Full Circle: Dread and Chocolate
The day my doctor gave me the bad news

When I was 5 years old, the worst thing that could happen to a boy happened.

A somber Dr. Tauber, glasses down his nose, summoned my mother and me to his basement office on the corner of Farnsworth Street. He ran his hand through what was left of his hair, opened up a manilla folder, shook his head and sadly looked at me.

“I’m afraid this isn’t good news,” he said. I squeezed both arms of the chair and waited for the worst.

“I really can’t sugar-coat this,” he said, “but you’re allergic to chocolate.”

“Oh, no,” I said, fighting back tears. “Not chocolate. It’s my favorite food in the whole world.”

My life flashed in front of me. Nestlé’s Crunch, Three Musketeers. Goobers and M&Ms. How was I ever going to go to a Saturday matinee again and not have a bag of M&Ms to savor? They melt in my mouth, not in my hand. “Can’t you cut off my right arm instead?”

My mother, for once in her life, was a little more calm. “Doctor,” she said, “will he be able to live a normal life?”

“Well,” the doctor said, “he’ll have to make a lot of changes. But if he avoids chocolate now, he should be able to eat it again by the time he’s 16.”

Sixteen? That’s a whole lifetime away. I would walk home that day dejected, thinking about the horrors of my life ahead. What was I going to do on Halloween? Eat apples? I’d be shunned by my friends, mocked by my enemies, stared at shamefully by the women who shopped in Penn Fruit.

That’s where we were headed, Penn Fruit. And that’s where the magnitude of it all hit me. No Chocolate Juniors, no peanut butter Tandy Cakes. By the time I got to the cookie aisle, I had lost the will to live.

My mother was a terrific baker, but her greatest hits were Devil’s food cake with chocolate icing and chocolate chip cookies — with more chips than cookie.

But I got little sympathy from her. She did try to take my mind off my misery, though. “Think of the good things,” she said. “You have Danny’s birthday party this afternoon. That should be fun.”

And I thought, maybe she’s right. At least that would be fun.

I got dressed in my purple party shirt, changed my Converse All-Stars to cordovan loafers and walked 2 patios over. There were 8 kids from the neighborhood there. We played musical chairs and pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. I won a cheap Yo-Yo. Things were going great. And then Danny’s mother yelled, “Okay, kids, it’s time for some cake and ice cream. And she brought out the big bowls of chocolate ice cream topped with chocolate fudge sauce. And chocolate cupcakes smothered in chocolate icing. The other kids couldn’t raise their spoons fast enough. And I just sat there and stared at the Melmac plates.

“What’s the matter, Maury,” Danny’s mother said, “are you sick?”

“No.”

“Well, don’t you like cake and ice cream? Everybody likes cake and ice cream.”

“Yes,” I mumbled, “but I’m allergic to chocolate.”

“Speak up, son, I can’t hear you.”

“I said I’m allergic to chocolate. I went to the doctor this morning. He said I can’t eat it anymore.”

And then I felt it. A single tear ran down my left cheek.

“Oh, no,” she said, “not that. Well, let me see if I can find something else for you.”

She rifled the kitchen and came back with two Saltines. They were stale.

“Allergic to chocolate,” Danny laughed. “Who ever heard of a thing like that? So what happens if you eat it? Does your tongue fall out?”

The other kids just laughed and laughed. And I just sat there, waiting to be 16.

February 2022
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