Come Play With Me-1-I hated Dallas. It was enormous, even in the 1960’s, claustrophobic, hot and sprawled like a concrete octopus across the prairie. Before my family and I moved to that short stay in the old Brownstone apartment complex, we lived in Foyil, Oklahoma, and I attended Bushy Head Elementary. It broke my heart to have to leave the little red house my father built, and even more painful to say goodbye to my two dearest friends, Donna and Pam. I kept a photograph that was taken on the last day of school, the three of us, arms around each others shoulders, grinning like the world would never end and we’d be friends forever. The world almost did end in 1964 but we didn’t know it, and our friendship vanished along with the tall green forests of Northern Oklahoma. Now, I was interred on the hot tired, restless city on the prairie. It wouldn’t be until a year later when a government-sanctified abduction would take place, leaving my brothers and I in the hands of well meaning but stupid foster parents. It wasn’t until I was in college thirty years later that I found out this happened to a tremendous number of people of Native or Native decent. I was placed in the system, where I was properly Christianized, Caucasianized and damned lucky I wasn’t sterilized in the process. If I had been a few years older, that probably would have happened too. But I digress. But for now it’s 1966, and life is reasonably well, with the exception of the move. Daddy hadn’t had his accident yet, and Mama hadn’t come down with the cancer that literally ate her alive, white people hadn’t carried us off and divided us up like puppies, and the world’s evil was carefully contained in a box in our living room, along with the Huntley Brinkley News.One of the few good things about the move it was that we lived only a few blocks away from my Aunt Willene and Uncle James’s house on Kimberly Lane. My brother and I spent time exploring the abandoned two-story house next-door, and slurping down huge wedges of watermelon when Uncle James, Uncle Jay and Daddy came home from work. When we lived in Oklahoma, Daddy was a machinist and worked for a company called Oil Well, out of Tulsa, Oklahoma. But when he returned to Dallas, he worked with Uncle Jay and Uncle James, who were brick masons. Our family’s claim to fame is that Daddy and his brothers helped build the infamous School Book Depository. Something that got me into several fistfights when some neighborhood kids found out about it and accused us of helping to kill the President. -2-Uncle James had a rocking good habit. Besides being a bricklayer, he was also a mechanic. There was this cliff behind the house, about thirty or forty feet deep, judging by the size of it. On the other side, you could count the large cement tanks from the concrete plant nearby. I counted them often: yellow-red-orange-blue. In that order. But that wasn’t a part of the habit, no. That was only a small, but slightly interesting detail. Uncle James liked driving cars off the cliff, and he was very good at it. He’d buy cars under the impression of repairing and reselling them. But when one was irreparable, he would drive it off the cliff. We saw him do this the first week ‘settling in’ to our new home and I was feeling morose, sitting on the swing counting the cement tanks, yellow-red-orange-blue, and wondering why they hadn’t added a green one, when my brother squealed with rapturous delight and pointed toward the garage. Uncle James revved up the engine of an elderly white Chrysler (apparently his least, or most favorite vehicle depending on how you looked at it, because the bottom of the cliff was littered with them) its engine knocking as if the guts were going to blow out the sides. The Chrysler squealed, and lunged forward like a pig jabbed in the butt with a hot poker. It rattled and rumbled as it moved toward its demise, and then, just before it reached the brink, Uncle James would open the door and roll out of the car. The Chrysler did a long swan dive down into the embankment, rattling and rolling all the way down, just like cars falling off cliffs in the movies. Sometimes, Uncle James would leave the radio on, and today, Elvis was Crying in the Chapel all the way down the embankment, coming to a dull crashing shriek as the car struck the rusted debris at the bottom.