By Kenya Starflight
AUTHOR'S NOTE – This is my first attempt at a non-Star-Wars fic, short though it is. I've always loved Calvin and Hobbes and regret that the intrepid duo's comic strip is no longer in circulation. Maybe someday they'll be immortalized in a movie like "Garfield" was. We can always hope…
When you're six years old, you think childhood goes on forever. There are no days, weeks, or months to keep track of, no weekly paychecks or monthly bills or yearly tax statements to mark the passage of time as in the adult world. Sure, there's the quarterly report card – but that's mostly for the parents anyway. In the young mind, time marches by in a continuing spiral of weekend cartoons, insufferable school days, nightly battles to avoid baths and bedtimes. The only indicators of elapsing years are the school clothes that you outgrow the month they're purchased and the switching of teachers as you ascend up the grade ladder. Otherwise, you don't label the years by number. You only know a great stretch of blankness to be filled with activity and memories.
Time is not the only thing elastic about childhood. Adults believe – to their disadvantage – that the mind matures as you get older, that reality is a concrete matter and that once you learn that, you're ready for the "real" world. That's not true. Reality is as malleable as a ball of Silly Putty, and children possess an innate knowledge of how to manipulate it.
Ask a child to travel to Mars with a Radio Flyer wagon and a briefcase full of candy bars and tuna fish, and he'll be camped out on a scarlet landscape laughing at the adults' cumbersome Mars Rover within the hour. Give a child a stuffed animal, and not only will it become his best friend, but he'll bicker, play, conspire, and even come to blows with it as if it were a schoolmate. To a child, a cardboard box is an infinite array of inventions and shifting from human form to T-rex, whale, superhero, insect, or even light-particle form is as effortless as changing a shirt.
It's the adults – not out of jealousy or malice, but sad ignorance – who eventually strip the young ones of this remarkable ability to mold their world. They are sadly unaware of the power at a child's fingertips and deny that it exists. Instead of rightfully fearing the dinosaur that has suddenly entered the living room, they order him to "stop that clomping around!" Rather than give a recently returned time-traveler the attention he deserves, they blow off his quest as a mere flight of fancy. A stuffed animal can only sit there and stare unblinkingly – how could it have raided the fridge or attacked you on your way to the door? The universe is governed by strict, unyielding rules, and woe betide anyone who suggests these rules can be bent in the slightest.
Like all children, I learned of my parents' and teachers' inability to comprehend this power. Like all children, I fought their Neanderthalic ignorance of it. Unlike many of my own classmates, I clung stubbornly to this power and denied that it was my "overactive imagination."
But eventually, I lost the power – not out of adult interference, but out of my own neglect.
As I said before, children are masters of altering reality, and I twisted and folded my own reality to such a degree that I was hardly aware of my parent's version of it. My world was a collage of prehistoric landscapes, interplanetary vistas, woodland escapades, and shape-shifting that would have impressed a Star Trek changeling. I duplicated, transmogrified, and time-traveled to my heart's content – and my best friend, a long-suffering, smart-mouthed tiger named Hobbes, accompanied me every step of the way.
But as a consequence of spending so much time shaping and reshaping my private world, I alienated myself from the worlds of others for a long time. I don't think I had a friend aside from Hobbes until fourth grade. Not that I cared, but for years my parents were worried that I must have some sort of psychological problem that made me relate to my tiger friend better than to "real" people. Not the case – I was simply content with Hobbes and preferred his company to that of most humans.
It was in fourth grade that I finally befriended a group of boys my age. They got together every Thursday afternoon to play Pokemon, and my mom suggested I join them. I was reluctant at first, and Hobbes detested the game, but I finally went. And to my surprise, I enjoyed myself to such an extent that I went back next week. And the next.
"The guys," as I called them, didn't seem too keen on Hobbes' company, and he slept through the games anyhow, so I took to leaving him home every Thursday. It didn't take too long before I started going to sleepovers and parties with my new friends – leaving Hobbes behind, of course. It really hurt his feelings every time he got left out of something I did, but he took it in stride. After all, we still had a few afternoons together every week to dig for fossils, explore the woods, and hold G.R.O.S.S. meetings.
Not that there were many of those afternoons left.
Once I hit junior high, the adult version of reality took over. Between classloads of homework, activities with my friends, and my newfound interest in the school's science and newspaper clubs, opportunities to spend time with Hobbes were as few and far between as national holidays.
Until one day in eighth grade when I entered my room, bursting with the news that I was now newspaper editor, and found a threadbare stuffed tiger in place of my oldest friend.
I used to give my dad a hard time about someday looking back and wondering where all the time had gone. Little did I realize that someday I, too, would find myself staring back into the expanse of years gone by, look at myself now, and wonder what the heck happened to me and the world around me.
Losing Hobbes was a shock, but I soon became swept up in high school and mostly forgot about the ratty stuffed tiger that now got kicked around my room or gathered dust bunnies under my bed. I was too focused on starting my high school's first Paleontology Club, researching stories for the school newspaper, and struggling to impress the girls – no mean feat for a boy who never much liked athletics and would rather spend the day memorizing the species of the Late Cretaceous than hanging out at the mall.
It was a shock to every adult in my life – not to mention me – when I graduated with high honors from high school (Susie Derkins would end up being valedictorian, of course). From there it was college and a degree in – what else? – Paleontology. I spent several years as an assistant (fancy title for grunt) on digs in Utah, Canada, and Australia. I never did have a "Calvinosaur" named after me, though a Velociraptor skeleton on display in the museum in my hometown bears the affectionate nickname "Calvin."
