You Can’t Go Back


I woke up today a little earlier than usual for a Sunday. The sun hasn’t been up for long and the world feels groggy and relaxed. I haven’t witnessed this since summer, I’d wager. On winter weekdays I’m up and in the shower well before dawn and I don’t get to witness this beauty. On weekends I’m often asleep long past sunrise.

The sky right now is a soft lavender and everything feels quieter and gentler than usual.

I’m reminded of my early morning commutes into the city when I used to work at the coffee shop. It was the summer I was 19. I loved the feeling of having a big, bustling city to myself. There was hardly anyone else around; just quietly rushing folks like me who had to be at work before the majority of humanity was awake.

The air felt lighter without all those cars and people around. The cobblestones I walked on and the red brick buildings surrounding me seemed full of so much more significance than usual. They were mine to take in for that brief period every day. We had a relationship, a kinship, they and I. We understood.

For centuries, those cobblestones have been trampled on. They suffered horse hooves and wagon wheels, livestock, and millions of feet. I’ve always loved them and during that summer’s early morning hours came to love them even more.

The sky is now turning a bright, vibrant baby blue. I hear neighbors outside and more birds have started their chirping songs. The magical moment is over.

I still think about those early mornings when I worked in the coffee shop often. Getting on the subway before the sun was up when it was still pitch black out. Emerging from the subway tunnel to the first rays of sunrise. Walking through downtown as the day became slightly brighter, bit by bit. Feeling the beginnings of the day’s humidity, while enjoying the only time of day that wouldn’t be stifling hot.

Everything has a glow in the summertime at that hour of the day. There’s a special brilliance to everything you see. It’s not the same as sunset, which is marred by the multitudes of people streaming in and out of one’s peripheral vision. It’s a magic only a few get to see. It’s magical and sacred because it is private, meant only for those hearty few who are up early enough to witness it.

During that summer when I was 19, I recall having to go to bed at 7 or 8 at night in order to get 8 hours of sleep. That’s something I was willing to do then, but I can’t imagine doing now. Not now, in this age of digital technology. Not now, when there are millions of things one can watch on TV that are available at any hour of the day or night, when communication with other people happens via screens and everyone is available all the time.

Back then, we watched TV shows as they aired. We talked to people on the phone or when we saw them. We weren’t expected to be available to others at all times, not in the same way as now. And if we chose to go to bed early, there were only one or two TV shows we were choosing to not watch.

Sometimes I wish I could go back to those days when I went to bed at 8 and woke up at 4, and took the subway into the city, set up a display case with pastries and brewed the first batch of coffee of the day. I wish my 8-hour workday was spent chatting with one tourist after another, pleasing them easily with a cup of coffee or a latte, taking their money and then never seeing them again. I wish I was done with my workday at 1pm and had lusciously long summer afternoons to do with as I pleased.

I know I can’t, though. I have a mortgage to pay. Plus, I busted my shoulder handing cup after cup of coffee across that counter. I wouldn’t be physically capable of doing that job anymore.

Still, when I think of that summer, I always think of it with longing. If I could, I would live that way again. If I could, I would live again back in my hometown, before the era of foo-foo espresso drinks and free wi-fi, brewing good coffee and chatting with tourists.

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