The following is based on true events. No names or places have been changed to protect identities. There are no embellishments, no exaggerations; only the true hard facts of how I lost my innocence. We learn life’s hardest lessons in the cruelest way; this is the true tale of how I learned my sense of worth.
1994, suburban Calgary, I am in the third grade. We have just moved from Edmonton and my English is passable, enough to stick me in the regular class as opposed to English immersion. That being said, the school year thus far with my new peers had not been as successful as hoped. I was the only immigrant child in my class; rumors of multiculturalism in Canada had failed me. I still had no foreign kids to bond with, or at least be my partner in crime in mingling and adapting to North American culture. Although Germany wasn’t too strange of a place to be from, it was enough to stamp me as “the weird girl” or “that girl related to Hitler”. My only hope of assimilating into my new surroundings was to take advantage of a concept that still eluded me: recess. I had yet to master the art of Double Dutch, or know by heart the rhymes of the songs chanted by the popular girls clapping their hands together (something about patty cake? A baker’s man? WHAT DID IT ALL MEAN?). What was left was either kickball or tether ball, which were played by boys who did not understand yet that girls enjoyed those games as well. But I had made one keen observation that I knew was my only way in, my way to gather acceptance, my way to integrate; the recess snack. Such hierarchy! I would watch from the corner as a child would open a bag of ramen noodles (ramen? What in sweet fancy Moses was ramen?), UNCOOKED, and have the peasants beg for a handful. They were instantly deemed the King or Queen of the playground. A pack of crackers shaped like kangaroos, with a sauce made entirely of sugar for dipping, was exchanged hastily for gummies filled with syrupy juice. Granola bars that were borderline candy bars were considered healthy and not tradable. The Holy Grail, in my mind, was the leather fruit deemed “The Fruit Roll Up”. I would watch as a pudgy kid wrapped the entire sweet nectar around his or her finger, and spend the next 10 minutes sucking on it as it discolored their finger. Oh how they would stand, so proud and smug, as they sucked and sucked whilst jumping in their hopscotch square, throwing a punch to the tether ball, or easily kicking a ball. Such envy from onlookers. I knew this was my golden ticket. I needed a proper recess snack.
I begged my mother. She refused. “What do you need a snack for? I pack you a lunch! It’s a waste! Fine, you want a snack? You NEED a snack?” The next day I greedily opened my lunch box as the bell rang to unleash us, only to find a bag of baby carrots. I quickly disposed of my cursed offering before anyone could see. My mother didn’t understand. We went to the grocery store and I entered the aisle of forbidden fruit. I saw the box of Fruit Roll Ups. I put it into the cart while my mother didn’t look. I watched as it traveled down the conveyer belt discreetly under a bag of rice. The cashier grabbed the rice first. NO. NO GRAB THEM TOGETHER. PLEASE. Too late. My mother spots the colorful box amongst her plain choices. She discards it without even looking at me. BLASPHEMY. Why must I be cursed with a stubborn German mother who refuses to accept her new life? In order for us to move forward, we have to BECOME them mother, to THINK like them! We don’t mention it on the car ride home. The next day I attempt for the 10 billionth time to approach a group of girls with perfect blonde hair in matching pink scrunchies. I open with the casual “hey what’s up?”, which I knew was the common phrase of choice. They stare blankly back at me, their hands holding dry noodles, I have nothing to bargain with. I retreat back as they giggled. I come home and throw a tantrum to my mother that I can’t make any friends. Two weeks later I spot the colorful box amongst her grocery bags. I’ve finally cracked her. My heart begins to race.
The next day I can barely sit still all morning. I look at my classmates and smile. They do not know that they will soon accept me as their equal. The bells rings, hoards of children run through the halls towards the light of the outdoors. I linger back. I want to make a grand entrance. I retrieve the pack that will be my savior from my packed lunch and slowly walk to my new future. The sun is shining, hundreds of children are screaming in delight, I make sure to stand in the middle of the madness so that they have a clear view of my unveiling. The pack opens like butter, I take out the multicolored sugar, my mouth salivating. Then, a blur, a sensation of betrayal, someone grasps at my hand and runs before I can see his face. But I see the grey sweater with the turtle on the back wearing a purple eye mask. I look down at my hand, my snack is gone. A boy has stolen my one chance of true happiness. At once my vision blurs and all sounds drone out as I feel a wave of heat rise from my feet to the top of my head. This was not my destiny. This was not how it was supposed to go. This is not the day I fail. I cannot fail anymore. Naturally, I did what any normal child would after they had their heart ripped out of their frail body, I begin to cry. The loud wail of a dying animal. All heads turn to Hitler’s daughter standing in the middle of ground zero baring her soul. Surely they would help, surely they would see the injustice that had been done to me? But of course, crying only alienates me further. There was no hope now. Not even a bag of dry ramen noodles would help me overcome this, I have branded myself beyond the weird kid, I have sinned with my tears and squashed any hope of joining their animal kingdom. I run away as the laughter begins. I run back into the safety of the school until I encounter a teacher. She tries to get the story out of me, but my sobs are atrocious. Finally something like “theboywiththeturtletookmyfruitrollup” emerges, and to her credit she smiles kindly, brushes back my wet hair, and agrees with me that it’s not nice when someone steals your food. I look back at her warm eyes, how do I explain to this angel that it’s not about the snack? It was never about the snack. She asks me about the turtle. I explain his sweatshirt. “Donatello?” she asks. I stare blankly back at her. She tells me she knows this boy, he is in her class, and he is wearing a Donatello sweater today. My heart begins to race again, but for a different reason. Would this woman take me to my traitor? Would I be able to seek revenge? I knew I had burned all chances to assimilate, so I might as well go down in flames. She takes my hand and guides me to her classroom where her students mingle about the desks. As soon as she enters they all scatter to their spots and wait in silence for further instruction. I spot him right away. I point, but she is already calling for him to stand up. “Kevin? Did you steal this young lady’s snack?” Kevin looks down, embarrassed. I had not expected this. I thought he would have flaunted his win to the cheers of his peers. I don’t know how to react to this admit of guilt. She calls him to the front, we stand in front of everyone, unable to make eye contact. I couldn’t further guilt my enemy, when he was so keen to do it himself. She makes him apologize, to which he complies, although it’s done in mumbles. I suddenly realize he just wanted the Fruit Roll Up, it was nothing personal. That’s what this all comes down to, don’t we all just want a fucking Fruit Roll Up? My savior brings me back to my classroom. Snickers and pointing do nothing to me as I sit down, my chin raised high. Let them define their worth via recess snacks.