November 14, 2007

My "Sun" Writing Group Assignment

Warning to anyone associated with our group: the following is my response to our prompt this month. Please do not read it in advance of our meeting, as I would like it to be as fresh to you as to the others. Thanks.

For all the rest of you, a word of explanation: The prompt this month was the word COFFEE. As I thought about it, what I recalled was my utter dependence upon Kava coffee while I was a student at Brown, after my overdose as a freshman and my subsequent 5-month hospitalization and 2 year absence. During the time away I had worked part-time, seen a psychiatrist of dubious merit, been hospitalized a second time, and gone to another college for one semester. Now, as the essay (all we are allotted in these assignments is a single page, so we have to make the most of it) as the essay opens, I describe climbing the stairs to my third floor room in the French House, where I lived upon my second semester return to Brown in 1973. I did not want to live there and did not participate in French House life. I was simply placed in an empty double there because it was available, and I had refused my first assigned room, located, to my horror, in rowdy Frat Row. My French House existence was isolated in the extreme, except for excursions to Boston for folkdancing, a lonely experience in itself because I never met anyone there to talk with or dance with, and was treated as a stranger and a loner all year. No matter that I was an excellent dancer, no one had anything to do with me. When I went up there with another woman, a dance aficionada, she talked about herself the whole time, and left me to my own devices as soon as we got to the dancing, not wanting to be seen and/or contaminated by me. None of that appears here, however, only my love affair with Kava coffee, and how it "saved the day" more than once.



“Forty-three, forty-four, forty-five,” counting the last steps, I dragged myself up to the third floor. A door opened, someone spoke, but I didn’t reply. I struggled with the key to room 3E and safety. The door locked behind me, I collapsed in my cricket rocker. The radio, the one they’d put in the wall, began to churn out “Eleanor Rigby,” just as it did every day when I got home, the invisible people adding their jeers and commentary: I was a poor excuse for a human being, a fat ugly pimple on the face of mankind. I took up too much room. I breathed too much air, consumed too many resources. I –

I weighed only 74 pounds, having reduced my “consumption of resources” to three graham crackers a day, one bouillon cube at each meal and a single package of David’s brand pumpkin seeds for protein. Coffee, on the other hand, and I drank acid-free, instant Kava -- coffee, even though I used non-dairy Cremora in it -- coffee, the single most expensive item in my budget, bitter and caffeinated – coffee was “free”: I was allowed to drink as much of the stuff as I wanted.

Hunger drove me to the pine trunk I had set up as my kitchen. Upside down, it held a hot plate, a single place setting, a tea kettle and a Salvation Army-bought saucepan. What else did I need? Stacked against the wall were several once-opened then resealed boxes of Keebler grahams, which I had toasted extra brown and crisp in my parents’ oven during my last visit home, the only way, in my opinion, they could be made edible. One box lasted precisely one week. To the side, my precious jar of Kava coffee crystals and an extra large container of corn syrup solids and hydrogenated vegetable oil: Cremora. I didn’t care what was in it, as long as it wasn’t cream.

The wall-radio voices yelled at me, “Fatso, hey fatty! Stop eating so much, stop sucking up so much air. More than your share. Unfair.” I slumped, the pains in my stomach making me weak. This meant I couldn’t have supper, not even my usual graham cracker and packet of pumpkin seeds. It was the second time this week they had demanded I go without. Nothing would change it. I knew I had to obey or worse might happen...

Except for coffee. They couldn’t take that away from me. I put the kettle on; the hot plate heated up quickly. Spooning a large teaspoon of coffee crystals into my mug I poured water over them and stirred. Pungency wafted to my nose, traveling the nerves, sending back a message of comfort to my hungry brain. I spooned Cremora generously into the black brew, settled in my rocker, and took a sip. Ah, hot! Then another sip, and another. I forgot my hunger pangs. With cups of coffee, I could forego my puny dinner, though I had craved it as a gourmet his seven-course meal. Right now, I had coffee, bitter as fate but as much as I wanted. It would do. It would have to.

Posted by pamwagg at November 14, 2007 08:20 PM | TrackBack


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