-3- The old complex of brownstone apartments looked like my baby brother’s blocks strewn across the floor. All of them were square, nondescript, with two sometimes three stories, and thick cream-colored granite steps leading up to the front door. Black iron stairways along the sides of the building led to the second story balcony. We lived on the bottom floor; our door was the same creamy brown as the steps with a small stained glass window in the door. Our door was the only one that had one. Three other families lived in our building, but only two of them had kids my age. Jobeth Simons lived next door. She was twelve, almost on the cusp of womanhood, tomboyish like me. She was a white girl with sandy brown hair and a splattering of freckles across her nose and cheeks. I met her first, her coming home from the park with her parents, tossing a soccer ball into the air as she walked up the steps. She passed me, sitting on the steps with my elbows digging into my knees, my hands propping up my chin, missing my two best friends in the whole world. She bounced the ball thoughtfully beside me for a minute or two, then, grabbing the black and white ball said, “Wanna play?” I didn’t want to, but agreed because there was nothing else to do but sit in the heat and feel sorry for myself. After a few minutes of kicking the ball back and forth, then running to keep it from going into an imaginary goal, the black mood lifted and I was giggling and squealing right along with her. We picked up two more friends as the hot sticky summer drawled along. Jasper Mendez, a Mexican boy with thick black hair and dark eyes began kicking the ball along with us. Another boy appeared the next day and after watching us and taunting Jasper about playing with “Gurrrrls,” Wesley Polanski joined in.-4- There wasn’t much of a field to play in. The only real grass was between two of the complexes, and occasionally Old Lady Wise, who worked nights at a shoe factory, would open a window and squawk at us with her high pitched cry, her face pink and outraged. We’d move the game in the parking lot, was chased out there, and then finally found a thin strip of green on the other side of our building. I was goalie, Jasper would often team up with me and we’d do battle against Jobeth and Wes. Jobeth was excellent. Jasp cringed whenever she thundered down the green toward our goal. I’d try and stop her, but there was little use. She nearly always got it past me. “I’m going to become the first women’s soccer player,” she bragged one afternoon when she collapsed into the scant grass beside me Wes howled. “Girls can’t play soccer. Girls grow up to become mommies and secretaries, my dad said so.” “You’re Dad’s a sexist pig,” Jobeth stated. “Haven’t you heard of Women’s Lib?” “The bra burners? Ha! You ain’t even old enough to own a bra. Besides, my pa says all those women’s libbers ain’t nothing but men hating Lesbos.” “That’s BS,” Jobeth said with typical twelve-year-old haughtiness. “When I’m old enough I’ll be a soccer player. And no stupid boy is gonna tell me otherwise.” “Then that makes you a Lesbo. Only a Lesbo (he emphasized) would want to do anything but have babies,” Wes said. Sensing the playground fight of the century, and wondering what a Lesbo was, I raised myself to my knees to watch with prairie dog like interest. Jobeth squared off with Wes, with her fist clenched tight against her leg. I was delighted. A good fight isn’t something to miss. “Take that back!’ “Not on a bet. She male” Jobeth drew back about to roundhouse Wes one in the ear, when I called out. “Hey, ya’ll, who’s that kid over there?”The fight was postponed as all of us stared at the boy standing at the corner of the building. “Oh, there’s that spooky kid again,” Jobeth said, her voice dropping to a whisper. She flung her arm around my shoulders, cupped her and to my ear and whispered, “He’s a little creep.” The boy lurking in the shade of the building was thin, small and blond. He had a hollowed out look a round his eyes like I’d seen on the Vietnam Veteran who mooched for money at the Big M convenience store down the street. “Seen too much action,” my father said after he dropped a dollar in the man’s cup. “It happens, shell shock. Poor bastard.” “Get on out of here!” Wes was shouting, picking up rocks and throwing them at the kid as he ran toward him. “Little Creep, stinking faggot!” “Hey!” I shouted back, “Wes, you ain’t supposed to be chunking!” The boy fled between the houses and Wes strutted back to us, looking enormously pleased with himself. “What a retard,” “You shouldn’t chunk rocks at the kid, maybe he was just lonely and wanted to play,” I said. “Wes is right,” Jobeth said, her expression dead serious under her sunburn. “I heard my mom and dad talking about him and his father last night. She said his dad does things—“ her expression adult serious, “bad things. Mom’s threatening to call the law on him.” “What kind of bad things?” I asked. “Just bad. . .things,” “It means, Davie’s dad is a creeped out weirdo,” Jasp said. “My abulito said so.” His voice lowered, adding drama only a ten year old could do, “He takes pictures.” “What’s so bad about that?” Wes sputtered, made a remark under his breath, and the boy and his father vanished from our minds when a car behind us honked.