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Country Music and Matchbox Cars
There is nothing I would rather do on this lovely Saturday afternoon than sit on the cold floor of my garage and sift through old toys and games.
I rip the top off a Jenga game and count the pieces inside.
I really need to spend more quality time with my sister. Who cares if Jessica has tickets to see Zac Brown Band? There’s a family that needs healing.
I shove Polly Pocket dolls into a single blue container.
Seriously, who needs to hang out with friends when you can spend your days in a dusty, dirty, disgusting garage digging through trash?
I throw a Scene-It game a little harder than I meant to. It goes sailing through the air and crashes against a wall, spilling cards and board pieces everywhere.
“Ugh!” I stomp over to the game and angrily throw the pieces and cards and dice back into the box.
“That game never did anything to you.” My younger sister, Tiffany, looks at me pointedly. Her dark hair is tucked back in a braid. Her small hands hold a rag doll with hair made out of red string. “Unless, of course, you lost a lot. But I still don’t see how that’s the boards fault.”
I stick my tongue out at her and jam the last piece into the box. I walk back over to the stack and pick up the next game for inspection- Mall Madness. I laugh a little to myself, remembering the many times my friends and I played the game at sleepovers and birthday parties.
“I remember that game,” Tiffany says. “I wasn’t very good at it.”
I laugh. “Because you never wanted to spend any money! The point of the game is to shop as much as you can, and you never wanted to shop at all. You still don’t like spending money.”
“Saying that I never want to spend money makes me sound so frugal,” Tiffany says. “I prefer to say that I strategically distributing my banknotes.”
I sit down next to her. Today, she has traded her glasses for contacts, but there’s something funny about them.
“Your eyes,” I point out.
“What about my eyes?”
“Well, yes. I would qualify having Astigmatism as different.”
I shake my head. “No, they’re blue.”
“Oh.” Tiffany reaches up to her eye. “Yes. They are.”
“Did you always have blue eyes?” I ask.
Tiffany looks at me, her brow furrowed, mouth slightly agape. Her now-blue eyes look startling in contrast to her tan skin and dark hair. “I swear, if you are being serious-“
“No,” I say, laughing at myself a bit. “No. I know you have brown eyes.”
Tiffany nods. She then turns her attention back to the doll in her hands. I’m fairly sure it was mine- a Raggedy Ann doll. The familiar crumpled blue floral dress she wears has some unidentified stains on it, and part of the “Raggedy Ann” stitching on her white apron has come out, but otherwise she is in fairly good condition. If I get my grandmother to redo the stitching, and I wash the dress, then…
…What? What could I possibly do with it? Keep it? Maybe. I could put it in the cabinet where my mother keeps her porcelain dolls. But all it will do there is collect dust.
For some reason I can’t identify, I’m a bit unwilling to let the Raggedy Ann doll go. Of course, I would never admit that to any of my friends, who are probably having the time of their lives at the Zac Brown Band concert…
Tiffany catches me staring at the doll and holds it out to me. “Would you like to hold her?”
“No.” My voice comes out weaker than I intended it to. I clear my throat. “No,” I repeat, though part of me is saying ‘Not yet.’
I look around the garage at the other toys and trinkets. Across from me is a large, steel-shelving unit. My father always said he was going to keep his motorcycle parts there, but after last year, my mother took to using it as a storage unit for all of our old things. Dolls missing button eyes, Beanie Babies that lost their tags, and jewelry boxes with broke ballerinas. Hacky-sacks without the beans, babies with pen drawings on their foreheads, broken toy mirrors. Plastic tricycles missing wheels, Play-Doh that went hard, matchbox cars with their paint peeled off. My father loved it when we played with the matchbox cars. Like we were the boys he always wanted.
I turn my head so Tiffany does not see me. Standing up, I brush off my jeans, and am about to leave the garage when Tiffany asks, “Are you okay, Callie?”
I stop, wipe my eyes, and curse at myself. “Fine, Tiff.”
“Well, you don’t look fine.”
