The Games We Play

a personal essay, true story

Trigger warning — this essay depicts some uncomfortable sexual assault/abuse situations. Please be aware of that if you find this may be too difficult to read.

There’s a place where the two fences don’t meet and it makes a sneaky outside hallway I can wriggle through. Then it’s two houses and I am at Danna’s, behind the shed. We sift the dirt.

We scrape it up with our hands. If you put it in small piles on the screen and shake the screen, the softer dirt falls through and leaves the rocks to rattle in bouncing circles. We pick through the rocks for treasure and pile them up to the side. Sometimes we find a coin. Cigarette butts. Glass.

We sift the soft dirt from the bucket all over again, handful by handful. I like the dirt perfect.

Danna tells me stories with her big mouth. She has big words that I don’t know, but pretend I know the words. I try them out and wait to see her face. She has a wide-mouth laugh. She is bigger than me but I am older than her. The boys like her better. Today she says a new word I never heard.

She laughs at me. Told me to ask my mom what it means. I didn’t know why she wouldn’t just tell me herself, cuz we’re friends. Sometimes she is not my friend. Like when she tries to get all the kisses from “Hide and Go Kiss.”

“What is rape?” I ask, careful with my new word.

My mom’s face gets all shadowed like the clouds passing over sun. I know then, it is an adult word, like the ugly one I called my brother. It was a word for black but I don’t know why Daddy spanked me about it. Mamma cried but not more than me.

“Don’t say that word.” Mamma says, shoos the subject to a new one, quickly without answering.

I carry the new word to school with me. I try to think of ways to try it out on people but I don’t know how to use it. I am sure it will impress them, make them think that I am big when I am really just a very little person. I am the shortest in my class, except sometimes for Beth. We both like the same boy in our class. He calls Beth “Shorty” and he calls me “Shitty.” I don’t say that word. Ever. He stopped one time to throw snowballs at us when we hid on Beth’s porch. That’s when he tried our new names. I didn’t like mine. But I was a half inch taller so she got the Shorty one. She gets first dibs, always. ‘Cept she thinks I do because I have a sister and brothers and she doesn’t have any. That makes her cry sometimes. I wish she’d take my sister. Then she wouldn’t kick me in her sleep and steal the covers. But I don’t want my sister to have my friend away from me so I just tell my friend I am sorry.

At school the free time is after numbers and reading and classwork. Sometimes Teacher writes on the board and since I am way in the back of the class, Beth and I can whisper or giggle. We get in trouble for notes. In free time we can go to the hidey back corner and get a book to read, only I stand there and take my time reading the spines of the books; I wait but I don’t get picked. Beth smiles and laughs and runs away when she gets picked, but I can tell she is only acting happy. Sometimes a girl cries when she gets picked.

There are three black boys in my class. The big one does all the picking and sometimes he makes the other two boys pick. One of them likes it but the little one doesn’t. He is the only one that picks me. Hands everywhere, all over me, feeling me through my clothes and pressing me in the corner, then it’s over and he runs back to his seat. I go back to my seat, happy to be picked but feeling very strange about it. I forget to pick out a book. The faces all stare at me to see if I am smiling or crying. I do neither.

One girl gets picked a lot. She is one of the pretty girls with fancy lunchboxes and perms in their hair. They play a game with her at recess and I don’t like the game very much. I never played it. The boys all make a big circle on the Black Top and trap her in the middle. They take turns running in and hands all over her butt and she spins in circles to get away. She tries to sit down so they can’t get her butt. Sometimes she cries. I don’t like recess. I am picked for teams last because kicking the ball hurts my foot and I can’t run fast to first base. I want to play in the dirt by the big tree.

Everyone likes kickball but I don’t. I like it better when we play it at home and I get to roll the ball. Ronnie kicks the ball very hard and it goes over the fence. We have to wriggle through the fence and run down through the neighbor’s yard to get the ball. One time he kicked and the ball hit me in the face. It knocked me through the air and my head banged on the gravel. The sky went all black and fuzzy. Faces looked down at me but I couldn’t hear the talking. I did not cry. Crying is for sissies. Mamma helped me off the ground and cleaned the dirt off me. I had to come and sit inside. I wanted to ride my bike instead. I am fast on my bike but not a daredevil like the boys.

