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  • Eleanor Wong

The Potter's Wheel


The Potter's Wheel

Insignificant moments that made me who I am today

 

Bubblegum Ice Cream

I sit on the wooden bench swinging my legs while I wait for my dad and sister with my mom. Mom says I did a good job walking around the mall like a big girl while she was picking up some things so she will treat us all to ice cream after. I don’t understand why my dad and sister get ice cream when I did the good job walking, but it’s fine, I can share I guess. I see the two of them weaving through the waves of people and hop down from the bench to greet them.

“How was shopping? Make any big purchases today?” Dad asks, smiling.

“Nope, but Mom said I did a good job walking so we can have ice cream!” I share as I peek curiously into the bags he’s carrying. Maybe he’s hiding a present for me.

“Well, then we better scope out the flavours for today.” We cross the busy stream of shoppers to Purdy’s which awaits us on the other side. He lifts me up so I can see the different ice cream flavours. “Which one are you feeling today?”

My eyes are instantly drawn to a beautiful blue ice cream with bits of pink mixed into it. “That one,” I decide, “with lots and lots of sprinkles!”

“You heard the boss,” Dad says to the worker, “one scoop of bubblegum ice cream with lots and lots of sprinkles and two ice cream bars dipped in white and dark chocolate with nuts please.” I stand on my tiptoes and watch eagerly as the worker forms the sweet treat into a ball, places it on a cone, and dunks it into pieces of the rainbow. “Now, remember to chew the bubblegum, okay?” Dad warns. I nod my agreement and begin licking away at the bright blue dessert.

As we walk back to the parking lot, I encounter my first piece of bubblegum and chew it carefully as asked. That’s weird, I wonder to myself, I keep chewing but it’s not breaking apart or dissolving. Oh well, I’ll just keep enjoying my ice cream and chewing at the same time.

By the time we reach the car, the ice cream is gone, my hands are sticky, my jaw is tired, and my mouth is filled with bubblegum to the point where chewing is not really possible. I know, I think, I’ll just break it apart with my tongue and then swallow it bit by bit. I get to work breaking the stretchy gob with my mouth and by the time we are home, I have successfully freed my mouth. As I hop out of the car, Dad looks at me, “Eleanor, where is your bubblegum?” I show him my now-empty mouth and point to my belly.

Dad’s eyes widen, “All of it?”

“Of course, I didn’t want to waste.” Dad goes to talk to Mom in hushed tones. I don’t know why he is so shocked, he and Mom always tell me to eat everything that’s given. Eventually, he comes back and tells me to let him know if I feel weird. I say okay, even though I still don’t get it.

I learn a few hours later from my sister that you’re not supposed to swallow bubblegum. Now what I don’t get is why someone would put something you shouldn’t swallow in ice cream. I have a lot of questions. Maybe I’ll ask the worker at Purdy’s next time I do a good job walking in the mall.

 

The Book’s Betrayal

My parents are at work and my older sister is at a friend’s house, so it is just me and my babysitter at home. I like my babysitter. She always shares her dried prunes and apricots with me. She also lets me drink lemonade instead of water. Sometimes we play hide and seek, but I am always too good at hiding, so it takes her a long time to find me. Today, we aren’t playing hide and seek though. Mom took me to the library yesterday to get some Robert Munsch books, so I am way too busy to play. I hope my babysitter understands.

I build myself a house out of the orange and turquoise foam puzzle pieces, move the stack of books in, and start to read. I am fully immersed in The Paper Bag Princess when I let my right thumb glide along the edge of the page in preparation to flip. I feel an odd, dull sting, one I haven’t felt before. Wanting to finish my book, I push the thought out of my head and keep reading.

10 minutes later, I get up and wander into my backyard to take a break. Mom always says that for every 20 minutes of reading, I am supposed to look 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds. I don’t know how far 20 feet is, so I figure I’ll just watch the clouds for a bit – that seems far enough. I remember that weird sensation on my thumb and start to investigate. I tug a little at the surrounding skin on my thumb. Open, close. Open, close.

Wait a minute, I realize, skin isn’t supposed to open and close. Oh wow, the inside of my skin is such a bright pinky orange. But seriously, what’s wrong with my thumb? Is it going to split into two? This is a big problem! Alarmed, I hurry over to my babysitter to report the crisis.

