sticks and stones 2 copy

Readers Report Back From… Sticks and Stones

By

A collection of short pieces written by Rumpus readers pertaining to the subject of “Sticks and Stones.”

Edited by Susan Clements.

* * *

People I Have Hurt (a partial list):

Lisa G., who I was so madly in love with in kindergarten that I invited her to my birthday party, which involved He-Man, Transformers, Gobots, and twelve other boys who liked these things and called her stupid for not liking them, leading her to cry and play upstairs with my older sister for the remainder of the party while I ate cake and drank the red, good flavored Kool-Aid in heedless celebration.

Lindsey M., who I called a slut in 5th grade (before I knew what the word meant, why I was saying it, or what me saying it meant), and for which I have still not forgiven myself. In my defense, she had just told me that I had more chins than a Chinese phonebook and more rolls than a San Francisco bakery, which besides being vaguely racially insensitive was Totally Not True, but seemed really, really true to me for years. Hello, body dysmorphia! (Touché, Lindsey.)

Rusty R., who had flaming red hair and severe anxiety issues and was sent to school by his mother (on the advice of the school psychiatrist) with a box of #2 pencils to therapeutically break in half whilst sitting next to me in 7th grade math, and who in a moment of cruel, linguistic serendipity I dubbed a “psycho-spaz” in front of the whole class in a misguided (and predictably failed) effort to get him to stop. This name would haunt him for nearly a decade, which is both sad and a remarkable testament to effective branding.

And so many more, some that didn’t even hear what I said and so couldn’t really have been hurt, or heard but didn’t care, but since I was raised Catholic and am now in full confession mode I feel should be mentioned, if only obliquely. To all of you (and you and you), this little postcard of remorse . . .

– Alex Peterson

* * *

This is Herschel.

Herschel is an upright rhinoceros wearing an un-shirted dickey, suspenders, and broad striped tie, standing in front of a swing set at dusk. He moves rarely, maybe never. He watches what I say and what I do. He scoffs knowingly and regularly.

When I was little, I opened my aunt’s present because I couldn’t read cursive. I pretended to really like the salad bowl, and he said, “Oh my God. Oh my GOD, that’s hilarious. Hey Pete! Hey Pete! She thought the salad bowl was for her. GAHD, that’s rich.“

Another time, I wore the wrong thing for just walking around the lake, and he said, “Why are you so dressed up? Who do you think you are? The Queen of Important Land? We both know that can’t be true. Because you like poetry. I mean, poetry, am I right? Change your outfit.”

Herschel told me I was selfish for loving art. Herschel loves repeatable skill work and on-the-job training.

One time, I opened my heart to someone, and he said, “Really?” I didn’t say anything. “Really? You’re gonna go and do that? Out here in broad dusk light, at the playground? You’re just a kid. A kid at the playground. Even though you’re in your mid-twenties, and you’re not always at the playground, like I am. So what? Every time you make anything resembling a misstep, I bring you back here. I laugh in one low huff the moment you arrive. You land face first in sand. Sometimes the huff is so low you can’t hear it, but you can assume.”

Herschel is never invited to hang out, but he shows up. I don’t like him much. But he’s so freaking tall.

– Laura Burns

* * *

I bet she found my letter immediately. Maybe she shrugged it off, remembering your stories about how crazy I am. Or maybe she really wanted to prove me wrong. For whatever reason, it took her months to break your heart. I wish I had been there, narrowing my eyes to capture the precise moment when your facial expression betrayed your emotions. Your beautiful mouth would fall slack, your chest sagging with the weight of the news. I would breathe in deeply, hoping to taste that disappointment as it seeped out of you in slow motion. Would you look at me as your heart ripped apart, accusing me with those eyes I’d trusted so many times? Would you ask me why I did it?

Maybe she didn’t cite my letter as the impetus for her decision. Maybe she tried to make you believe she’d had her doubts about you all along, like she wasn’t absolutely head-over-heels in love with you from the first time she ever watched you walk across a room. She might have listed all those quirks of yours—the ones that had endeared her from the start—as annoying traits that were all but deal-breakers for her.

