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Keeping Pikachu MAG
When I was in first grade, Pokémon was the in thing. I went to a small Catholic school where your mother knew everyone else's, and where they all converged to create little activities for the class. One such happening was Friday-night bowling. The only problem was that the balls were as heavy as us, making it a difficult pastime for a bunch of six- and seven-year-olds. But we did use the time between throwing gutter balls to trade Pokémon cards.
I was the only girl who cared about the cards. The only reason I collected them, admittedly, was because I wanted a Pikachu card. That was my goal. Once obtained, I would no longer feel the need to beg my mother to buy me another pack to see if this time, Pikachu would appear in the pile.
One Friday, I sat in a circle with Danny, Tyler, and Vincent. They, too, were Pokémon connoisseurs and my usual trading buddies. On this particular Friday, though, Vincent revealed that he had a Pikachu card. I offered him three cards in exchange, I can't even remember which ones now. It was a trade he accepted. And so I successfully obtained a Pikachu. I went home and put it in my red binder with the plastic pages with slots to hold cards. I put Pikachu right in the middle and I decided that my collection was now complete.
The next bowling night, Vincent's mom spoke to my mom. She said that Vincent really wanted that card and hadn't meant to trade it. She asked if he could have it back. I overheard the conversation in horror. Give back Pikachu? How could my crowning Pokémon acquisition slip through my fingers? My mom played it cool. She pretended to have no idea what Vincent's mom was talking about; I think she was grateful that my nagging for more cards had ceased since Pikachu's arrival. So I kept Pikachu. I don't think Vincent held it against me.
By twelfth grade. I had lost touch with Vincent, along with the rest of the Pokémon traders. We had gone to different high schools – they to public, I to yet another Catholic school. It was March; college applications were in, so the year was basically over. I had been accepted by several schools, but New York University was both the one that mattered the most and the one I would attend.
That day I was taking an economics test I could not have cared less about, confident I would pass and that my GPA would remain great, because all the lights had done nothing but turn green for me. In the middle of the test, my name and a few others were called over the loudspeaker to report to the guidance office. I waited to finish the test before I went. I figured it was nothing important.
When I finally arrived, I found a barrage of people from my elementary school who, despite having gone on to the same high school, were practically strangers to me. Three of the girls were crying hysterically, the two others were drying the tears rolling down their cheeks. The guys stood stoically against the wall, staring at a spot on the floor I couldn't see.
“Cara,” my guidance counselor asked serenely, “do you know what's going on?”
“No,” I replied.
“Well, today Vincent got in a car accident on his way to baseball practice on Route 202. The rain must have made the roads slippery, and he skidded into the other lane, and a truck slammed into him.”
I didn't say anything. I sat and tried to process this. I did not cry because the reality was that I had not seen or heard from Vincent in four years. Yes, of course, it was tragic, but this was a guy I was not really close to to begin with, and had forgotten about.
The same was true of everyone else. I knew that not one of them was close to Vincent anymore, if they ever were. But here they were, weeping like it was their mother.
For me, it was hard to picture someone so young – my age, even – dying. It was not even about Vincent; it was about a young man dying. It could have been any young man. And eventually Vincent would be any young man. The rest of us would go on with our lives, probably get married, have careers, raise children, but he wouldn't. His image as an 18-year-old would be the last for him. We would go on to be novels; he would forever be a short story. It seemed heinously unfair.
I could picture Vincent driving down that road. He lived only a few minutes from me. I occasionally saw him driving around town. And so I could picture him in his car, his high school baseball team magnet on the bumper of the car, skidding – no doubt off the narrow turn he would have made onto Route 202 from his block – but I didn't want to. I didn't want to visualize the moment when his heart stopped, when his mind's eye looked up to the heavens, blinked, and poofed away like a cloud. But that was all I could think about.
I marveled at how, before that moment on that rainy March day, all I had concerned myself with was finishing a stupid economics test and what I was going to eat for lunch. I hadn't thought about Vincent once. And why would I? He wasn't part of my life, nor was I part of his. But after that moment, I could not stop thinking about him, or at least the idea of him, the idea of untimely death. Everything, every aspect of who he was, who he could have been, who he would have become – was gone. His whole future was taken, all his plans destroyed in seconds, but mine were intact.
Over the next few days I felt guilty for my initial reaction. Was I callous, staring at these sobbing girls and believing they were just drawing attention to themselves? I don't know. Even though Vincent and I had never been close, I couldn't help but think that maybe our elementary school acquaintance counted for something. I just wasn't sure what, exactly.
Several months later, on a rainy summer day, I decided to clean out my closet. I divided mounds of clothing I hadn't worn in years into “keep” and “donate” piles, I threw out shoes I'd worn holes in, reorganized shelves of sweaters. Then I got to the two plastic bins that held what remained of my childhood stuff. I opened them up for the first time in years.
There I found American Girl dolls, my favorite childhood books, lost Barbie doll shoes, old diaries. And there, at the bottom, was the Pokémon binder. I opened it to find Pikachu staring at me from the center slot of the plastic page.
The funeral and wake had come
and gone, but I thought it might be nice to return Pikachu by placing it on Vincent's grave. I got in my car, but found myself staring at the dashboard. Nevermind, I thought. I'm keeping