Last month, I was asked to partake in a small charity event that would take place at The Disney Store, on April 29th. It was a “talent-show” organised by one of the managers in store, who asked me to write a short story that I would then read in front of a small public.
I decided to write a story in serious tones, about loss, family love, and nostalgia. One that also deals with a slight amount of regret. All of this, linked together by a “simple” Mickey Mouse.
I remember the first time I received a Mickey Mouse for my birthday.
It’s not like I actually remember. You surely are familiar with those memories that belong more to a photograph, more to a sequence of pictures on screen, than to your own mind. I guess this is just one of them. A wonderful memory that will never be mine to take, but one that I’ll love to remember nonetheless.
I was just a normal child, quite common in a modern Country. I was lucky enough to celebrate Christmas with my family, to receive gifts and a whole bunch of kind-of-useless stuff – all for a child who loved to laugh, and have fun, and be happy with all of his relatives at least once a year. A rather traditional family too, as you know, so every Christmas was also a spiritual moment of some sort, at least for the grown-ups. You surely remember their joy when they found out I became an agnostic: let’s just say, some of them are still trying to recover from that shock.
Coincidentally, my birthday is also just a few days before Christmas. This usually meant double gifts for me – but, that year, you had something really special in mind for your little boy.
So, as I was saying, I kind of remember the first time I received a Mickey Mouse for my birthday, after having lunch at our long, dining table on a chilly Christmas morning. Mom says I was just two, at the time, but I already possessed outstanding speech skills and an uncommon wit. Enough to say “Mommy” and “Daddy”, at least, and being careful not to mix the two when addressing my parents.
You probably thought it was a smart move to go out of the room, then step in again dressed as Santa Claus. I surely enjoyed it; and I’m sure that, when I shouted “Daddy!”, all the others in the room enjoyed it too. But you came to me with a wonderful, bright red box in your hands, one featuring a green ribbon to wrap it all around. Now that I think of it, I can tell that the packaging was mom’s doing – yours would have probably been just the gift itself, maybe in a plastic bag. But we love you that way, you know? Focusing on the core of things, rather than on how they look.
I opened the box, as the whole room plunged in an unusual silence for Christmas day. Most of them didn’t know what was in that box, but they were all pleasantly surprised when I pulled out a tiny Mickey Mouse, watched it for a brief instant, then chucked it on the floor and demanded to be held up in your arms. I guess that was my way of saying “thank you”, back then. It was certainly more effective than the ways I used in my teenage years, anyway.
It was a straordinarily well-crafted Mickey, and I wish I had it here now, to observe it as it deserves. It was just a plastic ornament, but I would’ve never let Mom hang it on our Christmas tree, neither that year, nor the ones to come. And it wasn’t long before I grew helplessly attached to that Mickey, carrying it around everywhere I went, keeping it in my cradle (which was my territory, and mine alone), or in the pram you guys used to carry me around.
Starting from that day, a birthday-Mickey became almost a tradition, in our humble home. I demanded some various other gifts too, of course – but you never forgot to also bring a Mickey once, and it was always different. Every single year – even when I clearly wasn’t interested in Mickeys anymore.
You brought me a Sorcerer Mickey the year we watched Fantasia together. You brought me a Steamboat Willie Mickey the year you told me about the history of Cinema, and God if you were passionate about what you were saying. Black and white, the first steps in animation, colour and sound – everything sounded great, and I later looked into the matter myself when I became older.
You’ve always been a big talker. Sometimes you sit there, talking for hours and hours, seeking our attention, just because you found out something interesting that you wanted to share with us. You love to talk. Sometimes, though, it seems like you don’t actually talk enough.
I was eight, when you gave me just a regular Mickey for my birthday. It had never happened before, and even being a small child I could tell that there was something wrong, that year. I realised you hadn’t talked much in the last few months, and that you were always grumpy and in a bad mood. Even then, on Christmas day, there was something in your voice that made me feel uncomfortable – as if you were about to burst out in anger at any moment. I used to be able to understand such things at a glance, when I was a kid. Later on, I just lost that skill – or I simply didn’t care that much about other people anymore.
At some point, during that lunch at your parents’ house, you just stood up and went into another room. Mom followed you, but everyone else just didn’t seem bothered by the event – so I instinctively ignored it too. Our lunch was practically over, so I went to move to another room, to play with my toys. But, as I stepped out of the door, I noticed that you and mom were talking in a room nearby. I stopped by the threshold, and stood there, listening.
«Could you just try not to think of it, for one day?», she said in a soft voice. «It’s his special day. Do it for him, please.»
You nodded energically, but you wouldn’t meet mom’s eyes. Now I know that means you were trying to hide your pride, or more likely just throw her a bone. But you couldn’t stop thinking about it, could you? Whatever financial issues, or job issues, or career trouble you were going through, you didn’t want to involve us. And you kept everything inside, that year and the following ones.
As I said, I was eight, when this happened. But I was just ten, when you risked your life to save mine.
And that happened on Christmas day, too: we were just going home, the three of us, after our usual afternoon with the grandparents, and were waiting for a train on an overground platform. I was playing with my new Mickey – nothing special, just a small Mickey Mouse to put on my night table. You knew I knew I was responsible for all the Mickeys you gave me, and I suppose you thought I was mature enough to make this one last like the others. Alas – I probably wasn’t.
