I am susceptible to trends. I get dressed, thinking I am carefully attuned to the soft voice of my own internal style, and then look in the mirror and see a crumpled copy of an Instagram influencer, circa 18 months ago. I like vitamins and juices. I am receptive to the idea that owning certain things will make me feel better. I believe I am one Tupperware purchase away from tripping the wire that sets off daily gym visits and pre-dawn wake-ups and leaps up the corporate ladder. Even now, as we speak, I am the owner of multiple $18 lip balms.
My possessions and I keep up a quiet, often unsatisfying relationship. I buy things, hoping they will act like psychiatric drugs crossed with religious epiphanies, and they pile up in my apartment like what they are—elegantly packaged plastic. I seek the better-living-through-careful-capitalism that the age of online reviews offers. I get melted candles and sooty charcoal drinks.
There’s only one product I’ve found that costs very little and makes me feel that goop-y, goodly nirvana, that delivers on the inane belief that I am “clean” and well, that gives me a feeling of both crackling pleasure and puritanism—seltzer.
Violently carbonated water, more than life events or human touch, makes me feel something. It’s a feeling I chased after for a long time—that thing other women seem to get when they come home from work and put on sweats and pull their hair back and drink a glass of wine. I don’t like the taste of wine. But I wanted that feeling.
So I went through a period where I applied a single-use Korean face mask every night. I could not be comfortable until I was in my room alone, looking like a child in a ghost costume on a rainy Halloween. My roommates got used to seeing me coming around a corner and managed not to scream. But the sensation didn’t bring me the sense of contentment I was after. It didn’t soothe me.
Still, I wanted to feel better. I wanted to feel good. I wanted that placid, pleasure-laden experience that I’d seen in the movies, often depicted between glasses of wine and the erotic exhale: “That was a day!” But I have never met a drug or an alcohol that felt just right to me, so instead I spent roughly the cost of an Econ major’s textbooks on CBD products—gummies, mints, tinctures, and sodas. The business of CBD seemed healthful and kind. Mere conversations with CBD salespeople felt like sinking into a suede beanbag chair. I read that CBD would make me feel calm but not drugged. I just wanted to come home, light a candle, and consume $24 worth of CBD. I do believe that CBD works for many people, but it did not work for me. I had to admit that I was essentially in a seedy folktale of my own creation, trading money for beans.
I had set out to eat or drink or smoke or slather on something that would make me feel luxurious but not extravagant. That thing turned out to be carbonated water from a can. Seltzer, like everything else I like, was brusquely inserted into my life by ad campaigns and influencers who made me think it was my idea. Even though I grew up with a mother who housed liters of Pellegrino the way addicts chain-smoke cigarettes, I started liking seltzer at the same time everyone else did—in 2016, when a drop in soda popularity encouraged seltzer brands to campaign aggressively for the millennial dollar. The midwestern seltzer brand La Croix became explosively popular, and cans of it came to signify minute, tasteful indulgence. Even in New York, a can of La Croix from a twelve-pack cost fifty cents at most. I started drinking three a day.