Listen to the essays read by Zac and Cass.
How Coca-Cola brews their famous blend of brown fizz, and where they grow their impeccable citric acid is something everyone must fantasize about from time to time. The way the carbonated water brings out the nuttiness of the caramel colour, and those deep notes of aspartame followed by the subtle hint of phosphoric acid – It is perfection.
My family liked to drink Coke.
Every other day of the week, we drank 1% milk and filtered water, but on Fridays, we were rewarded with a can of Coke from the dented garage fridge. Mom made pizza dough in the bread machine, then called us into the kitchen to help do toppings. She threw everything she could on her pizza, pepperoni, green pepper, onion, mushroom, tomato, and pineapple.
“When I was a teenager,” she’d start. “Your Uncle Peter would make pizza late at night, after everyone had gone to bed, and he’d put hotdogs on it.” She always made a cocktail with the leftover pineapple juice in the can before switching to Dad’s homemade merlot.
My brothers and I topped our pizzas with pepperoni and cheese then covered each pizza with zig-zag of creamy ranch. We didn’t ask for Orange Crush or Grape Soda and I didn’t even know what Cream Soda was.
When the stomach flu went around once a winter, me and my brothers took turns staying home, puking into plastic ice cream pails, and eating sleeves of soda crackers. I cried every time I threw up and insisted Mom hold my hair, not because I was worried about chunky puke hair, but because I was certain I’d die if she wasn’t there gagging overtop of my head.
“The bubbles will calm your stomach,” she’d say, pouring me a can of Sprite in the living room.
I’m pretty sure it’s actually the ginger in Ginger Ale that’s supposed to calm a queasy stomach, but back then, the bubbles theory was very believable. Twenty years later and Sprite still tastes like vomit and soda crackers and that’s a small lesson on psychogenic vomiting.
One summer, there were these ice tea commercials that aired on the music video channel where people fell backwards into a pool after taking a sip. Instead of buying us a box of Brisk, Mom bought a canister of the powdered stuff and Chris, my eldest brother, stood in the kitchen stirring ice tea all summer long. Clink, clink, clink.
“When I was a teenager,” Mom would start again, “We were hauling pigs to the market with your Uncle Michael and me and Auntie Mary Ida ate a whole bag of Doritos and root beer then threw it all up.”
She can’t drink root beer anymore and neither can I, and I keep giving you lessons on psychogenic vomiting without actually meaning to.
We drank Coke on Fridays, we drank Coke at the movie theatre, and we drank Coke around Grandma’s table late at night, with oatmeal cookies and Rosebuds. Coke came camping with us to Clear Lake and was in every Coleman cooler at every cookout. We poured Coke into popsicle molds and it shot out of our noses when we laughed too hard. We spilled Coke inside the consoles of ever van we ever had, leaving them brown, sticky and full of pennies.
Several years ago, I switched to Diet Coke when I learned sugar was making me fat and depressed. I don’t do too well with caffeine either, so most of the time I prefer a Coke Zero. Yes, these days, I’m very particular about what I put into my body. I don’t buy bread, cereal, or anything from Kraft. In my house, you won’t find a pantry filled with potato chips or a cupboard lined with boxes of pasta.
I understand that might sound sad to some people, but what matters is that I’m not sad anymore.
And even though I’m one of those annoying people who says “Berries are nature’s candy,” and “Sugar is more addictive than cocaine,” I can’t help but enjoy the taste of aspartame and phosphoric acid alongside a slice of pizza.
It doesn’t make sense to you or me how this chemical concoction called Diet Coke fits into this new healthy life of mine, but it probably has something to do with psychogenic vomiting. Or whatever the opposite of that is.
Whatever the Coca-Cola commercials said back in 2001, Life tastes good.
Typically, ten-year-old boys are fascinated with transformers or athletes or picking scabs. Those are basically their main sources of excitement. But my childhood was overtaken by Terry Fox and his weird leg.
Every September, a frumpy teacher would struggle to wheel a tube television into the classroom then press play on scratchy documentary about the Marathon of Hope and the hero responsible for it.
I was never friends with any of my teachers. I’m baffled to hear people have kept in touch with their teachers from high school, or even further beyond the scope of reality, any grades previous. Maybe I was just a consciously invisible student, but hey Debbie ease up on the chit chat. Just give me back the boreal forest diorama my mom made for me and let me get out of here. See you never.
Leaning forward in my lightly-vandalized public school desk, I got a sense that the children around me weren’t quiet as captivated by Terry as I was. Probably too busy making friends with their teachers. Monsters.
The story was just too much for me to calmly process and carry on with my young life like everyone else seemed to be doing around me. Instead I gnawed my finger nails thinking of how powerful this man’s existence was. I’d put myself in his blue Adidas, and have nightmares of getting cancer and dying young with news cameras surrounding me then limp into my parent’s room and beg them to tell me I was okay. They always did.
And every time the Terry Fox run would come around. I’d wattle my little body around the field with the rest of the kids, gasping for air, holding back tears I couldn’t explain. I had admired other humans before – like my grandpa, or Hulk Hogan, or Pamela Anderson – but nobody shared this strange and profound hold on my emotions like Terry Fox did.
He died when he was 22, after running 5,373 kilometres through Newfoundland, the Maritimes, Quebec and Ontario. The Maritimes, ironically enough, is the fish filet of Canada. Nobody cares about it except the people who care about it.
Now that I’m out of school and have developed into a real-life big boy, I feel an annual aftershock of my childhood obsession with him. I hear the drag and clack of his shoes hitting the highway. I see him hop and skip. One leg, a lamp post of flesh and muscle, the other, a mechanized cane attached to his body by belt buckles and nude leather. I feel the difference he’s made.
It’s here forever.