Thursday, May 23, 2019

Outlandish Mennonite


Continued from The Girlfriend

When I opened the door, George had a similar reaction at the sight of me as he did when he saw me in my purple dress.

“Holy shit, Anna—you, you, look, I mean you are beautiful! Wow!” he said.

“I would say all kinds of things to the contrary, but you see, I have this amazing friend who taught me to say ‘Thank you’ when receiving compliments such as these.”

As he walked toward me, he said, “Hmmm, I wonder who this amazing friend might be,” and gently wrapped his arms around me, pulling me against his body.

I invited him in and proceeded to tell him that my imaginary gay husband had gone shopping with me and chose the outfit for me.

“Oh, Anna, are you still dreaming about that?”

“Yes, especially after this weekend. I just love him so much.”

“I know.”

“He is so good to me, he accepts me as I am, and expects nothing in return. Do you know how rare that is?”

“Yes, I do. I understand perfectly. I’m not surprised that you have such a strong connection with Josh.”

I just stared at him as he continued, “I am happy for you, and I feel honored to have had the pleasure to watch you grow into this healthy, strong, beautiful young woman I see in front of me.”

“Thank you,” I said, while briefly allowing myself to enjoy the feeling of my butterflies traveling down my body to my toes.

“You’re welcome, sweetie,” he said and winked at me.

That was the most beautiful moment I had experienced in the presence of a straight man. I held on as long as I could, until I had to find a way to distract myself so that I could maintain control of my actions.

“Can you believe this?” I asked as I handed him my report card.

“Yes, I can.  This is not surprising to me at all.  I knew you had it in you.”

“Thanks for believing in me and encouraging me to go to school. I am so close to finishing. I only have one semester left.”

“I know, isn't it amazing?”

“It sure is.”

“What are you going to do after you finish school?”

“Look for a job immediately. Do you think I could apply where you are working?”

“You could, but I think that would be a big mistake.”

“Why?”

“Because I think you should keep going and go to college right away.”

“I would love to, but first of all, I don’t think I could do it, and second, I don’t even know what I would study, and third, I have no money. I need to work to support myself.”

“That’s a load of crap. You can so do it, and you could apply for OSAP.”

“Mabe one day I might apply to go to college, but they probably won't even let me in if they find out that I started kindergarten at the age of nineteen, and besides, my handwriting is still terrible. It's going to take me years of practice to get better at it.”

“Stop talking like that, Anna. Do you even know how far you have come in such a short amount of time? You are an unstoppable force, Anna Wall. You can do anything! I wish you could see that!”

“Thank you! I must admit I am afraid that I will get depressed again after I am done school and get back to working some meaningless job. I am terrified that I will lose everything that I have worked so hard for.”

“But you know how not to let that happen, right?”

Before I had a chance to come up with an answer, my phone rang, and it was Mom. “I’ll talk to you later in the week,” whispered George as he let himself out.

Mom sounded happy while she told me that she was hearing from multiple people in the colony about how I was helping people everywhere and how grateful they were for what I was doing.

“That’s so good to hear. I’m so glad. Thank you for telling me that.”

Dots goat. (That’s good.) Your aunt is no longer angry with you or giving me a hard time about you. When she heard how you have been helping people, she said we do need brave people like you. She just doesn’t understand why you are so Utlaundtch (Outlandish).”

I did a little inner happy dance as I thought, “Utlaundtch? Now that I can work with! But wait! I might have to read the English definition of ‘outlandish’ in the dictionary first.”

She never even mentioned a “schwiennoagel” or anything. She shared with me how much easier life in the colony was becoming since they had electricity in their homes, and the fact that church leaders from La Honda Zacatecas had come to hold church regularly again.

She told me that she was no longer that concerned about me going to public school in Canada anymore, since my brothers were getting older and not listening and often leaving the colony. “They are spending so much time with Mexican people, and half the time, we have no idea where they are or what they are doing.”

“I’m sorry,” I said in English, because it loses its meaning when you say it in Low German. And continued in Low German, “That must be hard for you.”

“Yes, it is.”

“I have three months of school left, and then I am done.”

“Okay,” she responded and asked when I might come home again.

“I would love to come home again soon, but that will all depend on how quickly I get a job after I’m done school.”

“Okay, I have to go now. We’ll talk again soon,” she said and hung up the phone.

I sat down on the floor and spent a moment thinking about the fact that I wasn’t feeling the guilt I had always felt after speaking with Mom. I pondered the idea that the new Anna could be capable of turning her energy toward loving Mom. The feelings were deeper than I had ever before allowed myself to experience, thanks to the influences that had brought me to that moment.

