Add this to the list of things science can’t explain, like the Taos hum or Naga fireballs. I’m an insurance adjuster. We’re a jaded, thick-skinned lot, and no matter what names you call us or legal action you threaten, we get all our crying done the first month on the job. We chomp animal crackers while we crunch numbers, and hold Dum Dum suckers in our cheeks like Kojak, white stick hanging from lips all day long. Sometimes we make you listen to You Can’t Always Get What You Want on the Muzak while you wait on hold for us to decide your economic fate. We take our coffee thick and dark, the most hardcore among us chain smoking between cases of Diet Coke or bourbon at our desks.
Ever since I can remember, I’ve started my workday with a death grip on my big-handled 20-ounce-deep ceramic mug, large enough in which to plant a two-year deciduous seedling. An inch of coffee-laced milk foam rounded out four shots of black espresso. I chose coffee. Coffee chose me. Coffee became my love. The deafening rasp of my espresso machine, watching the light caramel foam develop on top of deep brown, could put me into a state of mystic ecstasy. I have more pictures of my coffee on Facebook than I do my own children.
But everything changed. I can’t explain it. Science can’t explain it. One day I was rinsing spent grounds from my portafilter, and the next I was daring a tea-loving friend to teach me the fairer art of drinking tea. I don’t know if it was the first time she let me smell the fragrant black leaves, or it if took all the way to the first steamy sip. I saw the light as tiny leaves unfurled under almost-boiling water. Five days ago I broke the leg off a small elephant-shaped cookie and flicked it into the trash. I baked a loaf of bread. I hunted on the Internet for a good recipe for scones. I looked for dark chocolate that came on a sucker stick.
The whistle of my tea kettle produces an endorphin rush that makes the espresso machine slink behind the flour canister in effete shame. I drink all day from a delicate ivory Royal Doulton cup with a sage green design rounding the edge. I hold the gold-lined slender handle very lightly between my thumb and index. What is happening? Who have I become? So many new questions form in my tea-clarified mind. Have I been abducted by aliens? Do aliens drink tea? Perhaps it was a band of gypsies instead.
A customer called yesterday. I didn’t make her wait on hold. She told me about some precious belongings that had been damaged in a fire. I tipped a 20-ounce ceramic teapot to refill my cup with something that tasted like flowers, and it only gave up a few small drops.
“I know just how you feel,” I said, a salty tear slipping down my cheek.
Lyla Willingham Lindquist is an editor at Tweetspeak Poetry and a claims adjuster, helping people and insurance companies make sense of loss. When she’s not crunching numbers or scaling small buildings, you can find her with a cup of gentle tea and a book on her sofa, or in the introvert’s hideout on Twitter (@lwlindquist).