On the Brink of a Staggeringly Bleak Humiliation…
Gearhead, Ranger, and Snake-Eyes peered over the mountain range at the Cobra assassins below. They were outnumbered, it was true, but they had the element of surprise on their side. With his swivel-forearm grip, Gearhead motioned silently to his partners to advance and move left to outflank the unsuspecting villains. As Snake-Eyes took up his position and Ranger maneuvered into place, Gearhead moved to the right to complete the formation.
The doorbell rang.
I froze. Gearhead froze. My mind raced as I thought about my options. I could finish what was a brilliant war-game just as Gearhead and the other Green Berets were set to finally conquer Tomax, Xamot, and the rest of the Cobra assassins, or I could sweep them all under the bed, breaking who knows how many machine guns or — God forbid — G.I. Joe legs. I only had a few seconds to think. Scott would arrive at any minute.
This is how my childhood ended — or part of it, at least. I used to spend long hours with G.I. Joe action figures. I had a special devotion to the Green Beret types, the solo fighters who could take on the evil Cobras all alone if they had to. I’d always been perfectly happy in my own little world because I’d always been the quiet type. I learned to read kinda early, and was usually more happy reading, playing with Legos or G.I. Joes, drawing…I’d pass hours on my own. It’s not that I didn’t have friends — Scott, Brendan, Adam, Ryan, Bo; we’d play baseball or football or catch one, catch all or Nintendo just about everyday. I just think I was happiest on my own. Maybe this is part of why I liked those action figures — quiet, secretive types who could spring without notice. Being as little as I was — I was always the shortest kid in my class — I guess I looked for other skills besides size and strength. Snake-Eyes, now he was my favorite. Legend has it that he was blind, but had special infrared goggles that allowed him to see his enemies. As a ninja, he could creep along stealthily, striking suddenly.
I formed a squad with Snake-Eyes, Gearhead, and Ranger: three guys who specialized in stealth and undercover. In my mind, I liked to think I had something in common with them: sly, resourceful, and independent.
But now here I sat, frozen, no way out. Scott was mere seconds from my room and I had to make a decision. All of a sudden, I wasn’t feeling nearly as sly, resourceful, or independent as ol’ Snake-Eyes. Instead, I was panicky. What if Scott saw me with these action figures? I mean, we’re 13 years old. We’ll be in high school soon. High school! Do you want to be known as that guy who still plays with G.I. Joes? Good luck making friends with that!
I looked at Gearhead, who stared back at me stoically. He always was the bravest, peering out from under his cap. Ranger and Snake- Eyes waited expectantly, eager to swoop down while the Cobras were still unaware. I could hear Scott rumbling down the stairs — he jumped the last three or four and landed with a thump. With mere seconds before he barged in, I swept my men under the bed, picked up a comic- book (“Punisher,” just edgy enough to be cool without trying too hard) and flipped pages nonchalantly.
I dodged a bullet there — just like Snake-Eyes would have, come to think of it. But dodging that bullet put me in the path of a much bigger, harder-to-avoid runaway-train realization. The decision I made, to hide my G.I. Joes instead of letting Scott find out I still played with them, revealed more to me than my nervousness about high school. It showed me how much I did care about what others think of me, how important it was and is to be accepted — even if that meant hiding or changing something about myself. Sure, it was just G.I. Joes. But shoving them under the bed was a way of saying to myself, “you’re not a kid. You can’t always just hide in your room and play with toys, not if you want to fit in when high school starts.” I’m still not happy with that idea, that changing is such an important part of being popular. On the other hand, staying the same seems like a pointless way to rebel. I don’t know. I’m sure I would have stopped playing with G.I. Joes soon enough anyway — I read Slaughterhouse-Five a few months later and completely changed my attitude about war.
At any rate, Snake-Eyes and the others stayed under my bed for a few months, until I decided to rearrange my room. When I found them, they seemed like relics from a forgotten time. It’s a little sad now that I think about it — a toy that I imagined so much of myself in, that I enjoyed because it had a personality similar to mine — just got left behind.
I still love to do things on my own — reading, thinking, writing, and so on — I’ve learned that those activities create barriers between me and other people. I’ve learned to hide these away, and to cherish them as secrets. So now, I have two personalities: that private side that reads and writes all the time, and a more garrulous, jocular one that uses bluster and sarcasm to keep the investigators from finding the private side. I don’t know yet what I’ll do about that just yet.