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6a12888bb450cb0e1caa447145add377“You grew up where?” he asked me, incredulity in his tone, head cocked to the side.

“Philadelphia,” I repeated, for the apparently hard of hearing barber, whose nametag proclaimed him BoCeephus.

“My cousin Dewey was born and raised in Philly,” BoCeephus said as he brushed off the tattered apron and placed it around my neck. “Went to school somewhere in North Philly. Don’t know the name. Had a good ball team. Not that he was on it or anything. Dewey had a trick knee. Never was good at sports.”

I knew his type, the kind who had connections everywhere and nowhere at the same time, the kind who had to make small talk even when waiting for the subway.  Yeah, I had known guys like that my whole life, whether they were Main Line or ghetto, old city or downtown. They were only different insomuch as they didn’t look the same. But once they opened their mouths all that came out was the name dropping because that’s all they knew.

“I think Dewey went to Fox Chase, or somewhere like that,” BoCeephus continued, and I’m sure he said something in between but I had totally tuned him out. It was easy to tune people like him out.

“I knew people from Fox Chase,” I responded, because I knew he would go on until I said something, and I wanted a good cut. Most guys I know will do basically anything for a good cut, and everyone told me this was the place to go. So I told him I knew people from Fox Chase, because who would know different?

He tightened the apron strings around my neck with surprisingly nimble fingers for a wizened man who had obviously seen more than a little in his time on earth. The barber shop was surprisingly empty, given the word of mouth that had brought me to the place, but the ambiance was bar none. The smell of aftershave in the air, the stray hairs on the tiled floor, all hearkened back to childhood Friday afternoons spent waiting for the perfect cut, a fade with two parts. My momma always said I had to have those two parts.

“Yah, the more I think about it the more I think Dewey went to Fox Chase,” said BoCeephus, a bit louder because he had turned on the clippers and they buzzed like angry bees. “Yes sir, that Dewey was a cut up too. Been dead since ninety-eight, though. Damn X mess everybody up. But yes sir, he was from Philly too. Been a long time since I thought of him.”

“Many people from Philly,” I replied, because I felt like he expected it of me, the clippers moving across my scalp all tingly, bringing back more memories.

“Got that right,” said BoCeephus, laughing, a deep-throated laugh that seemed to come up from the ground, gravel deep down. “But don’t get many folks from Philly here in Columbus. More likely Pittsburgh. Yah, this a big destination for folks trying to get out of Pittsburgh, but not so much Philly. No sir. What brings you out this way?”

“Work,” I said. “A man’s gotta work.”

“You can say that again,” responded BoCeephus. “You want a high fade or a low fade?”

“Take it high,” I told him, because that’s the way I used to always get it, and I was feeling nostalgic, with the place, and the man, and the aftershave. Even the conversation. If I closed my eyes I could imagine I was back on 45th and Walnut, back in my own hood.

“Oh, and two parts,” I added quickly at the end, surprising even myself. I hadn’t worn two parts since I was ten, since my mother died, since I stopped caring. But something deep in my subconscious must have spoken for me, and I didn’t correct it once it was out in the open air.

“Two parts it is,” BoCeephus said. And I knew he would do it right.

Sam

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“Do You Beverage?”

beertaps“Do you beverage?” she asked me, and I said yes because I wanted her to think I was cool.

Six beers later I was tipsy, a bit off my game, so I admitted to her the only reason I said yes, and she didn’t laugh as I thought she might. Instead she took my keys and left me there.

It was cheap beer too. If you’re going to strike out with a girl, shouldn’t it at least be because of the good stuff? It didn’t really matter though. I was stuck at a club with no keys, a cheap beer buzz, and not much game. Just another Friday night.

I sat two stools down from the end of the bar, those kind of vinyl stools that look a bit like linoleum if you don’t look too closely. The club was called, appropriately enough, Vinyl, but the name was for the authentic DJ booth in the far corner, not for the hideous stools. It of course didn’t really matter. Before too long the club would go the way of the dinosaurs, like most clubs in Manhattan did.

