It is late. Probably after ten in the evening. There is a little girl following around her father holding a toy in a brightly colored pink blister pack, obviously marketed and strategically placed at a height a little girl will see. I wonder for a moment why she is up so late, shopping with her father at this large, crassly over lit pharmacy. She is of early school age, maybe second or third grade. The father stops and notices his daughter’s acquisition. She holds it up to him, expectantly, hopefully. She says something in Spanish, and even though I speak and understand the language of my family, I cannot understand her, because she whispered it, pleadingly, ashamedly. The father looks at the pink toy and, without a word, purposely misplaces on top of the display he was looking at, and walks away. Her head bows. This has happened before. The father disappears around the corner, and before she follows him, she notices me. There’s a look in her eye, in her whole face, that her little body had already expressed; one of familiar pain that she must keep hidden from me, from her father. From herself. But she is only seven or eight, and her eyes are shiny and blurred behind tears. She turns away quickly and follows her dad.
My chest hurts. My throat swells. I am sure this is how the little girl feels. I witnessed a very private moment of childhood pain, and it brought back a hundred identical moments I felt as a child. The pain of that lump is impossible to swallow.
I think I would be a terrible father.
I’m the kind of asshole father who would never deny his child anything. Who would work several jobs just so his babies can have absolutely everything they wanted. I would create monsters. Spoiled, annoying little shits who act like the world owes them everything when they’re in their twenties because daddy made them believe this fallacy. While I waste away in some shitty night job, getting about two hours and fifteen minutes of sleep a night, so that my spoiled little monster can drive the pretty car she fell in love with. Or, I’d be an uncaring fuck who was never around, I really don’t know. This particular life test I have as yet dodged. I have no kids. Probably. Who knows? I had a very… Eventful?.. Last twenty or so years. Perhaps there is a child of mine out there, picking her moment to introduce herself and call me the worst human on the planet. But until that happens, I have no progeny. You’re welcome, world.
There are these moments that creep into my mind… Moments of crippling sadness that come over me as I involuntarily conjure up tiny events that destroyed me, much like the one experienced by that little girl. When they manifest, I push them back where they belong: in my subconscious. Sometimes I have to physically shake my head to get them out of my way.
I have always wanted to be a race car driver. And a cowboy. But mostly a race car driver. I have since forgotten about my dream of being a cowboy, because, let’s face it: that’s just stupid. But to this day, I still watch Formula One, and imagine myself in the cockpit, turning 19000 RPM (sadly, they changed that this year), creeping past 200 MPH, the scream of the engine behind me right before I downshift from eighth to second and pull four G’s around the corner at Monza. I can see, though cannot hear, the Italian fans cheer me on, waving the flag of the car I drive: Ferrari. Then I realize I’m in darkened room in my apartment, I have a shitty job, and those dreams of driving Formula One have been replaced by dreams of living off my “creativity” in the form of stand up comedy, acting and writing. Obviously, I never grew up.
So when we got to the go cart track to drive actual little cars, I was jumping up and down with excitement. On the inside, of course. I never show my emotions. Not even at ten years old, when my uncle took me to drive go carts. I remember my uncle buying me a ticket, then handing it to me. Then pointing me towards the gate, where you enter the track and pick out your car. I already saw the one I wanted. It was red. Just like Ferrari. My eyes glazed a bit, I couldn’t wait. I softly heard the roar of the Italian fanatics, knows as “tifosi.” I couldn’t let them down. They were counting on me. I held up my ticket to the man at the gate in charge of letting those in fortunate enough to have a ticket. I was one of the lucky ones.
I kept eyeing my car. No one better take it. I stood there, like a diminutive state of liberty, holding my hand up, the ticket still in my hand. He didn’t take it yet.
“I can’t let you in.”
The words made no sense. Were they even in English or Spanish? They swam and knocked into each other in my head. Maybe he didn’t SEE the ticket. I held it up again, higher, stretching. Like the little girl in the pharmacy I looked up at the man, pleadingly. He pointed to a cartoon scale with a cop holding out a wooden arm, and a bubble saying, “You have to this tall to drive.”
I was several inches too short. Even if I cheated and stood on my tiptoes, which I tried.
“But I already bought the ticket…” I quietly whispered and pleaded with shame.