By my last semester, I had figured out my learning style, and because of that, it was my best semester. I enjoyed every minute of it and was sad that it was coming to an end.

During a weekend with Josh, I opened up to him about my feelings for George.

“You love him, don’t you?” asked Josh.

“Yes! How could I not?”

“Yeah, that was a stupid question.”

“What do you think, Josh. Should I tell George that I’m in love with him?”

“I think that has gone beyond words.”

“True.”

“George knows and feels that you love him.”

“Really?”

“Anna, it's so obvious.”

“Oh, shit!”

“No, no. It's not a bad thing.”

The tears started rolling down my cheeks. Josh turned to me and cupped my face with his gentle, soft hands and said, “Anna, I have gotten to know you really well, and I am very good at reading between the lines. I think you have a lot of stuff to work through before you are ready for a serious relationship. I’m just telling you what I see. I mean, do you even know what you want in a relationship?”

“No.”

“You have the most beautiful thing going with George. Why put boundaries and labels on that? More often than not, that’s when relationships become complicated and often get ruined. Love should be free like yours is; that’s how it can grow so strong that nothing can ever break it. That’s just what I have learned. I say go on loving him as you have been, at least until you are absolutely sure of what it is that you want.

When he saw that my tears had become a stream, he hugged me and said, “I’m sorry that this hurts you, Anna. I’m only telling you because I know about this, and I care about you. I'm watching you change faster than a jet can fly, and don’t get me wrong, it’s all very good—you of all people need that time to fly free and discover yourself, then let the dust settle with yourself first.”

“It's okay. I'm only crying because you are right. I am not ready at all. I have no idea what I want. I think I have figured it all out, but I know that I have only collected the tools necessary to work through my issues. I am still so trapped between two worlds, and until I can fully surrender to becoming one with both, I don't know what I want. But he's just so, so, so...”

I think you are looking for the word, “Exquisite.”

“Yes!”

“I know, right? Too bad he's straight.”

“Ummm…”

“Just kidding.”

“Well, that’s why I want to trap him before someone else does.”

“Anna, never ever trap him. Let what you have with him fly free, and it will always be exquisite. You are so lucky that he landed in your life as he did. I wouldn’t change a thing. He will be that in your life until you change it. And who knows where you'll end up when you have had a chance to blossom into your full potential.”

“I’m not sure what you just said, but it’s beautiful.”

“Right?”

“Oh, man! You are the best. I’m so glad I talked to you about this. Thanks, I feel so much lighter now.”

“I’m so glad, and you’re welcome.”

“I love you.”

“I love you too, Anna.”

I took Josh’s advice to heart and cherished each moment I spent with George even more after that.

I applied for a factory job at a temp service halfway through my last semester. I had an interview two weeks before final exams and accepted a job offer. I was to start a month after finishing school. During final exam week, my cousin Izaak surprised me with his appearance at my doorstep.”

Primo!” I screamed as I hugged him.

“It's so good to see you, Anna.”

“You too, Izaak. What are you doing here?”

“Well, dropped off some menones (Mennonites), and I’m here to offer you a free ride to Mexico.

Ha li dietschjat! What?”

“What do you say, wanna drop everything you’re doing and go on an adventure with me?”

“Yes! Yes, I do! Wait! You mean like right now?”

“Yes.”

“But I have one more exam to write before I'm done school. Can you wait until tomorrow?”

“Sure, yes, of course, I’ll wait.”

I was bursting with excitement. I didn’t know what to do with myself after Izaak left, so I visited George.

“I have one exam left. Can you believe it?”

“Yes, I can, Anna!”

“I can’t.”

“Well, you better start because it's true.” 

“I am so happy!”

“I am happy that you're happy! You so deserve this happiness,” he said, and hugged me.

I told him about the opportunity I had, and almost felt like I needed permission from him to go to Mexico with Izaak.

George was thrilled for me. He hugged me again and said, “Holy shit! That’s awesome, Anna. I’m so jealous.”

I hugged him back and asked, “Hey, you wanna come?”

“That would be so f#cking awesome, but I can't take time off work right now.”

“Okay, maybe another time.”

“Absolutely! I would love to go to Mexico with you,” he said.

“Okay, I’ll see you when I get back.”

“Sounds good. I’ll be here doing the same thing as I have been my whole life. F#ck! My life is boring,” he said.

After handing in my final exam, I hugged every one of my teachers and told them that I would be forever grateful for the gifts of their time and patience that it took to be my teacher. I felt I owed my freedom to them.

“You don’t owe us anything. You did all the work. You take full credit for that, Anna,” one of my teachers said and continued, “You can pick up your final report card in two days.”

“Would it be okay if you mailed it to me?”

