“Daddy’s home!” my brothers and I screamed every night at the sound of his car door slamming shut. We never let him walk more than two steps into the house before we nearly tackled him to the ground. We hugged him, of course, but we had ulterior motives. My dad used to smuggle our favorite candies in his pockets and it was our top priority to find them as soon as he came home.
Every night he played the same trick: “Oh, sorry guys, I forgot your candy,” he said with a smack to his forehead, and then we shouted in unison, “No you didn’t!” We then searched all of his pockets to find our candy and squealed when we felt the plastic slip between our fingers.
We developed tactics for the most efficient pat-downs to find our treasures that put any cop to shame, and these were perhaps the only moments we worked best as a team. Each of us was responsible for one pocket: Ryan and I handled the pants since we were the shortest, and Billy and Markie ransacked the jacket because they were taller. My parents laughed as we attacked him and threw our candy into the air after the excitement of a successful hunt. My brothers got Kit-Kats, Snickers, and Reese’s, while I had a love affair with M&M’s. It didn’t matter if Dad tried to spice the game up by placing our candies where the other siblings would find it. We always swapped so everyone had their favorite. These battles dated all the way back to when I was three years old, and they are the earliest and fondest memories I can recall from my childhood.
My mom constantly complained, “You’ll spoil their dinner,” but he never did. My stomach was bottomless whenever I ate M&M’s. To me, my dad was just a really tall, strong kid who liked watching Spongebob and singing “Video Killed the Radio Star” in the car with me. On weekends when we didn’t have the anticipation of him returning with our goodies after work, he sometimes took me out to run errands then rewarded me with a little pack of M&M’s. One of my least favorite errands was going to the Sear’s Auto Center with its noxious rubbery fumes when my dad went to get his car serviced. That didn’t stop me, though, from memorizing where the vending machine was located. All he had to do when he noticed my patience diminishing was slip a dollar bill into my tiny claw when we held hands and I’d immediately take off. Whenever we went grocery shopping, my eyes became lasers that I trained to sort through the vast stacks of candies in the checkout line and target the M&M’s with inhuman speed and accuracy. I’d stealthily throw a pack onto our pile of food, thinking my dad never noticed, despite the big smile on his face.
Sometimes I ate my M&M’s by color, starting with the reds and moving until only the brown ones were left since they were the most boring. Other times I ate them slowly, one at a time, giddily savoring the cracking between my teeth as I tasted the sugary contents inside. At my most charming, I’d eat a huge handful and let my mouth crunch louder than my shoes when I walked on gravel. To this day, my favorite way to eat M&M’s is by putting them in my mouth one at a time and sucking until their shell melts, leaving me to relish the chocolatey goodness.
One fateful day when I was three, I came up with a brilliant idea for a new way to enjoy M&M’s. It was a Saturday, which meant I spent the whole day running errands with Dad in exchange for some M&M’s. After a long day of driving across town, he parked at a gas pump to fill up the car. I thought that if my mouth liked M&M’s so much, then why wouldn’t other parts of my body enjoy their company, too? Once I heard the gas sloshing into the car, I shoved several mini M&M’s up my nose. I sat for a minute, waiting for them to melt and reveal their chocolatey contents so my body could enjoy it, but nothing happened. Life as I had come to know it ceased to exist after I realized the M&M’s were stuck in my nose. In those few minutes of perhaps the biggest betrayal of my life, I went from being carefree to realizing I was probably going to die. The feeling of having one of my airways cut off made me forget completely that I had a mouth to breathe from. I felt the foreign objects poison my body. Picking my nose in an attempt to dig them out only pushed them further up. With each inhalation, my lungs ballooned in preparation for the strain as I tried to launch them from my nostrils. With each exhalation, I realized how much trouble I was in when the M&M’s refused to budge. I listened to my dad talking to someone outside and I had no clue what I should tell him when he came back in the car. I could wait and see if he noticed, but that came with the risk of him getting mad at me, or I could avoid his glance and keep this secret stowed inside me forever. The dilemma was too tricky for a toddler to handle, so I sat with my companions lodged up my nose and banged my head against the seat in frustration as I waited for him to come back. I wanted to gauge his mood to determine if I should confess or not. The door opened, and I looked up at him, helplessly strapped in my car seat.
“Nicole?” He erupted with laughter. Suddenly I moved to the defensive.
“What, Dad!” I barked.
He angled the rear view mirror to where I could see my reflection and I gasped. Hues of brown, red, yellow, orange, green, and blue leaked out of my nostrils from a self-inflicted rainbow faucet. I joined him in his laughter for a moment and then remembered the gravity of the situation.
“I’m dying, Daddy.”
“Oh, Coley, no you’re not,” he said between laughs. He grabbed a tissue and started rubbing my face. He pinched one of my nostrils and told me to blow. I was half free. He pinched my other nostril and told me to blow again. At last my nose unplugged. I sat in awe of his ability to save my life on his first try. I viewed my dad as the most powerful superhero, and he probably thought of me as his damsel always in distress. “Well, now mom is definitely going to know I gave you candy when she told me not to,” he said as we admired the artistry of my newly stained skin.
Two years after this incident, I broke my leg in the middle of playing a hardcore game of stuck in the mud. I jumped off a ten-foot-tall jungle gym platform in order to escape being tagged “it.” I was the last person standing, and no way was I about to let some boy get in the way of that. After tragically learning that I could not fly, and, worse, that I was not indestructible, I had to change a lot of my priorities in life, like refraining from leaping off of tall things when boys approach me, something that has proven quite difficult as an adult. On the bright side, after I got my purple cast molded to my leg and was informed that I would be the most popular girl in school since everyone would want to sign my leg, instead of receiving the standard lollipop, the doctor gave me M&M’s that my dad most likely slipped into his white lab coat when I wasn’t looking.
Instead of feeling crippled during my weeks of hobbling, Dad let me feel like the superhero. Every day he scooped me up and walked around while I dangled from his shoulders so I could soar six feet in the air. My food upgrade made my flights much better than the time I flew to Disney World. Instead of receiving withered peanuts, my flight attendant knew better and handed me my favorite chocolate snack. As part of our game, Dad pretended he lost me, even though my aggressively purple cast hung right in his face and my stubby fingers yanked his wavy brown hair.
“Coley, where are you?” he hollered. I answered with shrieks of laughter as he spun wildly searching for the source of the cries, but still being careful not to drop me.
“Oh no, I think she’s gone!” he said to make me erupt into more laughter at his feigned cluelessness. After a few minutes of hysterics, I decided to show him mercy and reveal myself by shoving an M&M into his mouth.
“What! Did this fall from the sky?” he shouted, still oblivious to my presence. “Oh, Coley! I’m so glad I found you!” he said after he finally looked up.
“Daddy, I was on your shoulders the whole time!”
“You’re right,” he said. “Do you want to stay up there?”
“Just don’t let me forget that you’re up there again.”
“Okay,” I said, crossing my fingers behind my back.
NICOLE MELCHIONDA is a recent graduate of Stetson University where she majored in English with a minor in creative writing. There, she worked closely with award-winning poet, Terri Witek, and journalist, Andy Dehnart. In February, she is moving to China to teach English.