When I was in first or second grade, there was a girl in my class who would give me her potato chips at lunch every day. Unlike many of my peers, we never had potato chips at my house and so I never had them in my lunch. Her chips were in a plastic sandwich baggie that was slick with grease from the chips. They were delicious.
She often smelled awful, mostly of stale urine. We told her this. And on the days when the smell was strong, I wouldn't play with her. I have to wonder, now, if this gift of the chips was an effort to secure a friendship. Her smell lurked around her like a living thing, and I was afraid that if she touched me, it would slither onto me and I would smell, too. The smell made her seem dirty, though in actuality, she was not.
Her smell seemed even to contaminate the chips, so that if I thought about it too much I'd have to imagine them to be covered in some kind of invisible filth. I ate them anyway.
The memory of her smell is so strong that whenever I hear her first name, I think of the rotten tang of subways and airport bathrooms.
Friday, September 15, 2006
We are reading Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life in my Composition class. Today I borrowed one of her assignments and asked my students to write for a while about what they remembered of school lunches. I wrote, too. Here's a little piece of what I ended up with: