Iced Hazelnut Lattes

Erica.

When I was thirteen, the local Starbucks sat on the perimeter of my accessible world. With no driver’s license and no reason to leave the house every day (homeschooling felt restrictive sometimes), it was the most exhilarating escape from school and home. Walking a mile just to sit at a table and drink a strawberries and cream Frappuccino was an adventure, and at age thirteen, my life needed adventure.

As time went on, Starbucks served not only to put distance in my life but to bridge it. Becoming friends with Allison in high school meant a 3000-mile friendship filled with copious texting and seeing each other only a few times a year; this scarcity brought along the sense of responsibility to fill every minute with excitement, but the frantic darting from museum to museum in New York and Los Angeles drained even our eager souls. And so we often dipped into the local Starbucks, sitting down with green tea lattes, charging our phones, and talking about the more serious things that never came up while paddle boarding or mini golfing.

But as college rolled around so did friends in closer proximity, and instead of going to coffee shops to chat, I spent Saturday mornings studying with them, together, but separately. Three cups of coffee and a few bagels on the table, we pored over textbooks, each listening to his own Spotify playlist, on the coffee shop patio as Lake Austin lapped on the boards beneath our feet.

I, on occasion, expanded my limits to outside Austin: one Tuesday morning last semester, my cousin and I ended up in a coffee shop in Waco, Texas, a hundred miles from the physics class I was supposed to be in at the time. Fatigued by school, we had impulsively bought bus tickets the night before, hit the road at six am, and there we were, drinking iced chai and planning out our adventures for the day.

As I write this, I am in my seventh coffee shop in the past couple of weeks, and as you read this, I may very well be on my fifteenth. This summer, in all its quiet, uneventful glory, has brought about mornings of opportunities to find the best coffee in Austin. My Moleskine journal is slowly filling up, Jack Johnson’s music has made more frequent appearances on my Spotify, and here I am, scouting out more new coffee shops to house the adventures and memories that this next semester holds.

 

I am continually in awe of the ability of coffee shops to provide an escape from reality amidst reality—the bustle of conversation between cashier and customer not breaking the peace but rather facilitating it. There’s something to be appreciated about these forty different personal bubbles existing at the same time; those typing away on their Macs and those eating their bagels and those sitting with friends and those scribbling away in their journals not infringing upon each other’s space but somehow calmly coexisting.

If these coffee cups could talk, they’d tell of my lightest chats and heartiest laughs, the my rawest conversations and most-appreciated company. They’d tell of the best first dates, the most productive studying, the calmest journaling, and the most tranquil breaks from this harried life. They’d tell of the times I sat with an iced latte, baring my soul to another human, and the times I sat with the same type of latte, baring my soul to a piece of paper.

It’s amazing how much can come along with a cup of coffee.

My Current Headspace

Allison, your local list-maker extraordinaire.

Recently, I’ve been making lists of the things that I spend time thinking about, just to have a log of my daily experiences. Here’s an abbreviated list of my current headspace.

  1. Will I ever get over the fact that I am currently living the very life that I dreamed about when I was in high school? Will any of this ever feel real?
  2. There should probably be more dogs in my life.
  3. Happy crying scares people just as much as normal crying; I should probably stop doing that.
  4. That guy I saw on the ferry three years ago who had on a business suit but when he sat down his bright blue polka dot socks stuck out from under his pants. Does he wear zany socks on a regular basis or was he just running low on clean laundry that morning? Does he even still have the same job that makes him commute into Manhattan?
  5. I’m starting to like chocolate ice cream and this isn’t a character development I’m open to at this point in my life.
  6. How can I possibly ever learn all of the chemistry that the grad students I’m working with seem to know?
  7. I should probably go to a doctor.
  8. Yikes.
  9. How many dogs is too many dogs? (Probably about a hundred.)
  10. I never drink enough water.
  11. I could shave my head and get five tattoos, like, today.
  12. I know I’m the same person as when I was 14, so why is it so disorienting to see a photo of myself from that age and realize that the girl in the pictures looks just like me?
  13. When did I become the type of person who puts on pants when I check the high for the day and see that its “only 87”?
  14. How many times can I say “y’all” before it stops being ironic?
  15. I need to stop spending money.
  16. I’m bad at maintaining old friendships.
  17. I should probably read more books but also I just want to sleep constantly.

The Quiet of Summer

Erica.

The last time I was on this yellow-brick road, I was dodging my way through crowds, swimming through the rush of students that poured out of every building at ten before the hour. But now it was barren—a single biker sped past me—and I could zig and zag all I wanted without a human obstacle in my way.

Here I was, back on campus for the summer, and everything was silent.

