Sunday, November 29, 2009
Sleeping with the enemy
One of my former students, Keegan, is here in Pucon for creeking season. He showed up at the staff cabin last night with a bag of Starbucks coffee. I took it from him in the same manner as one would remove an infant from a stranger, gently but urgently. I then whisked it into my room, crawled into my sleeping bag, and held it close to me.
A strange thing to do, yes. But in the zipped up den of my sleeping bag, the smell of coffee was so strong my olfactory system went wild and prodded awake my memories of college. I closed my eyes and thought about Zoka, on the corner of 56th and Meridian in Greenlake. This was the warm, aromatic, see-and-be-seen coffee shop where I spent the majority of my seven years in the city of emeralds. In the winter I would step in from the rain and disapear into the steam of an Americano, absorbed in essays, text books and meticulous notes. The clean, bright lines of a highlighter against a black and white page used to send shivers of delight down my spine. In the summer it was iced lattes and liquid ink from fountain pens, sitting outside in the cherry blossom breeze. I would wear a white shirt and the short, layered skirts that everyone wore for two short seasons when I was a junior. There is nothing special about this particular set of memories, nothing that sets it apart from the experience of anyone else who went to college in a nice city and had endless hours available to sit in a favorite spot and read text books.
But last night, curled like animal around a bag of coffee grounds, those memories seemed so alive and strange, the paradox of something being so bright in my mind yet so far away in reality.
I am the lucky one with a charmed life, but for the past few days my world has been colored by exhaustion, the turning of my own health and the ubiquitous fear of drowning. I stare into space more often than I have before. I fear the upcoming confluence of my life on Chilean rivers with my other life at home; at the same time I can't stop dreaming of it.
So last night I curled up in my filthy sleeping bag in my filthy skin, covered in bruises, one long scar running up my right leg and a tarantula bite on my ankle. I sleep wearing my fleece paddling gear, the only decently clean clothes I own. I breathed in coffee and hovered between the clean bright world in my past and the one I'm living now.
In the morning Tino and I made the coffee. It tasted like dirt. In taste, coffee never lives up to the promise made by its aroma. But this was particularly terrible. Maybe the lack of filter, the well-water, or the fact that I can't make coffee and never have been able to. But Tino and I sat there and drank it all and listened to the rain as it kept coming down. I thought to myself, I can't leave this. I thought to myself, I wonder where my raincoat is. I wonder what I'm teaching today in AP. I wonder if my gear will dry over the stove in time for this afternoon. I can't leave this.