I started drinking coffee regularly during lockdown. One cup every morning. Before, the caffeine would send my heart rate into the stratosphere, my wide eyes panning the periphery for imminent danger, breath catching in my throat. The thing about a pandemic is that you tend to be in a near-constant state of anxiety anyway, so this seemed like the best time to add “coffee drinker” to my list of character traits.
There are people that use beverages to prop up their personality. I should know. In previous iterations of myself, I would add the phrase “tea-drinker” to my Instagram bio. This was during a phase in 2012 where my free time was spent juxtaposing cross-stitching with pop-culture references, daubing “What Would Beyoncé Do?” on crisp white aida in purple thread.
Self-professed tea drinkers are warm, cosy people, soft at the edges and often swathed in blankets. They turn the thermostat up when they think nobody is looking and own more pyjamas than actual clothes. They frequently tell you about an amazing nap they had yesterday.
I used to dream of being the type of person that took their coffee black. Strong and bitter, an acquired taste. Aloof, with sharp edges and a cynical tongue, wearing a t-shirt and leather jacket in January without feeling the cold. The complete antithesis of all that came with my curse of being a tea-drinker. I have always wanted to be someone else.
In another life I am sitting at the formica counter of a cheap diner in small-town Iowa finishing up a greasy cheeseburger, huge slices of tomato discarded on the plate. I dab a napkin to my mouth whilst gesturing to the waitress with my free hand. She dutifully obliges, refilling my cup, revealing a tan line where a wedding band once sat. I pay the bill and head back to my car. The map on the passenger seat lays open expectantly. Closing my eyes I move my index finger in a circular motion until feeling the urge to stop. It lands. I start the engine. Diner coffee holds nostalgia for a life I have never had.