Prompt 23. Sugar: Write something so sweet, it makes your teeth hurt.
A story today, almost free written, although the seed of it was planted as I lay in bed last night.
|Jaggery. Image taken from this site.|
I always had a sweet tooth. Perhaps even before I had teeth I was wishing that my mother's own milk would be replaced, from time to time, with a saturated sugar solution. I grew up dreaming of the one day each week when she took me to the corner shop and I could choose twenty pence worth of penny sweets from a selection that seemed to my six year old mind to be impossibly varied. Sometimes it would take me twenty minutes to spend those twenty pence. Some of the choices were sacrosanct, unvarying. Always a Blackjack, a gobstopper, a raspberry bootlace. And always a Bazooka Joe bubble gum and the excitement of a new comic strip. They meant so little, I see that now, but back then they were everything. What would Joe get up to this week? Not much, but his adventures excited me and were almost more important than the slab of bubble gum they surrounded. No other bubble gum would have been acceptable in those days. Just Joe. Can life be better than a comic held, a bubble blown, and the taste of joy, the whole thing being a sensory paradise purchased for a penny?
Most weeks my mother bought me a couple of packets of sweet cigarettes too. Another joy as I opened the packet and drew out the card, hoping desperately that it wouldn't match one from my collection. The disappointment of getting a "swap" when I had nobody to swap them with was momentarily a despair that seemed insurmountable. Yet just one taste of a cigarette and I'd be in my happy child place again. I loved sucking hard on them, slowly licking the exposed surface in my mouth, enjoying the grainy sugar taste for as long as possible. Sometimes I'd give in to primal lust and slam an entire cigarette into my mouth, chew it rapidly and allow the full sensation of that beautiful sweet healthiness saturate my tongue. Perhaps there was nothing more ecstatic than that moment of the crunched cigarette, the pieces washing away all thoughts of anything sour in my six year old life. If only I'd not progressed further than sweet cigarettes. Or candy sticks. They're candy sticks now and don't have that red tip to simulate a nicotine burst in process. If only.
As I grew I learned of the limitations and expectations of pocket money. My own money. To do with as I wished. Free cash to explore the wider reaches of the corner shop confectionery. Except it wasn't free at all. "You can't spend it all on that." No. I was given money and then was told to save it. My eight year old mind couldn't understand it at all. I wanted to rebel, and sometimes did too even knowing that the consequences would be severe. But rules were rules and money was saved and mostly I didn't spend more than I was allowed on sweets.
There were biscuits too in the house and I couldn't get enough of those. Because the biscuit tin was out of reach and access was strictly rationed. No more than once a day. No more than two biscuits at a time. On too many days I was left feeling sad because all the tin contained were rich teas and what could be less exciting than that? Even worse were the weeks that my parents would buy a packet of ginger nuts. I hated them. They knew that of course so it wouldn't just be ginger nuts in the tin. But that wasn't much help to me. They would put rich teas in the same tin as ginger nuts. Holy shit! How could they? My biscuits tainted beyond repair by ginger contamination. My parents couldn't ever see what the problem was though I tried to explain in great detail every time a new packet of ginger nuts appeared.
And there was cake. Cake. Lovely cake. Not often but the rarity of this precious substance made it all the more like a diamond in a case of broken glass. How I loved cake. At home a cake would be made four times a year. Once on each of our birthdays and once at Christmas. It was just a simple sponge with a bit of icing but to me it was paradise. It could only have been improved with the addition of more icing. Lots more icing. And chocolate. And sweets baked into the soft sponginess. I looked forward to my parents' birthdays eagerly because I knew I'd have cake to eat.
As I became an adult I had more access to money. I had to work for it of course and learned that my parents had been quite right that spending it all on sweets was a bad move. Never mind. There was still enough money left over to indulge myself on more than a Bazooka Joe. I worked my way through every kind of biscuit in the supermarket. Except for ginger nuts. Some were disappointing. Others were brilliant, especially the ones covered in chocolate and filled with extra sweet delicacies. I learned that there was more to cake than sponges. There would always be cakes in my house.
