Thank you. Thank you for being the physical icon all these years representing that unforgettable senior year, proving that there is love, good people and good heart everywhere, regardless of how alone you are. It was 1999 and I moved for the fourth time in four years, putting me in a suburban High School of 1200+ knowing no one. The few friends I made at school were, well, awful. My pseudo boyfriend was a total pot-head, and my pseudo good girlfriend was too. I think they probably slept together also, although I didn’t feel the need to know that at the time. Long story short, I was incredibly disengaged, depressed, and hated every moment of school that year. So, I did what any lonely, closeted-queer, foodie would do: I got a job at the one local coffee house.
Arbor Vitae Java & Juice, on the Riverwalk, in Downtown Naperville.
Naperville is a fairly average, wealthy, suburban community. The crime-rate is low, the golf-club is packed and there’s a quaint “downtown district.” Arbor Vitae was located in such place.
I can’t decide what was more of a magnet, the coffee-gelato shakes they sold or the rainbow sticker in the window — both being unique to Naperville. I applied for the barista job and got it a week later.
What happened over the next 10 months saved me in more ways than one. I worked with a very kind boy, whom I later asked to my senior prom. We dated for a few weeks until I carelessly threw myself at the hot straight girl who we also worked with (sidenote: takes a long time to learn that lesson). I also got my first punch on my fag-hag card. The mid-thirties blonde gay boy we worked with took me to a Donna Summer concert in a gorgeous park and we drank boxed wine on our blanket. It was so fabulous. The Arbor Vitae staff was a motley crew of suburban outcasts that took care of each other and thank god they took me into their tribe.
The current status of Arbor Vitae can be summed up to this: fuck the suburbanites’ appetite for Starbucks. Yes, Arbor Vitae couldn’t compete with its corporate neighbor and closed approximately two years ago. My heart sank when I heard the news. I wrote the owners a letter, similar to this one now, sharing how much the place meant to me. I got no response, but am proud to say the mug and its fractured handle has been with me ever since.