Or, rather, fate itself stood in the way. I don’t know why, as it never happened before – but, at some point, I just lost grip of my new Mickey, and that ungrateful mouse started to bounce away towards the tracks. I bursted in a horrific cry as soon as I saw his little figure falling down, beyond the infamous “white line” that I was never supposed to trespass. Mom held me to prevent me from going after that Mickey; but you didn’t even blink.
You ran towards the edge of the platform, to observe the fallen Mickey at the bottom. Mom shouted, crying for you to stop, but you didn’t listen to her: you took a quick look at the distance, then back to us, and, when you saw me crying, you just jumped down. And you disappeared beyond the edge.
«Daddy!», I cried. But you didn’t answer. Mom stopped holding me back and started running towards the edge to see you, in tears. I was too little to know that you could have been electrocuted by the rails, but mom certainly wasn’t. And so she ran, looking for you – and, luckily, it wasn’t the case.
After a few seconds, standing away from the edge in fear, I saw your top body popping up from beyond the yellow line, firmly grasping my new Mickey in your hands. You were in the middle of the tracks, in the ones we now call “Anti-suicide pit”, and you were completely unharmed. You threw the little Mickey at the platform, and I ran to catch it and hug it tight. Then you started walking towards the edge again.
«Sir, get out of there now!», we heard. A security guard was shouting to you, just before we heard a warning notice coming from the station’s speakers: “Caution: the next train does not stop here.”
Mom instantly panicked. I didn’t understand – I couldn’t. I guess she saw fear in your eyes, a moment before realising that you could go away forever. You looked far away in the distance, and saw a train approaching from the horizon. You didn’t have much time.
Those tracks be damned, you did try to move and react as fast as you could. But your trousers got stuck in a steel pipe, or whatever was coming out of the tracks at the time. You pulled, and pulled, and pulled; and the train was just closer and closer.
The security guard tried to send a message with her radio, but it didn’t work: the train was going too fast, and it wouldn’t probably be able to stop in time anyway. So, you improvised. As you always do.
You lay down, your arms straight on your side, your face down on the ground. There was no point in trying to detach the trousers from the pointy stick, so you didn’t even try. You just stayed there, waiting, probably praying for a miracle to happen. Then, the train came and passed by; and the whole station held up in a tremendous, frighteningly silent way.
I will never forget when I saw you standing up, with a big smile as if nothing happened. Three guards rushed on the tracks to help you out, and, in a matter of seconds, you were completely out of danger. Probably shocked – but, still, out of danger. It’s always funny to think about that day, when we are together. I was just ten, but I already had a great story about my father, a story of bravery and affection. All for a stupid, little Mickey Mouse.
Damn you and your Mickey Mouses. You couldn’t stop sending them, even when I moved out of town to pursue my dreams. Every year, on Christmas day, I knew that I would receive a different Mickey for my birthday – one that would either go on my shelves for a few days, or straight into my wardrobe, depending on my mood. A memory of you, so far away, and yet so willing to still see me as your little child. A Mickey for every year spent together on the same planet.
Then, one year, Mickey Mouse just stopped coming on Christmas day.
The call arrived just a few days from December 25th. Fate surely felt like a terrific trickster, that year. But I guess that all that stress, all those issues at work, and ultimately my absence, just got to you eventually. And you stopped fighting, reduced, by circumstances, to a weak shadow of the man who once saved my Mickey, by taking him away from a dreadful train.
I still have that Mickey, you know? He’s right on my desk: tiny, judgemental, staring at my soul, and blaming me for not taking care of you as you deserved. There’s just one Mickey that has a better treatment than him; and that’s the one you bought me a long time ago, when I was two. That tiny ornament is standing up straight, protected by a glass case in my study – and I sometimes still take care of him, at least once a month, to make sure he doesn’t get too old. I’d rather link him to a young picture of my dad, after all.
But I wish I could have said “Thank you”. Thank you, for all the Mickeys you always gave to me, for helping me cultivate my love for art and moving pictures; for giving a meaning to a simple, little mouse. Instead, all I got was a call from mom approaching Christmas Eve, and an endless stream of tears shed over the phone. I could say I had plenty of occasions to demonstrate my gratitude; and yet, I was just too focused about my own life, to realise what you might have been going through.
I always buy myself a Mickey Mouse on Christmas day, now. They are all here, year after year – and, even though I don’t know where to put them, they’ll still grow in number for the rest of my life. A disturbing reminder of how, sometimes, we just don’t care enough for the people we love the most.
It’s been exactly ten years since you’ve gone away, and I suppose it’ll never stop hurting. So, this Mickey is for you. I bought it yesterday, on Christmas Eve, and I thought it would just be another, sad memento of a long gone past – one in which you smiled after saving a plush from train tracks. Instead, I think this will be my gift to you, this time. After so many years, I feel like I should start returning the favor… At least, once.
It is just a regular Mickey, nothing special – just like the one you saved so many years ago. I hope he will come and find you, wherever you are, to tell you how much I’m sorry. I would do it myself – but I guess we won’t be seeing each other for a long time.
Now, I really must go. My wife and son are waiting for me, to celebrate our Christmas together. You would like that little brat, you know? He is just two, and he is even smarter than I was at his age. His name is Mickey. Just like his grandpa.
Copyright © Anthony Wolf, 2018