“Sure.”

“Can I call you in a couple of days to ask what my final mark is over the phone? I am leaving for Mexico later today, but I will be dying to know if I passed.”

“Anna, there’s no need for you to call me. You passed with flying colours!”

“I did?”

“Yes, you did!”

“So, this is it?”

“This is it, Anna.”

“That’s it? I did it? I’m done?” I yelled.

“Yes, you did it, you are done, and I’m very proud of you.”

“Thank you!” I said and hugged her again.

“I don’t know what to do with myself right now!” I explained.

“Go on. Get out of here, go to Mexico and celebrate. You deserve it.”

“Thank you! I will. Okay, bye,” I said and ran home.

I packed my bags and a pile of books instead of knives this time. I called the house that I cleaned and left a message that I would be away for a while.

Izaak drove, and when he didn’t talk, I read. I felt like I had made it. I felt as free as a bird.



“Nobody is 
superior, nobody 
is inferior, 
but nobody is 
equal either. 
People are simply 
unique, 
incomparable. 
You are you, 
I am I.” Osho

Thursday, May 2, 2019

The Girlfriend


Continued from Changing Mennonite

When I opened my eyes, I saw my “girlfriend” Tony standing there.

“Tony!” I said.

“May I sit beside you?” she asked.

“Yes, you may.”

“Thanks, I was hoping you would be in my class again. How are things? How’s the cleaning job?”

“The job is going good. Do you want it back yet?”

“Heavens no! I’m never taking on a job like that again. Scrubbing other people’s shit off their toilets is not what I desire to do at all.”

“Okay, I haven't seen you here in a while. Where have you been?”

“I dropped out again, but here I am, and I f#king hate school. I can't wait for this semester to be over so I can move away from here.”

“Really? Where are you moving to?”

“Someplace where there are more gay people, and since you are my girlfriend, you wanna come with me?”
“Ummm…” I muttered as I turned red like a tomato while I cleared my throat.

“Well, what do you say, honey? You wanna come with me and let me show you the ropes?”

“I am not sure what that means.”

“I know, and that’s why it’ll be amazing. I will teach you.”

“Ummm, but I’m just getting used to this place, and besides, I think I'm okay now. I'm not that afraid of men anymore. I think we can break up now.”

“No, no, no! Don’t say that, Anna. Men are assholes, and as long as you are my girlfriend you are protected, and besides, we don’t need them.”

“Ummm, no, they're not all assholes. I have been thinking about that a lot lately. I have met many amazing men. It's not fair that we let a few assholes ruin all of our opportunities to decide for ourselves who we choose to connect with. Maybe we don’t need them, but it’s still okay to want them in our lives, isn’t it?” I said. “I mean, I am not that good at expressing my thoughts with English-only words, but doesn't that feel like we are just giving them even more power over us?”

“NO!” she replied.

I didn’t want to be hateful anymore, especially because I was choosing to move past the many years I spent being terrified of Aaron Neudorf.

I couldn't continue to agree with her, because I realized that I had expected all men to treat me as Aaron had treated me all those years, and I recognized that I had played a part in allowing that to happen. I was ready to take control of my actions. I decided that this might be a more appropriate opportunity for me to practice standing my ground on my discoveries than when facing border patrol officers with knives in my backpack.

“Wow, Anna, you have changed.”

“Yes, I have.”

“What happened?”

“Well, I went to Mexico all by myself, and everywhere I went there was a handsome man who was nothing but helpful and kind to me. I have had an amazing role model—or many, for that matter—and I think I have matured and learned that sometimes good men and women do bad things and hurt people. But if we are going to be judgmental and hateful how will that ever change? I think I can stand on my own two feet now. I have decided on how I am going to treat people, all people. Or, I am starting not to look at people as “men” or “women”; I am choosing to look at them as human beings. We all have stories and reasons for being the way we are, and because of that I simply cannot choose a team. I want to be on all teams. The human team!”

I was overwhelmed with fear of what would become of our friendship after sharing my thoughts with her. I was shaking from head to toe, and quickly added, “Is that okay with you? Can you handle that?” bracing myself for what I had coming. I expected her to take my new-found convictions from me, because I knew that I wasn’t strong enough to stick to them, even though I felt brave enough to express them to her. I was still vulnerable, because deep down inside I doubted myself very much. But she didn’t. Instead, she said, “Wow, Anna, you do have a good argument there. Good for you, girlfriend, I’m happy for you.”

“Thank you.”

“You're welcome. I have a long way to go before I can forgive what has been done to me,” she explained.

“I can’t even imagine what you have been through, and I probably can’t help you, but I can listen if you ever want to tell me more about it.”

