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I look up from my fumbling hands into the eyes of the barista, the same man I see before every one of these encounters. I keep my eyes down and give him a warm smile. He catches my gaze, silently thanking me for the acknowledgement. His eyes look tired today. I walk over to the table where Maggie sits, a corner seat. She’s entranced in a book: “Courage: $1”. She’s halfway through; I’m always late. I lay my bags down beside the table. Tea sloshes over the sides of my cup, finding its way down the length of my arm. She looks up from her book and smirks.
“Maggie.” I reach over the table and embrace her. These meetings have become common, but never underappreciated. As I sit, I look down at the table: a large London Fog and a scone. Neither have been touched. I can’t help but analyze her: She looks thin, but she always looks thin. Has she been eating? She looks happy. Often when I’m with her I lose track of the conversation. I get lost in my thoughts, in her words.
“How’ve you been?” I’m finally able to choke it out. She pauses, contemplating what to say. “Relieved.” Her body relaxes and she lets out a sigh. She dives back into her book. It’s strange to see her this way: content. This isn’t the Maggie I’ve grown to know. I gaze at her while she reads, analyzing her posture, mood, the way she curls over the edge of the page with her fingertip, grasping the edge of the book tightly. I’m not sure how our friendship came to be, but I’m truly grateful for it. We have so much in common. I look at her and see a reflection of myself. I know she’s faced hardships. What connects us is more than our self-proclaimed “ lady-loving, book-reading, cat/bag-lady” title. It goes deeper than that; deeper than our love for chai. We know each other’s struggles: our strengths, weaknesses, our good sides and our bad ones. We embrace them all.
Growing up queer and African-American to single Caucasian mothers in heteronormative white towns was quite the experience. They struggled to provide for us and keep their sanity. It must have been hard. Neither of us are sane. Maybe we are, but “mentally stable” wouldn’t be the phrase I would use. We struggled socially and academically due to paralyzing anxiety and depression. Most days I didn’t show up to school; staying in bed seemed like a better alternative. At least then I chose to be isolated. I feel a painful lump begin to form in my throat. I’m happy to see her, and yet I can’t help but sit across from her with a wrenching heart. In her, I see my mistakes. I see the crippling depression from trauma I still can’t speak of to this day that took away my youth, so many years and friendships wasted because I was stuck in the purgatory of my toxic mind. I see poor grades and attendance because of a deep-rooted fear that I would fail, that I would be unsuccessful. And yet here I am today, sitting across from this wonderful being that I can call friend. And in her…I see hope. I see a future for myself in which I’m content. I’m beginning to see it within myself now. I feel much more comfortable with myself, my identity. School’s becoming a pleasant experience and I actually look forward to going. I’m hopeful about my future. I watch her as she turns the page she’s been gripping. She chuckles and the corner of her lip curls into a smile. She’s happy. I catch her gaze and grin. The lump in my throat melts away as I take a sip of my chai, soothing my chest and filling my lungs with warmth.