Thursday, September 15, 2011

Cafe au Lait (Coffee Old Lady)

You can already smell it in the air. That turning of the seasons, the scent of pine mixed in with the honeysuckle on the cool evening breeze. The sound of rakes skritching crisply over fallen leaves. The waiting behind school buses as they stop to pick up and drop off their charges, breathing in toxic diesel fumes as you idle behind them.

Autumn is just upon us. I love Autumn for all the same reasons most people do. And I know many parents welcome September because the kids are back in school and out of their hair for at least six hours a day. My daughters are also back. The oldest, who I just last week escorted to Santa Barbara to begin her second year at UCSB, needed help feathering her new, shared off-campus apartment. She is living with six other girls a quick walk (or skateboard ride) away from her classes in an enclave called Isla Vista, or I.V. for short. To give you a true picture of I.V., please note that I was the oldest person in the entire town by 30 years. This obvious fact, however was not immediately noticeable to me.

Early the morning after we arrived, I rose and dressed quietly (not necessary, since college kids sleep like rocks), anxious to ride into town to find strong coffee. As I pedaled through the palm trees past the hippie Food Co-op and the Yuppie Sushi Hut, I had happy thoughts. "Oh, how cool is this town?!", I mused, glad that the bike I borrowed from my daughter was a groovy tropical green beach cruiser, which allowed me to blend in seamlessly with the locals. I rode up and down the streets believing I was a young blonde surfer out to procure java and perhaps catch a rip curl.

After trolling the streets, I finally found an open coffee shop called I.V. Drip. Perfect. Give it to me in my arm. I pulled up, expertly flipping the kickstand with my foot, locked the bike and sauntered in. "A tall cafe au lait,", I said casually noting the impressed look on the sleepy-looking barista. As he turned to steam my drink, I scanned the room. A couple of girls in college hoodies sat in one corner talking and texting. A boy with major bedhead sat in the window with his face pressed up to the screen of his laptop, skateboard propped against the leg of his distressed jeans.

I got my coffee and sipped it slowly. When I was done, I thanked the guy and sauntered back out. Yes, definitely cool.

Until I caught my reflection in the shop window. There was white-haired granny, her wrinkles clearly etched into her face, elbows and knees. Who was I kidding? I sighed and got back on the bike, winching at the twinge of arthritis which had recently settled into my hips.

My daughter and her friends were awake when I got back. we spent that day and the next shopping for food, kitchen stuff and a twin mattress set. We went to lunch at the local taco place and walked down to the beach, putting only our toes into the freezing cold Pacific Ocean. Confident she was settled and secure I hugged her goodbye and got on the plane for home. My baby, all grown up.

I have heard it said that we are not only the age we are at any given time, but also every age we have ever been in the past. This would account for my delusions of youth in Isla Vista. And my groaningly immature jokes at the dinner table. And my childlike tears of abandonment at the loss of both my parents within the last two years.

I am nearly 56. But I am also twenty and fifteen and five. Sometimes it seems I am a jumble of many ages and its hard to figure out exactly WHAT I am feeling. I am glad to be alive. I am glad I can still ride a bike. Maybe I'll take surfing lessons next year.

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