“Okay, stop it, Anna, you are going to make me cry.”

I hugged her, and she became my best sister from another mister. I spent many weekends at Club Sins with her and my gay “husband,” Josh. During that time I learned the term “confidence booster.” Apparently, that’s what I was to Tony. The men whose house I cleaned and the people at the club assumed we were a couple. I played along because I longed for the unconditional love she expressed for me. It was perfect in the sense that I could just be. I felt nothing but acceptance and love every time we went to the club. It was the ideal and safe space for a human like myself to grow.

Yet I spent many sleepless nights thinking that many people would judge me if they knew the truth and believed that I was seriously messed up in the head. But I had grown up thinking that I was not normal because I didn’t fit the mold, just like all the people at the club. I had reached the point where I had stopped fighting the urge to be normal, because I didn’t even know what that would look like where I was concerned. I thought about women like Mrs. Braun and the horrible, yet socially accepted, ways many people were living which I thought was unacceptable.

I loved that Tony stayed by my side after I had risked our friendship by telling her where I stood. It taught me that I didn’t have to be afraid to tell someone how I felt, even though they might not agree with me.

With a positive attitude and my new outlook on life, I continued to help people wherever I saw an opportunity. The most common places were the walk-in clinic, the bank, the thrift store, and grocery stores. At a grocery store, I ran into the woman I had helped at the bank. She couldn’t find yeast, and she didn’t know how to ask for it in English. I thought, “I have an idea of how she feels right now, and I have the power not to allow what happened to me when I was walking in her shoes to happen to her.” I approached her and offered my help. She happily accepted. After I helped her find yeast, I explained to her how to ask for it in English, and she finally said, “Thank you,” with a smile on her face at that. 

Near the end of Tony’s last semester, she said, “I wish I could do what you did, leave my family, all the people who I grew up with and move to a new country to start over.”

“You can.”

“No, I can't. I’m not as brave as you are, so Calgary will have to do for now.”

She had a bus ticket to Calgary in her backpack, ready to leave the minute she received her final report card. I hugged her and said, “Thank you for being a part of my journey. You thought me so much about human love.”

“Here you go again. You are going to make me cry.”

“I’m sorry. I know I’m being what I’ve heard people call “mushy,” and I've seen people roll their eyes at the sight of “mushy,” but I don’t care about that right now. I think it is important for you to know this because I have a feeling that I will never see you again.”

She wrapped her arms around me. I sobbed on her shoulder like never before, knowing how much I was going to miss her.

I was okay with showing her what I felt, because I had read about how important it was to feel one's emotions at the moments one was feeling them. And that helped me when I decided not to focus on being sad after she left. Instead, I felt excited and eager to learn from the humans who might still cross my path.

I went home after school and didn’t even look at my report card. I packed a change of clothes and makeup, and headed to my cleaning job. I decided that after I cleaned, I would make myself as pretty as possible and go to the mall. As I finished putting my makeup on, one of the men came home.

“Hi, Anna, I’m so glad I came home early enough to run into you.”

My heart began to pound uncontrollably. I reminded myself that I didn’t have to be afraid anymore.

“I’m sorry that we leave such a terrible mess for you to clean every time. Thank you for always doing such an amazing job.”

“You’re welcome.”

“I was talking to Tony, and she told me that you guys broke up. I’m so sorry to hear that. How are you holding up?”

“Ummm, I’m okay.”

“Good for you. I got dumped too, again, and I am devastated. I wish I could be as okay with it as you seem to be.”

“Well, I think spending time on your own is very important. And you probably already know way more about this than I do. But, I read this book on emotions and what you are feeling right now is good. Maybe you should read it. And it talks about the difference between being alone versus being lonely, and since I learned that, I really enjoy my alone time.”

“The only thing I know about being alone is that it really sucks. I hate it.”

“That’s exactly what the book talks about.”

“I am intrigued by the fact that Tony always ends up with the most amazing women.”

“Well, Tony sure knows how to treat women so that they want to be in her presence,” I said, and immediately held my breath because I was sure I had overstepped a delicate boundary and offended him.

I held my breath until he spoke.

At last, he said, “I need to work on my approach, because obviously what I am doing is not working. Maybe I will pick up that book and start reading it tonight.”

I took a deep, relieving breath while he continued, “This was nice. Thanks for listening and talking to me. Do you think we could be friends?”

“Sure, why not?” I replied. “I have to get going.”

“Okay, he said as he pulled out his wallet to pay me.

“See you next week.”

“You bet. Thanks.”

While I was browsing through clothes at the mall, all I could do was think about my friend Kristina and how I much I missed her, especially when I needed her help picking out clothes. I had grown into a much fuller body since the time I shopped with her. The sizes that she taught me to pick didn’t fit me anymore.

