Keyi Cui

As a kid, San Francisco was my favorite place. I didn’t care about the buildings, the stores, the trees in Union Square, etc. Just the people. I would run through crowds into strangers, my freakishly tiny body getting lost among businessmen and busy families.

I spent the better half of my childhood in a tiny northern California town of 20,000. When I imagined becoming an adult, I imagined being big, smiling, laughing in a place opposite the sleepy streets I lived on. Nobody would tell me to calm down, and I would be off doing whatever I wanted (whatever that was) in a place as lively as me. And I did.

I was greeted by sunflowers. We cut them with butter knives to fit into water glasses, our giggles muffled by jukebox sounds and clattering plates. Next came the lava cake. My best friend, returning from her search at the supermarket, told me they were out to my surprise. People sang and danced and spilled cups everywhere. My closest gal and I took ritual half-and-half shots. We stayed out well past midnight to celebrate my friend’s birthday, a day later, and to sing once again. The celebration seemed to start over with each new guest.

Denny’s was one of the few 24-hour places in our town. I found my first boyfriend there. A year later at the same table, I came out to my best friend. I spent every New Year’s morning and many nights post-poetry slams, plays, parties, etc. down on the familiar faux-leather seats.

I stopped having birthday parties in high school. But I decided to host my last one before leaving home for college at the place that felt most like home. I was surprised to find people I loved overflowing the back tables at Denny’s.

When I rolled onto New Haven’s Prospect Street this fall, I had been an adult for exactly a week. I knew here there were no Denny’s to drown long nights in. I wondered where my next warm place would be.

My first semester at Yale has been hard. For a while no matter who surrounded me, I found myself confused and lonely. Somehow I always felt I didn’t have enough friends. More, I didn’t believe people would want to be around me. I’m not sure why, but I did.

As I got deeper into the year, I found myself wishing for a Denny’s more and more. Missing a place I could cuddle with a friend next to me until blinding sunlight peeked in, telling our weary heads it was time to drive home.

To my friends here I kept complaining. Where are the diners? I would sit at high tables waiting for pizza when I really wanted a pancake.

Coming back from Thanksgiving break, I couldn’t believe the semester was nearly over. I still couldn’t believe I was an adult, either.

The day I came back I stayed the night with a friend here. Sunday morning, no brunch offered, we decided to go to breakfast. I found myself thinking about Denny’s. I decided to try to properly search for maybe a local diner I had missed. Turned out there was one right by Stiles. Patricia’s. You almost miss it.

But finding it, and sitting there with my eggs once again, I realized adulthood doesn’t have to feel so foreign. Yale is crazy and overstimulating like the adult world I always imagined, but more real and scary than I dreamed. I’m not sure whether that’s good or bad. Coming across the country, I felt pressure to lay down roots as fast as possible. But I can’t speed up how things are changing.

Nights in Denny’s felt more real than most things at Yale do. I’m still struggling to find value in the relationships I make here. It’s hard not to chase social clout at an institution that constantly tells me to. But now I’m trying to invest in people like I did back home. Not for networking, but out of love and real connection. I remind myself of the nights, the sleepy nights, that culminated into my adolescence. I think about sunflowers on overflowing back tables.

Caramia Putman | .