“Here for some dried apricots, Eleanor?” she asks, holding out the bag. I consider it for half a second then shake my head. I don’t have time to enjoy dried apricots, this is an emergency! I thrust out my thumb. She peers at it through the glasses that sit low on her nose. “Ah, looks like you have a paper cut.”

“What’s a paper cut?” I question, still shaken at the sight of my skin separating.

“A paper cut is when a sheet of paper gives you a little ouchie. Paper doesn’t seem sharp like a knife or a pair of scissors, but they can still cut you. It will heal in a few days, just try not to play with it,” she explains as she wraps my thumb with a bandage.

How could my beloved books do this to me? I ponder this as I walk back to my orange and turquoise house. I pick up Mortimer, ready to show the book who’s boss. I lift my right hand to flip the page and feel all the strength leave my arm. I shudder at the dull sensation of the paper cut once more.

I put the book down. Two months will pass before I work up the courage to pick up a book again – but only with gloved hands.

 

Snowflakes

“Class, today we’re going to make snowflakes to decorate our classroom! Can anyone tell me something cool that they know about snowflakes?” My kindergarten teacher looks at us all expectantly. She is a nice lady... if you are on her good side. If not, she is even scarier than Mom. Luckily, I am on her good side. Actually, I am on her very good side. I know because every morning, she compliments me on my robin egg blue jacket with the white fur trim. She always says she wishes she had one just like it. I thought about giving her mine to try on, but I think it would be a bit too small. Anyway, the point is, I am one of the “good kids”.

She starts to demonstrate how to cut the snowflakes. “First, take the paper with the circle and cut along the line. Not inside the line, along it. Next, you’re going to hamburger fold the circle three times. Now it should look like an ice cream cone! Who here likes ice cream?” She looks around the class to make sure everyone is paying attention.

Easy peasy, I think, I’ve made snowflakes tons of times before at home with my sister. I should be the one teaching the class. She goes back to her tutorial. “After you’re done folding, you can take your pencil and draw the shapes you want to cut. Now the next part is very important, okay? Don’t draw any shapes that will go down the entire side of the folded edge, okay? Because if you cut that, your snowflake is going to fall apart. Got it? After you’re done drawing, you can start cutting. Any questions? No? Okay, come and grab one sheet of paper.”

How could anyone mess that up? It’s so simple, I could do it with my eyes closed! Actually, maybe I shouldn’t, it’s dangerous to use scissors when your eyes are closed, I ponder to myself. I walk over to the centre table to get a piece of paper then return to my seat. This will be a piece of cake. I’ll be the first one finished and I’ll have the prettiest snowflake ever!

I carefully maneuver my safety scissors around the circle then begin folding. Hamburger fold, hamburger fold, and another hamburger fold. I start cutting intricate shapes and designs into my ice cream cone. A triangle here. Some zigzags over there. Oh, I know! No one will have squiggles coming down from the top edge! Once satisfied, I excitedly unfold my snowflake and hold it up to show my best friend, who is still cutting. “Taaaadaa–huh?”

Four ragged triangles flutter to the table. “I think you did something wrong,” observes my best friend, “You’re not supposed to cut all the way on the folded edge, weren’t you listening?”

“Shhhhh!” I hush her. I look nervously at my teacher who is walking around helping my classmates. I know, I’ll just sneak over and get a new sheet. No one will ever know that I wasn’t paying attention! I tiptoe over to the table, successfully grab a new sheet, and start cutting immediately.

My teacher makes her way to my desk. “Eleanor, why are you still cutting the circle? Everyone is already cutting their designs!” I look up with a nervous smile and start sweating in my warm jumper. I watch as her eyes land on the pieces of paper I neglected to hide. “You cut your snowflake wrong, didn’t you?”

I look down at my hands in shame. I wait patiently for my punishment. I’ve never gotten in trouble at school before. She is definitely going to call home and tell my parents how I couldn’t follow instructions. Will I have to sit in the corner like my classmate who is always talking? Or maybe I won’t get to play with everyone during recess. Oh no...will I get replaced as the mom in House then? At that moment, I make a vow to never zone out ever again. Oh right, starting...now.

