Lisa Romeo and her father, Anthony Chipolone
The day before I leave Las Vegas, where I have been staying with my 80-year-old mother for the two weeks after my father died, I drop her off at the hairdressers, where she has been a customer for 25 years. When she walked in, everyone put down their scissors and blow dryers and brushes dripping with cream hair dye, to give her a quiet and gentle hug. I retreat to a nearby national chain coffee shop, for coffee, for quiet, for sounds of normal life.
I need to concentrate on completing a work project that is due in two days, my client having graciously given me two extra weeks, but it is not enough time. I wonder if I will ever be able to concentrate on work again, though I know I will, one day. It just doesn’t seem likely, now. I am distracted by the barista's annoying way, when someone's order is ready, of trilling out the first names of each customer and what they ordered….Angela – venti latte skim; Jose – grande vanilla decaf; Tara – double mocha espresso; Tony, small coffee regular…Tony, please pick up your coffee. Tony never appears.
Tony is my father's name, and regular is how he took his coffee, or at least that is how he always asked for it. Then he would tear open five or six packets of sugar and while attempting to drop them in his cup, spill half on the counter. In our family, only my father and I look for a cup or two of coffee, a few times a day, but while I could substitute tea or root beer or cranberry juice, he was caffeine-addicted and it used to upset my brother and mother that at any activity – a granddaughter's graduation, a grandson's baseball game – he would excuse himself to seek out a lunch counter, doughnut shop, any likely coffee purveyor. Sometimes he would not excuse himself, but simply arise, in the middle of the speech or inning, and miss what he was there to see.
I glance around, looking for this anonymous Tony, and smile a little at this unclaimed "Tony, coffee regular," then try to settle in, waiting for my name to be called for a grande decaf skim. I felt pretty steady when I walked in the shop, but now I begin to consider if, in my grief and in my anxiety over the overdue work, I may have mistakenly asked for coffee in my father's name, as I had for years, decades, whenever he asked me to bring him a cup. But the barista calls out my name and delivers me the correct brew. Then, she yells out again, very close to my ear, for Tony.
Undone now, I tell her I will give the coffee to Tony, and I take the cup to my table and place it next to my laptop. I am sitting near the pick-up area, and for the next hour I watch and I listen, but no man approaches the counter to say his name is Tony and that he did not get his coffee, and no woman approaches to say her name is Toni and she did not get her coffee.
Finally, I ask a barista to reheat the coffee in the Tony cup, and she glances at me strangely, but she does so, and when she hands it back, I rip open several packets of Splenda and pour it in, and even though I drink only decaf, I sip from this cup for the next hour. I decide this is the right thing to do.
My middle name is Toni; my mother said it's after my Aunt Antoniette, though my father always said it was for him.
I tell the Tony coffee story to no one. I am afraid I will not be able to locate the right tone which must exist somewhere between skepticism and serendipity and intelligent dismissal. I am afraid my tough, no-nonsense mother who chided me for crying the night after the wake, will think I am being overly sentimental. I worry that my sister will say it is a sign of some sort, but not tell me what the sign means, only that I must be attuned to the whisperings of the universe. I am terrified that my brother will just cry. I am afraid I will tell the story badly.
I tuck the story away.
About the author:
Lisa Romeo is a writer, freelance editor, and writing teacher, a former equestrian journalist, public relations specialist, and real estate spy (don't ask). Her articles and essays appear in mainstream media, including the New York Times and O-The Oprah Magazine; in literary venues like Under the Gum Tree, Sweet, Barnstorm, Under the Sun, Sport Literate; and in anthologies. She is the creative nonfiction editor of Compose Journal, and teaches at Rutgers University and The Writers Circle – both in her native New Jersey