First comes the water. I used to put a kettle on the stove. Only within the past few years have I become acquainted with the joys and convenience of an electric kettle. Then the beans go in the grinder. It’s Sunday so I use the special coffee we get from Philz. Again this is recent – we used to have Philz or Peet’s or Trader Joe’s coffee all the time. But I find these days that I have a need for little, special things in my life on occasion, and that means that we use the CostCo San Francisco brand coffee (which is perfectly fine) on weekdays and the special coffee on Sundays just because.
I grind the beans for a 15 count. This is a bit long for a French press (have I mentioned that I am making French press?) but I do it anyway because that’s the way we like it and occasional grounds be damned. Grounds go into the pot and I tap the grinder a couple of times to get everything out. Then comes the smallest pinch of salt – 1/8 t. or less, because Alton Brown tells me that it helps smooth out the flavor.
I should probably mention at this point that I am usually doing this in some sort of somnolent haze. It’s a little better because it’s Sunday and I have slept in, but on most weekdays I could easily pass as an extra from “Walking Dead” while I make these preparations – possibly less energetic and with somewhat cleaner clothing. On rare occasions I have gone off script while working on the coffee and wound up with a bunch of coffee grounds in one of the cups and a pot full of very lightly salted hot water in the pot, or some such farce.
Now the water in the electric kettle is boiling. As with every morning, I think (blearily) about my friend P., who introduced me to the electric kettle, as I pour the water over the grounds in the pot, filling it up 3/4 to the top. I have a small whisk that I use to stir the grounds into the water, as per instructions from Boudin, the fine company that manufactured our French press. I put on the filter and lid, and set the timer for 15 minutes. On weekdays or when we are in a hurry I cut it down to 10, but I am a strong believer in sinking the grounds as an indicator of readiness, and I find that takes about 15 minutes for the amount of coffee that I put in the pot.
While the coffee is brewing, I whip up the cream. We have a special bowl just for that. It never gets used for anything else. This is the time for my first actual decision of the day – what do I use to flavor the cream? Chocolate? Cinnamon and nutmeg? Orange or almond extract? Vanilla? Honey? What am I in the mood for? What would she like? What haven’t we had in awhile? What do we have in the house? While I am using an electric mixer to whip the cream up I fantasize about opening a coffee shop specializing in “flavor of the day” whipped cream.
the timer goes BEEP BEEP BEEP and the coffee is ready. I get out the two matching mugs (“San Francisco” mugs at the moment), put a dollop of chocolate sauce or honey into each, press the coffee, and pour. I stir the coffee up, then add some milk to each cup. Finally I put a spoonful of whipped cream on each. It’s Sunday, so I sprinkle a bit of cinnamon or powdered chocolate or orange peel on top and it’s ready to serve.
It’s a ceremony. A thing we both share, first thing in the morning, waking up together, savoring the smell and the warmth and the taste as our brains unfog together.
But now we are a week-and-a -half into chemo. She doesn’t drink coffee – she can’t even stand the smell of it. Instead of measuring grounds and water and milk I am measuring one part ice, one part ginger ale, and one part Gatorade for her morning drink to go with a small bowl of applesauce and some light toast.
First chemo has been rough. Nausea, diarrhea, lack of appetite, fatigue; all the stuff that they tell you in the orientation classes is going to happen happened. A couple of days ago we had to go back to the hospital because she was dehydrated and feeling awful. Blood work showed that her WBC count had pancaked, so she got a prescription for WBC injections and some intravenous fluids. She couldn’t even eat the solid parts of soup. Despite hating to spend her time in bed that’s where she spent most of her days. She was too weak and fatigued to even send e-mails thanking people for their help and support.
It was was frightening to see her like that. She is so strong, so capable, so competent – to see her brought so low, to see her weak, incapable, exhausted, and sick was heartbreaking for me.
Of course there was no coffee for her this week. Our regular morning ceremony morphed into the ritual monitoring of her fluid intake, and experimenting with various mixes of liquid to find something that she could drink a lot of. One part gatorade, one part ginger ale, and one part ice seems to work, but I still worry she isn’t drinking nearly enough, and will have to go and get more iv fluids.
Without her participation, the ceremony of morning coffee seemed pointless and discouraging. If it was not something we could share, half the enjoyment at least was gone. What was the purpose of all that if I couldn’t see the look on her face when I handed her a steaming mug, or hear that little characteristic sigh that she makes after the first sip – an expression of enjoyment that has been heard by very few others? I had never realized just how much sharing the experience was the experience.
Yesterday night she ate an omelette. It was a simple thing, just a couple of eggs, some herbs de Provence, a touch of water, and a little salt. But it was solid food and she ate the whole thing.
After over a week of watching her suffer, helpless to do anything about it, we had made some progress! There was a sign of improvement! That maybe we were finally getting over the hump of this round of chemo and that things might start incrementally improving!
I felt like I had won the lottery.
This morning I made coffee for one. Because it was Sunday. And because even the unpleasantness that is chemotherapy will end. And even though she didn’t have any, I drank mine thinking of her and all the mornings we had shared our little ceremony.
Life damned well goes on. And where even coffee cannot go, love will carry us through to the other side of this.