When I was 5, I took a sip of my dad’s coffee and promptly started to cry. It was bitter and brown and quite possibly the worst thing I had ever tasted (which, only having existed in the world for 5 years, likely wasn’t too much of a stretch).

I didn’t touch it again for 18 years.

All throughout University I’d stare in fascination at the coffee drinkers on campus. Sipping a Tim Horton’s in the library. Filling up their reusable mugs in the cafe. Slipping into class late and gesturing sheepishly at their coffee mug. Their friend would smile in understanding – “It’s okay, man. You needed your coffee. We’ve all been there.”

I, however, hadn’t been there – and I so badly wanted to be. I longed to be one of those people that slept in, waking up in a panic with time, only to throw on jeans over the pajamas I was already wearing and race out the door. I’d leap on the bus, out of breath and slide into a seat next to a friend from class.

“Rough morning?” they’d ask.

“My alarm didn’t go off!” I’d exclaim. “I’m so disoriented right now. I haven’t even had my coffee yet.”

Then, my not-actual-friend but class-friend would smile understandingly. “We’ll have time to grab one before class,” they’d say reassuringly. “Are you going out tonight?”

Instead, it went something like this: I’d leap onto the bus with my two pairs of pants and fall into a seat beside my not-actual friend.

“Rough morning?” they’d say.

“My alarm didn’t go off!” I’d exclaim. “I’m so disoriented right now. I haven’t even had a juice.”

They’d smile at me awkwardly and turn to look out the window. I learned early on that coffee gave you an excuse. If you looked disheveled, people understood. If you couldn’t carry a conversation, people found it endearing. If you forgot your paper on your bedroom floor, your professor let you email it in late. You didn’t get your coffee, and therefore you were off the hook.

Juice didn’t hold the same power.

If you looked disheveled, people thought you were dirty. If you couldn’t carry a conversation, people found you awkward. If you forgot your paper on the kitchen table, your professor docked you 5%. Besides these immediate (and obvious) benefits, I simply thought coffee drinkers were cool. I ached to be one of those people with tired eyes, taking their first sip of morning coffee and letting out a satisfied sigh. I’d smile to myself. Shrug my shoulders up a bit and bask in the glory of this hot beverage.

I wanted, more than anything, to be a caffeine addict – but my 5 year old self simply wouldn’t let me. Every time I’d get into that Tim Horton’s line thinking “today’s the day!” I’d start to sweat a little bit. I’d get dodgey. Fidgety. Is it warm in here? I’d near the front of the line and images of that awful, bitter liquid from 1994 would jump into my head. I couldn’t see anything else.

“What can I get you?” the store employee would ask.

“J-j-juice,” I’d sputter. “I want juice!”

I couldn’t do it. I could not be the girl I wanted to be. Instead, I hung my head and sipped my bright orange liquid in shame.

Then, in the fall of 2012 everything changed.

I was doing a job that required a lot of travel and had spent the day driving around the city in a rental car with my roommate in tow. He’d purchased a coffee before I realized how late it was getting. I whipped him home as fast as I could before hopping on the highway, and in the chaos of this moment, he forgot his coffee in the cup holder of my dear, sweet rental.

Fast-forward a half hour: Inevitably finding myself stuck in rush hour traffic, I quickly exhausted all of my efforts at passing the time. I sang along to Mumford. Pretended I was a guest on Ellen. Looked for shapes in the clouds and imagined what my life would be like if I was a cat. I laughed out loud for no reason. I tried to cry, but couldn’t.

And then I saw it. The coffee. Sitting there, lukewarm and beautiful.

Those ’94 images started to creep in there, but overly desperate for something to do I stifled them. I stifled them all. And then? I drank the coffee. It was awful and cold. But it left me wanting more. The rest, as they say, is history. At the ripe ol’ age of 23, the caffeine monster had finally caught me. From then on, coffee became part of my daily routine. And I, simultaneously, became the person I’d always wanted to be.

I found myself waking up dishevelled and stumbling towards the coffee maker. I’d wait impatiently as it dripped into the pot, the beautiful scent of coffee beans floating through the air. I’d pour a cup. Take a sip. I’d let out a satisfied sight. I’d smile to myself. Shrug my shoulders up a little bit. Bask in the glory of that hot hot beverage.

I was 23 years old – a University graduate and holder of a full time job. I had good friends. A great family. I could read and write and play guitar. But best of all? I could enjoy a cup of caffeine every single morning for the rest of my life. My name is Leah, and I am a coffee drinker.

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