cw: stuff about drinking, stuff about bodies

Gatorade is a trash beverage and I love it with my whole heart. It’s been about a year since I’ve had an alcoholic drink and lately I’ve been having the most bizarre feeling in the world, which is that I miss hangovers. I know all this means is that I have gotten far away enough from the experience of a hangover to not remember it correctly, but I still can’t shake the feeling. When I miss hangovers, I think about Gatorade, because Gatorade is about hangovers, and about consequences, about the desire to care and to be cared for, and about the fallibility and consolations of our human bodies. Here is an objectively correct ranking of Gatorades. I did not look up any of the names of the flavors.

Yellow (Lemon- Lime): Yellow is the worst Gatorade and also the one most readily available in bodegas or delis or grocery stores or gas stations. It looks like pee but not like healthy pee, it looks like you-should-go-to-the-doctor pee. Men sometimes buy this one on purpose? I don’t know. What’s weird is that the yellow vitamin water that looks like (healthier) pee is far and away the best one, substantive and sugary but not cloying and like a faceful of cold water when you’re hungover or even when you’re just very tired. 

Light Green (Cucumber Melon): There have been times in my life when I thought finding and buying and drinking the weirdest, grossest gatorade would be the fastest path to getting rid of a hangover. This doesn’t actually work. 

Dark Green (Green Apple): Sometimes it’s just so deeply fucking satisfying when things are terrible and this tastes like licking a plastic container in which the remnants of year-old candy have dried down to a glue after being left in the sun for five years. It will never get cold no matter how long you leave the bottle in the fridge. 

Orange (I think the flavor is just named Orange?): Orange is the flavor I associate with sports teams, specifically middle-and-high-school ones, soccer games on early Saturday mornings stretching into afternoons, and basketball practices on Sunday nights and games after school on Fridays, as winter edged into spring. The Gatorade sat in its huge upside-down tub set up on the side of the court, there for everyone, win or lose, hefted into and out of someone’s mom’s car. I played these sports but I wasn’t good at them; the Orange Gatorade belongs to kids whose limbs gracefully did their bidding, who seemed to live, in the fluid relationship between their body and the ground beneath it, the thing everyone was talking about when they talked about youth, the thing I never felt like I could get inside of when I was still young. This is the Gatorade on a soccer field on a Saturday morning, and everyone is young and a little bit cold and the sun is very bright and life is so long, it is all going to go on forever, we are going to get in the car and go get pizza and then we are going to go home. How young were you when you could still genuinely feel that you were done for the day, that you actually did not have anything you needed to do until tomorrow? It’s the Gatorade on a big folding table at the edge of a basketball court in someone else’s high school across town, at night because it’s the play-offs and everyone you know is dispersing out feverish and congratulatory into the parking lot, the perfect sense of accomplishment that sports offer, something that applies to nothing outside itself, that needs nothing but itself. Anyway, the orange Gatorade is somehow especially useless against hangovers (ymmv).

Red (Fruit Punch): I think this is the default flavor of Gatorade, if one had to choose a default Gatorade flavor. This is the Gatorade every straight dude I have ever loved has always invariably chosen. If Gatorade launched a “Gatorade Classic,” it would be this one. It doesn’t actually taste like anything except Gatorade, which is itself an absence, and not a presence. Last year, when we were out of town for a friend’s wedding, a careless driver smashed into Thomas’ rental car at an intersection. He drove back to the hotel with the front bumper hanging off, visibly shaken. I went and bought him a Gatorade; it was the red Gatorade. Every time I have brought someone enmeshed within the logistical and bureaucratic labyrinths that often surround personal crises - hospital waiting rooms, makeshift sick-bed nests on the couch, a scary day at work, a legal office processing high-stakes paperwork  -- the red Gatorade is for some reason the one that’s there, the easiest one to find. The desire to have done something tangible to help often manifests as food for me, and no responsible person would ever call Gatorade food, but it serves much the same purpose here. It feels solidly and actually helpful, meaningful, like you know what you’re doing and how to help, whether or not you do. Here, I brought you a Gatorade. It’s red.

