Bankrupt Childhood

BY: Q. VERGARA


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I got embarrassingly nostalgic and low-key emotional seeing a particular photo set on Facebook. We've been hearing the news for weeks now and it hasn't bothered me. The topic has always been a business debate, but it's never been about saying goodbye.

But tonight something happened. I sat down to smoke my bedtime bowl and perused my news feed so my thumbs could get their daily work out - phalange fitness is priority in my life. I see the regular everyday posts about politics and photos of babies and videos of cats and what the fuck ever. Then, I scroll down a little bit further and see the most adorable little girl. She has deep cherry brown hair and brown skin. She's standing in a store aisle surrounded by shelves that reach towards the sky filled with toys. The caption reads something to the effect of, she'll never get a chance to experience Toys 'R' Us like her older brothers, so here's a photo shoot of her inside the toy giant playing around for as long as she wants. +13 More. My finger was a curious.

Wow, Toys 'R' Us is actually closing, I thought.

The next picture was taken from behind as she looked up at a shelf. I could feel my throat get dry. But smoking weed does that to you, right? The third picture she's holding a toy twice the size of her. I felt small again. I could feel the little girls shoes around my feet. I felt a tinge of pain. The fourth picture she's running back to the camera with the gargantuan toy.

My son is nine months old. He's learning how to walk. He is my first child. He'll never experience the rush that was pulling up to Toys 'R' Us. He'll never know what it's like to see shelves filled up to the ceiling with every toy imaginable. He'll never know the critical thinking that went into toy selection. Finally choosing which toy to take home when your mom has a strict one-toy policy was difficult, but taught me to identify my wants and pick most accordingly with what fit my short-term and long-term goals (and Mom's budget). It always came down to Barbies, but which one was always the game changer. The only two places that even came close to Toys 'R' Us were Discovery Zone (Am I showing my age?) and book stores, specifically The Little Professor. Toys 'R' Us had that magic you could take home with you.

Becoming a parent for the first time was wild enough from conception to delivery and then gets even wilder after they're born. Being able to pass on a familiar experience from your childhood that filled you with so much excitement and happiness felt like a rite of passage. It was more than getting a toy. It was knowing a place exists that understands you and your wants.

But in all honesty, even if it stayed around, I doubt I'd take my son there as he grows up.

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Some years ago, I don't even remember how far back, I found myself in my local store in disbelief. It still feels like a lucid nightmare. Not because something terrible or traumatic happened but because of the feeling that stayed with me after I had left. It was like seeing your high school crush for the first time in 20 years and he's almost unrecognizable; not only because of the harsh whiskey stench that he marinates in, but then he farts and starts laughing at the rancid smell like he did all of those years ago and you remember why you stopped liking boys your age. It was like seeing an ex-boyfriend tripping balls off bug spray like you didn't even know that was a thing people were doing these days. You were humiliated for him.

But I digress, the last time I was there the air was thick. This big warehouse felt deserted and abandoned. No music playing. The aisles were ominous and watched you as you walked passed. I could hear squeaks on the linoleum floor an aisle or so over but I never saw another customer. The occasional employee would be spotted but I was to 'weirded' out to approach anyone. The inside of the store made me feel the same way a dead body would if it were propped up on display with its eyes open in a frigid oddly unnatural position. Uncomfortable was an understatement. The paint chipping on the cracked walls were just a small detail in the grand scheme of things.

That lasting image was traumatizing. I didn't want that to happen to my son. I couldn't discern if it was because I remembered how new and sparkling the store had looked in my childhood or if it looked as dilapidated to everyone. I refused to take that risk though. "It would have looked haunting to anyone," I said trying to convince myself. I felt like I would be introducing this beautiful boy to where toys came to die.

Is this what growing up felt like? It felt like time was betraying me. Like I woke up one day and I was old even though I thought I saw youth staring back in the mirror. Time was slipping through my fingers and burying me alive as I gasped for air. Has the world always been this disgusting and evil or are these new deadly trends a sign of the crumbling times? Was this the beginning of the end?

How did those pictures trigger such a powerful reaction? Or was I overthinking all of it? Was it just the weed? Did it even matter?

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Years after my last encounter with the toy giant, my mom got a seasonal job there. When she didn't get hired on, I was mad at God. My mom was perfect. I was mad that not hiring her, made her feel less than she was worth. Recently, learning how many workers lost their jobs and that some even lost their retirements with the company, broke my heart. I understood why God didn't let us depend on that income. The devastation of losing a second house would have been more than we could have handled right now. I guess Chance the Rapper was right: "my God doesn't make mistakes."

When I thought about the chain, I thought back to a better world. A world that didn't have mass shootings, and overwhelming hurt and pain sprinkled with anxiety and a splash of depression. I wished for a world that didn't betray me overtime with new deadly trends. I wished for time not to team up with gravity and make my skin droop - for time not to affect our youth and for moms and dads to stay with you forever.

It became less about Toys 'R' Us and more about how time was speeding up. Maybe the amount of time a year is got shorter because I've lived longer. One month when you've lived through 360 of them seems less significant, and the more time that goes by, perhaps the next month will become even less important. Time was betraying me. Being thirty in 2018 was drastically different then what it was when my parents were my age. The thought of reaching some level of stability and success was fleeting. Who knows if I would get there before my parents are taken from me. It was a constant fear of mine. My dad's health has been declining over the years and seeing him age so much has had an unspoken effect on me. My grandfather died unexpectedly. What would stop death from doing to my son what he did to me? I constantly felt threatened not to get to comfortable.

Aging has been a terrifying inevitability if you're lucky. I may not even get the chance to age. I felt like becoming a mother made me mortal. I remember coming home from the hospital while my son laid in the NICU when he was five days old. My invincibility cloak came off and I haven't been able to find it since. Now when I go out, my only mission is to get back to that smiling face by any means necessary.

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I thought Toys 'R' Us would be here forever. Why would I think any differently? And coming to the realization they're closing their doors for good has been far more difficult for me than I'd care to admit.

My mortality, seeing loved ones age around me, becoming a mother. I'm living life on the other side of the glass now. The side that is no longer experiencing life for the first time, but helping a tiny human experience his. I never thought at 30, I'd finally feel the shift of becoming an adult.

My parents are now grandparents, so I guess this is goodbye then.

Bye. Thanks for the smiles.


Q. Vergara is currently working on her first book with Vital Narrative.