Thursday, March 10, 2016

Surviving Mennonite

Continued from A Mennonite in Agony

Image courtesy of Lori Ann's Photography

I took a moment to collect my thoughts and when I looked out the window again, I was relieved to see that we were parked in front of my apartment building.

“Wow Anna, that was scary but we made it,” said Sam as he took a few deep breaths.

I felt guilty for having many bad thoughts about him while he drove me home, especially after I looked at him and saw that the drive had really scared him. All he had wanted to do was to get me home safely.

“Thank you for driving me home.”

“Okay. You’re welcome, Anna. Take care of yourself, and I will see you on Monday.”

“Okay. You too Sam.”

When I got inside, I ran myself a warm bath and decided that I wasn’t even going to check my messages and go straight to sleep. As I lay in there in the bathtub, I thought, Well I won't have to worry about Mark calling me anymore,” as I washed the long day off of my aching bony body. I got out of the tub, wrapped my hair in a towel, and climbed into bed.

I fell asleep thinking, How on earth will I ever know the difference between the good people and the crazy people? 

When I woke up shivering with aches, pains, and a schnodda-näs (snotty nose), I knew that I had the jripp (flu) and decided to put off the cleaning until the next Saturday.

I made myself a chamomile tea and while I drank it, I sat there feeling sorry for myself. The deepest regret I had yet experienced set in. I thought, “Anna, you are such a domm-kopp (a stupid person). If only you would have listened to George, you probably wouldn’t be this sick.  And how awesome would it have been to let him take care of you?”

I was tempted to call him, but I was afraid that he might want to come over, and that if he saw me like that he might be so disgusted that he would never speak to me again. So, instead, I just slept, read, and watched TV for the whole weekend.

By the end of the weekend, I began to feel better. I had survived my regrets and the flu by Monday morning. I walked to my first grade nine class in freezing cold weather to face the next chapter of what had become a nerve-wracking life story.

By the end of February, the bad word “pizza” was no longer a big deal. I had heard and said it so much that it had become just another English word. I was able to say it with the same confidence as Christina said the word bra. I had become friends with all of my female teachers but was very cautious around my one male teacher. He taught Introduction to Computers.

I learned about algebra, book reports, floppy disks, and, the most amazing thing ever, The World Wide Web. School was hard work and headaches became a regular part of my life. My brain had never been pushed to such limits before. I began to think that I really was that “hard learner” Mennonite girl again and doubted that I would make it through grade nine.

I didn’t have time to be bored anymore. If I missed one day of school I would fall way behind. All I did was go to school, go to work, do my homework, sleep, and occasionally watch telenovelas to keep the Spanish I had learned fresh in my mind.

I had no time to even fantasize about George's beautiful teeth and lips anymore. I saw less and less of him. I spent weekends and every spare minute I had, reading books and trying to remember what I had read so I could contribute to the discussions during English class.

I learned the difference between school reading and pleasure reading. School reading wasn’t nearly as much fun as pleasure reading. I didn’t risk making new friends in order to avoid meeting another stalker. I stuck with the friends I already had: George, Christina, Josh, Sam, Steve, and Chung at school.

Bree had gone back to work on the day shift. That made me wonder if she was back with George again. I’m sure he was the reason she wanted to go back to the day shift. But I never had enough courage to ask him about it during the brief visits I had with him between our shifts. He always said, “I know you are super busy, but if you ever need anything, my door is always open,” followed by a wink.

Christina started taking care of herself, dressing sexily again like she had when I had first met her and she even started going on an occasional date. Sam had become my trusted friend at work and brought me a cappuccino about every other day. He tried hard to make me feel like I was part of his group by asking me to join them play poker. But he didn’t have any luck with that. It was like a full-time job keeping the real reason I wouldn’t play poker a secret from him.

Steve and I had an unspoken curiosity about each other. He sat beside me in English class. He stared at me when he thought I wasn’t looking, and I stared at him when I thought he wasn't looking.

Steve stared at me especially when I wore my favorite pleated dress on Mondays after I had spent time missing my family and my colony friends on Sundays. It was the same dress I had worn the day that he had run into the post while riding his bicycle and had hurt himself badly because he was staring at me instead of watching where he was riding.

Wearing that dress made me feel like I was still part of the life that I had had before I came to Canada. I wasn’t ready to give that up completely. At the beginning of every week, I felt extremely homesick. I didn’t care much about hiding the fact that I was Mennonite anymore. I just wanted to please my mother even though she was a million miles away. It made me feel like I was still close to her. But usually, by the end of the week, I wanted to be sexy like Christina again.