Light Teal (“Aqua Frost”): This color is too strange, and I will always buy it because the color is too strange but also the color is too strange, what if the beach house in Florida that a 1980s divorcee buys for herself to start the second act of her life, but as a beverage, and you could drink it? This is like the David Lynch movie of sports beverages. 

Blue (Blue Cherry): This tastes exactly like you hope it will from the name: Like a blue movie theatre Icee melted down and put through a sieve and bottled. All of them are always cold, even when they’re warm. I started working out really seriously in the last year, something I’ve flirted with all my life but rarely ever truly committed to, and my relationship to Gatorade has changed from being about hangovers to being about hydration and electrolytes, endorphins and exhaustion and that loose-limbed feeling of having really done something, of having earned my residence in my own body and my body’s residence in the physical world around it, all edges and angles, spikes and soft places. I’m old enough now that my body is no longer in the category of approved bodies, bodies that are supposed to be active and strong and looked at and praised. Now that this is the case, I feel free to do all the things I wanted to do and didn’t when I was younger and more able to take simple physical abilities for granted. There is a new kind of joy in having to try, in giving up on the idea that anything should come easy. I go and jump around in a room for several hours and out on the street again all the colors are brighter and joy is nearer, like a branch has bent down lower from a tree, the fruit within reach. These good feelings are temporary, like all good feelings, but here I am anyway, right now, for now, loose-limbed and worn out and exhausted, thrumming with hunger but too tired to stand up and get food, so I buy a blue Gatorade on the way home, and fall asleep on the couch with no part of me that feels broken, and still nothing is as velvet-luxurious as a hangover, but there are so many ways to feel strangely good. 

Light Blue (various blue-ish “Frost” flavors): Gatorade is about our relationship to altered physical states, to what otherness we can induce in ourselves, what doors we can unlock from within. It relates to crying and then being done crying, to hot showers and doing things you’ve been dreading and almost having something very bad happen and then at the last minute not having it happen. The high is whatever awful difficult thing raises your adrenaline. On the walk home from the gym, the physical world sometimes seems cracked-open and welcoming, gently studded with bright available wonder. I walk home and I feel good and I distrust it. The post-workout high is an emotional state accessible by pushing a button and capitalism has taught me I have to have sold my labor, have to have been given recognition by an established institution in order to have earned feeling good. I am trying to experience this as a form of getting away with something, rather than dismissing the good feelings because I have done nothing to deserve them, because no one will praise me for them and they do not count as an accomplishment. Frost Gatorade is cold and clean and tastes like almost nothing except the wintry-spark of sugar water. No one earns anything, and no one deserves anything. I stop on the way home in a deli; I put a cold bottle of a beverage colored like a child’s crayon against my neck in the hot weather. I go back outside onto the street, legs strong enough to hold me up and carry me home, detouring through all the museums of the blocks where everybody else lives. 

Purple (Fierce Grape. Fierce Grape! Fierce! Grape!): This flavor is called Fierce Grape and I laugh every time I see the name, every time I buy one. Sometimes I say it quietly out loud at the grocery store, kneeling down at the guilty bottom-floor of the big aisle before check-out where the Gatorades are kept like a dirty secret. Fierce Grape! Grape is the second-best Gatorade. It tastes very purple. I have never honestly understood whether or not I drank too much which is probably as good a reason as any to stop drinking. Of course people stop drinking every day; pregnant women go nine months without drinking, people don’t drink alcohol for all manner of reasons, people stop all kinds of things, through all kinds of methods. It means very little for me not to do this; I did something until I didn’t like it anymore and sometime after that, I stopped. It wasn’t really for any particular reason; there wasn’t one moment that snapped the decision into place. I had often taken a month or two off drinking in the last few years, and a friend who had recently stopped drinking asked me about this. I began to notice that when I described strategies and feelings about it to her, I felt a kind of wishful longing, and it seemed worth it to try to lean into that with the goal of banishing it, that if I was staring so hard against the glass through the window, I might as well just open the door and go inside the room. But it wasn’t some huge thing. I was unhappy with a lot of things around this time last year, and so I made a lot of big changes to my own behavior, hoping some of them would stick to the wall enough to change my life. I’m old enough and worked in education long enough to distrust the phrase “change my life,” despite my inability to stop subscribing to it, but things did get better, and one was the clarity, and the lessening of anxiety, that came with the absence of alcohol, for me. 