Luckily I lived two blocks away, in a tiny walk-up squeezed between an all night pharmacy and a pawn shop that specialized in “The Best Prices For Your Gold!” So the issue of having no keys wasn’t really an issue when it came to driving. Unfortunately for me, getting into my apartment would be a bit of a problem, but one that I would gladly deal with in a few hours.

“I’ll have another,” I told Ray, the tattooed guy behind the bar, who seemed not to hear me, but only moments later a cold mug of Pabst Blue Ribbon slid into my hand.

I slapped a $10 on the bar and scanned the dance floor for another girl, any girl, or at least one who wouldn’t take my keys and leave me homeless. There were exactly two valid candidates who were ironically grinding on some douchy looking guys in the center of the parquet floor. I looked away. Maybe later they would pry themselves free from the attached appendages of those losers.

In the DJ booth an Asian guy in a backwards cap spun records like a pro, sliding effortlessly from old school to new school to everything in between, and I was impressed. Of course in a couple of months he would go the way of most DJ’s in New York — to the clubs in Jersey. It was a revolving door, and I’d seen way too many come and go just at the clubs uptown. I couldn’t even imagine how many moved through the seedier establishments in Brooklyn in the same amount of time.

Two more beers disappeared down my throat, warming my belly and fuzzing my brain even further. Odds were that Kelly was waiting for me back at my place. I think I told her where I lived anyway. She had seemed up for anything when she’d first posed the question, and maybe I was wasting my time hanging around a curiously retro club when I might have been looking at a sure thing if I just walked the couple of blocks.

Or, on the other hand, she could have been robbing me blind at that exact moment. She and a couple of burly friends of hers could be carting off my 52 inch TV right then, along with my collection of signed Yankees baseballs, and my shower curtain. Why my shower curtain? Why not? I had seen robbers take some crazy stuff before, and I wouldn’t put it past them to leave me vulnerable in that way as well.

I had just talked myself into heading back home to either get laid or to file a police report when a warm body slid onto the stool beside me, all perfumed and sweaty. The sickly sweet smells clashed in a comfortable way as I turned to take in the new scenery, a world of possibility that I hadn’t known existed even a moment before, but one that I was ready to take full advantage of… in the moment.

“Do you beverage?” I asked her.

Sam

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sound_waves_by_zerosilverfang-d469d3aThese walls are so thin I can hear the ocean from here, its tide crashing against the shore, storing up energy for the return trip out to sea. I sit here in a padded metal chair, but the padding is just for show, all cracked but otherwise nondescript. It is the only feature in a featureless room in the exact middle of a three-story building that I’ve never visited before, yet it feels familiar.

I can hear the others screaming from so far away, or from the next room, whichever makes more sense. They are always raising their voices as if the heavens could hear and judge them from so far away, as if their very lives depended on the ability to stretch their lungs to contain God in a breath. I do not join them, although I know I am always welcome, and indeed I used to be the loudest one, but I have changed. It was subtle at first but it has taken root and blossomed in my soul.

My headphones are on the other side of my self-imposed prison cell, lying haphazardly in the corner as if I left them there as punishment. Which I suppose is a sort of truth in and of itself. I was listening to Peter Gabriel earlier, but I kept missing the sounds of the ocean, and the sounds of the others, and the sound of my own heartbeat thrumming in my chest, reminding me that I am alive. I had to keep checking to make sure I wasn’t a zombie, so I tossed them where they now lay.

But I’m driving myself crazy with the wondering, with the constant fear that at some point in the near future this will all go away, that no sound will survive the apocalyptic season that I know will come. I wonder if anyone even knows I’m here, listening, creating stories for the sounds I hear, wanting to be immersed in them but remaining on the fringes of a world I can only surmise. It’s been so long since I joined in that I’ve become a specter, a shadow on the wall of experience.

I can hear the whispers in my head, all the voices I can’t stop creating, or letting come through me. They swirl around in the dust bowl that is my scattered mind, reminding me that I’m not alone even when I so desperately want to be. These quiet aphorisms drift in my mind, calling out to me in the supposed calm, taunting me as only they can. As only I can. And as much as I want to be rid of them, they comfort me too, because they provide evidence that I’m alive as surely as my heartbeat does.