The most-coveted study spots on campus were devoid of human presence, and even the highly-populated stir fry line at the dining hall was only two people long. Compared to the bustling city within a city UT was between the months of August and May, summer here was a ghost town, and here I was, one of the ghosts.

If last semester was a mathematical function, it’d be a polynomial to the seventeenth degree—its haphazardly-fluctuating slope dependent on the number of lab reports and differential equations and chemistry problem sets due that week. It was sixteen weeks of half-finished to-do lists, running to and from academics, social obligations, emotions, and what have you, but it came and went, and like even the biggest of waves, after crashing, receded back into the sea.

I had spent the entire semester hoping for a break from the suffocating plethora of responsibilities and stress school had brought about. Summer, with my lack of concrete plans, was bound to bring it about, I was sure. And it did—my life did a complete one-eighty in the span of a month, but I soon realized that ironically, the complete stillness seemed even more suffocating than the busyness before.

The first several days were filled with sheer panic. My only class was at 3pm, and nearly everyone I knew had gone home for the summer—those who stayed were either working forty hours a week or slaving away in multiple summer classes. My once-filled schedule was now wide open, and my daily to-do list contained only a couple low-intensity items—a concept I was unfamiliar with. Where was the homework? The student orgs? The friends? The perpetual state of stress?

But here I am, halfway into summer, slowly adjusting to the slower pace of life that has been brought about. Every morning, every night, is a lesson in being content in the quiet, in finding a sense of fulfillment in every day without having written a lab report or slaving away in the library until three am. While the lack of constant human interaction is still often draining, my open days have provided more room for dredging up old hobbies and attempting new ambitions that during the semester I had pushed off, filing them under “things to do when I actually have time.”

For the next couple of months, being unable to hide behind the all-too-convenient excuse of “I’m too busy” means cracking open the C.S. Lewis book I bought months ago, filling out empty journals, and going to the gym more than once every two months. It means spending my mornings building the perfect Spotify playlist, and walking to the music building to play the piano for the first time since middle school. It means sitting outside in the warm night air, listening to the cicadas and hoping the raccoons wandering around the patio don’t carry rabies.

After a semester of running, literally and figuratively, from one commitment to the next, this summer I am learning how to be still.

Coming Home.

By Allison, your local frequent flyer.

So, back to Texas again.

I am beginning to measure my life in airports and delayed flights and taxiing on a tarmac. There is energy in the crowds of people passing through an airport, all traveling somewhere new or returning somewhere familiar, moving with purpose yet dragging with a familiar weariness. I have flown a lot in the past year, between New York and Texas; I have learned the inside of the Dallas-Forth Worth airport, I know where to find the Starbucks with the shortest line in Newark.

The greatest moments of reflection in my life seem to find me precisely when an airplane picks up speed and its wheels leave the runway, pulling me away from a city that I love. At that very movement, in waves of excitement and fear, I realize how much I am always leaving behind, how much I am always coming home to. Because Texas has become home now, in a way. It houses eighteen year old me, and my nineteen year old self, containing all of the memories that I have formed in this past year, cradling my growth and maturity. It doesn’t know my childhood, it doesn’t store the endless memories that Staten Island always will. It is not New York, it is not the fullness of eighteen years of identity, but still, my life has taken root here and I have given away parts of me that New York can never claim as its own.

So, I fly between New York and Texas, Texas and New York, traveling ceaselessly and dividing my existence between such different places. Weeks and months pass but I find myself seated on another plane, spanning the two thousand miles in a few hours, and, yet no matter what direction I find myself traveling, I am always coming home, I am always leaving home.

An Open Letter to My Freshman-Year Roommate

By Erica.

To my roommate, who, as of two weeks ago, technically no longer holds that title,

I remember almost exactly a year ago, just after graduation, when my best friends were swarming you, badgering you with “make sure she eats three meals a day”, “make sure she stays hydrated”, “make sure she doesn’t do anything too stupid” comments. I laughed at the time—I was too used to Allison and Veronica’s motherly worrying—but little did I know that in the next twelve months, you’d go above that and beyond.

Deciding to room with you seemed like such a minute decision in the flurry of other important life changes last May. I was scared of moving away from home to a school where a measly 8% of students were out-of-state, and clinging on to the single person I knew at this fifty-thousand-student university seemed like the obvious move. Granted, even though we went to the same high school we were still acquaintances at best, and even the littlest things, like having the same Fiction Writing teacher senior year, made feeling at home in Austin a little bit easier.

Thank you for cultivating the immense amount of patience it took to live with me, from dealing with my nonstop morning alarms to my obnoxious household questions (from “do I need to refrigerate this avocado?” to “how do I boil water?”). You are undoubtedly the sole reason I never got food poisoning and could make tea whenever I felt under the weather.

