by Rose S., 17
Whenever Grandma and Grandpa come into town, the whole family hunkers around a
long syrup-coated table at Uncle John’s Pancake House. It’s one of those Frankenstein tables that the waitress stitches together to accommodate three generations at once. I choose a sticky seat next to Aunt Tracy because she laughs at all my jokes and praises my place-mat doodles.
It’s 6:30 p.m, but I’m still going to order some chocolate chip pancakes with a pile of foamy whipped cream. Never have I diverted from this trustworthy meal (except for that one time I flirted with crepes). My order is set in concrete when the waitress approaches. I daydream about my fork piercing buttered clouds until it’s my turn to tell the lady what I want to drink.
What to drink? I always forget that question comes first. In a subtle panic, I stare at my mom. She is unmoved by the fear in my eyes as I teeter between Sprite and Dr Pepper. Wait — no. I don’t want any trivial, thirst-sating soda. I want an experience, a chocolate milk experience. I ask the waitress for some Brown Cow Juice and seal my sinfully gratifying, yet ultimately unsatisfying, fate. The thick, syrupy drink might arrive in a plastic kiddie cup — the kind with a lid, bendy straw, and bright cartoons around the exterior — or lapping up the edges of a heavy crystal glass.
Within minutes, I see tonight it is the latter. My glass winks at me from a tray full of Cokes, waters with lemon, and Grandma’s mug of tea. The waitress bestows it upon me with an unknowing smile. The timer has begun. It’s a countdown to the desperate final moments when I’ll be scraping my straw along the bottom of the cup to suck up the last dregs of ambrosia. The sound of an empty glass of chocolate milk is the sound of heartbreak.
The first few mouthfuls of sweet, creamy milk slide over my tongue and slowly coat my throat in a cool chocolaty gloss. In some ways, my feelings toward chocolate milk are more like lust than gluttony. No refills means no mistakes. Thirst is a delicate science, demanding perfect balance between indulgence and self control.
Before and after each sip, I carefully examine my remaining supply. Will I enjoy this next taste enough to be worth bringing myself that much closer to emptiness? The ensuing moments are a series of binary ones and zeros for every second that there is or is not chocolate milk in my mouth.
After a particularly long drink, I force myself to leave the cup of temptation alone and listen to the conversation. My dad says something about a W-2 and I zone out again. My pancakes haven’t even arrived yet and I’m only a few miscalculated slurps away from being left with nothing but water for the next two hours.
The ghost of chocolate milk past clings to the inside of the glass, residue marking the height of my initial wealth. My chest tightens. As my lips close around the straw, I can sense greedy air replacing bit-by-bit the comfortable weight that used to surround my sole plastic link to the substance of pleasure. The end is nigh.
Now I resist the urge to take it all in one gulp. My thirst builds to an unbearable fire in my throat that cannot be quenched by the tiny rations I allow myself. Each teasing sip evaporates on my desert tongue, that insatiable serpent. I am standing on the precipice of desolation and I have no choice but to fling myself over the edge by sucking up every last drop, suspended in the unknown sky, holding all I have tightly in my mouth, and I’m falling — the moment of absolutely no return — as fleeting delicacy is lost to the depths of my stomach.