In a former life, I used to drink coffee and sit in cafes until I literally couldn’t stand it any longer or had somewhere else to be. I would just write and write while listening to music through my headphones or perhaps indulging in the background chatter of the shop absolutely infatuated with my anonymity and the varying degrees of warmth in my mug of coffee. Sometimes I would sit outside and enjoy the warm beverage so I could smoke my cigarette, and sometimes if it was cold or rainy, I would find the smallest corner to attach myself as I let the words and images flow from my head to the paper.
Coffee makes me think of those countless days and hours that I spent just further retreating into the world within while sitting surrounded by the world outside of me– the hustle and bustle of the city streets, the utter insanity and chaos that abounded all while being supremely peaceful and lovely… I can still smell the fresh rain and visualize the dirty roads, and even temporarily be back in my body as I sat there years ago…
I couldn’t have known that being a parent would effectively eliminate those meanderings through the city. Not that you mind after birthing a child– but these aren’t the things that people warn you about when you have a child or become with child or even consider having a child. No one says, “forget you time… forever!” they just congratulate you on fulfilling some womanly or marital responsibility that you didn’t know you were supposed to fulfill until you started mentioning what you were going to do with your reproductive organs (or what you weren’t going to do).
Perhaps some parents find a way to balance their need for retreating into their own personal domain and justify the hot sips of coffee or green tea that compelled them so many years prior. I’ve never been able to find that balance myself. Sometimes I would stay up late at night trying to read a chapter in a book or type a story to myself or even doing a cursory investigation of a topic of interest. It’s never been quite the same. I could never let my selfish desires to retreat within completely take over like before I had a child. My attention has been forever disassembled between myself and my baby.
As my child has grown older, it’s become somewhat easier to take that time to myself, but I no longer live in the rainy forested areas where the big city meets the towering trees and history of earth. I live in a completely different environment where wandering through the city is an effort in its own. There are no coffee shops within walking distance where you could spend countless hours admiring the unique appeal of civilization. Our coffee shops are often equipped with drive-through windows and corporate decals completely sanitizing the experience down to the caffeine stripping the self-exploration and dance of individuality that comes with each sip of coffee.
I always imagined myself just bringing my child along on these journeys the world over. If I were to meander through the canals in Amsterdam, I would have my child wrapped to my chest as I took pictures of the brick lays and leaning buildings on the river banks. If I were to dig up fossils in the middle of the first continent, I would have my child at my side carefully brushing away the dust while we shared a canteen of water and fascination with the past. If I were to explore the last remaining frontiers of jungle, my child would run beside me pointing from Leaf Cutter Ant to flying squirrel and then ask for me to cut a vine so they could take a drink of water as the chatter of rain fell about our feet and the animals hummed with their daily excitement.
It has been years and the impulse to live this way has never subsided within and perhaps that is why I feel this wistfulness when I smell coffee or think back to those days of solitude sitting in the cafes writing about whatever fancy struck my heart at the moment. I always imagined a life where there were no limits on what could be done, accomplished, or pursued. I still believe this life is possible. But I had no idea that it would such a battle when the father of my child was someone who would rather see me dead than relinquish the ability for me to wander the earth and show my child my inner most dreams and the varying beauties that civilization has left behind for the Indiana Jones in us all.
If only all the words that had flowed through my hands into the papers and screens of the past had been able to adequately explain abuse. Because no matter the extent of my prolific vocabulary, my years of schooling and deep knowledge and passion for history, pre-history, and humanity, I never understood what patriarchy or domestic violence, abuse or feminism actually meant. I wrote from my heart and yet my heart, like an anonymous writer in a cozy cafe chair, did not ever connect with my brain who watched in detached wonder at the deterioration through manipulation and control of a woman once born to conquer the world city by city with her child at her side.
Though it has been years of pseudo-imprisonment within the artificial boundaries of a city, the dream and desire lives on. Someday, though my baby will not be strapped to my chest, I will take my child through the jungles to play with orphaned orangutans, walk the steps of pyramids, and bicycle across the canals and stone-laid streets of thousand year old cities. Maybe we will even sit in a cafe until we can’t stand it any longer sipping at our coffee or tea in silence appreciating the buzz of life around us.