It was sixth period AP English Language and Composition and I was sitting there, ready to analyze the work of the great philosophers. I just had to make it through this class, and then I could enjoy the short walk home and start my homework.
The bell hadn’t rung yet to start class and I had something to say, a pressing matter on my mind. So I said it to everyone in my classroom.
“I have a really intense craving for milk right now.”
Almost everyone in my class looked at me like I had dropped in from another planet, which by senior year I was used to that look. I didn’t care, I just wanted to let everyone know that before we started discussing rhetorical choices I really wanted milk, even though only 49 minutes had passed between my lunch shift and class. (I had Independent Study Art during fifth period, so maybe doing graphite drawings of figures made me thirsty for milk.)
“Oh man, that sounds so good!” a friend said.
“Nice tall glass? Ice cold?” another classmate asked.
“You know it,” I said. “Straight from the fridge.”
“I think I know what I’m having when I’m getting home,” my friend added.
I credit my parents for raising me in a household where drinking soda was something that only occurred when we were eating out, and even then they usually encouraged me and my sister to drink juice. I grew up in a household where we drank milk with every meal, even though by high school I was drinking all natural cherry vanilla soda from the natural foods store in Cedar Falls. (RIP Roots Market.) By the time I was an adult, living alone in Chicago, I was continuing to drink milk. I have vivid memories of going to the Whole Foods in Lincoln Park to get milk before the Blizzard of 2011, wading through people stocking up on salmon and wine, to try to grab fat free milk before settling on 2 percent milk. (From that point on I had nothing but 2 percent milk.)
I went off to college and made sure I always bought a gallon of milk at Kroger, a little note on the label to remind me nothing pairs with milk quite like a package of Chipmates, the store-brand chocolate chip cookies it sold. While I lived on campus at Michigan State, I was usually running around, chugging a bottle of milk and eating something from the East Lansing Food Co-Op or Sparty’s, the convenience stores on campus. If I was sitting down an eating dinner in a dining hall, my dinner was always accompanied by a book, a cup of Lemon Lift tea, and a glass of milk.
Towards the end of senior year, I started to notice how uncomfortable I felt after I consumed dairy, particularly large amounts of dairy. I shrugged it off and just figured it was the result of stress, but after I moved to Wisconsin, I continued to feel discomfort after consuming dairy. I had an office job shortly after graduation, an apartment in a desirable neighborhood. Things were going pretty great for me, but I still felt miserable. I did the only reasonable thing I could think of, which was go on a vegan diet.
This lasted for about six months, with me realizing I should eat whatever I want as long as I don’t feel miserable or get sick. Maybe it was me accepting my love of quiche or the terrible service I had at an upscale vegan restaurant in New York, but I decided to just go back to eating meat and eggs to my heart’s delight.
Just no dairy.
I figured I had a dairy allergy and avoided it, but found myself caving in when cheese was put in front of me. I then noticed how I reacted and thought, “This doesn’t seem like an allergic reaction.”
I went to my doctor one day in January and talked with him about my reactions to dairy. He nodded and told me I probably was lactose intolerant and told me it was perfectly normal, just try to consume less than 10g of lactose in a week.
By that point, I acknowledged my problems with dairy in my writing, saying this in a review of a coffee shop when discussing me drinking a cortado:
Against our better judgment and the knowledge we would spend the bus ride home curled up in a ball feeling like someone punched us in the stomach, our next drink was a cortado with whole milk ($3).
I would make off-handed comments to people, but would occasionally cave for pizza or cheese. (I love cheese.) I found myself, usually during dinner, missing milk. Sure, I tend to drink tea, wine, beer or water during a meal, but I missed the creaminess of milk going down my throat. There was also the great benefit of milk helping calm my acid reflux disease and even soy, almond and coconut milk can’t help with that. I still decided to go about my life trying to do things like enjoy cookies and milk by having cookies with coconut milk. (It doesn’t cut it.)
During the WMSE Rockabilly Chili fundraiser, a friend turned to me and told me he was getting some milk from the milk bar to calm his tongue. He offered to grab some for me, but I declined, reminding him I’m lactose intolerant. He came back with two cups of milk and I decided to drink it instead of tell him, “I told you, I’m lactose intolerant. I’m going to spend the rest of the day bloated and having cramps.” I took a sip of milk and it felt like my eyes brightened.
It wasn’t because the heat on my tongue was finally going away, but because that creamy smooth milk was hitting my tongue for the first time in more than a year. There it was, the drink that accompanied a majority of my meals as a kid and young adult, comforting me after consuming gratuitous amounts of chili.
But as expected, I felt miserable for the rest of the afternoon and into the evening, deciding to curl up on the couch with my cat, some tea with ginger in it and a book. I didn’t think much about drinking milk until I was at Trader Joe’s to buy groceries. I walked through the store as I usually did, going through the produce section, up the aisle of bread, down the aisle of canned goods and pasta where I always grab a can of dolmas before putting them back on the shelf; walk up the frozen food aisle, look at the cheese section and then go down the aisle with the dried fruit.
(I’m a creature of habit.)
While in the aisle with the nuts and dried fruit, I saw a woman walk past me with a carton of Lactaid in her basket. I suddenly felt the lightbulb go off in my head and the voice of reason say, “You know, Monica, lactose-free milk is an option.”
“I know, Monica.”
“Go grab a carton and see how you feel.”
“Sounds good, Monica.”
I walked back to the dairy section, eyed the cartons carefully before grabbing one and dropping it into my basket. I got home, sat down at my table after unloading the groceries and opened the carton, pouring a glass of milk. I lifted the cup and sipped, a smile appearing on my face. I continued drinking the milk, fixing my dinner before heading to a rehearsal. I went about my evening, feeling perfectly normal, save for the overwhelming anxiety I was feeling regarding having to stand on a stage in front of dozens of people.
I was elated over being able to drink milk again and started frantically texting every person I could think of. I could drink milk, the thing I would heat up to help me calm down at night, once again.
The next day, as I was out running errands, I found myself having a craving for milk, not unlike the one I had before the start of AP English Language and Composition. But this time I smiled and thought, “You can have a glass when you get home.”