These walls keep me in, but they don’t keep sound out, so I pound on them, a beat so steady it begins to blend in with the other noises that crowd out my periphery. I open my mouth and scream into the confined space, but I know they hear me on the outside, just as I hear them, even though they don’t respond. And I guess that will have to be enough. I lean back in my uncomfortable chair and scream into the dissonance, adding my voice to theirs, adding one more brick in the wall of sound around me.

And I long for Peter Gabriel to drown it all out, as he did once before, as he will once again. If I let him. I glance across the room at my headphones. Where they sit waiting for me. In silence.

Sam

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flashfictioncartoon-300x300Back in 1998 I was writing… a lot. And most of what I wrote back then was short fiction. It was a renaissance of sorts because I hadn’t really planned on it. In fact, for the past year before that I was writing a lot of poetry snippets. Not real poems, mind you, just bits and pieces, lines here and there that came to me. Suddenly, though, those lines transformed into snatches of conversation. Those words became characters who spoke to me, forcing me to set them in motion and see what happened.

Before this challenge I could probably count on two hands the number of short stories I’d written over the past year. That was probably because of many factors, not the least of which was the maintenance of my blogs. I guess I forgot that writing short fiction could be a part of anything else I decided to write. But I’m proud to say that if this is my second renaissance it is a fruitful one. I’ve fallen in love once more with short fiction during this challenge.

Only three more stories to go. Here are the rules of the Flash Fiction Challenge…

  1. Each entry has to follow a set prompt
  2. Each entry has to be 1,000 words or fewer
  3. Each entry has to be written specifically for this challenge

“Something old, something new, something borrowed,” Thalia said, counting on her fingers and feigning confusion.

“…and something pink,” laughed Celie, fluffing her hair in front of the gilt-edged mirror.

“It’s something blue, silly,” Thalia corrected before giggling. She couldn’t help herself.

“What. Ever,” said Celie, fingering the chiffon fringe of the ivory gown on the rack in front of her.

“Although pink would certainly be more interesting in a wedding,” added Thalia, grinning. “Imagine pink bow ties on the groomsmen, pink shoes on the ring bearer, pink highlights in the groom’s hair.”

“If the groom has pink highlights, I’m going to say that couple is not staying together,” Celie said, letting the gown slip through her fingers and moving on to the next one.

There were miles of gowns at the Wedding Wearhouse, rack after rack of white, off white, off off white, and other pale shades of dresses. On first glance they appeared ghost-like in the massive space of the Wearhouse, as if twenty thousand headless brides awaited their grooms in shameless expectation, pressed together like cattle at milking time.

Celie was bored, and she wasn’t even a bridesmaid. She wasn’t the maid of honor either, even though she was Thalia’s best friend, and had held the title since grade school. But it didn’t phase her because 1) Thalia wasn’t even getting married, and 2) she didn’t believe in weddings. They were only at the Wearhouse because her friend wanted to jumpstart the proposal she was certain was just around the corner.

But Celie knew that Brett was never going to propose, at least not anytime soon. He was the kind of guy who talked a good game but never got off his ass long enough to do anything he said he would. In fact, if looks could be believed, he had gone backward instead of forward when it came to commitment. More often than not he did things without even telling Thalia, and she let him. Celie knew if that was her she would have dumped him ages ago, but Thalia was a bit of a pushover.

And a bit of a romantic, the hopeless variety.

“A guy can be into pink and not be gay,” said Thalia, holding up a strapless gown against her size zero figure with her eyebrows raised.

“Uh, yeah, and my father watches Barney every night before bed,” huffed Celie, flopping onto a nearby chair as if exhausted.

“There are worse things to watch than a big purple dinosaur,” Thalia said, tossing the gown into her shopping cart full of things to try on.

“Like your weight, so you can fit into that dress,” said Celie, smiling.

“Well, probably not this dress,” Thalia replied, eyeing the others in the cart.

“You’re worse than those bridezillas on ‘Say Yes to the Dress,'” laughed Celie, rolling her eyes.

“I just want things to be perfect,” said Thalia, sighing. The sound was more pitiful than anything else to Celie’s ears.

“And you’re absolutely certain Brett is going to propose?” Celie asked tentatively.

