When I take that first sip of precious nectar, I close my eyes. Cold, fizzy aspartame lights up all the cells in my mouth: on the roof, the cheeks, the tongue. Carbonation tickles my nose. I swallow and the soda cuts its path down my throat and through my body. Molecule after molecule makes its way to my extremities–fingertips and toes light up with tingly joy. I can feel it move through my body, dispersing until the aspartame and I are one and the same.
This is bliss. This is love.
Like all tumultuous love affairs, though, outside influences insert themselves into our relationship and begin eating away at the strong bond we share.
Aspartame is bad for you, They say. Weight gain. Depression. Diabetes. Cancer. All horrors my family has experienced firsthand. My family, long-steeped in the culture and obsession with aspartame.
Since they first introduced Diet Coke in 1982, I cannot remember a time without its sweet-with-a-bitter-aftertaste nectar. My parents, firm believers in the axiom that more=better, were devout subscribers of anything low cal, low fat, low guilt. Our freezer was alternately stocked with ice milk and frozen yogurt; our cabinets housed diet cookies; and our counters always boasted two to three varieties of diet soda in two-liter bottles. What better way to curl up on the couch and watch the latest episode of Magnum PI than with a glass full of ice and the great DC?
Diet soda has been the great constant in a life of chaos and uncertainty. It’s there to start the day. Need a pick-me-up? It’s there. Need a reward for good behavior? It’s there. Nothing cools me down, hits the spot, alights my senses like that fizzy aspartame.
After a lifetime together, it’s time to say goodbye. I’ve tried to break it off before, but like a booty call, some catalyst throws me back into Diet Coke’s outstretched arms. Once there, it’s like I never left. This time, I tell myself, this time will be it. I will stay strong.
I’m breaking it off tonight. It’s not me, it’s you.
I will feel the pain of loss. I will think of all the good times. I will struggle to imagine a life without it. And, hopefully, I will move on.