When I was in eighth grade, the country experienced a surplus of peanuts and the government passed that surplus on to the public schools. As we shuffled through the lunch line, the cafeteria workers would use an ice cream scoop to serve us raw peanuts, no matter what the meal was that day. The salad bar, which was just lettuce and shredded carrots, was now stocked with three different tubs of peanuts. Every day, I would take my tray to the sandwich bar, make a cheese and mustard sandwich, and then treat myself to a scoop of raw peanuts before I made my way to the table I shared with those of us who would have gladly given up eating if it meant we could go home sooner. We also would not, under any circumstances, use the rest room or keep shorts in the gym lockers. We were, essentially, terrified children. Schools are filled with them, I guess, but we felt like we were entirely alone.
A girl in seventh grade was in love with me, and I wanted no part of it. I had only just learned what a period was and I had no idea even where to put my fingers with a girl. She played the clarinet in the band and she had horrible perm-burned hair and a lazy eye. She was blasted with freckles in a way that seemed like a birthmark. Her best friend had one leg shorter than the other, and everyone swore that the two of them were as gay for each other as you could be.
Every day, the girl would drop a note on my tray, scattering my peanuts, and the two of them would giggle as they hobbled away from me. My friends would ask to see the note, but I would immediately put it in my pocket and ignore them until we finally pushed our trays aside and got out our pogs and tried to play as quietly as possible until lunch was over.
At night, I would bury the notes at the bottom of our trashcan and pretend they didn’t exist. If I was strong, I would leave them untouched and awaken the next day feeling like I was still capable of a happy life. If I was weak, I would dig out the note, covered in pickle juice or tomato sauce, and I would read it in the light of the open refrigerator and I would start to cry a little because this girl disturbed me and her notes were so sweet and I wished the two of us lived on a deserted island and no one would make fun of us or constantly ask if we’d gone down on each other yet, and maybe the sun would even out her freckles and maybe an island diet would finally make me lose the baby fat that had turned to actual fat. Either way, the next day would be the same, a plate of raw peanuts and another note, her lazy eye only sometimes holding me in her vision.
When we dissected a frog in Biology, one of the metalheads hollowed out the guts without identifying them and filled the carcass with raw peanuts. He stapled the thing shut and called it a Beanie Baby. In my notebook, when no one was looking, I wrote the words: Phylum Cordata and pretended it was the name of the baby I would make with the lazy-eyed girl.
I started eating peanuts even when I was away from school, my bookbag weighed down with bags of peanuts in every state: raw, roasted, honey roasted, Spanish, M&M’s. I chewed and chewed and felt the satisfaction, rare in my life, of having something turn to paste under the force of my desire.
In the cafeteria, another note, more giggles, one of my friends snatched the paper from my tray before I could stop him. “You have funny eyelashes,” it read, “and I wish you’d give me some of them to keep.” I grabbed my carton of Jungle Juice and splashed a wide, red arc across his face and shirt, splattering the note in the process. “What the fuck is wrong with you?” he shouted, pushing away from the table. I just grabbed the note. He grabbed his own carton of juice to douse me, but it was already empty. He just shrugged and sat down again, shaking his head. “Why are you so fucking weird?” he asked, and everyone else at the table, not exactly to my surprise, seemed to be waiting for my answer. I shoved so many peanuts in my mouth that I could not speak for the rest of lunch.
I was doing homework one night when my mom came upstairs to tell me that someone was at the door for me. She was smiling so hard, like maybe the world could make sense after all.
The girl was in the hallway, alone this time, holding her weird little suitcase that held her clarinet. “Hi,” she said, when I stood in front of her. “Hi,” I said. “Go upstairs,” my mom said. The girl was already up the stairs before I could respond.
She sat on my bed, and I sat down beside her, trying now to be polite. “You don’t like me?” she said, and I couldn’t tell if it was a question or a statement. “I understand,” she continued. “It doesn’t matter to me if you do or don’t. It doesn’t matter one bit to me.” I felt like, if I touched her hair, it would break off in my hands. I felt like, if I touched her at all, I would start to cry.
She leaned over and kissed me. “I don’t care if you want me or not. I want you,” she said. I leaned across her and opened the drawer of my nightstand and showed her the damaged notes that I had salvaged, each one that I had kept. She kissed me again and we got under the covers, still wearing our clothes, and no one in my family ever checked on us. We slept and slept and, when the morning came, very little had changed. She was holding my hand and it made me so happy, our hands bent into the shape of sleep. There would always be a surplus of things no one wanted, and I would always, my entire life, accept the bounty without understanding what it meant.
Photo By: Daniella Segura