“I’m a million percent certain Brett is going to propose, silly,” Thalia said, her tone final.

“Well then, I would go with strapless,” said Celie. “You’ve definitely got the shoulders for it. It could be your something new.”

“Your something new can’t be the dress!” gasped Thalia.

“I don’t see why not,” Celie argued. “It’s new, isn’t it?”

“No, no,” maintained Thalia. “Your dress is above all of that stuff. It can’t be used for anything other than the most special thing on the most special day.”

“I thought the most special thing was getting married,” said Celie, laughing.

“Grrrrr, you get me so agitated,” Thalia said, but she was laughing too.

While Celie knew that Brett wasn’t ever going to strap on a pair and make an honest woman out of Thalia, she also knew the fiction was the only thing keeping her friend from being depressed. It was a fragile string to pull, so Celie knew she had to avoid pulling it at all costs. She had already voiced her concerns, but short of yelling them at Thalia there was really nothing else she could do but be supportive.

“You can get a new bra for the day,” Celie said with a straight face. “It can be one of those strapless ones that makes your boobs look like they’re floating. Like Princess Jasmine’s from Aladdin.”

“Like Princess Jasmine’s magical floating boobs from the kids’ movie Aladdin?” repeated Thalia, dissolving in giggles. “I’m sure that’s exactly how the director intended it. I’m sure he spent a lot of time wondering how her cartoon boobs were going to be supported.”

“Hey, it was before Pixar,” Celie argued. “They had to do something to keep the movie interesting.”

“You’re crazy, C,” said Thalia. “I hope you know that.”

“Seriously, though,” said Celie, her smile muted a tad bit. “It doesn’t even matter what you get, what’s going to be your something new, because when you find the right guy, and he’s standing there in front of you, you’ll feel new yourself.”

“Wow, I never thought I’d hear something so romantic out of your mouth,” Thalia gushed, leaning down to hug her friend. “You sure you don’t want to be my maid of honor?”

“You’re going to make me regret my caring side,” laughed Celie, blushing. “I’ll think about it. You gotta get engaged first though, then some back and ask me again.”

“You’d better believe it,” said Thalia. “You know, you’d look great in taffeta.”

“Yeah, I’m out of here,” Celie said, rising from the chair.

“And we’re back to the way things are supposed to be,” Thalia laughed, pushing her cart in the direction of the fitting rooms, Celie trailing a few steps behind.

And for the first time ever, she hoped she was wrong. Because if Brett broke Thalia’s heart she knew it would break hers too.

Sam

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pacific-coast-highway-sleiman-moussa2Pac’s “California Love” blasting from its subwoofers, the SUV roars down the Pacific Coast Highway, doing eighty in a sixty-five, its windows vibrating from both the acceleration and the sheer wall of sound. Andrea sits in the back seat on the passenger side, lost in her own world, caught between the wreckage of her relationship and the promise of a brighter future her friends keep trying to convince her is just over the horizon.

They are on their way to Pasadena for Spring Break, the four of them, but it doesn’t promise to be a paradise. In fact, Andrea is quite sure it’s going to be the worst week of her life, because her ex, Jeffrey Montague, is sitting in the seat directly in front of her. They had made the plans before the breakup, and a lot of money was tied up in it. Phrases like “being adults about it,” and “moving on in a healthy way,” have personally strapped her into that seat, and now she’s stuck there.

“Out on bail, fresh out of jail, California dreaming…” raps Carl from the driver’s seat, at the top of his lungs, and totally off beat.

“It’s funny how you think you’re all roughneck,” says Amy, kicking the seat in front of her. “When we all know you’re a Valley boy with a bank account and a Lexxus. You probably don’t even know where the jail is.”

“It’s in Culver City, and I’m as roughneck as they come,” Carl replies, throwing up a peace sign and stepping on the gas. The car jumps to eighty-five.

“If you think roughneck is knowing all the lyrics to 2Pac’s sorry catalog, then I feel bad for you,” Amy says, laughing.

“Shake it, shake it mama. Shake it Cali,” Jeff chimes in, gyrating his hips obscenely to the infectious beat.