Thank you for your unending selflessness—when everything in my life seemed to be crashing down on me and all I could do was sit on the floor and cry, you stopped studying to come back to our dorm and take me to get cream puffs, where you sat and listened to the same broken spiel of mine for the seventeenth time in the past week. When life knocked me down and I didn’t want to get up, you sat next to me, making sure I ate a reasonable amount, slept for a healthy number of hours, and told me everything was going to be alright—until I brushed myself off and stood up again.

Thank you for pushing your way into my friend groups, befriending my college best friends, getting to know my high school friends, and even entertaining my cousin when she came to visit. Thank you for always checking up on me, for making sure someone walked me home from parties, and for getting coffee for me when I needed it most.

Thank you for always being more than willing to help my friends and I with chemistry homework—suppressing the urge to strangle us when we didn’t understand orbital hybridization or dative bonding until the third time you explained it. And even though you weren’t even in physics, you still tried to help me with my problem sets and affirmed my complaints and frustrated yelling just to make me feel like I wasn’t the only one struggling.

Even when I reneged on our “we should go to the gym together on a regular basis” pact by the third week of college, you continued to go while I took naps instead. Even when I’d give up on being productive by 10pm, you’d stay up studying till far past midnight, and still wake up earlier than me the next day. I don’t know how you did it all, but you are and were the functioning young adult that I strive to one day become. Deciding to room with you may have seemed like a minute decision at the time, but it turned out to be one of the biggest things that shaped the beginning of my college career.

I’m going to miss that hour between turning off the lights and falling asleep, when we’d talk about everything and everyone that ever crossed our minds. I’m going to miss the consistent level of messiness we both had, and the always slightly-cluttered but homey dorm we came home to every night. It was a good nine months of you being my roommate, mom friend, and biggest support, and I would probably be a flaming pile of ashes without you.

My freshman year regrets are far and few, but the one that is always on the forefront of my mind is the fact that that I’m not living with you next year. And while our apartments will only be seven blocks apart, that’s seven blocks farther than we are now.

I’m now in a new dorm for the summer, waiting for a roommate to move in that isn’t you—referring to my room as ‘my room’ and not ‘our room’ is something I’m going to have to learn to get used to. But as we close out our first year of college, know that I am forever thankful for everything you’ve done for me since the day we checked in.

Your (former) roommate,
Erica

How to Cry Gracefully in Public and Other Useful Tips

By Allison.

Sometimes it’s a Wednesday morning amidst a very difficult week and you wake up with bad hair and you can’t find clean socks and you have three exams before 1 pm. You are awake at 7 am to study for these exams and you open your backpack to discover that there is a smashed banana at the bottom of your bag, effectively coating every single one of your books in banana guts.

This is a reasonable time to cry in public. Perhaps it’s even the proper time to cry in public.

However, there are certain aspects of this experience which ought to be handled with proper conduct so as to make your public and inevitably embarrassing emotional breakdown less unpleasant, both for you and the innocent bystander.

  1. Do not wear liquid eyeliner if there is more than a 0.5% chance that you will cry that day. The Laws of Nature and Black Eyeliner ensure that you will cry should there be even the slightest opportunity for tear shed. Do not test this law, it will win.
  2. If you must cry in a public and humiliating fashion, bring a friend. The general public will feel less inclined to make awkward gestures of comfort if they believe you are already being aided by someone with more personal experience helping you cope with your emotions. If a friend is unavailable, do not seek a classmate whom you do not know well and may have to maintain contact with in the future; this interaction will scare them and make sitting together in CHE 3332 weird. Try to find a stranger, preferably one who is transferring to a different university next semester. Allow them to offer you uncomfortable words of solace; they may try to pat you on your back, be prepared.
  3. Under no circumstances should you wail. Cry silently.
  4. If a professor should approach you to ask what is wrong, do not tell them about the smashed banana incident. It will seem like a normal story in your mind; it will not seem like a normal story when you begin to share the experience aloud. Well adjusted people do not wind up with smashed bananas in their backpacks. Be a well adjusted person.
  5. If you can manage to make it appear as though your tears are caused by allergies, or perhaps overwhelming joy, do this. Be prepared to tell someone you have the flu or are sensitive to sunlight.
  6. Call someone on the phone. Strangers will be less inclined to become involved in your personal disaster if you are occupied by a phone call. If you do not have a reliable friend who will pick up the phone, pretend to be speaking to your mother.
  7. Seek a private area immediately. Avoid bathroom stalls, as your cries will echo.