This story will ramble and it does not necessarily have a good narrative arc but it’s been on my heart and I need it to get out.
This is a story about coffee.
One Saturday afternoon two years ago, my husband and I wanted to get away from our kids. We have three of them, all lovely human beings, but being children, they are needy af. We decided our time out would be about coffee. Again, children necessitated this. We were exhausted. Body and mind.
I love coffee. At my job, at the university, one of the best perks was a coffee machine. Not just a janky little pot, an actual machine that grinds the beans right before brewing. On work days, I would have a cup right when I got in, and again around the 3 o’clock slump. One of the best things about that job was that coffee machine.
Saturday is not a work day, thus my need for coffee needed to be fulfilled at home. In better times, coffee at home was just as good. When I had financial aid money, I bought myself an expresso machine and made lovely soy lattes every morning. When that became burdensome, I invested in a $20 French Roast. When I graduated from my grad program (and my husband dropped my press), my mom bought me a fancy coffee machine. It was the best gift I think I’ve ever received.
But times were not better. Times were not even good. Several months before this Saturday afternoon coffee run, on a December Monday, I sat in my office and cried on the phone to a friend about not being able to pay my rent. My tears were about not only my fear that my family would be out on the street, but also about a deep sense of shame. I had a PhD and a law degree from a super-fancy school, I’d had the best professional experience I now counsel my students to take advantage of, and I landed what many consider the best legal academic fellowship. I moved my family from the only home my children knew to a new state in a new city. And my husband left a really good job but was now having a really hard time finding a job.
Thankfully, my friends came through for me, lending me money, sending me care packages. My mom took care of Christmas for the kids. The bill collectors were calling, but my block game on my phone was strong. And my husband finally found a job, at a much lower salary than his previous employment, but a job nevertheless. We weren’t going to be on the street.
But times were still not good. Our budget only allowed a diet of mostly spaghetti. My husband was good at finding the sale meat. I went to the grocery store with a list and a calculator and $100 a week to feed two adults and three children, which was really like feeding four adults and one child. I had a birthday “party” for my four year old with only a party bag of chips, some oranges, and a homemade cake. I borrowed money from my 9 year old who had money from her birthday. I begged off friends who wanted to hang out because cocktails were not in the budget. Anything besides rent, tuition and groceries were not in the budget.
So on this Saturday, when we wanted coffee, coffee was not in the budget. The budget actually was gone, and we had about 5 days until the paycheck came in. But Dunkin’ Donuts was at the end of our block and coffee was only a $1 a cup. We figured we could find $1, and split the cup.
I hated being broke. I cried all the time thinking about what my children didn’t have, the things I couldn’t have, the financial hoops I was always jumping through, the phone calls I was constantly dodging, watching my credit score flush down the toilet. I hated feeling like I was a failure in spite of all that I’d accomplished, having done everything right, being a good girl, perhaps my only “mistake” was having children young.
But among all that hatred and shame and fear, in that moment, I really just wanted some coffee. So I went to the car to rummage on the floor for coins the kids might have dropped. He went through our pockets for loose change. Our kids watched us dispassionately, like they’d seen us do stranger things.
We found not only one dollar, but two dollars and fifty-five cents.
And so we each got our own cup of coffee, and each with a flavored shot. And even though in better times I can afford to be more discerning in my coffee choices, that day, with two dollars and fifty-five cents, Dunkin’ Donuts coffee was delicious.