I am being swallowed by a Care Bear.
My nostrils are flaring frantically – the only sign that I’m still alive. Fuzz is being sucked up into my head, tickling my brain and making me want to sneeze.
It’s Halloween, and my mother wants a picture. She worked for hours sewing this costume and now I have to model her work. It’s inhumane, like the crazy lady down the street who dresses up her cats so they look like ducks or babies. My mom wants to send this picture to my grandmother as a keepsake to remember her grandson’s tragic and untimely death.
I’m clutching the sides of my red Radio Flyer wagon for balance. The mammoth mass of cotton and stuffed animal skin on my head is forcing my neck to wobble. I’m trying in vain to compensate for its lopsidedness, but the load is slumping down over my eyes. I’m being devoured. My palms are sweaty; I’m crying; I can’t breathe. This is where claustrophobia comes from.
Between flashes of her camera, my mother asks my father if he’s ready to go. He is, but only grudgingly. In a moment, we’ll roll out of our garage like the little instant pictures from my mom’s camera – a picture of a family. My father will lug me around the neighborhood, grunting and straining up the hills, but never complaining. My mother will watch me intently, keeping me balanced. This is how it is. My father pulls the wagon, and my mother keeps me from falling out of it. He will never look back, and she refuses to look forward. I won’t notice.
Instead, I’m trapped inside this monstrous face – this adorable oven. My hair is matted to my head with sweat, forcing little drips of perspiration to leak into my eyes. My hands are coated in fur, so wiping my face only makes the irritation worse. The tiny hairs under my nose are like fine strands of asbestos; they’re clogging my throat and giving me cancer. There’s a reason people say “smile” before taking your picture – it’s because you’re not smiling beforehand. My mother has her picture now. I forced my teeth to show through the hair and sweat and tears and heat exhaustion so she’d think it was a smile.
My father grabs the wagon handle to lead us out into the street. People will look at me and say “aww” and “how cute!” and other things that adults say when children are miserable. My parents will nod. They’ll argue without speaking. “Which one is he?” some oblivious woman will ask. My father will stare blankly and defer to my mother. “He’s Tenderheart Bear” she’ll say with her Polaroid smile. Tenderheat Bear was the one on the show who helped people express emotions and feel empathy. This is irony, before I even know there’s a word for it.