It’s funny-I think the two things that I’m best known for are for my openness about grieving and my love for coffee- not two things I’d have aimed for or chosen, but there it is. The first poem I posted has to do with both grief and coffee, as do most of my days, I suppose… I post about coffee on Facebook nearly every morning, even if I post nothing else all day. We all know that stereotypically, parents need coffee in the morning, so I’m sure no one questions why I embrace my addiction with so much warmth and energy- aside from the fact that those qualities are what coffee gives me in exchange for my own.
I started drinking coffee in high school because I was in choir, and sometimes rehearsal for that choir required an evil invention called sub-zero period and it always required a zero period, so my mornings were early- as were my dad’s, who was in charge of my transportation to school until sophomore year. My father was a notorious coffee consumer, as is his mother (whom we lovingly refer to as ‘Grammy’) still. He got up and made coffee every morning, and the sound of the grinder followed by the smell of coffee brewing has been one of the only
pleasant tolerable ways for me to be awoken by another person for more than half of my life now. (I said one of. There are a few other ways I’ve come across in my adult life via offspring or ways to make them that I find mostly adjustable-to as well, but I digress…)
My dad was a bit stoic when it came to duties- including ones involving carting a teenage daughter to school at dark-thirty in the morning because she wanted to sing madrigals, old hymns and folk songs with 6 part harmony. But I did, so he did, and we quietly sipped our coffee together to the lull of the country music station in the wee hours of the morning as the sun rose, five days a week. We would pull up through the fog in the empty parking lot, I would hop out and we’d wave goodbye as we went our separate ways.
He owned an auto repair shop in town and worked 10 hour days, 6 days a week or more and didn’t mind getting there early, since there was always work to be done. At the end of the day he was exhausted, fully permeated with his signature blend of sweat/Old Spice sport, grease and Vanilla Cavendish pipe tobacco (in fact, “Hiiiiiii, Stinky!!” was what I would say when he walked in the door, even- it became a nickname between us for years to come because of it) engaged in full auto-pilot-mode: shower, dinner table, TV and then bed to repeat the whole thing in the morning.
Until I got pregnant in 2001, my father was also an alcoholic, albeit a goofy, hilarious one- he was never abusive, ever, ever, ever. He was the kindest, gentlest, most generous man I’ve met to this day, but his alcoholism definitely disconnected him from us. By the evening, my father was a different, more distant, troubled and scattered man than the freshly showered one who would sing along with the radio to the words he knew (and some he didn’t) despite the fact that he couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket for all the money in the world. I’m sure part of him was happy for me having made it into such a locally (and satewide/nationally, if ACDA and CMEA competitions count) prestigious singing group. It was probably that same part that leaked out of his eye and slid down his cheek every performance- the parts he wasn’t sleeping through, anyhow. It’s okay, Daddy- I forgive you.
I still have strong olfactory triggers from San Francisco Bay Blend French Roast- I choose not to drink that particular blend because I like savoring the specific smell of what my father loved so well. It’s as if the years he spent being infused by that smell has somehow become years of that smell being infused with memories of him, and I’m forever grateful for that connection. The smell of cars and grease, of ocean air and pipe tobacco are some of my favorite ways to get back in touch with the tie that binds me to him past his death in September of 2010. When I got pregnant in 2011, I felt right away I was having a boy and named him Patrick for my father’s middle name when I was only 2 weeks along. Some of my first posts right after Patrick’s birth were about grieving for my father, though I felt then that my grief was heavy- I had no idea… just no idea at all how heavy grief could be.
When Patrick died suddenly at 14 months old, I didn’t know what. the fuck. to do. At all. He (and my other children) were where I channeled my love, my identity, my healing- I had no idea it was even possible for life to just… end… but it can- and it did. (For more about SUDC, click here.) I could hardly breathe, let alone eat, sleep or function on any other basic level. I couldn’t speak or write- my entire vocabulary was acid-washed from my heart and mind. Besides- there were no words to say, anyhow. I wanted to stay in bed forever. The world and my place in it had shattered and come to a complete stop in an instant and everything seemed beyond pointless and painful, even opening my eyes or speaking. I slept for days on end, seeking the only place I could hold my baby again. I lost myself in a sea of visitors and tears and frozen lasagna.
And one morning, saturated with sleep, I woke up before anyone else and I made coffee. I didn’t have to look anyone in the eye or answer to how I felt to myself or anyone else… I just. made. coffee. And it was good coffee. I drank it while it was hot, even. It was the first moment that I felt any sense of simple pleasure, of normalcy, of nostalgia, of communing with my inner sense of holy-fuck-please-give-me-the-strength-to-get-through-this-day-ness, of just being since the day Patrick died. It was the first time I felt competent at even the most menial task, the first time I’d made a single, conscious decision to do something to help soothe, stimulate and center myself, the first time I had thought of the first stumbling steps of my father in the morning on his way to grind coffee as he set to work on an unending series of tasks for the day. It was the first time I realized that though there is a vacancy waiting to be filled in my heart and cup alike, that I possessed the knowledge and capability to work towards filling them again- and I still use that tool every morning.
So when I post about coffee, I’m not saying “Ohhhhh, gaaaaawd– brace yourselves! Here comes the kids and the work and the drudgery of the day and nudge-nudge we all know that kids suck the energy right out of you, which is replaceable only in caffeinated beverages!”. Parenting is exhausting if you’re putting effort into it. So is healing.
When I post about coffee, I’m saying, “I’m here, day. I can do this. There are small things in life to enjoy and look forward to, and life and those little things will be here and waiting, no matter the day that came before. My house is too quiet again this morning, but I will fill it with energy and love… after another cup or so.”
“Actually, this seems to be the basic need of the human heart in nearly every great crisis- a good, hot cup of coffee.” – Alexander King