The following piece of creative nonfiction is part of a series I started on my personal blog a few years ago called “Alphabet: A History,” which is a collection of short, autobiographical vignettes, focusing mainly on relationships (familial, romantic, platonic, and self). I will be publishing the series on Fridays.
I’m 15 and on a school trip to Holland for a week. I’ve packed my entire wardrobe into two bursting-at-the-seams suitcases and wear my hair in little buns all over my head just like Bjork and Madonna do. In The Hague we stay in a 4-star hotel with a pool and complimentary breakfasts and one morning before we head out for the day, I sip my first cup of coffee. It’s too bitter and I make a face and someone tells me to add cream and sugar. By the end of the week I’m drinking nearly a pot a day, and the next weekend when I have breakfast at home with my family, I casually mention to my father to make enough coffee for me.
Two and half years later, when I leave for college in Springfield, Missouri, I pack enough German coffee to get me through my first semester. My parents give me a coffee maker to keep in my dorm room and a mug that has a picture of a multi-colored cow on it and says “Dare to be Different,” in bold, black letters. I wash the mug several times a day in the little sink in my room and wave it around to let it air dry. In the evenings and on weekends, I go to coffee shops with friends: The Magic Bean, Moon City Cafe, the Mud House.
I fall in love with a coffee shop boy and start going during the day, by myself, between classes. Sometimes I get a bottomless cup of coffee for $1.25 and sit there all day, reading, and watching. This is before wifi and cell phones and someone knowing where I am every second of the day, and I let myself get lost. I go through piles of books and pots of coffee and fill my little notebook with terrible poems. I go to the coffee shop nearly everyday all through college and then, in the last semester of my senior year, the coffee shop boy finally asks me out.
I go to his house — for coffee, of course — and three days later write a magnetic poem on his refrigerator called “My Sun.” He asks me out again. We start going out all the time and by summer we practically live together.
I’ve graduated from college now, my friends have gotten jobs and moved away and I have no idea what to do with my life, but being with him makes things seem better. We spend the summer sitting on his back porch mostly, listening to Nina Simone and drinking coffee. I wonder if there’s some way I can freeze time, to make fall never come, and definitely not winter. I wonder if I can just somehow stay right there in the warmth of his back porch in the summertime and never worry about finding a job or the rest of my life. Months later, I go see my parents for Christmas in Germany. I haven’t found a real job yet and I’m still just temping and feeling so lost and confused about my future and everything and my dad rubs my back and says, “At least you have a nice boyfriend,” and I start to cry. A week later, back at home, the nice boyfriend dumps me.
It’s 6 months before I feel normal again, before I wake up from the cloudy haze of heartbreak and pull myself together. I move on, I change, life gets better and then harder and then better again. I grow up, and somewhere along the way, I lose track of that silly cow mug.