By De Elizabeth
Over half of my life has revolved around coffee.
Since I was a teenager, I started my day the exact same way: with a cup of coffee, usually in a cute mug, with a splash of something. That “something” has evolved over time; first, it was skim milk and sugar, then just skim milk, then soy milk, then nothing at all, then almond milk, and now, a blend of almond and coconut milk. But coffee has arguably been more than just a beverage, more than just a staple in my morning routine. For every significant chapter, every significant event in my life, coffee has somehow been involved. It’s more than a drink; it’s a moment, a marker in time, an olive branch, a vice, a grain of a memory.
Looking back on eras that have come and gone, I always seem to remember coffee first, before everything else. I think about post-dinner car rides with my best friends in college, stopping at the local gas station just five minutes from campus, filling up orange and green paper cups with snickerdoodle-flavored coffee. Getting back in the car, the windows down, singing along with the radio, excited about the night that was in front of us, thinking only about the next twelve hours. Not thinking about the fact that, one day, we wouldn’t be five minutes away, able to grab coffee together at a moment’s notice, that it would take weeks and months of planning before getting in the same room.
Or the first days in a new city, locating the coffee shop a block away from my apartment, silently dubbing it my safe haven. Visiting every day, sometimes twice a day, until the barista asks “The usual?” when I walk in. I think about sitting in the window, sending emails to those same best friends, no longer a five minute walk away. “Let’s get together soon.” The next week, I meet a boy for coffee, we fall in love.
Fast forward to our wedding day, stopping en route to the venue with my mom to buy coffee for my entire bridal party, asking the barista to please write everyone’s title on the cups so we could get that very Pinterest’y shot of all of our coffees lined up together. We paid for the people’s drinks behind us because we held up the line for 15 minutes; it was the only part of the weekend that stood still, where time seemed to slow to a crawl. As soon as the paper tray was in my hands, I seemingly stepped into a vortex, time pulling me forward through a blend of autumn light, orange and red flowers, white lace and apple cider. The coffee tasted like graham crackers.
Coffee doesn’t just mark happy times, it’s been there for all of it. Sitting alone on a train, too-hot and burnt coffee spilling down the sides of the paper thin cup, white earbuds playing the saddest songs, green summer leaves blurring against the window. Or gingerbread coffee on a velvet couch, an empty page of my journal in front of me, unable to find words. The last coffee you drink with someone, the final seconds of a shared story, until the two narratives no longer run parallel; instead, they diverge so far that there’s no way you can write them together again, no matter how good you are at spinning sentences. (Toasted almond.)
The lack of coffee has its own taste; nine months of cutting down to one cup a day, sometimes indulging in iced (french vanilla) coffee in a mason jar on the hottest days of July. Waiting and wondering and imagining, unaware of how much my heart is about to grow, unknowing of the pieces of myself I’ve yet to discover. Then, the return to coffee on the other side; pumpkin spice and sleep deprivation, tired eyes, empty loneliness. Simultaneously, bursting love.
There will be more: decisions made over coffee, a laptop next to an empty mug, forgotten half-empty cups in the car. Coffee with new friends — “what works for you? I’m down for whatever!” — and always, coffee with the old friends, the ones who have known you for ages, the ones who have been there for both the light and the dark. Like coffee, they’ve seen all of it, and they love you for who you are.
“Let’s not go this long ever again.” The last sips of hazelnut. “Let’s get together soon.”