The Lunch Room
I remember the moment I walked into that maroon and gold lunchroom at Lakeridge Junior High like it was yesterday. It was the first day of 7th grade, and I had just moved to Orem, Utah from Milan, Italy. I didn’t know any English, and I felt lost, confused, and terrified. Your first day of Junior High in general is hard, and being a teenage girl is even harder, but moving to a different country and having to learn a new language and culture was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to go through in my life.
Just a couple weeks before, I was telling all my friends that I was about to move to the U.S., and nobody believed me. Just a couple weeks back I was living on the 30th floor of the 36 floor apartment next to the center of Milan—the Duomo—and just a couple weeks before that, my parents had just finalized their divorce, and my mom decided it was time to go back and live with her side of the family.
The bell rang at 11:25 AM, and everyone stormed out of their seats like a race had just started. “Come on, Vanessa,” The ESL teacher shouted from across the classroom. It was finally time for lunch, and students were everywhere. As I slowly walked down the crowded halls and made my way to the cafeteria, I knew it was finally time to face my fears and walk in front of over six hundred students as the new girl from Italy.
The lunchroom was big, cold, and smelled like cardboard pizza and chocolate milk. As I walked up to get my tray, I felt like an alien that had just landed from outer space. Everyone was staring and analyzing me from head to toe.
“Pepperoni or cheese?” asked the lunch lady. She was wearing a pink apron and a white hair net that held all her black hair in place. I looked at her and shook my head in confusion. All I heard coming out of her mouth was “blah-blah-blah?” She threw both pieces on my tray and smiled at me.
Clueless, I kept following the lunch line and imitating every move the girl in front of me made like a programmed robot. She kept sliding her tray down the metal bars and went to grab a side salad and fries, so I followed accordingly. Then she grabbed a small brown carton of milk, and even though I had never seen or tasted any of these entrees, I did exactly as she did. I just wanted to fit in, and avert all attention from me.
As I finally made it to the table and sat down in the middle of most of the peers in my classes, I was filled with anxiety, and my mind wouldn’t stop racing. All I kept thinking was, “Why do Americans drink milk for lunch? Why does their pizza taste like paper? Why are we eating out of these weird trays? And wait—no second course and dessert?” I felt like a screw in a box full of nails.
“Hi Vanessa, so you’re new?” asked a classmate from my math class. “Where are you from?” asked another. “Is this your first day in America?” asked another classmate from my geography class. Bombarded with all these questions coming from everyone, and the rambunctiousness going on around me, I felt like screaming from the top of my lungs, “BASTA!” Which means stop, in Italian. But instead I just sat there quietly, holding all my tears back, and faked a smile.
The only English words I knew were yes and no. In Italy, you don’t start learning English until you get to Junior High, so I couldn’t understand anything being asked. It all sounded like gibberish to me.
“Yes”, “no”, “no”, “yes”, “no”, I kept answering nervously. Everyone started laughing at me frantically. Burning fire lit up in my stomach; I had never felt more humiliated in my life. All I wanted to do was disappear, and I wished my mom had never moved me to Utah. Tears slowly ran down my red cheeks. While trying to hide my face desperately, a blonde girl named Amber from my math class abruptly pulled me into the bathroom. “Are you okay? Are you okay?” she kept asking me. By this time, I was balling all over her shoulder. “No!” I cried hysterically.
It almost felt like Amber was meant to come into my life. She told me everything was going to be okay, she helped me heal. She helped me become who I am today; and because of that small simple gesture, we became lifelong best friends, and I ended up learning English in three short months.