You might’ve called her names in your immediate shock, rattling off descriptive terms that were way off base. You’d thought she was the most amazing woman, I remember you telling me. But in your stuttering defense, you probably used adjectives that bore no resemblance to her personality or her actions. You were thrashing to stay afloat, and insults were all you could think of. After a string of these, maybe she shrugged and said with a smirk, sticks and stones, just as you had said to me. Sticks and stones, you always reminded me, were things you never used. I’ve never hit you, you said. I’ve never raised my hand at you. But you did tell me that the reason you wouldn’t help me support our unborn child was that I would probably turn out to be a terrible mother, based on how I was raised. Those sticks and stones that had bruised me in my formative years would develop into my own abusive parenting.

I sit here now, smoothing my hand over my belly, and imagine your terror as she told you. I wonder at how she could possibly have wielded such a crippling blow. After all, they’re only words.

– Shannon Bates

***

I began to write something for this Readers Report on Monday, when I first heard about the new theme.  It was about a bully I knew.

I wrote more on Tuesday and started to think, well, maybe this wasn’t such a good idea. I told my boyfriend I didn’t think I could do a story about an estranged relative, in case the relative found it on The Rumpus. Submitting it for publication felt too risky.

“He reads The Rumpus?” my boyfriend said.

“Well, no,” I said. “I dunno. It’s stupid.”

On Wednesday I wrote a little more. I would send it in anyway, under a pen name.
Today—Thursday—I have typed it all out and once again, I am afraid to send in the personal condemnation of a man who has controlled our family for decades. Held us in cryogenic thrall, afraid to disagree with him in case we set him off. What if he sees this essay? What if my mother, or her siblings, finds it (somehow) and they get upset too? I keep envisioning that in some primeval way he’ll become aware of its existence and roar back into our lives. Once you put something out there, it’s always out there.

In the original essay I compared him to a gunman. The (touchy, insensitive) comparison came out of nowhere and it still shocks me. But I can see him doing something horrible. I can imagine him snapping one day, maybe at a woman, and people will wonder what did it. Maybe he will be drunk.

At any rate, I can’t send the original. The writing in that Readers’ Report essay is weak, inadequate; it doesn’t capture the fear, the hives, the compulsive rehashing of whatever incident or conversation that had taken place days before. The idea that though he’s never physically hurt you, he could. He’s only screamed profanities over the phone or lied or used you as chess pawns. Never anything physically violent, but you wait for it. Or for destruction in other ways: stealing or freezing your accounts or cutting you off from the family or, I don’t know. I can’t even think what else. It’s stupid.

Except it’s not stupid, really. This is the point of bullying, no? The intimidation? The feeling that whatever power you might have had—to speak, to write, to act—it’s all in his hands?

– Ellen Caraway

* * *

An open letter to creative types using sheep in performance art, riots
By Mopple the Shetland-Chaviot

I can’t say that I didn’t see this coming. When several of my brethren were photographed au nature for A Magazine #9 in our pen in Sandisfield, I told everyone on the farm: it’s the beginning of the end.

It’s not like we suddenly just burst forth into existence. Anyone around here would tell you I’m pretty happy-go-lucky, but if my comrades here will forgive the expression, it really gets my goat when you all seize on something that’s been out there for centuries, quietly doing its thing and brand it the next best thing in awesome. Tacos? Vintage tin toys? Italian bitters? Been there, done that, homey. Like, 7 years ago.

But that’s cool. I’m glad we’re getting coverage. For a while there, I thought it was going to be all about the Jersey Cows what with the raw milk craze. And then a whole bunch of you started moving to the Catskills to make your own freaking sausage and what not. You want hard work? Come out here and grab a pair of shears. I’ve got knots in my wool that would make you lose your mind.