Sometimes Margie comes up to play with us. She is loud. Her brother is special. Margie likes Ronnie but Ronnie likes me when he is not taking turns liking Danna. We play “Hide and Go Kiss” when it is getting dark. Ronnie tries not to find Margie but she jumps out at him always. “You found meeeeee.” She chases him to get her kisses but he runs faster than her.

Daytimes I try to talk to the neighbors. They play lots of music at night and I peek through the blinds to see them laughing and talking. I can’t hear all the words. They have a swing on the porch and I sit for hours and swing and talk with the biggest words I can find. One time a man drove by in his big green car. He drove very slow down the hill and stared out the window at me with a stupid grin. He shakes his dingaling at me through the window. It is ugly and floppy and makes me feel all weird. My neighbors yell at him and make me go in the house. I don’t tell that to Mamma or Daddy. It’s like getting picked, only worse.

Sometimes we walk to the store to get candy. I take coins and walk very slowly to find more on the way. We walk by the church. We walk by the angry man’s house but never through his yard. He has a scary face. We walk by the black kids houses and they are out in the yard. Mamma likes us to take the other street so most times we do. I take a long time to pick out candy and the man puts it in a tiny paper bag. I make it last as long as I can. The candy cigarettes are my favorite. I never put the fire end in my mouth first. Fireballs are the best, too, but they are hot to keep in your mouth for too long. Ronnie can eat his without taking it out to breathe away the fire, but I can’t. I like getting down to the white part in the middle.

Ronnie doesn’t go to smart kid class like my sister and my brother. I don’t go either. Mamma said I needed three more points to be smart enough but I don’t know how to get them. I stay in regular class. Smart kid class goes on trips and I am mad they get to go and I don’t. At least I have a cat. They don’t. Gizmo follows me to school sometimes and the Principal calls me to the office. They let me walk my cat home and come back. I am scared to go to the Principals’ office. Ronnie says there is a paddle there for the bad kids. He says it made him cry but I don’t believe that. Ronnie would never cry.

Crying is for sissies. We are not sissies. We are smart and fast on our bikes. My brother is going to fly planes someday and my sister is going to be a doctor. I want to be a Park Ranger but I don’t know how many smart points you need for that. I will have six kids, one more than Mamma. I will name the oldest girl Rosemary. We will live in a big house with no roaches and no plastic on the windows. We will have trees in the yard so strong that the storm can’t blow them down. My kids will all have their own socks and their own underwear and I will have a pretty car. Not green. I will have a swing on my porch. As soon as I can get three more smart points, I know I will get picked and I will be first.

The Bible says the last will be first and the first will be last and I don’t know what that means. Sunday School has pretty books and we sit on the front row where Mamma can hear the singing. The preacher makes me sleepy. I doodle my name and wonder what’s for lunch. My little brother has to go to the bathroom. He is always gone a long time. He comes back with flowers for Mamma. My shoes hurt my feet so I kick them off. Stockings make my feet smelly and slick. I rub them on the carpet and listen to songs that sound like hollering with smiles.

God is really big. Bigger than everything. Bigger than Ronnie. I ask God for three more points and a pretty lunchbox. God hears me. He hears everything. I do not try out my new word with God. I think maybe I won’t use the new word anymore. I don’t want God to get a shadow on his face like Mamma did.

Though this personal essay is based in truth, the names have been changed for obvious reasons. Thank you for reading.

Christina M. Ward is an award-winning prose writer and the author of a best selling collection of poetry; ORGANIC — FIDDLEHEADS & FLOSS VOL. 1.

You can follow her work or on social media at: Link Tree.

𝘐 𝘵𝘶𝘳𝘯𝘦𝘥 𝘮𝘺 𝘸𝘳𝘪𝘵𝘪𝘯𝘨 𝘱𝘢𝘴𝘴𝘪𝘰𝘯 𝘪𝘯𝘵𝘰 𝘢 𝘧𝘶𝘭𝘭-𝘵𝘪𝘮𝘦 𝘤𝘢𝘳𝘦𝘦𝘳. 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘳𝘰𝘢𝘥 𝘭𝘦𝘴𝘴 𝘵𝘳𝘢𝘷𝘦𝘭𝘦𝘥 𝘪𝘴 𝘮𝘺 𝘫𝘢𝘮.

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