Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Things He Carries

Several years ago, my brother-in-law gave me a copy of Tim O'Brien's book, The Things They Carried. It is a series of fictional stories based on O'Brien's experiences in Vietnam. In this particular story, he chronicles the things that the soldiers in Vietnam carried with them, tangible and intagible, necessity or little luxury. They all carried some of the same items--a green plastic poncho, a pocket knife, mosquito repellent and at least one large compress bandage. Some of the things were indiciative of rank or responsibility and still some were a personal choice-- letters or photographs, a Bible, candy or comic books.

For some reason, David becomes very attached to certain items and will carry them around with him for several days. I am rarely able to discover what has led to his fascination with, for example, our coffee filter basket, but for several days these items become an extremely important part of our lives. He may carry a piece of a puzzle, not because he particularly loves that puzzle, but because he loves that particular piece of the puzzle. We have spent more than one night in the backyard with a flashlight looking for the red train from Thomas' Race on the Rails or moving furniture to find the plastic fried egg from the kitchen set. The poor man in the drop off lane at Andrew's school would open the door to let Andrew out of the car and be greeted by David, sporting a pancake turner in one hand and a Rubbermaid yellow rubber glove on the other hand, with a huge grin on his face. "Aiyah (Hi)," he would say to Mr. Brown, who would smile back and say "I'm not even going to ask."

So, one day we were headed to therapy with a SpongeBob bucket filled with two makeup brushes, a plastic figurine of Gary, SpongeBob's pet snail, a matchbox car and the powder puff from my pressed powder. I was in my usual hurry, perhaps because I had faced the challenge of putting on my makeup without the benefit of any of my makeup brushes. I knew as soon as I rounded the last corner to the medical center that I was in trouble when I heard the metal bucket roll across the backseat, spilling its contents. Now, David knows that whatever we take in the car stays on the car and does not go in to school, therapy or the grocery store. Usually, David stows his cargo for the day safely in the glove compartment before leaving the car. I could see by the look on his face that I was not going to be able to make him go into the building without finding each of the items we had brought with us that day. And, since David had taken his usual mental inventory, the fact that we quickly found everything but the powder puff was going to cause us a problem. After nearly ten minutes of moving the seats forward and back again, sticking my hand into every crevice and having located every wayward Cherrio, stale Cheeto and disgarded Tootsie Pop wrapper--red, of course, because that is the only color David will eat--I finally found the powder puff in the back seat door panel. I handed it to David, who touched it to his upper lip, put it in the glove compartment and was ready to go.

Frazzled and sweating, I quickly dragged David into therapy and made my apologies. Although always in a hurry, I am rarely late for therapy so I explained what had happened. One of the therapists smiled and said, "Isn't that sweet? He likes it because it smells like you." I was annoyed. I was irritated. I was exasperated and for that moment I didn't want to consider the possibility that David's motivation was anything other than making my day more difficult. I walked back to my car, slid into the driver's seat and sighed as I flipped the glove compartment closed. I smiled and made a mental note to buy a new pressed powder.

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