Lunchtime was always a time of trepidation for me. Where would I sit? Would that mean girl Ellen be there today? Could I possibly ignore the stares and snickers?
I walked to the door of the cafeteria with my little brown paper sack. We could never afford to BUY our lunch. My shoulders were hunched. It’s like I was trying to disappear inside my own skin. I didn’t see Ellen, so I walked in looking for Nancy, my best friend. There she was at a table by herself in the far corner.
I got in line to get my little carton of milk. We couldn’t afford to have hot lunches, but mom always made sure we had the 10 cents for milk. I was behind a big kid. I was in the 6th grade. I’m guessing this kid was held back a grade or two. He was as big as a house.
I was pushed from behind by a couple of boys cutting up in line. It was not meant intentionally, but it pushed me square into the back of the giant ahead of me. His knees buckled during the push and he almost fell to the floor.
He quickly spun around and barked a loud “HEY!!” at me. I cringed and muttered an apology. It was Dan. Dan was the biggest, ugliest and meanest kid at Ben Franklin Elementary. Dan gave me a little shove and said “Well, just watch it!”
I was able to get through the line and get my milk with any further incidents.
I hurried to cross the busy room and sat across the table from Nancy. She was just finishing her little box of milk with a slurping sound as I joined her. Our lunch times over lapped by only about 15 minutes, so I didn’t get to spend much time with my friend.
“Hi Nancy” I said, quietly. She said “Hi Penny. What’s wrong?”
“Did you see Dan push me? I thought he was going to kill me!”
“No I didn’t!” Nancy exclaimed. “What happened?”
So I recounted the story to her. I may have embellished just a little bit for drama.
Nancy and I had met the year before. We were both outcasts. Nancy’s family wasn’t any better off financially than mine was. We both wore hand-me-downs. We were made fun of because of our clothes, or our brown paper bag lunches. Nancy wasn’t the prettiest girl in the world. She wasn’t ugly, just plain. Me, I had a big chip out of one of my front teeth. This resulted in name calling like, “Snaggle Tooth”.
So Nancy and I were kindred spirits. We bonded together out of self-defense. Best friends.
Nancy shook her head. “When is someone going to cut him down to size?”
“That’s the problem!” I said. “He’s just too darned big!”
I opened my paper bag and looked inside. I pulled out something wrapped in wax paper. Setting the waxed paper bundle on the table, I started unwrapping it. I recognized what was inside before I even had it completely unwrapped and my heart sank.
There were times when there was no money for bread, so mom would make up a batch of biscuits and that’s what we had our sandwiches made on. Biscuits. Today was one of those days. I looked back inside my lunch bag to see if there was anything else that might be a little more promising. At the bottom of the bag was an apple. I sighed.
Nancy looked over at me as I peered between the layers of biscuit. Peanut butter. Nancy knew how I felt. She had been there one day when Ellen had started teasing me over my biscuit sandwich. Several other kids joined in. It was a pretty tough day.
I pulled out the apple and tossed the biscuit sandwich back in, looking around quickly to see if anyone had seen my pathetic lunch. No one had. I breathed a sigh of relief.
I started eating my apple. Nancy handed me an oatmeal cookie she hadn’t eaten. “Here, eat this. I need to go; I’m going to be late for class.” “Thanks Nancy.” I said. And off she went.
I sat there trying to make myself invisible for the rest of my lunch period.