When I was nine years old, I was embarrassed at Ashley’s slumber party. Not the usual embarrassment- admitting you pick your wedgies in public, wearing Payless shoes, or farting underneath your sleeping bag. I was embarrassed because I didn’t eat the pepperoni pizza.
There, it lay, hot and greasy in the Little Caesars box, each slice fighting to hang on to the adjoining slice by loose threads of cheese, as hands grabbed at them. I stood watching my friends partake in pepperoni bliss.
Have some, Ashley’s oily-faced father says as he pushes a slice toward me. No thank you, I reply. He looks at me as if I have four heads and a fifth one growing in at that moment. He’s trying to read me; a 9-year old slumber party participant who doesn’t want a piece of pepperoni pizza. How weird. I continue to stand there, awkward, as some Disney movie lights up the living room and my friends’ hands are made greasier with each slice.
What’s wrong with you? Are you Jewish or something?!, he probes. I’m not expecting this accusatory question and my nine-year old mind struggles to answer it. No, I just don’t want it.
I am now struggling to conceal information in this foreign house in the middle of Castro Valley. I know I should’ve never begged my mother to let me come to this sleepover. It’s hot in here, smells like some odd concoction of cheese and leather, I’m hungry, and I have someone’s oily father trying to figure out my non- existent Jewish heritage. I figure this is the perfect time to exit the living room area and go into Ashley’s room. I don’t care if it’s not time to go to sleep yet- I want to go home so bad that I will sleep now to make tomorrow appear.
I am now in Ashley’s room. Sleeping bags line the floor. I find mine. I overhear my friends asking where I went. I hear Ashley’s father. I just wanted to know what was wrong with her- why she didn’t want to eat the pizza. I hear Ashley get angry with her father. Dad, why do you have to ruin things!? I bury my head beneath my sleeping bag, snagging some of my hair in the zipper, and pretend to go to sleep. My best friend Megan runs into the room and discovers me wrapped inside. Are you okay?, she asks. I nod. The next morning, after surviving cold, ultra-bland eggs, and hard waffles at the request of Ashley’s mother, Megan and I escape the pepperoni prison without telling anyone. We run to Megan’s house.
I didn’t want to tell Ashley’s persistent father that I was raised Muslim, and that eating pork was against my religion. At 9, I didn’t feel like explaining my religious background to him at his daughter’s slumber party. I was tired of doing that. I just wanted to refuse the pepperoni pizza and be left alone, or maybe offered a cheese alternative. At an early age, I learned that personal, cultural, religious, and racial differences in people were more than often considered as something “wrong.” As in this case, there was something wrong with me because I didn’t want to eat the pepperoni pizza. I didn’t want to subscribe to that notion. At 24, I am still fighting the never-ending battle of defining myself against a barrage of normative ideals that mark me and others like me, “wrong.” I choose to stand up to the accusations most times, but sometimes, like the experience above, I just run.