Sometime in March, 1996
I am sitting in the office of an ear, nose, and throat doctor, having lidocaine sprayed up my nose in preparation for the tiny camera that will soon be threaded through my nostril and down my throat. I am here because my voice teacher says she can hear nodes and polyps in her students' throats, which is basically the grossest X-Men power I have ever heard of. Little do I know that the numb bang of a skinny scope in my nostril will be excellent preparation for losing my virginity.
When it's all over, the physician frowns.
"Are you smoking?" he asks.
"No way," I say, although I don't have much sensation in my tongue, either. "Thmoking ith for lothers." My mother is standing right there.
"How about coffee?" he asks her.
"She has a cup sometimes," my mother admits.
I have one every morning at home, and then one again in homeroom, in a travel mug shaped like Darth Vader.
"You have some severe damage from acid reflux here," he says. "No more coffee."
I am 12 years old.
High school. I have a cup of coffee at home, one in first-period Playwriting and several when I cut gym to go hang out at a diner during sixth period because it is 2001. I chew TUMS like a 56-year-old man with an ulcer. My doctor, flummoxed, suggests raising the head of my bed on cinderblocks. Somewhere around this time, my freshman-year theology teacher is hospitalized for a caffeine-induced heart attack.
"Pussy," I think.
I still have that mug.
Starbucks runs my favorite local coffee chain out of business. I buy a French press and a full pot in the morning. At night, sometimes, my heartburn is so bad that I can't sleep, but I see it as valuable time to memorize Monty Python routines on my discman. Still a virgin.
My dentist asks me if I chew tobacco.
My boyfriend wakes me up in the middle of the night, with a frightened look on his face. He says he could hear my heart beating from the other side of the bed. On break from college, I go home and visit my GP, who asks exactly how many cups of coffee I am drinking these days. I'm like, "Uh, hey, don't you want to know if I'm sexually active?" Because, did I mention I was in bed, with a dude? Congratulations, me.
Out of school, unemployed and fresh from a breakup, I spend a whole week moping extravagantly, leaving my floor-mattress bed as little as humanly possible. I go without coffee for the first time since adolescence, and when I get the first, horrible headache and attendant junkie-hand-tremor, I make the medically responsible decision to put myself into a waking coma with my migraine meds. I lose eight pounds and read "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" so high that I will later tell somebody that it is "mostly about a funny talking dog."
My first real job. I'm working at as an assistant in LA and am back on coffee with a vengeance. My ex-boyfriend posts pictures of himself kissing his new girlfriend's feet on MySpace. They are some skinny feet. I go on a diet that consists almost entirely of canned tuna mixed with celery and store-brand hotdog relish. A guy at work tells me he knows about a smoothie place that will add liquid bentonite clay to your drink as an appetite suppressant. I look up liquid bentonite clay and wonder if I can put it in an iced latte, because who needs all those calories from fruit?
I'm on solids again, eating normally, and in a relationship with a sweet, easygoing musician who doesn't drink coffee or understand that I need cups and cups of it, immediately upon waking. One time, on the way to brunch with friends on the other side of town, we get stuck in traffic and I'm awake for hours without having coffee, because he didn't want to be late. I wonder if I can jump out of the car and hit an AM PM while we're bumper-to-bumper.
I'm clenching my jaw when he takes the same "Dear You" cassette he always plays out of the glove box.
I tell him I am sick of him and sick of his music, that if he puts in it the tape deck I will throw it out the fucking window. He politely ignores me. I whip the tape out the window and into traffic on Franklin Avenue, where it nearly wings a jogger before being crushed under the tires of a truck with no regard for art. We gape at each other. What have I become?
I move to New York for work. The good part about getting older is that now I have a Real Paycheck job, but the bad part is that I can no longer go out like I once could. I also find that too much coffee is starting to come with weird psychological side effects like irritability and paranoia. I cut down my coffee intake. My migraines double, then triple, but I sleep better than I ever have.
All of 2009
I go through a bit of a "phase," during which I invent a drink called Party. Party is a 5-Hour Energy dissolved into a bottle of sugar-free blue Powerade. It can be used to treat hangovers, reluctance to go out, unpainted apartment, lack of bangs or desire to sing Whitney Houston's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody" into a forty ounce bottle of Old English 800.
