It’s hard to believe that I am here, back where it all began. I’m facing the window out to Church Street, my computer on top of a raised corner bar in Uncommon Grounds. It’s the first cup of coffee I’ve had in months. With milk and honey, it’s smooth and sweet but the bitterness still irritates my mouth. There, outside, are the bums that my boyfriend always talks about, smoking cigarettes, a few are sitting to my left, smelling like cigarettes. They always prefer to hang out in the front, by the window. I guess it’s cool that they only drink locally roasted, fair trade coffee, that’s one thing we’ve got in common.
What’s different today is that it’s May and I’m not shivering in my fleece from the chill air that creeps through the window seals. My first month here, in Vermont, was a forgiving November. Every morning my boyfriend would leave for work and I, without a car, knowledge of local transportation or anything else, would go with him. He would turn right, I knew I had to turn left towards the bus stop in front of Macy’s. The first time I made that right, I ran into Uncommon Grounds. I think there’s a sign outside that says “free wireless.” I came here nearly every day. The guys behind the counter noticed me frequenting the place. One guy with bangs cut just above his eyes would nod hello and give me a slight smile. He walked back between the counter and the kitchen a lot and couldn’t help but notice that I was in there nearly all day. Especially in December, when it got really cold.
I had a lot to do. I had to find a job, write about the Long Trail, sort photos from Russia, decide what was going to be next. As the temperatures dropped, I found myself frozen in time. I didn’t know anyone or anything. At Uncommon Grounds, I read the Seven Days classifieds, bus schedules, lists of non-profits, staff profiles, farm listings, checked flight prices to Chile, Peru, Nicaragua, California, Arizona, cropped and edited, deleted words and created sentences.
In January I started staying “home” more. I became familiar with the area and went grocery shopping, cooked, read, went on interviews, went to the Gap to buy trousers. Suddenly I had stuff to do and staying “home” felt nice. Multi-day trips to New York City became less frequent. Then it was time to go to Nicaragua.
On a Thursday in March I was back in San Jose, two years after that semester in Costa Rica. I saw Paul’s beard and blue rain jacket. I was tired from the long border crossing the day before, tired from the year past but moments like that gave me enough adrenaline to keep going. Another long flight back to New York, a week later back in Vermont. I started on a farm, the wrong farm. So I started the cycle again. I stayed “home” and looked at classifieds, went on interviews. I got my permit, got my license and bought a car just shy of my twenty fourth birthday.
I found myself at another unmarked junction, two jobs leading in different directions, like on the Long Trail, both the signs and my own instincts were confusing. I chose a path and kept going.
Hiking over the weekend by myself, I realized I was on the portion of the trail that I hiked without Paul, the day he took off early in the morning. It felt like a mysterious coincidence. I drove to the trail head, hiked up and ran into someone I met at Skylight Pond while thru-hiking. I couldn’t remember his name – Sandy. I hiked back down and called Paul to confirm dinner plans. I picked dandelions to go with the green asparagus and golden beet I bought at the farmer’s market the day before.
I came here deliberately today, seven months since I first made my way through the list of daily roast. Most things were the same, the small white mug on a small plate, the mention of the free refill, day old goods for sale, honey, brown sugar and milk all lined up next to each other. I recognized only one person from the staff. It’s so hard to grasp, to categorize, to pin point, to determine, to quantify, to explain everything that has happened in the past year. It’s even harder to predict anything that will happen. Yet there is something about this May spring in Vermont, the summer that is now in New York. Four days ago, one year ago, I boarded that plane to Washington. I thought I was going out west but I ended up full circle, back in the east in the state I fell in love with the first time I saw the rolling pastures and red barns out the car window.