I’m making my morning cup of coffee—it goes well with my peanut butter and guava jelly pan de sal (Filipino bread)—when it occurs to me that I’ve drank more caffeine this year than I ever have in my life. I’ve never been a coffee or tea person. My taste in breakfast beverages has always leaned towards the “she’s a growing girl” kind of drink, that is to say, milk, Milo (a local, less expensive, chocolate malt drink), and “imported”, pricier Swiss Miss for special occasions like… Wednesdays. Because weekdays are special occasions too. (That is a great slogan. Or a one-liner in a greeting card. Attention: Hallmark.).
I pause in stirring and feel a vague sense of apprehension, the kind that signals that I am on the verge of a realization, the significance of which may be far-reaching but, heretofore, unknown.
Yes, I think. I am, indeed, having a sort of epiphany as I have, quite clearly, turned temporarily British. Forgive me.
I begin to wonder when it was that I started ingesting unusually large amounts of caffeine on a regular basis. The tea drinking, I’m certain, started last year, around the time my liver went to war with my well-being. (In brief: I had been hospitalized and prescribed antibiotics that set off an allergic reaction in the form of gas. The gas in my stomach kept recurring for months until, 2 gastroenterologists and an ultra sound later, we discovered the culprit: I had a fatty liver).
To detonate the hot air bombs inside me, I had taken to drinking my mom’s Chinese medicinal tea—bitter, potent stuff that helped me feel and look less like a Buddha inviting everyone to rub her tummy for good luck.
And while I’ve occasionally enjoyed a cup of coffee, I’ve never done so on an almost daily basis. Until I discovered a simple formula for making chocolate taste even more like chocolate and that is to mix a bit of coffee in it. So, I’ve taken to drinking Swiss Miss and coffee, even writing a haiku or two about it.
It has reached the point where any given day would find me having a coffee (with or without chocolate) in the morning and tea at night, both in the service of my sensitive stomach and my profligate tongue.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I think. It may not even be, shall we say, a big deal. Except… it kind of is, for me. And I wonder again as I resume stirring.
I’m pretty sure what irks me about the incessant caffeine ingestion is the glowing sign on the marquee announcing the fact of my adulthood and grown-up-ness.
I suppose, at almost 29, I should have at least been ready for it. But I think I’ve always been a bit of a Peter Pan, wanting to remain forever young, wanting an excuse to keep throwing tantrums, talking in a ridiculously high-pitched voice, laughing at the most inane things, and avoiding terrible grown-up things to do like earn a regular salary, get out of school, pay taxes, and the like.
It pains me somewhat that I’m not a growing girl anymore. I am, in truth and fact, a grown woman, though you wouldn’t know it by looking at me. Or, at least, I hope you wouldn’t. I’m vain enough to hope that you think I can’t be more than 23, 25, tops.
People often watch out for signs of aging in their faces. Are my eyelids starting to droop? Am I forming crow’s feet? Are the laugh lines getting deeper? Is my skin turning splotchy?
I find the signs of my personal march towards death in the changes in my drinking habits. I’ve always associated, albeit unknowingly, coffee and tea with old folks. The image in my mind is of an old man, his back stooped so low he is half the height he once was, slouching at a table, cataract eyes staring uselessly, a cup of dark coffee in hand. He takes a drink, his grip shaky and firm, as if the coffee burning his tongue and the cup around which gnarled fingers are wrapped are the only things keeping his body somewhat erect, somewhat animate, barely alive, As if the minute he lets go of the coffee, his body would then slump to the ground in a way only the dead can do.
The image itself is not particularly terrifying to me. I’ve always been able to imagine being dead. What I can’t imagine is the middle, the vast grey unknown between the end and its beginning.
When I was a kid, a literal kid and not the over-grown one I sometimes am these days, I used to suffer from a great sense of deprivation because I was never allowed to drink as much Sustagen (a powdered energy drink for kids that comes in 2 variants: vanilla and chocolate) as I wanted. My parents were far from selfish. But Sustagen was a bit pricey and we didn’t have much when we were growing up. That meant that chocolate-flavored health drinks were reserved for my thin, ostensibly undernourished eldest sister. Since I was bigger, my parents concluded (probably rightly) that I did not really need help in the nutrition department.
So the stuff my sister didn’t relish taking, I wanted to guzzle. I envied her not only the Sustagen but also the Cetrin, a sweet, orange-flavored syrup, and the Scott’s Emulsion, a white, viscous fluid. God forgive me, I think I may even have resented her taking cod liver oil.
My perspective on such things has changed a lot. I don’t feel deprived anymore, mainly because I’ve lost the taste for awful-flavored vitamins (although, I must admit to maintaining a fondness for Sustagen). It also helps that I can now afford to buy my own chocolate-flavored drinks, although I still pilfer from my dad’s stash of Swiss Miss.
I take a sip of my coffee. It is now cold. I hate the taste of cold coffee, but I don’t heat it up. I drink it, thinking, wanting to believe, that I don’t need it to enervate me just yet.
I make a note to self: buy Swiss Miss. I realize the check from my last job isn’t ready. I amend note to self: buy Milo.
(Also published in IndieBloggers)