My teacher sighs. “Please hurry, okay? We have music class after this, and you know how Mrs. Ilief hates it when we’re late.” She pats my head and walks away. I sit there in shock. I’m safe! I can still play with my friends! I don’t have to worry about being bumped down to the baby in house or my parents finding out! I hurry to finish my snowflake and hand it in to be hung with everyone else’s.

Mine is still the prettiest.

 

A Reckless Ride

“Dad, can you tighten the chain on my bike? It’s a little loose,” I say as I pull up onto my driveway on my white and blue floral bike. He doesn’t hear me. He is mowing the lawn and he has those ear plugs in, you know, the ones that look like baby carrots. “Dad!” I exclaim slightly louder, but not quite yelling out of fear that Mom will scold me for disrupting the neighbours. I hop up and down, waving my arms until Dad takes notice.

“Hm?” he finally responds, pulling the carrots from his ears.

“The chain, can you tighten it please?”

“Okay give me a second.” He peels off his gardening gloves and goes to rummage in the garage for his toolbox. I sit on the steps of our front door blocking the paths of ants scurrying by with a stick while I wait for him. He reappears fifteen minutes and zero ants successfully blocked later with my new and improved ride. “Remember to use your brakes when coming down the hill and watch out for the sand on the road in the cul de sac okay?” he warns. Satisfied with my nodding head, he goes back to grooming the lawn.

I bike up and down the hill, first imagining that I am on a waterslide, then a pilot heading for descent. I make figure eights in the cul de sac and even try to bike while standing up. Sometimes I look over to see if Dad was watching, but he is focused on the grass. I am having a lot of fun, when suddenly a thought intrudes my mind. What if I fell? I’ve never fallen off my bike before, but all my neighbours have. They always cry. Will I cry? How painful would it be to fall? Will I get in trouble? Curiosity gets the better of me, and I decide to turn just a little too steeply and hit the pavement.

I sit on the road and watch red dots appear on my left knee then break onto the surface. I look down at my hands that broke the fall and see four neat rows of parallel lines cross my palms. Oh, so that’s what it’s like to fall off your bike. I think through a foggy mind. I stand up, pick up my bike, and limp back into my garage. I check over my shoulder for Dad, but he is still mowing away.

I sit down on the step to take off my shoes when Mom opens the garage door to bring water out for us. She looks from the blood that is now making its way down my shin then to my face and blinks a few times before she opens her mouth. “What did you do?” she asks in Cantonese, which she typically uses when she’s caught off guard.

“Fell off my bike,” I reply matter-of-factly, and continue to try to pull off my shoes, careful not to transfer the blood from my palms.

She clicks her tongue. “Why are you so careless? Hurry up and get inside and I’ll clean you up.” She steps past me to hand my dad his water. “Does it hurt?” she questions over her shoulder.

“Egh,” I respond with a shrug. I swallow, ignoring the stinging that is beginning to manifest, and go inside to wait for Mom.

 

All Because of A Stupid Thermos


"In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Enjoy your lunch everyone!" The PA system buzzes off, freeing us from the grueling socials studies seatwork we were tasked with. Finally, lunchtime, I think happily, and head over to my locker to grab my lunch kit, It's probably the fried rice from last night – yum! I drag my chair over to my friends and pull out my thermos.


I have to eat quickly or else they're going to make me "it" during Homebase at recess, I remind myself as I attempt to unscrew the lid. It won't budge. I try again. Lefty-loosey, tighty-righty. I turn the lid clockwise and it doesn't budge. Growing impatient, I walk over to the cluster of boys to ask for help. One of them unscrews it with ease and moves to hand it back to me. I open my mouth to thank him but am cut short by his comment.


"Wow, are you going to eat all of this? What a fat-ass." I blink at him a few times and stare blankly. I nod my thanks and take back the thermos. Slowly I walk back to my chair, trying to process what was said. Fat? How can that be? My family always tells me I'm built like a stick. Maybe they're just saying that because they're my family. Also "ass" is a bad word, he should watch his mouth. Spiraling thoughts cloud my mind as I fidget with the sticker on the slate grey exterior of the container. Skipping a meal couldn't hurt. You're not actually hungry, you've just been conditioned to want to eat at this time for years, I try to convince myself and my growling stomach.


