Is there a childhood toy that stands out in your memory? For me, that’s Snowball.
He’s one of my first experiences with loss.
Kindergarten. Show-and-Tell. It is my favorite part of the day and today I am especially excited: I’ve brought Snowball, my toy dog. He sleeps with me every night, he eats with me, he does everything with me except take a bath, because Mama says that will ruin him.
This is Snowball, I tell my friends, sitting in a circle on the rug for Show-and-Tell.
I hold him up.
Oooooos and aaaahhhhs, because Snowball is so beautiful. His yellow ears and tail are made of ‘real’ fur. One ear has a little bit of ketchup on it from falling into my plate while I was eating fries. His stuffed body is woolly white, which is why I’ve named him Snowball.
I tell my friends: I saw him on a shelf at the store and Grandma bought him.
They all want to hold him and stroke his silky ears.
When recess comes, I decide to take Snowball out to the playground.
We have a really tall sliding board on our playground. It’s red and silver, not so shiny.
We take turns. I hand Snowball to a friend and climb, climb, climb to the top of the slide. Whoosh! It’s almost too fast, but SO fun. I make sure to hold my feet high for sailing over the mud puddle at the bottom, that worn-out place made by many, many feet landing there.
An idea: Snowball should have a turn.
Hey, Snowball wants to slide! I say.
My friends hop up and down. Let him slide! Let him slide!
Susan E. is standing beside me. When I climb up and I let him go, you catch him for me, I tell her.
I will! says Susan E. She moves toward the bottom of the slide.
I walk around to the tall, tall ladder. You will LOVE this! I tell Snowball. I give him a squeeze.
I climb, climb, climb, hanging onto the rail with one hand, onto Snowball with the other.
At the landing, I call down to Susan E.:
Are you ready?
Yes! She leans over the puddle with her hands held out.
I’m gonna count to three and let him go!
Okay! Susan E. shouts up.
here he comes!
I release him.
Snowball slides so fast, so much faster than me…bumpity-bump…
—Susan! calls a friend from the sandbox.
Susan E. turns her head.
—Susan! I cry from the top of the slide.
But it’s too late.
With a soft splash, Snowball lands in the mud puddle.
—SNOWBALL! I slide down like a crazy person, scrambling, clawing…
Susan E. stands there, frozen. Then I’m sorry! I’m sorry!
I lift Snowball out of the puddle. He’s soaked through. His woolly white body is gray-brown; dirty water drips from his beautiful silky ears. They’re flat against his head, silky no more.
Sobbing, I carry him back to the classroom. I wrap and wrap him in paper towels. I cry the whole walk home after school.
Mama, I think. Mama will fix him.
When I get home, I pull the wet paper towels off to show her Snowball’s mushy, muddy body.
Honey, I can’t fix him, she says. He is ruined.
—Can’t you just put him in the washer and dryer? I am crying so hard that I can hardly speak.
It is my fault.
She shakes her head. He’s not meant to be washed that way. He’d probably come apart.
She says we have to throw him away.
I beg, I cry, but Mama says there isn’t any choice. It has to be done.
I wrap Snowball back in the muddy paper towels. I hold him close one last time, shaking with terribleness. I am sorry, Snowball. I am so sorry. I will always love you.
I lay him in the trashcan.
I cry in my bed all night long. Snowball is not there, will never be there again, to comfort me.
Is it childish that, five decades later, writing the memory, I still cry...
I once drew him for students during writing workshop, when they asked if I had a picture. Even the ketchup on his ear.
The annual Slice of Life Story Challenge with Two Writing Teachers is underway, meaning that I am posting every day in the month of March. This marks my fifth consecutive year and I’m experimenting with an abecedarian approach: On Day 19, I am writing around a word beginning with letter s.