|By Elizabeth Weitz|
It is 1988 and the summer air is thick with the scent of ripe strawberries and wheat. The combination is heady, oppressive, and seductive. You are drunk on it. Your lips are wet, not from perspiration but from the waxy slickness of your Dr. Pepper Lip Smacker that you continuously apply. The taste of it is addictive, you keep running your tongue over it like a snake scenting the air for prey (and it’s true that you are every bit a snake looking for something to eat) and lick it off, over and over again.
There is something beautiful about the act of applying it, it can be subtle like the airiest kiss, or hard, even forceful, the way your 14 year old heart imagines passion might feel like. It tints your lips the faintest shade of red, not the fire engine red that you really want but aren’t allowed to wear, but it is the beginnings of it, an undercurrent of the adulthood you desperately desire, tasting like pop with a hint of plum (you refuse to accept that it is really the taste of prunes, that is the taste of old age and the death of your future…it is the taste of grandparents and nothing that your youth wants to imagine).
You are loyal to Dr. Pepper; your mother buys you Cotton Candy or Bubble Gum. She still thinks of you as a child and those are the flavors of innocence. Sour Grape is disgusting and makes you break out in a rash. Watermelon tastes too sweet. 7-up reminds you of sickness and fevers and chicken pox. Good N’ Plenty is just too weird.
Last winter you became daring and shoved handfuls of the Dr. Pepper flavor into your coat pockets at K-Mart, your friend acting as look out, and, months later, you are still using them, your mouth dressed up like a thief.
Just like Heaven by The Cure is playing on the local college radio station, the only station that you listen to now that you have reached the age of pretension. You are on your bed kissing a boy who is not your boyfriend, but someone else’s, and at the moment you don’t care. You have a reputation for kissing all the wrong people and it is a reputation that you like.
On the bleachers, before all the kissing, you both were discussing favorite pops (as a cover for what you both really wanted to talk about) and he said he was partial to Orange Crush. In a moment that you will think back on years later as being the first time you found your power, you take out a tube of Orange Crush from the depths of your school bag and put it on, looking at him straight in the eyes.
Your mouth is an invitation waiting to be opened and he is all fumbling fingers and nervous tongue.
If desire had a flavor it would taste of orange and bubbles…tomorrow you were learn that regret tastes like Tropical Punch.
You work, you pay bills, you pay rent. This isn’t what you thought it was going to be like. Disappointment is a part of you now, crawling around inside of you like beetles underneath leaves on a forest floor. Your soul is practically dead.
You spend most of your work day avoiding actual work. You draw and write in notebooks hidden below paperwork. You tempt fate by being openly hostile to your boss. You wish that you didn’t give up cigarettes. You eat lunch outside in the fresh air and when you are done you swipe your lips with Vanilla and realize that if adulthood had a flavor it would taste bland like your lip gloss.
Clarity comes in that realization and you toss the lip gloss onto the asphalt parking lot and walk back in to give your notice. Co-workers ask what job you are leaving this one for and when you say “None” they blink and think you must be crazy.
You are, and when you pack up your notebooks and pens and coffee mug you wipe the Vanilla off your lips with the back of your hand and vow to never wear Vanilla again.
You are in love for the very first time. Your very first kiss with him makes your heartbeat fast and your feet feel like they left the ground. You know this is it, the big one.
He knows it too.
There will be millions of such kisses in the days and years to come but none as sweet as that first one that sealed your fate and he will tell you on your 10th anniversary that he has never quite gotten over that one and how it tasted like Berries and Peaches and how he knew that he would spend the rest of his life kissing you if only to be reminded of what summers must taste like.
Nearly forty-one, and it doesn’t feel like it. People tell you that it only gets better from here and as much as you want to believe that, there’s a part of you not willing to give in. You’re de-evolving. You spend your mornings and afternoons writing and your evenings watching John Hughes movies while sipping on Rum and Cokes out of old jelly glasses.
Yesterday you swiped a Dr. Pepper Lip Smacker from the CVS. You didn’t mean to but you saw it and you wanted it and your fourteen year old self came roaring back to life and told you to take it and you did.
Your heart beat fast, you felt scared and exhilarated and, well, young again.
You walked out of the store.
You went home.
You opened the tube and smoothed your winter lips in a layer wax and prunes (and you fully accept the prunes now that you are older and understand that the flavor has little to do with age) and smiled.
And when your husband came home from work you kissed him, your lips coating his and felt the circle of your life closing and were happy.
(note: the news that Bonne Bell is closing down after more than 88 years in business (taking with it 91 jobs) and being sold to Markwins International Corp, the purveyors of Wet N’ Wild and Physicians Formula was the catalyst for this post. There is no news on whether or not Lip Smackers will continue under the new management, but either way it’s the end of an era)