Play-Doh with my cousin Jeff. We would make vague, crude shapes, smudged with fingerprints. Blue space shuttles with pinched fins, resting atop yellow and green rocket boosters. The boosters fell away after lift off and we smashed up the clay into balls to signify them burning up in the atmosphere as they floated back down to Earth. That's what my mom said happened to them anyway, when I asked why the shuttle looked different when it landed. I don't know what happened to them, really; I guess they just float around in space, in orbit around the Earth, forever and ever, which seems pretty dangerous to me, at least if someone is going to keep sending people into space.
Jeff's booster rockets were balled up and combined with mine. Jeff flew his shuttle into space, but mine didn't make it that far. It exploded in the sky, first losing a piece of its hull as big as a pinch from my thumb and forefinger; its flight shifted into slow motion, the shuttle drifting to the side, starting to fall. Jeff's shuttle went into rescue mode, flying fast from space back to Earth, but I told him it was too late. My shuttle exploded, breaking in two, then in four, and more until it was bits and pieces raining down into the ocean, a.k.a. the kitchen table.
My mom came into the kitchen, for I don't remember what. She might have been listening, or it might have been chance.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"The space shuttle just exploded," I told her. "It's falling into the ocean." Jeff didn't say anything.
"You shouldn't play things like that," Mom told me. "That's not the kind of thing you should play."
"Well, Jeff's shuttle is going to to come save it," I said. I took one of the larger shuttle-chunks and converted it into an escape capsule, in spite of the fact I knew the real shuttle didn't have an escape capsule, in spite of the fact I knew it wasn't real.
Two years before, my mom had also warned me of my play habits. It was after her dad's funeral, maybe a few days, maybe a few weeks. It was the first funeral I'd ever been to, and it might as well have been the first person who'd ever died as far as I was concerned. I'd been in the living room with my He-Man figures and they'd come home to Castle Greyskull (then an imaginary Castle Greyskull, before the real one appeared on my birthday) to find Mekanek had died peacefully, in his sleep.
Mom sat on the couch, watching television.
"What are you doing?" she'd asked.
"Nothing," I'd said, automatically nervous from the attention.
"People dying isn't something you play," she told me. "You shouldn't play that."
"He's really asleep, and they only thought he was dead," I told her. "It was a trick." I was a quick thinker, I was.
"Well. Don't play that anymore."
I said I wouldn't.