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The Dread of the Plastic Exchange
Who was I then? Jeremy Alan, the first son of Alan Joseph and Kimberley Pickard, born on the twelfth of January, 1996. Fear is, ironically, a scary thing. Not in the sense of, for example, being afraid of the dark, but that that fear of the dark is scary and can consume you. Fears are hard to face, and sometimes you can never truly get over them. Though if you do conquer one, it can change your life, like what happened with me.
The engine stopped and we stepped out of the car. “Now stay close to daddy,” my father seemed to have always said as he grabbed my hand. We walked through the parking lot and across the drive through exit toward the entrance to the McDonald’s in Graham. I had always wondered who had the brilliant idea of putting the parking lot beside the drive through exit, making people walk past the exit to get inside the restaurant, causing in-a-hurry-for-no-reason idiots to honk and wait impatiently. I looked up at the familiar golden arches above the red sign with white letters reading McDonalds, which would be my favorite fast food joint until I was ten and realized how terrible their chicken nuggets actually are.
As we stepped through the door, we were greeted with the smell of a mop and watered down cleaning solutions. A lady in a blue shirt and black pants with the scratched name tag of SUE was wiping down a table that looked like it had had a pretty nasty barbeque sauce accident. This restaurant had the video game stalls that I loved to play. My favorite thing to play was some sort of three dimensional Pacman. Sure, I had no idea how to play, and I wasn’t very good at it, but it was one of the most fun things there, besides the pink slide that had bolts that always shocked me because of the static generated from my clothes.
We walked up to the line in front of the counter, waiting for the person who had ordered nearly half the items on the menu to finish up. My father leaned over and said “You know what you want?” I thought for a fraction of a second, but then the order that I had asked for over and over again popped in my mind and I said “The same as always, daddy.” He then replied “Okay son, but you’re ordering this time.” It wasn’t the first time he pulled this annoying scheme. The first time he had, I instinctively made like a cowering mouse and darted to the bathroom when he wasn’t looking. I hated talking to people I didn’t know. In line for something, ordering at a restaurant, saying something stupid in class or answering wrong, any sort of chance to embarrass myself in front of random people I would never remember. I guess it was the thought that if you embarrass yourself, you’ll just get nervous and make it worse. Maybe also the fact that you’ll never see them again, therefore the first impression you make is the lasting one, and for some reason this made me want to blush and embarrass myself further. I had always wanted to leave a good impression on people, and still do. Maybe it’s some psychological thing or an ego problem I have.
I was about to argue how I would never be able to do such an intimidating task when the next register opened and beckoned us over. Startled with the fact that I knew I wouldn’t have time to think of what to do, I just followed my father to the taunting register with the pretty young woman smiling.
“For here or to go?” she said.
“Here. I’ll get a, uh, quarter pounder with cheese combo with a small coke and…” He started the list of orders for my family and I got more nervous as he finished with my brother. Then he said “And, uh… gimme a sec…” he turned to me and, with a whisper that sounded as if he knew I was afraid and he would try to help me, said
“C’mon, son. It’s no big deal. Just tell her what you want.”
Easy for you to say I looked up; my face starting to burn into what would become an embarrassing fire. I murmured “Umm… can I have-”
My father nudged my shoulder and corrected me. “Please?”
“Oh yah um… can I please have the kids meal with the chicken nuggets please?” I said it so quietly, I thought my father would make me repeat the dreadful act, but thankfully she understood and smiled, having that happy glint in her eye that girls usually have when a little kid acts cute. I hated that look, and I blushed even more when she said “Do you want barbeque sauce, sweetie?”
“Uh huh. Please.” I added on, the forgetting of the sauce making my facial fire burn brighter. Stupid barbeque sauce. She glanced back at me before telling my father the total, and I forced a smile. A please-don’t-pat-my-head-even-though-I’m-apparently-cute smile.
She then looked up at my dad, saying “Your total is $12.57”
He handed her thirteen dollars and she put them into the register, then gave him his change as she said “Thank you!” and looked right at me and smiled as she said “Have a nice day!” and I immediately turned, my face now ablaze with the mark of embarrassment. I hugged my father’s leg as we walked away and he said “Hey, now that wasn’t so hard, was it?” After I gave him a dirty look, I went over to the booth we usually sat at as he got some fizzy, sweet beverages at the drink fountain. He sat down and we started eating. I reached inside the happy meal bag for the plastic wrapping that held one of the Bionicle toys I liked to play with. To my dissatisfaction, the item I pulled out was not the figure I was looking for, just another Ice Toa. I had really wanted to get the fire one and asked my dad to bring it up and trade it for a different toy. He said, with his hamburger muffling his words, “Okay, you can go up, but I’m staying here.” “But daddy- I mean, please?” I looked into his eyes, pleading him to take this torture from me, a torture he knew was awkward for me, but he sadly did not know how awkward it was. “No son. If you want it, you have to go get it.” I sat there quietly, and looked at the white, ice themed Bionicle toa that I had already received from this restaurant twice already, deciding if it was really worth the risk of potentially embarrassing myself. I got up and started walking to the dreaded register that witnessed my life that day as if it were watching a play live onstage. Not only had it seen the first miserable and embarrassing act of The Tale of the Nervous Child, but eagerly waited in its seat at the counter for the astoundingly unforgettable second and final act.
It’s funny how when you’re young and afraid anything and everything can seem intimidating to you. The monster in your closet, going to school for your first time, or even the dark can be scary. The people in front of me and around me were at least twice the height that I was and much older than I, so all the time I thought they were thinking various questions like “Oh, what’s this mere child doing here? Shouldn’t he be at the playground with the other younglings?” even though they were all more concerned about their burger with a side of fries. The queue slowly shifted forward and eventually I was back to the young woman at the register. “Hi there! Where’s your daddy at?” Ignoring this question, I revealed my embarrassing quest to get a different toy. “Can I please have the fire one, please?” I said, escaping her gaze. I clutched the toy in my hands as if it were some sort of escape. All I heard was a quick “Just a sec” and walking of footsteps to a container full of the cheap pieces of entertainment that drove kids to have a Happy Meal. Later in life, though, those same kids would look back and wonder why such a cheap, worthless, and barely entertaining thing now would be so valued back then. She shoveled out a venom one and said “This alright?”
I managed to squeeze out a jumbled mix of “yeahyesthankyoubye” while grabbing the plastic package and turning away, trying not to think of everyone watching me while walking back toward the safety of the booth where my father was.
“Did you get the right one?” he said as I slid into the seat opposite of him. I had forgotten to look at the object in the midst of my escape. I looked down at it, and heaved a big sigh. I had wanted the Fire Toa but instead the lady at the counter handed me the Venom Toa.
Yeah, I lied to my dad, but I had had enough bravery and embarrassment for one day. At that moment I thought I would never confront a challenge again, but I was so wrong in that thought. That moment sparked the flame that would become courage in me. This seed of courage was starting to spread like a tree, one act ends up encouraging two others, then they each started driving a few more, and so on until it becomes a great tree of courage. Such acts following the first incident led to other considerable acts of courage in McDonald’s, including paying for my first order. Then these led to learning to ride a bike, to swim, to go camping and fight my fears of the dark and drowning and falling off a bike. All this courage from one little spark, one seed, one cheap little toy wrapped in clear, stretchy plastic.