I put the clothes I picked back on the rack and drove to London to visit Josh. We spent most of the weekend watching movies, eating pizza, and ice cream. On Sunday, Josh took me to a much bigger mall and helped me pick out some stunning outfits that fit me properly.

Josh gave me a box full of books that he bought for me. It was like Christmas morning. I was so excited to go home and spend my time between semesters reading the books Josh had chosen for me.

When I got home Sunday night, I pushed all my pleated Mennonite dresses to the corner of my closet and hung my new outfits beside my favorite “purple dress.”

I tried on one of my new outfits, sat down, and opened the envelope that contained my report card. To my surprise, I had the highest marks I had gotten up to that point, and the night got even better when George appeared at my doorstep. Click here to continue reading my story.



Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Changing Mennonite


Continued from So what?

I put my idea into practice for the first time at the bank. I recognized a young couple who were from my colony standing in the lineup in front of me. When they saw me, they began to whisper to each other while glancing back at me, making it obvious that they were talking about me. I decided to smile and wave at them every time they turned around and looked at me, even though my heart was pounding with rage, thinking to myself, “What did I ever do to you?” When I saw them struggling while dealing with the bank teller, I left my place in the lineup and walked over to offer my help.  I endured an awkward few moments of them staring me up and down because of how I was dressed, before they accepted my offer to help.  

After the bank teller and I watched the couple leave with bank cards, cash in their hands and smiles on their faces, the bank teller said, “Thank you so much for your help. They would have never been able to open a bank account without your help.”

I decided that the couple didn’t say thank you because they were speechless and in awe of my generosity. I left the bank feeling good about my actions, knowing that there was more where that came from and that I was the source of it. After that realization, I grew, and became more comfortable in my own skin.

I was well on my way to building a new reputation for myself after having multiple opportunities such as the one at the bank on many different occasions. And then I was ready to throw it all away when I ran into the Brauns again, knowing that they were the ones who were spreading gossip about me causing my family hardship in Mexico.

I had a week off between the end of the spring semester and the beginning of my summer semester.  I invited George to walk with me to a doctor's appointment, which is where I ran into the Braun family. They had come back to Canada to work in the fields for the summer. They were visiting the doctor’s office with yet another new baby. Not much had changed. Mr. Braun sat in the van smoking, while mom was inside with all the kids and her new baby. Mr. Braun stared us up and down as we walked past the van. George saw how angry I was getting. He pulled me aside and gave me a pep talk before entering the building.

“Anna, just breath through it.  I know this isn't fair, and I want to do nothing more than take that f#cker to the back and beat the shit out of him, but that’s not who I am so I'm not going to do that.”

I just stared at George.

“Remember your plan about changing people’s minds about you?”

“Yes, but I don’t want to anymore. I hate these people!”

“I know, but Anna, this is the perfect opportunity, and I will help you.”

“Okay.”

“Do you trust me?”

“Ahhh, yes.”

“Okay, then take a deep breath.”

“Okay.”

“Now look at Mr. Braun, make eye contact, smile and nod your head.”

“I don’t want to!”

“I know, but trust me, it's going to work.”

I swallowed my pride and followed George’s instructions. Mr. Braun quickly looked away, pretending that he didn’t see me. When we entered the building, this time I didn’t ask George to sit across from me instead of beside me in fear of Mrs. Braun’s reaction to him. But it didn’t seem to faze her. She looked overwhelmingly sad and depressed, the same as the last time I had run into her there. I offered to hold her baby when she needed to attend to her toddler, and she accepted my offer and handed me the baby. When the nurse called her name, she asked if I could watch her kids while she and the baby went with the nurse. I agreed.

This time when I read books out loud to the kids in front of George, I realized how much confidence I had gained since the last time I had done that.

I compared my experiences and thought, “Okay, I left the couple at the bank speechless, Mr. Braun still hates me, but Mrs. Braun doesn't care how I am dressed or the fact that George is here with me. I’ll start with that.”

On the walk home, George said, “What you did there, that took a lot of courage. I’m so proud of you, Anna.”

“Thank you. My heart is still pounding.”

“I believe you.”

I smiled.

“When you hear any negative gossip from your community in Mexico, or anywhere for that matter, don’t dwell on it. And most importantly, don’t explain yourself to anyone, just keep doing what you did today, and eventually, that will take over. I guarantee that it will kill the negative gossip. It may take a while, but it will work. Remember how long it took you to trust me?”

I covered my face with both my hands and said, “I know! I’m so sorry.”

“It’s okay. I didn’t exactly make it easy for you.”

