I watch the sun come up in the window of the coffee shop where I work.
I got the job a few weeks ago. — A barista.
I arrive at 6:25AM, five days a week. I brew big carafes of coffee, set out pastries in a glass case, and watch as the Avenue begins to open its eyes and welcome the day. The coffee is the best part. It smells warm and sweet and I breathe it in as deeply as I can throughout the day. And — I know — that when this time in my life is over, I will walk into some cafe, any cafe, and the smell of coffee will remind me of how the light splashed down Third Avenue in the Autumn of 2015.
After the morning rush — a parade of school teachers, mothers and fathers with sons and daughters keen on a breakfast of doughnuts, chocolate croissants and macaroons, crabby little-old-ladies, suited business men, and a suave Italian who always orders a cortado with “just-a little extra milk” — things slow down. It’s still. One regular sits at his computer quietly, for hours, eating his giant, cinnamon-sugar doughnut. I stock white paper cups and stamp white paper bags with our shop’s logo. I look out the window and I ignore the elephant in the room.
I’m just taking cover here, in Bay Ridge. Other parts of Brooklyn still lay in ruins.
I avoid the subway lines in certain neighborhoods. I decline invitations from friends who are headed into different parts of the borough. I’m still walking around in a mine field without Kevlar.
It’s not just that Brooklyn has changed. Change — I expected. It’s what hasn’t changed. The places that still remain — as if I’d never left — a skeleton of a city that I once shared with someone else. When I left Brooklyn in November of 2009, I wasn’t an “I.” “I” was a “We.” We left this place. It had been ours. Everything. Parks and street corners. Restaurants and bars. Cafes and clothing stores. And Avenues. So many Avenues. I cannot escape how the light falls here. It’s like a time machine. Brooklyn, B.P. (Before Portland) and Brooklyn, A.D. — the two blur, in some strange warp.
Seven years later, I pass the same places and I want to melt into the cement. — To disappear. — All these little things I once loved, still living in the same space. Some are gone, too. My heart aches — for all of it.
But, here, in the coffee shop, I’m safe. The faces are, for the most part, kind. The Brooklyn accents, comforting. And, the smell. Oh, the smell. I grind the beans and I lean in as I pull the cleaning lever, watching, as a little cloud of fine, ground coffee puffs out into the air — flakes of fragrant, roasted perfume. I pour creamy espresso shots into little, ceramic cups and its aroma wafts up and into my nose. The little metal spoon clinks. The machine drips. drips. drips. the drip coffee into a steel carafe. A woman tears the top off a pack of Domino sugar. Everything feels calm and manageable.
I hand a little boy a clear bag that displays his little, coconut macaroon. His father buys one for him every morning. He tilts his head and smiles at the cellophane bag and the gold sticker that secures it. “What do you say to the lady?,” his father asks him. The little boy teeters back shyly into the wall opposite the counter and mumbles, “Thank you.” His father smiles at me when I hand him his cup of coffee. “Come on bud, let’s go.” He ushers the small boy out the door, but, the boy always looks back in. First, to me, then, to the case filled with macaroons.
I know that feeling. Looking back into a place that’s so hard to leave — so inviting. I feel his melancholy — forced to leave his dreams on the wrong side of a glass pastry case. But, it’s all just a part of growing up. He will learn. The necessity of leaving things behind. Too much sugar. He’ll know better. He’ll know what he can return to, and, he’ll know what he has to abandon. Yes, he’ll know. — Gold stickers will not always hold things in place.
I wipe down the counter where a few drops of coffee have spilled.
When I remember this time in my life — I know — I will remember the smell of this place.
I breathe it in deeply. Warm and sweet.