It must have been a joke. My father bought me sneakers, what seemed like plain white sneakers, but with blue floral straps on them, like a Japanese sandal. Your cousin got these too, he said. He left them next to my bed, and I kicked them out of sight. It must have been a joke, but I made the mistake of wearing them, and he said nothing when he dropped me off for second grade.
I learned quickly that the bully was named JJ. She was a bit taller, and she was Japanese, and called samurai by the white, Jewish kids. I walked up to her on the first day, to where she was squatting under the slide. I did this because my father was Japanese. She stood up and five-star-slapped me on my chest. I fell back and another kid made oooing sounds. Then she stepped on my hand. Not pain— just pressure.
You lose tag forever said JJ. She sneered in that mythical way only children know. Your shoes are ugly.
I told my father, and he said I should be tough. This was when I was always told to be gentle. He didn’t tell me to talk to Ms. Sharon, my teacher. They had met once and he never liked to mention her. She liked to keep me near JJ. The others did too. It didn’t matter that I quickly hated her, hated that she stole pins right out of my hair. Looked at my Pokémon cards and handed them back with two missing. I saw them in the band of her skirt when she walked away. Anything I had that my father got me, she somehow knew.
That is when I tried to tell Ms. Sharon, but she was more concerned about what my father fed me. She squeezed the top of my arm. Sumo, she said. I was angry. So I started to beat up boys on the playground. I stalked them like Rambo. I didn’t know who Rambo was but I carried a plastic knife from the cafeteria in my teeth because JJ said that was what Rambo did, when she caught me crawling up the slide, grinning, chasing prey. Then I body-slammed Mike Gross a little too hard while I dangled from the monkey bars. Ms. Sharon dragged me away. I was banned from recess for the week. Sumo! I yelled at her. Sumo!
There was JAP, as in Jewish-American Princess. We had plenty of those. There was also jap, as in me and JJ. Were we Japanese-American Princesses? We were referred to as sisters sometimes, which felt better than jap. Ms. Sharon even called me a JAP jap, or a jap JAP, but it was very quiet. I didn’t know which way she meant it.
She said it the first time I couldn’t go out for recess. Maybe because we were both there. I sat at a table across from JJ, her hair a mess in my face. She was coloring, quiet. She handed me a red crayon and I colored too. I drew planets and clothes. She drew zoo animals. She transferred schools that year. I threw the sneakers into a bush and was found barefoot and silent by Ms. Sharon. My mother came by with other shoes when she picked me up. I didn’t tell her anything, and never did.
It must have been a joke. My father texted me over fifteen years later with a link to a similar pair, except with red straps. The link had a ridiculous title— he said nothing else about it.