Oh, it started innocently enough, on a field trip to France when I was in High School. One morning, in a hostelry where my group was staying, next to the croissants by the jams, there sat a small bowl holding what looked like shiny mud. My French teacher pounced on it immediately.
"Nutella!" she cried - softly, reverently, as if she had just located the portal to Nirvana. She put a generous spoonful on her plate. And then another. She was about to do it again, when she paused in mid dollop, giggled and turned to me with a slightly wild look in her eye.
"Mustn't be greedy! You should try this, dear," she said, en Français , "You will adore it."
And the spoon containing my doom hit my plate with a resounding 'clink'. I have never been the same since.
Every morning for the rest of that trip I had Nutella on my breakfast croissants. And before I left France, I managed to slip into the local magasin d'alimentation and purchase a single jar of the precious stuff. I did not. Share it. With anyone. I made that small jar last for 2 months, and I shed a tear as I wiped the last luscious trace from the jar. There was none to be had in the small town where I lived. But addiction had yet to fully sink its claws into me. So even if odd cravings would assault me now and again, I never imagined that I was anything but safe.
And then, in graduate school, I discovered import stores. A graduate student stipend doesn't leave much room in the budget for luxuries. But as soon as I spied that jar on the shelf in Mangia!, I knew I had to have it, even if it meant ramen noodles for the rest of the week. Bravely ignoring the outrageous price tag, I dug the money from my purse, telling myself that it was Only This Once, and I wouldn't be so frivolous in future. O, the lies we tell ourselves!
I raced home with my treasure, and, making certain my roommates were out, snagged a knife and some Lorna Doones from the kitchen and sat down at my desk. I opened the jar and gently peeled the gold foil away from the rim. The perfume of chocolate and hazelnuts wrapped itself around me and I sat, just inhaling deeply for a few moments. Surely, it was simple nostalgia - a Proustian experience (and wouldn’t some petites madeleines be just the thing) - causing me to react this way. Oui. Bien sûr. I dipped in my knife and scooped out the tiniest amount, and forced myself not to lick it off, but to spread it on the corner of the cookie. One. Tiny. Nibble. Oh! Oh my. Yes, it was every bit as wonderful as I remembered and then some. I took my time, savoring the experience, then tucked the precious Nutella away from the prying eyes and greedy hands with whom I shared my flat. Once again, I made the jar last, but I was already on the slippery road to ruin, for I knew now where I could get more.
From that point on, I was rarely without it. I celebrated each of the significant moments in my life, from passing my qualifiers, then successfully defending my dissertation, to my engagement and marriage, securing a post-doctoral appointment, buying our first home and getting a real job, with another jar of Nutella. By that time it was even being sold in regular grocery stores (hallelujah!) and I had graduated beyond croissants and shortbread to experimenting with more dangerous forms of usage, like fruit, ice cream, and, eventually (to my shame), eating it straight out of the jar. I had no idea how deep in its clutches I was until one day my husband, after watching me curl my tongue around and slowly suck my favorite fix from a spoon with a look of sheer bliss upon my face, suggested in a strangled voice that we use it as a ‘marital aid’.
Two sticky and exhausting hours and one set of ruined sheets later, I knew it had to stop. So, I went cold turkey. I am amazed to this day that I survived it. I shall not speak of the tortures I went through, nor of the times I sent my husband to do the shopping for fear that I would break. I would conquer this, by the gods! I would! And I did. I celebrated my freedom from that dark brown monkey by marching right past it in the grocery aisle and plucking a jar of wholesome natural peanut butter from the shelf without my hands shaking, the way any normal person would. Liberté at last! Or so I thought.
Years went by without my touching it again. There would be the occasional dreams, of course, but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle. I moved, bought another house, had a child - and celebrated safely and sanely. I rarely thought of it anymore. And then my body had the nerve to go haywire for a short time, and, whilst in the hospital, someone snuck a jar of that demon stuff into my house, hidden in an otherwise innocent basket of comestibles.
My husband, for reasons known only to himself (perhaps a Proustian experience of his own), did not immediately whisk that dangerous material from our Happy Home, but instead, hid it in the back of one of our kitchen cupboards. There that ticking time bomb sat, without my knowledge, until in a fit of housewifely insanity, I decided to clean out the cabinets, and drafted my daughter as my assistant. How I rue the day!
“What’s this, Mom?” she asked, innocently holding up the jar for my inspection.
“Poison!” I gasped, snatching the evil concoction from her pure little hands.
“It looks like chocolate to me,” she said, raising a eyebrow (tsk!). “Can I try - ?”
“No. Absolutely NOT.” And firmly I put the jar with the others to be discarded. But before I could dispose of it, a distraction ensued in the form of D’artagnan, my younger cat, bringing in his latest prize, and I somehow missed that it was not among the rest when I finally cleared my countertops.
I proceeded to forget all about it, until I came home from work yesterday afternoon. There was a note on the table informing me that she’d gone to a neighbor’s house to play, right next to the formerly- believed-safely-discarded jar of Nutella, which was open and almost empty!
I cannot describe to you, my dear friends, the feelings of horror which stole over me at the sight! It was bad enough to have enslaved oneself to that sinful,
That ancient siren song began to sing to me, and I noticed that some of it had soiled the outside of the jar and was now on my hands. Slowly, I lifted my hand to my mouth - I could stop at any time, yes I could - and licked. Rapture. I polished off the remainder of the jar. And there, wallowing in my sin, my child found me an hour later. She stood, hands on her hips, with judgement in her eyes. I hung my head, for I knew I deserved it.
“You’d better get more since you finished it off,” was all she had to say to me.
And now you know the sad truth about my abominable weakness. If anyone’s still speaking to me, I will be in the corner, shedding fat tears of remorse and trying to find my redemption by giving my poor darling a healthy snack of some kind. Perhaps she’ll accept 8-grain bagels and low-fat veggie cream cheese as a substitute? My name is Lark M, and I am powerless over Nutella.