My earliest memory of coffee was the kind that I witnessed blurbing up in my grandparents’ percolator every morning I spent at their house. Watching my grandfather pour himself coffee was thrilling for a couple reasons: first, the kitchen was my grandmother’s territory, but he was somehow allowed to use it for breakfast (this involved my grandmother suddenly slipping out of the kitchen as they could not stand to be in a room with each other for a single second). Second, my grandfather seemingly knew his way around the kitchen beyond just coffee, which surprised me every single time I watched him make himself sunny-side-up eggs or scraped the burned parts off his toast before buttering it. It was as though all the intervening years were slipping away and he was again a young bachelor living on his own in some different apartment in the Bronx. He took his coffee with lots of milk and sugar. I thought, as a child, this was the right way to do it.
Throughout the 1970s, my mother and stepfather drank instant coffee, which involved pouring hot water on some brown powder in a cup. This seemed so totally boring that I didn’t even really consider it coffee. I tried instant coffee, once, many years later, when my grandmother was living on her own in a different apartment, and she insisted I have coffee. When she brought out the container of instant coffee, I didn’t know what to say. When did she stop using a percolator? When I actually tried some of the instant coffee, I knew what to say: Oh, I can’t drink this. My grandmother understood.
I didn’t really start drinking coffee regularly until the mid-1990s when coffee came to New York City. Yes, of course, it was always there, but I just hadn’t known! Now every four blocks, I could get a mocha latte. Life became more thrilling. But at the same time I was enjoying regular espresso drinks, I noticed a kind of pain in my chest. I thought maybe I was having a heart attack or cracked my ribs or something. I was 26 years old. But when a doctor mentioned that it was likely acid reflux, I pretty much knew what was to blame. And so, for the next approximately 20 years I experimented with drinking coffee and not drinking coffee. I’m still figuring it out.
But just this evening, while making dinner, somehow I knocked the glass carafe of my coffee maker onto my kitchen floor and it shattered. This carafe has been cracked for years. Not so cracked that it couldn’t be used, obviously, but cracked enough that whenever my boyfriend used it he tended to pour himself coffee over the sink. This coffee maker was from a previous life, one that I shared with my ex-husband. I don’t even remember how it cracked, but it never seemed bad enough to actually replace. Or I just couldn’t be bothered. Or something. (Once, when my ex-husband and I were in an obsessive juicing phase and our juicer broke, he got into the car that very second and rushed to Target to get us a new one.) Maybe I wasn’t even a committed coffee drinker, since I really did take long breaks from it where I would only drink black tea (I’m not giving up caffeine, I mean, come on). But now I’m in a coffee phase again and I ordered myself a new coffee pot.
There are times when objects from our past lives are so personal, so connected to our past selves, that when something happens to them, we are crushed. Or saddened. Or even relieved. But sometimes devastated. And then there are those other times when an object from your past falls to pieces. And you just sigh. And then sweep it up. And then you throw it into the garbage and order a new one.
It was just a coffee pot. Easily replaceable, as it turns out. Who knew.