Life by the Cup
If you can find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere.
—FRANK A. CLARK
December 1, 1999
As I lifted the cup of tea to my nose, inhaling the steamy, sweet scent, anticipating my first sip, I saw Kevin, the utility man, tiptoeing into the yard through the side gate like a cat burglar. Looking over the rim of my cup, through the faint waves of circling steam, I fixed my gaze on him.
He was so focused on reaching our fuse box that he didn’t see me sitting only a dozen feet away on the front porch steps, bundled up in an old red Indian blanket, warming my face in the distant morning sun.
Quietly putting the cup down on the weathered porch, I watched as he neared the back of the house. Standing as quickly as I could without setting off a symphony of creaks in the old wooden
steps, I balanced my enormously pregnant belly and stepped onto the dead grass, making my way over to where Kevin was about to close off the valve with his wrench, which would leave me without precious fuel to heat my one-room cabin or cook my daily lentils, rice, and tea. I cornered him and yelled, “Hey!”
He jumped and almost dropped the tool. He looked over at me, raising his shoulders to his ears, grimacing as if he thought I would hit him. “If you do that, my baby and I will freeze to death and you’ll have to sleep at night knowing what you did!” I pointed at my nine-month pregnant belly for good measure.
He looked at me sideways. It wasn’t the first time we had met and wouldn’t be our last.
I smiled nervously, feeling bad to have scared him. “In all seriousness, Kevin, you know I am going to pay the bill, so why come out here and do this to me?” I smiled again, trying to be charming.
“It’s four months past due,” he pleaded. “You’re going to get me fired!”
“Look,” I said, “I’m about to give birth, then I can get a job. Can you just wait for a couple of weeks, tell your boss I have a scary dog or something? Anything?”
He looked at me for a few hard beats before dropping his shoulders. “You’re gonna have to do something, you know. The county has programs . . .”
I knew. I was about to have a kid and my only assets were a rusted-out, thirty-year-old car with no driver’s window and perpetually less than ten bucks in my bank account. How does one go about “doing something” when there is so much surviving to do?
“People don’t hire pregnant ladies, you know,” I told him, squinting back my tears.
He shook his head and stomped back up the driveway and onto the worn-out canyon road, thankfully without cutting off our power.
Somewhere along the line, God and I had gotten our wires crossed. I blamed my impulsive nature and sometimes believed that my destiny had come and gone already. I felt like I had missed my boat. I was a broke, pregnant twenty-four-year-old college dropout, fending off a kindly utility man.
I headed back to the front porch feeling seasick. To steady myself, I grabbed my anchor, that simple cup of tea.
I had been an honors student, a full scholarship recipient, a girl with so much “promise.” Then I followed one too many yearnings in my Gypsy blood and took off. I dropped out of college, headed to Peru, studied herbal medicine, got married and divorced, all the while earning my keep by making healing herbal concoctions and reading palms like my Roma Gypsy family in the Ukraine once had.
This hadn’t been my plan, having a baby on my own at twenty-four. I was heartbroken over the circumstance. I must have sat there for a long time, because when I took another sip of tea, it was ice-cold.
I begged out loud, “God, you have to help me here! Tell me what to do!” Silence.
After a few beats, the odd answer that entered my mind as I looked out at the mountains was two mismatched words, “Gypsy . . .” and then “tea.”
“Seriously!?” I yelled, looking into my teacup as if God presided in there.
I thought my mind was playing tricks on me. After all, I was a Gypsy girl drinking tea, so the idea had to have come from my
desperate mind, not from the Almighty. But the idea of taking my heritage, my deep love of botanicals, and my passion for crafting healing gifts became more than just a momentary impulse. It became motivation to build something beautiful that mattered in the world.
Sage, my beautiful baby boy, was born with a life-threatening kidney defect, and we spent weeks in hospital waiting rooms and surgery centers. In between prayers and tears, I’d close my eyes to escape the fear of potentially losing my precious child. My mind conjured visions of children laughing as their moms sipped from colorful teacups and other women danced around them in brightly hued costumes. Beautiful Gypsy women proudly displayed their art, handmade jewelry, and palm-reading wisdom with kind smiles across their faces. There were cups of tea everywhere, filled with potions that I had blended from inspirations of famous perfumes I loved—floral flavors made for spiritual healing. These potions would soothe mothers’ worries, inspire love in lonely people, encourage girls’ ambitions, and calm everyone’s nerves, bringing them together in a sort of tea communion. It was all there in my mind’s seeking eye. These images of Gypsy-themed tea parties grew into hope.
A coping method, a promise, a dream—tea became all of those things to me.