Created by Saleha Ranjha
If I squint, I’m at the playground in first grade.
Kids try tricks on the monkey bars, arms and faces contorted in confusion.
Others leap between rocks, teetering, barely escaping the fiery lava imagined to be bubbling and gurgling below their sneakers. They’re safe as someone yells, “Grounders!”
Recess time is limited, but that doesn’t stop anyone from drawing a neon-bright line of division.
The boys claim the rock-climbing wall on one side, while the girls return to the woodchip cake station on the other. They later agree to bear each others’ cooties, to coordinate turns on the monkey bars.
The line-up is as follows: Boy Boy Girl. Girl Boy. Boy Boy Girl Girl Girl.
If I squint, I see Ibrahim, Boy 1, on the bars, trying a flip that almost costs him his arm. Then, Alexandra, Girl, completes an elaborate trick. We get halfway through before the bell rings.
During afternoon recess, it’s my turn on the monkey bars. Stepping outside, the imaginary line of division is drawn again.
Squinting isn’t enough to make the line disappear. Looking towards it is like looking at the sun without my Lilo & Stitch themed shades.
Sitting in my room, twelve years later, I squint my eyes.
If I squint, I can blur my reality and surrounding possessions into unintelligible blobs. I can pretend it didn’t happen.
When we talked about what he did to me, I saw myself at the playground. This time, he was there, on the other side of the line. He was Boy 1. I was Girl, any one that followed him in line.
I asked him to try to understand me, to be a human and not a man, when I said:
Can I go home?
I need to go home
Maybe we should we stop
Can we stop now?
He was too far across the line to understand. So for support, I lean on the girls I make woodchip cakes with; play Grounders with; wait extra-long to try flips on the monkey bars with.
Some boys linger on the edges of the neon line, wanting to play all together. I yell at them to cross over, and they do. We make woodchip cakes, race on the rock-climbing wall, and play Grounders with glee.
They often look past the line, where the other boys fool around. It is there, with them, where the sweet boys who listened and sympathized ultimately return.
The woodchip cake girls give me so much love. But I wish the boys would knock down the inane line once and for all.
If they stopped caring about cooties, the sweet boys wouldn’t struggle to play with us, to say and do the right thing.
I wouldn’t squint to blur reality. I wouldn’t need my Lilo & Stitch shades every time I swiveled my head towards the line. I wouldn’t feel subdued, subordinated, subliminal, submerged within the lava.
It’d be nice to win a game of Grounders one day. With my eyes wide open and alert.
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