Listen. All I’m trying to say is that we’re not a flash in your fancy pan. Us sheep have served a useful and noble purpose since time immemorial. (Just ask Jesus Christ!) It makes perfect sense that you’re finally making use of our immeasurable talents. Do a couple of sheep look crazy good on the FW12 runway? Check. Do they startle and inspire when happened upon suddenly in the middle of a public square? Double check. Do they simultaneously intimidate and soothe when alluded to in design? Check to the mother freaking check, mate.

But we’re all good, you know. You can keep using us in your creative “happenings.” All I’m saying is that you did not discover us. We were here first! Bah bah.

– Courtney Maum

* * *

The nurse’s voice is stern this time, the lines of compassion slowly trickling out every time I waddle through her door holding a paper towel or a jacket over my privates.

I’m supposed to feel ashamed, or embarrassed.

She goes into her nurse restroom to set up. The whole bathroom is salmon tile and small apparatuses that seem silly to me even though they are size appropriate.

I don’t wait for her to finish; I start undressing in front of her desk. There’s a boy laying on a cot, hidden by a curtain, probably complained of a headache to get out of class. I shake my head, baffled by his disrespect.

From the waist down I am now naked, holding my spotted jeans and underwear. The goop on my thighs and genitals grows cold, exposed to the air, as a little bit continues to run. Noises from the hall drift in through the open door and I stiffen, dreading but hoping that someone should see me. I imagine a class walking by and a teacher crying out, but I would smile, her distress and the kid’s laughter my own revenge.

I’m an innocent girl; I don’t know any better. I am not yet awakened.

Until last month I used to just pee my pants. I couldn’t help it, I laughed too hard, I had too much fun. Quickly that laughter turned to tears, my shame hidden behind my monster’s hair as “pee pants” from all corners of the playground.

But now I have something more, something that I won’t be embarrassed for, because it’s not my fault. It is not my fault that by the age of ten I know how to spread myself for a tampon  The doctor insisted I wear what he and my mom call “pads,” but I refuse to wear a diaper like a crying infant.

My mother says it means I am a woman now, and I am proud of it as the nurse’s face turns to horror at the sight of blood running from my hairless organ. She wants me to hide myself, and now the boy behind the curtain is looking as she runs for the towel. But it is natural, and it’s not my fault and I know I won’t be teased for it. I know I can’t be hated for it.

– Kylie Chi

* * *

The notion that names can never hurt you might be true. Actions after all do speak louder than words. Breaking plates whether from anger or celebration, ensuing tears or laughter quickly follow. Gunfire in reverence or self-defense, providing closure or self-preservation. And of course not all actions make a sound. A hug, a hit, a slug or a tug. We don’t really need words to convey our sense of presence or place. They do help though. Some times more than we’d like.

“You’ve ruined my life!” she screamed at me, hurling her house keys from her front step as I slowly drove away. No insults, no belittling. Just going with public outcry of opinion sprinkled with some quick key play. I didn’t ruin her life, and she didn’t ruin her life; her life wasn’t ruined. She was afraid to become someone I wanted her to be, and when we find we can’t change people and things aren’t a good fit, it’s time to move on. So I did. And maybe she did too. Love is never uncomplicated.

Save the name calling for the bad drivers of the world. In the meantime, be nice or leave (words optional).

– Jean-Paul Villere

* * *

Sticks and stones. So many objects thrown at another for a reason. If the aim is correct, or close to the intended mark, no other words may be said to feel the effects. Pain, shame, confusion, and humiliation. But there are always words that follow. These are the salt crystals prepared to keep the wound open. It has been said that these words will never hurt you.  Some may feel it or be numb to the sound. The words reflect the same.

Who made up the rhyme and taught it to children? An adult. Did the adult know or remember what the feeling truly meant, the action of being struck, broken to the bone? Or is this just to divert the pain? Being an adult now, remembering my childhood, comparing various sticks and stones versus the voice given to words that was said could never hurt, did indeed give pain. You can see and witness the damage of sticks and stones, but not of the words. The biting sting traveling on a sound wave. This echoes through generations. I see this within my own bloodline.

I’ve become jaded of the world. And still remain hopeful. There will be another use for sticks and stones and the words will be used to heal what had been done. The rhyme not having to be repeated as a reminder. My heart sees another way.

