Sticks and Stones

by Deborah Sale Butler

From our ‘Meet the neighbors’ series.

Nothing gets your attention like a rock being thrown at your head.

Devon was the kid next door, lanky for a four and a half-year-old, with lightly tanned skin, and white-blonde hair in a crew-cut, like his dad’s. I was just four, short for my age, with golden-blonde hair to the middle of my back, which my mom tried, unsuccessfully to work into braids each morning, and which, by day’s end, would be a loose, tangled mess. We were cute, we were almost the same age (Devon always reminded me that he was four and a HALF), we were next-door neighbors, so our parents expected us to be best friends.

In those days, we were allowed to walk to nursery school by ourselves, through my back yard, across the yard of the neighbor behind us, to the crossing guard in front of the school. We held hands to cross the street, once the crossing guard, Cookie Dare, said it was OK. Every day, Devon would say, in his best Southern drawl, “That Dare’s a COOKIE!” and we would giggle our way across the road. His hands were always a little sweaty and sticky with grape jelly from breakfast, and once he had a tight hold of my hand, he’d swing his arm as high as he could, pulling me off my feet a little, and he dragged me, bobbing, through the crosswalk.

The nursery school was a series of rooms in the First Presbyterian Church basement. Devon and I were in different classes, where we would sing our songs, eat the snacks our mothers packed, and take a nap on little throw rugs we brought from home. By four, I was long-past napping in the middle of the day, and I would spend the twenty-minute nap-time picking at the pink shag rug, until they told us it was time to get up. Preschool was only about three hours, but it was an eternity to a little girl who wanted to get home to play with her plastic horses.

On this particular day, the pull of my new, Breyer Collection horse was overwhelming. I knew I was supposed to wait for Devon, but I just had to get back to play with the tiny, black foal with delicate legs and splash of white on her forehead. She had a graceful, always prancing pose, and fit perfectly in the palm of my hand.

As soon as we were released, I ran from class to Cookie Dare. She asked where Devon was and I lied, telling her his mom had picked him up. For the first time, I crossed the street all by myself. I was feeling pretty slick about giving Devon the slip. He’d just want to play tag in the backyard, or climb the cherry tree again, and make me wait even LONGER to play with my new toy. Devon was always showing up, whether he was invited or not. He’d come over when we had the splash pool, or were riding trikes on the patio. Today, I just wanted to play by myself.

The neighbor’s yard, behind ours, was slightly elevated, braced by a loose, stone wall. I had just skipped past the wall, and was about to run home, when I felt the thud and then, something wet on my head. I touched the wet spot and withdrew a hand covered in blood. The scream was automatic, not from pain so much as shock. I turned to see Devon, seething with anger and panic. He clearly hadn’t thought this through. He wanted to let me know he was mad, but I’m guessing he hadn’t planned on the screaming. Devon glanced behind him, like he might run, but his feet seemed to be frozen to the wall, from which he’d just grabbed the stone. “I’M SORRY, I’M SORRY! ARE YOU OK?!”

“No I’m not OK! You threw a rock at my head!”

My mom was in the back yard now. I could hear the metal screen door slam as Devon’s mom dashed over to join her.

Devon and I were both crying now, and our mothers tried to tease the story out of us, between sobs. It would probably come as a shock to modern parents, but there were no accusations, no threats of lawsuits or punishments. After they put together what had happened, both of our mothers demanded that we apologize to each other.

We were four. Mistakes were made. I got stitches and I’m guessing he got a spanking from his ex-Marine dad. And that was the end of it.

The next day, we walked to school again. Devon was quiet as we climbed past the wall towards the crossing guard. I grabbed his sticky hand and said in MY best Southern drawl, “That Dare’s a COOKIE!” He smiled, and proceeded to swing me across the street.

Deborah Sale-Butler has lived in six cities where she was an animation voice actor, speech teacher, professional puppeteer and mom. She currently lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband, son, dog and cat-familiar.

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