NAPERVILLE, IL - As Chandler Davis looked down at the ten burning candles rising out of his Transformers-decorated birthday cake, he made a wish: that he could go back in time and undo some of the life choices he had made during years zero to nine.
“When I was younger, I was a real poopie-head,” Davis said. “If I knew then what I know now...,” he added, letting the thought linger as he took a long pull on his Capri Sun.
Davis’s first decade of life is a story of regrets, lost loves, and lost economic opportunities, and it began literally with trauma. “The first thing I remember was my big brother Ross dropping me on my head,” Davis said. “We were playing Power Rangers and he picked me up and dropped me on the floor. Mom said I was hurt pretty bad. I guess that’s why I can’t remember anything before then.”
There were other distressing events—an accidental bathtub defecation during potty training, the death of a pet gerbil, Mr. Snuggles, and a traumatic 26-minute ordeal of being separated from his mother at the mall. “Being away from my mom for that long made me question if Jesus really loved me like grandma said.”
Those events paled in comparison to what lay ahead for Davis between the ages of eight and nine. It started with a girl named Montana.
“She was real pretty,” Davis recalled of classmate Montana Kowalski. “Blonde hair and blue eyes. She started in third grade ‘cause she moved from somewhere. I wanted to tell her I liked her but I was too shy.” The admission causes Davis to shake his head slowly.
“The popular girls like Dakota and Carly were really mean to her. My mom says it’s ‘cause of something called jealousy, where you want to be the other person but can’t ‘cause you’re ugly or something. They called her Montana Cooties, and the boys started saying that too.
“I didn’t say anything—gosh, how I wish I had—but I tried to be nice to her. One day I picked up a book she dropped and handed it to her. ‘Thanks, Chandler, you’re so nice,’ she said to me. Harrison and Liam and some of the other boys started laughing. I panicked and said, ‘You have cooties.’” Davis stopped to wipe his eyes.
“She transferred the next year. I never saw her again, but Phoebe and Monica said she’s like the most popular girl in school. And she could have been mine.”
The following summer, Davis was caught in the economic crunch rampaging through the newspaper industry. “My paper route got cancelled.” He attempted to help his brother Ross with his lawnmowing business, but an unfortunate sprinkler accident caused him to lose the job after one week.
A loveless, jobless, school-less Davis drowned his summer sorrows in breakfast cereal. “I started eating Trix and watching Nick all the time: Nick, Nick West, even Nick Jr.” But soon Trix weren’t enough—“they’re for kids, and I wanted something more hardcore”—and Davis turned to Coco Puffs. He developed a box-a-day habit. When his mother tried to get him to switch to Cheerios, Davis went off the deep end. “I’d do anything for sugar, even eat it out of the jar in the kitchen. It got so bad I couldn’t get out of bed without a couple of juice boxes and a Pixie Stick first.”
By the time fourth grade started, Davis was in a full downward spiral. His schoolwork suffered as he could only focus on getting sugar and what he would say to Ms. Kowalski if she had still been at his school. “I don’t even remember fractions, and we spent, like, three weeks on them,” Davis lamented. His friends began to shun him, causing Davis to seek companionship from anyone who would provide it.
“I was at my house playing Wii with Bobby Butterman,” Davis said. “I got mad ‘cause I rolled a gutterball in bowling, and I broke the nunchuck. My mom yelled and Butterman had to go home. When I invited him over again, he said he didn’t want to play with me.
“That’s when it hit me: Even ‘Stinky’ Butterman didn’t want to come over. I needed help.”
Davis turned to big brother Ross. “Chandler said, ‘Help me,’ and I said, ‘Help you do what, homo?’” Ross Davis said. “He said he had to get off sweets. So I came up with a plan: every time I saw him eating something sweet I punched him.”
The plan worked. Although the rehabilitation left his arms bruised and he suffered several debilitating Charlie Horses, Davis kicked sugar, even forgoing Christmas cookies for fresh fruits and vegetables. Aside from a brief relapse at Easter, which Ross fixed with a round of therapeutic noogies, Davis was finally sugar-free. “I allow myself a Capri Sun once a day,” Davis said, “but that’s it.” He also manages his sugar cravings with Trident gum.
He also found a new attraction, a girl named Hannah. “She’s awesome, even cuter than Montana. Plus, the other day when she said, ‘hi’ to me, I said ‘hi’ back. I think she likes me.”
While acknowledging recovery is a struggle, Davis remains optimistic. “My family has been awesome. My dad said I have to take it one day at a time. I asked him how else I could take it, and he told me not to be smart.” Still, Davis plans to learn from his mistakes. “When I become a teenager, I’m totally going to make all the right choices and not be a butt face like Ross.”
Then, with no one looking, he allowed himself a scoop of frosting from the birthday cake, letting his finger linger in his mouth until biting it after his brother punched him.