It’s been over twelve years since the last time I drank apple juice. Drank it when other options were available, that is. I used to drink it a lot as a kid – it was my favourite. These days the closest I get to it is the occasional cup of apple cider. Apple juice just doesn’t taste right any more. It’s too sweet, too syrupy. There’s a sense of wrongness as it burns its chemical trail down the back of my throat.
It’s been like this for me ever since two days before I entered fourth grade. I usually don’t recall the specific time that events occurred, but this instance has been engraved in my memory by the event that preceded it. Because the two days before I entered fourth grade were the two days my family came home from our almost ten-month stay in Sayanogorsk, Siberia.
It probably seems strange that one of the things that sticks out the most in my mind about that week is the sudden discovery of my dislike of apple juice. You’d think I’d have been more occupied with catching up with friends, or buying school supplies, or enjoying those last precious days of summer before school starts. But, to be honest, I was a pretty solitary kid, and was coping with the jetlag that comes with a twelve-hour time difference to boot. I consider myself lucky that I remember anything about that time.
Apple juice. It’s not really something you tend to think about, unless it’s in a casual ‘hm, I feel like a glass of juice’ manner, or the container’s empty. I thought about it in Russia, though. To understand why, you need to know a bit more about the acquisition of groceries in Siberia. There weren’t any supermarkets in Sayanogorsk when we originally moved there. We did our shopping at the number 9 and number 5 markets. They were comprised mostly of merchants who had their wares displayed on tables or blankets on the street, or in small kiosks. There were a few small stores scattered around, and a big one that was a bit like a farmer’s market crossed with a general store, and none of them had air-conditioning. We bought everything at these markets – food and pencils, cleaning supplies and Christmas ornaments, toys and clothes…
And apple juice.
One of the key things about these markets was that their stock was in constant flux. You could never be sure that what was available today would be available tomorrow, so if you found something unusual, you stocked up on it. We found peanut butter once during our ten-month stay there. That was a good day. It becomes a habit, to store things away like a squirrel, to make them last. It’s a habit that still clings in traces to me, over twelve years later.
One of the things that was readily available was different types of fruit juice – orange, pineapple, grape, apple – it came in large cardboard boxes that were a bit like the juice boxes you’d get in your lunchbox as a kid. There was a white pull-tab-thing you used to open or shut the box, depending on whether you were pouring a drink or putting it in the fridge.
When we first arrived, there were several brands of these box juices available. My sister and I had a favourite type, so our mom bought us that brand. Then, one day, that type of juice just wasn’t there anymore. As I stated before, the markets were in a fairly constant state of flux when it came to merchandise. But my sister and I still wanted apple juice. So Mom bought a different brand. We didn’t care for it much at first, but it grew on us as time passed. This cycle happened once or twice more during our stay, and each time my sister and I adapted to a new brand.
Then came August 1998. To this day, I’m a bit blurry on the details – I was only ten at the time, and I’ve never really asked about what was going on. Suffice to say, Russia was having internal problems, and my dad’s company informed us that we had to get out.
It wasn’t as fast as all that, of course. There wasn’t a declaration of war or anything. We had time to pack our things and to make flight arrangements, to inform the person caring for our house in the States that we were coming back and to say good-bye to the friends we’d made in Sayanogorsk. But over it all there was a sense of urgency, a slight tang of concern that I didn’t even recognize until long after we’d gotten home.
We got back to our old house in the states at that time that can be termed as gawd-awful late or gawd-awful early, depending upon the preferences of the writer, but which, when it comes right down to it, is simply a gawd-awful time to be awake. We stopped by a Super Walmart on our way from the airport, to get some food. Amongst our purchases were bread, peanut butter, milk, cereal, and apple juice.
Have you ever experienced culture shock before? Gone to a place so utterly different in its way of thinking and doing things that it takes some time just to get your bearings? If you have, you know it’s not a comfortable feeling.
Have you ever considered what it’d be like to get culture shock by going home? To suddenly be in a land of everything, of huge grocery stores and cars, when you had grown used to walking to a small outdoor market in all weathers and ferreting special food away? To go from a world where bare feet would be cut by the broken glass on the playground to one where shoes are just another fashion statement?
You have to when those things happen to you.
It makes you realize how incredibly different you’ve become from your peers since the last time you saw them, and that you’re never going to be quite like them again, no matter how you try, not really.
Sometime during those jet-lagged two days before fourth grade, I poured myself a glass of apple juice, and realized that I didn’t like the taste. And that I couldn’t bring myself to drink it, even though I’d adapted to different brands of juice multiple times over the past ten months. This was just one step I couldn’t take – a step backwards. Just as I couldn’t go back to being the girl I’d been ten months ago, I couldn’t go back to drinking the apple juice I’d grown up with. In a way it foreshadowed the other difficulties I’d experience because of this adventure.
Of course, I didn’t realize this at the time. At the time I was ten, and frustrated that my long-awaited drink no longer gave me the pleasure it once did. I didn’t see it as a sign of the changes in myself the past year had wrought. I couldn’t. I didn’t realize there was anything to see.
But my classmates saw. They saw that I was different from them, but they probably didn’t understand why. And how could they have understood? We were all so young… I’ve done the best I can since then, but it wasn’t until high school that I began to be able to properly relate to my peer group again.
And that’s what I think of when I think about apple juice.