Thursday, May 5, 2016

Mennonite Schmuck

Ever since I first started working at the sewing factory, I was tempted to go sit with Felicity and her friends in the lunchroom. She seemed nice and often talked to me while I worked at a sewing station beside her. Most of the time I didn’t understand what she was saying and couldn’t answer her. I just smiled and nodded my head when she said something to me. 

It seemed to me that the people sitting with her always had so much fun. They were always joking around and laughing about something. I often thought that I would love to be part of that but, I was afraid of the tall man that sat across from Felicity. He had medium blond wavy hair halfway down his back and many tattoos on his arms. I had only ever seen him from a distance. He seemed like a happy person, every time I caught a glimpse of him, he had a big smile on his face.

One day while Felicity and I were sewing, as usual, she turned to me and asked, “Anna, why don’t you come and sit with me during lunch break?”

My face turned red and my heart immediately started pounding with excitement. 

“I would really like to, but…” I explained to her that I was afraid of that tall man with the long hair and tattoos that sat across the table from her.

“What, George? Oh, Anna, looks can be deceiving, you don’t have to be afraid of him. He does swear a lot, but he is actually the biggest sweetheart I know. When you come and sit with us I will introduce you to him and then you can find out for yourself.”

I understood most of what she said but wondered especially about the meaning of the word deceiving, “Okay, maybe I will, but I’m not sure about it yet” I answered.

“Okay, but trust me George is anything but scary.”

While I worked I thought about it and the more I thought about it the more tempting it was. I thought “how can I tell the Mennonite women I sit with that I would rather go and sit with Felicity and her tattooed friends than them? And if they ask me why, what am I going to tell them? I couldn’t tell them the truth, and say that, ‘I find this to be so boring and I would like to sit with those people because they seem to have a lot more fun and I am curious to know what being part of that might feel like.’”

I felt like I was figuring out the best way to break up with the Mennonite women and felt bad about it. I knew it didn’t matter how I would tell them, they wouldn’t like it and tell me that I shouldn’t go sit with those people. 

It took me a whole week to work up the nerve, finally, by Friday, I decided that I would just go for it, without an explanation to the Mennonite women. I came to work a bit earlier and walked right past the table I had sat since the day I had started working there. My heart was pounding out of my chest. I felt so brave. My face felt like it might burst into flames. That’s how hot it felt as I walked toward the other table. I was so nervous my legs were shaking as I sat down. I wished with all my heart that Felicity would show up before George. I sat there watching the Mennonite women walk in one by one, feeling guilty for leaving them without an explanation. I smiled and waved at them as they looked over and saw me sitting at the other table. Only one of them waved back to me with a confused look on her face and the rest of them just gave me a side glüps (stare).

As I thought “okay, I’m so glad that’s over now,” George walked in. My heart skipped a beat when he sat down across the table from me, close enough that I could smell how amazing he smelled. He sat his coffee on the table pulled his fingers through his hair and said, “Good morning.”

“Good morning,” I replied in a shaky nervous voice.

I had never talked to a person with tattoos before or a man with long hair like that for that matter. I was so afraid that he might ask me something that I wouldn’t understand and held my breath in hopes that it would help. I just stared at the tattoos on George’s arm. I began feeling light-headed and slowly inhaled a breath of air as I saw Felicity walking in toward the table.

“Anna! Good to see that you have finally decided to come to the dark side, George this is Anna. Anna this is George.”

I held my breath again as I watched George’s long, tattoo-covered muscular arm reach across the table toward me to shake my hand. I thought “what do I do? What do I do? This will be way worse if I don’t put my hand out to shake his. Just do it, just quickly shake his hand Anna!” and placed my shaking hand into his, barely touching him as he shook my hand.

I didn’t say much and just listened to them talk to each other. I understood that just about every other word that they said was a swear word. I began to feel strange when I realized that it wasn’t even darker at this table then the other one as I thought about Felicity’s comment about coming to the dark side and then reality struck me. I thought “oba Anna, you’re brave move may not have been the right decision.”

I doubted my decision more and more as the day went on. Every Friday Felicity and George would take turns using the payphone to order food from a restaurant during the first break and the food would be delivered by lunchtime. While Felicity and I were working she asked if I could order the food that day. I said, “Yes” without really thinking it through and immediately knew that it would be disastrous but I was willing to try and learn.

