Seltzer Tastes Like Punishment

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There are so many good songs about drinking but none about seltzer, have you noticed that? Actually there is probably some niche lesbian microcelebrity who only yodels about Topo Chico and yes, I can probably say that even though I don’t know if she actually exists I might like her, I might, I might. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

I never saw my grandmother drink anything but Coca-Cola and coffee until I left for college and came back. She used to drink it in cans, but then switched to the little bottles, then the big bottles, then the little bottles again. Once, on a terrible high school home economics trip to Atlanta, we went to the World of Coca-Cola and got to take a glass bottle straight off the production line with us. I had never been so far from home, and the simmering panic that I had been born with made me irritable and tired. Not to mention the fact that my friend, the one I shared a room and a bed with on the trip, told me in the dark, but not quiet, the city would not stop humming, that her uncle had been abusing her for some time, and had sworn me to secrecy. I had all of this inside of me when my mother and grandmother came to pick me up, asked me how it had gone. I sighed and said it was okay, it was fine, can I tell you later? Which, of course, was the wrong answer. I didn’t mean it to be. My punishment was to never be asked about the details of the trip, even when I brought it up, ever again.

I gave Nan the glass Coke anyway. I had been thinking of her when I grabbed it off the line, had made sure it was tucked away carefully in my luggage. She put it on the shelf with our baby pictures on it. It’s still there.

My family was a Coke family, but they were especially a name brand Dawn and Clorox family, despite not really being able to afford any of those things. My mother would laugh and say Nan would scrub down their shanty shack with name-brand bleach, that she thought the cheaper kind didn’t work as well. I wonder if this is some kind of lineage, if I, too have that inside of me. I have frequently been accused by the people that raised me of having expensive taste despite, you know, all of it. In another essay, not this one, I admit that I do. In this essay, I will —

The first time I remember trying Dr. Thunder I was ten or so and at a birthday party. I recognized it, obliquely, as the Walton family’s equivalent to Dr. Pepper. It tasted fine, I liked it, though I mostly liked the strawberry cake and vanilla ice cream. I didn’t think it was something to be embarrassed about — weren’t we all poor?

But apparently we weren’t. There was teasing involved, harsh words, cruelty in a way that only little girls who learn from their mothers are cruel. And though I didn’t participate in it, I didn’t say anything in defense, either. I just sat on my hands and tried to stay quiet. I took what I was given. So, it goes.

When was that first pop of cheap champagne or cheap Aldi sparkling?

I’ve been on hold for therapy at the Indian Clinic for so long that I’ve started imagining conversations with the therapist in place of actual discussion. She asks that and she asks which of my parents is the Native American and I think about lying and saying neither. She asks which one of my parents is the alcoholic and I tell the truth and say, neither. Can you still be an alcoholic if you’re dead? Asking for a friend. She asks what my own relationship to substance is and I make a little dog shaped shadow puppet and make him answer for me. He talks and talks, mostly about Jung, and I say okay, alright now, hush.

Either way it didn’t taste very good and I’m not sure I liked the way it made me feel but I don’t think that mattered as much as that it felt like some kind of secret horror show being unlocked and I liked the punishment of it all.

No, I don’t think I’ll reschedule for a next appointment, thanks.

I try to dress up seltzer and sparkling water in a way that makes it drinkable but have failed to find a way to do so. Sometimes, I drink it anyway because it, too, feels like punishment. I hear people on the coasts like it, which I think is another kind of lie about the coasts.

I tried all of it, Polar and AHA and La Croix and Spindrift and thought, Why is something that tastes so bad so expensive. All the cool and uncool queer people I am friends with rolled their eyes at this and sipped their little sips, and I cracked open a Ginger Ale which had the double benefit of soothing my crackling, colonized stomach and keeping me on the wagon I made for myself. Hop on, partner!

