The coffee shop is broken up into 11 sections. 4 along the longer sides of the room, 3 down the center, but there are only four actual walls – all other spaces are implied through detailing on the walls and ceiling, and through the furniture placement. There are leather couches that are so big you have to curl up on them to truly get comfortable. There are long tables with wooden chairs, there are benches, there are leather sitting chairs with brass legs, there are giant round coffee tables with that same metal to match. There are little shelves built into the walls that are too shallow to hold anything except a coffee cup if you’re too far from the shiny tables. The ceiling is covered in absorption boards, so the room never gets too loud. Natural lighting floods in through old stained glass windows that have been saved and maintained since the rooms initial occupants. And I’m here in the corner of it, seated on a leather couch, coffee on the shelf. Watching, and listening. But I’m not allowing myself to really settle in. Because I don’t really belong here. Not yet.
In a way, it’s sad that we have such a tendency to yearn for lives we do not lead. It’s sad how desperately we can wish for a chance to do over what choices we have made, want chances we didn’t take. How far we can fall into this mixture of envy and remorse.
When I was younger, despite getting sick as often as I was, I assumed my life would look like everyone else’s. I had followed the rules in terms of what teenagers should and shouldn’t do. I assumed that I would get asked to prom, I assumed that I would stop having health problems and I would go to a big school, because I had mostly good grades. I would be there for 4 years and make everlasting friendships. I would take that degree on to a big adult job, and visit bars for the first time. I would travel with a friend or two around Europe and maybe meet someone at work or at a friends barbeque, and we would date and maybe get married. We’d get a cute house and raise a kid or two. That was what they told us would happen. That’s what they said was expected of us. And for the most part I was ok with that. A large part of me really wanted to be an actor, but if this was my fallback, then alright, I was game.
But that’s not what happened.
And most of the time, it’s fine with me how things turned out. I have enough things in my life to be grateful for, I could probably fill Mary Poppins’ carpet bag. But every once in a while, I get nipped by the regret bug and all the sudden I am bursting with What If’s and Why Not Me’s and it can feel completely overwhelming. I daydream about the life I could have had, and the people I could have met, and the world that could have been at my fingertips. And I get so focused on all that I can’t do that I find myself lying. I suddenly feel like I can’t do anything to fix the situation that I am in. I can’t do anything to even get close to that world I missed out on. I play the blame game. It was because my parents didn’t do point A, point B, point C. It’s because my friends in high school weren’t supportive. It was my depression’s fault. It was my doctors who took too long. It was society.
The Suzzallo library at the University of Washington is an architectural masterpiece. Every inch of it feels like it shouldn’t exist in America, and it certainly shouldn’t be allowed for daily casual use. When I was in high school, dreaming of getting into the big school – I pictured this building. I pictured walking across the big brick courtyard in the rain, ducking in, and spending my in-between-class-time getting distracted from my homework because of the gorgeous room I was in. I was meant to do a interior design study on the building a few years back but had been unable to get a ride out to the campus, and instead could only look at photos on the internet. Even after I had learned the bus route and visited the shopping district next to the school often, I wouldn’t let myself go inside. Not until this year did I finally let myself walk across that big red brick courtyard, into the doors, up the stone staircase. Until then, the building was kept off limits to myself. It was going to be my reward for getting in. But it’s been 4 years since I’ve graduated high school, and the first day of classes doesn’t look any closer than it did then.
For a short while I was distracted with the prospect of acting. They said I was good. They said if I applied myself and worked hard that I would be successful and so I did. But I was surrounded by toxicity. The hours were disastrous and tiring. The extra social work was duplicitous and fake. There was constantly drama and broken hearts and chaos. I was not thriving. I was drowning. And even once I left, I would get sick every so often, which would deter my focus on school. And even now, I haven’t managed to take more than one class while working full time, so I easily have another year before I can even transfer my credits over to a new school.
This was the life I so desperately wanted. But I didn’t have the mindset to work my ass off so it could be mine, not until I realized what I missed out on. I didn’t have the focus or mental health until years after my own imaginary deadline. And that is heartbreaking for me to come to face with.
But today I had a doctor’s appointment nearby, and so I decided that I would go early, and work on my homework in that big beautiful cafe attached to the library. Despite the heartache it ensues. To remind myself what I am working towards. But also to remind myself, that it’s just a room. It’s full of other students just like me, who have unknown dramas in their own lives. Who might feel just as held back as I do. There is nothing wrong with working towards this world and wanting to be a part of it, but it’s also ok to enjoy a taste of it now and curl up into that leather couch. I am not here to pretend I am one of them or to practice for the real thing.
I have just as much of a right to be here as they do.