Monday, November 22, 2010

Enemy Mine

A few months ago, my mother sent me a photo. In it, a small red plastic elephant wearing a yellow saddle and an perpetually idiotic expression sits in the rain beside a trash can. That elephant had lived on our front porch for decades, from my childhood until my brother's children were old enough to play with it. The colors were faded. The wheels had once broken off, and my grandfather strung them through with tough wire and reattached them. It was a thirty-year-old piece of crap.

She sent me the picture because I had always joked about that elephant and called it my mortal enemy, as it was the centerpoint of a very vivid and bloody memory from my childhood. One hot summer afternoon in Ohio, while the grownups were lingering over lunch, I got bored and wandered out onto my grandparents' porch. I saw the elephant, and, although I was too big for it, I climbed on and promptly tipped it over, cracking my head on the cement floor.

I got up, went back to the kitchen door and announced my fall. I did not expect the reaction: all four adults leapt to their feet. My mom whisked me to the bathroom and clamped a washcloth over my left eye. She told me to hold it there while she looked for the hydrogen peroxide. Don't look, she warned me.

Of course I looked. I couldn't not look. And when I peeled up the washcloth and saw all the blood on my face from the tiny one-inch split by my eye, I started howling.

My parents didn't take me in for stitches; hospital visits were reserved only for broken bones and other legitimate disasters. I asked my mom if I would have a scar, and she said probably, but she assured me that by the time I was older, it would barely be noticeable. I have a distinct memory of trying to imagine this older me, a worldly twenty-something sitting in an elegant restaurant, a barely noticeable scar over my left eye. It was fascinating to think that this moment, this little accident would stay with me forever. I still find these little defining moments infinitely interesting to think about.

So, here, twenty-odd years later, I'm thinking about that hot summer day, and the foolishness of lifting the washcloth, and my little self trying to imagine a grownup me, the way I now try to imagine what my life will be like in my forties, or my fifties, or beyond. Where will I be, what will change? What joys will I experience, and what tragedies will befall me? Will I reach my goals? How close will I be to the picture in my head?

The possibilities are infinite, and fascinating.

P.S. The elephant was finally getting chucked because one of my nephews had just fallen off of it too, and my mom realized that maybe it was not safe for children to play on. Whatever. See you in hell, evil red elephant.

1 comment:

  1. Oh this one made me laugh--see you in hell, little red elephant! :)