– Dawn Lewis

* * *

She sticks one foot in front of the other. One foot in front of the other. She breathes in, she breathes out. She turns off her phone. He is a word in her mouth, and he is too heavy right now. She has too much to say. She doesn’t want to say it anyway. We are a mouthy youth. Quick to snap, update status, tweet and retreat. But the words don’t speak. She has a tendency to feel everything in nothing, and she knows she is unnerved like a black lemon. He said once, “When you look back, remember the belly laughs.” He fell down a staircase once and had to wear a cast for six weeks on his left leg. He sat on his couch most nights alone, a single malt in hand bathing in whiskey stones. “That’s what sucks, ya know?” In her head she reminds herself words don’t carry as much meaning as we believe. In her head she reminds herself she worries too much. In her head she screams, but she knows that thinking and speaking are the vehicles of our actions, and the actions matter. She’s not ready to jump into a raging Jaguar, so she sticks one foot in front of the other. One foot in front of the other. She breathes in, she breathes out. She turns on her phone and she knows what vehicle to take now.

She calls him. “Can I come over? I just need a hug.”

– Kristen Kramer

* * *

My grandmother gave her children tattered, tenacious love, but those were the years when my grandfather and the angry bottle filled the house with monsters. Her son forgave her for staying; her daughter never did, and mother-ghosts follow a woman like lambs a shepherd.

I came home one day from school (fifth grade?). My mother lay on the couch and pressed a bag of frozen corn to one eye. My rosebudded ceramic tea set lay in splinters. My father was nowhere. Nothing like this had happened before: Two fat suitcases stood, loyal patient packmules by the front door.

Where’s Daddy?

Cassie never mind.

Why are there suitcases? Where are we going?

I am not my mother’s daughter.

We pulled into my grandmother’s drive. I thought that meant escape, but in the laminate-countered kitchen, my mother screamed like a bleeding thing. She pointed to her red-hot swollen eye, she squeezed the fat flesh of her upper arm in my grandmother’s face, so her old pale mountain-range scar bleached glacier-white. Your fault, your fault, fuck you!

My grandmother marblestoned. Expressionless, her fortitude strengthened my mother’s zeal. It’s happening to your granddaughter, it’s your fucking fault your shitting fucking fault! I crouched inside a cabinet like I was five, not ten, baking dishes gouging my backside SHATTER a flowerpot. Velvet petunias mingled on the fake linoleum with dirt and ceramic splinters. They looked like slaughtered children. The way the tea set of my childhood exploded on the floor.

I catapulted out, hurling fists and a manic burning from my belly, a girl-rage tidal wave, Fuck you fuck you both!

The words tasted of blood-salt and sounded like switchblades, deadlier than on my mother’s tongue. The way my grandmother’s mouth collapsed on itself, like a caving cliff, at my words but not fists—my anger was power, and I made it bad.

The world went silent but for the ringing in my ears. My mother said, It’s time to go.

A week later we called from a dingy motel. My mother locked herself and her cell in the bathroom, talking so low I couldn’t hear even though I chased the blood from my ear from pressing so hard against the door.

My mother opened it and I toppled forward over her feet. I stared at her shoes, I almost kissed them.

Your grandmother wants to say hello.

I snatched the phone like candy thrown from a parade-float princess. Hi Grandma.

“Cassie,” she said. My name to her was cinnamon-sugar. “I’m so lonesome for you.”

– Kate Moening

***

By the time my brother was seven, he had already broken all of his fingers. Some of them several times. Half of them were broken by me. Sticks and stones can break bones, and also feet in light-up shoes. His fingers are all healed now, and possibly arthritic, although he is only seventeen. Still, he manages to play the piano better than I ever have. (I decided quite some time ago that I wouldn’t beat the shit out of him anymore, and haven’t in years. He has yet to thank me.)