January 12, 2010
I am single and logging long, long days at a women's website. I get an email from a "medical spa" asking me if I'd like to try review a new procedure they're offering moneyed Manhattan ladies who will do anything to keep the looming specter of death at bay. It's a 20-minute "vitamin flush," basically an IV of super concentrated B-complex and maybe some riboflavin or something. I don't know. I say sure. The physician at the medspa, who looks like Dr. Nick, does some intake stuff before I get my drip.
"Do you know you have a heart murmur?" he asks. I did not. He asks about my coffee intake. I lie.
Later, in a room of cushioned reclining chairs among women who all look like Cassandra O'Brien, I pass out.
I resolve to drink less coffee, because I am dating one of those super healthy, recovery guys. I'm also in a fitness contest at work, so I'm subsisting on Naruto rolls and sugar-free energy drinks. On weekends, the recovery guy and I play tennis, he makes me protein shakes. At my Responsible Young Woman Seeing a New Guy Trip to the Free Clinic, the nurse mentions my heart murmur. The new guy suggests it's murmuring, "Give me more blow jobs."
I leave my job to freelance. My caffeine intake is at its all-time zenith, so I can work from 8 am to 11 pm if I want. I justify my prodigious coffee intake by reminding myself that it is a time-honored practice, and that if coffee wasn't amazing everybody in this cafe wouldn't be sitting here with their laptops, drinking expensive Blue Mountain blends and tapping productively away on their laptops. As a delightful consequence of my Stumptown bender, I have terrible insomnia and when I do sleep, elaborate, hyperrealistic nightmares. Some of them are that I am still a virgin, or dating that asshole tennis guy.
Shortly after vowing never to post about diets on xoJane again, I weigh myself for the first time since my last doctor's visit. Jesus fucking Christ.
I start going to a trainer. I avoid having the whole nutrition talk with him until the day I'm in a session and I almost barf, because when I jog after my morning flotilla of coffee, it bubbles up in my throat like a human bong. I complain of insomnia, nausea, acid reflux and inability to lose weight. My trainer suggests I give up coffee. I want to cry, but that's mostly because he makes me do lunges, and man, fuck lunges.
There's also a part of me that realizes that, as I am no longer 22, I have to start giving up certain things that made me feel young and awesome and that I did just because they felt really good, like having a gigantic bowl of cafe au lait in a Montreal crepe shop after a night of going to strip bars and abusing substances with my friends until we thought an old man wearing an Ankh pendant was part of some kind of French Canadian cannibalistic sex cult that sacrifices American tourists to Anubis. Is anything better than that first cup of coffee, after that? No, but there's a point at which you realize that you are, indeed, not invincible, and that if you don't want to fuck it up to the point of maybe actually threatening your life, you have to make some lame, adult changes. Sure, it can't compare to a real drug addiction, and nobody's cooking it in a Winnebago. But it's obviously not good for me, and But I neeeeeeeed it is starting to seem like less of a good excuse.
But, as I've gotten myself to a physical nadir, I have to admit that my afternoon crashes are getting worse, and my sleep patterns are pretty screwy. He tells me just to try it and see if it's for me. If not, I can always go back to being a normal human being who scowls like a stupid novelty T-shirt every morning before her magic hot bean juice kicks in and makes her tolerable.
Hell. I drink green tea all day to alleviate caffeine headaches, and I still feel like I'm fighting my way through a gelatin cube of exhaustion every morning. I feel like I have the flu, and I worry that I can only write if I'm jacked up on Colombian go-go juice. I really miss the taste of coffee, and a stop at Dunkin Donuts on a road trip makes me profoundly sad. Maybe because I worked there as a kid and now they no longer have to wear the pleated-front khakis I did. Punks.
I feel OK again. In fact, I feel weirdly great. I'm less puffy and I don't have to take antacids every day any more. I'm down to two cups. Most noticeably, I don't have the bad crash in the afternoon that I used to. I don't have the amazing, manic high that coffee used to give me, which is sad, but I think that it's worth it to avoid the nightmares and health problems and, indeed, have a flatter stomach.
After 21 or so days of being completely without coffee, I now only miss it on a Tom Waits-y, early-nineties-black-and-white movies level. (This is a particular shame, since I have Doc Marten combat boots coming in the mail.)
"I am officially a moderate tea person," I say to myself. My heart, for its part, beats normally: Pussy, pussy, pussy.