You sit in a coffee shop in the Central East End. It’s 4:30 and the doors open at 5 today. It’s still dark outside and the world is quiet, save for the occasional car curiously tracing the contour of the Earth. You take a sip of your soy vanilla latte. For years you have limited yourself to Americanos with a splash of almond milk, for the calories scared you. But you’re free now.
You reminisce about last summer, your final inpatient treatment. You were up this early last year to be weighed in a gown of shame. Your heart breaks for your old self.
You dive into your vegan yogurt parfait, being sure to scoop up a generous spoonful of dark chocolate granola, the kind your mom used to buy. You giggle to yourself. Your mom hates chocolate, but she ate that granola religiously.
You grab your phone and skip to the next song. You’ve been listening to Bon Iver on repeat on your Spotify account that your day doesn’t know he pays for.
You finish your breakfast and throw the Tupperware into your backpack. You live out of that thing. You don’t own a whole lot and your apartment is the size of a shoebox, but that’s just the way you like it. You’d rather spend your money on local produce, essential oils, bath bombs and concert tickets. People assume you’d like to travel, which you do, but you’ve built a life that you love and hate leaving it behind even for a few days.
The timer goes off and you hurry back to the oven. The aroma of freshly baked banana nut muffins fills the air. You might eat one later but you don’t plan your day around it like you used to.
You scanter over to unlock the door, welcoming the public into your humble abode. Coffee shops have always been your safe haven. The birthplace of poetry and gut-wrenching journal entries. The setting for late night study sessions and early morning blog posts. Your first customer walks in the door, 92-year-old Mr. Jacobs who comes every morning to have a large dark roast, the same order your dad gets.
“Good morning gorgeous!” he exclaims as he enters the door, throwing his arms around you. If it were anyone else, this would be creepy. But the old man has turned into some sort of adoptive grandfather.
You begin to make his order, wishing it were more complicated so you could brew it with more love. That’s what coffee means to you. Love, connection, vulnerability, beauty. Your core values.
You hope to embody those traits each day you walk the Earth, and especially during your future career as a nurse.
“How’s school going?” Mr. Jacobs asks. You’re taking two classes this summer as you work, Nursing Theory and Drawing I. You’ve always loved art and have decided it’s never too late to be a beginner. You pull out your sketchpad and show him your most recent creation. The silhouette of a naked woman. You find the human body to be the epitome of beauty. Once you contorted and altered your own body, starving it, purging and cutting your thighs with blades. You don’t do that anymore. Now you decorate your body as if it were a sacred temple, which it is. You even got your first tattoo last week. Your parents would die if they saw it, but you’re proud of yourself. The tattoo symbolizes the reclamation of your own body. It is no longer owned by your eating disorder. You used to want to be a cadaver, whom can’t have tattoos, as some sort of martyrdom. You felt so guilt for being alive that you felt the need to donate your own temple to the god of humanity. You own yourself now.
“It’s so beautiful” Mr. Jacobs whispers. You actually believe him. You think your drawing is beautiful, too.
You used to worry that people thought you were vain for valuing beauty, but you don’t care what they think anymore. Beauty goes beyond appearances. In fact, you believe things that are the most beautiful are often the most flawed. Like the abandoned brick building down the street adorned with graffiti and littered with cigarette stubs. Or the wrinkles on your father’s face, documenting his goofy smiles for the rest of eternity.
“How’s Jane?” you ask Mr. Jacobs as you lean over the counter. You feel the folds of your stomach pour over the seams of your shorts, but now the feeling of your own skin doesn’t scare you.
“She’s good, her UTI is cleared up and she’s using her litter box again,” Mr. Jacobs explains. Jane is his 5-year-old tabby cat. Occasionally he’ll bring in pictures to share with you. You’ve always wanted a cat, but you don’t want one now. There’s something magical about waking up in the morning and knowing that your own soul is the only one you are accountable for. That’s why you’re single, too. You used to think you needed to be in a relationships, but you don’t feel that way anymore. You don’t need external validation to prove your worthiness. Because you love yourself now. And that’s all the love you need. Oh, and the love of coffee, too.