In that moment Andrea knows she hates him, that every single ounce of love she used to feel has oozed out of her pores like so much sweat. It’s not just the song lyrics either, or even the hip tango. It’s the attitude that was hidden for so long but that has emerged big time over the past couple of months, making it impossible for her to remember his sensitive side. She closes her eyes and tries to block out both the noise and the memories.

It’s only an hour into the four hour trip, and she’s already regretting her decision to travel with the gang. After all, Amy and Carl were Jeff’s friends first. They have no loyalty to her, and everyone knows it, but they both begged her to come along. She now knows it’s because they didn’t want Jeff to end up being a third wheel, and she allowed them to wheedle her into adding her fourth wheel to the equation. It helped their cause that the deposit was non-refundable.

“Where are we going anyway?” Andrea asks in the pause between songs, directing her question at Carl’s back.

“Pasadena or bust, baby,” he says, which means absolutely nothing.

“The Flats,” Amy adds, and I’m grateful to her. “It’s a little hike, but the view is incredible from the top. It’s like a gigantic table up there. Perfect camping area.”

Andrea hates camping. It was always something she did because of Jeff, and this trip was never going to be a joy for her, but even the trip there has become a microcosm of their entire relationship. His friends always dominated his world, the sidekicks to his alpha male personality, and they always took center stage. Sometimes Andrea had wondered if a girlfriend was even what he wanted, if his friends weren’t just enough for him. Which would have been fine if she had never existed in his world, if he had never asked her out and made her feel like he wanted her more, at least initially.

“Me and the homies smoking roaches, cause we broke…” yells Jeff as they speed across one of the million bridges that populate the southern California landscape.

They are two of the whitest boys she knows. She remembers meeting Carl first, back in sophomore year, Marketing 102, and people were calling him “Ghost.” Andrea found it hilarious when she discovered all he listened to was gangster rap, and mostly 2Pac. It intrigued her enough that she had to find out more, so they became friends, he introduced her to Jeff along the way, and the rest is history. Oddly enough, she doesn’t blame Carl for the intro, or for what eventually happened with Jeff. She blames herself for everything.

She puts on her headphones, some Beats knockoffs, fishes out her phone, and tunes in her Sarah McLachlan Spotify playlist, tired of all the 2Pac that is still shaking the car. Cranking up her own volume, Andrea can still hear the urban poet in the background, but he merely provides a remix flavor to one of her favorite artists, someone she hasn’t listened to nearly enough lately. Closing her eyes, she sinks into “Building a Mystery” like an exhausted woman into a hot bath.

“You live in a church where you sleep with voodoo dolls. And you won’t give up the search for the ghosts in the halls…” croons the chanteuse over the background of 2Pac’s “If I Die Tonite.” It is strange and yet appropriate at the same time because it succinctly symbolizes why her relationship died. They were too different, and there is some truth to opposites not attracting. Or better yet, they attract for a time, and then they repel, like magnets sliding over and around each other.

In that moment, when the sonic dissonance threatens to overwhelm her with its extreme relevance, it also squeezes her in its arms like a long lost lover. They are heading to Pasadena, to a place flat as a pancake, to a future that no longer fits her, but she doesn’t have to deal with it, not anymore.

“Stop the car,” she tells Carl. “I’m going home.”

Sam

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keep-out-restricted-area-sign-s-2451

The sign outside of Felix’s bedroom door said, “Keep Out,” and he meant it. His mother found out the hard way when she walked in without knocking the other night and found him smoking out the window. She believes smoking is of the devil, so she had a righteous fit, and he turned fifteen different shades of red. The next morning he bought a deadbolt for the inside of his door, and she stood outside his room banging on it with her ineffective fists for close to twenty minutes. To no avail.

She had him when she was fourteen, a child having a child, and she had planned to give him up because the father wasn’t going to step up, even though he was seventeen and supposedly an adult. They weren’t going steady or anything, just two drunken idiots who went too far without a condom. Lesson learned. Felix was her only child, but he was more than enough for a teenager to handle. He was more than enough for anyone to handle. Her mother was no help, condemning her and throwing her and her son out of the house when he was four years old.

