A Conversation at Starbucks

I arrive at Starbucks, sit at a small round table, and wait for the barista to call me. I ordered iced green tea–no sugar, no cream. In the afternoon, I still want caffeine but pretend to be healthier by ordering tea instead of black coffee. Besides, I don’t appreciate the bitter roast of Starbucks. It’s never been to my taste. 

My hands grasp at a few brown napkins. I observe that, at the beginning of Fall, my hands match. 

I wait for my friend to appear, pretending to look important. I browse social apps, looking at nothing. “What did she come here to tell me? What will she want to talk about?” I wonder. 

Living in a small town, I take more than my fair share of grief for writing, speaking, and advocating. My current Instagram page is filled with quotes, pictures, and thoughts. I share a lot of my process there. However, there was a time I did not; in fact, I once deactivated my Facebook page. This is an older friend; she knew me then. 

Suddenly she bursts through the door, eyes wide, and her smile lights my heart. She is safe. She almost skips to me and throws her arms open, and I accept her luxurious hug. We sit, not sure what to say. I know her ordering a drink and the call from the barista will disrupt what we have come to talk about, yet we begin. 

“I admire your voice….You are doing it….You are so beautiful….I have been doing my own identity work…looking at my trauma…” 

We don’t have hours, so our words mingle in the cropped space where we sit at this round table. Our voices are muffled, passionate, erupting in flames. In a gush of words, long-buried stories emerge. 

“I want to tell you a story…” she says. 

Over the course of an iced green tea and a fancy coffee, my friend tells me of the sexual assault of her family member. My friend, an Asian American, is a leader in church circles; she is well respected. Her family member once cared for our kids. I love them both. She explains that not only was the sexual assault hidden, but it was hidden inside of a local church because it was perpetrated by a pastor—a white pastor. 

I fold my hands, lacing my fingers together. I unfold my hands. My hands are agitated, twisting, clenching.

My friend knows I believe her, and not just because I am in school to be a therapist. She knows because this story is my story. 

I hear myself say, “What will you do?” 

What haven’t they done? They have already spoken and written letters. In response, silence. The pastor was let go and relocated to another part of the state; yet, as a respected leader, father, and husband, he didn’t face any consequences. His assault was covered up by the church community under the guise of spiritual discipline, correction. 

I, too, received no acknowledgement, no justice. I argued in imaginary meetings with lead pastors who wouldn’t dare respond to my emails. I was shunned by friends and family. I was left alone to try to gather fragments. Our stories reveal local church communities more committed to protecting perpetrators and rapists than the women of color in their congregations. 

My friend and I sit in awkward silence as the words passed between us amount to “we don’t know what to do or who would care.” I know how the silence becomes a wall of indifference, for my story eventually felt integrated into the very wall that shut out my friend and her young family member. 

I often wonder: Does the church welcome truth? Are there good people in churches willing to denounce sexual violence, sexual assault, and rape? Where is the justice? 

Eyes that desperately need to cry have no tears—no tears of hurt, no tears of rage, no tears of regret. Nothing.

There is a dryness, for tears feel useless. 

For years, I have guarded the secrets of perpetrators, and it has worn the fabric of my faith thin. Church community, like the Pharisees, hinges its reputation on appearance. Rather than take the plank out of our eye, we point to the crooked politicians, bankers, folks in our midst. This behavior…it scars. It indebts the church community to the perpetrators in their midst. Not this time. My loss of tears is the last time I want to be rendered silent. 

As my friend and I wrap up our conversation, I know there is no way to tidy our ending. We do not know what to do, but we won’t be silent. We will speak out. We will honor our faith and not give into callousness of silence and racism. And we will see each other again. 

It has been more than a year since our coffee. Like the rest of the world, we were rudely interrupted by a global pandemic. Since then, I have had spells of weeping uncontrollably. Some of those tears are for my friend and her family. Some of them are for me. We are both still here, pursuing relationship with God and fighting for our faith and our community. We will still be here for the next coffee and to continue telling the truth.

Danielle S. Castillejo grew up in the swirl of a mixed identify, with a German father and a Mexican mother. With her four children in school full time, she applied to graduate school at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. Before her second year of graduate school, she was invited to explore her story through a Story Workshop at The Allender Center. She went on to complete Level 1 and 2 of the Certificate in Narrative Focused Trauma Care, and she is enrolled in the Externship for the upcoming year. Since our culture has experienced such an intense ripping and cultural identity crisis, Danielle addresses internalized racism and its effects personally, in her family, and in her community. She encourages other healing practitioners to do the same. Danielle began this process with her MA in Counseling Psychology and studies at The Allender Center. Danielle loves the anticipation of spring and summer in the Pacific Northwest, with the return of long days and sunlight absent in the dark winters. You can easily find Danielle out on a trail or working in her yard. You can also find her online at www.daniellescastillejo.com.