Why you should care

Because a Sour Patch Kid addiction can be a serious thing.

Jordan Rosenfeld is a book author living in Northern California. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Rumpus, The Washington Post and more. She blogs at www.jordanrosenfeld.net.

While other kids went regularly to the doctor, my acupuncturist father assessed my young body’s failings with the words, “Let me see your tongue,” and “I need to feel your pulses.” The sum of these two inspections revealed such things as “low kidney chi” or “too much yang.”

No matter how much I slept, my eyes were always ringed by sepia circles. I often complained of stomachaches, and peed so frequently my grandparents once sent me home from the summer convinced I had diabetes. I’d quickly lose my breath jogging after the ice cream truck down the street while my 8-year-old peers could run around for hours.

The shop was like a portal to another reality: where my mother would be easy to rouse from bed when I was hungry for dinner.

Since I refused the insult of the acupuncture needles, my father sought the cure from herbs we’d gather at the Chinese medicine shop in San Francisco’s Chinatown. We pushed open the heavy glass door, metal chimes clinking to a snug, dimly lit sanctum. Dense with sculptures and deities, it felt like another world.

My nose tingled with the pungency of strange scents, foreign plant life mixed with the synthetics of unknown chemicals. Behind the counter, a wizened Chinese man sat so still with a notepad, he looked like a statue. Wrinkled customers wandered the room at the slow gait of Tolkien’s Ents.

Man crosses a street in chinatown with red lanterns in the background.

San Francisco’s Chinatown neighborhood

Row upon row of wooden bins revealed mysterious bits and twigs, chalky circles, black button-like objects, dark red beetles, half-crushed. My father handed over our script of needs, which the man behind the counter translated to Chinese characters and then scooped into a brown paper bag.

The Chinatown shop was like a portal to another reality: where my mother would be easy to rouse from bed when I was hungry for dinner, never darting up in a panic to deliver me late to school, her hair a static sheath around glazy eyes that brightened only after a shot of vodka or a pill tumbling out of a plastic bottle.

Behind the shelves of gold and red Chinese dragons and paper lanterns coated in dust, that portal would transport me to a new universe, a better world — where my father would have a real job, in a traditional office. No clandestine meetings down long corridors or shady men carrying illegal packages filled with other kinds of herbs.

We never stayed long enough.

Back at home, my father put the mysterious mix into a clay tea pot. He steeped a potion that left a dense fug in the kitchen and induced my gag response, tasting of crushed aspirin dragged in mud and steeped in bitter grass.

While my father watched, I tossed down the first few sips, my nose pinched shut — but when he left me alone, I spilled the rest of the brown sludge down the sink.

I continued to pop Skittles and gorge on Charleston Chews. My habit wouldn’t land me in jail or rehab, but it lingered well into adulthood.

My symptoms did not go away, and doctors’ tests revealed nothing out of the ordinary. My father had no way of knowing the truth: that I would pilfer quarters from his own pockets, hop on my bike and ride to my friend’s by way of 7-11, where I would buy all the candy I could.

I gravitated to the good stuff: Sour Patch Kids and Fun Dip “Lik-m-Aid” — three pouches of confectionary sand accompanied by a candy stick to suck then dip then suck and dip again. And when the stick was gone, I’d lick my finger and plunge it into the packet, rubbing the pure sugar on my gumsand savoring the high.

My best friend and I would often ride to the Oroweat outlet for year-round discounts on Hostess products. Like the $2 boxes of eight Twinkies, which we put away in less than 10 minutes. All along, my father continued to perform his Eastern “cures” on me — and I continued to pop Skittles and gorge on sticky Charleston Chews.

Though my father’s daughter, I always hated needles. For years, I had to be held down screaming at my pediatrician’s office for a simple vaccine poke. But by the time I was 9, I learned to withstand the mosquito-bite pricks of tiny acupuncture needles. And later, I braved my dentist’s Novocain needles.

From my parents’ perspective, cavities inexplicably ravaged my mouth. I never came clean about my sugar addiction. My habit wouldn’t land me in jail, or rehab, but it lingered well into adulthood.

My mother found sobriety and my father found a legit job long before I revealed my sweet truth. We were a family operating on secrecy, after all.

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