Felix always loved rap music, and she never knew where he got the obsession from. She and the sperm donor were both as white as chalk, and they lived nowhere near the “hood.” She eventually realized that geography didn’t matter, that if he had somehow heard some of it even on the radio and liked it that was it. Most of it was offensive in several different ways, but she tried to tune it out when Felix played it at high volume in his bedroom. She tried not to kick the door down and throw the stereo out of the same window out of which she had caught him smoking. She had to practice her meditations again.

Other than the smoking, and the dreadful music, and the huge lock on his door, Felix had always been a good child. Not perfect, because no one’s perfect, but good. It was the most she could have hoped for, especially since he grew up for the most part while she was in her 20s. She desperately wanted for him not to be a stereotype, not to fall through the cracks of the same system that had abandoned her when she had been abandoned by her own mother. And when he turned fourteen she gave him the “talk,” hopeful that he wouldn’t continue the cycle of men who fathered children but who felt their commitment ended there.

“I don’t smoke all the time,” he told her when they spoke.

“Smoking kills,” she told him in response.

“It can, but I know a lot of people who are just fine,” he said. “Besides, we’re all gonna die someday anyway.”

“But you don’t want to make it come faster if you can help it,” she said.

He had given her the look, a combination of pity and disdain, what she remembered as the same look she gave her mother when the older woman had given her the talk about sex. That talk was two weeks before she’d gotten pregnant, so she knew Felix was only humoring her by even responding when she told him that smoking kills.

She sighed and looked at herself in the mirror. When had she gotten old? It seemed like just yesterday when she had been his age, when she had given the looks instead of received them, when life had been spread out before her like an open book. When had the book closed? There were crow’s feet in the corners of her eyes, but she was barely 30 years old, so they were testament not to age, but to the sort of hard life that being a single parent entailed. She had grown up quickly without a manual or a blueprint, and she worried more than most other girls her age.

The stairs led her down into the basement where she had stored some items. The apartment had come with the storage space, but the drawback was that there was no way to lock it up, so she worried often that someone would take her treasures. But there had been no recourse since the apartment itself was infinitesimally small, and she was lucky she could afford it on her waitress’s salary. In her storage nook she had the cheap dollar store photo albums that she insisted on having even though all of her pictures were on her phone. Every month she went to Walgreen’s and forked over a few bucks to print the photos out so she could add to those very albums.

Most of the pictures were recent, most of them featuring Felix through his various stations in the growing up process. As she thumbed through the pages her eyes misted over because it was clear that her little boy was no longer little, that her little boy was becoming a man more by the day. It was no wonder he shut her out of his room and blasted the gangster rap that made her ears bleed. He was testing his boundaries, flexing his independence, being the young man that she had raised him to be, not the sheep her mother had always hoped she would be.

It was difficult for her to separate the two — the wild child that she had been, and the good, but not perfect son that she had raised. As she looked through the pictures the tears began to come because she saw the same patterns in expressions on his face that she could clearly see on her own from when she was his age. She wondered if despite her best intentions he would turn out just as she had, but in reverse. Would she get a call one day from some hysterical mother of a girl her son had impregnated? She shut the photo album abruptly and prayed to god it wouldn’t come to that.

Sam

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Chocolate-CityI’m starting to get used to writing short fiction again, and I’m reminded of why I’ve always loved it so much in the first place. Short fiction is a chance to get down and dirty with characters, with plots, and with the development of both, without getting too attached because I know they’re going to be gone soon. If I want to kill them off I can without too much thought of consequence, unlike what goes on when I write novels.

However, there are limitations to short fiction that are obvious as well. Because I don’t get to know my characters quite as much I’m not as invested in them. These days my short stories only last as long as the situation that I’ve set up lasts, not until the characters die or a resolution is achieved.

Once I wrote a short fictive piece about a man at a New Year’s Eve party who suddenly realizes that public holidays and functions are merely constructs, and he’s struck by how meaningless most of life becomes when you look at it that way. The entire story takes place inside of his head, and exists only in the battle between what he’s known and what he’s finally figured out.

I like that short story because it proves a story can live through its use of metaphor and inner conflict. I decided I want to do something like that again with this one. I’ll remind you of the rules regarding the Flash Fiction Challenge…

  1. Each entry has to follow a set prompt
  2. Each entry has to be 1,000 words or fewer
  3. Each entry has to be written specifically for this challenge

Topic: Chocolate.


