Thursday, January 17, 2013

Coffee 2

I had my first drink of coffee at age four from a chipped Sunoco mug in the kitchen of my childhood home. It was love at first sip, though it barely met the standards of being, technically, a cup of coffee. It was milk and sugar with a splash of percolated Folger's, but it began a ritual that continued nearly every Sunday morning of my childhood.

On Saturdays we were late sleepers. But by Sunday Dad was usually energized enough and/or feeling restless enough from an epic hangover to make it out of bed while the sun was still rising. I would catch a whiff and hear the gurgling of his early-morning coffee being prepared in a hand-me-down percolator and know that if I got up to watch TV, I wouldn't be alone.

He caught me staring at his steaming coffee cup one morning when I had crept wordlessly into the kitchen, bleary-eyed from being allowed to watch Saturday Night Live  the night before (not only allowed, but encouraged; my whole family napped after dinner on Saturday nights in the late 70s so we could at least make it to Weekend Update), still in my nightgown, curious about the beverage he couldn't make it through a morning without, the smell of which even at a young age could draw me from a deep slumber.

"Do you want some coffee, too?"

I nodded, and watched as milk, sugar, and dark liquid were mixed and stirred as carefully as a pharmacist preparing the pink antibiotic I needed at least once a year. It smelled warm and sweet and inviting--like a sunbeam through a bedroom window, if one could smell such a thing. I cautiously slurped the top layer, not even picking up the heavy ceramic mug at first. My dad told me years later that my eyes grew wide and the cup was emptied in 5 minutes flat.

The next weekend I didn't even wait for it to be offered.

"I want coffee two. You can have your coffee one, I'll have my coffee two."

Thus our code, and a family joke. Adult coffee, taken strong and nearly-black, was always "coffee one". My preferred serving of Sunday-morning caffeine, made almost acceptable to give to a small child with so much milk and sugar it was barely brown, was "coffee two", a misunderstanding of my father's original offer that was deemed so cute by my parents that it stuck for over 30 years.

For the rest of my time at home, I continued to have coffee two with my dad every weekend morning that he made it and I was awake early enough to have it. As I grew older, it grew darker, but it never went beyond a fair taupe. Until I went away to school.

Thanksgiving break of my junior year at college, I broke my dad's heart.

"Coffee two?"

"No, I think I'll go with coffee one."

My father shot me a look of something like disappointment. I was 20 years old. I had just recently caved to peers' offers of adult beverages of various kinds, including strong almost-black coffee (out of necessity due to early-morning classes and late nights completing 12-page English papers) and Goldschlager. He had learned from my mom about my one spectacularly failed underage drinking experiment; I figured the coffee thing would have been much less of a shock.

"You drink real coffee now?"

"Sometimes. I asked Mom for a little coffee maker for my dorm for Christmas this year, and we picked one out yesterday that will be my gift from both of you. I won't take it back to school until I open it at Christmas. I thought you knew."

He shook his head sadly, and cautioned me with a seriousness that he really should have used before the infamous Goldschlager Shot Challenge of 1994.

"Be careful with coffee. It's addictive. It's good when you don't need it, but you won't enjoy it as much when it's a habit and you have to have it every morning."

My parents didn't know anything in the mid-90s, so I didn't listen. Sure enough, I had to visit the wellness center on campus that February when I almost gave myself an ulcer from my two-cup-a-morning habit during winter term. Weaning myself off of coffee for the sake of my stomach and my voice (the campus doctor told me that, just like the President at the time, I had acid reflux and would be able to do a great impression of him but little else with my voice if I didn't cool it on the caffeine a little) proved to be one of the hardest things I'd ever had to do to that point. I was in a play and needed to get rid of the chronic hoarseness and heartburn so I stopped cold turkey, only using my little coffee maker to heat water for hot chocolate. I did not, and could not, admit to my dad that he was right. Though on breaks when I was back home, I went back to coffee two. But the bond was over--I had to mix my own, and it never tasted as wonderful as when Dad made it for me in that old Sunoco mug.

Because I am in many ways my father's daughter, coffee went on to become one of the great rituals of my life. I've only been able to swear it off for so long, and even though I've had entire years of my adult life where I've forgone a daily cup, I inevitably find myself back at the fountain, sipping greedily. Having a husband who serves as co-addict and enabler doesn't help.

It was deja-vu all over again when I asked for a single-cup coffee maker for Christmas this year so that I can conveniently perk myself up on busy afternoons. I could hear my dad's voice in my head: Be careful with coffee. But I've been self-medicating with either home brew or Starbuck's for a while now. I have a high tolerance. I can stop whenever I want.

I doubt that I will ever again want to stop.

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