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The last day I lived in Craiova was joyful. In the afternoon, I gave my precious toys to my best friend Vlad. This was a lifelong collection of little cars, soldiers, and superheroes. Together, we — my toys and I — had told so many intricate stories. I liked to position them all around the house, slowly making my way through epic journeys of good against evil. The world had been saved and changed and turned upside down by these toys. I wanted to say this to Vlad, to let him know the power these pieces of plastic held, that they could change the world, that they could change you. But at 11, I didn’t have the words. Instead, I told him I wouldn’t need toys in Canada. There’s just too much stuff there. They have restaurants, I told him, where you eat as much as you can. You just walk in there and they can’t stop you! My uncle and cousin went in there and ate everything they had — they shut it down! There isn’t any reason to bring my toys. I believed this, but the truth was that I wasn’t allowed to bring much. Outside of clothes and other necessities, I brought one wooden ping-pong paddle with my name written on the red leather: Dragoş. In Craiova, there are ping-pong tables everywhere, in schoolyards, in parks, in people’s yards. These tables are mostly made of old concrete — old enough to have acquired so many chips and holes that no game could remain unaffected by the conditions of the court. But that doesn’t stop anyone. When concrete tables weren’t an option, we would find a dining table or plank of wood to fashion into whatever we needed. The resourcefulness was part of the fun; it was the fun!
Vlad and I only had time for a goodbye befitting two 11-year-old best friends. It occurred to me then that no friend had ever seen me play with my toys. Usually, we would be playing soccer or ping-pong, or otherwise running around the city. How would Vlad know, much less utilize, the complex storylines and backgrounds of each toy? How was I supposed to catch him up to a decade of character development? Before I had time to try, Vlad took two of the superheroes, Spiderman and Venom, one in each hand. Venom had long turned from Spiderman’s nemesis to his sworn brother and protector — one of the biggest and most significant plot twists of all time. Vlad held these brothers out in front of us, regarding each of them for a quick second, and, to my horror, began to smash them into each other repeatedly.
That moment, something changed in me. The idea that my family and I were leaving, an idea that had floated harmlessly around us for what seemed like my entire life, finally became real. Although we were leaving that night, it had never sunk in for me — perhaps my brain had refused to let it sink in. I had no reason to want to go. All of my friends, all of my grandparents, my loved ones, everything I knew was there where I was. They told me that Romania was bad, hellish, unsafe, that there were no opportunities, that the government and its people were brutal and brutalized — and seeing my best friend viciously smash the two brothers, I thought I finally believed it. Surely, in Canada, kids would not play in this violent way. They were going to be like me, they had to be. After all, my toys spoke English. They always had, both on TV and in my stories. They were Canadian, and I was going to be, too. I was happy to see Vlad leave, happy to be done with this part of my day.