Ohio Portrait no. 182

The Christmas after he died, she left a can of Pepsi on the stone.

He was a December baby, and hated it all his life. He had the spoiled entitled sensibility of an only child, because 15 years separated him from his younger brother. For a long time he got to be the apple of all eyes, the center of all attention, the one who received everything sweet and good and celebratory. But no kid wants to be a Christmas baby. It means you are asked to wait far, far too long between spurts of presents.

You know by now that it was the Pepsi that killed him. He loved the drink, depended on it really, and it was a dependence that could readily be seen. Our dog, a fluffy Alaskan Eskimo was named Pepsi. I forget sometimes that it was an odd name, and catch myself in the middle of telling people about the dog. “Our dad loved Pepsi,” I explain. “So much he gave himself diabetes.” And then I feel sheepish, like I’ve coughed in their face and spattered blood.

He kept his room adorned with old-fashioned Pepsi articles and knick-knacks. Signs, old crates and advertisements, fancy glasses and bits of clothing. He even had an antique bottle sitting unopened on his dresser. Never got desperate enough to open it, though his ravaging hunger for sugar led him to upend the whole kitchen.

She had a lot or reasons to divorce him, but the real one was his nutritional irresponsibility. Despite a diabetes diagnosis, a spiking, unpredictable blood sugar, frequent urination and a frightening spell of temporary blindness, he wouldn’t give sugar up. He switched to Diet Pepsi and found it loathsome. He kept sneaking treats on the sly. But he was never very good at keeping secrets.

He would not take care of himself, and she could not will him to. So she cast him out, which even her young children could understand. This made things even worse. Now he didn’t even have to keep up appearances. He drank and ate and smoked like it was the end of the world. And of course, it was.

When she told me about leaving the can on his grave, I was shocked. Not that she would leave the instrument of his death so close to what was left of him. No, that made sense. He loved Pepsi. It was the single object that brought him the most joy in the world.

What surprised me was that she still loved him and wanted him to be happy, even after all the harm he’d done, even after he’d been turned to dust.

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Originally published at erikadprice.tumblr.com.