I explored the world of confectionery avidly. So many choices and many of those penny sweets came in full packets. I'd buy some packet or other every day and a couple of times a week I'd head back to the penny selection, complain about inflation and how it was now a two or three penny selection and spend a couple of pounds. If only I could still read about the adventures of Joe. If only I could still suck on a sweet cigarette. Somehow candy sticks didn't have the same appeal.
I wanted more. My lust for sugar was not satisfied. More. Please more. And then I found jaggery. Beautiful, salvific jaggery. People claim it's healthy sugar and that it cleanses your body. I'm doubtful about that. I'd have become very healthy and extremely clean. Because I developed a jaggery addiction. Couldn't stop eating it. The first time was difficult. It was sweeter than I was used to and it was a different kind of sweetness. This was no caramel toffee. This wasn't just pure icing or the joy of squeezing a spoonful of sweetened condensed milk from a tube and then sticking it in your mouth. Jaggery outranked all those joys. Replaced them all.
I stopped eating sweets. Stopped buying cakes and biscuits. It was jaggery or nothing. Fortunately there was an Asian supermarket a couple of streets from my home so there was no fear that I wouldn't ever be able to buy more. I stockpiled at home just to be on the safe side. I'd keep at least twenty kilos of it in a cupboard. Every day I'd be out at the supermarket and would buy a minimum of a pound of jaggery. It was the only way to keep myself satisfied. I was truly a jaggery addict. Couldn't stop thinking about it. Couldn't leave the house unless I carried some with me. I didn't mind eating so much sugar, not when there were so many articles online about how many health benefits my drug of choice gave me. Happy little addict, in denial at the time that I was an addict at all.
As you can imagine, so much jaggery didn't do me any good physically. I ignored the changes to my body because it gave me so much happiness. It was only when, in the space of six months, my weight hit seventeen stone, I had what they called a mild heart attack, and I was diagnosed with diabetes, that I was forced to stop and consider my life. The doctors all said I had to give up jaggery but I didn't want to and kept relapsing. I realise now how much damage I was doing to myself and how one thing leads to another. It got so bad that my family and friends staged an intervention and forced me to get professional help and to join the Overeaters Anonymous group that had started in the town. I've got to admit that without that intervention I'd have probably continued backsliding into jaggery consumption and it would have killed me. With the intervention? Well it all went very well for a while. My weight dropped to thirteen stone, my blood pressure improved and though I still craved that sweet taste I believed I had it all under control. I wasn't quite so stupid as to call myself and ex-addict and say I'd solved everything so I kept going to the group, kept being a part of those people, my people, who had lost their souls to food.
It was after one of the group sessions, in which I'd talked at length about how much I missed carrying jaggery, eating it whenever I could, and having so much at home, that my life changed. I'd spoken about the joy of sugar and how messed up my taste buds were and how much joy a sugar burst bought me. Afterwards a group member drew me aside. He talked very quietly so as not to be overheard. He told me about Bite. A sugar substitute. A powerful sweetness. So powerful and giving such a rush that it was illegal. He told me that it was meant to be a brilliant solution for addicts like me because, though there might be a few health risks and maybe some side effects, it wouldn't give me weight gain or muck up my diabetes or anything like that. I could indulge my sugar addiction in a form beyond any I'd ever dreamed of. And nobody would ever need to know. He told me that he used Bite regularly and his life couldn't be better. He said he only kept coming to the group now so that his family wouldn't freak out at him. He said he hadn't had any side effects at all and the risks were worth it anyway because they were far outweighed by the benefits.
I told him I didn't want Bite. No fucking way. I wanted to get well and stay well. I told him he should be ashamed of himself for telling me about some shitty drug. He just smiled at me. Told me to think about it. I told him to piss off and that I wouldn't think about it at all. My answer was no. Definite no. But I did think about it. Couldn't help it. Was this really a way I could indulge my sweet tooth without getting fatter and risking hospital when my insulin went haywire? Was this Bite even better than jaggery? I hated myself for it but couldn't stop thinking. Couldn't stop wanting. Needing to at least try it. Just once.