It’s easy to confuse habit for virtue, just like it’s easy to pretend your habits aren’t your personality, just like it’s easy to pretend when you’re young in New York that drinking seven or ten drinks a week over the course of two or three or four casually wild evenings is not a brutal thing to which to subject your body. I should acknowledge here how stratospherically lucky I am. I wasn’t breaking an addiction, merely a habit. I would say “I’ll only drink on special occasions” and then discover that four nights out of the week were something that counted as a special occasion. That has something to do with living in the kind of big city, and being the kind of person, where and for whom everything is an anniversary, everything is special in some new way, every day is a triumph or a failure, everything is a celebration and an excuse. I mostly wanted to see if I could, to see if I could keep saying no just because I wanted to say no.

Want is a difficult thing to parse, though. Its meanings slip and slide and run like cats, in one direction and then in the opposite. Alcohol, much like sex, has served as a place to discuss the difficulty of delineating our own wants. I figured out that drinking made me feel bad, which one could say meant I didn’t want to do it anymore. But of course I also wanted to feel bad; I still do, all the time. Not wanting to do something is not as simple as not wanting it, as anyone who has ever missed something or someone that they also would never in a million years want back understands. I miss a lot of things: Cabs over bridges at night after a few drinks when all of past love rushes to the surface and glows warm as the lights of windows; that moment where it feels like a good idea to text everyone in my phone but before I actually send any of the texts; the moment after a drink and a half for each of us where my relationship with my parents feels calm and easy when we’re all in a room together; that sense of importance and correctness ordering and then receiving a very good cocktail; the light-switch moment at a party where I would think I was the most charming person in the room; hangovers. 

Or at least a very specific kind of hangover, the stumbling, blameless slow-zombie hangover that stretches its warm animal body over a long grey Sunday with nothing to do. That’s the hangover that’s about Gatorade. I miss Vicki and I sitting on the couches in her living room, clutching Gatorades and bagels and counting out Advils and telling each other stories about the night before. I miss going out in the grey morning when outdoors felt like poking at a bruise and gingerly walking half a block to buy Gatorade and then sitting on the stoop of my old building in Brooklyn, watching the neighborhood wake up. I miss stretching out on the couch in the apartment where I live now and sinking into it for a whole day, indulgently miserable enough that no worries larger than the circumference of my own body existed. All of these memories are about Gatorade, and because I miss them without wanting them back, Fierce Grape is the closest I can come to accessing them in the present. It sort of tastes Welch’s grape juice and it sort of tastes like lip gloss. It tastes like if supermarket grape juice did a Euphoria makeup tutorial. Do you like things that taste purple? Great, you’ll like this. 

White (Glacier Cherry): This is the best Gatorade, but here’s the thing: All Gatorades taste the same, and none of them taste like anything, which is to say they taste like Gatorade. This is my favorite Gatorade, and it tastes like a movie theatre White Cherry Icee in absolutely blasting arctic mall air conditioning on a very hot day in July, but mostly it just tastes like Gatorade. It tastes bad, because all Gatorade tastes bad. If there are specific situations in which you like Gatorade, you’ll like this one. Often on the way home, if I get home before him, Thomas stops and buys me a weird beverage because he knows that “the weirdest beverage at the bodega” is my love language. When it’s a Gatorade, it’s usually this one, if they have it. I leave it in the fridge overnight and drink it first thing in the morning, when I’m barely awake. So much of the struggle of long love is the difficulty of remaining novel to one another, of still having something unknown and therefore exciting to offer, of not just becoming habit and therefore obligation. But much of the payoff is being known and being memorized, held in the back of someone’s mind in the way they might know how to walk or drive home without thinking about the route. Gatorade is suburban and unredeemable and sometimes I feel this way about being married, too. But sometimes I wake up and someone has remembered which of the trash beverages is my favorite trash beverage, and I feel cradled in my own simplicity, in the obvious movie-theatre-in-the-mall air-conditioning of these private spaces between us.

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