Charge of Completion
the front of Mr. Wellenwrighter's 2nd Grade class in 1974, Howie
Kramer sits contentedly, a silver Hot Wheels car in his palm. I'm
unable to see over his broad shoulders, so I have no idea what he's
about to unleash for Show and Tell. Howie ceremonially lifts the
car above his head, like a scene from Roots, declaring, "It's
called the Large Charge." The toy car's lime-green plastic
windows and lightning bolt decals catch the morning sunlight, temporarily
blinding me with a flash.
Howie passes it around, cupping it in both hands for each of us
to see, not touch. A gleaming wedge of futuristic power, the Large
Charge is perhaps the most beautiful thing my seven-year old eyes
have ever seen. The rear engine compartment flips up to reveal a
sparkling motor and the mag wheels spin as only brand new Hot Wheels
can spin, -- smoothly, -- its axle toy-factory-straight. None of
my Hot Wheels spin that way anymore. Too much play inevitably scarred
the wheels and bent that needle of an axle, rendering the cars useless.
All of my Hot Wheels were up on tiny blocks.
I reach for the Large Charge, but Howie's big fat hands snap shut
like a giant cartoon clam. I feel woozy. The room bends and wiggles
for a moment as I begin to understand something I never understood
before: without that car, I am incomplete.
Later that day, in the middle of a reading assignment, a howl erupts
from the front of the classroom. Howie, red-faced and sobbing, screams
that his car has been stolen. In a panic, he pushes his desk over,
dumping its contents on the floor while the class looks on in horror.
Through my corduroy pants pocket, the Large Charge feels cold. It
sings my name, but I can't even touch it. Something's not right.
Howie is leaping around his overturned desk like an unchained ape
with snot dripping out of his nose. A troubling thought distracts
me: "Who knew Howie was such a pussy?"
The bus ride home is endless. I don't dare remove the car from my
pocket yet, not after the interrogation we all endured at the hands
of Mr. Wellenwrighter. Normally the coolest teacher in school, Mr.
Wellenwrighter had come unhinged over this missing car thing. He
kept repeating something about integrity and honesty, that Nixon
was the end of the line and he wouldn't let any of us turn out to
be crooks. He made the class open their desks then walked slowly
up and down the aisles with Howie -- who was still sobbing and shaking
his head -- as every desk they passed (including mine) turned up
car-less. When the bell rang, Mr. Wellenwrighter looked truly confused.
"Go home," he muttered to all of us. We got on our respective
busses. Mine takes too many turns, and I feel carsick.
I run into the house where my mother is sitting on the sofa watching
a soap opera and talking on the telephone, painting her nails and
finishing a cigarette. She's too absorbed to notice me, panting
and pale, in the front hall. She and my father are getting divorced.
A few weeks earlier I sat on the floor next to my parents' bed early
in the morning before school, wondering where my father was. I was
used to being an afterthought in my parents' eyes, as invisible
as the plant in the living room that only gets watered when it disintegrates,
but their physical absence was another thing entirely. Another thing
to which I would grow accustomed. Barely awake, my mother held out
the phone. "It's him," she mumbled.
"Hello?" I said.
"Hey, buddy," said my father's voice. He sounded tired.
"I'm in the hospital."
"No you're not," I said.
"Yeah, I am."
"Are you sick?"
"I was in a car accident," he explained.
"Can I see you?" I ask.
"Pretty soon," he says. Then: "Your mother and I
are getting a divorce."
"Can I see you?"
father would remain in the hospital for three months. His Jaguar
slammed into a bridge on an icy road. Another woman was in the car
with him. It was a true penis car. A fire engine red E-Type Series
III V-12 with the long front end and wire wheels. No older than
myself, the car was already a classic. When it hit the bridge, the
whole front end collapsed around my father, reducing the car's length
by more than half. It was gone forever. And in many ways, so was
he. Although he survived the crash, his mid-70's divorce heralded
for him a prolific period of drugs and sex and parties that would
leave very little room for me. But I was a smart little boy. I could
see what was coming.
basement of my house is cool, damp and dark. I pull the Large Charge
out of my pocket, but something's very wrong. The chrome is a matte
grey, the lightning bolt decal is scratched off in some places and
when I roll it over my palm I can feel the axle is bent. How? How
can this be? At school it was perfect. But alone in my home,
as I kneel in prayer to it on the basement floor, it might as well
be a car I already have. A worthless piece of metal and plastic
that leaves me unfinished. It's not enough, this Hot Wheels car.
It's not enough for me. I'm not enough for me. I'm not enough. I
get that carsick feeling again, then throw up on the floor.
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