She stands up and walks over to me, but before she can say anything else I change the subject. “I always made better Play-Doh creations than you.”
Tiff smirks. “Only because you cheated.”
“How did I cheat?”
Instead of answering me right away, Tiff walks over to the shelving unit, pulls over a stool, and snatches a box of plastic toys- I can’t tell what they are- off the top shelf. “Here.” She takes out a toy and shoves it playfully in my hand.
I turn it over and over, examining it until I can find out what it is. I smile, and I feel like a seven-year-old again, sitting at the kitchen table making Play-Doh pasta and sprinkles with this object. “My Smart Dough Extruder.”
Tiff nods. “I specifically said NO TOOLS ALLOWED, but you didn’t listen.”
“Oh, I listened,” I tell her.
“You so did not!” She yells, laughing. “I saw you sneak it under the table! Just because I was four does not mean I didn’t use my eyes.”
“I was kind of hoping your astigmatism impaired your vision in terms of Smart Dough Extruders.”
“Well,” she says, yanking the Extruder out of my hands, “yes, but astigmatism only blurs my vision, Call. So, I only saw a blurry Extruder.” She glances at it.
Then she breaks down.
I gently take the toy out of her hands. Her arms fly out and wrap around my neck; she buries her head in my hair. “You’re okay,” I tell her, but my voice waivers. Of course she’s not okay. None of us are okay.
“I hate him,” she whispers, her voice partially muffled by my shoulder. “I hate him, I hate him, I hate him.”
I pat her back and stroke her hair. I feel as if I may have astigmatism, as the tears begin piling up in my eyes. But I refuse to let them roll down my face. It’s a challenge to get the next words out of my mouth, because my throat feels like there’s a rock stuck in it. “I know. Me, too.”
And I do. I mean it. Forgiveness is something I am taught to always give, to always seek, but I cannot forgive the man who took my father’s life. My father had to pay for someone else’ splurge.
She shrieks, a heart-wrenching cry that rings around the room and tugs at my tears, begging them to fall; but they do not. My breath quickens and my heart races and every single interaction I’ve had with my father races through my mind and I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.
Something inside of me snaps and I’m weeping right back on the shoulder of my sister. I cry, and I cry, and I cry until I feel like my entire soul now rests in puddles on the back of Tiff’s sweater. I pour out everything I’ve held in for the past year, everything I’ve had to hold in. I let everything go. I don’t care.
It feels like a bubble popping. Or the release of a wad of cloth that was stuck in my throat. Like I’ve thrown the weight of the world back onto the shoulders of Atlas. Because I can’t go on pretending like everything’s fine when I’m dying inside. I can’t pretend like carrying this entire family wasn’t a source of great emotional stress. And trauma. There, I’ll say it. I’ve been traumatized.
It wasn’t enough to watch my father die abruptly before me. It wasn’t enough to call the ambulance. It wasn’t enough to cradle his bleeding head in my lap on the hot pavement. I had to cradle my mother and sister as well.
So I mourn and I cry and I scream and I wail. There’s a tug in my gut. Images flash through my mind: listening to music in the car with him on our way to church, all those times I was the one who collapsed the Jenga tower in our games, sitting on the floor with him and gliding matchbox cars along a printed rug. And with every memory comes the stark realization that he’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone.
HE’S GONE. I try so hard to convince myself, but even though I know in my gut it is true, my soul tells me otherwise. So I say it over and over again to try and get it through my head. He’s gone.
An awful wail escapes my mouth. My nose is running and my eyes have gone hot and sore, but I’m too distraught to do anything about it. Let my nose run. Let my eyes burn away. I cannot see beauty on this earth without my father guiding me.
And I can’t sell the pieces of my childhood that he saw, that I shared with him. I try and move to get the Jenga box, the Polly Pockets- everything I wanted to get rid of- but my body is grieving as much as my mind.
I don’t pay attention to the movement, the shifting of bodies beneath me. I don’t realize until I hear her voice that she’s holding me.
They both are.