The Last Pepsi

We were a Pepsi household growing up. We bought it in glass bottles, eight to a case, which we had to return to the store once they were empty; I remember riding my bicycle to the store holding a rattling case of empty Pepsi bottles on the handlebars. During the summer, some stores would sell them chilled, but usually the cases came home with us at room temperature and sat on the floor between our refrigerator and cabinet.

I loved it, when I was permitted to have it. My parents were responsible enough not to permit me to feed my soda monkey at will. I could not drink it at dinner, unless the meal was pizza; my mandated beverage at meal times was milk. I could get away with it in the evening, or with an afternoon snack. Gradually, as I came within sight of adulthood, I drank milk less and less, and Pepsi more and more. I went away to college, where no one was around to tell me what I should be drinking with dinner, or lunch, or in between meals.

I have easily drank 10,000 Pepsis in my life; the real number could be half again as high. I drank it out of cans, glass bottles and, when neither of those were available, plastic bottles, and could taste the difference in each container. I figured out just how much ice to put in a glass to chill the liquid without diluting it too much; if it got flat, I threw it away. If I were looking for a place to grab lunch and had no particular taste for anything, I would pick a franchise that served Pepsi over one that didn’t. I didn’t drink it at breakfast, but I drank it pretty much any other time, with every food short of chocolate cake.

And now, to quote Henry Hill, it’s all over. I have been diagnosed with seriously high blood sugar and a severe (and surely not coincidental) sensitivity to cane and corn sugar. I drank my last Pepsi this past Tuesday, May 8, at lunch.

It’s not that I ever had any illusions that Pepsi, or any soda, was good for me. One reason why I refused to drink soda that had gone flat was because I knew there was no sense in drinking something so unhealthy if you didn’t even enjoy how it tasted. I knew that the steadily growing spare tire around my midriff was at least partially the result of my Pepsi habit. I knew I was so dependent on the daily caffeine jolt that kicking it would be murder. And I rationalized that it wasn’t as though I were a man of many vices: I don’t smoke, I don’t drink coffee, I rarely drink alcohol; I don’t gamble or use hard drugs. So if my worst habit was drinking a lot of soda pop, was it such a big deal?

Turns out it kind of was. It turns out I had no idea how bad this stuff was making me feel until I stopped drinking it.

See, I thought it was normal to feel run down most of the time, and to hit that post-lunch period and want to lay your head down at your desk and sleep the afternoon away. Doesn’t everyone feel that way? Isn’t that why they sell those five-hour energy shots and all the other products designed to save us from our own fatigue? Maybe everyone does feel that way, but if they do, they don’t have to. Within a day of quitting Pepsi, I noticed something odd and wonderful: I no longer got tired. I no longer felt bloated with ounces and ounces of carbonation struggling to escape. I felt normal, give or take.

It hasn’t been all sunshine. About two or three days after quitting, the caffeine withdrawal symptoms hit. I drove home last Friday all but holding my eyelids apart to keep from dozing off on the road. I am, as I type this, trying to ignore a spiteful, stinging headache. I don’t drink coffee, but I know there are other ways to get caffeine if I want it. Screw it, though. As long as I’m starving the monkey, I might as well go all the way.

There’s much more I found out about myself from this allergy specialist, and possibly one day soon I’ll write an encomium for cheese, or popcorn, or some other food I’m newly forbidden to have. (In addition to cane sugar, dairy and corn are out as well.) But for now, I’m celebrating the slaying of my biggest vice. It’s been more than a week as I write this, and I have not been seriously tempted to backslide; in fact there’s most of a twelve-pack of Pepsi Throwback still sitting in my fridge, waiting to be donated to someone who wants it. If I drank it, all it would do is make me sick again. I might say I wish I had done this much sooner, but that’s the simplicity of hindsight. The truth is I’m just glad I’m finally doing it now.