17/30: A Love Letter to Caffe Nero – Part 2

“Excuse me, you have an aura of heartbreak. Are you here for the meeting too?”

It took me a few weeks to finally start unpacking my belongings. I sat in my new room feeling a sense of pride knowing that everything I owned fit into one large rucksack and two blue storage bins. I also had some unresolved emotional baggage, but I wasn’t jumping to unpack that right away. If I had friends nearby, I would’ve called them to come drink a beer and hangout in my new living room, but the only person I knew lived an hour away and the drive into Boston is atrocious. Instead, I put on some music and slowly unpacked each item.

All of my clothes were neatly placed on hangers in the closet. My socks had their own drawer rather than being jammed into the sock pocket of my backpack. The three pieces of art I bought in Laos were taped to the wall above my bed. When I woke up the next morning, I remember looking at my ceiling and feeling a slight wave of panic. “I’m going to see this ceiling every day for who knows how long.” Part of me felt threatened by the stability – I thought that “settling” somewhere meant abandoning the part of my identity that made me.. me? As if having multiple walls waiting for me to decorate them made me a sell-out. I enjoyed keeping my walls barren because it saved me time for when I inevitably decided to leave.

After a couple of weeks, I got used to having a cupboard with a favorite bowl or a couch that I could always jump into after a long day of work. I refused to buy things brand new, but I’d often find art resting on the sidewalk with a “free” note taped to it, or stray mugs nestled into a weathered box waiting on the sidewalk. My walls became more than just drywall and my cupboard had a variety of mugs to sip coffee from. I would sit in my apartment and look at all of these things like they were the most beautiful things in the world because they were mine. I didn’t know who the previous owner of the mug was, but I felt lucky knowing that such a cute mug was now in my possession.

I continued finding joy in the paintings, mugs, and other knickknacks that came into my life, but there wasn’t enough “free” boxes to fully distract myself from the storage bin of emotional baggage. Addressing this baggage is where you, Caffe Nero, come in.

I moved back to the States after a messy break-up with my partner in China. We still loved each other but there were multiple circumstances which lead to the end of that relationship. The next two months felt like a never-ending argument – BUT this love letter isn’t dedicated to an ex-boyfriend. I had all of these things to be happy about, but I didn’t have anyone to share them with. I was lonely, overworked, and kinda missing the spontaneity of my life before Boston. I wanted to find a community to connect with so I started scrolling through community boards looking for any sort of social event – trivia nights, museum trips, neighborhood walks, and at one point I even considered joining a kickball league. I never joined a meet up at the MFA, I didn’t attend any kickball games, but I did find an event for a community called The Bravehearts: Boston’s Neighborhood Break-Up Support Group.

“There’s absolutely no way I’m going to a break-up support group on a Saturday night… What kind of person would want to go to that. Wow – I mean, I’m sad, but I’m not that sad… ”

You want to know who went to that group? Yours truly, along with a couple of other really beautiful humans that I’m still in contact with today. It took me a few days to finally commit to the idea, and I was sure that I’d turn around before I got to the destination but eventually, Saturday rolled around. I pushed the address into my GPS and headed out for East Boston. I hopped off the T at South Station and started walking across the bridge. The view was stunning, and I was more than happy to soak in the sunshine before walking into a room of heavyhearted and emotionally compromised singles like myself. From the other side of the block, I saw the location of the meet up and you’d never guess where it was…. At a Caffe Nero.

I ordered a scone with my coffee and I sat near the window overlooking the quiet street separating Caffe Nero from that bridge with the pretty sunset. I thought about ditching the meet up because seriously what kind of person would attend a break-up support group on a Saturday night? Can’t I just go home, watch Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and laugh/cry into some cookie dough ice cream like every other normal person? I looked around the room at the rest of the folks sipping their coffees trying to figure out who looked freshly heart-broken. Was I supposed to bring a name tag? Should I ask the person at the counter?? What the heck would I even say?

“Hey, you look like an emotionally compromised adult, are you here for the break-up support group too?” or “Thanks for the coffee, do you know where I can find some sad singles?

I saw two folks walk into the meeting room in the corner but they looked far too bright and cheerful to be in this group. I sat there sipping my coffee until one of them looked my way and waved me over. My eyes shifted back and forth, I looked behind me to see if they were waving at someone at the door but this woman walked over and introduced herself as the name on the meet up page. I know that I was feeling sad, and I journeyed here for a break-up support group, but damn.. did I look the part too? She recognized me from the profile photo, thankfully there wasn’t some melancholic aura of heartbreak hovering around me.

Anyway, this group turned out to be one of the best experiences I’ve had in Boston. I’ve always loved talking with strangers, and jumping straight into a conversation about heartbreak was scary but I was wholeheartedly there for it. The two hosts started the group with their stories, and then we went around the room sharing whatever we felt comfortable with. As a shameless emotional-rambler, I shared the whole story about my break-up. I laughed, I cried, and thanked everyone for listening. As we all went around sharing and absorbing each others stories, I noticed how vulnerable each and every one of us felt. At one point, someone commented on the fact that we all voluntarily traveled to a break-up support group on a Saturday night- that got a chuckle out of the entire room.

After the group was over, we all started wrapping ourselves in scarves and bundling up before heading out into the cold, March air. We stepped outside of the meeting room to the main room of the Caffe Nero. Do you think folks knew what we were talking about in there? Imagine going for coffee on a Saturday night and seeing a room full of grown adults crying while sharing stories about heartbreak. We all walked out of that room feeling like the coolest kids around, like yeah… we just cried with some strangers on a Saturday night, what did you do?

This was my first time enjoying myself in a social setting since moving into the city, and even considering the circumstances of the meet up, I wanted to stay in contact with these people. I awkwardly asked if any of them wanted to be friends on WhatsApp, and we started a Break-Up Support group chat where we could reach out to each other whenever things got heavy, or when we saw something that made us laugh. We were all in pretty rough shape but this group chat was a constant line of communication and support. I haven’t been in contact with the other members, but I follow most of them on Instagram and we all seem like were doing just fine. One friend kicked his love for soda, recently got his own space, and honestly, it seems like he’s crushing life as a whole. There were two organizers – one of them recently got married and the other one is still running a thriving business as a Break-Up Coach. We all met under such weird circumstances but overall, it looks like we’re all doing really well.

At this very moment, I’m currently best friends with one of the guys from that group. We met up a couple of times before the pandemic, usually when him and another support group member would come into my job when I was working. We kinda laughed when someone asked up “so how do you know each other?” What the heck were we supposed to say? Anyway, we’ve gone through some more break-up’s since then but we were definitely more equipped to handle them because of that one, unexpected meet up as East Boston’s Caffe Nero. Coincidentally, we went through difficult break-ups around the same time right before the pandemic. Instead of reaching out to strangers for support at a coffee shop, we made plans to go to a bar and drink Gansett tall-boys.

Thank you for helping me find a community, Caffe Nero.


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