Peppermint Latte Poets Society
I hated Peppermint Lattes. They were too strong, the peppermint was overpowering; in fact I simply wasn’t a big fan of coffee in general. Iced coffees were alright, I liked them, and I’d tried Banana Cream coffee and that was pretty good. But every Thursday at our weekly club meeting held in the Deep Catacombs coffee shop, I ordered a Peppermint Latte. It was because that was the namesake of our club, the Peppermint Latte Poets’ Society. I’d never met the founder, but Peppermint Lattes had supposedly been his favourite drink. There must’ve been something poetic about them. ‘One day,’ I’d think desperately to myself nearly every club meeting, sipping a Peppermint Latte that had as much cream as I could get away with adding, ‘I will understand the beauty of this disgusting drink.’
Aside from that, the Peppermint Latte Poets’ Society was one of my favourite things in the world. Our club meetings were the highlight of my week. For the most part it was fairly routine; after Neoschool I’d rush over to the Catacombs, get there early since my school was pretty close to it, order a Peppermint Latte while I waited for the others. The barista, a gorgeous Shoyru named Perennia, always served me my Latte with a little twinkle in her eye. I think she understood from the grimaces I made when I thought that no one was watching that I was just wasting Neopoints on a drink I didn’t like. She always wore blue eye shadow that complimented her skin perfectly, but even after I worked up the courage to ask her what kind she used and bought the exact same thing, I never managed to make the stuff work for me the way it did for her. She told me that since I was a spotted Zafara, I should probably try something different, but after that I never really wanted to.
It didn’t take long for the rest of the club to show up. We were a small group of around seventeen members; the number went up and down over time, but we were all very close. I guess it came from sharing our poetry with each other. We called ourselves the Mints; it was like a rock band, commented Marcus the fire Chia. He owned a guitar, but it was too big for him and his awkward paws couldn’t quite manage the strings. All his poems were written like the lyrics to songs.
The Mints were all my soul mates, and I thought I’d be with them for life, writing and sharing poetry.
But one day everything changed.
No, that’s not true. Since then I’ve come to realize that change rarely occurs suddenly. People think that one event changes their life but in reality it’s the buildup before the event and the reflection afterwards that truly creates change. So I can’t point out one thing that made me leave the Peppermint Latte Poets’ Society any more than I can point out one event in my life that made me who I am.
On the day before my sixteenth birthday, I stopped in to the Neopia Central theatre to watch a film. It was pretty good; I liked the plot, and the theme of redemption.
When the lights came back on, I saw Cabbage, a Bori from my school who was one grade higher than me. He beckoned to me and I joined him in watching the credits.
“Hi Janet, what’d you think of the film?” he asked. I told him about how I liked the story, throwing in some complicated terms I’d learned in English class to impress him. Unfortunately, he laughed and waved a paw dismissively. “That story’s been done too many times,” he said. “But I wasn’t expecting much, so I was pretty pleased with the subtle dialogue and the camerawork. The lighting was good too, really refreshing.”
I admired his confidence as he talked about this other world that I had never really thought about. “Are films like poetry?” I asked, immediately regretting it afterwards. What a silly question.
But he didn’t laugh again. “You know,” he said seriously, “all art forms are similar once you get down to the heart of it.”
The next morning when I woke up, I was sixteen. For some reason, I wasn’t that happy about it. It was the first time I hadn’t been excited on my birthday. I wasn’t apathetic, I actually felt a bit down. When I was a little kid I thought I’d have it all figured out when I was an older kid, but it seemed like I still had a long way to go, and I really didn’t know much.
It just so happened that the day of my sixteenth birthday was a Thursday, so I went to the coffee shop after an uneventful day at school to find most of the club already there, along with a Peppermint Latte waiting for me on the table.
“Happy birthday, Janet!” they cried, and I felt my heart swell with love for the only people who had decided to celebrate my birthday.
“Your latte is on us today,” said Miyoko, a white Aisha. She wrote beautiful Haikus; I was always envious of the way she fit so many images and emotions into only a few words.
Casey, a checkered Lupe, gave me a big hug. She was my best friend in the club; we’d joined at the same time, around three years ago. She wrote sentimental, soft poetry that I drank in like it was sweet Juppie juice.
“Thanks, you guys,” I said, forcing myself to take a big gulp of the drink, for their sakes. I could see Perennia covering up a giggle. “This really means a lot to me.”
“Thank us with a poem!” cheered Alison, a young Kyrii that I was very fond of.
