Walking down York Street at 9 a.m. on my way to Portuguese class, I see Willoughby’s as I exit Pierson, walk by Blue State and Donut Crazy’s welcoming windows, imagine the new Elm hiding beneath my feet, and, finally, pass the cozy Blue State on Wall Street — five possible places to grab a quick coffee. My mind begins to weigh each option against my future plans.
“Should I wait until it is colder to try the gingersnap latte at Koffee?,” “My Dunkin gift card expires soon, but then I have to drink it outside,” “Maybe I should go to Fussy on a day when I have free time to read?,” “I still have not tried the Elm.” A panel of judges debates loudly in my frontal lobe, drowning out even academic thoughts.
But, when the tell-tale signs of the Yale Plague began — drowsiness, congestion, a throat on fire — the judges no longer served any purpose. Instead of planning, which at least was active, I was now stuck mulling over the things I had to cross out in my planner. With each aggressive pen mark, a spiral ensued. Missing a pottery session meant I would never make my own coffee mug. Missing a rush party meant I would never be a part of any club on campus. And being stuck in bed on a Saturday morning meant I would have a terrible weekend simply because I could not go to a café.
At home, my weekend activities were watching a movie in a nearly empty theater, wandering under the cold florescent lights of Walmart, or carpooling to Denny’s at midnight with my coworkers after a long shift at Dairy Queen. However, once a year, my mom would drive my sister and I across the Ohio River to Evansville, Indiana to do all our shopping for the upcoming school year, hauling plastic and paper bags around the mall like tourniquets on our forearms until we had scoured all the shops. In the mall parking lot came the moment I had been waiting for: to ask my mom to take me to Barnes and Noble.
Housing an in-store Starbucks, Barnes and Noble was a personal wonderland: browsing books, sipping a Salted Caramel Cream Cold Brew, and leaving with a stack of books I could barely manage to carry.
I had only a single precarious moment to test my persuasion skills before we pulled into the street: right meant defeat, left meant triumph. My anticipation grew as I leaned between the two seats and softly drew out a long, “Moooooom?”
Once I had presented my case, she would typically give in. However, if we turned onto the highway home, I was crushed. It was as if the endorphins my brain produced in an hour of reading intriguing synopses and flipping crisp pages of books I’ll never read and letting the sweet foam of my coffee linger on my tongue would sustain me for the year. If I didn’t get them, my next fifty-two weeks would be a gloomy existence.
This same overwhelming necessity has followed me to New Haven, even with a Barnes and Noble and Starbucks a five-minute walk from my dorm. I feel like a bear storing for hibernation, but instead of food, I am frantically gathering experiences, in preparation for an imagined time when I will no longer have access to coffee shops and bookstores.
So, when I was in my dorm blowing my nose every three minutes and eating cough drops like candy, I felt like a child again, torn to shreds in the backseat of the car. The well of time was running dry and I could feel each drop evaporating like a punch to the chest.
I know that placing all my happiness into a cup of cold brew is irrational. Still, after a year of instant coffee packets and untoasted bagels during quarantine added onto my eighteen café devoid ones, I am determined not to take new options for granted — yet instead end up taking the experience for granted. I finally try a pour over coffee, but my thoughts are only appeased to the last sip before generating new drinks to try. The Yale plague, while ailing my body, ironically was a course of treatment for this malady. It prevented me from externalizing my happiness in impulsive coffee runs, but this vacuum filled with routine things: exhilarating cold greeting me in the morning, eye contact with brazen squirrels on the way to class, sunlight illuminating fiery leaves as autumn turns to winter.
Getting coffee still represents the college experience I have been chasing, but so does simply being on campus. I can’t completely abolish the compulsion, but if I can strive to strike a balance between concrete and abstract sources of joy, that’s enough for now.