So I did. It wasn't cheap. Illegal things never are. A bottle of Bite. With clear instructions. Draw out one millilitre into the syringe. And spray into my mouth. Easy enough. I sat with that bottle in front of me for a couple of hours before that first dose. I was scared. Would this be everything I'd been told? Would I experience side effects? He'd said that sometimes the first time hurt because the user wasn't used to tasting anything so sweet. And he'd said that in very, very rare cases - one in a million he claimed - that first dose reacted badly and would set the user's teeth on edge. He said not to worry about it. One in a million. Who cares about that and he was sure it wasn't anything serious anyway.
With trembling hands I drew out that single millilitre. Held it in front of my face. Felt guilt. Shame. Defeat. I put the syringe down and cried. This wasn't what I'd wanted from that group. I'd wanted to overcome addiction and here I was entering into a new form of it. But I wanted this too. I wanted to know. I wanted jaggery and couldn't have it. Wouldn't have it. Bite wasn't defeat at all was it? It wasn't jaggery. It wouldn't kill me to try it. Somehow I convinced myself that the syringe in front of me was what my family and friends would want me to have. They would be pleased to see me now with a productive solution that I'd found for myself. They would be pleased to know that I might never crave jaggery ever again. So I picked up that syringe. And squirted the contents into my mouth.
Instant sweetness deeper than anything I imagined. That rush to my brain lit up a million lights, a million fires of paradise. I knew in that moment that I would never live again without wanting more of this. Bite was my future. No matter what.
The sweetness increased. More. More. Too much more. It began to hurt. To burn. A million fires of hell. What the shit had I done? I put my hand to my mouth and found I was bleeding. Bleeding and foaming. And the pain was like nothing I'd felt before. Mixed in with the joy of the more-than-sugar rush in confusion. I bled more. My teeth screaming for it to stop. Moving. Fuck, hallucinations. They were shifting in my gums. I stuck my finger in my blood foam filled mouth and felt them move, turn, their points no longer facing each other but facing forwards. I tried to scream. And then it was too much and I lost consciousness.
I awoke much later. The pain had subsided. The cushion by my mouth was caked in blood and the remnants of a yellow foam. Never again. No more Bite. That was too much. My mouth felt funny. I guessed it was to do with the bleeding and it would take a while to heal. I lay for a while. My head hurt badly, crying out in sorrow. And crying out for jaggery too with an urgency I hadn't known for a while. Never again. I'd tried it and the joy was not worth this.
I got up and walked through to the bathroom. Looked in the mirror. Face a mess of blood. Opened my mouth. My teeth. Oh God my teeth. What had I done? They had all turned. Ninety degrees. It had been real. Oh fuck it had been real. They sat there, perfectly solid in my gums but facing the wrong way. I had been that one in a million. My teeth were set on edge. Bite had stolen my bite. One sweet rush and I was screwed. Sweet rush. Mmmmm. Sweet rush. Maybe now it had happened it wouldn't hurt so much next time. No don't think like that. Stop it now. You've been screwed over by a drug. Throw the rest away. Do it now. I returned to the lounge and chucked the bottle and syringe in the bin. Called for medical help.
The dentists at the hospital said they couldn't fix my teeth. Said they had heard of this happening. That the only thing to do was to remove every tooth and fix a full set of false ones. They could fix that up for the future. In the meantime I'd just have to put up with it and eat lots of soup. They sent me away with an appointment for a week's time to get measured up for false teeth and to decide whether to remove a few of the real ones or whether to do the lot in one go under general anaesthetic. It depended on the results of the x-rays they would take and at that time they didn't know quite how they would get the teeth out safely.
I went home. Slept badly. Shouted at myself for stupidity. Cursed myself. Cursed the man from the group. Cursed the Asians for inventing jaggery. Cursed my mother for my birthday cakes. And cursed those stupid Bazooka Joe comics. No more sugar for me. Ever.
And then I saw the bottle. Still in the bin where I'd thrown it.
Can't do it. Can't destroy it. Need it.
Second syringe filled. Placed between my lips. Squirt.