The day I broke the elephant was not a good day.
To start, my father was deployed on a Coast Guard ship, so all of us were struggling with despondency. To make matters worse, both my siblings and I, for then we numbered three, were screaming and roughhousing up and down the house as my poor mother tried to clean it. Everyone in the house was trembling on the brink of emotional (and in my mother’s case, physical) collapse.
That was the day I broke the elephant.
My mom found the elephant online. It reminded her of a statue that her aunt used to have. She loved that elephant and was constantly reprimanding us, the children, who were equally enamored with it, not to play on it, not to jump over it, and absolutely not to ride it. Despite the occasional good intention, we paid spare attention. We began at first to play around it, then to incorporate it into other games, finally deteriorating into mounting and galloping on it rodeo-style. The day the elephant was broken, I remember, she had warned me already more than once for abusing it.
I can’t recall what finally, inevitably, pushed us all over the edge. Maybe we scattered her dust pile one too many times. Maybe someone picked the wrong moment to run screaming through the kitchen. Whatever the cause, my mom finally snapped. At her wit’s end, she started hollering at us in consummate vexation. Eventually, her frustration gave way to distress. She started crying, and that was it. Just like that, all of us were sobbing hysterically and holding on to each other as our frayed nerves gave way completely. This went on for quite some time before we began to wipe our eyes and pull ourselves together. Then, out of the blue, my mom asked: “Who wants to go out for ice cream?” Just like that, our moods swung 180 degrees and cheerful pandemonium ensued. Everyone else ran upstairs to get changed. I began jumping over the elephant. Back-forth. Back-forth. Faster and faster until … SMASH!
I had slightly mistimed one of my leaps. My bare feet crashed straight through the ceramic top of the sculpture. For a moment, I just stared down at my feet, feeling no pain. I couldn’t reconcile my feet inside the elephant. What had happened seemed impossible. Then blood began coursing down my legs from a thousand tiny cuts. I started howling, more in shock than anything. My mom came running. She took it all in at a glance, then without a word began fixing it. I was pulled from the elephant. The sharp shards were thrown away. My mother put me in the tub and started to clean my wounds. At this point, however, I was more worried about ice cream than anything else. I took a deep breath, sniffling for effect, and asked, “Can we still go for ice cream?” She didn’t hesitate. Ice cream was still on. The care of a mother in her child’s hour of need is mercy itself.
So we went for ice cream with cookie crumbs and gummy worms on top. When we returned home and in the following days, life proceeded peacefully. Some weeks later, when my father got back, in an attempt to please my mother, Dad reincarnated that elephant as a lamp, which lights our house lopsidedly to this day.
Though the elephant went on to shine brightly, it couldn’t be as if it didn’t smash. I never faced punishment for breaking that ceramic monument, instead I learned a valuable lesson. The many times I blew my mom off, sure that I was right, she had actually been correct and predictive. I started to pay more attention to my parents and adults in general, and to regard direction from older and wiser heads than mine. When I broke the elephant, I broke off some bad habits as well … or at least I thought a little more about trying.
John Falce is 12 years old. He is Catholic, lives with his military pilot father, Florentine-trained artist mother, two brothers, and sister on a four-acre hobby farm in Milton, Fla. He is trying his hand at raising pigs when he’s not at school. John got into writing while obligingly editing for his mother’s book. He loves a good story and hopes you enjoy this one.