My friend Alia and I usually sat together at the same lunch table, and on occasion, Kayla would join us. Kayla was popular, so she generally rotated from table to table, and only really visited us when she wanted something. One day, Kayla dropped her purple Thermos-Brand lunchbag on the table and greeted me with a quizzical stare.
“What the heck are you crunching on?” she said, inspecting my brown bag labeled “Stefike”. Kayla was always looking to switch lunches with someone because her mom always packed the same thing.
“Green peppers with Country Crock.” I replied, not even looking up. “On toasted white bread.” Anyu always put together sandwiches fresh from Nagymama’s garden, so I usually had some combination of raw green peppers, radishes, iceberg lettuce, or American cheese with margarine. “Why, what do you have, Kayla?”
“Um, peanut butter and jelly, like normal people.”
“Oh. I’ve never had one of those.”
Alia and Kayla simultaneous yelled, “YOU’VE NEVER HAD A PEANUT BUTTER AND JELLY SANDWICH?!”
Kids from the other lunch tables turned around. If I wasn’t uncool already, my friends had just confirmed it.
“Listen,” I whispered. “Peanut butter with jelly..it’s just…unnatural.”
Kayla rolled her eyes. “Oh, okay, so I guess then manufactured butter substitute with manufactured bread substitute with green peppers is natural?”
I pondered while chewing. “Good point…”
“Well, why don’t you try one?” Alia asked.
“Yeah, eat it!” Kayla shoved her oozing peanut butter sandwich in my face. I hesitantly took one bite and immediately spit it out into a napkin. I rummaged in my lunchbag, desperate for a Juicy-Juice to wash it down.
“What’s your problem?” Kayla said, shocked at my obvious abhorrence to her staple lunch cuisine.
“Ewww…” I said, my mouth still sticky with sandwich residue, “The jelly slides all over your tongue, the peanut butter sticks to the roof of your mouth, and the bread is a soggy mess. That’s a very stressful sandwich! In the words of my mom, ‘I can’t handle it!'”
“Yeah, well, it’s better than your weird Hungarian vegetable butter sandwich.”
Alia came to my defense, “I don’t think there is such thing as a Hungarian vegetable butter sandwich. I think it might actually be British.”
“Yeah, whatever,” Kayla muttered under her breath, “Commie bastard.”
“Excuse me?” I was pretty sheltered and went to a not-so-great public school, so at the time, I wasn’t really sure what a Communist actually was.
“In Soviet Hungary, Peanut Butters YOU!” Kayla said in a horrible fake Russian accent. Alia burst out in laughter, and since I didn’t understand the Yakov Smirnoff reference until YEARS later, I assumed that my friends were making fun of me.
Like any young girl that was desperate to fit in with her friends, I immediately applied for the school’s “Free Lunch” program so I could stop bringing green pepper sandwiches to school. In retrospect, my green pepper sandwiches tasted better than anything the school slopped onto a plastic lunch tray. Maybe because they were made with love. And fake butter.