It was a Saturday. I was dragged to my brother’s tee ball game. I took refuge on the playground with my best friend Megan. I could not handle another five year old tapping the ball, letting it dribble off the tee and barely clear home base or just miss the ball completely. We were on the swings. The ground was covered in millions of pieces of gravel. I absent-mindedly kicked them with my dangling feet unaware of how if it was asphalt, maybe this would have gone differently. Then again it could have been worse that way. Asphalt tends to come off in chunks on the edges.
What did we talk about at nine years old? What was on the forefront on our minds?
“I got some new earrings at Claire’s last night,” Megan said pointing to her earlobes.
“Cool. Orange cats,” I commented.
I imagine it was something like that.
I heard the sound of a gravel hitting gravel in front of me. Megan and I looked up to see a boy, younger than us, hanging on the domelike jungle gym. He tossed bits of gravel at us. His face was blank. It didn’t seem too malicious. Just your garden variety rock tossing. Megan and I ignored him and resumed our cat and saturday morning cartoon banter. The boy started throwing the rocks into the air above his head. When they landed it sounded like hail.
I remember thinking, “He’s going to hurt himself.”
Seconds later, he abruptly ran away.
“Do you want to see Splash?” Megan asked me. “My mom and dad have the video at home.”
“Really? The mermaid movie? Okay.” My stomach fluttered. I was pretty sure that was rated R.
“Which one?!? Tell me which one!” I heard an angry woman’s voice yell.
Megan and I looked to our left. Storming toward us was a beet red woman. The jungle gym boy trailed behind her. We froze. I tried to steady my swing with my foot, but my legs were too short and the gravel was slippery.
The woman stopped in front of us breathing heavily. “Come here,” she said to the boy. The boy stood next to her. “Tell me.” She said to him.
He looked at both Megan and I, deciding. His eyes landed on me. “Her, mom,” he said pointing at me.
My heart was pounding. The boy’s mother pulled his lip down and showed me the blood. “Where are your parents?” she growled.
I looked into this kid’s eyes, but he betrayed nothing.
I couldn’t speak. I had no idea what to do. I could only hear Megan’s breathing. She sounded like she was just getting over a cold. I subconsciously looked over to the field my brother was playing on and without warning, this woman, this stranger, grabbed my arm so hard I thought she might have pulled it out of it’s socket and dragged me off the playground in the general direction of the baseball field. Megan followed behind along with the boy. Why did he say that? I was terrified. She pulled me harder so I would keep up with her pace. No one had ever treated me this way before. I was so scared I would be in trouble. I felt completely powerless. This was new. I’d gotten in trouble plenty of times, but never something I hadn’t done. My parents wouldn’t believe me. I had no idea how to handle myself. The walk seemed to be miles. At the most it had to have only been a block or so. I began questioning my own memory. Maybe I did do it. Did I? I was going to be in so much trouble. I was never going to get to see Splash. Could she call the cops on me? She never let go of my arm. She held me so tightly I thought I’d have bruises. I don’t remember my feet moving. I couldn’t feel them.
She said nothing to me as we walked. My parents came into view. They were cheering. Maybe my brother’s loser team was on the upswing. My dad glanced my way and the smile fell from his face. “Beth?” This was it. I was in trouble.
Then the woman started screaming, “Your kid threw rocks at my Bobby! Look at what she did!” Bobby, the stupid fucker, showed him his lip. “She could have killed him!” The woman started to speak again, but my dad interrupted her.
“Get your hands off my daughter,” he said in a tone I had never heard before.
It seemed for an instant that she had forgotten she was holding my arm. She let go suddenly. My dad pulled me over to him protectively. I couldn’t speak. I was shaking.
“She didn’t do anything,” Megan said breaking the silence. “The kid is lying.”
My dad looked at me. I nodded. He then looked at the woman. He didn’t need to say anything. The truth hovered in the air, undeniable. She walked away with her lying son in a huff. I realized I was holding my breath. When I let it out, I cried.
My best friend had my back. That was no surprise. That was in the job description. But my dad had my back too. Maybe that shouldn’t have been a surprise. But it was. If adults say something it must be true. That was what I had always believed. But my dad knew the truth when he saw it. To see an adult really get it wrong, was astounding to me. But to see my dad get it really right, now as a soon to be cynical teenager, that was the miracle.