I like coffee.
I like it a lot. I remember the first time I had coffee. I was only 7 or 8, and my dad gave me some money from the till and sent me to the little convenience store nearby (crossing two busy streets and rounding a corner, but less than 40 yards away) to get his coffee. One coffee, milk, no sugar. The girl behind the counter was used to me or my siblings showing up for my parents’ coffee by now, but I always felt the need to specify it was for my dad, not for me.
Coffee was a grownup drink. Coffee was mystical; it smelled of wet earth when it brewed, and like some Druidic potion it’s faint acidity would call my parents to rise from the bed. I was a hero in high school because the hour required I rise before them, and I would brew for them. The pot of clean water into the machine, gurgling. The crinkle of the filter, the shhhh of scooped grinds sliding across each other into it, in a nearly peaked pile. The gargling sound and puff of steam as water hit the heater, and the patter like a tiny morning rain of the first drops trickling into the glass carafe.
But that was years later. My first time, I was seven.
I had taken the money and looked both ways until I could cross Country Way, walking past the tire shop, the travel agency, the small local bank on the corner where I had my passbook savings account at the time. Then I crossed the bigger road, large enough to have a turn lane. I ran across it, stuttering back to walking when I hit the sidewalk on the other side. Superstitious, I stepped over the disused and mostly buried rails of the railroad (which got rebuilt and is now in service as a commuter line into the city) because what if some errant bit of electricity found me to complete a current if I stepped on it? I followed the sidewalk around the corner of the building and stepped up into the store. I got the coffee, and I headed back. I held that white styrofoam cup like a chalice, in two hands before me, and the steam seeping out as it softly sloshed. I walked with care, not wanting to spill. The lights were in my favor until I was about four steps into the road, and it seemed simpler to dash forward than to turn around with the cup of coffee in my hands.
I ran, and as I did the coffee slopped and sloshed; some spilled out the top, most catching in the rim but a little falling upon my naked hands. The first pain sacrifice of an angry god, and I was sniffling when I gained the sidewalk in front of the bank. I licked my wound quite literally and then examined the spill trapped atop the flimsy lid. It had to go or risk another burn, but I couldn’t pour it off.
Feeling a thief, an interloper, an infidel partaking of some great holy rite forbade to the uninitiated, I slurped it.
It was still hot, singed my tongue, and I felt that pain more than tastes what I drank, but the flavor lingered as I finished my walk back to put coffee on the counter and the change in the till. The magic words, Milk No Sugar, became mine that day, and while it was many years before I performed the ritual myself, it stays with me still.