and writing things I wouldn’t if I had my druthers but at least now I’m making money and – GASP – enjoying it.

The door rings. An older gentleman walks in.

My mind clears again. I’ve never been so happy to see a stranger in my life.

This was lovingly handwritten on November 16th, 2008