On Toys, Accidents, and What Matters to Others

I can remember the horn of the toy popping. I remember the way it hit the ground with a snap and then rolled over on itself.

The toy was a plastic rider police car that had been mine when I was younger and had passed to my sister and then to my brother after I’d outgrown it.

When my friends and I brought it out to the driveway and started heaving it into the air, it belonged to no one.

It was the kind of rider parents give their toddlers to help them learn walking motions. When riding, you straddled this car like you’d sit a tricycle. There were no pedals, so you had to pull yourself forward taking little bent-kneed steps. Like rowing a canoe with your feet.

It had rested in the closet where we found it a few years at least. Its decals had faded or been worn away. Its plastic was scuffed and scraped. Its wheels were pitted and gouged from rolling and skidding across poured concrete.

The first part of the toy to break away had been the seat, this hard blue piece of molded plastic that lay almost protectively over the hollow inside the car’s body.

We were bored. I believe we’d all come back to my house because I had been told I had to watch my sister after school. I would have chafed at the responsibility. I would have rather drifted on with my friends to wherever they had been going.

The car bore the brunt of my frustrations.

I was the first to throw it. After me, each of my friends took a turn. One of them took a ball bat to it, cranking off its steering wheel with a walloping swing for the fences.

My sister watched us damage this toy.

She is four years younger than I am. Which put her much closer in age to the time when she would have played with the toy. Used it. Cared for it. It might have meant something to her then, something I’d forgotten.

She told our parents what my friends and I had done to the toy.

I bore the brunt of my parents’ frustrations.

My sister and I grew up. I went to college, as did she.

She lives now in Philadelphia and works as a sports physical therapist. A rehab specialist. She works really hard, cares a ton about her patients. Knows a ton about the human body — how injury hampers it, how to bring the body back to life through exercise, strength-training, and recovery.

She was hit by a car a few years ago.

In addition to her work as a physical therapist, my sister’s also a triathlete, which means she spends a great deal of her time outside of work pedaling a stationary tri-bike she’s somehow hooked up to a computer. While she rides in place, she runs an application that tracks her distance, heart rate, intensity levels, calories, and probably how far in actual miles she would have traveled if her bike had been non-stationary and on some road or trail somewhere, giving it hell.

This isn’t how she did things back then. Back then, she trained for the bike portion of the race by riding paved sidewalks and river trails.

The accident with the car happened like this: she was approaching the entrance to a gas station. Riding on the right hand side of the road. The car actually passed her. I guess this was outside Philly somewhere, far enough from downtown for road to be a little less congested and speed limits a little higher, so traffic cruised rather than crawled.

The driver didn’t see my sister. Slowed for the turn. Pulled right into the path my sister was cutting on her bike.

I’m ashamed at the ways I behaved growing up. I wonder sometimes what it would have felt like to have been my sister, watching from inside the living room while her older brother and his friend laughed and flung and smashed away at an old toy she would surely have spent some time playing with when she was younger.

She might have felt helpless, as I felt helpless when I heard her tell about the accident. I believe she’d played it down, tried to minimize things. She’d been hurt, but not badly. She’d been more upset about losing her bike.

I wonder why we — me, my sister, my family, anyone — tries to minimize such things.

We walked away from what might have killed us.

I walked away from a highway accident, a three-car collision at sixty miles an hour.

My brother rear-ended a car whose drive had slowed the car to a near-halt to try and negotiate a tight turn.

Last summer, our mother very nearly lost her life when she drove into a semi-trailer’s broadside.

Cuts, scrapes, contusions. In my mother’s case, whiplash. Otherwise, we all remained whole.

We all were lucky.

I keep thinking of that toy, of how little concern I had for what I was allowing myself and my friends to do to it.

Does such disregard for our own good fortunes grow from such small, seemingly inconsequential acts?

My parents both would not have told the rest of us siblings about the accident if my other, younger sister hadn’t sent a group text letting us know what had happened. She hadn’t minimized the accident. She had sent the text out because she knew it wasn’t any small thing that our mother had escaped serious harm by mere inches.

My own accident occurred just a few miles north of Exit 171 on I-75.

After I’d talked to the police; after speaking to both the drivers of the car and the driver of the truck; after catching a ride back to my apartment in Bowling Green with a state trooper; after I’d showered and called my wife (she was then my girlfriend; our engagement was still several years off) and after I’d eaten something and sat and tried to write down as clearly as I could what had occurred, my father arrived, and together he and I drove to the garage to which my totaled Le Sabre had been towed.

The garage’s aluminum walls and the garage doors that rose and lowered on greased aluminum tracks when one of the men inside the office pushed the button let in the cold.

As I write this, I recall going into the glove box after some old road maps and maintenance logs — small notebooks in which my grandfather had kept meticulous records of oil changes, tire rotations, filter replacements and repairs he’d had done to the vehicle when it belonged to him.

I keep seeing the mashed-in front end of that car.

I keep picturing what I can only imagine my sister’s bike looked like after the collision. My brother’s car, a Vibe like my own, had been totaled. My mother’s van, in which I’d ridden to and from a hundred places a couple hundred thousands times over, had been so utterly destroyed the rescue workers had had to use the jaws to create a wide enough open for my mother to exit.

The toy car in the photo above lay abandoned in the brush and dead leaves, beside an abandoned farm house I photographed a few weeks ago. I’m sure, for a time, it had been a child’s prized possession.

Now it belongs to no one.

The police car my friends and I demolished went out with the recycling.

Toys teach us creativity, motor skills, the value of play. These toys teach another lesson. They’ve helped me remember that what means very little to one of us might mean the world to another.



6 Comments Add yours

  1. Joseph Kane says:

    I don’t know what to say other than I really feel this piece. I love your photographic pieces. But here I feel we are given something much more vivid — the dumb cruelty of teenagers
    — the wonderfully pictured damage of a tragedy (both physical and psychological)
    — the guilt we hang on to.

    Well done, Faller.

  2. Dwordslayer says:

    The past, the present and putting it into perspective. Excellent , moving piece…real tear jerker!

    1. Thanks, Donna-Luisa. I tried a different approach with this piece and I’m glad to know you connected with the experience. Having your feedback, knowing your strong commitment to writing about and for hope, means a lot.

  3. Kane, thanks. I was looking forward to your feedback on this one. I had a tough time deciding whether the final paragraph needed included. Too on-the-nose? Does the idea I hit on there actually emerge from the events I describe and attempt to connect in the piece? If I read your comment correctly, your reaction to the piece came from the interplay of events. This was good to hear.

    As always, man, I’m glad to have your feedback. Thanks a ton for reading.

  4. Miriam says:

    What a moving piece Patrick. Who knows why we do what we do as youngsters, the immature things that we often later regret. This piece of writing affected me on a deep level. Life is so fragile and it takes so little for it to be changed forever. Great writing.

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