At Tea Chai Te in Northeast Portland, there is no coffee on the menu. But there is bubble tea, which is better when my throat is sore and better because it’s unique and better all around because it’s right across the street from the shoe store where Celeste works. I choose the rooibos red tea base, ask for the soy version with raspberry, and the tapioca pearls that make the drink like none other.
I sit down on the coach across from two fourth grade girls who are doing their homework. It’s a snow day all across Portland, and they’ve come with the taller girl’s mother who sips coffee on the opposite end of the coach, trying to steal a few quiet moments and anonymity.
“Last year, I’m not sure how I did it, but at Anita’s birthday party, I’m the one who fell asleep first,” the shorter girl says. She has sandpaper blonde hair that’s crimped and crinkled from two undone braids. When she leans forward, her hair falls forward along the sides of each cheek, and she whispers through a tent of hair to her friend.
“Yeah that was when Jocelyn was mad because her stuff was broken and she and Taylor couldn’t get along.” The taller girl is playing a computer game and doesn’t take her eyes from the screen.
“Well, it might not have been Taylor’s fault,” the first says, “but anyway, what are you doing on that computer?” She reaches into her backpack and pulls out a pencil. “Remember? We have this.”
“Ugh. Ok, fine,” her friend says, turning off the computer and pulling the same worksheet out of her backpack. “Mom,” she turns to the woman near me on the couch. “What time do I wake up?”
“Oh, about 7:15 am. Well, actually, you don’t get out of bed until 7:25am.”
“And what time do I leave for school?” She scratches her answers in pencil onto a fill-in-the-blank worksheet.
Across the room, two twenty-something nursing students prepare for a test. I imagine, for a moment, their city lives. The day-to-day would be such a mystery to me. Maybe one works 9-5, say, downtown at an art media store. She’s in school part time, likes to go out three or four times a week for a drink with friends. Stays up late to study, prefers coffee before breakfast each morning. Tea on Sundays. The other, maybe, enrolled full-time and on full-loans. Lives with two quiet housemates, used to be a morning person but can’t seem to pull it off anymore. Studies hard, maybe too much. Wants to work at OHSU sometime in the next five years.
“You’re having cell death somewhere, it’s just a question of what part of the heart wall is dying,” the blonde says.
“Right, and I just found the answer to that three-part one we couldn’t get. Or at least, part one – the answer is myocardial infarction,” the brunette says.
“Ok, gimme the next one.”
The two fourth graders look up from their worksheets and stare at the nursing students, then look at each other with bid-doe eyes, and turn back to the women. They are completely riveted by the adult version of a study date and perhaps, project themselves into these oh-so-cool women a few more years down the line.
“Why do the myocardial cells die in chronic heart failure?”
The blonde closes her eyes, lifts her chine in homage, seeming to pray to some distance goddess of anatomical exactitude. She exhales. “Is it because they’re not getting enough oxygen? Because the cells hey die from energy starvation, which leads to necrosis?”
“Yup! You got it!”
The fourth graders giggle, clap hands to cheer, then smile widely and return to their work with renewed focus.
“When is this due again?” the young girl who had been playing a computer game asks.
“Tomorrow Becky, tomorrow. But we can do it. We can do it!” The girl sharpens her pencil and looks back at the nursing students, then smiles to herself.