conversations

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.

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The Brief Entanglement of State Lines

By Allison, your hamburger consumer and story telling enthusiast.

In class this week, our professor had each student share their major and hometown. After students listed off seemingly every city in Texas, I resigned myself to the fact that the only out of state students would come from somewhere near Illinois or California. I’d been quickly finding that the Northeast is always underrepresented in the Baylor student body. I had yet to find someone from New York City; a girl from Long Island spoke to me briefly at the beginning of the year, but I soon lost touch with her. So I sat, listening to each student name their small, unknown hometown, following their introduction with a hurried “it’s near Dallas,” as is the Texan way of introducing oneself. Everything is near Dallas.

Yet, finally, miraculously, a voice announced they were from New Jersey.

When I’m home, New Jersey is somewhat of a rival, a disdained second cousin which one would rather not be related; yet I was willing to make concessions under dire circumstances. New Jersey downright feels like home when Flower Mound, Texas is the next best option. So I turned around to find the speaker’s face somewhere in the back of the classroom. Immediately, her red lipstick and strikingly black hair made me comfortable; it was clear she wasn’t from here, in the same way that my septum piercing and messily dyed hair scream that I’m anything but Texan.

Later, I found her in the cafeteria and approached her.

“I heard you were from Jersey. I’m from New York, and there aren’t that many of us, so I just wanted to say hi.”

She glided onto the hamburger line with me and asked me where in I lived in New York. We began trading stories, strangers made friends through our common geographical displacement. The thin state line on a map separating New York and New Jersey suddenly tied us together.

“How did you end up in Texas?” She asked me as though it was not equally surprising that she herself was here. Everyone wants to know how a New Yorker ends up in Texas; I’ve realized that I, too, am still wondering.

I do not always have a sufficient answer to this innocuous question. Saying I came for a scholarship sounds shallow, neglecting my complete infatuation with Baylor. Saying God brought me here sounds arrestingly spiritual and can be a disarming explanation to offer someone who just learned my name. So I rambled to her about how I fell in love with Baylor, how I loved the honors program, how the community here is unlike any other university I had visited. My answer was messy though it was true, but it failed to convey my full story; a story I am still trying to figure out myself.

I asked her why she was here.

“Coming to Baylor saved my life.”

I paused, unsure of what to say, but she continued. “You know how living up there can be,” she said, knowingly, an expression perhaps only two Northerners suddenly caught in the calmness of Southern culture can fully appreciate.

I smiled, wondering what she would say if I pushed her to share more, yet knowing exactly what she meant, knowing that I could’ve begun my own explanation with the same sentence. So as the conversation turned to lunch and hamburgers, we moved on, a tentative friendship formed in the closeness of state lines, but I wondered how much my life would’ve sounded like hers if we were to share our stories, our real stories. I wondered who we are, under all of these half told narratives of identity and self that we offer to others, the stories that are convenient to share on a line waiting for a hamburger. I wondered what she would’ve liked to tell me about herself. I wondered what stories I ought to be telling about myself but neglect under the pressure of convenience and simplicity; I wondered how much is lost that ought to be told.

Three AM

By Erica.

Three am.

I sit at my computer, writing a speech that’s due in class tomorrow—or rather today. I rehearse my speech at full volume, hoping no one will wake up and tell me to quiet down. I like hearing the sound of myself speak. It’s the only thing that prevents me from becoming paranoid about being the only one in the house awake. There is no one in the shadows, I tell myself. I read out loud so I do not feel alone.

My most eloquent speeches come out of three am.

I lay in bed, one leg out of the sheets and one leg in, my phone shining on my face. I text my friend. We talk about life, about problems, about the things that never come up until three in the morning. I’m tired, I say. Me too, he replies. But we keep on talking.

The perfect time to talk is three am.

We sit on my bed, watching Camp Rock 2. The first time we tried to watch it, we fell asleep in the middle of it. This time, we are determined to carry on till the end. It is painful to sit through. There are better things to do at three than watch this cinematic tragedy. In the middle of the final musical number, my friend starts laughing. Or is she crying? I can’t tell. Knowing her, it’s probably both.

The best laughs come from three am.

I sit outside, listening to the sound of the night. It sounds like nothing, yet it sounds like something. California nights are just the right amount of crisp. The air smells chilly, invigorating. I am not tired. Every now and then, a car speeds down the street. Why are they awake? Where are they going at three in the morning? I’ll never know.

