Finding Myself in a Cup of Coffee

By Susan Olsen

“One's dignity may be assaulted, vandalized and cruelly mocked, but it can never be taken away unless it is surrendered.” ~ Michael J. Fox

How do you even begin to divide 20 years of marital stuff? What do you do with the Williams Sonoma coffee mugs he surprised you with one Christmas because he’d seen you admire them? It turns out it’s easier to part with things when every single item is tainted with memories once held dear but now obliterated with truth. The bed we shared? No thanks. The radio cabinet we purchased at a cute little antique shop in the mountains during a romantic get-away? No can do. The flatware we’d received as wedding gifts? I’d rather eat with my hands.

I still don’t know how, but those stupid coffee mugs survived three post-divorce moves. I didn’t use them, but they sat in my cupboard mocking me every morning nonetheless. Why? Maybe they were the last reminder that there was a time he at least pretended to love me. I finally replaced those mugs with others that represent times in my life unspoiled by my ex. Places he can’t touch; people he never knew .... and me; me before all the damage he wrought.

A white cup emblazoned with South Dakota imagery reminds me of my childhood. It transports me to games of tag that lasted far into the night, with buzzing streetlights and raucous laughter. It reminds me that I am competitive, and funny, and clever, and a wee bit of a sassy pants.

A brown cup shows the skyline of Houston where I did my graduate training. When I hold it, I’m 24 again and free. I feel hope and joy and camaraderie and I am thankful for the friends who remain after all these years. I remember that I am smart, and stubborn, and perseverant, and a goal setter.

A brightly colored cup with cherries and flowers reminds me of my father’s gardens. He taught me to work and create with my hands. When the neighborhood boys chased me with earthworms, my dad took me to his garden and taught me about both. He taught me that good men don’t scare women; they protect them.  His death in my teen years left a hole I still feel, but I carry in me his goodness and gentleness and love of learning.

When I pour my coffee into my Montana cup, I remember where I was born. I think of the generations of my family, and I know that I came from decent, honest, hard-working, loving people who eked out livings on farms scattered across the rugged Plains. No matter how tough life got, they were not embittered. I’m honored to have such a legacy.

One of my favorite cups is hand painted with a simple moon peering into a child’s room. I reminisce about my days as a new mother, when I was filled with purpose and joy.  I smile thinking of the giddiness I felt each morning when my babies awoke in their cribs and called for me.  I feel hopeful for the futures of those babies, now grown women with their own children yet to come. I remember that I am strong, loyal, loving and generous. I know I am capable of sacrificing my own needs for the sake of those I love.

As I sit with my coffee each morning, these new mugs remind me I’m still here. I’m intact. He couldn’t take everything from me. I kept what matters most; I kept me.

Those old Williams Sonoma mugs? I smashed 'em in the driveway.