I’m currently writing another memoir, tentatively titled “SUGAR.” SUGAR is structured around substances for which I had/have little or no control over, starting with my early childhood obsession with sugared cereal, and moving on to chocolate and Adult Approval. It’s an interesting (to me!) way of framing a long life where lots of stuff happened, a task I might find daunting otherwise. But using the framework of substance addiction–to sugar, chocolate, approval, then later to alcohol, coke, heroin, and sex–is an easy filing system for a fairly messy and chronologically blurry life.
The Thief (sketches from SUGAR)
Soon there wasn’t enough. Right away there simply wasn’t enough. I don’t know when exactly it occurred, but sometime between my first Hershey bar and the next it was clear: I must have this, always.
Maybe there was a mounting desire, maybe I ate one and didn’t think about it and ate another later and didn’t think about it, but after some point I had to have chocolate. At some point in history I began to divide the world into two taxons: Chocolate, and anything else. That a person would choose strawberry ice-cream, butterscotch pudding, that a child for god’s sake would rank a cobbler above a brownie, was tantamount to a world gone mad. I literally could not make sense of it. Therefore, those who voiced these abominable preferences could be neatly filed in a separate folder. I didn’t exile them, or even think less of them, inasmuch as I pitied what I could only conceive as a dreary void.
Obviously, I didn’t understand anything about neurochemistry, but I intuitively appreciated that these wretched souls were missing something essential for experiencing the world. I really believed that.
That one-two punch of chocolate and sugar! There is nothing like it. Chocolate made me euphoric.
However. We discovered that my brother, who was beset by a chronic green snot-stache and the disgust of the rest of us, was allergic to chocolate. He was allergic to a great many things—milk, dust—but chocolate! The poor boy had to get weekly shots at our pediatrician’s in Maryland. I was more horrified by my own suffering, the nearly complete erasure of chocolate in our pantry, substituted by the grim, the mismatched, incommensurable, carob.
Carob has as much to do with chocolate as chicory does to coffee, which is to say: none. The only place carob was remotely tolerable was the coating on Tiger’s Milk bars, which I grew to love while clinging to the hope that I might actually be getting muscle enhanced, feline agility. That was our chocolate-less life. We went into downtown McLean, Virginia, which, to its forward-looking credit, had one of the earliest “health food stores” in a tiny strip mall cattycorner to the main Safeway.
Much like today’s health food purveyors, this store had barrels full of oats and nutritional yeast. As I recall, our mother took us there one afternoon, much the same way we had taken our grandparents to look at the hippies in Georgetown; it was suburban tourism. Still, that’s where she could load up on the things that weren’t chocolate for my brother, who honestly could’ve cared less. I never really saw him sneak sweets. God knows had it been me who was allergic, I would’ve thrown myself into anaphylaxis in a matter of minutes. He was one of those children who was barely interested in meals, anyway.
We wandered around barrels like equestrian ponies, looping and trotting. There were men with long hair there, which always had the power to excite me. I was obsessed with men and their hair, especially their facial hair, and had begun to draw them whenever I had to listen to someone or had a minute by myself…