I hadn’t prepared anything; I stammered a bit, feeling my cheeks burning up, but Miyoko reassured me soothingly, “It doesn’t have to be anything in particular, we just want to hear one of your poems. Any one.”
I ended up reading them something I’d written the previous month; it was about the quiet and decadent beauty of the Maraquan ruins and how the narrator found peace there. They praised me afterwards, saying that my insight into other cultures was always fascinating and my imagery strong.
As I walked back home after the meeting, I thought about how I had never even been to the Maraquan ruins. I looked up at the sunset over the Neopian woods and felt that the fiery red bands melting into exuberant oranges and then soft pink and purple pastels behind the dark silhouettes of the trees was much more real than any ruin hidden deep at the bottom of the ocean.
On the weekend I met up with Casey. We walked around the marketplace, played word games. I couldn’t tell that there was something on her mind; she was the one who was good at that kind of thing. So it came as a complete surprise when she said, “Janet, I wanted to tell you before I tell the rest of the Mints... I’m quitting the club.”
I was speechless with shock. Of course, many people had left the club before her; like I said, people came and went, and I’d gotten used to seeing some of my favourite poets and friends leave. But I’d always expected that she would be in it to the end, just like me.
“Why?!” I demanded, louder than I intended to. “Casey- you love poetry! You love the Poets’ Society, you even love Peppermint Lattes!” She alone of the club members knew of my distaste for the drink.
“I love all those things,” she agreed quietly, making me seem even louder by comparison. “But things are changing for me... I don’t know how to explain this, Janet, but I feel like I just don’t belong in the Society anymore. I need to go out and start something new, on my own. I don’t know if the Society changed more or if it was me, but I need to leave it if I want to evolve.”
“You- you don’t think the Society is good enough, or something?” I asked, desperate to make sense of the situation, to make her see that leaving was not what she needed to do. “You need to go on to better things or something?”
“Janet, it’s not that at all,” she said, and I could tell that she was trying to be patient. “It’s not a matter of me being too good for the Mints or the Mints being too good for me, it’s just that we’re different now. Things that are different can’t really be compared, do you see?” She paused, as if trying to figure out whether she should say more. “I hate to say this, Janet, but I don’t think you can understand. You might someday, but for now you don’t.”
But what scared me was that I did; I did understand a little bit of what Casey was saying, and I had even started having the same feelings. Hearing her voice all those things out loud helped me make more sense of my confusing shifts of the heart, but it didn’t make me feel better. It made me feel much worse.
I went home and hid under my bed, wrote a poem, my fingers working without any input from my mind. I finished in about four minutes and when I read it over, I didn’t even understand it. I crumpled it up and hid it under a pair of pants, wrote a new poem, spent nearly an hour writing a poem about purity and peace and everlasting friendship and other things that I couldn’t entirely believe in anymore.
I read the poem at our next club meeting to the Mints, minus Casey. My audience clapped and told me how much they liked the poem, but it seemed like they were being polite, like they were following a routine they’d gotten used to. I couldn’t get mad at them for it; I followed the same routine. Sometimes it’s harder to be honest to people that you love.
After all the readings I pulled up a chair next to Terry, a checkered Gelert who was one of the club leaders, and the split Meerca he’d been talking to, Ophelia. “You guys,” I blurted out, interrupting their conversation rather rudely, “was my poem any good?”
“It, like, wasn’t very good, man,” said Ophelia. I hadn’t talked much to her since she’d joined the club; she struck me as quite odd, and her confusingly abstract poetry didn’t make any sense to me, so it wasn’t like there was anything I could approach her about. “Don’t get me wrong; your stuff is good, hey? Just not this time. Like a Grarrl trying to hide inside a cradle, you know?” she said seriously, which I didn’t understand at all.
“It didn’t seem like you meant it,” said Terry. “Kind of like you were taking stuff that you’d written about before, and mixing it up and repeating it, yeah? I wanted to believe it, but I couldn’t.”
“Terry, I think my style’s changing,” I said anxiously.
“Well, that’s good. Go with it,” he encouraged me, “try something new. That’s the only way we grow as artists.”
He didn’t seem to understand. “But I like my style the way it is,” I said resolutely. “I don’t want it to change.”
He laughed, and then quickly covered his mouth. “What do you mean? Your poetry has changed so much over the past- what’s it now? Two? No, sorry, that’s Jeremy- three years that I barely recognize it anymore.”
