By John Graham
I‘m haunted by memories.
I can still see that model airplane I built when I was twelve years old. I had a job delivering newspapers after school and saved all my money through most of the seventh grade. I wanted to buy an authentic P-40 Tomahawk fighter kit I’d been eyeing in the window of Thompson’s Hobby Shop. It even had a working motor. The manager told me it could actually fly, but he didn’t recommend it. “More for display,” he said.
I worked on my new plane in my room after school for hours and hours until I had every detail perfect, so it looked exactly like the one pictured on the box. I even painted it a camouflage color and added authentic decals to make it more realistic. When I was finally done after weeks of work, I wanted to show it to someone. My mother was in one of her moods again and wouldn’t come out of her room. But my father was watching television, and from what I could tell, he wasn’t drunk yet.
“Built it myself. What do you think?” I asked and held my airplane in front of him.
He didn’t look up, but just took a drink from his bottle and kept staring at the television.
“It’s an authentic P-40 Tomahawk fighter plane,” I said. “You know, a Flying Tiger, just like the ones that flew in World War II. You were in the war, weren’t you? Did you ever fly in one of these planes?”
He still didn’t say anything, or even look up at me.
“Built it myself. Really hard too. Not easy to put the frame together. It’s made of balsa wood and covered with a special paper I soaked in oil so it would shrink to fit just right. Look at all the decals,” I said as I turned it around slowly. “I even painted the shark’s mouth on the nose, just like a real Tomahawk. Motor works too. The man at the store said it can actually fly, but I’m not planning to do that. I’m gonna keep it on my dresser ’cause it’s real special.”
I wanted my father to say something about my plane. Nice job. Looks like it was hard to build. I’m really proud of you, son. But he didn’t say anything. I just stood in front of him, anxiously holding up my airplane like some sort of offering to the gods.
“Want to see how the motor works?” I asked, desperate now for his attention.
After what seemed like forever, he finally looked up, slammed his bottle on the table and gave me that irritated look I saw so many times. “You’re blocking the fuckin’ television,” he yelled.
He didn’t hit me. Not like he sometimes did. But it felt like it. I started to cry, but turned away and wiped my eyes. I walked out of the room and went to the backyard. I set my new airplane on the ground, filled the tank with fuel and flicked the propeller several times until the motor screamed to life. I grabbed my father’s Zippo lighter from my pocket, flipped open the lid, hit the striker twice until I had a steady flame. I held it under the tail until the oil-treated skin ignited. Then I launched the plane into the air.
For a few wonderful seconds my special P-40 Tomahawk fighter with all those authentic decals flew up and up, just like I always imagined. But when the flames engulfed the wings, the plane suddenly veered sharply to the right, then down and down in a death spiral until it crashed to the ground. I wanted to cry again, but I didn’t.
I never built another model airplane.
Dr. John Graham is the executive director of Good Samaritan Home, a housing/ mentoring program for ex-offenders. Prior to that he was a door-to-door salesman, children’s home counselor, substitute school teacher, truck driver, fireman, building contractor, minister and a journalist. Sometimes we need a lot of second chances. This essay is an excerpt from John’s novel, Running As Fast As I Can. For more information, visit johndavidgraham.com.
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