I was at the top of Telegraph Hill with my little sister, at the base of Coit Tower. I would be nine or so, and she would be six. We crawled through a hole in the fence and sat on a rough rock at the edge of the cliff, in the wind, and I broke in half the piece of chocolate I had brought with me, and we sat and ate it, looking out at the bay. My sister was small and thin and looked fragile, with wispy brown curls and bright green eyes, and she was wearing what all little girls wore then, a flower-print short-sleeve dress that reached just to the knees.
It was important to break the candy precisely in half. I was good at it. We were hungry children and it mattered that we always, each, got exactly half. I would hold up the two pieces and measure them against each other, while my sister gravely watched, and if one was larger, I would bite off the excess and then give that half to my sister. Chocolate! Fragrant, so fragrant. Dark and rich, and tasting like something important, something just on the edge of our sight, vast as the bay below us.
I have a tricky heart. I had my first cardiac arrest when I was 20, and I’ve had many since then. I was a chocolate addict, even knowing that chocolate, or anything with caffeine, made my heart act up, until I was almost 30 and a doctor told me, “Think of it this way: You can eat chocolate, or you can live.” Oh. That was pretty clear. I quit cold turkey that day.
Now we’re old, and my sister still loves chocolate. She lives in Idaho, and I take a lot of pleasure in finding interesting chocolate and sending it to her. Single-origin fair-trade chocolate from Madagascar, or Venezuela, made bean to bar in a warehouse in Southeast Portland, kind of thing. She reports back on how she liked each one. “Meh.” Or “Pleasant but not earth-shaking,” or “Knocked my socks off,” or “Socks knocked all the way into the next galaxy!” And once it was, “Socks died of ennui.”
But for me, chocolate is just a memory. A rock on top of Telegraph Hill. A thousand shards of sunlight glimmering on the dark blue bay water like bits of a shattered mirror. The wind soughing past us and ship horns droning out on the bay. The smell of the chocolate, rich, dark, sweet, and then the taste, with that addictive edge. The rock rough under our bottoms through our too-thin dresses, and the wind cold on our exposed arms and legs. And chocolate. Carefully shared, and eaten in silence. Chocolate.