When I was a kid, I used to collect apple stickers. I don’t particularly remember how it started, like the nature of many childhood memories, but I recall walking into my primary school class and seeing this girl with a small collection of fruit stickers on a notebook page in her pencil case. They were all neatly aligned next to each other, their oval shape causing them to overlap, leaving little blank space on the corner of page where they sat.
I immediately had this sense of determination to replicate this girl’s quirky and innocent habit she started when she ate fruit at her desk every recess, and probably couldn’t be bothered taking a sticker the size of a fingernail to the bin. I had a very good talent, and still do, to convince myself that I can perform an already existing idea to its highest possible quality, rather than thinking of any original ideas of my own.
I remember finding a journal I had lying around at home. This one had a purple opaque cover and a spiral binding. I ripped out all the pages filled with ink to start a fresh, brand new book (I think these pages were a tally of how many times my grade 6 teacher said ‘interesting’ – but that’s a story for another time) and started what would be one of the first (of many) compulsive obsessions I would experience throughout my life.
I still remember the type of sticker they were – Aussie Pink Lady. They were mainly a nice generic dark green colour, with a few flickers of white. I used to hate any other apple – Red Delicious apples were too powdery in my mouth and the shape made me uncomfortable. Granny Smiths were bitter and confused my very underdeveloped taste palette (as a kid my diet consisted of predominantly sliced cheese and vegemite) so I liked the round, satisfying shape of pink lady apples and the way they were blushed pink.
The words ‘pink lady’ evoked the thoughts of a very plump, nurturing woman to me, and as a child that was already deprived of love and affection, I guess something triggered in me psychologically to commit myself to this variety of apple for the rest of my life.
So anyway. Amongst all these scattered memories of my grade 6 classroom (the daily grind, oh the complexities) I guess my collection started to get pretty impressive. I can’t say when or what at point people started to notice that I was pretty serious about this habit, but I think I remember causing a stir the moment I put the final sticker on my first ever completed page.
The girl who cultivated the original idea was impressed at how accurately I had placed each green stamp to ensure there was no white paper peeping through. I remember the round corners of the stickers hanging off the edge of the rectangular piece of paper and the struggle I used to have getting the stickers in between the spiral binding – but somehow, I managed to get this page clean and completely green. I can’t remember exactly feeling a sense of satisfaction but more a driving compulsiveness to start my next page.
The moment when I knew I was in for this for the long haul was when I sat back down at my table one day, and saw an apple sticker stuck on my desk. I definitely had not eaten my apple yet (or my mandarin for that matter – because by the 5th of 6th page the collection grew from specifically Pink Lady apples from my home fruit basket to all types of apples, mandarins, and the occasional kiwi fruit sticker or two, if the adhesive wasn’t too matted with kiwi fur.) So I was confident this sticker was not mine.
Then I felt a presence behind me and suddenly my classmate, Spencer*, who shattered my heart into a million pieces with his existence alone on a daily basis, was inches away from me – the awkward, obsessive compulsive apple sticker collector who probably by this point, was sweating on her plastic classroom chair.
“I thought you could add this to your collection!” his smile was so warm and gentle. This wasn’t one of those ‘ugly nerd girl crushes on mean popular jock’ scenario. Spencer did the radio show every lunchtime at our primary school (where students would run a talk show over the school intercom) and was reading, I kid you not, The Power Of One by Bryce Courtenay at the age of 12. All these amazing traits combined made it impossible to hate the kid for being so perfect.
I somehow, in that moment, managed not to wet my pants on the spot and gratefully accepted his apple sticker. Moments after, it obviously caught on that THE Spencer Smith was giving me his fruit stickers and that was a real laugh to the puny brains of a class of 12 year olds, so naturally, they started doing the same. A combination of stickers were left on my desk and given to me directly, to contribute to this seemingly revolutionary notebook.
The process shifted and shaped a bit for my own personal gain – I remember telling people to not stick them on the table when I wasn’t there because it would ruin the glue on the back of it. I wanted maximum stick straight from fruit-to-notebook without any greasy children fingers or classroom table infecting it. But now I look back what I really think was going on was that I wanted to be with people directly, doing it with them and having, well, friends.
The moment I realised this was becoming a problem was when I was sitting somewhere in the school yard, a bit bummed out at the slow delivery of apple stickers today. It was raining that day so I totally convinced myself maybe the bad weather had everyone going to the canteen for lunch. I mean, who wants an apple for lunch when you could have a warm meat pie on a rainy day? Maybe the produce wasn’t so good around this time of year. Maybe everyone has left the fruit their parents packed them to rot at the bottom of their schoolbags. I shivered at the thought of mouldy fruit.
“You should just go to the supermarket and get them!” someone suggested. Again, another idea that wasn’t mine but I still got the same lightbulb moment of realisation because that was a damn good idea.
Move a few days forward and I was strolling behind my Mum in the fruit and vegetable section after school. I felt like I was about to commit some type of federal crime that would have me behind bars for years. I saw the headlines in my head.
‘SERIAL FRUIT STICKER THIEF’.
I wondered if I could impress the judge with my collection and he’d let me off the hook. Instead, I could make it into that Guinness World Record Book or something. I browsed past the pyramids of delicious looking Pink Lady apples and started piling stickers on my the palms of my hands, and all up my arms underneath my sleeves.
I looked around nervously. Had anyone seen me? What would they think?
Mum rolled her eyes at me. She told me some made-up story about how apples couldn’t be bought without the stickers, and I momentarily thought about how many apples I would cause to go to waste, or maybe even some farmers sad to hear that their hard earned produce went in the bin. But when you have a constant, desperate need for people to like you, it outweighs your inner moral compass. So I continued.
These suckers were surprisingly easy to get off because most of them weren’t really stuck to the fruit properly in the first place. Oh boy, my hands were getting sweaty, but I kept thinking about the look on everyone’s face when they saw how many god damn apple stickers the ‘crazy apple sticker girl’ had in her book on Monday morning.
But I was wrong. I guess after a while the ap-peel wore off, and as kids do, quickly focused their short attention span on to something else. I think some girl got an undercut or wore a AFL scarf to school on a day that wasn’t mufti day, and thus began the new obsession of something, or someone else.
Years on, I sit at University, peeling the sticker off my Pink Lady apple and sticking it to the nearest table. I get this weird, yet comforting satisfaction as I rub my finger over it and watch the glue bond to the desk. The out of place green oval on a stark, white work desk brings back the memory of this ritual that glued my life together momentarily.
Featured in Catalyst Magazine – The Ritual Issue