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An old friend.   —   Personal

When I was a little girl, I can't remember what age exactly, maybe ten years old, I would sit in the bathroom with my mother and watch her put on her makeup and do her hair. My mother was the kind of woman that I only dreamed to be. She was beautiful that was for sure, with gorgeous skin and hazel eyes and a full head of long dark brown hair, and she always smelled like sandalwood. On the weekend mornings when I wasn't being shuffled off to school, I would sit on the long bathroom counter in between my mother's sink, and my father's sink. And as I sat there I would watch my mother put on her mascara and lipstick, brush her hair, tweeze her eyebrows, dab on perfume, and drink her coffee. She would drift from the bathroom to the adjoining master bedroom, dancing to whatever music she was playing while getting dressed and putting on jewelry, and I would poke through her vanity cabinets and drawers, trying on her wedding band and sniffing her perfumes and sneaking sips of her coffee. My mother takes her coffee sweet, lots of cream and lots of sugar, it's like a warm liquid desert in your mouth first thing in the morning. And this is what I did, on countless mornings for countless years.

It's somewhere in there that I developed a taste for coffee. And not just a taste for the beverage, but also for the events for which coffee acts as the epicenter. When my parents discovered my lust for the dark liquid beverage that they had so carelessly flaunted in front of me all of my life, they were hesitant at first to allow me to become a coffee drinker. I was very young after all, and being a coffee drinker is serious stuff. So in the beginning they would allow me to have half a cup. That allowance gradually increased to a full cup, but only one. And that allowance gradually increased to "Well, she drinks coffee, what can we do" and then they just let go of the reins. I was maybe 14. It was over the course of the next few years that I began to realize, coffee wasn't only just a beverage, it was a presence. The aroma and sound that fills the air as coffee is brewing, the heavy and hot mug that your hands wrap around for the duration of your consumption, the steam that bellows up to your face and nostrils as you gently blow on the beverage with those first few tentative sips. It all makes up the coffee drinking experience. And there's more, oh yes, so much more. There's the ritual of preparation, brewing the coffee of course, but also choosing the perfect mug for your particular mood that morning, mastering the cream to sugar to coffee ratio, deciding on where to drink your coffee, and figuring out if you're in the mood for coffee-companion company or for a solo introspective quiet sit. Of course when you're on the go, it's a slightly different story but it's ultimately just the same, coffee is your companion.

Over the years coffee was the epicenter of so many wonderful blocks of time. The very first of which was morning coffee with my mother. We'd sit at the kitchen table with coffee in hand, and watch the birds at the birdfeeder on the patio outside. We'd chat about anything and everything, plan our day, and an hour would pass without us even feeling the weight of the clock.

There were the winter mornings that my father would deer hunt in the woods behind our house. Usually there would be a few of his friends, long time family friends, who would come over at 5:00AM and they'd all head out together in hunt for some venison. By the time my sister and I and my mother made it out of bed, the men were just coming back, peeling off their layers of flannel and boots, and shaking the snow out of their beards. There would be donuts on the counter that one of them had brought over earlier in the morning, and a pot of coffee already brewed. I'd get a cup of coffee sit by the window in the kitchen like a fly on the wall and just listen to my father and his best friends talking and laughing and telling stories.

When I was in high school coffee became an evening event. My best friend and I would head to the local diner and sit there for hours drinking endless cups of coffee and talking about life, laughing at ourselves, and having the time of our lives. Those nights seemed like they lasted forever. It was our real first taste of freedom, eating loads of crap diner food, staying out late, driving our cars. It's those nights that aided in the bond that she and I would share for years to follow.

When I lived in Colorado and had just broken up with my boyfriend of five years, it was coffee that drew me to my next fella. We worked together in a tiny office and the coffee maker was near his desk. Everytime I would get a cup of coffee, we'd chat. Those small chats turned into longer chats with coffee and cigarettes outside on our breaks. Those moments led to our first date which then led to a very intense relationship. I was 19 years old and he was only my second boyfriend ever. It was a big turning point in my life as this new boy was so completely different from what I was accustomed to, and he taught me many things about who I was and what I wanted from life. For countless years after our relationship ended everytime I smelled a pot of brewing coffee, I thought of that boy.

When I moved to New York, coffee became an even larger component in my life. In the first few years when I lived with my best friend in Queens, every morning began with she and I drinking a cup of coffee together and talking about the events that took place the night before, or what our plans were for the night that was to come. We sorted through work problems, relationship concerns, our plans for the future, and what to wear that day. She began to make my coffee for me, complete with cream and sugar, and the fact that she got the ratio exactly right, every time, was in my opinion, a true testament of our friendship.

When my husband and I moved in together several years ago, I was the only one between the two of us that drank coffee. I continued to do as I had always done, taking my morning coffee at the kitchen table while watching the birds outside the window, or while talking on the phone, watching television, or reading a book. It got to be that just the thought of my upcoming weekend morning coffee moments filled me with a quiet joy.

I had never even considered quiting coffee until four years ago when I stopped smoking cigarettes. Even then it was just a flash in the pan idea, a "wow, wouldn't that be somethin". After all, drinking coffee every day, multiple cups at that, isn't the greatest thing you can do to your body, couple that with the cream and sugar you add and you've got yourself some excess weight, a bad stomach, and crazy nerves. And then a year or so ago when I decided to stop drinking soda (or any beverage with high fructose corn syrup in it for that matter) the coffee situation started weighing on my mind more heavily. I'd try to go a week without coffee, and every morning of that week was like torture. My mind screamed out for the steaming cup o' joe that wasn't there. I decided I wasn't ready yet. After all, it's not just the coffee, not just the taste of it, it was the habit, the hot beverage in the morning, the smell of it, it's presence. A few months passed and I came down with a nasty cold. I couldn't breathe properly, my throat hurt, my appetite was gone. I didn't even want any morning coffee, but I thought that a hot cup of tea sounded like a good idea for my sore throat. So that morning I made myself a cup of hot green tea. It was very pleasant, light and earthy but still hot, still caffeinated, and then it suddenly dawned on me, (!), to replace the coffee with TEA! What a brilliant idea! My morning habits and rituals that revolved around a hot cup of caffeine wouldn't have to change (much)! I thought to myself, I can do this. It can be done, and I shall do it. So just like that, *poof*, it was gone. My coffee. My love. My past. Traded in. For tea. What a pussy.

It has been nine months since my last cup of coffee. And every day I miss it. Every day as I pour my tea I think to myself, this is good, but coffee is better. Every day when I smell coffee brewing in my office place, or in the corner deli, or smell it being carried by a person in the elevator or by someone walking down the sidewalk, I think of all of those moments I have mentioned above. They all flash through my mind like flash cards, moving and forming and shaping my life, my memories. And I long for it all, I yearn for those moments through in which coffee was their vessel.

Posted 3.9.2006 2:37:50 PM

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