“Take it back, they’ll give you a refund,” he said with no emotion, almost like this was good enough.
I slowly walked away. Back to the ticket seller. I stole another glance at the car I wanted to drive. Another boy, tall enough to get by the cop, was getting into it. My chest hurt. My throat swelled. My vision became blurred through lenses of tears filling my eyes. The walk seemed miles away, hours away. I could hear the little lawn mower engines start up. I wasn’t gonna turn around. It would be the breath that would push me over the precipice, and I would lose all my burgeoning manhood and cry like a girl. This could not happen.
I looked up at the stainless steel tray above me, an arced hole through glass where money and tickets were exchanged. This is where my uncle bought the ticket. I held it up again, for the second time, my shaking hand barely able to put the ticket flat on the tray. The man looked down from behind the glass.
“What happened,” he asked, confused, “don’t wanna do it now?”
“That man,” I pointed at the gatekeeper, and the wooden cop, early symbols of evil, “he said I can’t…”
It’s hard to be a man when you’re only ten. You don’t want to cry, but your throat muscles simply aren’t strong enough to gulp down that swelling. That enormous lump. Your throat isn’t developed enough to choke down that pain.
I let out an incoherent sobbing cry with the last few words in my sentence, “…ride it, I’m too small.”
At this, my uncle rose up. My tio Juan, for whom I was named after, was gonna see to this. Tio Juan was a rather enormous man, of over six feet. Muscular. And at my undersized stature, a size that can’t even drive a go cart, he was a a fucking giant. At this point, I have no idea what’s happening, I’m in my own world, crying, while at the same time, trying hard to stop it. I can’t cry like this! Especially not in public! I am a man. Like my father. Like my uncle. They do not cry!
I am reduced to hiccuping, quieting mess. I am wiping my tears with my dirty shirt, I’m a ten year old boy, of course my shirt is dirty! Now my face is dirty. I sit at one of the picnic tables they have set up, my head bowed. I can still hear the little lawn mower engines as they drive past, getting quieter and quieter as they drive away from the start/finish line.
A white paper napkin comes into my view of my knees. I look up as I take it from tio Juan and wipe my still wet face.
“Vamos,” he said to me, a slight smile on his face. Probably best, the further I get from here, the better, I thought. But he didn’t mean, “Let’s leave.” He meant something else.
The next few moments are hazy and confusing. Followed by many fleeting moments that I did not want to end. I sat in front of my uncle, his ridiculously long legs on either side of me controlling the gas and brake pedals I could not reach, the three pronged racing style steering wheel in my hands, it felt soft and grippy. The sound of the little lawn mower engine behind us. We drove around and around that track for so long, yet not nearly long enough. Only every now and again my tio would push the steering wheel one way or the other to make sure I didn’t steer the go cart right into a tire wall. I didn’t how to drive, I was ten.
On that day, tio Juan was my fucking hero.
I looked at the pink blister packed toy the little girl’s father left out of her reach. And I remembered. And I hurt. I wanted to be her hero. I wanted to buy it for her. I reached for it. I was gone be the best memory this little girl ever had. I looked for her, for her dad. I couldn’t find them. Then felt my hand land at my side. I couldn’t do it. I am not her uncle, I am nothing in her life. I have no place getting involved. Her father probably can’t afford the toy. Maybe a little part of him dies every time he does that to her, and perhaps he wishes he could give her absolutely everything she wants, but he can’t. Perhaps it’s all for the best. Hopefully she will grow up to be a thoughtful woman that understands that here are some things that cannot be. That the things that surround our lives, that govern our lives, are not those that matter. It is the connection she feels to another human, a stranger. The empathy that pours from her when she sees pain, and the need to try to make things better for those less fortunate.
Instead of the spoiled monster my hypothetical daughter would be.
Outside, I saw a homeless man. His entire life covered in filth that somehow all fit neatly into a stolen shopping cart. He did not ask for change. He just lay there looking at something so far away it cannot be viewed by our limited human vision. I handed him a ten dollar bill. He looked shocked and confused. The swelling in my throat began again. However, as an adult those muscles are very well developed. I can swallow down any lump filled with pain and put it away elsewhere. I probably have cancer.
I would be a terrible father.