Elementary School Potato Chips

As erroneous as it may be, in my head hearing, “Ella, you need to gain weight” is synonymous “Ella, please start eating lots of organic junk food.” So in yet another attempt to gain back the weight I lost in Europe, I sat down with a bag of Route 11 Barbecue Potato Chips this afternoon.

As a child in D.C. Route 11 Potato Chips were my favorite. But the company is fairly regional, and it’s rare to see them very far outside of the Shenandoah Valley area. In fact, I don’t think I’ve had them for upwards of five years. But when I went to West Virginia a few weeks ago, I snagged several bags at a deli to eat when I returned home.

Route 11 Potato Chips were once a elementary lunchtime staple, broken into small shards in a plastic bag that inevitably ended up smushed at the bottom of my brown bag lunch. I preferred them to cookies or sweets, and everyday in the cafeteria I¬†would very carefully save them for last. I once even managed to get my parents to take me to the factory where we could buy their “exclusive” flavors like fried chicken and watch the workers toss the potato slices into the fryers. Needless to say, this afternoon I was very excited to eat the chips.

So at around two when I was ready for a treat to distract me from the endless headache of trying to submit college forms, I grabbed a bag and sat back down in front of the computer to snack on them as I worked.

In retrospect, I suppose that I should have known that I would end up crying. And sadly, it wasn’t that nostalgic now-those-were-the-days crying.

The moment I put the first chip in my mouth, I felt like I was eight-years-old again and absolutely miserable. Those chips tasted like the bullying and isolation of my elementary school years. They tasted like loneliness and desperation, like purposely slicing my thumb on a can so that I could go to the nurses office rather than spend twenty minutes sitting at a sticky table and staring at my Route 11 potato chips and a dry PB&J sandwich on whole grain bread while I got kicked in the shins and mocked. They tasted like hiding in the stairwell to avoid going back to class, like being disliked by nearly every one of my teachers, like sitting for hours in the nurse’s office because I got kicked out of the classroom for the second time that day.

Each bite tasted of the misery I have worked so hard to bury underneath my happy memories of playing with my neighbors. Lee, Zach, Joseph, Pippa, and Beth took that pain away every afternoon and weekend, and I try to focus on the hijinks I got up to with them instead of school. It works most of the time, too. If I box it away tightly enough, it’s almost as if it never happened. I’m determined that my childhood is going to be thought of as happy.

But the chips uncovered the pain–made it a reality again–and all I wanted to do was throw up. I wanted to have to kneel in front of the toilet, holding my hair back, and retch until the chips were all gone, and I could forget about the pain again. Just make it go away.

However, I made a promise to myself recently to be more brave, to do the things that are painful and scare me without flinching or backing down, so I finished that bag of chips. I ate every last bite of that sorrow, and I forced myself not to cry.

I rolled up the empty bag to throw out when I finished my forms, stuffed it out of sight behind the monitor, and got back to work. It was time to move on. I’m not in elementary school anymore, and I’m not going to let myself wallow in the past, no matter how acute those sensory memories can be. I’ve got strong mental duct tape to seal back up that unhappy memories box, and a new vow to never eat Route 11 Barbecue Potato Chips again. It’s going to be okay, I thought, Everything is going to be okay.

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