Friday, October 30, 2015

The Taste of Despair

There are certain ways I know that I'm getting older. The songs I loved in high school now play on the "classic rock" radio station. I forecast rain by the ache in my right hip. And random, insanely weird hairs pop up overnight on my face.

Seriously, nobody ever tells you that last one, girls. But it does. So when it happens to you, call me. You are not alone.

But probably the saddest thing about getting older is my intolerance of things I used to love. Chief among them? Cereal.

My family loved cereal. Loved it. No matter how many cans of generic brand green beans we had, the one luxury name-brand item we were never without was cereal. My dad would get a giant mixing bowl, fill it with a combination of Sugar Crisp and Frosted Flakes, dump a quart of milk and a chopped banana, and go to town. My mom took her Sugar Crisp straight. My brother: a Honeycomb man. And I... well, I was ride or die for Toucan Sam.

I loved Fruit Loops. I'd let them sit in my bowl just long enough to soften and not slice open the roof of your mouth but not so long to lose all texture in a mushy glop. The sugar shards would slide off the loops into your milk, dissolving slowly and giving it a glistening skin. And while each spoonful of loops was a delight, we all know it was the milk we were after. You'd hold the bowl to your lips and tip it back, guzzling the sweet, sweet ambrosia. I felt powerful and strong. (I assume that the children who could down all their milk in one long pull were the same kids who would later excel at things like keg stands and tequila shots.) You could go all morning off the energy from just a couple of spoonfuls of leftover Fruit Loop milk. In fact, scientists should probably start thinking about it as a fuel alternative.

I dabbled in other cereals occasionally -- Apple Jacks, Cinnamon Toast Crunch, Peanut Butter Captain Crunch, of course -- but there was no real commitment there. When I went away to college, a good 3/4 of my meal allowance was Fruit Loops. Breakfast, lunch, dinner... it did not matter. Avoiding the judge-y gaze of the cafeteria ladies, my suite mates and I would fill Ziploc baggies full of them to smuggle out to class. Should we ever have lost our way from a drunken frat party, chances are we could've found a trail of red, yellow, and orange loops to guide us home again.

I don't know the exact time I stopped eating Fruit Loops. One day, I did, and the next day, I didn't. Like so many of our important choices in life, the whys and hows go unnoticed, unknown. But whatever day it was is the day I guess I grew up.

"Once you're grown up, you can never come back." -- Peter Pan

A few years ago, while working at camp, we changed food distributors. Lo and behold, a mountain of single serving, sugar soaked wonder rained down upon our kids. Being the boring grown-up that I was, I'd grab my Total Raisin Bran, or if I was feeling especially spry -- some Honey Nut Cheerios, to settle in for breakfast. And then one day, I saw a bowl of Fruit Loops, sitting on the cereal bar, lonely and left behind. Suddenly every neuron in my brain was firing with latent childhood thrills.

I pulled back its single-serving lid to gaze upon its wonder.  And what did I find? Purple. Blue. Green.


No matter. I poured my soy milk and began to wait in the anticipation of joy that only reclamation of youth can bring.

I grabbed my spoon. I dug in. I lifted the first spoonful to my mouth and tasted -- and I tasted -- and I tasted... what was this? This sameness?! Where were the vibrant tastes of my  innocence? This cloying sweetness coating my lips, making me feel like I'd just rubbed a powdered sugar-Vaseline compound across my teeth? I couldn't even finish the bowl. It was too painful.

I had tasted despair.

And it tasted exactly like adulthood,

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