My first lunch box had a Pac-Man theme and was made of metal. Inside I carried peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a thermos, and little power pellets that I’d chew on when I wanted to eat the bullies at school instead of running away from them. Then the edges of the lunchbox rusted and would cut gashes in classmates who brushed up against me.
The following year I tapped He-Man, the most powerful man in the universe, to represent my lunch. If I needed the edge for a coloring assignment, or a group of other kids who were hogging the swings, I would hold the lunchbox up to the sky and a lightning bolt would strike me, and I would shout “I have the power” and get sent to the nurse’s office.
In second grade I had a Transformers lunchbox. A few twists and turns of the lunchbox would transform it into a robot that would sit on my desk and do absolutely nothing.
In third grade I bought a lunchbox based on The Wuzzles, a Disney cartoon named after creatures that were a cross of two different animals. One was a cross between a lion and a bumblebee, another a cross between a bear and a butterfly. Yet another was a cross between a cow and a pig, and caused dietary problems for many viewers. On the way home from the store, I stole frequent glances at the face of my Wuzzles lunchbox, and could not wait to show it off at school.
The night before the first day of school, however, it occurred to me that, unlike He-Man and Transformers, The Wuzzles was not considered exclusively a “boy’s show,” and that some classmates might feel entitled to argue that a Wuzzles lunchbox was a “girl’s” lunchbox. I prepared a brief arguing that the lunchbox was gender-neutral, and placed in my lunchbox, sandwiched in between my sandwich and cookies shaped like Keebler Elves.
The next morning I sat on the school bus with my lunchbox face down on my lap. A few times I peeked at the face of my lunchbox to see if it had changed to G.I. Joe, but the Wuzzles just peeked right back at me. And for a moment their vibrant cheery blended-species faces filled my heart with gladness.
My teacher made us put our lunchboxes in the back of the classroom. Lined up from the left were the Thundercats and Go Bots luncboxes, and from the right were the Barbie and My Little Pony lunchboxes. And front and center was my Wuzzles lunchbox, colorful and proud.
I kept looking around the classroom at the other students, to see if anyone had figured out that the Wuzzles lunchbox belonged to me. A group of boys seated together pointed at the lunchboxes, whispered, and laughed. Convinced they were talking about my Wuzzles lunchbox, I leaned out of my chair to get a better listen, so far that I fell out onto the floor, and said “I meant to do that” as I stood up and brushed off my new jeans.
At lunchtime I grabbed my lunchbox in the melee of students, tucked it under my arm with the face against my body, and shuffled along in the boys line to the cafetorium, a cross between a cafeteria and an auditorium.
I ate with my lunchbox face down. I was sure that everyone was looking at me, and with envy I saw how freely they displayed their lunchboxes to the world.
When lunch was over I picked up my lunchbox and pressed the face against my torso as I had done walking in. And that was my routine.
I wish there was some kind of dramatic denouement to this story, a moment where my lunchbox was revealed and I realized that it did not matter what was on my lunchbox, and some kid wearing a Voltron shirt started a slow clap, and everyone learned a valuable lesson that I would later write about in a college application. But there wasn’t. I don’t know if anyone cared or even noticed. They never asked, and I never told.
In the fourth grade I started brown bagging my lunch. The Wuzzles lunchbox was thrown in the basement with my other lunchboxes, and eventually became part of the Earth’s crust.