I was playing with his army action figures in a battle over the oil stains on the garage floor when I looked upward toward the loft and knew—just knew—that my Christmas presents were stashed up there.
This was September. The sun was out. The garage was stuffy. Christmas wasn’t on anyone’s mind. I hadn’t figured on hunting for Christmas presents for another couple months, largely because there was nothing as exhilarating as finding Christmas presents on a November sweep. My yearly searches of the house included his parents’ closets, both of them, the attic, under their bed, under the basement stairs, behind the furnace and in the toilet tanks. I was thorough.
It had in fact been many years since I was surprised on Christmas morning at what I received as opposed to my normal routine of faking surprise because I had managed to locate the presents several weeks earlier. I was greedy in this way, clearly, but nevertheless wished it somehow possible to experience genuine surprise when opening presents on Christmas morning. More important than this seasonal daydream, however, was stumbling upon this new hiding place.
I hauled a ladder over and climbed up into the dusty loft where I found a giant robot that doubled as a storage case for ten brand new action figures. And then I found another ten action figures behind a present that appeared to be something resembling a book. Twenty-action figures! I hauled them down and began a massive war over the rich “oil pits” of the garage floor. It was a glorious battle featuring the new action figures versus the old ones. No action figures came back to life. When someone got hit, he was out of the battle. This was the sort of serious war to find out which set of action figures could claim dominance. An hour and 36 casualties later, the war was on the verge of being settled when my mother poked her head in.
“What the f--- Where did you get that?”
I had not yet developed an answer that would satisfy this question when mom matter-of-factly informed him that the toys would be returned to the store.
Without finishing the epic battle over the oil pits, I packed up the new action figures inside the robot and returned them to the loft. I didn’t even secretly pocket a single action figure and informed my mother of this good deed, a gesture I hoped would earn me the right to keep the presents I found that day.
Instead, my mother said, “You’re going to get nothing but books this year.”
“No!” I said. “Take the books back too! I was playing with the books too! I swear!”
No use. I watched my mother and father haul the toys out of the loft the next day and drive off. They returned and told me that the new presents were being stored in the loft, and if I wanted to ruin my surprise I could sneak a peek. So that’s what I did, later in the evening while my parents were watching TV. In the loft, I found a stack of books. But something didn’t seem right. It all seemed like a decoy.
I wasn’t an idiot.
The next weekend I did a more thorough search of the house, beginning with the toilet tanks. In my father’s closet, I found more books and two—just two!—action figures.
It was a gloomy day indeed. I moped around in sadness. A few weeks later I did another check of the house and garage to see if my parents had added anything worthwhile to the books, but they hadn’t. Final sweeps a week before Christmas revealed only that the stacks of books were wrapped in wrapping paper. I tried to convince myself that I didn’t deserve this. I was a good boy, for the most part. But I was also finally accepting that I had been defeated.
Maybe I was in fact getting what I deserved.
On Christmas day I woke up later than ever but still well before my parents. I moped downstairs and found a present under the tree that didn’t look like a stack of books. I ripped the wrapping paper off. It was the robot! With the 20 action figures inside! I screamed for joy as my parents staggered into the living room covering their ears.
“Where’d you hide it?” I asked.
“In the trunk of the car,” my father answered, more proud of the hiding spot than anything.
The rest of the day featured a big battle between the action figures over the property surrounding and including the Christmas tree. Old action figures versus new ones. For hours they fought. I didn’t notice my parents watching from the dining room. Only a wish come true can send a kid that far off into dreamland.