Did you ever play dodgeball when you were a kid? One person would stand up against a wall -- in our case it was the side of our house next to the driveway -- while all the other kids lined up about 20 feet away.
The kids had tennis balls -- or sometimes the big kids would use basketballs -- and they would throw them at the person against the wall. If your ball hit him, you got a point. If you missed, the ball would ricochet against the wall and bounce back. Then you got another shot. But if the kid who was "it" caught the ball, then you were "it" -- and it was your turn to stand up against the wall to take your punishment.
One day we were playing against the side of the house, and I had scored lots of points and was in the lead. My sister Nancy was "it" and I got her several times in the stomach and chest and shoulder, and scored a number of points. But then she suddenly turned and caught my throw. So I had to take the wall.
I dodged a throw from Dennis Rawlings. He had a weak arm, and his throws were easy to avoid. I parried one throw after another from several kids, when suddenly there was an explosion in my face. Nancy had thrown a ball that smacked me in the nose. Nancy was two years older than me, and she did not have a weak arm. Blood spurted out. My knees gave way. And I slipped down the side of the wall.
Nancy ran over to me. My mom kind of relied on her to keep an eye out for me as we roamed around our neighborhood and played with kids on the street, so you can see why she might have been a little worried -- since she was the one who'd given me a bloody nose and put me to the ground.
"Lie down, Tom," she urged.
I didn't need any prompting. I was already most of the way down. So I lay my head back onto the driveway, crunching against the pebbles, and looked up at the pale blue sky. Nancy hastily scraped together a pile of pebbles and made a little pillow for my head.
Somebody went in the house and brought back a handful of paper towels. Nancy used the towels to try to stanch the flow of blood. It didn't work very well. Five or six kids hovered over me. They looked a little blurry to me, as they murmured about the blood and wondered if I was okay, and commented on the sticky liquid leaking down my face and dripping onto the driveway.
"Maybe I better go see if anyone's home," suggested Dennis Rawlings. His father was a doctor, and he often came to the rescue of the kids on the street. He had patched me up once when I was pretending to be a handyman, hammering a nail into a board, and on one overenthusiastic backswing had hit myself in the head with the claw of the hammer. And it was Dr. Rawlings who came to my rescue one evening when I ate a spoonful of dishwasher soap. My mother had left it on the kitchen counter. "Why did you eat it?" my mother had asked incredulously, after Dr. Rawlings had induced many rounds of vomiting. "I thought it was sugar." I'd shrugged.
But kneeling in our driveway, my sister didn't think it was a good idea to call Dr. Rawlings."Don't do that," she told Dennis. "Go in our kitchen and get some ice out of the freezer. That might help. I want to stop this bleeding before my mom gets home."
Dennis ran into the house as I lay there with blood oozing out of my nose. He came back with an ice tray. Nancy yanked the lever on the metal tray, crunched out some ice cubes and wrapped them in a fistful of paper towels. She held the ice up to my nose and told me I was going to be okay, as she urged me to please stop bleeding, and telling me that she didn't want Mom to find out about this.
I didn't know how I was supposed to follow her instructions. How do you try to stop bleeding? But I was hoping for the bleeding to stop, too, because soon the water from the melting ice was dribbling down my face and making me very uncomfortable, and my pebble pillow had gone from soft and warm to pointed and prickly.
Finally, I was able to stand up. Nancy kept the ice pack on my nose as she helped me stagger into the house and up the stairs. She brought me into the hall bathroom, closed the lid on the toilet, and sat me down. She tilted my head back. "Here, hold this," she said, taking my hand and placing it on the ice pack. "Just stay here for a few minutes. Don't get up."
She paused on her way out the door. "You'll be okay," she concluded. "And remember, Mom doesn't have to know about this, right?"
A few minutes later she came back to check on me. Mom had come home, she reported. I should just go into my room and lie down for a while. She had a damp cloth with her, and she wiped off my face, trying to be gentle about it so she wouldn't start the bleeding again. The cloth felt cool. I stood up and looked in the mirror. The blood was gone. But my face looked red and puffy.
"Stay up here for as long as you can, until Mom calls you for dinner," Nancy said. "And when you do come downstairs, pretend nothing happened."
Nancy left, and I sat back down, feeling sorry for myself. Eventually, I got up, wandered into my room and sat down on the bed. I picked up my teddy bear and held it for a while, staring a the Smokey the Bear sticker I had on my window. That made me feel better. Then I turned to the wall. I had a little project I was working on. I had a plaster wall, and I'd begun to scratch at it, digging into it with my finger. Once I'd broken through the paint and the outer skin of the plaster, the material was soft and crumbly. For some reason I found it very comforting to pick at the wall and feel the plaster give way, crumbling into a powder beneath my fingers. Over the months I'd hollowed out a hole about as big as my fist. My parents either never noticed the hole, or else they didn't really care, but whenever I couldn't sleep at night, or was sent to my room by my mother as punishment for some infraction, I went to work on my wall, scraping at the plaster, watching the powder tumble down the wall to the floor behind my bed.
That afternoon I scraped at one edge of the hole, widening the opening and smoothing out the sides. Finally, my mother called me. I got up and went down the hall and into the bathroom to give my face an inspection. It felt as though there was a big clot of blood inside my nose. I had to breathe through my mouth. But from the outside it didn't look too bad.
I went down the stairs and into the kitchen, trying to look casual. My mother glanced over at me in the doorway. "What happened to you?" she asked.
"You look terrible."
"I'm just tired."
She came over and inspected my face. "Did you get in a fight?" she queried.
"Are you sure about that?"
Then my mother went into the living room. I trailed behind her. Nancy was sitting on the sofa reading a book. "What happened to Tommy"? my mother wanted to know.
Nancy looked up from her book. She glanced at me, then turned and looked my mother straight in the eye. "He got in a fight with Dennis Rawlings," she finally said.
"What!" my mother cried.
"What!" I chorused.
"I tried to stop it," Nancy went on.
My mother wheeled around to me. "Tommy, go to your room!"
"Right now. Go to your room. Get upstairs."
I shot a hateful look at Nancy, then turned and started up to my room, where I went back to work on my plaster wall.