How a chocolate confection can stick with you for life.
December 26, 2001
When I was 8, my mother remarried. I was the ring bearer and my little sister was the flower girl. At that point in my life, it was common knowledge that all girls had cooties and your sister was no exception to the rule. In fact, she was the most dangerous carrier of the fatal disease. I was hacked off that I had to walk down the aisle with her and wear a suit.
I was what they used to called “hyperactive.” Today it’s more than a description; it’s a disorder. The best way to fix your kid, to bring him back to order, is to feed him pills, start him off early with a drug habit. There’s plenty of time later to teach him to say no to drugs. But things aren’t the same as they were 20 years ago.
Before the wedding, my uncle (we’ll just call him Steve, since that’s his name) pulled me aside and explained that the wedding was very important to my mother and if I behaved during the service, he would treat me to a surprise.
The whole suit-wearing thing was starting to look up. Apparently there were perks that I hadn’t considered. I had a murky image of my just reward. If it wasn’t a miniature motorcycle, it might even be a go-cart. I still don’t know why I thought I deserved such great compensation for just doing what I should have done in the first place.
I don’t remember much about the wedding, but I do remember receiving my long-awaited, disappointing prize. I was in my grandmother’s living room and Steve gave me a Goo Goo Cluster. It’s a little circle of chocolate, filled with peanuts, marshmallows and caramel. I had never had one before.
Steve was a Health Nut, a person who ate only granola. I suspected that I had been duped. The Goo Goo Cluster tasted like I imagined his health food must taste. He was obviously trying to recruit me into his insane tribe of Health Nuts.
When no one was looking, I ducked into the bathroom, wrapped the piece of candy in toilet paper and threw it into the trash can. I thought I had concealed it well, but I was wrong. Later, Steve stormed into the living room with the gnawed Goo Goo Cluster in hand. He was livid. It’s the only time in my life that I have ever feared him. I thought he was going to either breathe fire or rip off my head. I don’t recall exactly what he said, but I do remember the word “ungrateful” and the burning shame I felt for throwing away his simple, kind gesture.
In my mind, I’ve filed away that series of events as The Goo Goo Cluster Incident. A few years ago, I asked Steve what he remembered about it. He didn’t remember it at all, and he added a piece of information that I had been oblivious to for years. At the time, he and his first wife were going through a divorce. Not wanting to overshadow the bliss of a wedding, they pretended that they were happily married. He told me about the agony he was going through at the time.
A lot has happened in those 20 years since The Goo Goo Cluster Incident. I’m now an uncle. My nephew is just as wired as I ever was. I try to remember what might be going through his little mind, but the older I get, the harder it becomes. I wonder sometimes about the things that I say to him – out of fear, pain or desperation – that I’ll soon forget and he’ll remember for the rest of his life.
I’m still just as restless as I was back then, but just in different ways. I’m married, in love with my childhood friend and every day I try to do what’s right. I’ve learned to sit still, not to fidget, but it’s hard to make my mind do the same thing. I aspire to be a Health Nut, but I’ve never been successful at it.
My mother and my stepfather recently renewed their marriage vows at the same church. Steve was there again to walk my mother down the aisle. Twenty years later, he’s going though a separation with his second wife, nursing a broken heart again, trying to come to terms with what it means to be human, reminding himself that love is still all that matters.
When the processional music started, Steve left my mother, much to her dismay, and found me sitting in a pew next to my wife. He leaned down to me, reached inside his coat pocket and handed me a Goo Goo Cluster Supreme.
He whispered, “If you can behave, this is yours.”