Dear Barista Girl,
I usually get home at 6:30 in the morning, tiptoeing from my SUV to my front door with my duffel bag and a coffee in hand. My neighbors all think I work the night shift. I do work the night shift. I also work the day shift. Sometimes I work 48 hours in a row. After that, I lose count.
You see, I live a double life. I am half emergency room technician, half firefighter. Often times I get off one 12-hour shift to go straight to another. Occasionally, I get to go home and sleep in the bed that I paid for. And sometimes, I stop for coffee in between. This morning, you were my barista.
There are some things nobody should ever have to see. I have seen a lot of them. Especially for someone who is less than a quarter-century old. I don’t talk about it often because there are still people who have seen far more than I have and the ones that haven’t don’t need to carry my burdens. But I’ve seen it. Husbands having heart attacks in the hospital room down the hall from where their wives died a month ago. Babies born fully intact, but too early to live. People so smashed in their cars that you can’t identify what body parts are what. Little kids not breathing with self-inflicted bruises around their necks. Gunshot wounds, chainsaw wounds, rabid animal bites… Between my two jobs, I perform CPR on someone roughly once a week. Some people like to throw out words like “hero” and “brave” and “strong,” but I am just another broken human drifting around the shadows of the world trying to keep other people afloat.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my jobs. I love them the same way you love yours. I just have days that make me feel the same way Frappy Hour makes you feel.
And I am tired. I am so tired. And my coworkers are so tired. And you… you are exorbitantly and wonderfully caffeinated. And this morning, as I sauntered into your workplace in a uniform that included red eyes, smoke-filled hair, saliva dried to the corners of my lips, and a mind filled heavy with replays of last night’s calls, I barely heard you cheerfully thank me for my service.
You looked so confused when I, very seriously, returned the thanks. So let me explain, Barista Girl. You are my hero. In this moment and in every moment in which my performance relies solely on how much coffee I’ve had that day. I believe just about every emergency responder will agree that you make a difference in the world so deep and you don’t even notice.
You fill our cups with the magic stuff that wakes us up, keeps us alert, and helps us work efficiently. You fill our cups after the 3am calls that didn’t turn out so great and help us wash down what we don’t want to remember. You fill our cups in the evening before drills where we practice over and over again so if we haven’t had our coffee before the real thing, our muscle memory will hopefully carry us through.
And I notice you. I know you’re on your feet all day trying to please the unpleasable. I know the smells of work follow you home and your apron has a permanent place in your passenger seat. I know you are probably overworked and, despite the number of espresso shots you sneak between customers, you go home tired just like the rest of us. But gosh, Barista Girl, with your unending smiles and wishful thinking and overall positivity, you just mean so much to me.
You are responsible for keeping the rest of us going. And that is a responsibility I can’t even fathom.
So I thank you for your service, Barista Girl. And my patients thank you for mine.