I came back from the Australia dig just in time to attend Miss Wormwood's ninetieth birthday party. Miraculously surviving being my teacher/slave driver, she had retired five years later and spent her golden years at home with her sister. I will never forget her laughter as I introduced myself to her as "Stupendous Man" and KA-PWINGed myself across the room to fetch her a slice of cake. She died three months later.
Rosalyn, who I engaged in open warfare with for three years of babysitting, earned a college degree in elementary teaching and, inexplicably, became a grade-school teacher. At her wedding to her longtime beau Charlie, she confessed to me that I had been a cherub compared to the little monsters she now had to browbeat into shutting up and getting an education.
My parents found the house strangely quiet and empty after I went to college – not having dinosaurs, tigers, or teenagers in the house after eighteen years would make any place seem unbearably serene. They ended up selling the place and moving to a condo in Louisiana, closer to my dad's brother Max. It's become a tradition for all of us – parents, Max, and me – to get together every year for the local Mardi Gras parade.
Perhaps the most drastic change in my life was my relationship with Susie Dirkens. Once the bane of my young life, I realized upon hitting high school that girls weren't slime or insects as I'd previously thought. And Susie must have finally seen me for the ball of animal charisma and charm I truly was. In the spring of our senior year in high school, a pizza was delivered to the Derkin's household with "Susie + Calvin Prom" written in sausage bits, and to my surprise she accepted the invitation. And several years later, when another pizza reached her house with the sausage-written request of "Susie + Calvin Marry?" upon it, she laughed and sent back a cake with a big "YES!" written in frosting flowerettes.
We had a happy eighteen months together, culminating in the exciting news that we would be the proud parents of a baby girl. Then I got the collect call from my mom while I was on a dig in Mongolia. Susie's mom had taken her baby shopping… and on the way home a drunk driver had passed a semi-trailer and veered right into their lane.
If only I'd stayed home… but would it have made much difference? They say hindsight is 20/20.
It was my dad who met me at the airport and dried my tears, and my mom who drove me to the hospital. I ate, slept, and anguished by Susie's bedside all through the ordeal as doctors fought to save her and our daughter, praying for the two women I loved. I wept with relief when they took our daughter a month early and informed me that, by some miracle, she was unscathed by both her prematurity and the accident. And I held my wife's hand one last time as the doctors disconnected the life support.
At Susie's funeral, I stood by the coffin and reflected on our school days together. I remembered my many attempts to make her life miserable and my fantasies of her gruesome fate as dinosaur dinner or nuclear-strike target. How could I have ever hated her?
I was surprised to hear the familiar voice of Moe, the old school bully, call out "Hey Twinkie!"
We spent a few minutes catching up. Turns out he somehow managed to rise above his home life of an alcoholic mom and an estranged dad to graduate from high school and was now a pilot in the Air Force. When he'd heard of the accident, he'd requested leave to attend the funeral. When I had been grade-school bully bait I had never imagined I would someday be crying on Moe's shoulder – or that he would let me – but our past differences were gone that day, and we've maintained correspondence ever since.
The night I took Miriam home from the hospital was the hardest night of my life. It was so hard to fall asleep without Susie's soft, even breathing beside me. I was staring into the abyss of my future and wondering how I would ever make my way across it without the one I loved.
That was the night I pulled Hobbes out of storage in the garage and spent the longest time just staring at his glassy plastic eyes, longing for him to come back to life. I'd never felt so alone.
I wonder just how my own parents managed to wrestle me into bed night after night. Miriam can be quite a little berserker when she doesn't want to do something. Thankfully, tonight she's rather tired and not quite as feisty as usual.
"One more bedtime story?"
"You've had three. Now go to sleep." I kiss her forehead and pull her blankets up to her chin.
It's been six years since the accident that changed my life. Being a single father has been infinitely more difficult than I could imagine, but it's been worth every sacrifice. I miss going on fossil digs, but I'm making a healthy living as museum curator and giving occasional lectures to college classes. And even discovering a new dinosaur species in the deserts of Colorado is incomparable to having time at home with Miriam.
"Kiss Oedipus goodnight, Daddy."
Oedipus? I'm about to ask who Oedipus is when she pulls a stuffed zebra out from under the covers – the zebra her grandma bought her for her birthday last week.
I have a few options, I realize. I can dismiss the matter entirely and turn out the light. I can humor her, kiss the doll, and get it over with. Or I can address Oedipus as a living, breathing being, bid him goodnight, and kiss him as I would my daughter. There're a few issues at war here, like common sense, my daughter's pleading eyes, and my own adult pride.
Then I wonder, "What would I have wanted my parents to do?"
Feeling a bit silly, I bend over and give Oedipus a peck on the nose.
"Good night, Oedipus. May your dreams not include lion attacks."
As I turn out the light, I swear I can hear a tenor voice declare "You're dad's pretty sharp. Hard to believe he's related to your grandfather…"
I sigh as I enter my own bedroom and flick on the light. I have a long night ahead of me – bills to pay, taxes to prepare, and I promised Moe I'd return his phone call sometime tonight…
"Growing up's the pits, isn't it?"
"Tell me about it," I reply. Then I do a double-take. "Hobbes?"
Hobbes is reclining on the bed, leafing through a "National Geographic" and giving me his usual condescending look.
After years of pouncing on me for kicks, Hobbes is remarkably unamused when I return the favor. But it's been so long since I've seen him, how can I not be excited?
"Where have you been?"
"Right in front of you," he replies shortly. "You've just been too busy to notice."
I have no idea what's happened. Maybe I passed some sort of test when I kissed Oedipus goodnight. Maybe I've managed to recapture some of that childhood power. To me, it doesn't matter.
Hobbes is home.