Dear Wigleaf,

In 2001, I once served pancakes to a man in his 80s who, in lieu of a tip, gave me three foreign coins he'd saved from The War, where he had been a soldier.

19 years old, I was stranded in a strange city where I knew no one. I'd ended up there via a series of self-inflicted disasters, and stayed because I had nowhere else to go. I was scared, hungry, and perpetually dazed.

I was a very bad waitress. I wore a nametag that said "Brenda," because I hated hearing customers call out my real name followed by: "This is not what I ordered!" "Where is my food?" "Excuse me—hello?"

When the man gave me the coins, he smiled and said, Go back to school.

I was peeved by his assumption that he knew what was best for me, that education was in any way relevant to me, and that it was something to which I could simply return. More than that, I was angry that he thought I needed a sentimental offering—the currency of fallen nations—more than I needed real money.

13 years later, I see things differently. I imagine the man might have been saying:

Beyond your little corner there is a world.

When I was your age, I was already fighting for you.

I went out into the awful vastness, and I brought you back something beautiful.


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Read ESS's story.

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