This is a piece written for the joint memoir AP and I have been working on. The topic picked for this memory was the tea dates AP and I had after school in high school. As a side note, we went to a performing arts high school.
“Tea” saved my life. Or, to be more exact, Tea saved my sanity. Everything had gone wrong the year before. AM the Elder had left for college. My mum had gotten into bed and not gotten out—until my father’s anxiety for her finally dragged her out to the doctor. LM the Younger was alone in elementary school, still dealing with the frustrating speech impediment that stumbled their words while their thoughts raced ahead.
And then there was me. I was not happy. I didn’t like myself. I was surprised when anyone else did seem to like me. For all the new friends I had gained freshman year, a part of me felt certain I had traded one friendless school for another. Even auditioning out of Tech to Theater did nothing for my ego or self-esteem—even though I believe I was the first (perhaps second… I’ve never looked into it) in the history of BSA to manage to do so. I was second best in a way incoming sophomores weren’t, because I had switched midway through the ninth grade, not followed the traditional, expected process. The natural order of things. I hated reading The Scarlett Letter in English class, not just because I found it obnoxious and annoying, but because I felt a bit of that mark trailing my every move. No matter how many extra private lessons I took in the mornings with N and the rest of the teachers, I would never be good enough for my ensemble. For anyone, for that matter. High school was forever. Life after didn’t exist.
I don’t remember our first Tea, not really. But I don’t really remember that first day you shadowed me. In some ways I feel like our friendship just always was. Just as it always is. A universal constant.
What I remember is the tables at Donna’s. The glass tea pots that bloomed as the leaves steeped. The small pitchers of milk and the large cookies we’d split. The ever-changing, not-always-good art work on the walls. The way you laughed with glee when I told you I liked R—and then never tormented or teased me after my every failed attempt to tell him.
I wanted to live in a dream those days. I wanted my life to be something other than what it was. At home, on Saturday nights—when everyone else was out experimenting with life and going to parties and catching up on all the too-sweet wine I’d already drunk over the course of my Jewish upbringing—was home. I’d turn on the old ‘70s color TV that lived in my room—its screen barely larger than the width of my two palms laid out side by side. And from 8pm to 2 or 3am, PBS would woo me and my desire of something else with British classic comedies and sci-fi. I would always clean my room, even if it didn’t need to be cleaned. Drink soda and eat zebra cakes. Sometimes put a bread in the breadmaker. Light candles and sit on my mattress on the floor (my choice not to have a frame) and look at my silvery white walls, midnight blue trim, and bamboo blinds and imagine I was somewhere—someone—else. Only at Tea with you did I ever feel as whole as I did those dark nights.
And even then, I was terrified. I was afraid you’d find me out. That I really wasn’t that interesting. (We both already knew I wasn’t cool.) But also that I wasn’t as talented or smart or funny or or or or … the voice in my head never shut up. I would shuffle and deal the tarot cards, and I could never convince myself that I wasn’t just making it all up. At any moment you might see all my cracks, all my failings. I cherished out Teas (and coffees) because I suspected one day they’d be gone. I never guessed we’d lose them to time and geography; I was always certain it’d be my fault.
But in the moment, there were the shoe-string fries and too many cups of coffee at City Café. The way the ivy curtaining the building across the street rippled in the wind when it stormed. Green leaves against brown crumbling bricks against the steely grey sky. You switching how you took your coffee to black. The rain pelting the shit out of the sidewalk. And me with my pen and paper and words that were never quite right.