Maddie Soule

The thirty-two minute subway ride to Washington Heights is a homecoming. I feel a breeze through the orifice in my stockings. “Orifice” is a word I learned by eavesdropping in sterile hallways connected to cardiology corridors. I’m twelve, and I seem a lot older than I am, so I no longer say tear. 

My life is defined by rituals. Where I stand in the elevator once I get off 168th street, Sol LeWitt murals in the lobby, cooking Annie’s mac and cheese on my baby brother’s bedroom floor. Optimism takes the form of peach jelly rings from the gift shop — something yummier than Wonder Bread from the cafeteria — and finding hobbies. 

My favorite extracurricular is going to Tower 6 of Columbia University Children’s Hospital, where my brother was a frequent resident for most of my childhood. Most would expect I was something of a vagabond. Instead, my health-shaped prosperity granted me the time and energy to construct a home and family in an objectively sullen space.

However, my outlets for this endeavor are mostly lacking. Until, one fortunate afternoon, I stumble upon a tea party in the Kosher kitchen. The smell of freshly baked goods almost masks the rubbing alcohol; this closet-like room in the corner of the hallway suddenly has royal allure. Dishes just like my grandmother’s best china are placed on every table, above a doily and a floral tablecloth. 

I then realize, at the ripe age of twelve, that I am not nearly the first inpatient wing habitué with the desire to make the hospital a home. The tea ladies, women who all have children with heart defects, soon adopt me as their token member of a new generation of tea women. 

I have only two facts in common with most of the women: the unique type of love I have with my brother, their children and the hospital; and the enjoyment of afternoon tea. That was evidently all that was needed to make a space that routinely takes bravery to enter suddenly feel comfortable. 

Once a month, the Tower 6 kitchen would turn into a beautiful tea parlor filled with delicious treats, support, warmth and community. 

My (not so) baby brother is fortunately healthy now. This is a gift I am grateful for every day. And still, my memories of my years at the hospital are largely ones of love, my favorite cake and hot mugs of earl gray tea — like artifacts of any home. 

In many ways, my college life is still defined by rituals. But I have never stopped turning to tea as a solace. My lovely suitemates engage in (very modest) tea parties in our common room, and I keep a stack of loose-leaf tea boxes on the mantle. No resolution for a tough day goes without boiling water. Though born in a dismal home, this tradition is a continuous reminder of the community and small triumphs that may be fixed by some tea.

Zoë Halaban edits for WKND. She previously wrote for the WKND desk and covered the Yale Divinity School. She is a sophomore in Davenport College majoring in religious studies.