Coffee Mug

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By Zoë Kay 

We stood in a circle in our high school’s dirt parking lot, passing a spliff.

Bundled in a variety of moth-eaten wool sweaters, leather jackets which were beyond the “cool” level of distressed, and denim in a variety of faded washes, my group of friends, I thought, consisted of the “cool” outcasts. The seven of us stood this frost-covered morning blowing puffs of smoke and sharp clouds of breath.

I was seventeen, dressed in a black turtleneck, paired with mahogany lipstick and rib-dusting chocolate hair. Albert Camus’ The Stranger served as my bible. I only wanted to read Vonnegut, Bukowski, and if I was feeling particularly wild a little James Joyce. I wanted to only listen to music only recorded before 1978 (preferably on vinyl), and drink black coffee. My friends and I were all different flavors of the same product, each of us yearning for some sort of meaning in a seemingly vast nothingness we called New Hampshire. We were way too cool to be friends with anyone but each other. 

Once the spliff was out and everyone was a little bit lighter than they were when we got to school, we made the trek. Our dirt lot was nestled behind the high school and attached to a disc golf course. Of course, at 7:15 a.m., when we casually walked to school (even though it of course it started t 7:10), there were no disc golfers to worry about. I loved those peaceful early morning walks through the woods.

My boyfriend of the moment was Vincent. He towered over my petite frame at about 6’2”, with soft coils of fawn colored hair. Vincent lived for Vonnegut, Johnny Cash, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and played drums in the guys’ band. Those chilly mornings, he would knit his fingers into mine to keep warm and ask what I thought of the latest dark roast at our coffee shop, or want criticism on some new lyrics that no matter how much praise I gave, he would never share with his bandmates. He was it. The one. The epitome of everything that is everything. My very serious high school idea of a soulmate. 

All of us smoked. Natural Spirits, Marb 27’s, Camels. We devoured whatever we could get our hands on, and nothing paired better with the stale taste of a cigarette, that I didn’t really enjoy, than coffee. We all had a coffee mug, not a reusable travel mug or some throw-away foam cup, but a real ceramic mug. The whole concept, which we never talked about but of course understood, was that our peers would be able to see A., that we were drinking coffee and B,. that the coffee was black. 

My mug lived in my locker. I washed it out after the first period and it sat gleaming on the top shelf, where my textbooks would have been if I brought them to school. The mug was short, squat, and a nostalgic shade of marigold, adorned with an enamel depiction of Queen Anne’s Lace scattered across one side. Every morning began with that mug and my copy of Huxley’s Brave New World. Not the book our soft-spoken, mountain climbing, pot smoking English teacher handed out, but my own copy covered in archaic annotations and a layer of grime handed down from whoever dropped it off at Goodwill before it became mine. 

With Huxley and my mug clutched against my chest like a security blanket, I’d head to Vince’s locker. His mug was simple; average sized, cobalt with a tiny outline of Mother Goose stamped across the bottom. We all thought it was hilarious. He and I would walk down the three flights of stairs from the Senior floor to the café and fill those mugs before going to our first class, Dystopian Literature,which we agreed was the only class worth taking. We also agreed we would go to college together. We would go somewhere sophisticated and far away to study English. He to become a writer, me to become a teacher. His Hemingway dreams fueled tiny scribbles in a Moleskin journal that he kept tucked under the pedal of the communal drum set. Sometimes I would thumb through the pages and wish I could be so bold as to write down my thoughts for others to see.

But in Dystopian Lit, sipping my coffee, and discussing an intrusive big brother, I felt bold. Like I was understanding everything around me in a new and complex way, participating in a meeting of the minds. Everything about my friends was new and exciting. We lived at a different pace, drove drunk on the dirt roads in our neighboring town just to see how long we could get away with it, jammed until the bassist’s mom would turn off the electricity in the barn we used as our hangout spot.

We did what we wanted to do. What we felt like our 27 Club icons would want us to do. The guitarist even carried a white BIC lighter just in case. Consequences didn’t exist in the starry-eyed realm we lived in. We all felt a part of a cosmic cause that no one else could begin to understand except for us seven. 

The magic of that adolescent cosmic cause still swallows me some nights and I find myself dreaming of dirt lot days. When inspiration for my own Moleskine scribbles are scarce, I pull out that marigold mug, stained from so much use. It still serves as a chalice of youth, a reminder of the days when I was cooler, smarter, and full of more promise than I ever will be again.

Zoë is a nature based middle school teacher by day and a soft hearted poet by night. She lives and loves in New Hampshire. Zoë holds a degree in English from Plymouth State University. 

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