It’s been ten years since I took a bite of chocolate, since I let it magnificently melt in my mouth and slide sinfully down my throat for the final time, so I can look back at it with an objective eye. I can be around a Snickers bar now and not salivate obsessively over it, and not beg its owner for just a little bite, and not offer my body in exchange for a hit of the good stuff.

If there was a 12-step group for chocolate lovers I would probably have been its first member, dutifully standing up in front of my cacao loving peers and proclaiming that I have a problem. That’s what we call it these days when an obsession interferes with our normal lives, driving us from the ranks of those who love something to those who are in love with something. It’s no different from any other addiction, not from nicotine, or alcohol, or sex. Chocolate, to me, was all those things rolled into one.

So I had to quit. Cold turkey.

I knew that slowly weaning myself off the good stuff was never going to work for me. It’s a slippery slope when it comes to addiction because it’s easy to say all the right things, and even to believe them, but when it comes to putting them into practice the addiction simply calls out. And we answer. I had tried for years to quit, had told myself I was going to cut back. But cutting back was difficult when it was in the house. Living by myself was the real killer because there was no one there to keep me to my promise. If the chocolate was in my apartment I was going to devour it. I was going to keep going back to the beast and sucking the marrow off of its bones.

So I did quit, and I did it on a Sunday in August, when the temperature was eighty-five, just hot enough for M&Ms to melt in my hand, tattooing me with sweet circles of chocolatey goodness that I always licked clean after. But on that day I didn’t have M&Ms. All I had was my willpower, which had never been enough before, but I knew something had to change. I had read all of the documentation. I had seen all the articles. Chocolate was a cruel task master that had turned me into its slave. It was time I broke free of the shackles that had claimed me so long ago.

But my friends weren’t supportive. They looked at me like I was a little slow on the uptake. They were of the opinion that chocolate can’t be evil because chocolate is so heavenly. It’s obvious they were never tempted to over-indulge. Some people don’t have addictive personalities, so they could never understand mine, and my friends were this way. Eventually they learned to refrain from eating chocolate around me, from indulging in their chocolate drinks, and from discussing the glory of the chocolate infused lifestyles they chose to live.

I began to get the chocolate sweats, the nervous shaking of my hands and arms that indicated that I was going cold turkey. I had counted on the nerves, but not the extent to which they disturbed my life. I had to call out sick from the office, and I imagined my cubicle cold and sterile, waiting for me to return and claim it from oblivion. But I also thought of the chocolate I had stored in my bottom drawer for emergencies. I had missed it on my sweep through, when I first decided to just eliminate chocolate from my diet, to crush its hold over me.

The drawer was my final temptation, the final hurdle I would have to leap before I could legitimately lay claim to being sober. My sister helped me bag up all the chocolate at my apartment, and I have to say she was appalled at the sheer volume that dominated such a small space. I had two giant bags of Snickers, a case of M&Ms, a chocolate cake I had just baked the night before, two huge tubs of mint chocolate chip ice cream in the freezer, and an 8-pack of Oreos in my kitchen. The rest of the apartment was no slouch in that department either. In the end she helped me lug seven trash bags worth of chocolate to the local food kitchen. Even they were surprised that it all came from one solitary individual.

That was ten years ago, though, and even though it was quite the process that counts as ancient history now. Sometimes I eat out with friends, and they order something with chocolate in it, but I’m not moved to tears anymore. I’m not hanging on the edge of my seat drooling all over them. I no longer get the chocolate sweats, and I taped off my bottom drawer at work ages ago so even it doesn’t draw me in like it did. I still go to the 12-step meetings in my mind, introducing myself about once a month to the addicts still living in my brain.

I’m happy to admit that chocolate is no longer the anchor weighing me down. I no longer feel so much pain from the forced separation. Just like other addicts, though, I’ll never truly be over the addiction. I just need to stay vigilant, to keep my life goals in mind, and none of them include eating a pound of chocolate a day and hating myself for it afterwards. But damn, it sure would be nice to have a 3 Musketeers bar. Or twenty.

Sam

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