“Phenylketonurics-Contains Phenylalanine”: My Love Story with Diet Coke

Today is Fat Tuesday, which means tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, which means Lent is starting, which means it is time to do the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

After eleven years of peaceful togetherness, Diet Coke and I are breaking up.

It’s been a long time coming. We were too young when we got together. I was just a kid, strapped into both braces and puberty with fierce reluctance and dealing with the burden of a new bully (HIPS). I needed help, and Diet Coke was there. We were just friends at first, but then we got serious in 8th grade. My parents approved, thinking it was better than guzzling the crates of sugar in the regular brands, and for a while I think my friends were envious; after all, I was starting a relationship they wouldn’t understand for years. Diet Coke was my cool, mature college boyfriend, and I was the teenage girl it found cute enough to take to the dance.

(Of course this is ridiculous.)

Diet Coke and I at the International Coke Museum in Atlanta, Summer of 2008. I guess you could say these were our salad days...

We got along great for years. I had Diet Coke for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and I savored it during my breaks at work. It was cold, sweet, tart, and refreshing. Drinking it made me feel like the girls in those soda commercials, the ones who are always randomly standing in front of a fan and laughing with forever-white teeth (ironic since they can’t stop drinking Diet Coke all the time). It was great, and as I was also a super hard-core dieter, it was enabling all of my calorie-counting, pound-paranoid, waistline-worrying days.

(Of course this was unhealthy.)

One year I gave the stuff up for Lent. If I were in an interpretive art class, I would describe this 40 day period with a montage of film clips. I’d interweave the first ten minutes of Saving Private Ryan with weird images from Requiem for a Dream and that crazy scene in LOST when the characters kept passing out because the island/world wouldn’t stop moving through time. That’s how it felt. It was awful, but I got through it. I spent Easter Sunday with a box of Diet Coke and a 2-liter of Diet Dr. Pepper, and I think I may have gotten physically/violently ill by the time the day was over.

(Of course that was a poor choice.)

Last December, I went to the doctor for a routine checkup. It was a new doctor, and while she was very nice, she was not happy to hear about my caffeine intake. Here’s how it went.

Doctor: Do you drink caffeine?
Me: Well, I drink Diet Coke.
Doctor: How many?
Me: Ummm, just, you know, like five-ish a day.
Doctor: *blank stare*
Me: Four-ish?
Doctor: Well, I don’t allow those drinks at my house. My kids never drink soda.
Me: THEN I AM GLAD I DON’T LIVE IN YOUR STUPID HOUSE!

Okay, the last part didn’t happen, but the woman did make an impression on me. I left the office with a resolution to do better about my soda consumption. I made it my New Year’s Resolution to cut back to three a day, but no one was really impressed with this. My coworkers and friends acted like that this was still too much, so I decided I had to do something else.

My friend suggested going cold turkey, but I resisted. I’ve tried that before. I can do it for a day or two, but then I end up getting a quick taste of Diet Coke, and then I wake up in a stupor with twelve cans around me and the delirious feeling Charlie Sheen must have had when he woke up to see that stripper sneaking out of the hotel bathroom.

(Of course Charlie Sheen is no laughing matter. He’s winning, after all.)

But I have come to realize that quitting is the only way to do it, so today—Fat Tuesday—marks my swan song to Diet Coke. I’m going to have a few today, and then I’ll close that chapter of my life. I’m going to drink water! I’m going to avoid caffeine! I’m going to stop using fizzy drinks as a dieting crutch!

Buffy's world trembled when she lost hold on reality. I suspect similar scenarios when I finally ditch Diet Coke.

(Of course this is false enthusiasm.)

It’s been a fun ride, Diet Coke. I’ll always remember the nights when we stayed up til two in the morning together, watching random reruns of The Nanny on TV Land just because I couldn’t fall asleep thanks to your shenanigans. I’ll remember that summer when I went on a quest to find an Ice-E made out of your delicious nectar (note: they don’t exist). I won’t forget that time I drank one of you, not realizing until it was too late that the half-full can had sitting out on the counter for two weeks.

