The Chocolate Bender

I do have one unpleasant memory associated with Nutella. It happened my senior year of college. My twin sister Joellen Pastry and I were attending the same liberal arts college in Indiana. I’d just returned home from a junior year spent abroad in Britain, she from a semester in France. It was a happy fall of independence for both of us, since university rules permitted seniors to live off-campus in apartments if they wished. Joellen and I both jumped at the chance, and ended up with digs not three blocks from each other.

Having visited Joellen once at her adopted school in Alsace-Lorraine, I was aware that she was spending the bulk of her time abroad crisscrossing the continent in search of high-end European chocolate. Just a month into her stay she’ amassed quite a collection. There were bonbons from Germany, Lindt bars from Switzerland, jars of cocoa from France, and of course an industrial-size jar of “real” Nutella that she’d bagged in Italy. Rumor had it that the stash required a separate steamer trunk for her trip back to the States.

She spent the months after her return nibbling at the hoard, mouse-like, in hopes of making it last till doomsday. Yet before long it was obvious that her plan was fatally flawed: chocolate is perishable. Well not exactly perishable, but as I’ve mentioned before in other posts, it “blooms”. The fat begins to leech out to the surface where it crystallizes into a milky film (this doesn’t cause the chocolate to go “bad” per se, but the asbsence of fat leaves it chalky and unappetizing). This had apparently caused her to panic.

It was a warm late-summer evening and I was out for a stroll to the, er…library. On my way home I decided to drop in on sis and her roommate who were always good for a few laughs on a Friday night. Rounding the corner I could see that the lights were on, even though I couldn’t see any activity. I hopped up the front steps and threw open the door, which was almost never locked.

“Hi Joellen I just wanted to see…if you…”

The room fell stone silent. There in the center of the living room floor were Joellen and one of her sororiy sisters, and around them on all sides was the debris of what had been the Great Continental Chocolate Stash. Paper bar wrappers and wads of delicate gold and silver foil were everywhere. Their clothes and faces were smeared with goo. In one frozen hand Joellen held a quart of Bailey’s Irish cream, which she’d evidently been shooting straight from the bottle. In the other was the giant jar of Nutella, which she and her roommate had been using as a kind of “dip”. The “chips” were bars of chocolate: milk, dark, white, caramel-filled, orange-scented…the confectionary booty of Europe.

It was as though I’d burst in on her while she was dismembering a corpse. I began to feel faint. My knees buckled. I clapped my hand over my mouth to keep myself from vomiting while I fumbled for the latch on the door. A moment later I was tumbling down the front stoop gasping for air. “Wait, Joe! I can explain!” Joellen shouted after me, but by then I’d taken off at a run. “It was spoiling Joe! The chocolate was spoiling!!!

I don’t much remember what happened after that, save to say I woke up the next morning in a gutter with a cheap bottle of rotgut in my hand. From then on I did my best to forget what I’d seen. Joellen and I never spoke about it. Yet deep down we both knew that something had changed between us, and it’s remained so to this day. Try as I might now to see the honors student, debutant, bank executive, dedicated wife and mother of three, I can never forget the look I saw in her eye that night. Hopped up on cocoa bean, utterly out of control, and loving every minute of it.

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