Liminal Space: A Personal Essay from an In-Between Phase

by Editor
By Alyssia Vanderlaan

Lifting the teal mug slowly and carefully, I sipped the first layer of foam off the top of my flat white, ruining the fluffy white heart. The table was small but sturdy, and each chair around the small café was a different style.

Up front, the check-out counter and display case overflowed with breads and pastries. Immediately when I walked in with the floorboards creaking slightly under me, I noticed the bitter smell of coffee blended with the sweet smell of chocolate and yeast of bread.

Shelves stood packed full of various merchandise. Bags of coffee covered one wall with the Ursa Minor Bakehouse bear logo on the packaging. On a stand in the middle of the floor sat shelves of jams and relish. In the corner was a table with stacks of glasses and a pitcher of water for guests to help themselves.

The foam slowly dissipated as I drank my way further into my coffee. It was perfectly done: smooth, round, and only slightly bitter. I watched my friend eat a croissant that flaked apart in large slivers over her plate and the table. Chocolate oozed out the sides of the pastry with each cut and bite.

With my cup almost empty, I took the tiny spoon they gave me and scrapped the last stranded fluffs of foam from the edges of the mug before placing it back down on the matching saucer. I pushed my chair back from the table, screeching the legs of the chair against the wood floor, and stood. Walking back towards the front of the bakery, I found the taped sign for the toilet. Literally taped – pieces of masking tape were torn and arranged on the wall to form the lettering to the sign.

I walked down the steps, slightly leaning to counter each steep step. I followed the sign for the toilet, and there was only one way I could go, but I still felt like I should not be there. I reached the bottom and paused.

I walked into a large well-lit room with a couple flour covered counters and tall shelving with bowls of all sizes, whisks, and mixers. I hesitated and turned. I had walked into the café kitchen, and the only other way to go was back up the stairs I had just come from. I turned back toward the kitchen and noticed a small restroom in the corner. While I still felt like I was trespassing where I should not be as a mere customer, this was where the taped sign led me.

Unfortunately, the feelings of uncertainty and not belonging as I passed through this liminal space are not restricted to physical spaces. I am currently in a mental liminal space and in-between phase of my life that many others also experience.

Ursa Minor Bakehouse stands in the adorable little town of Ballycastle in Northern Ireland. The artisan bakery was one of many stops on a study abroad trip I went on the month after I graduated. I turned the tassel and waited for my degree to arrive in the mail. I am looking forward to the place in life where I know I want to be.

Yet, for now, I sit on my bed tracing the paisley-esque stitching while my six plants of various shapes and sizes enjoy the sun coming through the window every morning. I search job openings and write cover letters and send emails and hit “submit” over and over, then I arrange pillows to prop my back and read whatever I want to for the first time in four years.

“I move forward in the direction I know I should to get where I want to go, but I still have to wait and take each step down one at a time.”

After four years of college courses and multiple jobs, this space is calm. I have time to think, enjoy my morning routine, and not worry about tomorrow. I finally have the chance to collect myself and remember what I like to do.

However, I still feel out of place and uncertain. I am not meant to stay in this in-between space of my life. I feel anxious about finding the right job and currently not making money. I wonder if I will be good at the positions I am applying for.

And I occasionally wonder if my life is heading in the right direction or if I am missing a few turns along the way. While not permanent, liminal space serves a purpose and is necessary to life.

While uncomfortable, I know the staircase will eventually lead to my destination.


Alyssia is a recent writing graduate now living in the Columbus, Ohio area. She especially enjoys writing short nonfiction pieces based on her personal experiences, although she also enjoys poetry. One of her poems was previously published in an academic blog.

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