Donna D. Vittucci
Once a neighbor teen strung me up, noosed rope from a tire swing around my shoulder and tightened, me a small fry girl a human tire swing. When you hang, by armpit or neck, the rope burns, skin wilts.
I screamed. I didn’t want to. I didn’t want to tell on him, I didn’t want to admit he hurt me, didn’t want to exhibit helplessness, didn’t want to ask for mercy. Boys punish girls all the time. Shortest or second shortest in the class, you get used to being picked last, picked over, picked on.
Did I say I was pestering him, that I egged him on?
His little sister and I sat in the summer grass and dredged it, pulled it by handfuls, whatever we could grasp out of the ground. It was dry; it gave up easy. The teenage brother was pretending to sleep on the bench part of the picnic table. We relaxed in the shade of the sprawling tree at the top of our sledding hill, where our families’ properties lapped against each other. Here, there, ours, theirs, get out, cross over, we were gripped by ownership and the enforcement that came with our family legacies. Get off my property. I’m calling my dad!
This day was truce. This day we mingled and it didn’t matter whose. His sister and I were bored. He was bored. Summer does that—it bores. You could only stand so much summer before popping off. You could say we were firecrackers in that way; or snakes. You know those little black snakes? They look like a black flat pill, a three-D polka dot or a marker for a board game. Set a match to it and it bubbles up into a snake. And then the wind blows the ash away. Maybe a burnt mark left in the sidewalk.
The teenager dozed, or at least he lay with shut eyes. His sister and I rippled with held back laughter, the grass overflowing our grips. We kept tossing it on his face, in his hair, on his head. Of course he said quit, he said stop, brushed us and the grass away from him, settled in with his arms crossed on his chest, ducked into his pretend-nap, and we kept pestering, we wanted to make something happen.
Did I say we were small? Like a school bag, you could hoist me with one arm, I could ride a big-enough-boy’s shoulder. I maybe envied when his little sister rode like a monkey on his back.
There was a third or fourth time when he yelled Cut it out!, and brushed off and settled in, but by then we couldn’t quit, didn’t know how, how would quitting look, and what would we do with the remaining boring summer day? His sister threw an equal amount of grass as I threw, an equal amount of times.
But he didn’t take his sister, he took me.
Why does this story still stick with me?
He might have been complicit in it. He stayed, taking, accepting, waiting to strike back, the ogre stomping the field, peasants and all.
About this movie in my head, it was a silent one. I never yelled Stop, quit, let me go. He didn’t say Shut up or I’ve got you now, or You were asking for this weren’t you? His sister didn’t defend me or cry out or try to rescue or run for help. She didn’t say, Steve, stop!
I hung from the tree by a rope. I burned. I stretched. And then I was on the ground so he must have lifted me and untied me. Who knows? My mind fastened instead on the seconds I hung, rope and gravity, me caught between the earth’s mild turning and sky, me swirling one-armed, thirsty, swaying, burning off my piety. Arms, undressed all the hot summer long, turned brown in the sun, and imaginary snakes blew off into ash.