By Ryan Kim
Back when Tupac and Biggie were still alive and masterfully educating the masses on whether the west coast or east coast was the illest, I was about eight years old and my parents were living the American dream. They had emigrated here from Korea in the 80’s, my dad first and when he found a job to pay the bills and the rent, my mom flew over. My mom found part time work at a grocery store and made little handbags in her spare time for extra cash. My dad worked as a mailman because that was the only position at the post office that didn’t require him to speak English. Thank God, because I’m pretty sure he taught himself the little English he knew through Steven Seagal movies and the dictionary. I was an only child, but wasn’t spoiled like one, mostly because my parents couldn’t afford to. My mom used to tell me how lucky I was to be a boy, which I understood later as I witnessed my grandma treat all of her granddaughters like little bundles of disappointment. All of my cousins hate me to this day.
My grandma couldn’t really afford to spoil me either, but she used to buy me a lot of candy with the food stamps she got. Candy was great, but you can’t transform them or pretend that lasers are coming out of them. I wanted action figures, Transformers, hell I would’ve played with a Ken doll if I had one. It was rare for me to get any toys while the rich white boys and girls got new cassettes to watch, battleships to sink, and Barbies to dress. But one day, while my mom was shopping at Salvation Army, I saw this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle van in the used toy section. I didn’t realize that these toys were used; I just thought they were tougher, scrappier versions of the toys that sat safely prepackaged in plastic cases in the stores. These were way cooler than those pansy versions, these toys didn’t have cases because they liked to be played with, getting scratches and chips along the way to having a good time. Just my style. I had cuts and scrapes on my knees and elbows chasing around or being chased around by imaginary killer robots outside. I had to entertain myself somehow. My mom must have sold an extra handbag, pulled some extra hours, or was tired of her son being chased by evil robots because she saw the desire in my eyes even though I didn’t ask for it, and I walked out of that Salvation Army a little bit happier than I had entered. I took that beat up van everywhere. I didn’t care that it had faded paint, that it was vacant of Ninja Turtles, and that the stickers were peeled off. It rode the walls of our apartment, it turned into a submarine when I took baths, and it was my teddy bear when I slept at night. I was happy, until I went over to Dustin’s house later that month.
Dustin was an overweight Korean kid, who I met in Sunday school, he made a big impression on me, no pun intended (ok, maybe just a little bit). We had the same Bible study class together and I’d never really talk to him, he seemed a little dead and always carried around a Gameboy instead of a Bible. I’d watch him play because he’d never really let anyone else touch his toys even though when other kids brought their toys to church he’d be the first to extol the virtues of sharing, which meant he wanted to play with your toys. Douchebag. One particular Sunday, we all walked into the classroom and to my utter ecstatic joy, there were two pizza boxes lying on the classroom table. I’d never seen anything more holy on a Sunday. It was Children’s Day, something I never heard of since I grew up in the States, but all the more power to motherland, Korea, if Children’s Day meant pizza day. So all of us gathered around the table and the teacher said grace and we broke crust. I devoured the delicious, salty, crisp pepperoni, gooey cheese, and tangy tomato within a minute. I needed more. And it looked like everyone else was still on their first slice, even tubby Dustin was only halfway through his. There was one pepperoni left and setting my sight on it, I dove in. But before I could swoop that piece of pie into my greasy hands, a chubby hand quickly snatched the cheesy triangle in front of my eyes. Lo and behold, I see Dustin’s fat face with half of his first slice in his mouth, wearing an angry grimace on his face as if to say, “How dare you grab my second slice?” I wanted to slap the oily goodness off Dustin’s smug little mug, but I just wore an angry expression of my own and withdrew my empty hand from the box of crumbs.
Much to my surprise, my parents and Dustin’s parents knew each other from Bible study meetings of their own, but they’d gotten off on the right foot unlike me and Dustin. Unfortunately for me, that meant that I had to try to be friends with the pizza monster.
“How about sleepover at Dustin’s? His parents say he don’t really have much friend, you both can be friend to play with instead of playing by alone,” my dad said to me.
“I don’t care. I like playing by myself. I have the van,” I argued.
“Just think about it,” my mother pled. I guess they really wanted to make a good impression on Dustin’s parents. It was hard enough for my parents, working day and night trying to make ends meet. Must’ve been lonely in America, leaving all their friends back in the motherland. I grit my teeth and so began these monthly sleepovers at Dustin’s. It was always at Dustin’s because our cramped apartment could barely fit my parents and me.
To be honest, I looked forward to staying out of our dumpy apartment one night every new moon. Dustin’s dad was a lawyer and his mom stayed at home, which made me question her worth. She was a horrible cook though, and I was grateful for it because we’d always order pizza whenever I slept over, but they should’ve stopped ordering pizza because I swear every month Dustin got bigger and bigger, it looked like he could use a gastric bypass surgery or two. One of the other perks was that Dustin would show me the new toys he had gotten whenever I came over. I wasn’t sure whether it was because he thought I was really his friend or because his mom made him be nice, but he took me to his toy chest, filled to the brim, and demonstrated his Power Ranger Megazord toy that could disassemble into different animals just like the real Megazord. He still didn’t let me touch his toys, only the ones that he didn’t care about or broke. I didn’t really like Dustin to say the least, I liked pizza and I also liked his sister.