This is where we lose the thread, I’m afraid. Just close your eyes, let me take you down the bubbled path. Here are the memories. Fragments from my notebook. All thoughts from when the [REDACTED] stopped flowing.

​​My genetics have bred me this way. Today, I have a migraine. I look terrible. Even if you didn’t suck in a breath and say holy shit you look terrible, I would have known. My hands shake always now but I hold them steady to flip you off. You kiss the tip of my finger lightly, take it between your teeth. Everything is a circle.

My allergies are terrible this year. Perhaps they are terrible every year. How the fuck would I know?  

The SSRIs help. Dad’s dying, that doesn’t help. He begs for liquor. It makes my head pound. I want to say, shut the fuck up we all want a drink, but I don’t, and Janet 2 says that’s a good thing. 

What did I always say? Just a little something to take the edge off. What edge? All of them. Boundaries of my body erased, hiding the key. 

I’m trailer trash from white trash and territory land reservation by any other name trash. 

Without the… the sun is too bright and everything is too loud. I go to bed early and wake in the quiet hours. I have to take multiple naps a day. I walk through the woods. Therapy is making me sicker, I reckon. One by one my layers are being stripped away until I am one raw nerve. Stinging. Janet 2 says this attitude is unproductive. 

I wake with dust in my mouth and a headache like a hangover. I had dreamed that Teacher had brought three bottles of booze into the woods with us and made me drink them one after the other. They had said whole sentences in the dream, though neither of us has actually spoken in days. 

The birds are singing at night, everything is upside down, I wrench myself upward and get immediately dizzy, nothing is clear. I’m in my own dorm. I take three Advil and drink an open, warm Pedialyte before I dare turn on the light. Home sweet home. 

There it is. Come here. There, there.


Fine. One more thing. Did I scare you? I didn’t mean to. Once I tried to write a short story about a balloon fetishist and his wife. The wife hated the balloons. But, when the man died, she couldn’t bear to pop them. Then: in a fit of rage, she did, all but one. This balloon held his breath, whatever was left of him on this earth, so she started carrying it around. They didn’t have any children, so she wore it under her shirt to mimic a ripe belly. When I shopped it around, everyone was like, you are a really good writer but this is REALLY gross. I laughed, then, because it was.

These days, I only drink Coke when out at breakfast, or dinner, or lunch with friends or when visiting my grandmother. I have it alongside a glass of still water. I like the way, and this hasn’t changed, the bubbles burn my throat in a familiar way. Like they’re caressing me. Like they’re saying, oh Autumn, we remember you. You were such a good child. What happened?

That, too, is its own kind of sweetness.

Bubble Trouble is a series helmed by Autostraddle Managing Editor Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya about the nostalgia, effervescence, and never-ending appeal of carbonated beverages.

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Autumn Fourkiller

Autumn Fourkiller is a writer and mystic from the “Early Death Capital of the World.” She is currently at work on a novel about Indigeneity, the Olympics, and climate change. A 2022 Ann Friedman Weekly Fellow, her work can be found in Atlas Obscura, Majuscule, Longreads, and elsewhere. You can follow her newsletter, Dream Interpretation for Dummies, on Substack.

Autumn has written 7 articles for us.


  1. Autumn, I just love your work so much, and I loved this piece! This part really got me: “I like the way, and this hasn’t changed, the bubbles burn my throat in a familiar way. Like they’re caressing me. Like they’re saying, oh Autumn, we remember you. You were such a good child. What happened?” So happy to be here with you today!

  2. I love this piece! I can’t wait to read your book! You are such an amazing writer and I love how you mix up ideas in one sentence or whatever it is that you are doing. It’s like little twists all over and I love it. I’m not sure if I’m describing it accurately but whatever it is I love it. I’ll check out your other short pieces on the links too. Awesome piece!!!

  3. As a coastal lover of seltzer I came in expecting to hate on this and then, by the end, I ended up absolutely loving every word. Quite a feat.

    Keep writing, you’re amazing.

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