I’ve always ordered an iced coffee, four and four.
The sickly sweet drink has been my specialty since high school. It was a joke amongst anyone who knew me; they would pester me with well-meaning quips about the fact that every day, just like clockwork, I’d walk into class late with that predictable beverage in my hand. Even now, years after the fact, I can’t get myself to order anything else.
I’ve always been a creature of habit. My interests, routines, favorite songs and foods remained stagnant as the years went on. I never saw a problem with it –– these things brought me comfort, and I indulged in them for so long that they started to become mine. In my mind, I was defined by my unwaveringly long hair, unchanging music taste and steadfast coffee order. But this past year, I’ve felt a gnawing, incessant need to change. The familiarity began to feel less like a comfortable security blanket and more like a suffocating character flaw. I was petrified that years had gone by and I’d been standing completely still.
Perhaps this fear was rooted in the fact that lately, everything has been changing. With so many things out of our control –– a shut-down world, the loss of family members and friends, our compromised routines and sense of normalcy –– familiarity feels foreign. We cut our quarantine bangs, rearrange the furniture in our rooms and look for ways to reinvent and seize control over lives that suddenly feel a little less vibrant. I’m no different. Rather than embracing my penchant for consistency, I felt an urgent desire to change something, anything, about myself.
So instead of shuffling through the same Taylor Swift album I’ve listened to since freshman year of high school, I forced myself to listen to experimental post-punk records. I started to never use the same car air freshener scent twice. I tried (and failed) every 15-day ab challenge, 15 times over. I took risks at the drive-thru, and feigned surprise when I hated the way that black coffee bitterly coated my tongue. My miniscule vies for spontaneity were rooted in this need to have changed in some way over the course of the past year. However, I’ve found that those small acts were disingenuous for me. The bizarre need to prove that I’ve evolved, as if such a feat is dictated by new hair or music, just convinced me that any of my “normals” made me boring and needed correcting. Even worse, it presupposed me as a static, two-dimensional creature, discrediting the real change I’d made –– the kind I couldn’t immediately see.
That change, the gradual kind, sneaks up on you. I don’t think you realize it until it has already shifted your perspective and simply becomes you. For me, the change that I had been actively pursuing was happening all along, quietly and unsuspectingly.
One day, that particular bad memory I could never speak about without crying no longer evoked tears when I told the story. One day, my friend off-handedly mentioned that she was so proud of how much I had matured, and that she’d noticed it over the past few months and never said anything. One day, the “end-of-the-world” embarrassing moments and heartbreaking rejections I thought I could never get over began to take up less space in my mind, until I didn’t think about them at all. I had never noticed or appreciated this kind of change, but it’d been happening all along.
I think that the pressure to have a new, exciting version of yourself to parade doesn’t require compromising the things we define ourselves by now, in fear of being boring. In some ways, I think that we are a new, exciting version of ourselves every day. Time necessitates change, and this change shapes us whether we like it or not. The things we learn and the experiences that strengthen us culminate silently, even if your coffee order has never changed or you’ve had the same favorite song since middle school. I realize that now and can appreciate the growth that I’ve made when I wasn’t even looking.
Today, I ordered an iced coffee, four and four. I never liked black coffee anyway.
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