Michelle was a few years older than us and she was the nicest girl I would ever meet, and it confused the hell out of me because she was the prettiest girl I laid my eyes on. My mom told me once that no one ever had beauty or brains without a flaw. Beautiful people were either stupid or mean, and people with brains were either pricks or emotionally dead.
“Because,” my mom said, “God is fair.” Michelle disproved my mom’s theory and made me question if God really was fair. Either she or Dustin had to be adopted because there was no way they came from the same gene pool. Funny story, turned out that Michelle was a love baby born out wedlock before Dustin’s mom met Dustin’s dad, but that’s another tale. Anyway, she treated me like the little brother she always wanted, which looking back is worse than being in the friend zone. But I didn’t complain; she made sure I had enough to eat and made fun of Dustin’s big ass. I was in love, or lust. She was going through puberty when me and Dustin were banging around with G.I. Joes. She’d always put on a big sweater when I’d come over, but I could still see the shape of her lovely, round breasts hidden underneath that wooly turtleneck. I always looked forward to seeing her, always reading a Babysitter’s Club book lying down on the couch, eating carrot sticks dipped in peanut butter.
One warm, Sunday afternoon, I entered Dustin’s house for another eventful sleepover and heard “Big Poppa” blaring through the radio and stole a glimpse of Michelle dancing to Notorious B.I.G.’s anthem. Her hips swung to the hypnotic beat of the song and her arms were raised above her head as if in worship, and then she saw me standing there with my toy van. I could’ve sworn she kept going for an extra moment or two with her eyes locked on mine before suddenly stopping and greeting me as if nothing happened.
“Hey,” she said walking to the stereo to lower the volume.
“Hi,” was all I could muster out and before I could say anything else Michelle said, “Dustin’s downstairs,” and lied down on the couch and hid her face behind a book. Still a bit mesmerized by intoxicating female hips, I quietly zombied my way downstairs.
I plopped down on the sofa downstairs where the TV was blaring and didn’t bother to say hi to Dustin. Not that he cared or I cared, but then something familiar caught my eye and I saw Dustin playing with the toy van that had brought me so much joy. I stood up to accuse him of stealing my van somehow, except the van was different. I must’ve left mine upstairs. So I walked slowly towards Dustin as he continued to play with this van. He saw my curiosity as I approached him and quickly let me know that this was off limits by turning his back to me.
“Can I see that?” I sat down next to Dustin and reached out my hands. He quickly pulled away.
“See with your eyes and not your hands,” he retorted. I wanted him to have a heart attack right then and there or at least really bad heartburn.
“Let me see it then, I can’t see it.” Dustin flashed the van and quickly hid it from my sight again.
“Come on, let me see it.” I pleaded. He flashed it a couple of more times just to screw with me and then let me have a good look at it.
All the stickers were intact; there were all four Ninja Turtles in it: Leonardo, my favorite, was behind the wheel, Raphael in the passenger seat, Donatello and Michelangelo in the back. The van looked like it had been waxed, all it needed were some rims and it would be officially way better than my van. My van looked terminally ill compared to Dustin’s and when Michelle called us for dinner, Dustin brought it up with him. I ran after him and he rode the walls with his van much like I did, except his shined. We gathered around the dinner table and Dustin’s mom had ordered pizza, but it was topped with vegetables instead of meat. The disappointment in Dustin’s face was immediate and he scrunched his face in disgust.
“Everyone is going to eat at least a slice of vegetable pizza, especially you Dustin and don’t give me that look. You need to lose weight and no toys at the dinner table.” Dustin’s mom began to pour out water instead of the usual Coke. Michelle was wearing a tank top instead of her usual sweater, which I was glad about at first. She grabbed a slice of veggies and gave it to me like she always did. I can still remember the warm look in her hazel eyes. It was a look I had never seen before, it wasn’t the look she had when she donned that oversized sweater. She looked bold.
My eyes were drawn to her breasts even though I tried hard to look away. I looked down at the green peppers, olives, mushrooms, and onion on my slice losing my appetite. I stared at Michelle as she took small bites of her pizza, her chest touching the edge of the table.
“Dustin! What did I say about the van?” Dustin’s mom scolded. My eyes bounced from Michelle to Dustin, who looked up at his mom and then took his van and lumbered his way to the basement doorway. He stopped and looked down, noticing my van on the floor.
“What’s this?” he asked. I didn’t say anything.
“I think it’s…” Michelle started, but then she saw me staring at her breasts, I looked up into her eyes with a boldness of my own and she said, “Nevermind.” Dustin then took my van along with his and threw them down the basement stairs. I heard the clatter of the two vans as they tumbled down the wooden stairs and can remember Dustin’s mom getting up and yelling something at Dustin, but most of all I remember looking at Michelle with new eyes and her bare feet touching mine underneath the dinner table.
Ryan Kim is a graduate of the highly esteemed Virginia Tech creative writing program, so esteemed that Harvard and Yale are trying to recruit more people with esteem, but are now awaiting Supreme Court judgment because of allegations that everyone in their schools are using esteem-enhancing drugs. For more serious thoughts in Ryan's life please go to www.loveiswhatdrivesme.blogspot.com or www.callmelyan.tumblr.com