That was what surprised me the most. I didn’t spend a lot of time rereading my old work, but I kept all of it in a box on my desk. That night I went home and read through some of the oldest poems I still had; Terry had been absolutely right. In fact some of the thoughts expressed in the poems I’d written long ago were so different from what I thought now that I could barely stand reading them. I crawled under my bed, pulled out the balled up poem, and rewrote it.
Unfortunately, when I read the poem to the Peppermint Latte Poets’ Society, I did not receive the reaction I had been hoping for. They suggested sympathetically that I was just in a rut, that I shouldn’t worry because it happened to everyone.
“Hey,” said Ophelia afterwards, “I liked it. Could really relate, man.”
This was not particularly reassuring; for the first time it occurred to me that I might be going crazy.
Back when I first joined the Society, only two of the original members had still been there. One of them had only come about once a month until he finally disappeared for good. The other I had never really talked to one-on-one, but I’d looked up to him like nearly everyone else in the club had. One day he’d given a speech and read a poem, neither of which I had entirely understood, and left. The general consensus was that the club hadn’t turned out like he wanted it to, so he got angry and abandoned it.
Old Fabio. Even back then I could tell that he loved the club. I realized that there had to have been something more that made him leave.
I got his temporary address in Kiko Lake from Miyoko, and that weekend I paid him a visit. When he answered the door I didn’t even recognize him; formerly a Scorchio, he was now a speckled Nimmo. “Hello,” he greeted me politely. After a few seconds I noticed the similar facial structure, the signature relaxed way that he stood.
“Hi!” I stuttered. “I’m Janet. Umm, you probably don’t remember me, but I was a member of the Peppermint Latte Poets’ Society back when you around. Uhh, sorry for showing up like this, umm, I probably should have asked first whether you were busy... umm... I just wanted to talk?”
To my relief, he beamed at me and invited me in. “Certainly, Janet. It’s great to see a Mint again. Come in and tell me how the Society is doing.
“Sorry it’s not very cozy,” said Fabio, bringing me into the kitchen. There were a few boxes and suitcases piled up by the cupboards, but he managed to navigate around them to pour two cups of tea. “I set off for Terror Mountain next week.”
“Wow,” I said, “I’ve never been there before.”
“So, Janet, what did you want to talk about?”
“Well, I was just thinking about the speech that you made back when you left the club, and, umm, the things that you said...” To be honest, I barely remembered any of his speech. After all, I hadn’t even understood it.
He seemed to get this. Making a move towards one of the boxes, he said, “I’m afraid I don’t much remember the speech either; it was mostly made up on the spot, but would you like to see the poem?” Fabio pulled out a folder and dug through it until he pulled out a weathered sheet of paper and handed it to me.
I read through the poem slowly, a clock ticking from within one of the boxes, the steam from my tea rising delicately into the air. Its metaphors and alliterations still lingered somewhere in the back of my mind, but I was most shocked to find that I finally understood what the poem meant.
“I get it,” I said, still a little astonished but desperate to explain my new understanding of the poem, “it’s about like wanting- no needing, to go somewhere new, but you can’t- umm like, you can’t break out of the circle... like, this set image of who you are, and you’re not sure if changing yourself is the best thing to do... no wait, I really do know.” I knew I wasn’t getting my point across; this was important, I felt like I really needed to show him that I knew where he was coming from.
But to my relief, he put a stop to my babbling by smiling and saying gently, “Right, you’re afraid that if you change too much, you’ll become an entirely different person- and you’re not sure what will happen to your former self if you do.”
“I think that’s what I’ve been scared of,” I said, staring at the poem. “Fabio, is this why you left the club?”
“Yes, mostly,” he said quietly, also gazing at the piece of paper I held in my paws. “I wanted to travel, but the club stopped me from doing that. However, most of all, I simply felt like the club no longer fit the person that I’d become.” He rested his chin on his interlocked fingers. “But I didn’t get it right in that poem. Things and people never really change. The parts that make us are simply... rearranged. But all the parts are still there.”
That Thursday, we welcomed a new member to the club. I looked around the room at the other members. Some had been there since before I’d joined, and others were still brand new. The faces in the room were always being taken away and added. “This place will change regardless of any attempts to keep it the same,” I murmured to myself.
“What?” asked a voice from near my elbow. I looked down and saw Marcus looking at me curiously.
“Sorry, I was just thinking out loud. Hey, Marcus, what’s that you’ve got?”
He held up two sticks and grinned. “Drumsticks! I gave up on the guitar; I just wasn’t enjoying it much. Drums suit me way more.”
Terry was sitting by himself for once, so I joined him. “You know,” I said, “I went to see Fabio on Saturday.”
