By Autumn Cleveland
When I was little, I got to help my dad grind his whole coffee beans at a machine in the middle of the grocery store. He would pour the beans in the top and hold the bag at the bottom, but I got to push the button on the grinder and fold the tabs over to close it up. No matter how close I would stick my nose to the coffee, it wasn’t enough to get the big inhalation of that smell that I wanted. Every morning that I could, I would pull up a chair to climb onto the countertop, measure out the scoop of grounds into the dainty white filter, pour the water into the coffee maker, and wait for the confirmation of gurgling water that soon, there would be coffee. My dad would pour his cup. Then he would pour me a mug of milk with a splash of coffee….just enough to give it a caramel color. We would sit at the table, and I would watch him just sip and stare off in thought for a few minutes at a time. I always wondered what he was thinking, but at that age, I didn’t have many other thoughts than Barbies and ponies, so I would look around too pretending to contemplate and enjoy my coffee flavored milk.
I left coffee for a while, still enjoying the aroma that would fill the house in the morning while I got ready for school. I was teenager rushing around from one thing to the next with little time to stop and enjoy anything, or let my thoughts settle down from spinning. My dad would ask me if I wanted some, but more often than not, I declined. Occasionally I would take him up on it….a mostly coffee filled to-go mug with a little milk, to give it a chocolate color.
Shortly after I turned 19, I had the teeniest attic of an apartment suited for one person, and a proportionately appropriate coffee maker that made about enough coffee for one to two cups. I was living off of restaurant tips and credit cards then, so I would try to pick up what mimicked the smell of good coffee, but the cheap grounds that I could afford were nothing like the coffee at home. I usually couldn’t afford the extras either, so no milk or creamer, and I was never a sweetened-coffee fan. I would sit down at my table and stare out the window that overlooked the Highland houses, and would wonder how my life would turn out, and who would become a part of it. It was a point in my life that I had a lot of time, yet I was very alone. But I could look down into my cup, and find some tea colored, watered down, bland coffee.
Things got better as I worked more jobs. I still got a majority of my clothes from goodwill and thrift stores, but I was able to upgrade my coffee occasionally. There were now mornings that I could start a nice aromatic and flavorful pot before I had to leave for class at U of L, and sometimes, I could even afford Starbucks. I had to park a few blocks away from campus, and on the days that I actually showed up for class combined with the bad weather, the trek alone was enough of a battle to make my GPA suffer. I would layer up in my not-so-good quality of clothes like the kid from a Christmas story, trudge through slush, and wonder how in the fuck it could be SO cold and windy, as winter shoved snowflakes and ice particles into my eyes. It felt like I had windburn on the exposed areas of my face, and little icicles taking over my lashes, although it probably wasn’t realistic. The only reason I felt like my fingers weren’t going to fall off from frostbite was my trusty little thermos of coffee. Just sipping the warmth and familiarity with a good song in my headphones were the life-lines to my college days. The colder it got, the deeper and darker I liked my coffee.
I moved into a house which was much different than my other living situation. It was filled with friends who also spent their time between jobs pulling all-nighters or studying for finals. There was music and conversation that constantly murmured in the rooms beneath mine. It was warm and creative. Usually someone would start the coffee before I woke up, but I will never forget the relief of the morning stresses when I got halfway down the stairs and I could catch a whiff of coffee and incense that would fill the ground level from the dirty white wooden floor to cracked dusty ceiling. In my troubled young adult days, coffee became something I couldn’t live without. I found myself running late because I couldn’t go anywhere without my staple. That was the one fix that I could count on. I’ve spent countless hours in coffee shops, by myself or with another, digging deeper into souls. Walks became more charming with a cup in my hand as I lost myself in Cherokee park or visited the unique small shops on Bardstown Road. I was able to focus more on the detail of whoever joined me, as the liquid would meet my lips, because it brought me more in tune with the world. It was a drug for my senses. Coffee became grounding for me. Within minutes, I could feel myself wake up and let go, all at once, and absorb more of what was happening around me.
Little did I know then, how powerful it could be. I’ve held that warm cup through too many times and situations, both fun and sad. They say the sense of smell is the closest tied to memory, and sometimes I wish it wasn’t. Almost instantly, when my brain registers that coffee is present, my mind reminiscences through my life like a flipbook, all too fast. I remember the faces across from my cup. I remember the test questions that I was studying for. I remember the struggles and hard times where I didn’t know what to do with myself, except get my coffee started and carry on about my day. I remember happy times and heart-to-hearts too…Ones that I didn’t value enough when they were happening and that I still long for now. It’s bittersweet, that such a chemical can bring back such distinct and nostalgic photos and feelings of moments and people that I miss.
Coming into my quarter life crisis days between the doubt and questions, I can still take comfort in my coffee. I enjoy it most when it is warm rich, and slightly bitter with nothing to cloud or mask its strength, but I will still settle to drink it when it is weak and cold, just for the flavor and the smell of it. I still want it to slap me in face every morning to wake me up entirely, so that for the rest of my life, I can continue to remember every little detail.