Sometimes, I think the world would be a much better place if grown-ups didn’t all pretend to be non-violent pacifistic Buddhas all the time. Or was that Gandhi? I haven’t taken a history class since high school . . . but I digress. Sometimes, I think we would all be much happier if we every now and then decided to slap the shit out of some motherfucker. None of this “talk it out” nonsense. No more of this “keep your feelings in your diary” crap. I’m talking about some skin hitting skin, fingers feeling hot as they stretch out across a deserving face. Action that will keep everyone on their proverbial toes. You know? Breaking out the sticks and stones, and steering just clear of snapping bones.

And please, don’t get me wrong. I swear I’m not a sadist. It’s just that I remember what it was like to be the kid who got beaten up. I remember being kicked until I was lying on the floor and looking up at the pink tiled walls and bottoms of sinks. My hair was pulled and my face spit on. Girls pressed the heels of their shoes into my skin. All the while, I was just thinking: This really isn’t so bad, not even if some of my bones do break. At the first sign of blood, they’ll probably give up. And when they did, I walked away with a story to tell and a big black eye for show.

I also remember what it was like when a boy I thought I might love touched me on the shoulder and said that he saw me as just a friend. I held back my adolescent tears and walked away silently, but this never really became a story. (It isn’t even much of one now.)

I still wish he had punched me in the gut instead.

– Serena Candelaria

* * *

Love makes you do all kinds of things. Some of those things are dumb. Of course. Like when I was in love with this girl named Kirby Mulligan. One time we got in this fight. And she threw a dozen Krispy Kreme maple bars right out the window of my car while we’re driving on the freeway. I pulled off on the side of the freeway. She cried. I was hungry for doughnuts. Love makes you act stupid. Like when I was dating this girl Jonsy Carew. She flipped out. We’re sitting Indian style on my carpet and eating BLTs, and she starts screaming, “I have moo disease! Listen. My mouth keeps mooing. I can’t help it. Moo! Moo! See?” And she kept on mooing like that. She didn’t finish her sandwich, so I ate it. I’ve done crazy things while in love, too. When I was dating Leticia Gerber, I made up a new language for us to speak in. I told her we would be its only two native speakers. She broke up with me on the spot. Another time, when Farah Mountebank and I were seeing each other semi-casually, I jumped on the hood of her car while she was trying to back out of a parking spot at Rite-Aid, and I jumped up and down screaming, “Reno! Reno! Reno!” until she hit the gas and sped off, and I fell off the hood and onto the concrete. That was about as fun as when my prom date Cyndie Clyde dumped a whole pitcher of water on my bed. Then there was Rhonda Longfellow, who went to live in Ireland for 6 months, and when she came back she had an Irish brogue. She said she’d just picked it up. I told her you don’t pick up an accent in 6 months. She took all the spark plugs out of my car and keyed “Dick Licker” into the hood. Then. Oh. There was this girl Niki Rose. She threw a rock through my bedroom window from the street. Lucky for me it was open. Unlucky for me I was standing near my window. Got plunked on the head. Had a headache for a week. And don’t even get me started on the toaster-thrower Evelyn Masterson. Well, I guess that’s love. Call me any name in the book, just leave the toaster out of it.
– Davy Carren

* * *

Honest mistake, Mandy knew. Paper is paper, and all those documents look the same from the back. Mrs. Southerlin would be mortified if she realized what she’d done, handing this over at the end of the parent-teacher conference.

Mandy was glad she hadn’t noticed it before. She always saved reading the paperwork for the end of the day. A glass of Pinot made easier work of slogging through the sheaf of updates on every child’s peculiarities—Katelynn’s new nut allergy protocol, Christian’s ADHD medication change, the latest list of textures that set off Olivia’s sensory storms— and one mislaid Teacher Evaluation Form.

Now that she was at home, Mandy couldn’t simply hand it back. You don’t not look at something like this once you have it, she reasoned. Though it wouldn’t be good, she was sure, what this parent had to say, she wanted to see it nonetheless. Maybe the foot-rub in progress at the other end of the sofa would take the sting out of reading it now.

“Listen to this,” she read aloud.