I won’t forget the good times we’ve had, Diet Coke, but I also won’t forget that you are probably pickling my liver and giving me avian bones. It’ll be tough—in fact, I’ll probably be comatose like Buffy in that episode where she thought her entire world was a figment of her imagination.

(Of course that’s how the world will initially feel without Diet Coke—fake and synthetic, just like my beloved beverage.)

It’ll be hard, but it’s time I quit you, Diet Coke.

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Gunga Galunga -or- Failure on the Back 9

This is the story of how I came to fail at golf.

In the spirit of fairness–let’s keep in this athletic theme and call it good sportsmanship–I’ll confess that I am not an athletic person. As a kid, I was an uncoordinated nightmare. I ran into and tripped over everything: doorknobs, chairs, bedposts, book bags, and even the dog from time to time. I couldn’t dance (that’s another story). Couldn’t run. Couldn’t catch or throw a ball. My eye-hand coordination was excellent, but its application was limited to marathon games of Tetris and that weird little ball-bounce game you played on old computers. I tripped at jump rope, hated football, and swam in crooked lines.

My parents never pushed me into a sport. I played H.O.R.S.E. with the neighborhood kids and enjoyed sweat-bursting games of hide-and-go-seek tag. I wasn’t sedentary, but I was also that cool kid who argued that school plays and Accelerated Reader were my sports. I was a real package after you added in the headgear I got stuck with in 7th grade.

Image: HitFix

One day, inspired by some divine intervention that I will never understand, my dad decided that I should take up golf. My parents played on weekends, my sister was on the high school team, and my brother was dragging around a kid’s set with decent agility. Dad figured that I could handle it. After all, the balls didn’t come flying towards me, I wouldn’t immediately affect (read: hinder) another player’s performance, and it wasn’t high stress.

I considered the suggestion. Many of my friends played as part of a clinic on weekends; they were actually good and had their own clubs, and I’d always see them eating lunch together when I showed up to the club for an afternoon swim. I would join them from time to time, but I always felt left out of the loop since my swimsuit was showing through my oversized t-shirt while their collared shirts were still dewy with the morning’s exertion.

I gave in and said I’d give it a try. Dad clapped his hands and declared that lessons would start on Saturday.

The golf pro was nice. Like most in his trade, he was trim and nicely tanned, and from the looks of his gloves he’d held a lot of drivers. I shook his hand, and Dad waved goodbye as Nicely Tanned Pro led me down to the driving range.

“We’re gonna hit it as far as we can,” he said, pouring some balls onto the Astroturf and looking out at the pins on the distant green. “Just to see your form.”

“Form?” I thought. I laughed anxiously, but Nicely Tanned Pro just took a seat and asked me to hit the ball.

“Bend your knees.”

Okay.

“Line up your heels.”

Doable.

“Choke down on the ball.”

What?

“Now take a strong swing back, and we’ll see what you’ve got.”

I was hearing what he was saying, but I was also having scarlet-colored flashbacks to a viivd incident in my neighbor’s yard. I was five years old, and little Michael was playing with his dad’s driver. He took a swing, thinking I was out of the way, and the next thing I knew I was at the emergency room getting stitches in my head while Mom promised me a donut if I’d stop crying.

I decided it was best to get rid of those thoughts. I tried to think of myself as one of the awesome female golfers on TV, the ones with cute ponytails and ironed shorts who look so poised and confident as the ball sails overhead. The notion was calming, so I attempted to choke the club and kept my eye on the ball.

I took my swing, looking up into the sky with that dramatic sense of expectation, only to realize I’d skipped the ball off the tee to land about fifteen feet in front of me.

I reached out to get it, but Nicely Tanned Pro sprang to his feet. “No, no! Can’t walk in front of other players in the range.”

