Thursday, February 11, 2016

Misunderstood Mennonite


When I wiped the tears off my face, I remembered that I had been too drunk the night before to even have said my nighttime prayer. I thought, This is why I am having such a bad day.
I straightened myself in the chair, closed my eyes, and said every single prayer I knew in my head as I sat there and continued crying.
When I finished I took a few deep breaths and decided that I should do something else so I could stop crying. I didn’t want Christina to wake up and see me like that, so I decided that I would watch another movie.
I watched one of Christina's very dirty movies called Showgirls. I sat there on pins and needles, occasionally holding my breath as I watched that woman dance, scheme and claw her way to the top in some very skimpy dresses (like the ones I now thought I should never wear again).
A few scenes in that movie made me feel very uncomfortable and got me thinking about Aaron and all my Mason jar memories. But I continued watching. I wanted to know what would happen to those girls, with whom I could, to some degree, empathize. Only, my dream was to learn how to read even faster then I had already learned, to learn to write, and to become a factory worker with a perfect attendance record.
Partway through, I paused the movie and tiptoed to the kitchen to get a glass of water before continuing to watch the whole movie. When the movie ended I got up and checked on Christina making sure she was still breathing. She was.
I sat back down in that chair and read a Cosmopolitan magazine with Mariah Carey on the cover. I read all about a new jean trend that she had started by ripping the waistband off. I thought, Why would anybody wear ripped jeans? and continued reading until Christina’s mom came home.
The sun had disappeared and it was starting to get dark by that time. Christina’s mom hugged me, looked me right in my eyes, and said, “Thank you so, so much for staying with her all day. You are such a good friend to do that. I really appreciate this. She shouldn’t be left alone and I really needed a break. Thank you, Anna.”
I hugged her back and said, “You’re welcome,” because that was what other people said when someone said thank you to them.  I was getting used to saying that as my English got better every day.
We had never learned a word in Low German that translated into you’re welcome. We always just said Daut es nijch needijch (That is not necessary), or sometimes sarcastically say Daut kammt nijch fonn botta (It doesn't come from butter), which didn’t make any sense in English.
I collected all my stuff, including my skimpy dress. I rolled it up, put it into a plastic bag, and walked home. I hoped that I wouldn't run into George anywhere by the apartment building the whole way walking home. I wasn't ready to face him yet.
The closer I got to the building, it looked like he wasn't home. When I couldn't see if any of his lights were on, I changed my mind and wished I would run into him. I began thinking that if ran into him, then at least I would know if we were okay or if he was disappointed in me. That mattered a lot to me.
I got all the way to my door and there was no George in sight. I had a long bath hoping that that would help relax me but it didn’t. All I could think of was, I wonder if George went home after walking us to Christina’s mom’s house? Or where is he, is he with Bree?
I heard my mom’s voice in my head saying, Anna, that is not for you to figure out.
I thought, I have to call home. I got out of the bathtub and put my beloved brown pleated dress on with the yellow tulips and called the store in Nuevo Porvenir. I explained to the Mexican man who answered who I was and that I wanted to speak with my parents.
He said, “Hola Anita! Si, si… Voy a ir a decirle a tus padres y te devuelva la llamada (I will go tell your parent and call you back, Anna)”. It sounded like he knew my family and of me, he knew right away who I was talking about.
After he hung up the phone I thought, I wonder what kind of stories he has heard about me.
I loved it when Mexican people called me Anita until I learned of another Low German woman who worked the day shift at the factory whose name was Anna Harder. She hated the name Anna so she had legally changed her name to Anita. I thought, Well, she’s from Chihuahua, that’s why she was allowed to do that. She ended up marrying a man whose last name was Dyck.
One day, during my early days of working at the factory (before I had grown so fond of George, when I was absolutely terrified of him), that woman and the name Anita came up in a conversation during lunch. I was sitting at the table with George, Felicity, Richard, and Christina. Felicity asked me, “Who is that new woman who is working in the sewing department? I heard her name is Anna Harder. How are we supposed to keep people separate when so many of them have the same names?”
“Ahhh… that is not her name anymore. Her name is Anita Harder Dyck,” I answered with my most confident voice because Anita had told me herself.
Everyone stopped chewing, looked at each other and started laughing.
I thought, Great! Why do these people think that Low German names are so funny? Maybe I just need to explain this better to them.
“You see, ah… her name was Anna Harder, way before she got married. Before she got married she changed her name to Anita. That is the Spanish name for Anna. And then she got married and became Anita Harder Dyck,” I explained. And when they all started laughing again, I realized that I was missing something, just like the time Felicity called me a Schmuck and said, “Well, thank you.”
