As I start this draft, I’m left with hardly three mouthfuls of my dirty iced chai latte remains from 8.5 hours ago. It’s more water than anything, room temperature, and not actually worth drinking at this point. But I want to tell you about what this spicy drink did to me.
Content Warning: high levels of basic™-ness, nostalgia, some mental health, underage smoking + cigarettes
The universe was really looking out for me that morning. Double Star Day at Starbucks, plus I’d earned enough stars for a free drink of my choice. My usual, pre-morning rush hour go-to is a grande caramel iced coffee, no classic syrup, with almond milk. It’s one of Starbucks’ cheaper options, coming in at a total of $2.92 with Michigan’s tax. Being that I had a free drink, I decided to go all out and try something that has been on my list for a while: a dirty chai.
Chai lattes are my favorite drinks. Hot or cold, with any kind of milk (though soy milk is particularly sweet), and the spicier the better. I’ve never had a dirty chai, however, or even espresso itself. (For those who don’t know, dirty chai lattes are, well, the usual chai latte but with a shot of espresso.) Because it was free, I got two shots of espresso instead of just one. And I got a venti. Because it was free (come on, guys). The total would have been $6-something. That’s more than double my usual price.
Anyway, two minutes in the drive thru and $0 later, I pulled out of the parking lot and nearly swerved off the road as I sipped. (Exaggeration. I maintained control of my vehicle, okay.)
Dirty chai lattes taste exactly like chai lattes and clove cigarettes.
I slipped into one of the most surreal nostalgia trips of my life as I got onto the highway. I was merging into rush hour traffic in real time, but illegally putting a black cigarette between my lips in a dingy coffee house nine years ago.
I was sixteen then and thought clove cigarettes were cool. I had a pixie cut the likes of Emma Watson (but before Emma Watson, y’all, because I was trendsetting), eyes bigger than my face, and teenage acne that would never go away.
My journals were spread open atop the black, scarred, circular table, the likes of which was hardly big enough for two people, much less the four or more we often squished around it. I alternated between writing lines of poetry and texts in lowercase. (Do you remember the enV Touch? It was my favorite.)
I spent the better part of two years at Trixie’s, the coffee house with the tiny cafe tables, beat up couch, and cigarette smoke-stained walls. My then-best friend worked there and introduced me to my aesthetic: independent coffee houses, soy chai lattes, and reading my poetry in front of strangers. It was a big part of who I was then. I was constantly writing, editing, practicing poems under my breath that way I could read them at Poetry Nights at Trixie’s. Sometimes I’d smoke cigarettes because everyone else was, and I was curious. Most of the time I didn’t because they were nasty and gave me a headache. Clove cigarettes tasted good, though, and eventually cigarettes of any kind were fine if I was stressed enough.
Show me a sixteen-year-old who isn’t stressed enough to chain smoke over poetry. I’m sure they’re out there, but I wasn’t one of them and neither were my friends. (I admire my sisters — one who’s nineteen and one who’s seventeen — as they both seem to be stressed, but neither of them seem to have smoked at all.) My friends all smoked constantly, and I joined in more often than not during those two years.
I turned seventeen the summer before my final year of high school, and whatever remained of my friendship with that then-best friend continued to unravel. (It’d been unraveling for years.) I started my final year of high school, took three language classes, and met my new (and current) best friend. She pulled me out of first and secondhand smoking, introduced me to weekly movie dates and positive reinforcement.
I promptly ended my previous best friendship around the same time that Trixie’s permanently closed its doors. It worked out, really, because they seemed to go hand-in-hand, Former Best Friend and Trixie’s and Unhealthy Habits and Poor Self Esteem.
Sipping that dirty chai latte on my way to my salaried, nine-to-five job was just fucking weird. I became nostalgic for a nicer (cleaner, less negatively-charged) independent coffee house, ink-stained hands, and poetry. I missed my sixteen-year-old self. How does that work?
I have since signed up for NetGalley and received a copy of Depression & Other Magic Tricks; review to come. I’ve also found the itch to write my own poetry again, so… We’ll see where that goes. In the mean time, tell me about your most surreal nostalgia trip, your former bad habits, versions of yourself that you miss once in a while.