Most of the so-called “players” were talking amongst themselves and leaning on their clubs like Mr. Peanut, but I played along. If Nicely Tanned Pro wanted to pretend this was serious business, I’d be game. Unfortunately, it all went downhill from there. He took a decent stab at trying to show me how to hold the club, placing my hands on top of each other and telling me to hold it like a baseball bat (I nodded as if that made sense). He watched me hit five balls, but by then I was dripping in sweat from the sheer fact that I felt like everyone there was watching me.

After ten minutes, I realized Nicely Tanned Pro had stopped caring, pausing only to offer clichéd votes of confidence and reminders to line up my heels. I could have treated the clubs like Lincoln Logs and built a fort, using the driver sleeve as a flag in the wind, and I doubt he would have even noticed.

I finally met Dad at the pro shop, dragging Mom’s clubs behind me and stepping out of my sneakers.

“How’d it go?” he asked, bursting with fatherly pride.

“I’m not golfing anymore,” I said, shoving my feet back into sandals and scowling into the sun. “Can I have some chicken fingers and a Diet Coke?”

And Dad, realizing his defeat but hopefully congratulating himself for at least giving it a try, sighed and handed me a five.

A few months ago, Charles came home with two fancy bags of golf clubs.

“I thought this was something we could do together!” he chimed. I looked at them dubiously, remembering the Nicely Tanned Pro and the incident with the stitches. “Want to go to the driving range?”

I considered the offer.

“Can we get chicken fingers afterwards?”

“Sure.”

“I’ll give it a try, then.”

Beginning at the Beginning

There’s a great line on the first page of Dickens’ David Copperfield: “To begin my life with the beginning of my life, I record that I was born.” As I reflected on how to start this blog, I decided–like young Mr. Copperfield–it would be best to start with the day I was born.

Or at least to explain how I think it all went down.

I arrived with little ceremony on a Sunday in February, interrupting my mom’s efforts to get ready for church as her water broke while she was maneuvering into her dress. She decided to sit out of church that day and spent the afternoon playing Scrabble with my grandmother, but the trip to the hospital was deferred until things “picked up.”

Things, unfortunately, reached their breaking point right before tipoff for the evening’s game between the Boston Celtics and the LA Lakers. To offer a bit of background, my dad might be the most die-hard Celtics fan living outside New England. He’s been following the team religiously since the 80s, and I’m pretty sure he’s only missed the broadcasts of about ten games in his life. Consequently, my arrival time was far from ideal.

Things being what they are, Dad couldn’t get around taking Mom to the hospital, especially since it became clear (and oddly prophetic) that I wasn’t about to hang around until the game was over. A lifetime of impatience for sports began that night as I made my steady progress into this world with the din of Mike Gorman’s commentary in the background. Dad coached Mom through Lamaze and offered a helping hand, but he was also undoubtedly fretting about the odds of getting a halftime report before I made my big arrival.

From there, life happened. The doctor arrived (in hunting pants that were decorated with small orange ducks), Mom pushed, and voila, I was born. And later, in a story that has since become Horner family legend, my mother gazed down at me and said, “Well, Sam, do you think we’ll go for three?”

Unfortunately, Mom posed this question soon after a miracle had taken hold of Bradley Memorial Hospital; the nurses had managed to get the Celtics game on in the room, and Dad was watching with rapt attention. Not to be rude, though, he answered her question: “Nah, I don’t think so. It’s too late in the game and Bird’s getting tired.”

My mother, you see, was asking about having a third child one day. My father was talking about the odds of a mustachioed Larry Bird draining a three at the end of the fourth quarter.

To this day, I’m not sure if my dad will ever live that down, but it makes for a good story. To make it even better? The Celtics lost by three points in a 103-106 game. Oh if only Larry Bird had been able to go for three…

So that’s the beginning. The rest of this blog will deal with things that happened after that particular day in February, and no worries, this isn’t an exercise in narcissism. I have more things to talk about than snippets from my own life,  but I figured it would be best to start this beginning from my own beginning.

-CH