A couple of days later, when Christina and I were sitting at the table by ourselves, I asked her why the name Anita Harder Dyck was so funny. She said, “Anna, say her name again and, this time, say it really fast and don’t pause in between. Just say it like it’s all one word.”
I cleared my throat and I said, “Okay, um… ah… Anitaharderdyck.”
She sat there like a statue, looked at me with her eyebrows raised and waited and waited. Finally, she asked, “You don’t hear it?”
“Ahhh… it sounds exactly the same as it did before, just faster,” I answered.
“Okay, that’s it, Anna! I have to explain to you why this is so freaking hilarious,” she said.
“Umm… okay,” I said and moved really close to her when she began to explain it to me. She explained it in the plainest English possible. And when a lightbulb turned on it heated right through me and brightened my face bright red. I got up, went back to work, and didn’t make eye contact with any of those people at the lunch table for a whole week. Especially that George man, who I was so afraid of.
I remembered that moment every time somebody called me Anita and I turned red all over again. Being called Anita didn’t make me feel special anymore. I often thought that’s what that woman gets for changing the name her parents gave her.
My phone rang. I picked it up and said, Hello?
“Anita! Hola como estas? Soy Sergio.
“Hola Sergio, estoy bien,” I answered.
I was tempted to carry on a conversation with him to find out how he know my family. But I was afraid that he might ask me something I didn’t understand, and then what would I do? The last thing I needed was to get myself mixed up in even more language misunderstandings which could turn into another Mexican Mennonite schmuck situation.
“Lo siento Anita, pero tus papas no setava ne la casa (I’m sorry Anna, but your parents weren’t home).”
“Okay, esta bien, no te preocupes, muchas gracias,” I answered, and quickly hung up the phone. I had had it with that day. I went to bed, said my prayer, and tried to sleep.
During that week, I had many cappuccinos while helping Christina pack up some of Richard’s belongings, which wasn’t easy at all.
“Tell me what to do and I will do it, anything you want, Christina,” I said.
She put some of Richard’s stuff into a box then she would take it back out and say, “But this was his favorite, I can’t get rid of this.” I stood there, helpless, not knowing what to say.
We did that for about three days, and then my favorite friend of hers, Josh, came to our rescue. He came walking in and said, “Don’t be discouraged, ladies. This is a start and that is what matters. Just leave it to me, I am here now.” He wrapped one arm around her and the other around me, hugging us both tightly against him at the same time.
I tagged along with Josh and Christina to many of fancy restaurants where I felt so out of place, just like I often did when I went places with Christina and Richard before he died. I spent a lot of time with Josh that week. The more time I spent with him and got to know him, the more I loved him.  
He had a way of making me feel like I was special, important, smart, and worthy of nothing but the best, just the way I was. I couldn’t get enough of that. I gloated in it as much as I could.
Sadly, that all came to an end and it was time to get back to reality. For me, that was that dreaded court date, work, school, lots homework, and studying for my citizenship test that knew was coming up.
As I was getting ready for the first day back to school while listening to the radio, people were talking a lot about a man named Mike Harris and how upset they were with him. A man on the radio warned people not to be outside for longer than ten minutes at a time. That’s how cold it was. I took his warnings seriously and changed from a dress to jeans, put on two sweaters and my jacket, and off I walked to school.
When I got to school I walked into my classroom to loud voices arguing about the same man named Mike Harris. There were a few new students in my class who also had a lot to say about this Mr. Harris person. I remembered the saying from my colony, This Mr. Harris man is not for me to worry about, and opened my books and started working on where I had left off.
When the teacher came in she said, “For those of you who are going to grade nine in two weeks, just finish the books you are working on now, you don’t have to start a new one.”
At lunch time, I got a hug from Steve and Chung as they said “Happy New Year” to me. As we ate our lunch I sat there and listened to them talk about all the parties they went to during the holidays.
“How about you, Anna? Did you party much during the holidays?” Steve asked.
“I went to one party.”
“That’s it, one party? How was it?”
“Yes, it was okay. Not the next day, though.”
They both laughed and Steve recommended that I smoke a doobie the next time I had a hangover. He said, “That always cures my hangovers.”
We got interrupted by his friend before I could ask him what a doobie was and it left me wondering about it.
While I went to work and sat in my spot at the table in the lunchroom, staring at my citizenship study booklet, I thought, What the heck is a doobie? I smelled a pleasant familiar sent and heard a voice behind me saying, “Hey there, sexy Mennonite lady.” Click here to continue reading my story.

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