In my first day of classes on my first day of college in 1994, my English professor said to us freshman after outlining the reading requirements: "Start drinking coffee. It's a great addiction you should all have." I was a rule-following bit of a twit back then and did anything someone I respected told me to do, so I started to drink coffee the next day.
It helped that I attended Seattle University and lived eight blocks from the waterfront, where the first Starbucks store down on the waterfront still competed with Seattle's Best Coffee and a Illy and dozens of other cool little espresso joints. I was soon studying in cafes left and right, trying so hard to be cool, trying to shed my old high school skin and grow as quickly as possible a new skin that incorporated this new city, new phase, new chapter, and new version of myself. I drank the drip sort, nothing fancier than that. Cup after cup after cup...it warmed my body and kept me up.
Also on my first day of classes on my first day of college in 1994 my parents' divorce was finalized. After 22 years, they split. Just like that, it felt like to me, though now I realize decisions like that clearly take years of hemming and hawing, measuring and sifting, thinking and praying. One week I told my high school leadership class, "I hope to have a marriage as strong as my parents' one day." The next week my mother told me, "Dad and I are getting a divorce."
Coffee kept me up, but news of their divorce woke me up from my happy-go-lucky, comfortable, secure childhood. For years I wondered how I could be so stupid to live in a house with my parents and not know that they weren't happy. I began to realize that looking for what was missing was not my job as a child. I started the very long process of forgiving myself, forgiving my parents, and accepting this new definition of family. I don't think this process ever really ends.
Also in my first day of classes on my first day of college in 1994 my father left the country to fly to Haiti to lead an Army battalion in Operation Uphold Democracy. He was helping to restore order after removing Aristede. I get that "real" war is what is truly more traumatic for all those involved and those still behind, but peacekeeping missions still involved weapons and violence, risk and death. But in 1994 it was another layer of new in this chapter of my life. His move to another country, at the same time as I moved across our own country, told me: My family is all over the place. Literally and figuratively.
I was lucky to have great relationships with both my parents while growing up, and still consider them both to be confidants of mine today. In those first post-divorce years, though, I was closer with my dad. We wrote letters back and forth: he about the poverty in Haiti and working towards forgiveness, me about my first experiences in college. He wrote pages of what he was witnessing in Haiti, of the extreme poverty of the people there that made him realize how much he had. How rich he was.
And, in reading his words and keeping on going in a day-by-day sort of way, I began to believe that I was going to be okay. I still had a whole, whole lot in life; I was very blessed. I was strong enough to redefine my family and rebuild my faith. Paired with a strong cup of coffee, those letters from Haiti I received on my small, supportive Seattle campus helped pull me together.