I screw the lid back on, place it back in the lunch bag, and spend the remaining 7 minutes of lunch hour brainstorming plausible excuses to explain to mom why I didn't finish my lunch when she inevitably questions me at home.


The words "I wasn't hungry" become my catchphrase, and I never bring that thermos back to school.

 

Aisle 4

Envelopes, envelopes, envelopes... where the heck are the envelopes? I weave between the green aisles of Dollarama. Oops, can’t go this way, I catch myself as I notice the “exit” sticker on the floor of the craft aisle that I am just about to enter. Finally giving up my pride, I approach one of the workers clad in the trademark green aprons to ask where I can find the envelopes. I don’t catch what he says amidst the mask wearing and Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You blaring over the speakers. “I’m sorry, what was that?” I ask apologetically. He pulls down his mask to speak, “I said, check aisle 4.”


“Thanks,” I respond as I back away to a safe 2 meter distance. I make my way to aisle 4 and spot them on the bottom shelf, just in front of a couple chatting. Finally, I sigh internally. I edge over into the couple’s peripheral vision and wait patiently for them to take a hint and move their unrelated conversation about the most recent Shark Tank episode out of the way.

The woman makes eye contact with me briefly before going back to her conversation, “I just don’t get why it was a ‘no’. I mean, it’s brilliant! I’d love to ski without having to wear the skis.”

Noticing a natural break in their conversation, I step a little closer. “Excuse me,” I say, “I just need to sneak by you quickly to grab those envelopes.” They shuffle a little to the right. “Thank you,” I smile with my eyes and move away.

“Fucking chink, take your virus home,” the woman mutters under her breath to her partner.

I stop midstep.

I don’t need to turn around or have x-ray vision to see the scowl that is hidden under her mask. What I don’t know is what I have done to prompt such a comment. My mind fills with various actions I can take.

I can turn around and confront her. Or I can stay frozen. Or I can apologize.

Instead, I do what I have always been taught to do: keep my head down, don’t make a scene, don’t lose face, and say nothing. I walk away without a word, without reflecting my emotions.

“Would you like a bag today?” the cashier asks, blissfully unaware of the situation that occurred a few feet away. I shake my head, thank her, and leave behind the green store, Mariah Carey, and the woman with the dirty mouth and desire to ski without skis.

 

Afterword

Much like how a single movement, whether intentional or unintentional, of a potter’s hand can alter the shape and design of their ceramic, these memories reflect unspecial situations that formed or displayed key aspects of my personality.

From my experience with bubblegum ice cream, I developed a skeptical mind and dislike for things that do not make logical sense. The concept of bubblegum ice cream, particularly how its bright colours are used to entice children who do not know any better like me, still puzzles me. The memory of my first paper cut formed me into a very cautious person. In this vignette, you can see how my beloved books broke my trust with them, and hence for a long time I was reluctant to give them another chance. When I did give them another chance, I still took precautions to protect myself. My snowflake fiasco instilled a fear of breaking the rules, while also demonstrating my competitiveness from a young age. The time I fell off my bike out of curiosity developed an aversion to risk. From learning that trying things out of curiosity can bring pain, I began to indulge my curiosity less and less. The lunch scene taught me that our words, even when we aren't thinking, can carry immense weight. To this day, 10 years later, those words come to mind almost every meal. In this, it created me into someone who chooses their words very carefully, and frequently overthinks their gravity. Finally, my interaction in the Dollarstore, a fairly recent memory, shows the accumulation of these forming moments in one snapshot: a dislike for illogical responses, a fear of saying the wrong thing, and my cautious, rule-following, risk averse personality overriding my desire to settle the score.

Though each vignette is written in the language that reflects my age at the time, it is also written in the present tense. In doing so, I hope to relay how our past, no matter how insignificant, does inform the present however, it does not necessarily determine our future. While these are memories I regularly revisit, there is great joy in observing how my takeaways evolve over time and integrate into my present circumstances. My wish for this short collection is to share a piece of myself with you, the reader. I hope that it was able to provide you a little amusement and spark a few memories of your own past. Here's to embracing the art that comes from our unique, ever-spinning potter's wheel!

 

Written for my final creative project for my Creative Reading course.


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