“Did you really? Hey, I’m jealous. Fabio and I got into some arguments, but he was a great guy. What did you talk about?”
“Not much. He explained why he quit, kind of.” I swirled my Peppermint Latte around with a straw. I meant to stop drinking them, but it was such an ingrained habit to order one. “Terry, you’ve been here for a really long time. Did you ever think about quitting?”
“Not seriously,” he replied. “This place is my home.”
“I’ve never thought about leaving either,” I said.
“Ahh, but you have,” Terry observed wisely. “You haven’t been comfortable here lately.”
“Well... I sort of feel like I no longer belong.”
“In that case, quit,” he said so plainly that I choked on a gulp of coffee.
“You don’t understand, Terry,” I stammered hastily, “I don’t WANT to quit! This place, these people... this is where I became who I am.”
“Look,” he said seriously, putting aside his own coffee, “everyone, at one point, feels like they need to move on. If you don’t listen to those feelings you’re going to get trapped in one place.”
“Yes, and then you’re just going to feel lost. So take the plunge. Sure, once in a while you may wonder what would have happened if you’d stayed, but it’s much better than sitting here wondering what could happen if you leave.”
I think I sat there for a long time, staring down into my coffee. Once or twice I wondered if Terry was still there. I threw the rest of my Peppermint Latte out and said firmly, “Terry, I’m going to burn all my old poems. Like you said, they have nothing to do with me anymore.”
He blinked, and said in a softer tone of voice, “I never said that. I just said that they were very different from what you write now, and what you will probably write later in life. Keep them safe, Janet. At one point, that was how you felt... they will always be a part of you, no matter how much you change.”
That night, Miyoko had to go grocery shopping, so I walked with her halfway. “Hey Miyoko,” I said suddenly, “what do you like better: your older poetry, or your newer poetry?”
“Well, goodness, I’m a much better writer now,” laughed Miyoko. “But I have to say that my old poetry has a lot of nostalgic charm. I really don’t know. What about you?”
“Me? Well,” I said slowly, “I think they’re just different. Things that are different can’t be compared.”
I lay awake at night, thinking about change and wondering whether it was real or not. But at last I had figured out one thing for certain, one thing that I knew now was real: I could no longer be a member of the Peppermint Latte Poets’ Society.
The members of the club took the news in different ways. Some of them didn’t know me that well so they wished me luck and went back to whatever they were doing. Some of them nodded understandingly and gave me words of encouragement and advice. Others were noticeably upset.
“First Casey, and now you!” cried Marcus. “Are you just bored of the Mints, Janet?”
“I don’t see why you have to leave!” sniffed Alison. “Meetings are only once a week; you have time to do other things!”
“It’s not the time it takes,” I stuttered, “it’s just that I- I don’t belong. It’s time to move on-”
“I knew it,” shouted Marcus. “You think we’re holding you back.”
“That’s not it!” I yelled fearfully. That wasn’t it at all, I had to make them understand, it was imperative that they understood, I was not leaving them behind, I was taking them with me to wherever I needed to go next...
Terry patted me on the shoulder. “Don’t worry,” he murmured, “they’ll understand someday, just like you did.”
Ophelia shook my hand. “Man, it was cool knowing you,” she said earnestly. “Come check up on us once in a while. You may leave the club, but the club will never leave you.”
“Sure,” I said, turning away, for I could tell I was about to cry, “I’m a Mint for life.”
That’s how I left the Peppermint Latte Poets’ Society. It wasn’t an easy decision and sometimes I still think about it and worry. But that’s starting to happen less and less. It’s been two months. I made a film, a pretty terrible one that I had a ton of help with, but I was very proud all the same. I still write poetry, I just don’t churn it out as often anymore. Casey and I still see each other on weekends, and I see the other Mints around Neopia Central every now and then. I even took a trip to Faerieland, and upon finding out what it was really like, I wrote some new poems that were different from my old poems, but with some outstanding similarities.
On Thursday I visited the Deep Catacombs coffee shop. I was surprised to find it devoid of any Mints, and assumed that the meeting day must have been changed. It made me a bit sad to think of the Society changing without me, but I cheered up after listening to Perennia talk about what the club had been up to. For old time’s sake, I ordered a Peppermint Latte.
It tasted just as gross as always. I’m glad that there are things I’ll always be able to hold onto.
Author’s note: If you are reading this message, you have just finished reading the last piece I will write for the Neopian Times. It’s been great, I learned (and changed) more than I could have imagined. This is for the readers, the writers, and especially the NTWF, which I will take with me wherever I go next.