19/30: A Love Letter to Caffe Nero – Part 3

Part 3: Almost a full year later, I found myself in the opposite situation. I was in a relationship, I started taking classes at the local community college, and I was feeling more settled than I’ve felt in years. My boyfriend at the time was absolutely wonderful on paper but all my friends felt differently and it took me awhile to figure out why. He often made me question my ways. At the time, I thought it was him just trying to help me see past my anxieties. It wasn’t until we broke up that I realized what he was actually doing. He had a degree in Psychology and he’s a mental health counselor at the same hospital that two of my favorite writers went to so the thought of him being too or harmful never crossed my mind.

I wasn’t oblivious to the the obvious disconnect looming between us. I actively avoided the conversation because I believed that I was the cause of it. I tried mentioning it once but he argued “facts are different than feelings” and that “if I didn’t have an actual reason for feeling this way, there was nothing he could do to fix it.” He often criticized me during intimacy because I didn’t give him the response he wanted, since he was familiar with my history of abuse this must’ve been his way of motivating me to fix my problems. His interests were strange, he would send me poetry and ask for my opinion/recommendation but would shoot down anything I said because he’s the academic and clearly I (as a community college student – because well, “how hard can it be?”) just misinterpreted the intended meaning.

He gave me a copy of his favorite book and I pretended to like it because I didn’t want it to seem like I just “didn’t get it.” In case you’re curious, the book was “Naked Lunch” by William S. Burroughs and his favorite character was Dr Benway. Looking back, there were several red flags but just like any unhealthy relationship, we look for ways to justify their behavior. During the relationship, I remember defending him after a friend mentioned how there just something… not right about him. I argued that he was just uncomfortable around new people, that she just didn’t know him like I did.

At the time, I didn’t want to admit that he had flaws for several different reasons. Having an issue meant that I’d have to confront it and confrontation has never come naturally to me. I never really learned how to stand up for myself because I always thought it was easier to just ignore the issue, or internalize it. By doing this, I’ve forced myself into becoming the villain in every situation. I was responsible for his sadness, his anger, and his actions and behaviors. Another reason I fought so hard to maintain this relationship is that he was the ex that gave me herpes. After getting diagnosed, he made a joke about how we were condemned to be together forever because “no one else is going to want us.” After the diagnosis, I needed his intimacy for validation that I was still desirable, or at least tolerable. Instead of addressing these issues and realizations, forcing myself to believe things were fine felt like the easier path.

Okay let’s get back on track… We both worked full-time, so having a mutual day off was rare. You wanna know what was even more unexpected? Having the day off together, during one of the first snowstorms of the season. I’ve always enjoyed the energy of a snow day because everything just feels so peaceful and quiet. I’d often think about what it would feel like to snuggle up with someone I loved on a snowy day, but I couldn’t recall the last time I was able to do that.

In the morning, we were greeted with cold air blowing in from the cracked window on the opposite side of the bedroom. We pressed our faces against the window and saw the ground covered in almost a foot of snow so we immediately jumped into our snow gear and headed out for some coffee. While walking to Central Sq, I noticed that there was a hole at the bottom of my boot. He held out his hand while crossing large puddles of slush, but he wasn’t aware that my socks were already the same temperature as the snow being packed beneath every step. I smiled politely as he helped me over the occasional puddle but I chose to remain silent about the discomfort from my faulty shoes. I didn’t want to burden this otherwise perfect day. He led me into a shop he apparently loved, and of course.. that shop was the Caffe Nero around the corner. I thought back to the last time I went into a Caffe Nero, and how different my life was back then. Look at me now! Happily in a committed relationship with someone I can sip coffee with on snowy days.

He ordered a slice of cake with our coffees, and he chose to sit against a wall next to one of the bookshelves. I wondered what the window in the front would be like, but his eyes were fixed on this secluded corner and I didn’t object. As our coffees cooled, we filled the space between us with forced conversation because the concept of silence never sat well between us. He turned his head towards the shelf and pulled a book down. My eyes widened in disbelief as the book fell open – all of these books are real?! His eyes shot up at mine and he laughed – what, you really thought they were all fake?

I’m sorry, Caffe Nero. I should’ve known that your shelves held more than just empty pages and hollow spines. We continued to flip through the pages as a way to fill the empty air between us. His index finger traced the lines he was reading while his chin rested in the palm of his other hand. I picked up a book that was written in Russian, and flipped through the pages admiring the unfamiliar alphabet printed on the pages. I’ve always admired foreign languages for many reasons – and maybe part of that is because the existence of a language barrier excused the inability to hold conversations with those around you. Yet, in this situation we spoke the same language yet we lacked the ability to communicate.

We broke up shortly after.

It’s a weird feeling to look back on this day because there was so much we could’ve addressed with all those empty spaces. However, I suppose that’s how things always go. We’re all really good at understanding situations only after looking back at them – never in the current moment – isn’t that frustrating? We could’ve been whispering to each other in foreign languages, or writing letters on beverage napkins in Cyrillic – it wouldn’t have made a difference. I still have a long way to go, but the fallout from that relationship created a point of no return for me.

So thank you Caffe Nero, for giving me the space to realize that my words matter.

One day I’ll stop by to just grab a cup of coffee, just because.

I love you, Caffe Nero.

BTW: Photo cred goes to the wonderfully talented Alyssa Timpanaro – love youuuuuuu


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s