Drinking. soda (pop).
As a child, sweets and soft drinks were strictly prohibited, particularly Coca-Cola. The one exception was when I was about six years old, and we spent part of the summer in China. I can't remember the name of the town, only that there was a pebbly beach from which I collected rocks to take home, and we slept in beds tented with mosquito-netting, which I thought was the coolest thing ever. I seem to remember that we took our meals in the university cafeteria - my father was lecturing there or something - and since the only other beverage offered was hot tea, I was allowed to drink as much Coke as I wanted, or at least, at every meal. In those days it came in curvy glass bottles; now when I see Coke in glass bottles I think back to that summer.
Back home only Sprite or 7-Up were allowed on the rare occasions I was permitted to drink soda. Or pop. Whatever the hell you want to call it. That only happened at rare intervals, at fast-food restaurants alongside cheeseburgers wrapped in plastic-coated paper, chicken nuggets in their paper-board boxes. At the potluck parties we were always going to, or various birthday parties, there would be the inevitable punch-bowl with scoops of pastel sherbert floating in 7-Up. Even now the sight of a punch bowl filled with scoops of pale sherbert fizzing away gives me a secret thrill. I suppose I could do it for myself, but it wouldn't be the same.
In seventh grade our advisor - the class was divided into groups of eight or so students that met with their advisor every morning before classes started - would occasionally order pizza for us. He would also bring root beer, the kind that came in bottles that looked like beer bottles. Root beer from cans or plastic bottles never tasted the same again. We would eat in the computer lab - our advisor ran the lab and taught the computer classes - which was a thrill in itself as food and drink were strictly forbidden in the lab. High school was the time I drank endless amounts of Mountain Dew for the caffeine. I haven't had any since then.
Now I drink Coke when I need caffeine, or when I am somewhere hot and humid and the only thing that will cut across the heat that seems to seep into the deepest part of my bones is a $3 Coke from the hotel minibar. Or I buy the same root beer that comes in dark brown glass bottles which we drank with our pizza as seventh-graders. My parents' training has held; I still order Sprite or 7-Up at the drive-thru along with my cheeseburgers and fries and chicken nuggets with sweet-and-sour sauce. It goes deeper than I realized; even when I have the chance to drink soda every day I find myself still reaching for juice and milk and mineral water. Until yesterday, when I find myself staging a raid on the drugstore downstairs, the one that has freezers full of Häagen-Dazs ice cream and shelves of potato chips, coming home with a box of Cadbury creme eggs and a two-liter bottle of Sprite. I don't think I've ever drunk as much Sprite as I have in the past two days, or ever will again. But all the same it gives me the brief flickering sense of some illicit pleasure, a fulfillment of some secret longing.