My father was in the hospital again. He had told me before the first surgery, and neglected to mention the second until it was a go. Two toes gone and the doctors said they needed to chop the top off the rest. Why? Because the doctor said so. So that’s diabetes, I thought, doing whatever the doctor says, even when it means losing toes.
I’m half-convinced they’re just after his VA insurance.
When I first heard the news, I went to the grocery store and did the only thing I could do, here in Japan, halfway around the world, a phonecall from the future away from home. I walked down the aisle and I thought about the things I buy, now that I’m living the high life—that childhood dream where we go to the store and I ask for a chocolate bar and my mother doesn’t start counting coins in front of me. She wasn’t doing it on purpose, making me feel guilty, but guiltfree chocolate is delicious, far more than the guilty chocolate ever could be. If I had known, I wouldn’t have asked. Now I was going through a bag of “family chocolate” once, sometimes twice a week, since I stopped having to count my change.
At the store, I looked for the katakana “ダイエット,” that is, “diet.” And found one bag of hard candy hanging amid throat drops and black licorice, marked “ダイエットココア.” In Japan, “ココア” is “kokoah”—chocolate. There were so many more delicious things I could have bought, but that day I pulled the bag off its hook and turned it over to scan the ingredients. Some were kanji I’d never bothered to know how to read out loud, but most were katakana. Katakana is the go-to alphabet for foreign words. These ingredients never existed in Old Japan, or Old America for that matter. They are rennovations of an era desperate for chocolate and dead to sugar, rennovations like “ステビア,” stevia, and “アスパルテーム,” aspartame.
I dropped the bag in my grocery basket and took it home. It sat on the shelf between the fruit and the treasured jar of carefully rationed peanut butter for about a fortnight, before the post on Facebook came about the second surgery. I waited until after the surgery finished, and after dinner, when the sun set and the moon rose, I finally opened the bag of chemical candy in commemoration of the event.
The candies were individually wrapped. It’s the nature of things in Japan. You really are expected to bring enough to share. I tore one pellet out of its plastic wrapper and stared at it. It had the half-smooth, half-cracked surface of any hard candy. It was not soft with cocoa butter or cream, but just a little too pale, a little too dry, and little too much the wrong color.
I popped it between my teeth and pressed it to the roof of my mouth with my tongue.
Remember this, I told myself, thinking hard on my father. This is the taste of old age.
When I couldn’t stand it anymore, I bit down to get it over with, but the slick feeling of fake sugar stayed on the roof of my mouth for a long time after. I took off my socks and stood on my toes, and looked at the moon, and thought of some alien world in a sci-fi future, where tyrants feed humans poison until their fingers drop off, so they can steal them for themselves and live forever.