What my stomach couldn’t take was milk. Milk was served with school lunch in post-war Japan, as it was considered to provide the same nutrition that made Americans tall and powerful. For some mysterious reasons, Japanese schools instructed children the “triangle method” to encourage us to eat a variety of foods instead of just favorite ones. In the triangle method, you start with milk, then soup, rice, main dish, back to milk. It was a triangle because, in Japanese dining, rice and soup were placed next to each other, and a main dish above the two. As I sipped milk first thing in my stomach, the fat and lactose went mad inside me. The more I tried to wash food down with milk, the harder it got to digest. It didn’t occur to me to stop drinking milk because it was such a crucial part of school lunch that it was a blasphemy to skip it.
I had to hide or dispose of milk. Sometimes I was quick with draining it into the sink. Other times I put it back to the milk basket half full, and one time I pretended to have spilled it out of the window when my friend surprised me from behind. My classmates knew I couldn’t eat. Boys would shame me when I wasted it, but girls were more sympathetic and covered me when I did. However, my second cousin Mark, not knowing how to communicate his fondness toward me, decided to give me a hard time. He told Miss Kawano that I hid milk in the cleaning cupboard. She called me and interrogated me why I hid the milk. I was unable to confess to her I couldn’t drink milk because that would make me a brat. After 10 minutes of the lecture, I was released but felt utterly ridiculous. When I got home, I rambled to my mother and sister what an idiot Mark was. They laughed then, and they still laugh today, digging a memory to make me a dinner table joke.