Instructions: Please share your feedback about your child’s teacher, so that we may help him or her continue to develop the skills that reflect our School’s commitment to excellence! Candid input encouraged. Return this confidential form to the box marked EVALS outside the principal’s office.

Parent filling out form: Janice Southerlin

Teacher: Mandy Marcus

Feedback: Ms. Marcus seems like a nice girl, but I have doubts about whether teaching is really a “fit” for her. Jackson reported last month that she often lets the children watch rated-PG movies in the classroom. My husband Brian and I do not allow this at home, much less at school where we expect Jackson to be “educated.” Also, Ms. Marcus needs to remember that this is a school, not a bar. The tops she wears on a regular basis are WAY too “low-cut” for daytime. Brian and I would like to see Ms. Marcus “grow up” and show the kind of maturity that her job requires.

“Nice use of quotation marks,” Mandy said, holding the form up for him to see.

“I told you,” Brian said, pressing his thumb into the ball of her foot. “She’s nuts.”

– Mary Laura Philpott

* * *

When we drank back then, we drank for keeps. Bar by bar, shot by shot, we said who can get the most drinks tonight? Who can kiss the most boys? We drank until we liked ourselves, drank until our mouths went numb, until it didn’t matter how much they hurt us. We drank and we danced until we bumped into new guys who made us forget about the old guys. From the bars, we went to the after-hours clubs, and from the after-hours clubs, we went to houses. Any house. A house with guys. If we knew them, great. If we didn’t, even better.

We’d go home to our dorm rooms, our beds flat on the ground or bunked. And someone said, this is crazy, this is unreasonable for us to sleep on beds like this, normal beds with normal limits. We knew a girl with a truck, and we went to the building supply store, the one you can see from the highway right behind the train tracks. Over the noise, a bunch of us college girls asked the lumberyard men for forty cinderblocks. We smiled to ourselves. We giggled. We were badasses. Over the course of a night, we brought the blocks up the stairs—three flights of them—and stacked them until we raised the beds, going up as high as we could go. We were nineteen and stability felt like misfortune.

After one unsteady night, a night like a sinking ship, we looked at each other and said the cinderblocks had to go. Our feet no longer touched the ground. Our faces were too close to the ceiling. In the morning, we hauled the cinderblocks back down the three flights of stairs. Block by block, piece by piece, dismantling the hasty decision made the night before, pretending like the pain in our bodies might go away someday.

– Stephanie Austin

* * *

“Go kick rocks” was the first thing she ever said to me. We were six. But after years of bruised knees and trips to the corner store, at nine, and like any good girl, I had forgotten all about it. We callowly played in the dusty playground that housed not much more than two swings and an itty-bitty slide that even toddlers wouldn’t find thrilling.

But there were rocks. Rocks that looked like they had been farmed in a factory, and likely, they had. With them, we played war and space invaders and built castles in the sky. We managed to find the hard-to-come-by gems within the horde and wrapped them in hot dog napkins to save for always.

In those days, our fecund imaginations had no limits, but apparently childhood fades. Rocks, too, take on different meanings—diamonds, drugs, difficulties.

At twenty, when we were both home from college for the summer, we met again in the playground. The rocks had lost their sense of leisure, and instead, felt heavy under my feet. I got there a few minutes earlier than her but when she walked through, head to the ground, the rocks—typically enough—felt like quicksand.

We sat down together and she talked vehemently about the courses she was taking—Cold War Politics, Pop Music after 1945, and Moral Philosophy. I mostly listened. Or tried.

And I tried to tell her about my nightmares, the violent ones. Where I get caught in Hurricane Katrina-esque storms and never recover. The ones where everyone I’ve ever known pushes me down a well and chants epithets. Or the most recurring one: I’m having the time of my life sandboarding, of all things, and I don’t even notice I’ve lost all my friends. When I do, I barely care because it’s just easier that way. But then I over-jump and all of a sudden I’m up in the trees (there were forests in this desert, my desert), unable to move and then I black out. I wake up and my body aches and aches like I’ve been beaten for a lifetime.

