Healing With A Side Of Tea
We thought we were so grown up. Undergrad had wrapped up just days before, and several of us moved into small apartments in Baltimore's Charles Village neighborhood. There was a tiny bar just around the corner, and we tried to start a habit of meeting there regularly. It seemed to us that a key step in the journey toward real adulthood was going to be turning ourselves into regulars somewhere.
The plan lasted maybe ten days.
* * *
I remember the show Cheers being in our regular rotation at home growing up. I'm not sure if it was a side effect of growing up in a small town or a result of always feeling like an outsider among my peers, but few things gave me greater joy than when the entire bar would scream "Norm!" as he walked in. That - I remember thinking - must be what having a home feels like.
* * *
When I set out to find the house that would become my home, my heart was set on the Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond. From the day I set foot in it years ago, that neighborhood had won my heart. But most of the houses didn't feel right, and the one that nearly did ended with a contract falling through. So I finally gave in and let my realtor take me to the Northside neighborhood of Bellevue.
I'd love to tell you I was instantly hooked, but that isn't entirely true. But I knew the second that I walked into this place that it was meant to be my home. Five and a half years later, I know it was true.
* * *
I fell in love with Bellevue long before the abdominal pain started. I fell in love on long training runs through its streets and during buzzed walks home from long dinners with friends. I fell in love during nights spent in conversation on my back deck and on slow walks while recovering from my last surgery. But, as happens the longer a relationship lasts, I've come to love Bellevue on a deeper level of late - during the weeks I've been largely confined here, slowly healing.
In recent years I stopped going to the bars. And lately I don't find myself at the neighborhood restaurants either. But from the moment I stopped being able to sit at my desk for very long due to the pain, I've found myself spending large chunks of time at our coffee shop - healing.
* * *
I'm not sure when I first started taking up residence there. I can spend hours in my favorite chair by the window, a stack of books piled high beside my mug of tea. I have written so many words there. Devoured so many books. Cried so many tears. I was sitting in that very chair when the call came to tell me that from the looks of my CT scan my oncologist was worried about cancer.
Its as if I've returned to my small town when I'm there. Its the place where neighbors gather, where you will always find someone you know. Someone to hug you. Someone to listen.
Its the place where everyone knows my name.
In the weeks leading up to my surgery, when I was left with nothing but pajamas to fit into, no one batted an eye when I showed up looking more ready for a slumber party than any kind of real work. When I was finally able to leave the house post-surgery, the coffee shop was the second place I went (a desperately needed meeting was first). And when I got put under house arrest, its the one place I gave an exception to.
Its been sitting there that I've noticed the sudden return of joy and happiness. And its been sitting there that I've felt the heavy and seemingly unendless weight of despair.
It was sitting in that chair by the window that I first gave into the reality of hot flashes, took off my hat, and continued to read - bald head in public and all. As I tried to lose myself in my book, one of my neighbors approached me and told me how well I pull off the bald look - encouraging me to keep rocking it. I didn't believe her for a second, but it helped.
And it was there that I had one of the many conversations about whether or not I am expecting. The man who made the mistake has made up for it in spades - telling me daily now how beautiful I look. It helps.
It was there that I was told by a complete stranger that I have a beautiful smile - my first day out with my bald head hidden by a hat. It helps.
All of it helps.
* * *
I sat there early Saturday morning, absentmindedly staring out the window as my tea cooled. So much healing had happened in that space. So much love delivered from people who didn't realize they were doing it.
If ever I was happy to finally have accomplished becoming a regular somewhere, its now.