Same coffeeshop as yesterday.

They’re laughing.  In fact, the three people behind the counter are joking and smiling as they dish up coffee, relaxed, real, fun.

This is a notable change from summer, and not unusual for Maine.  After all, the tourists have gone home.

No offense to the tourists–they keep our economy afloat in a very real, concrete way.  But the high volume, high demand, low forgiveness culture of tourism makes our lives a little trickier from May to mid-October.  We arrive, breathless, at September’s end, and groan a little when we realize there’s another lap before we’re done.

But about this coffee shop.  The staff has changed, pretty much completely.

And I’m noticing how much easier I feel here now.

The other people were perfectly polite.  But it was obvious that we were different kinds of people, with different values, different social expectations, different rules.  I always felt uneasy–like I was going to have a hair out of place, make a misstep, get snickered at behind my back.  It’s old stuff, stuff from before high school, before middle school, although it was there, too–it’s stuff that goes all the way back to the first cluster of mean girls that I encountered.  It was probably first grade, maybe second, and it put me off girls for a very long time.

I’m shocked, amazed, at how often as an adult I get hooked by that old fear, even though many mean girls grew up to be perfectly nice adults.  Eighteen or twenty years of practiced defensiveness doesn’t evaporate easily.  It makes me stiff, hesitant, withdrawn.  I can usually smell a clique at twenty paces, and I get uncomfortable on either side of the division.

On the other hand.

On the other hand I know how often I write the story all by myself, with no help from the person I’m judging.  I can make up a whole story about how someone is going to treat me, what they’re thinking about me, what they have to say in their head without ever hearing word one from them.  In fact, they might not even have noticed me, all the way across the room, busy with their children.

My story is, I have found, most often based on clothes.  That’s a product of where I grew up (Fairfield County, Connecticut) and how I learned to sort people out.  We had the popular kids and the outcasts.  I wasn’t a popular kid, and I knew it–my dignity’s saving grace was that I was too proud to try to become popular, so I was spared the bulk of the humiliation that some other kids were subjected to in their quest for membership among the elite.  Who could I trust?  Kids who didn’t wear designer clothes, trendy fashions, or (as I got older) makeup.

Fast forward twenty years and I still trust people in fleeces, jeans, and glasses before I trust people in stockings, and heels.  No wonder I have chosen to live in Maine, Minnesota, Oregon, where the winter uniform is flannel, canvas, and denim.

And no wonder I am more at ease today than I was in August.  The people behind the counter are “like me”–cute-messy ponytails, layered t-shirts, rolled up sleeves.  And somehow the people have changed, too, since summer. The next table over has a mom in t-shirt, vest, and knee-high Bogs–the black kind rated for forty below.

Funny part is, I don’t know anything about them except that.  I don’t know what they do in their spare time, or how they cook their dinner.  I don’t know if they go to church, and if so, where.  I don’t know what really matters at all.  But I still feel easier around them.

There’s good laughter, easy laughter coming from the coffee bar.

And that’s all it takes.  I feel like it’s a good place to be.