“No, you didn’t.  You have no idea how afraid I was of you.”

“I can only imagine, but let's not focus on that.”

“Okay.”

“So, what are you going to do on your only week off this summer?”

“Sit at the library and learn.”

“Anna, I hate to tell you what to do, but I think you need to take a bit of a break from learning, don’t you?”

“Well, I don’t know what else to do.”

“You should go to the beach or something.”

“That’s a great idea!  I just might do that. Thanks!”

“Anytime.”

After George left for work, I stopped in at the library and picked up a few books, including one on building trust with people who hate you and another about human emotions, and off to the beach I went to learn. I began to better understand my emotions, and to realize that humans are meant to have exactly the kinds of emotions I was experiencing. I learned that building trust took small, consistent, repetitive, genuine actions, gestures, and smiles over some time.

I sat at the beach until I was the only one left, and watched the sun fade behind the water.

When I got home from the beach, I had a message on my answering machine from the nurse at the walk-in clinic. She wanted to know if I would be interested in interpreting for Mrs. Braun the next time she had an appointment. I couldn't believe it, thinking Mrs. Braun spoke better English than I did. I called the nurse back first thing the next morning and explained that to her, and she said, “Actually, Anna, she doesn’t speak more English than you do. They only come here for the summer, and she’s very isolated; she doesn’t leave her house, and I am concerned about some things that I would like you to help me explain to her.”

“Okay, yeah, sure. If you think that I can help, I would be happy to.”

“Great! Thank you so much, Anna. See you soon.”

I had no idea what I was doing, but I took my time explaining the nurse’s concerns to Mrs. Braun, to the best of my ability. Mrs. Braun didn't say much, but it seemed that she understood what I was explaining to her. I told her that she could call me if she needed to talk to someone, or if she wanted me to explain everything to her again. She said, “Okay,” and took my phone number.

After Mrs. Braun left, the nurse put her hand on my shoulder and said, “Thank you so much, Anna, that went really well. Can I call you to interpret again sometime? I have a few more clients who need clarification on some of my concerns.”

“Yeah, sure.”

“That’s great, Anna; you are a natural at this.”

The nurse’s encouraging words were such a confidence booster for me. Whenever I ran into a Dietsch person, male or female, I acknowledged that I was one of them by saying, “Goondach (hello)” with a smile, and leaving it up to them whether they wanted to speak Dietsch to me or not. If they did, I happily responded. It got to the point where I was eager for any opportunity to explain myself to anyone who was curious, and that turned my life around.

My nightmares about drowning on my way to Posen Land and windmills yelling at me disappeared. I grew confident in my ability to place each of the puzzle pieces that had become my life in its rightful place as I collected it.

The next time Mom called and told me that she had heard that I was seen at the doctor’s office with a ‘schwiennoagel,’ I explained, “His name is George, and he's my friend. I invited him to come along to my appointment so that I wasn’t alone.”

“Okay, are you sick?” Mom asked.

“No, I just had a checkup.”

“A checkup for what?”

“To make sure that I'm healthy and that I stay that way.”

“Okay,” she said, and then there was silence, because that was a foreign concept in the colony. In the colony we only visited the doctor when we knew we were sick, or if something hurt.

Then mom said, “Mrs. Braun’s sister told me that you had helped her sister at the doctor’s. She said that she was surprised that you helped her as you did.”

I did a little happy dance.

“It was George’s idea. He’s a good person, you know, and I am becoming a better person because of him.”

“That’s good,” she replied, and proceeded to tell me how things were at home. For the first time after hanging up the phone with her, I didn’t feel guilty and terrible about myself.

After I finished my summer courses, I had an opportunity to speak with my employment counselor, Sharon, when I dropped off my report card. After signing the paperwork for me to be able to continue on unemployment for another semester, she told me how impressed she was with my progress, and asked if I would consider going to college.

“I will be lucky if I get through the courses I need to get my Ontario secondary school diploma,” I explained.

“Well, I think you should definitely discuss your options with your guidance counselor.”

“Okay,” I said. But I didn’t think that I needed to, because I was sure that someone like me would never get into college. During a class discussion on career day, we were encouraged to think about our interests and possible career options. I had never been asked or even dreamt of what I wanted to do when I grew up, so I sat back and listened to the people who were sure, and had a plan.

“What about you, Anna?” the teacher asked.

“I’ll be lucky if I get another factory job and don’t end up picking cucumbers or working on the tobacco fields,” I answered, and I accepted that that was good enough for me.

