Coffee, caffeine, and sisterhood; Illustration by Lissa Mathis
The flashlight shines into my eyes with such intensity that I’m momentarily blinded. At the other end of the light is a Chicago police officer who leans into the window, requests my license, and asks if I know why I’ve been pulled over. My sister is beside me in the passenger seat, and this is already too many questions. It’s 3:30 in the morning on a chilly spring day, and we’d only catapulted out of bed ten minutes earlier. Captain Floodlight not so politely tells me one of the headlights is out—something we didn’t notice when we got in the car because IT IS THREE THIRTY IN THE MORNING. I haven’t even had coffee yet, sir.
Ahh, yes; in more ways than one, coffee lies at the root of this fiasco. Coffee is usually such a comforting ritual for my sister and me, but today is the day it betrays us.
Left to my own devices, I’m not a big coffee drinker. It doesn’t make me more alert or boost my energy the way it does for most. I could have five cups in a row and still approach the world with the soggy enthusiasm of a weathered cardboard box somersaulting down the shoulder of the highway. Traffic all around me may be zipping by, but I’ll get there when I get there, thank you very much.
My sister is an avid coffee drinker and consumes it at a ratio of two cups to each one of mine. She was born with three times the energy of an average person, so I presume she mainlines caffeine because her adrenal system needs all the support it can get. While the rest of us run on unleaded gasoline, my sister runs on rocket fuel. To this end, she becomes quite the coffee expert. She’s also lived with me and my persnickety palate long enough to know what we will accept.
So, it’s actually my sister who gets me into the habit of drinking coffee. After college, we run our own cleaning business, and every morning, she makes our coffee. While calibrating the right amount of creamer for me, she knows the lighter the coffee, the better. If it don’t taste like liquid cotton candy, I ain’t drinking it. After she perfects the blend, she has my coffee ready every day. There are a million little ways my sister cares for me but being the designated coffee maker is my favorite. Her role as coffee maker expands in a big way once I move to Chicago to enroll in the Second City Comedy Writing Program. I didn’t even have the question all the way out of my mouth before she jumps at the chance to move with me. So, we pack up and move out there. I enroll in classes immediately, and we begin looking for jobs. She gets a call first, a chance to be a barista at a coffee chain inside of the famed O’Hare airport. The shifts are grueling: 4 a.m. to noon. Traffic and parking are so bad in Chicago that we agree I would drive her to the closest train station a few miles from our apartment at 3:30 every morning and then pick her up there after the shift. It is only fair; she had moved with me in support of my life’s goals; the least I can do is be sleep deprived right along with her.
And sleep deprived we are! My classes are all at night, but we both must be up by three to get her to work. Socializing with my classmates is tricky with a schedule like this. But we do this every morning for months, including that chilly April morning when we get caught with a broken headlight. The tinted windows on our car are apparently a concern for the cop, because he calls for backup. I can only imagine the glances the teams exchange when they realize these two crusty-eyed, disheveled New York transplants pose zero threat. So, they give me a warning and send me on my way.
I leave the interaction silently fuming—all of this for some freaking coffee job? My sister is silent for a few minutes but then looks me up and down, letting my Outfit of the Day wash over her.“Taylor,” she says flatly. “I think that cop was sent by the Fashion Police.”
I glance down at my clothes and burst out laughing. I have on a pink shirt rife with holes, bright yellow boxer shorts with aqua flowers, a red hair tie that only marginally contains my disobedient hair, and blue crocs.
Our brush with the Fashion Police is one of those little moments that keeps us sane as the grind of early morning drives goes on month after month. Funny stories about things that happen that day at the airport; which famous person stops in to order a coffee from my sister; these little details steady us through homesickness and the uncertainty of a new location. Much like one cozy cup of coffee with the right person can warm you up for the craziness of any given day.
Lots of people have that person who makes them the best coffee. But only a lucky few have someone like my sister who makes coffee for them in ways both big and small.