She knew I didn’t speak a lot of English but she didn’t know much else about me, especially that I had never used a phone before. I thought “how hard can this be? I want to learn how to do this” and besides I had seen people make phone calls with that phone before, it didn’t look that hard. I once stood behind a woman and stared at her in awe as she picked up the phone put the quarter in and pressed all those buttons with a kind of confidence I greatly admired.

At the first break, Felicity scribbled down the phone number, what she wanted, and what George wanted on a piece of paper. She handed me a quarter, read the order out loud to me, and handed the paper to me.

I took the piece of paper and stared at it, it was like I was looking at a beautiful piece of art for the very first time when I saw her handwriting, I was fascinated by the beauty of it. I looked up and was immediately hypnotized when my eyes met George’s sky blue eyes. He winked and smiled at me revealing the whitest, straightest, and most perfect teeth I had ever seen. I froze and felt a warm tingling sensation in my stomach that I had never experienced before. I couldn’t move, speak, or do anything.

George thought that I was confused about the orders and began to explain it to me, “I ordered a chicken burger with no mayonnaise, Felicity wants a poutine and then you order what you like” but the more he spoke the worse it got, I just stared at him. He offered to call in the orders for me. But, I did say yes that I would do it and I wanted to learn, “I think I got it.” I answered.

I got up and my shaking legs could barely hold me up as I walked past the table where my Mennonite friends were sitting. Still, only one of them waved at me and the rest just stared at me with a disappointed look on their faces.

The phone was located in the hallway around the door to the lunchroom. I walked by it every day when I came to work. I often stopped and stared at it, until one day when I saw the cabinet with glass sliding doors across from the payphone. In that cabinet were people’s perfect attendance awards, hanging with a light shining on them. I often daydreamed about what it would feel like if my name was on one of those, proudly hanging there under a spotlight for others to admire.

With my shaking right hand, I picked up the phone, put the quarter in, and dialed the number. Just like I had seen that woman do, but I was shaking from head to two. My heart started pounding out of my chest as I heard the ringing. I just about jumped out of my skin when a man answered. I began speaking and totally messed up the order. I just said “yes” to everything and order myself the same burger as I ordered for George. When the orders came, Felicity went to pay for hers and learned that I had messed up the order because it was more than all the other times she ordered the same thing. George’s burger had a ton of mayonnaise on it and Felicity wanted a small poutine but she got a large one instead.

Felicity looked at me and said, “Oh, you schmuck!”

Schmuck means “beautiful” in Low German. I was quite pleased with myself and said, “Well thank you!” She looked over at George all confused. But it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me when George turned around and said, “What the f#ck Felicity? It's fine! Take a chill pill would you?”

“You don’t get it, George, I am on a f#cking diet, I can’t eat all of this” she replied.

“I’ll eat it if is too much for you and besides if you are on a diet, don’t you think a salad would have been a better choice?” George asked.

“F#ck you George!” she replied as she put half of her poutine into his plate.

I just continued to stare at George’s teeth while he was talking, laughing and enjoying himself teasing Felicity about being on a diet and eating poutine. I began to clue in that she was really upset about her order and George was sticking up for me.

George looked right at me and said, “It’s okay Anna, you were brave to do this, thank you for ordering for us today.” He smiled and winked at me as he scraped the mayonnaise of his burger before he began eating it.

I had enough time to take one bite of my burger and it was time to go back to work. I felt like the one bite of my burger didn’t have room in my stomach after everything I had just experienced. I was extremely confused about what exactly happened.

Felicity was very quiet for the rest of the day. I was trying hard to figure out why that might be. Was it because she was upset that I messed up her order or was it because she didn’t want to take her chill pills anymore and wanted to die?

While I sat there at the sewing machine, all kinds of thoughts went through my head. I figured she must have nerve problems too and that’s why she wants to end it all by die-it. I tried to make sense of it all, I began putting all the dots together and remembered all the similarities here. My grandfather had nerve problems and was taking pills for that. But, the pills that he was taking didn’t work because in spite of the medication he was on, he still ended his life by hanging himself.

I began to really wonder what exactly the word schmuck meant in English but I was too embarrassed and afraid to ask. I decided that I was better off not knowing and hoped with all my heart that Felicity could move past it without having to die-it (ending her life).

I thought to myself that I should really be more careful about what I say yes to when I don’t understand exactly what I am saying yes to. I figured especially when someone’s life could depend on itClick here to continue reading my story.


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