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April 30, 2014

Guardians

The orange narwhal had been there for as long as Devon could remember. His parents said that when they asked him, as a toddler, what he wanted on the wall of his room, he picked the animal out of a coloring book. The narwhal was already filled solidly with his orange crayon, and though his mom and dad pushed him to pick another color, he wouldn’t relent. Eager to spoil their first child, they painted the orange narwhal, their own artwork only marginally better than his had been.

Devon looked up at the narwhal now, taking in just how many times his parents failed to stay inside the lines. He imagined the brush had to have been in his father’s hands, for his mother was too meticulous about these things to slip up so often. Surely she had managed to paint inside the lines while folding laundry in the other hand and rocking his little sister to sleep by pushing her seat back and forth with her foot, all as dinner boiled downstairs in a pot on the stove.

That was where his mom stood now as she bellowed out his name: “De-von!”

There was fatigue in her voice, not from exhaustion, but from the number of times it took for Devon to hear her calling.

He dropped down the stairs two steps at a time. “Yes, Mama?”

“Dinner,” she said, arranging plates on the table.

It was always dinner, Devon thought, forgetting how many times it was about laundry, cleaning, or school.

The family sat down around the table, said grace, and dug in.

“How’s the packing coming along?” Dad asked. “Do you need more boxes?”

“Not yet. Maybe not at all. You can fit a lot in a big cardboard box.”

“Just be sure not to overstuff them. Your toys are heavier than they look once they’ve all banded together.”

“How about your clothes?” Mom asked. “Have you picked out which to keep and which to donate?”

Devon put a spoon of collard greens into his mouth, a vegetable he hated, but chewing it would give him more time to think of his response.

Only his mom knew his tricks by now. Devon only ever took such large bites of food he didn’t like when he was trying to think his way out of something.

“Devon, I’ve told you before. We don’t want to wait until the last day before driving down to the donation box. We will have other things to tend to.”

“I knooooow,” Devon said.

“Good, then have it done by tomorrow.”

“Okay.”

“Before school.”

“Okaaaaay.”

Back upstairs, Devon returned to packing the toys he hadn’t finished before dinner. After only a few moments, he found himself playing with a set of dinosaurs he hadn’t seen in years. He loved the Ankylosaurus. He admired the way plates lined its back for protection, yet unlike a turtle, its sides were lined with spikes as a warning to would-be predators. The unlucky few who got too close got to taste the spiked mace at the end of its tail.

Carnivores like the Tyrannosaurus rex were popular among many of Devon’s peers, but the creature wasn’t a good fit for quiet kids like him. He was never the one with the loudest voice or vicious jaws. Having been teased for much of his life, he admired the way the Ankylosaurus could defend itself and fight back at the same time.

Devon thought back to six years ago, when he was a five-year-old playing with his then best friend Tony. They eventually split apart when they got further along in school and her classmates told her that spelling her name with a “y” made her no more a guy than her tomboy clothes and informed her that spending so much time with Devon only made her weirder. But back in those days, the two would play with their dinosaurs all over the house. Tony wasn’t a Tyrannosaurus type herself, but she loved the Velociraptor, which could tear a creature to shreds with its sharp teeth despite its pretty feathers, and the Triceratops, which held its sword and shield close to its face where everyone could see.

Devon didn’t linger on those memories for long. He had already, in a way, said goodbye to Tony when they stopped seeing each other so often. He couldn’t say bye to their toys as well. He found a way to stuff them into the box, despite having not touched them since the second grade.

Sorting out the clothes was easy. All Devon had to do was try everything on and keep what still fit. Nothing he put on was drenched with memories he feared would slip away. He tossed childhood shirts and tight-fitting pants into the donate pile without a second thought. He cared about how he looked, but he didn’t care what he wore. His mom would just buy him new clothes to replace any holes in his wardrobe.

So once he was done, he went back to his toys. They were increasingly neglected these days, and he somehow knew that this would probably be the last time he gave them any meaningful thought. Even the ones he kept would wind up back in the toy chest in his new home, guarding dust until eventually someone in the family decided it was time to let them go.

Going through his toys filled him with melancholy, but only looking at the orange narwhal on the wall filled him with pain. It had been there, looking over him at night, fighting off thoughts of monsters, burglars, and aliens for all of his life. Now he had to say goodbye. He knew (after months of running through every realistic option in his mind) that there was no way he could take his favorite guardian with him. This saddened him in a way no one could know about, for they wouldn’t understand. This was, again, only something the narwhal itself could help him with, one last time for the road. He stood there, staring at the narwhal until he almost shed a tear.

Then, catching sight of the time, Devon packed up his two piles of clothes and headed downstairs with the ones he was going to give away. He wasn’t ready to grow up yet, but he was ready to start.

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“Guardians” by Bertel King, Jr. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.