Consider breakfast on a cold winter morning. Hard to imagine it without coffee. Almost un-American. Coffee, the smooth brown liquid that pumps the blood to your brain, calling you to a new day.
Some years back, health reasons required me to give up coffee. I quit cold turkey, two solid weeks of migraines as my badge of merit for detoxifying. Once the process was complete, I felt great. I learned, though, that the mind and the body could divorce easily. Two years later, a new job came my way, complete with high stress levels. By 3 o'clock in the afternoon, I'd need a lift. Just half a cup. Within two months, I was back to a three-cup-a-day habit and soon feeling lousy.
You'd think I would learn. It's not only coffee that you have to watch out for though. People can be like coffee too. Stimulating. Addictive. Your best friends. But not always with your best interests at heart.
It was like that with Jon. When I was in high school, my friend Jon was much like a cup of coffee ? always up, always throwing something new my way for kicks. The friendship soon deepened into other things though, serious things like loss and death and the reason we were here.
Then Jon split. He was like that. Things got uncomfortable, and off he'd go. No warning, no clue as to what spooked him. It became his trademark and something you didn't hold against him, or against yourself.
About ten years later, after the death of a mutual friend, Jon turned up again, older, wiser, and grounded by some of the hard shots life had taken at him. He apologized for his past immature behavior and vowed it was a part of himself he had put to rest. And as easily as sitting down to a freshly brewed cup of Sumatra, Jon and I were fast friends again, talking daily on the phone, sometimes more than once, and getting together with my husband and Jon's significant other here and there on weekends. We were closer than family. I often joked Jon was the kid brother I never had, never wanted, and got anyway.
The months following proved hard with challenges seeming to find me at every turn. I was in a serious car wreck that put me into eighteen months of physical therapy and caused me to leave my job. My sensibilities about life and my intuition after the accident shot off the charts. Often I wondered of my sanity, but it was Jon, a spiritual man, who grounded me and proved to me that I was just deeply aware in a way that most people were not because of what I had endured. Around the same time, when my grandmother lay in a hospital bed dying, it was Jon who counseled me and lent me support. It seemed that whenever I was in trouble, Jon was there with kind words.
We did that for each other. It was maybe two years into our renewed friendship that the love of Jon's life left him. I grieved with him, supported him, and tried what I could to bring his spirit back, many nights chatting with him until the early morning hours on the phone. I even tried to talk sense into his ex more than once. Most days during this time were dark ones for Jon, but I stood by in the hope that just letting him know someone cared might lift him from his abyss.
Months passed and we made some headway. Jon got a new apartment, jumped full force into his career, and started dating again. It seemed my friend was back . . . the all of him and the willful spirit I'd come to love.
I've never known a friendship like Jon's and I still thought we were each other's safe place to fall during some hard times. Knowing what I know about coffee though, it is hard to be so sure of this.
Nearly a year and a half had passed since the breakup with Jon's ex. The holidays came and Jon plummeted back into depression. While there had been dates, there was no one permanent in his life and facing the holidays alone with nothing but memories was more than he could stand, except this time he was sinking deeper than he had before. It was hard to watch, hard to take. Still he plummeted, seeming to almost enjoy each emotional foot that he dropped, taking whatever prisoners he could along the way. He became self-involved and embraced a darkness denser than black velvet.
I felt myself absorbing his negativity and I couldn't accompany him again. Perhaps this speaks to my limitations, but I didn't have the strength. I told him this as gently as I could. I explained that it was too painful to watch him do this again and that he needed to stop.
He hung up on me. Months later we talked again. I was calm and tried to reason out an understanding with which we could both work. No matter how patient, apologetic, and compassionate I tried to be, though, all Jon did was shout and tell me how I was just another person in his life who abandoned him.
He hung up on me that day too and I realized then that an understanding at that point in time, if ever, was impossible. And so I mourned. I mourned a separation that I knew could have been avoided; however, my old friend was too busy still embracing his darkness.
It took another friend to ease the mourning process, a friend who happens to be a psychic and who picked up on the conflict before I even told her about it. As she read from her cards, she told me, "He will come back, but the friendship will never be the same way because you won't want it to be the same." She looked sadly at the next card that showed the spilled cups on the ground. "He took your gift of friendship and he went and bought bubble gum with it," she said.
She gave me something to ponder for months, months that were much like withdrawal where I railed and fought against a situation I couldn't control, often feeling sick over what was really just a conflict of sensibilities. At first, I didn't agree with my card-reading friend. I did want the same friendship back. But as more time passed without Jon, I started to see that I didn't really want that anymore. I saw that my life was taking on a far easier cadence without being pulled into Jon's spontaneous fits of angst.
It's been six months since I last saw Jon and I feel much like I did after I quit coffee: lighter, more in control, healthier. I miss him ? the old Jon, anyway ? much as a coffee addict will always miss that first hit of a fresh cup. Should he return, I will not turn him away, but my friend with the cards was right: the friendship will never be the same simply because it can't be. I've met clarity during the months apart from Jon, and once the mind is clear to think for the self, there is no looking back, but only ahead to the potential life holds.
Maria Troia Jeffreys was born in New York City and raised on Long Island where she attended Hofstra University, earning a B.A. in English and an M.S. in Secondary Education. Her poetry and essays have appeared in various publications including Voices in Italian Americana, Italian-Americana, and Capper's. Her interests include rose gardening, meditation and Eastern philosophy, travel, knitting, bicycling, and music, especially jazz and blues. She is married and has just completed her first novel.