She got up from the bench and began to uneasily kick the rocks around her feet. I had nothing left to say and so she left. I quickly climbed up the ladder to the top of the slide and then wispily threw up and watched it trickled down.

– Tiana Reid

 * * *

I devoted a chunk of eighth grade to guessing what “sixty-nine” meant. I hadn’t yet recovered from finding out that oral sex didn’t mean talking about sex.

“Are you sure?” I’d asked my friend Tammy as she laughed into her hands. Apparently, I was the last to know about this.

So, when Scott stood over my desk in English class so that his gold chain hung close to my nose, I pretended to understand him.

“Hey, Kerry Headley? You live up to your name?”

I rolled my eyes and said nothing. He sauntered back to his seat, a cologne-drenched smile.

I searched my mind’s vocabulary list for answers. I had nothing. But the way Scott leaned in close, like he had a secret, unnerved me. I felt like he’d seen up my skirt, so far up that he’d seen my cotton panties and knew that they were yellow. I told myself that Scott would find another target if I ignored him.

But my name contained many built-in jokes.

“Hey, Headshot,” he said to me in the cafeteria, causing his friends to erupt in horselaughs. Even some of the girls laughed.

I ruled out asking my mother. Months earlier, she’d lied to me when I’d asked her what a hickey was. “You mean like a doo-hickey? It’s like a thing-a-ma-jig.” Then, after a strained silence, she asked me why I wanted to know.

“Everyone is saying that Monica Morello has one between her boobs.”

Later, I found two books my mother had left on my bed. One explained the facts about reproduction. The other was a preteen Christian novel.

“Hey, Kerry-Give-Me-Headley!” It was Scott, stepping out from his tribe of feral boys in the hallway. I kept walking. “Hey, Headshot!”

By now, the joke followed me throughout Lincoln Junior High. It had the potential to follow me into ninth grade. No way, I thought.

Risking revealing my ignorance, I turned, shaking, but ready to fight.

“What’s your problem?” I said.

Scott turned his head to the side like a hyena. He said, “What I want to know is, do you live up to your name?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know?”

The words came out with more confidence than I felt. I still didn’t know what Scott was talking about. Nevertheless, something distinctly female hatched as I stood there. And now Scott blushed.

Eventually, I lived up to my name.

– Kerry Headley

* * *

In the third or fourth grade I chose to side with the romantics and began to form attachments to inanimate objects. It was sentimentality mostly. I would see parts of branches and stones that stood out for me because of some odd deformity or distinction. I began to feel sorry for them, seeing them everyday alone on the playground. Sometimes they were simply kicked aside or thrown at little kids by other little kids. These bits of nature needed my help and so I began my clandestine operation: I smuggled them indoors to the warmth and safety of my own private school desk.

It seems to verge on antiquity, those school desks we had. They were the kind that had the flip top. You opened your desk top to get at whatever you needed inside. Soon I had a modest collection of bramble and brush. Every time I lifted my desk lid I found myself in my personal Yellowstone Park. I wondered how long I could get away with it.

I knew this was weird. I had no precedents for my hoarding hobby. Why couldn’t I have a neat desk like Meg Kahrl in row 3?

At some point my desk reached peak capacity and I had to keep my supplies on top. My inner desk  resembled one of those window exhibits I would see years later at the Natural History Museum in New York City.

No one seemed to care about my reserve. I was alone in my world. Or so I thought.

One day I opened my desk to discover some new additions. Inside were tiny figurines, little pioneer men and women living happily in my secret (or not so secret) desk wilderness. Where did they come from? I sized up my compatriots. None seemed accomplished enough to to participate in my nature installation. I was a little uneasy having an unknown co-conspirator but I liked the little people. I gave them names and moved them around.

In early May I prepared to pack up and take them all home but when I arrived one morning my desk was empty. Cleaned out. I suspected Mr. Bugsbee, the janitor. I was crushed. It was my first lesson in letting go. I hope my settlement found a nice home wherever they went. Next fall I began reconstruction.

– David Breithaupt

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Rumpus original art by Christina Weidman.