Steve caught on quickly that I was having a hard time keeping up with the rest of the class. By the time everyone else was finishing up the lesson, I was still copying the notes from the blackboard. Every class felt like it was a race for me to finish copying the notes before the teacher wiped the board clean. By the end of each class, I had missed everything the teacher had taught and had to go back to work with only half-written notes.

Steve felt sorry for me. After watching me struggle day after day, he decided to help me out by giving me a copy of his notes after every class. Steve had no idea what a difference that made. After that, I was able to focus on listening to what the teacher was teaching and not just worry about writing down the notes.

Near the end of the first semester, I was finally getting it and was able to keep up. But then it was time to start writing a book report on the book I was supposed to have read. I was a very slow reader. Reading a book that didn’t interest me at all, especially when I was completely exhausted, wasn't helping me to comprehend what I was reading.

One day, during the lunch hour, I started asking Steve questions about the book report while we ate. He stayed behind to answer all of my questions while his friends went outside to smoke cigarettes that looked like Faros (cigarettes without a filter) to me, but they called them doobies.

I had decided a long time ago that I wouldn’t even ask what kind of a cigarette a doobie was and just call them Canadian Faros. Steve and Chung were such good friends, they always shared one and giggled about everything after they shared one of those Faros.

“Did you finish reading the book already?” I asked.


“Wow, how long did it take you to read it?”

“I read it in about four hours.”

“What! and you remember everything?”


“Then why are you here?”

“I was stupid and dropped out of high school because I hated everything about school. I learned the hard way. It doesn't matter how good you can read and write, you still can't get a decent job without your high school diploma.”

“Okay, so you don’t mind if I ask you about the book for my report?”

“Not at all. Shoot.”

I asked him all the questions I could think of which I hadn’t been able to answer myself. I spent the whole weekend and every spare minute I had during the week writing that report. I finally just handed it in at the end of the week hoping for the best.

The Friday before March break, my teacher handed the report back to me covered in red writing with a mark of fifty-five out of a hundred on it.

“Not bad for your first book report Anna,” she said, “but if you don’t improve a bit you will just barely pass grade nine. I will be here a few days during March break. If you like I could help you rewrite it to bring your mark up.”

“Yes! I would love that!”

I went to work feeling happy and accomplished. I had gotten at least a passing mark on my book report. I was thrilled that my teacher was willing to spend one-on-one time with me to bring my mark up. I was feeling hopeful that my hard work was paying off and that I might grade nine after all.

On the weekend of the start of March break, I decided that I would do a major cleaning of my apartment since I never had time for that anymore. I put on my Tigres Del Norte tape, got out my bottle of Pine-Sol, and started cleaning. I was happy and inspired about how things were going for me. The smell of the Pine-Sol and the sounds of the music made me feel like a new person again.

I was excited that I thought, “I should go visit George tonight and tell him about how happy I am that he had talked me into going to school. I will tell him how much I have learned because of how he had taught me to use a dictionary and how far that has gotten me.”

While I finished cleaning I stumbled across the brown envelope with “Canada” written on the front of it that I had gotten in the mail during the Chrismas holidays. I thought, “I will take this to George’s, ask him to read it and to help me figure out if it is important or not.”

I showered, put on my best “English” clothes, and some lip gloss. My wet hair flipped up and down my back as I skipped down the hallway to George’s place all happy thinking, “Even if Bree and George may be back together, I hope she isn't visiting him tonight.”

That thought made me really nervous as I knocked on his door, hoping that it wouldn't be true. George opened the door with a big surprised smile on his face--revealing his beautiful teeth as always--when he saw that it was me standing there.

“Anna!” he said as he scooped me up into his arms and spun me around into his apartment closing the door with his foot. He put me down and asked, “How the heck are you? I was beginning to feel like it was just a dream and I never actually met a beautiful Mennonite woman named Anna from Mexico. That’s how long I haven't seen you. F#ck it’s good to see you, Anna!”

He took my hand and pulled me over to the living room and gestured for me to sit down on the sofa as I kept talking.

“It’s really good to see you too George. I am in grade nine. I mean I am actually doing it!  My teacher told me that I am actually passing, and I'm so glad for March break George. I get to take a break! I really needed one.” I said as I took a deep breath still holding the envelope in my hand.

“What do you have there?” he asked.

“Oh, it's this letter I got a while ago. I put it away and thought that I would read it later. But then I got so busy, I completely forgot about it.”

“Oh Anna, you should always open these brown envelopes. They are from the government and are usually very important. Here, let's open it and see what it is.”

My heart was pounding out of my chest as I watched the steady flow of words roll past his beautiful teeth. All of my excitement and happiness including my no longer beating heart dropped to the floor when I heard him say, “Holy-mother-f#cking-shit Anna!” Click here to continue reading my story.

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