THE LIMITS OF THE LEAD FRIGGIN' MARBLE BOX
"I keep my marbles in a lead friggin' box" - Dean Winchester
A small boy crouches on the floor. His blonde hair and freckles sparkle in the afternoon sunshine, as do the marbles he's surrounded by. His green eyes squint in concentration as he rolls them in his hands, and shoots them across the floor. He's playing with all of them, but seems especially attracted to four in particular:
- An alley, streaked with many colours
- A perfectly smooth, pale blue orb
- One that looks like a droplet of blood, frozen in time
- A perfect Cat's Eye aggie
Dean Winchester is all grown up. He doesn't play with marbles any more. But he still thinks about them. He confessed to Bobby that nowadays he keeps all his marbles in a "lead friggin' box." Of course, when he says marbles he means all his feelings about everything - his life, his time in Hell, and the price he's paid to be a Winchester, a Hunter and a saviour of the world.
It all started as a small box, for a very little boy. It was just big enough to contain Dean's grief over his mother's death, and the knowledge his childhood, and his innocence were over. He had a little brother Sammy, to protect, and Big Daddy Winchester to please. There was no time for tears, or tantrums, or thinking about how he, DEAN, felt about something. So whenever he was sad, or hurt, confused or bewildered, he would he take that swirl of emotion, pretend it was a brightly coloured marble and carefully tuck it away in the small box, with the nice, sturdy lock.
Sometimes he would lift the lid, and look at his ever-expanding collection. But examining those feelings takes time. It's painful. It can leave you gasping for air, in need of forests of Kleenex and legions of hugs. It must be exceptionally hard to do while trying to hold a family together, raise a brother, fight monsters, and grow up.
As Dean got older, he would occasionally sit down with a piece of pie, take out a little pencil, and do some scribbling on a napkin. He'd run some numbers, and calculate just how much larger he needed to make the box. There were getting to be so many marbles to put inside it.
There was the way his Dad looked at him differently, after he let the Shtriga almost kill Sam, and then escape. There were the denied dreams of a different life. Once, he wanted to be a firefighter, but resigned himself to the fact the Family Business came first. There was the anguish of watching Sam leave for Stanford. And the despair when he woke to discover his Dad had left him too.
The box started to bulge at the sides. But Dean's always been clever and good with his hands. He saw the problem, and devised a solution. Build a bigger box! Make it like an old steamer trunk. Add drawers, and shelves and secret compartments. Dean was proud of himself. He was positive he'd created enough storage to last his lifetime.
But Dean never imagined that, in his lifetime, he would see his father sell his soul to save his eldest son. Or that Sam would be killed. Or that Dean would sell his own soul to bring Sam back to life. Or that he'd go to Hell, be tortured and then become the torturer. Or that an Angel of the Lord, named Castiel, would raise him from Perdition because God had work for him. Or that, between them, Sam and Dean would inadvertently trigger the Apocalypse, and be identified as the vessels for the Archangel Michael, and the Devil Lucifer.
Although he'd never admit it, Dean has a vivid imagination, especially when it pertains to Busty Asian Beauties! However, even in his wildest nightmares he couldn't predict that the brotherly bond he and Sam share would avert the Apocalypse, but cost Sam so much. Or that affection, good intentions and pride would lead his angelic best friend to make all the same mistakes as the Winchesters.
Dean couldn't know that having a chance at normal with Lisa and Ben would make everything in his Hunter Life seem so much more abnormal. Or that he was fated to lose the twin sanctuaries of hope he'd found in their home, and at Bobby's book-cluttered farmhouse. And he never let himself think he would see Sam's wall come crashing down, and Castiel's empty trench coat come floating up.
All the while, the marbles kept getting thrown in the box. Sure, over the past few years, Dean's noticed all the strain on the hinges, how they're threatening to blow apart any second. And he's well aware that keeping the lock secure requires all of his bodyweight, plus lots of alcohol. But still, Dean keeps telling himself "the box is big enough."
To be fair, it's not like he's had a lot of time to design, let alone build a new one. He hasn't even had time to sort through the contents of the box, and see if there were any he wants to get rid of. He tried a few times, especially before his trip to the Pit, and after his return from Hell. But he was told he wasn't strong enough to do the purging.
So he just kept shoving the marbles inside the box, promising to get rid of a few "someday." But he always carries around three of his childhood favourites. In fact, now they even have nicknames.
The streaked alley is The Guilty Guy. "I let down the people I love. That's what I do."
The pale blue one is The Loser. "It doesn't take a genius to figure it out..." "If there is a God out there, why would He give a crap about me?" "I've been trying to save this planet, so maybe you should find somebody better to tip off."
And of course, the beautiful blood-red aggie is called The Killer. "But what I'm good at is slicing throats. I ain't a father. I'm a killer. And there's no changing that. I know that now."
Everyday, those marbles rattle and clang in Dean's pocket. Now and then Bobby can hear the noise they're making, but Dean just talks louder and the sound disappears. In the past, Sam has been almost deafened when the marbles smash into each other. He's offered to help. But right now, he can't because he's hearing strange voices himself.
The problem with the marbles is that their constant clacking sometimes clouds Dean's view of himself, and his judgement. They act kind of like Horcruxes. He starts believing those three stones are the only ones in the collection that matter.
"People. They are who they are. No matter how hard you try, you are what you are. And you will kill again. Trust me, I'm an expert. Maybe in a year, maybe 10, but eventually the other shoe will drop. It always does."
Sometimes Dean wishes a Monster would just hurry up and kill him already, and then he'd never have to worry about the damn marble collection again! Maybe sometimes, he even tries to put himself in harm's way, just to make that happen sooner.
The tragedy for Dean is that he rarely looks at the brilliant, gleaming Cat's Eye aggie. Perhaps it's because this marble makes him think of bright and shiny things - courage, compassion, loyalty, laughter and love.
The Cat's Eye is the prize of the collection, the gem of the bunch. But Dean doesn't think he deserves it anymore. Sometimes, he'll misplace it or try to lose it. Luckily, Sam is usually really good at keeping track of it.
Sam jokingly calls it The Eye of the Tiger. He knows Dean has always admired tigers, especially painted on velvet or the side of a van! The Cat's Eye has always been Sam's favourite. In fact, he's using it right now. When he rubs the scar on his hand to bring himself back to reality and away from his visions of Hell, he's thinking of Dean and the Cat's Eye.
If only his brother could do the same. The time has come for Dean to accept that "lead friggin' boxes" don't hold marbles very well. And that he really needs to take out that Cat's Eye, give it a polish and carry it with pride.