My friend Steve finished his last course, while I still had a whole semester left. By then I was able to write fast enough to take my own notes fairly well, and didn’t have to rely on Steve’s help anymore. I had gained enough confidence to be okay with starting a new semester with no one I knew sitting beside me. My first day of class without Steve, I was the first to arrive, as always. I placed my notebooks and pencils neatly on my desk, sitting tall and confident, ready to learn.

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and hoped with all my heart that whoever would come and sit next to me would be nice like Steve was.

“Are you praying for the class to be over already?” asked a voice behind me. Click here to continue reading my story.


Thursday, March 28, 2019

So what?


Continued from A Sliver of Hope

Somewhere along the way from Mexico to Texas, I felt less guilty about the way I had left things with Mom and embraced the fact that I was responsible for my own actions, especially after the experience of apologizing to Juan Pelos. I realized that I could choose to separate myself from the colony mindset, the group I was raised in and the group behavior I was programed to imitate. I began thinking and acting as an individual.

Reflecting on the experiences I had had, I was learning to value what I believed about myself.  I thought, “So what if my every thought, word, and act has been thought, said and done better by others?”  I was ready to combine my experiences of growing up in the colony with what I was learning in school and from all the people in my life—and own it.

Since leaving the colony the first time, I had believed that I had to choose between myself and my family, Canada and the colony. I felt that it had to be one or the other. It was an incredibly freeing feeling when I finally realized that that wasn’t the case. I was free to go back to the colony any time I wanted; I just couldn’t change the colony or the people who lived there. I realized that to keep the relationships I had with my family and friends in the colony, I would have to work on accepting that fact.

I concluded that communication was a huge factor in my frustration. It had a lot to do with the limited Low German vocabulary with which we communicated. I decided that all the times Mom talked about me needing to adjust my attitude to the situation at hand, she was trying to tell me that I was the one who was changing, and how dare I come back there expecting them to understand, let alone agree with it.

I thought, “Ha li cringel ekje se an schlopmetz!

That realization and adjusted attitude made a huge difference right away. When Uncle Jake and Izaak dropped me off at the airport, I was less afraid of what was to come. Izaak hugged me, Uncle Jake shook my hand, wishing me well, and I walked away taller and more confident, with a bring-on-whatever-is-headed-my-way-I-will-face-it-head-on attitude.

I was stunned at how easy it was to go through airport security when I didn’t argue with the guards about my nationality. I smiled and answered only the questions that they asked, and they couldn’t get me out of there fast enough. I chuckled and thought, “And there wasn’t even a man with me!”

When I walked out of the airport back in Canada, and the cold air hit my face, freezing my nose hairs instantly, I thought, “Okay, I see now why Izaak cares so much about the weather in Texas.”

Upon arriving at my apartment building at 1:00 a.m., all I could do was think about knocking on George’s door. When I walked past his door, I stopped and listened, and when there was no evidence of him being up, I just went to my apartment and went to sleep, since I had to get up and go to school the next day.

I woke up late the next morning and had no time to blow dry my hair. I quickly put on whatever I could find, grabbed my backpack and ran to school. In moments of feeling sorry for myself, I regretted my decision not to stay in Texas. My friend Steve greeted me with open arms at the door when I arrived at school. He wrapped his arms around me and said, “Happy New Year! Oh my god, Anna, you are frozen!”

I thought, “Happy New Year? That was such a long time ago and I am completely over it, but okay.” 

I looked at him, confused, and he explained to me that people in Canada say Happy New Year to people they haven't seen yet in the new year.

“Anna, you should never be outside with wet hair at this time of the year, and really, you should wear pants—you are going to get sick!”

“Okay, thank you,” I said.

“You’re welcome. Oh, and here are the notes of all the stuff you missed while you were away.”

“Thank you so much! I am so scared that I won’t be able to catch up.”

“You'll be fine, just read over those notes a few times.”

“Okay, I will.”

By the end of the day, I had a massive headache from all the chaos, and especially from forcing my brain back to English only, because no one understood my mixed vocabulary of Spanish, Low German and Englishified Low German. I was overwhelmed by the fact that I had a new teacher, a quiz the next morning, a pile of assignments that were due in a week, a new book I had to start reading, and a whole lot of homework to catch up on. And as far as I knew, I still had a cleaning job waiting for me.

At the end of the day, I wanted to curl up in the corner and cry, but Steve wouldn’t let me. He walked me to his car, drove to Tim Hortons and bought me a cappuccino before dropping me off at my apartment. “I’m so glad you’re home, Anna. I missed you.”

“Thanks for everything, Steve. I missed you too. See you tomorrow,” I replied while thinking dietschjat, I love this man!”

