6. Clemency

L suggested that I write about the kinds of lunches my mom used to pack for me when I was young. The kinds of lunches she used to pack didn’t stand out all that much. They were what we all considered normal in the mid-80s: a sandwich of some kind with the crusts left on, a drink box, and a snack. Little Debbies or a small bag of Fritos. Unremarkable stuff. It wasn’t what was in my lunch box that mattered to me as much as the box itself. All the cool kids—at least the ones who didn’t go up on the hot lunch line—all the cool kids brought their lunches in brown paper bags that they threw away when lunch was over. I and the few other unfortunate third graders whose parents just didn’t know what it was like were stuck carrying our lunch boxes around on the playground all throughout recess. This was after the lunch box had ceased being an object of anticipation at the start of each school year, and much before it took on its quirky retro status. I begged my mom, for a time, to let me bring my lunch in a bag. She didn’t want to keep buying bags all the time. It was wasteful. I’ll use the same bag a bunch of times, I promise, I’ll fold it up and bring it home again. I never thought to offer to pay for them with my yard sale money. I never thought to “accidentally” forget my lunch box on the playground a few times. And I never appreciated those cold winter days when we few dorks ate hot tomato soup from our thermoses, with crushed-up Saltines, while all those lucky kids lifted the corners of their white bread and looked dubiously at limp slices of bologna. Those days when the weather was too, as the principal called it, inclement to go outside.

March 6, 2012