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my childhood [narrative]

a story told through plastic tubes

1. Granny

When Granny was in the hospital, it felt like her life was held together by plastic tubes. Delicate, clear tubes connected the IV bag to her papery arm; a tube dotted with condensation connected her thin nose to the oxygen tank at her feet. Twin red-and-white striped tubes, hollow candy canes, bridged the gap between a carefully sealed water bottle and her pale lips. It seemed like such a precarious existence: She was living on a threshold, completely at the mercy of whatever was circulating through that intricate network of little clear straws.

2. The Water Slide

When I was nine, I went on a road trip to South Dakota to visit Mount Rushmore. I don't remember Mount Rushmore, but I do remember La Quinta, a massive yellow stucco hotel that smelled like every surface had been doused in chlorine. I didn't mind the smell, though, because it meant there was a pool, and to my delight, this one had a water slide with a whirlpool in it. My brother and I were instructed to sit in plastic inner tubes and grip the sides for dear life as we spun around the center of the whirlpool, like spiders circling a sink drain, until we finally dropped down through a steep, blue-and-red striped chute into the pool of bright turquoise water. I was too small to keep myself upright against the current, so when it was my turn to go, my inner tube flipped over. I flailed and slid forward into the chute on my bare back. As I picked up speed, I felt each plastic ridge scrape against my vertebrae. I hit the water feet-first, immediately followed by my lost inner tube. I swam to the edge of the water and, through tears, showed my mom my raw, red back. She took a moment to finish the page she was reading in her book, dog-eared the corner, and closed it slowly in her lap before offering me some distracted words of sympathy. When I felt as though my pain had been validated, I clambered back up the ladder to go down the slide again. 

3. The Straw

At my house back in Colorado, if you look behind a row of my mom's favorite novels lining one of our bookshelves, you will find a green plastic drinking straw that wraps around your head and bends into the shape of eyeglasses. The artifact's origin is unknown; for all I know, it was there when we moved in fourteen years ago. When my brother and I first found it deep in a kitchen cabinet, we took turns using it to drink iced lemonade, the juice cold against our cheekbones as it filtered through. Later, the straw dried, sticky with sugar. We discovered that it's really hard to clean the inside of an eyeglass-shaped plastic straw, but it was too precious a relic to throw away. Now, it occupies its own sacred shrine, nestled behind hard-back copies of A Man Called Ove and The Goldfinch.

4. Caramel's Palace

There was nothing I wanted more than a hamster, one of the tiny ones that curl up in your hand. I coaxed my parents through a Keynote on the family desktop chock-full of "cute hamster" photos with Shutterstock watermarks. I made some very persuasive points (albeit in Papyrus font): Hamsters don't need to be walked, I argued, because they can exercise themselves on their wheels. Plus, nobody in the house would have to listen to him squeaking because I would keep my hamster's cage on top of the tank of the toilet in my bathroom. My parents wearily obliged. The very next day, I depleted my life’s savings (as of middle school) at PetSmart in exchange for a purple cage, woodchips, an exercise wheel, a water dispenser, a bag of foul-smelling food pellets, and (most excitingly) a collection of red plastic tunnel tubes. My hamster was going to have his own personal mansion, an architectural feat designed specifically for his ultimate enjoyment. When I finally brought home my new hamster—Caramel—he took one look at my tube palace and promptly dug himself deep into the wood chips at the bottom of the cage. When I tried to pick him up and deposit him into one of the tunnels, he bit me. Caramel passed away a month later from hypothermia after I left the bathroom window open during a snowstorm. I embalmed him in a toilet paper roll and buried him solemnly in an unmarked front-yard grave. 

5. The Solar System

Just before I left for college, I gave my high school boyfriend a poster of the solar system, rolled neatly in a white plastic cylinder. When he opened it, he struggled to pull the poster out of the tube; it was packed in too tightly. What had been a relatively romantic moment turned into an awkward dance as we spent several minutes trying to pry it out. He held onto the tube as I leaned backward, pulling a corner of the paper as hard as I could. We thought it might rip if we continued, so he resorted to slamming it repeatedly onto my kitchen table like a nearly empty bottle of Ketchup. At last, in a stroke of ingenuity, I was able to coax it out of its packaging with my eyebrow tweezers. It was a beautiful poster: a detailed diagram of the planets and their moons drawn in thin black pen. But it had been rolled for so long that every time we tried to straighten the ends to look at it, it sprung back into a coil. The poster laid curled on his dresser for months. In the spring, before we broke up, I called him and asked about it. He told me he would flatten the poster ends and hang it on the wall soon. He never did.



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