When I was in high school, my friends and I gathered at a local coffee shop at least three times a week. I’m not sure what the appeal of this particular spot was, as neither the ambiance nor the food and drinks are particularly special, but it was our coffee shop. There was never a question of where to go for a gossip or a laugh- it was always the same. As all of the best gathering places are, this coffee shop was merely a backdrop to the ins and outs of the high school condition- we really just needed a place that would allow us to sit for hours despite the posted 45 minute time limit and gripe about boys, fashion, and school. So many of my high school memories take place not in front of the dark blue lockers of the school’s halls (though there are plenty of memories there as well) but in the shiny green vinyl booths of the coffee shop. It didn’t matter to us that it was a 15 minute drive from our end of town- for some reason, the drive to the shop was part of it’s allure. We were hooked on the overly sugary caramel lattes and various confectionary choices offered at the coffee shop as much as we were hooked on it’s often good-looking servers. Giggles ringing through the sparsely decorated room, it was a second home to us.
Last night my friend and I found ourselves back at our old stomping ground. As I gingerly sipped on a tropical tea infusion and she ate a late dinner, we couldn’t shake the feeling of the ghosts of our past haunting our experience. Though we chatted of different things (slightly- boys always take a turn in coffee shop conversations somehow, even in our purported maturity), the decor has been slightly altered, and the dishes seem somehow cleaner, there was a distinct nostalgic feel to being in the place we spent so much time with people who we never see anymore.
Whether it was the smell of waffles on the grill or the slightly strange lighting, something about going back to that place stemmed a reflection of nostalgia, a longing and cringing at the same time when I think of high school. I had some of my best and worse moments in high school. A far cry from “the best four years of my life”, high school was, my friend and I decided, trial by fire. High school, it seems, is an experience that we all have to survive to get to the “real world”, whatever that is. Though I’ve been out of high school for three years now, some of the memories I have of the place, as well as the accesory locations like our coffee shop, remain as clear in my mind as if they took place yesterday. There are people from high school who I would have counted among my friends who I no longer speak to, not out of malice or spite but merely out of lack of commonality. Outside of the confines of high school, friends are made on the basis of who shares your interests, rather than who you live close to or who else is a member of the field hockey team. Many people I went to the coffee shop with have moved on in good or questionable directions, leaving my friendship a distant memory- and I can hardly blame them, having done the same. I still have friends from high school, and I’ll always be able to be friendly with people I don’t see anymore, but there is something to be said for high school’s capacity for bringing together people who, in all honesty, have nothing in common.
As my friend and I looked through old photo albums and cringed about the fashions from not so long ago and the looks on our faces, contorted with hysterical laughter, I smiled. Perhaps its a bit premature for nostalgia about high school, but so be it- I do things on my own time schedule now. I look back at the smiling girl trying on different styles for size and I barely recognize the teenaged me. Strangely, I don’t regret the reinventions or the twists and turns my life has taken- for without them, I wouldn’t be who I am today. Without the trial-by-fire sometimes singing my hair throughout the battleground of high school, would I have found the tenacity that saved me later in life? It’s hard to say what memories inform later experiences, but the sum total of my memories make me the person who sits here writing about my past and dreaming of my future.