One Cup of Coffee

One Cup of Coffee October 17, 2016

All I wanted was a cup of coffee.

I had grabbed a salad from the takeout place like I usually do on Fridays. But it was too early for lunch before my interview for a part-time massage therapy job. So I slipped my lunch in my bag, went off to my interview, then drove to the hospital. When I got there I went to the cafeteria to eat first, before going up to see Mom.

And to go with that salad, I wanted a cup of coffee. I don’t drink coffee every day, so my Friday salad and coffee is a touchstone of my week. It’s one of those strange little rituals that evolve spontaneously. And with my mother still in the ICU three weeks after a close brush with death, and her long-term prospects for recovery still unknown, I needed every touchstone and ritual I could find.

I put my cup under the airpot marked “dark roast” and worked the handle. About a tablespoon of coffee sprayed out with the first pump, then nothing.

Oh, no. I picked up the pot, sloshed it around — no liquid. I tried the light roast; it was even emptier.

“Oh no. No, no, no.” I think I said it out loud.

Image from Flickr user cyclonebill via WikiMedia Commons. CC BY-SA 2.0
Image from Flickr user cyclonebill via WikiMedia Commons. CC BY-SA 2.0

It’s not a question of caffeine; the whole reason I don’t drink coffee every day is to keep that monkey off my back. It’s a matter of being denied a small comfort in a time of trouble.

There is a poem by Charles Bukowski about how it’s not the big things that drive a man mad. It’s the small things, the shoelace that snaps, the car breaking down, the light that burns out.

I feel that now.

I have sat for hours in the ICU, watching my mother breathe, cheering her on, trying to be strong for my father and my brother, and I’ve able to keep it together. I haven’t collapsed. Ok, I had one night where I suddenly started shaking uncontrollably, chilled to the bone, and then vomited, but that was at home. That was behind closed doors.

But now I could lose it right here in the cafeteria over this empty coffeepot. This could be the one drop that causes the overflow, the pebble that starts the avalanche, that famous straw that snapped the camel’s spine. I could sit down on the floor and scream and weep, or I could wreck the place, tear everything in reach apart with my bare hands. Either seems a possibility right now.

“Oh, hey, it’s out?” A voice behind me. “Give me a minute and I’ll make a fresh pot.”

Bodhisattvas come in many forms. The eleven–headed Kannon, the jewel-bearing Jizo…and the coffeepot-bearing cafeteria lady.

As I pay for my cup of comfort, she hand me a card. “Buy nine coffees, get the tenth one free.” I think of how Mom probably has weeks if not months of recovery ahead before she leaves the hospital. Well, at least there will be free coffee.


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