The Chronicles of Childhood This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

March 1, 2011
I was an unusual child. While my elementary counterparts were running on the soccer field or swirling around in ballet shoes, little prodigies––or at the very least little pupils––I was inside, reading. Unfortunately I do not read as avidly as I did before, but I do not think that my consumption of words could be matched by any 7 year old anywhere else in the world. I sat there in my polka-dot bathrobe, reading as many books as I possibly could, from sunrise to sunset. I knew the names of over two hundred dinosaurs, a fact about them, and what color scientists thought they were. I knew about every moon orbiting Jupiter as of current research, I could talk about Greek mythology for hours. From books I learned Latin roots, how to blow a bubble with chewing gum, the tricks and turns of courtship, arranged marriages in Medieval England, why the polar bear is white when it so obviously does not need camouflage, the Spanish Inquisition’s various torture devices, the velocity of a hurricane and how to tie a scarf if it’s too windy to wrap.

My parents were divorced. Every day but Saturday, I lived with my mother and my grandmother. They are the most wonderful human beings on the face of the Earth, my mother working agonizing hours as a lawyer, a mother and a handyman for our initially scummy house. Every Saturday, I spent the day at my father’s house. My parents worked hard for me not to see them angry, for me to spend time with both of them and to have a happy life. I wouldn’t spend two weeks one place, two weeks another, I wouldn’t move back and forth. So I grew up with the perks of two parents, because every kid I can relate to knows two parents means: Two birthdays, two Christmases, two Easter baskets, two Thanksgivings, etcetera.

I liked going to my dad’s house. When I was very young we bought four tubes of disgusting candy fruit. They were hard candies in the shape of bananas and oranges, unbreakable and inedible. On the top of the candy was the thing that lured me in: a toy from the movie Toy Story. This was a long time ago, so I am referring to the first one, the original Disney magic. I loved that movie since the day it first came out, watching it over and over again until I fell asleep. On the top of those four nasty candies was two Buzz Lightyears and two Woodys. They were on a base, the lid of the candy, that when you pushed down they fell, their limbs and the strings holding them together collapsed, then sprung back up when the bottom was lifted. Thus began the chronicles of Buzz and Buzzy, Woodrow and Woody.

Initially it was just Buzz and Woody, the other two sitting in the drawer. But with the addition of Tee, the Tyrannosaurus Rex figurine, Blue, a model of the blue fairy from a fast food meal, and a Barbie doll dentist, whose was never named, they emerged from the drawer. Some other ones were added, including the “Meowichies”, a huge collection of robotic dogs, cats and bunnies that when wound would walk around. There was a family of four from a dollhouse whose names changed constantly and who had a forrest-green Minivan. When you hit a button on the Minivan it would play a song or a little boy’s voice would pipe up and say “Are we there yet?”

Characters, sets and vehicles changed constantly. I did not play dollhouse or any typical games. My games, for some reason, were so frequently very dark. One day it was: Mystery at the Campground, where a bonfire destroyed my new camper and suburban attachment, killing two or three people. Woodrow and Woody were the detectives and the voice of reason, Buzz and Buzzy were the buffoons and the troublemakers. My dad played Buzz and Buzzy, dutifully putting them on the witness stand as defendants, making them break into my Barbie Dream House, waking up Tee, brought them with us to the pool so we could have “swimming contests” (I always won) and so much more.

The pool was alway my favorite. My father didn’t have air conditioning, so in the middle of a Tucson June, when the temperature soared above 110?, the stifling air of his house became unbearable. I sprayed him down with sunscreen so he wouldn’t get more skin damage, and we dove in. I got to cannonball in first, because my splash made barely a dent, while his shook gallons out of the pool. After having races to the other side on floating noodles, me jumping into an inner tube again and again, there was the diving contest.

What a sight it must have been:

There was a third grader, a girl so miserable in school with hardly any friends, suffering through the week, in a rainbow one-piece purchased from an outlet store. She stood with her toes hugging the edge of the cool-deck, ready to jump in, laughing, swim goggles pressed over her eyes until they made red rings. Next to her, not taller than her ankles, were the five toys that joined her every time: Buzz, Buzzy, Woodrow, Woody and Tee. My dad would stand off to the side in the water and call out a category. “Skeleton!” And I’d jump into the water with my toes pointed, my breath held, my arms down by my side. I’d hit the bottom fast, shoot back up and go: “Did I make a noise? Did I? Did I? Did I make a splash?” And he’d, I’m sure, lie, and say not at all, nothing, see that tiny ripple? That’s all you made.

So I’d swim over and haul myself out, and watch my toys go in. Next to my dad on the tan deck would be a piece of sidewalk chalk, where he would write out the scores. I got a ten nearly every time, sometimes a 9.5, and I’m scream and protest until it was fixed. Woody and Woodrow made no noise at all, receiving an 8 or so, and Buzz and Buzzy would do something horrible like a belly flop or a cannonball. Tee was frequently the judge, manned by my father. Then, I would want to show off my book-smarts, and demanded a category. Right before you jumped, my dad would yell out: “Vegetable!” and I’d respond: “Corn!”, or “City!” and I’d say “Phoenix!”

It was always fun for me, living in this world I could make up. My dad didn’t see me go to school with my hair greasy and my boy’s shorts on, simply because I had so given up. He didn’t see me come home crying because some girl had closed the door in my face. He didn’t know about that, so here, I was popular and exciting, smart and outgoing.

He bought me a bow-and-arrow with suction-cup tips, watched me shoot stuffed animals and trees. He bought me a Bee-Bee gun, taught me to shoot balloons that hung off of the second story deck. Dared me to shoot a cactus and watch the bronze pellet stick in between the spines. We played board games––Monopoly, chess, checkers––and bigger games––Billards and ping-pong––and card games––blackjack and Gin Rummy. At his house, I didn’t do homework and I ate frozen pizza with chocolate.

In summer, we bought a watermelon. He bought it under ripe, threw it in the pool and watched it float around. At the end of the day, after swimming for hours, exhausted and pruney, he cut it open and we each ate half while watching a movie. He put on Aloe by the bucket, and I refused to touch the stuff, saying it made me greasy. With a glass of ice water, a slice of watermelon and a day of sun in my bones, I fell asleep within minutes.

Years went by. Buzz’s arm fell off, Woody’s leg broke in half, Tee’s paint wore down. They went back in the drawer, superglued together. We played cards by the side of the pool, no more diving competitions or underwater races. Sometimes I pick up those battered pieces of plastic and laugh, remembering the time they stole a car or the time they bellyflopped onto the crisp water of the pool.

Sometimes I suppose this is the end of the chronicles of candy toppers, and sometimes I suppose it’s for the best. I should stop playing with little plastic shells over twine, held together by Elmer’s. I should forget about toys and move on. Yet I won’t ever forget them. Buzz’s awful jokes are as much of a part of me as my eyes, my fingers, my toes. Woody’s reasoning, Tee’s impartial behavior, Blue’s elegance. They remain with me, even if their cracking physique lies in a kitchen drawer, waiting to be taken out.

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