Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Coffee & Chemo

The hangover is heavy. An ungodly mystery as to how the last few hours of last night went down, however everything seems to feel lighter in Milwaukee; inhibition, time, pressure, all the hold-ups.

Last night’s show in Milwaukee was the way it’s supposed to be. Fresh Cut Collective, a rag tag live hip-hop band from Racine to Milwaukee, put on a clinic with a set that nearly blew my face off and reinvited me back to the stage front and center in the audience pit. I haven’t gotten up in a band’s grill like that for a damn long time. When you truly dig the hell out of someone’s sound, your body makes that move toward the edge of the stage to be as close as uncomfortably possible to the human body’s creating addictive sound. With that said… Fresh Cut killed it.

They reminded me of The Blend in their hay day. (notice I said hay day, but also take note that I have no interest in letting that stand. Malarkey as it may be, I still see the best days of The Blend ahead of me. Bigger, more badass, reignited, and nastier than ever). Vagabonds full of swagger and charisma that could talk you down from the ledge of a building and back on it again. Also take note, Fresh Cut Collective spares not a drop of alcohol in the process. As I loaded into the show at 8pm, the audience standing outside was already visibly drunk… visibly… drunk. Upon entering backstage where it’s commonplace to see beer, whereas with this backstage there lie a 1.75 bottle of Jack on the coffeetable center-piecing the entire room.

Show went well, amazingly well. Waking up from it all I strided into auto and headed for Alterra Coffee shop. When in doubt go to Alterra. I’ve spent most mornings in Milwaukee at Alterra Coffee shuffling in an hour or so of writing and then reverting to people watching. This visit would be the most necessary I’ve ever made. I didn’t know it at the time, but something would happen that would shift the rest of the week, maybe month, perhaps year. Reroutes are never anticipated, they happen. They happen with the swiftness of a thought, crack of lightning, cars colliding. Getting derailed can be one of the purest blessings you will ever experience in your life.

Alterra was jam packed, ham packed, crazy busy off the wall. I grabbed a seat before I ordered a coffee. I gank tables like musical chairs in the coffee shop. Sit now, buy later is my mantra.

Unpacking at a large picnic-ish-Jesus-last-meal table, I pull up my belongings to a collage of patrons occupying the shop. Across from me sits the keyboard player from Fresh Cut Collective I just happened to run into while he was teaching a morning Spanish lesson to a student, to his left sits the mother or grandmother of the kid he’s teaching, and to my left sits the derailment: a pale little girl chatting with her mother. The mother dressed in leather jacket, fancy scarf, and jeans exuding she drives a car worth more than 2 years of your annual income had me returning attention to writing before I could notice her daughter between the two of us.

I greeted the keyboard player from last night, he strayed away from his Spanish lesson as much he could to say hi and chat for a brief moment. Patricio’s the name, says he’s from Mexico City. I congratulated him for making it all the way to the Midwest and throwing down a badass show last night… seeing as the crime in Mexico City makes the Detroit displayed from the movie The Crow look like Disneyland. Few make it out, let alone an upscale coffeehouse to teach Spanish. Back to writing, the little girl’s voice began to softly pierce my thoughts. Her inflection was so pure, melodic, high pitched, entertaining… I couldn’t make out what made me hang on each word she said, but it seemed to be her mother’s response to her. The mother kept idly responding as if she wasfighting off another conversation going on in her head. I look to my left to take a good look at this girl; bright pale skin like staring into the sun, whispy white hair barely gracing her skull, and tubes helixed around her face and torso.

This was it, this is it, this is the point of nothing else mattering but the picture standing in front of you, the short time you have on earth, and the faint sounds surrounding the entirety of it all. I drew back to writing as to not stare at this little girl, but already feeling magnetized to her presence. I wanted to have something to do with her, I wanted to say something, be a part of her reality if even for a split second.

Something hit the table from her chatting and playing with her mother, I quickly dropped my notebook to pick up the cover from her hot cocoa almost roll across the table. “Thank you”, said her mother. “No problem”, I replied. The mother and I locked eyes for a few seconds of recognition gone beyond the normal duration to look at someone- broken by the little girl. No words, just her hand stretched out to offer me a piece of her poppy seed muffin. She barely turned her eyes toward me seeming almost uncertain that I would take the piece of muffin from her.

I notice a patch of tape over her right cheek bulging out carrying one of the tubes wrapping around her body. This little girl was sick, there was no hiding it. Her time is limited, but her reality was pure as an undeniable truth. Her presence shook the visceral run of the mill coffee goers to a face-to-face with mortality and what the hell they plan to do with their today.

I smiled, took the piece and ate it. “Thank you”, I said. The little girl almost immediately turned back to her mother. Back to her creator, comfort, foundation.

Back to writing… not before I could help asking what I’m here for, where I want to go, and what will I do today that will matter tomorrow.

The mother and little girl stood up to prepare to leave. Gathering their bags and belongings, the mother inched toward me to lean in and say “Thank you for taking the piece of muffin from her”.

“No worries. I’ve been working with kids for the past decade… and my mother’s a cancer nurse- never scared easily”, I replied.  “Hi, I’m Toussaint”. “Jesse”, she said. “And that’s Lucia… Lulu. She’s in her 2nd stage of chemo.”

We chat for what seems to be fleeting minutes to the last time we’ll ever see each other again… hardly the last minutes I’ll remember them.

I’ve grown up in and out of hospitals watching my mother work as a cancer nurse. Bed ridden, last days of life, first days of recovery, at grips with time- whatever the circumstances they may be of the patients she took care of, what I remember best is the spirit. The spirit of each individual pacing the hallways of the hospital- staff, patients, visitors- it was the spirit that either made or broke the individual. Something about Lulu stood astoundingly strong. Couldn't quite put it into words then, and as I type now I still can't- whatever it is, I would definably strive to carry that spirit into every step I take after leaving the coffeeshop. 


  1. Beautiful. You had met the amazing Lulu and her phenomenal mother T who was having another conversation in her mind, one that she was worried that Lulu would pick up some germs at Alterra but also knowing how much Lu was enjoying the experience. Thank you for being present with them.

  2. i read this as i was brought to you, through lulu's mom. i have "met" her through the interwebs for what seems like a minute and i already have adoration for her...and now you. i dont know why our paths crossed - me and t and you but i embrace it and will share you and her with others. thank you for allowing me to read you.