5: Where 8-year old me lost some trust and stopped bringing toys to school

One day, I decided to bring my favorite action figure to school: He-Man, he of the tight red speedos, long blonde Achilles hair, and gravity-defying sword. I wanted to show him to my friends. In particular to my best friend Terrence. Terrence was quiet and calm and always ready to play. His desk was next to mine. That proximity is probably why we became close friends in the first place. That’s just how little kids do it.

As expected, He-Man was a hit. I was the center of attention among the boys that morning, had a few more friends than usual. You have to remember this was an elementary school in urban high crime low rent Philadelphia, and brand new action figures were simply not casually displayed like Teslas in a Google parking lot.

Everything was great until lunch rolled around. Upon returning from the cafeteria, I opened my desk drawer to find that He-Man had disappeared.

I promptly freaked out as only an eight-year old can. Opened the drawers of nearby desks to quiet stunned protests. Combed the carpeted floor. Dug through the bookshelves. Questioned likely suspects. Attracted so much attention that our teacher Mrs. Frank asked me in a pitched and snappish voice to come here right this minute and why are you causing all this ruckus child.

I walked over, upset and defiant and beginning to despair. One of the few action figures I owned, my current favorite, shiny and without a scratch, and now my ego had brought him to school and my ego had lost him.

As a crowd gathered, I described the case of the missing toy. In the middle of telling my story, a sudden intuition hit me with the force of He-Man’s sword: I knew who done it.

Intuition seized my body and the actions that followed were automatic and uncontrollable. Thus began a behavioral pattern that would repeat itself many times: an overpowering instinct causes drastic action causes momentous life change and also, sometimes, regret.

“I know who has it!” I shouted. Before Mrs. Frank could respond, surrounded by a circle of spectators, I rushed straight to the cubbyholes where each student stored their belongings. I went straight to Terrence’s cubby and pulled out his green Jansport backpack. Brought it over to her desk. Shoved my hand in. Didn’t feel anything, just papers and small sticky objects.

But then — I felt a shape. Pulled it out. Thrust it triumphantly in the air. It was my He-Man. No one said anything. Terrence hung his head.

I remember little of the aftermath. But Mrs. Frank was more intent on resuming order than on playing detective or arbitrator. People dispersed. The drama was over. I put He-Man in my drawer and never brought him to school again. Terrence and I still spoke, but whether due to my anger or his shame, we drifted from close to casual. Maybe I learned something, probably I didn’t. Because just weeks after the incident, I brought two unsharpened glittery pencils to class. And they, too, vanished.


This is one in a series of personal reflections. I’m writing them in chronological order, starting with childhood. Click here to see what’s been published. Thanks!

Hi! I write about habits and spirituality and random whatevers. Click here to see the daily habits that I track. Find me on Twitter @kgao.