I wake up. I stumble to the bathroom to take my meds, pee, and attempt to avoid looking in the mirror. I shuffle into the living room, where I let the dogs out. Bastard dogs always want out. Then I make it to my ultimate goal, the kitchen. I dump the grounds from yesterday. I put in a new filter, pour in water, and wait, practically drooling, until the pot fills up enough for one cup. I splash in some cream. I throw in some sugar. And finally, finally, I throw down a cup of coffee: my life, my elixir, my magic potion. It keeps me awake. It keeps me alive. It keeps me from doing something I’d regret.
It’s as if an old man in a video game has handed me a steaming cup and said, “It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this.” Only he didn’t hand me a flask of red liquid, like in The Legend of Zelda. He handed me a steaming cup of coffee.
It doesn’t matter how you get it, Keurig or drip, espresso machine or french press: coffee is coffee and a cup of coffee is life. Coffee, you save us. You wake us up in dark hours of the morning, when even the sun hasn’t peeked over the horizon, before the children start screaming, before the morning rounds of lunch packing and tooth brushing and sock finding and fight arbitrating. Cup of coffee, you give us that extra kick in the ass, that boost to our energy, that lift to our tired faces. You lessen the drag from our feet. You smooth out our tired eyes. You make us look less like death warmed over and more like functioning humans. Cup of coffee, you make it possible to meet the day.
Without you, we’d have headaches and misery. We’d feel dead on our feet. We’d want to curl on the couch and go back to sleep — and we still want that, don’t mistake me. But the cup of coffee keeps us from acting on our baser, lazier desires. Without it the family would have no lunches, mismatched socks, and leftover tacos for breakfast. Why leftover tacos? Because they were there, goddammit. You run out of coffee and see what fucking happens.
Coffee, we love you. We will chug you hot. If we’re running and busy, we will chug you when you go cold. We don’t give a fuck. We need you like we need oxygen. Without you, we are nothing.
Coffee, you not only keep us awake. A cup of coffee is our secret vice. It’s pleasant. It smells good. It tastes good. We can hold it in our hands, the steaming heft of it in a favorite mug. A cup of coffee is a chance to pause, an excuse, a moment to say: I need my coffee. You can’t bother me until I’ve had my coffee. The cup of coffee becomes an excuse to stand still for a moment as the morning rushes around us, a moment to stop in the midst of things we should be doing and enjoy a thing we don’t necessarily need to be doing (unless, of course, you’d prefer us to go homicidal). We can sit with our coffee and scroll through our phones. We can say, “I need to get my cup of coffee, I have to go right now.”
And unlike other little indulgences, our children hate coffee. They will not steal it. They will not drink it. They will not carry it off in their grubby little paws. Universally, in a wonderful trick of tastebuds, children think coffee is bitter and gross. They refuse to drink it. Oh, they might drink our tea. They might want our frappuccino. But the real stuff, the standard cup of coffee, the thick brew that wakes us up and revives up from the depths of sleep? They won’t touch that stuff. We can drink it in peace and safety, knowing the goblins won’t come for it. They won’t chug our cup of coffee down. It’s safe from their predations.
Elixir of the gods, this stuff. We’ll drink it black if we have to. Oh, we’ll bitch and moan. But see if you won’t do it in a pinch. See if you’d rather go without or drink it black. You’ll hold your nose and close your eyes and take your medicine because better bitter than no cup of coffee. On a bad morning, you’ll double that espresso. You’ll triple that espresso. You’ll get so much espresso the barista at Starbucks will side-eye you and say, “Are you sure you mean …” and you’ll look at her like, “Are you sure you want to judge me?! Do you see how many kids are in this car?”
It keeps your hands warm when you’re cold.
It wakes you up in the afternoon when you hit that three o’clock slump.
It makes you happy for no reason other than its sheer existence in a Target.
Cheap or expensive, whole-bean or ground, you can snark it up all you want, but when it all comes down to bad cup of coffee or no cup of coffee, you’ll take the cup of coffee every goddamn time.
Because it’s dangerous to go alone.