You got by without a coffeemaker all summer? My friend Diana was incredulous. She knew enough about my author/journalist/entrepreneur/single mother of twins life to know that I ran on pure love and espresso roast. It was yo ho, a caffeinated life for me.
But this summer, when I moved from Albuquerque to Saratoga Springs and back again, for most of the season, my coffeemaker stayed in a box.
By the time I found the box in which it was packed, I’d already discovered something else – something better than the adrenaline-fueled “it must all get done, and all by me” life that I had before. I discovered community.
It was the perfect discovery to make during my empty nest summer, when the twins headed off to college and I headed off to upstate New York.
Love, peace and interdependence
Each morning, I got up, walked the dog and strolled into the clubhouse, where the good people of The Lofts at Saratoga Boulevard had a fully appointed Keurig. And where my dog was greeted every day by Marty, one of the property managers whose presence joyously reminded me that I was maintenance-free – a very welcoming thought for a single mom who had once started a photo album on Facebook titled, “I Do Not Like Being a Homeowner,” displaying the flood-soaked guts of a pink-insulated ceiling for all to see.
But the truly special thing about Marty is that he loved on my dog while I made coffee, lavishing her with official Lofts at Saratoga Boulevard treats.
It wasn’t my intention to free myself of needing to hunt through every box for a coffeemaker – I hunted every night, usually past midnight, for my perfect Mr. Coffee, with a near-sexual hunger.
It’s just that something else happened instead. I discovered interdependent living. I got high on sharing.
Every time I made a cup of coffee at the clubhouse Keurig, I hunted down the counter wipes to erase the spills of coffee and sugar – mine and everyone else’s. I was neater here than when left to my own devices in the apartment where I alone lived. I could imagine the person coming to the Keurig after me, and I wanted it to look better than when I left it.
So while I got what I needed – caffeine – I was giving. And my dog was receiving a whole lotta love from Marty. My dog got vitamined up for the day.
“My job ended,” I told Marty one day.
I’d gotten this far in the media industry without ever getting laid off, something of a miracle. It had happened already to so many of my colleagues.
“Has that ever happened to you?” I asked.
“Yep,” he said, and told a story about a job he had where his heart wasn’t in it anymore. No one there ever told him, “good job, we appreciate you.” Instead it was a list of wrongs and a “what have you done for me lately?” attitude. It became a chore just to show up. When layoffs came, he was chosen.
“What did you do?” I asked.
Suffice to say, the whereabouts of my coffeemaker were the least-disorienting problem I had at the moment.
“I drank a lot…” he said.
“Oh, I don’t know if that’s helpful,” I said, whimpering a little on the inside. That solution had already occurred to me.
“…but then I got the job here,” he said. “So in the end, it was the best thing that could have happened. Because these are great people.”
Who lives here, too?
Every day, I fully intended to hunt down the coffeemaker and make coffee the normal way, alone in my apartment, still in my pajamas, a true affirming of the rugged individual that I was.
But every day, it was painfully obvious that, well, the dog needed to be walked. No more did we have the doggie door of the isolated suburban existence. I was actually going to need to show up, be present and be in charge of my dog’s proper elimination habits. I was actually going to have to go out into the community and see who else lived there, too.
Immediately it was clear that there was a whole ecosystem around me, people who wanted to connect – the dashing young bearded man with the equally gorgeous blue-eyed huskie, the little Vietnamese boy taking his first steps in a walker who delighted to touch the soft white fur of my puppy, my widowed friend who had decided to come out of her grief and live fully, listening to the Eagles on her iPhone while sitting on the balcony watching the sunrise, yoo-hooing down to me and inviting me to the lake for drinks at sunset.
Sure, I could give up, go down to a Big Box store in Big Box land, also known as Clifton Park, and go buy a new coffeemaker to tide me over until the old one decided to surface.
Or, I could just do what was already working – notice that I had coffee every morning, plus a friendly dog and people to greet. I had the watchful and compassionate eyes of a community. People who wanted to know if I was having a nice day.
After 13 years in suburbia, this new community was like an elixir. For most of the time I had lived on my acre of sand in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, with a 270-degree view of the mountains, I had had great photos, as my Daily Light followers knew, but virtually no neighbors. When I first moved in, to the north of me was a partially built home, the yellow insulation exposed. “A blended family,” my real estate agent told me, “that didn’t blend.” The shell of a house stood as a monument to a failed forced family.
A few years later, a new family came along to give it a try, complete with unbridled and slightly evangelical optimism, and for a while, the lot below mine was a buzz of activity as the rest of the house started to come together. A staircase to nowhere was built. It would be a house of many rooms.
Until one day, while sitting in a lawn chair at the edge of a soccer field 10 miles away, I saw plumes of smoke twist high into the western sky. As the twins kicked the ball up and down the field, I got a call. “Your house may be on fire,” a friend said.
My friend couldn’t even get in to the street to see because so many fire trucks blocked the way. When I raced home, the firefighters told me I couldn’t get into my lot because they needed the firehose stretched across my driveway to the blaze below. “Your house will be OK, ma’am,” the fire marshal said, “but you’ll need to park at the church across the street tonight.”
It wasn’t my house on fire, just one catalpa tree that got singed from the flames. The blaze had leapt west across the street to the sagebrush in my neighbor’s house, and she was on the television news, shuddering as she recalled the sparks. For the new owners, a dream had turned to ash.
One day, about a year later, bulldozers came and swept the debris away. The lot lay there as clean as a griddle.
We got used to having no neighbors. In Albuquerque, you can see virtually the whole city all the time, so it seems like nothing to leap 10 or 20 miles from my side of town to the other, just to see a friend. From my back patio, I watch the watermelon sunset fall on the Sandias, the balloons lift from the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta Park and the constant trucker-crawl on Interstate 25. At sunset, the light turns the rooftops copper as it glints sideways at the city. That’s a lot of people, about 700,000 of them, under those roofs. The neighbors near me now, we hardly know each other, but that’s already changed. I lived there for 25 years, and now I live here again. Like everyone else, I stayed inside and brewed my own coffee. But no more.