Hannah, Backward & Forward

For me, 2008 was The Year of Getting Better. (Like Tomo would say: Bad Breakup was bad.) I took the first six months off to wallow in self-pity and nurse my wounded pride. By Mo*Con, I was ready to come back into the world and my friends welcomed me with open arms. I spent the rest of the year back in the seat of the Incredible Whirlwind…and true to the form of that Whirly Girl of Beauty & Dynamite, I overdid it.

After traveling and writing and editing myself into almost a week of pain and torture and sleepless nights, I caved and made my very first physical therapy appointment. The therapist’s office was 5 minutes from work — just past the Starbucks and across the street, beside the new Stonecrest hospital.The therapist was a lovely, soft spoken gentleman with a new baby (to whom, of course, I signed a copy of AlphaOops). This was a new experience for me: spending an hour being physically touched by a nice man whose sole purpose was the improvement of my well-being, without any conditions or expectations. When the hour was over, I thanked him, put my silver-Sharpie-decorated wrist brace back on, made an appointment for the following week, and left the office.

I made it to the elevator before the tears came. Then I sat in my car and openly sobbed for a good five minutes.

I’ve heard that PT can affect people this way — I just never understood why until then. And like hell I was going to go straight back to the office looking like I’d been on the receiving end of a thorough pepper spraying. I had to pass back by the Starbucks, didn’t I? Perfect. This seemed exactly the sort of problem that might best be solved with a healthy dose of whipped cream.

I love the Starbucks by work. The staff there is nice without being overly pretentious. Olivia, who used to work down at the Espresso Joe’s moved up to work there. She’s a sweetie. I usually go inside to soak in the good juju. This time, it was all I could do to take off my sunglasses as I pulled around the drive-thru after ordering my big fat frappuccino. (I feel rude wearing sunglasses at the drive-thru. Not sure why.)

When that window opened, it was like someone had pulled back the curtains and let in the sunshine. Her name was Hannah. The best way I can describe it is “kindred spirit at first sight.” I felt like I had just run into an old best friend, only I’d never met this smiling young woman before in my life. She asked me how I was. I said “Crappy.” She saw my brace and asked what happened. “Too much writing,” I told her. I explained about my double-life. She told me her favorite book was The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery. As much as I love Anne of Green Gables, I really need to read that one. I admitted as much.

We talked about books and relationships (I congratulated her on her own recent Bad Breakup) and shoes and ships and sealing wax and the price of tea in China. Thank god nobody was behind me…though what felt like hours was in fact all the time it took to make a grande caramel frappucino. I reluctantly paid and drove away, smiling like I hadn’t smiled since Indianapolis, like I knew I’d be able to smile again someday. I guess that day was someday.

A couple weeks later, I stopped in to give Hannah a copy of AlphaOops. She was over the moon about it. Really, it was the least I could do. How do you repay someone for changing your outlook so completely? Unfortunately, Hannah worked the day shift. As many times as I frequented the Sam Ridley Starbucks, she was never there. I figured she’d moved on, moved away, or that some enterprising entrepreneur had snapped her up and was paying her millions of dollars a year for the use of that edgy, sunshiny magic.But I still looked every time.

Wednesday, on the way back from lunch, Yolanda asked Patty to stop by the Starbucks. We swung through the drive-thru. Thanks to being spoiled by Dunkin Donuts in Rhode Island during Necon last weekend, I ordered an iced coffee. When the window opened and the barrista appeared, the only thing I could see from the passenger’s seat was HANNAH written in black Sharpie across her green apron.

I squealed just like the inner me squealed when I met Neil Gaiman. And so did she.

Hannah’s still there, and she still works the day shifts. But as it turns out, she’ll be performing at an open mic night at the Starbucks in Murfreesboro (S. Rutherford Blvd, across from the Wal-Mart) tonight somewhere between 7 and 10pm. I’m super excited about seeing her. Patty’s going to come and drag her son along. If you’re inthe area, I hope you’ll join us!

And if you happen to stop by the Sam Ridley Starbucks in the morning, be sure to tell her I said hi.