What do other people do at three am?

We sit, shoulders touching, on the bench outside. Putting together a puzzle is hard by streetlight. Inside the music is loud, people are dancing, and they are yelling. That is not how I want to spend my last night. I’m leaving tomorrow, I say. I know, he replies. He looks at me, his eyes smile, and he returns to the puzzle. We talk about things, but we do not talk about goodbyes.

3am is the time for living in the moment.

I am awake. I sprawl out on my twin bed, staring at the ceiling. I roll to one side and close my eyes. Twenty minutes later, I am still awake. I can’t stop thinking about college. About homework. About the things I have to do when it is no longer three in the morning. I shouldn’t have drank that coffee. My small body can’t handle that much caffeine. The night should be quiet, but my beating heart and pounding thoughts insist otherwise.

It is three am, and I am wide awake.

Overheard at the Dentist

BY ERICA

I came across my job by accident. I wasn’t particularly looking for a part-time job, but one day my friend came to me, and being the naïve, capricious person I am, I accepted—completely uninformed of what the job entailed or how long exactly this job would last. One summer turned into two years, and here I still am, as a file clerk at a dental office.

I soon found out that my job did not entail much. I was, essentially, told to take things out of and put things into alphabetical order, 3-4 days a week. I filed patient charts. Pulled patient charts. Prepared patient charts. Labeled patient charts. I sat at my little desk in the corner, click-clacking away on the electronic typewriter, only interrupted whenever someone came over to use the fax machine beside me.

Each day, during the mechanical humdrum of it all, my mind would drift towards other things while my hands typed and scribbled and paperclipped away. College. Homework. Things I needed to do. Dinner. I got my best solutions to my problems while sitting at that desk. I became the most motivated to do homework while sitting at that desk. Ideas of all the great things I could do seemed to come to me when I had the least opportunity to do them, leaving me to jot it down on my phone and hope I rediscover it at the opportune time.

Sometimes, I’d snap out of my daydreaming to listen to the conversations between the patients and the receptionists. Even though it has been such a large amount of time since they last saw each other, the patient and receptionist chat like old friends, picking up exactly where they left off six months ago, and catching up each other up on their respective lives. And then, forty-five minutes later, they part with a cheery “see you in 6 months!” and the patient goes his way. I don’t think you’d even be able to tell they only talk twice a year simply by the nature of their conversation.

But it’s a beautiful cycle. The patient comes in, on the same day of the week, at his usual time, greets the usual receptionist, and sees his usual hygienist and doctor. They chat, he pays his bills, and then he’s on his way. Every single day there’s a new group of patients—more small talk to be made, stories to tell, and lives to catch up on.

It’s interesting to take note of the things that people deem important enough to share about their life in the small amount of time they’re given. If you had ten minutes to talk to someone that you haven’t seen in half a year, what would you say? Some people go all in, giving short narratives of every trip and experience and meal they’ve had for the past several months, complete with a slideshow. Others passionately discuss the latest football game. Others make small talk and nothing else.

Sometimes I wonder. What kinds of things would I tell people if I only had a short amount of time? Would I tell them about my life? What’s happened recently? How can you possibly satisfactorily summarize the past half year into 5-10 minutes? Would I even talk about my life, or would I talk about something else?

The dynamic of the patients that come to the dental office each day is truly marvelous. Some are introverted, others highly extroverted. Some crack jokes; others would just like to get the business done and be on their way. Sometimes I can’t help but outwardly laugh or snort or snicker at the conversations going on—some people are the level of witty and benevolent and charming that I aspire to be one day. It truly is something, listening to the stories of this broad variety of people of different ages, from different backgrounds, different hometowns and childhoods and jobs, different personalities and goals and dreams, all united by a single commonality: the possession of teeth.

And at the end of every single appointment, the patient makes his next appointment, and goes on his way. Some, after scheduling their next appointment, leave with the frequent joke of “see you then! Hopefully not before!” and leave, others rush out as quickly as possible. But the months pass, and before you know it, each patient resurfaces, with new life experiences and stories to share.

“Before you marry someone, look through their birth records and family history so you know what kind of a mess you’re getting into. I wish I did that with my husband–now look at me. It’s too late.”

–Best piece of advice I’ve ever received from a patient

(PSA: You should go to the dentist at least twice a year)