Death and a Missed Morning Coffee by Laura Johnson Dahlke

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empty coffee pot

When a young woman dies in an automobile accident, someone knows what to do. Someone knows how to notify the next of kin, write the obituary, set the funeral arrangements, prepare the program, dig the grave. Someone knows how to put together her broken body in preparation for the visitation and burial as if she was unmarred by the ravages of the accident. With surgical scalpel, scissors, suture, and clamps, the mortician will remove her blood and pump her veins with embalming fluid, sew her mouth and eyes shut, cover her bruises and crushed bones with costume make-up.

Someone knows that comforting the next of kin often makes mention of a Christian god, a god that the victim may or may not have believed in, that the world lays claim to or denies. Someone thinks it’s all god’s master plan, that she was moving toward the accident, her entire life a karmic dance that ended with that final stomp—a head-on collision with a semi.

Someone will go through her clothes hanging haphazardly in her closet. They’ll touch her blouses and remember how she loved this one or that. They’ll donate her shoes—the Converse, the flip-flops, the boots, the heels. They’ll deem her wedding dress disposable since she died divorced and put it in the give away pile; they’ll box her pregnancy clothes and regret that her 4-year-old and infant no longer have a mother. Her Wet n’ Wild make-up, Beautiful perfume and Victoria’s Secret lotion will be tossed out.

Someone out there believes she and the driver of the other vehicle, the 55-year-old unharmed male, were meant for each other. That all their lives these two people were destined to meet, like star-crossed lovers, bound to each other in arcane ways, like the mystery of birds taking flight, like volcanoes erupting, like the earth orbiting the sun. That she was bound to him in a macabre, unknown death wish, like they signed a contract from the beginning of time that is written somewhere on the rings of Saturn. Like the only thing that ever mattered was when they intersected, that he was the only man that could ever tame her. He was the only man that ever mattered.

When a young woman dies in an automobile accident, someone knows what to do. But I don’t. The morning I learned my friend T— died in a car accident, I forgot to make my morning coffee. I roamed around the safety of my house with a harrowed heart, watching red cardinals pecking at the bird feeder out my front window. I read and reread the email sent by a mutual friend, the one that told me she died on Memorial Day with all the ferocious violence that comes from a head-on collision. Like a gravitational pull, I pondered the online newspaper report, lingering again and again on the word fatal and its impregnable decisiveness. My usual morning routine was shadowed as if by a lunar eclipse.

Someone may think this small act of forgetting to make my coffee has deeper significance—that every minute decision moves us toward the totality of our predestined fates. After all, what if she left her sister’s house a moment later? What if she stopped for gas and a Coke? What if she took a different route?

Someone would say we’re no more than a predetermined collection of all our decisions, all our experiences, all our mistakes and successes. Somewhere, somehow, missing my morning coffee makes particles floating on the Milky Way change direction and thus changes my life. Skipping morning coffee unwittingly may have protected me from my friend’s fate—at least for today. Tomorrow, I’ll sip my coffee flushed with cream and ocean tides will bulge in high tide and crystalline waves will flicker with my fate.

Someone believes my beginning and end is also etched on the infinite rings of Saturn. Bringing the cup to my lips is like an amoeba swooshing in an ocean centuries before, like aboriginal cries, like the entire moon passing through the Earth’s umbral shadow, like death from a head-on collision.

laura-johnson-dahlkeLaura Johnson Dahlke earned her MFA in creative writing at Antioch University Los Angeles, and she also has an MA in English from The University of Nebraska at Omaha. She is interested in writing researched-based articles as well as creative nonfiction and poetry. Along with writing, she has special interest in yoga, photography, childbirth, spiritual texts, baking, and drinking coffee.  She lives in Omaha, Nebraska, with her family. Laura’s work appears in publications such as The Explicator, The McGraw-Hill Reader: Issues Across the Disciplines and Women’s Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal.
STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons, FLing93

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