The piece of plastic I found wasn't much bigger than a standard envelope. I found it months after the crash, on one of my periodic returns to the scene. Reflecting back, I have no way of knowing if the chunk of car that I picked up was from Darren's car. It is quite possible that in the same way that Charlie Brown was constantly menaced by a kite-eating tree, this particular set of jagged boulders was expressly fond of Toyota Celicas. It is much more likely that the black and silver patch of wreckage came from Darren's car. That's why I took it home and kept it.
I kept if for more than twenty years. It became a kind of shrine to my fallen friend, along with another bit of broken plastic, his red wraparound shades that he had worn as part of his disguise as a deliveryman for "Hungry Drunkboy Pizza". These two artifacts have followed me around for two decades, reminding me of the Okie From Muskogee (Darren was terrifically peeved by the fact that Merle Haggard had never set foot in his hometown before writing that song).
Last night, as my son and I were recounting our days, he told me how dismayed he was that his pal had missed seeing "a really cool Toyota Celica". I have surrendered to the fact that my son is becoming a gear-head, with an intimate knowledge of a vast array of models and makes, but this one caught me.
"You really like Toyota Celicas?" I asked.
"Well, not as much as Camaros, or Corvettes, but they're pretty cool."
"Wait right here," I climbed down from his bed and went to my room to retrieve my object d'Darren. "Here you go," I said as I handed him the sliver of plastic.
"Celica. Cool." He ran his fingers over the raised silver letters. "It looks kind of beat up."
"I know. This came from my friend Darren's car. He had a Celica." I assumed that my son would forgive my overlooking the obvious.
"What happened to it?" My son has heard, in bits and pieces, the legend of my friend Darren, but never the end.
"He wrecked his car." I replied as simply as I could.
"Were you in the car?"
"No. But he had another friend who was. He didn't get hurt very bad, but Darren and the car did."
"Oh." Then there was a long pause that might have been a lot of details, but I kept quiet, watching him turn the name plate over in his hands. "Thanks, Dad."
With that, he put the relic up on his headboard, and turned out his light. It was time to go to sleep. When I was almost out of his room, he called me back, "Dad?"
"I think I'll keep this and give it to my son."
"From generation to generation?"
"Yeah. Generation to generation. Good night, dad."
"Good night, son."
I knew I kept that thing for a reason.