Personal Statement: Steeped in hot water

Monday, October 16, 2017 - 3:32pm

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Illustration by Emily Koffsky

 

When I think about it too much, I wonder why I even go into all the effort of zapping water with waves of energy just to soak some leaves in it so it turns a slight shade that water is not supposed to be, for me to then sweeten it with copious amounts of honey that will only make my sedentary body softer.

I started drinking tea in high school. I’m not really sure why. Probably because tea is easier to make than coffee. Operating a coffee maker required a level of commitment I was not ready for. Microwaves are easy.

I’ve only ever made tea using a microwave and with every new microwave I have to learn exactly how long it’ll take to get the water just right. At home, put it in for 1 minute and 45 seconds every time. At school, it’s 1 minute and 30 seconds if I’m using a small mug and 2 minutes if I’m feeling patient enough to let it cool before I burn my tongue. I’m a brunette Goldilocks with a different preference of bland food.

I could look at one thousand pictures and never recall the same feelings as when I inhale the steam from a mug of tea and the first sip touches my tongue. The smell, the taste, the burning I can trace down my esophagus sends my mind reeling back in time.

I don’t know how to spell chamomille but I know how it smells and the smell makes me think of my mom.

Last semester it took three weeks before I was diagnosed with mono and I learned that a phone call is not the same as a hug. Six-hundred miles later, my mom was in Ann Arbor and not leaving until I was better. We carried bags of saltines and soup into a house we rented in a neighborhood by the train tracks. The living room had one lamp, lace curtains and everything was a shade of off-white.

I cried because I was 20 years old and with my mother who had done the nicest thing anyone had ever done for me. Her hands held me, and my hands held mugs of tea. The tea made me better then, but now it makes me uneasy. If I can't take care of myself when I'm sick, will I ever feel independent? I tell myself to swallow the tea and remember that there is strength in needing others.

Green tea has the aftertaste of the wet soil where my sister and I hiked.

If a tree falls in the middle of the woods and nobody's there to hear it, it still makes a sound. I know because no one was there to hear us but our words shook the leaves.

It was humid and we were both carrying 40 pounds on our backs and we hadn’t spent so much time together since Christmas.

Now when I drink green tea, I think about how much I miss you. I want to be home and running into your room to jump on your bed. I want to plan our next trip and vow that no matter how tired we get we will not get tired of each other. I want to be back on that trail and take back the words I said. But once a tree falls, it is too heavy to be lifted back up.

I drink green tea and think about how all we could do was keep walking and I remember that sometimes the best way out is through.

I hear the radio when I drink English breakfast tea.

Some mornings it was NPR, some mornings it was the local show talking about celebrity gossip that no one wanted to hear at 7 a.m. My mug is a stress ball I squeeze between my legs as I sit in traffic. I balance a cup of yogurt on top of the steering wheel that I won’t have time to finish before the bell rings.

My mug has ridges on the handle. I used to know exactly how many ridges there were. My fingers traced them up and down, counting 1, 2, 3… my eyes flick up and around the room but I don’t want to make eye contact so I continue to raise the mugs to my lips even though there is no tea left.

Eventually high school ends. Now I have a different travel mug with smooth sides. With no ridges to count, I open and close the lid: open, close, open, close, open, close.

Christmas has a smell that is Trader Joe’s Candy Cane Lane tea. At home, the box of tea is still on the same shelf in the pantry but I can’t find my favorite mug.

I lay on my bed as my family moves around the house. I haven’t been home all semester and suddenly I feel like a boulder dropped into a river, with the water continuing to rush around me. I’m not sure if home is home anymore and I can’t fall asleep.

The tea still tastes the same. Sometimes you have to look for what stays constant in all the change.

A bit behind on the food trend scene, I recently got into Chai. The combination of spices make me feel a color deeper than the orange of fall leaves, and I love the feeling of fullness the milk leaves in my stomach.

I am not sure what Chai will teach me. I am not sure what memories will flood my mind when I smell cinnamon or ginger or cloves. Maybe I will remember how it felt to be 20 — knowing who I am and who I want to be, but not really knowing how to reconcile those. I might remember my purple pen and journal that I took out at every coffee shop as I procrastinated writing papers that would actually get me a grade. I hope the taste reminds me of what it felt like to be able to change my mind, make mistakes, be forgiven and pour myself into my passions.

In the end, I am thankful I take a couple minutes out of every day to heat some water.