Standing on the back seat, my little cousin, Molly, shoved her new book in my face: School for Unicorns. My Explorer skidded to a halt in the driveway, its driver momentarily blinded by the cover of a thin purple book, adorned with sparkling horses reading and writing with only their hooves and no thumbs. How in the world do they accomplish that trick? Consideration of this conundrum alone gave me reason to pause the car while traffic sped past my rear window. Magic maybe, I thought, or . . . magnets. Iron covers and magnetic hooves.
“So,” I asked Molly, “what do unicorns learn in school?”
“I dunno,” she shouted. “I can’t read.”
“Probably learn to fly,” my sister Bree answered.
“Or eat elves . . .” Kasey – another cousin – chimed in from the back seat. That proved another interesting prospect. Carnivorous unicorns, with coats as black as obsidian and coiled horns red with blood and sinew, feeding from the shadows like vampires to spin their spells of necromancy and other dark magic.
“That’d be cool,” I muttered. “There’s potential for interesting stories though unicorns are largely considered to be pure and ancient creatures. They don’t fly either. That’s the Pegasus.”
“See what you started . . .” Bree sighed to Molly. “Here comes the lecture on weird and imaginary animals.”
As with most geeks, my mind is a sponge for anything . . . unusual, prompting a strong inclination to lecture others on said subjects whether they want to hear it or not. To our credit these strange passions of ours so seldom appear in normal conversation we leap at every opportunity to recite Homeric verse or idylls of the gods. Still, I could not afford to be predictable. Not by my own sister at least.
“Of course, such chimeras are known to exist. Take the My Little Pony show. There they had unicorns with wings, kinda like the uber-horse.”
“You watched “My Little Pony?” Kasey asked astonished.
“Silly!” Molly cackled ambiguously. “Silly pony-head.”
“Yup, Mom was always a little protective of . . .”
“A little?” Bree scoffed.
“Irony. . . . excessively protective of Pat and me; thus she forbid us from watching He-man or GI-Joe. Fighting cartoons as Mom put it. The spectrum of accessible toonage dwindled to Bugs Bunny, Pound Puppies, and My Little Pony.”
“You watched My Little Pony!” Kasey jeered. A cruel but honest response. My third and fourth grade male classmates would discuss shows and comics I had never seen: annals of gun-toting mercenaries and skull-faced wizards, battles of epic proportions. During recess, I’d skip over to the girl’s side of the playground and swap stickers. It was a rather confusing time for me.
The kids laughed.
“They weren’t too bad in truth. Lots of cool fantasy stuff now and then. In the first movie, the ponies transformed into dragons, which the evil sorcerer captured to pull his chariot.”
“What’s that?” Molly shouted.
“Speak normal, Murph,” Bree chided. “She’s only in kindergarten. Small words.”
“Oh, chariot?” I thought, consulting my mental thesaurus. “Um . . . carriage? Cart?”
“Old time car,” Kasey added helpfully. Molly smiled. I’m not sure if she understood but she stopped asking questions and began smacking herself in the head with the book.
“Not da Momma. Not da Momma,” she screamed.
“Antique car. Right, that works,” I frowned somewhat concerned for my little cousin, who giggled madly. “But not Flintstone-old. No feet-engine.”
“What about the dragons?” Paul, Molly’s brother, chimed from behind my seat.
“Oh yeah, they were pretty fierce . . . scary even. Sharp black scales. Teeth and claws like velociraptors. Cool stuff, but of course the ponies saved the day.”
“How?” Paul asked.
“I like ponies,” Molly interjected. “Meow!”
“Right . . . well, the normal tripe for girl shows back then. The power of friendship and all that. Plus, the blonde girl had this rainbow missile stored in her gold locket. Opened it and soaked up all the evil like Lysol.”
“Rainbow rocket?” Bree scoffed.
“Whatever. Think of the ‘Care Bear Stare’ only less gay.”
For those younger generations and those unaccustomed to 80’s cartoons, the Care Bears dwelt among the clouds, typically the thickest largest puffs in the sky. As kids we would stare out the window during road trips, seeking out Care-a-lot or the‘Care Bear Cloud.’ Each of the bears, much like the Seven Dwarves had their own unique names and easy-to-discern personalities: Bedtime Bear, Cheer Bear, Grumpy Bear, Wish Bear, etc . . . In their adventures, the Care Bears would foil the plots of Professor Coldheart, who would prey on unhappy children, entangled in various family and playground issues, problems that typically would unravel with a hug and the Care Bear Stare, where shapes would leap from the bears color-coded bellies. Sometime through the episode, we – the viewer – would learn that ‘caring’ is the secret to happiness and high self-esteem. Rather typical fare for the 80s actually.
From my perspective, an already anxious and worried child, learning to exorcise ‘care’ from your life felt healthier than either hugs or rainbows, the former reserved only for grandmothers and latter – as I understood – churned out marshmallows for cereal. Why, I thought, should we care about what others say about us, whether we threw a ball like a girl, or possessed one or two fewer friends than the cool kids. The evening news and local video stores only served to reinforce our fears. Rape, murder, fire, flood, Godzilla, demons, possessed dolls, ghosts, and homework: a never-ending supply of cares sneaking into your day-dreams and tormenting your nightmares. Why should we care at all? Because the Care Bears said so? A rather Herculean quandary for a ten-year-old. Yet with a simple shrug of the shoulders, it all disappeared. In life, the notable absence of omniscient all-loving teddy bears dwelling somewhere in the clouds compelled us to be stronger . . . or at least find more realistic escapes. Something involving swords, wizards and falling anvils perhaps.
“Did you watch ‘Captain Planet’ when you were a kid?” Kasey asked.
“Oh, don’t get me started with that pile of . . .” I stopped myself, suddenly realizing at Bree’s scowl the tickle in my throat. “Ahem . . . sorry, not a fan. I’d rather have my brain-cavity carved and hollowed out like a jack-o-lantern for the amusement of possessed carnival clowns than watch that recycled recycling propaganda.”
“I always like the Hispanic dude,” Kasey continued. “The guy with the Heart ring that talked to his monkey.”
“Dude, that’s probably the gayest thing I’ve heard in a long time and that’s coming from a guy that once owned an E-Z-Bake Oven. My Little Ponies at least had dragons. Little pink ones but . . . ”
“Camouflage. So it’s easier to hide the blood stains that way.”
“Ewww,” Bree groaned.
“Awesome,” muttered Paul and Kasey in awe.
“Meow!” Molly shouted from the backseat, twirling her unicorn book in the air. Moments later, a purple blur like a small glittering axe flew across my mirror and into my cheek, proving that unicorns can indeed fly and that non-violence does not in any way immunize children from violence. When the instinct does emerge (and it will), the edge of the knife is simply more subtle, undetected, veiled behind drifts of glitter, sequins and winged-pony stickers.