I dragged my heavy backpack through my apartment door, sat down on the floor by the patio doors and stared at the snow falling, as I sipped my cappuccino. I thought, “I’m home,” but I felt anything but home; it was all familiar, yet foreign. I felt what I now can describe as homesick. I missed my family and wished that they were with me. I fetched my pillow and blanket, and crawled up into a ball right there on the floor, like a little kid.  As I cried myself to sleep, I remembered that I had felt the same while visiting my family in the colony. When I woke up, I began to study for my quiz and did my homework one page at a time until midnight. I woke up the next morning to my phone ringing, “Oba waut nu?” I said.

“Good morning Anna! It’s Steve. Don’t make coffee or walk to school this morning. I’m picking you up in half an hour, and I’ll bring coffee.”

“Ahhh okay, thank you!” I said, and before I knew it, I had survived the week, thanks to Steve.

It was Friday night, and I hadn’t seen anything of George all week. I began to worry that he might have moved. I stayed up late reading, hoping and waiting for him to knock on my door.  

When I woke up Saturday morning, and there was still no sign of George. I decided that I would focus on the work I had to get done. I made tweeback dough, put a pot of beans on, sorted my dirty laundry, and began cleaning my apartment with Pine Sol. I walked past George’s door every time I changed a load of laundry. Occasionally I slowed down and listened, but there was no sound coming from his apartment at all.

Finally, after the beans were done, the laundry folded, my apartment cleaned, and the first batch of tweeback in the oven, George appeared at my door.

“Hey, welcome back!”

“George!” I yelled, as he wrapped his arms around me. Eventually, I let go of him, but not because I wanted to.

“It smells amazing in here. Are you baking ‘whatbucks’ again?” he asked.

“Thank you, well, yes I am. Would you like to come in and have one?”

“Yes, please!” he replied, and came in. I just stared at him until he started talking.

“So, how the heck are you, and how was Mexico?”

“I feel like I haven’t seen you for an entire year.”

“Tell me about it, life is so boring here without you.”

“Really? I thought it would have been peaceful.”

“Don’t say that, Anna! Never!”

“I was beginning to think that you moved or something.”

“Oh no, I just started a new job, and I work afternoon shifts,” he explained.

“Okay, so that’s why I haven't seen you all week.”

“You got it!”

“Okay, so how do you like it?”

“It’s okay, it’ll pay the bills for now, but enough about me. How was your trip?”

“How much time do you have?”

“I’m yours for the rest of the weekend, if you’ll have me,” he said, and there was that wink again.

I turned red from head to toe and thought, “How will I get any reading done now?” and distracted myself by serving him a plate of beans and a tweeback.

“Ummm, George?”

“Yes, Anna.”

“This is a tweeback, not a whatbuck,” I explained as I served him.

“Okay,” he said, and winked at me again.

“That’s it! Say it. Say tweeback!

Whatbuck?”

Tweeback!!!”

“Whatbuck!”

“You’re imposable—you know that?”

“Yes, I know,” he replied, and I just stared at him while he enjoyed his meal.

“Stop staring at him!” I thought.

“So tell me about your trip.”

“I don’t even know where to begin, but first, thank you for encouraging me to go. Even though I didn’t think so at first, it was the right time for me to go. Now I will be better able to focus on school.

“Yeah, how so? Tell me about that.”

“It's hard to put into words. It’s more about how I'm feeling. You know that feeling that you helped me put into words when I couldn’t eat because my stomach felt like it was full of stones?”

“Yes, I remember.”

Well, it’s kind of like that.”

“I get it,” he said, and then the words just flowed out of me.

“I was going to say goodbye to my colony, my family and Mexico. I believed that I had to choose a side, but that’s not true,” I looked up at him and saw that I had his full attention, he was listening.

“I think I can go to school, change the way I dress, or, you know, try to have my own style, and have, ummm, different kinds of friends, while keeping my family and a relationship with my fellow Mennonites. Eventually, I want to come and go to my colony in Mexico as I am, and as I please.” I made eye contact, and he was still listening. “I know, I know, it doesn’t make any sense. It’s a long shot, and it’s probably not even going to work.”

“Not with that attitude! Believe it, and you can achieve it.”

“You really think so?”

“No, Anna, I don’t think so, I know so.”

“Grrrr, I wish I was smart and knew things like you do.”

“But you are smart, and I feel what you are saying. You don’t even need words; words are stupid barriers anyway. Follow your feelings, and you will get there.”

“I want my people to change the way they see me because of the way I treat them, in spite of how they treat me.”

Brilliant choice of words!”

“Do you think that that’s even possible?”

We're going over this again?”

“Yes! I want your words to push away my doubts.”

Absolutely! Anything is possible with patience.”

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, sweetie.”

I felt so reassured. I thought, “I love you.” Click here to continue reading my story.


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