-5- “Woah! Check it out!” Jasp said, awestruck as the gleaming red convertible pulled into our parking spot. “Daddy!” I shouted, “Uncle Jay!” I ran toward the car, and leaned against the passenger side door while Daddy gave me a quick hug. The boys were snooping around the car, awestruck while Jobeth stood beside the driver’s side, with a strange look on her face. “Are you a real Indian?” she blurted. Uncle Jay grinned then ruffled her hair. He was way too cool to answer such stupid questions. In my opinion, Uncle Jay was the coolest man on earth, and my dad, the next coolest guy; a Cherokee James Dean in white t-shirt and jeans; resting his elbow out the window with his Lucky Strike curling blue smoke to the sky. “Where’s your war bonnet?” Wes asked, and I frogged his arm. Uncle Jay laughed. He let down on the horn again, and I saw Mama coming out of the house, her red hair blowing in the breeze as she carried the baby on one hip and led Brother down the steps. She smiled, and looked for all the world like Maureen O’Hara. “Hop in,” Daddy said as he lifted me up and I squirmed into the back seat, while Uncle Jay opened the door for Mama and the baby, with Brother squirming in behind her. “Where’re you going, Mr. Walkingstick?” Jasp asked. “We’re going to the Dairy Queen, then out to Bruton Road Drive In. We’re going to see ‘Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte,” Daddy explained. “Cool!” Wes exclaimed. “I wish we could go too.” “Maybe next time.” Uncle Jay said. He winked at my friends (I saw his reflection in the rear view mirror) honked the horn one last time, then backed out of the parking lot and onto the street. We took off toward the drive in, my friends standing on the green looking jealous and forlorn while the car radio sang “heavenly shades of night are falling, it’s twilight time. . .” I turned and waved, my long braids slapping around my face as I did so. In the growing shades of evening, Davie haunted the green from the shadows.-6- “Will you come play with me?” A shy voice at the bottom of the steps interrupted my reading. I put down my copy of The Black Stallion, and looked down at Davie who had a soccer ball in his hands. I looked around for Jobeth and the boys but they were gone. I was alone, sitting on the steps with Davie asking me to play. “Never talk to strangers,” my parents cautioned me. “Never go inside their houses or cars, and don’t take money from them.” I didn’t fully understand why because all the adults I knew in Foyil Oklahoma were kindly folks who were patient and friendly. One of my favorite places had been a general store where a Cherokee man with a hunched back and gentle face gave me Big Chief notebooks, crayons and would teach me how to write the Cherokee Alphabet. At that point in time, I was a member of the tribe, and I didn’t have a clue about documentation, nor did it seem to matter. Oklahoma was home; Dallas was alien and fit like an uncomfortable pair of shoes. This made me see something different with the adults who lived in the apartments. Although we were squeezed together like mice in a cage, we really didn’t know anything about one another. So when Mama and Daddy said to keep away from strangers, I didn’t argue. Kids seemed to have been exempt from this rule. Davie was still looking at the ground, his soccer ball almost too big for his hands. Pity squeezed my heart, and before I could give him a brutally cool Bette Davis refusal, I said, “Sure.” We walked around to the side of the building, onto the green and began kicking the ball around. Davie was not enthusiastic, it seemed, although I tried to get him more involved. Eventually, he stopped, picked up the ball and said, “It’s too hot. Let’s go to my house and watch cartoons.” Without thinking, again for the second time in the day, I said, “sure, why not?” and he seemed tense, then sighed as if resigned to some unpleasant fate. We walked to his brownstone, which was the next one over from ours, climbed the wrought iron steps to his balcony and entered the darkened living room. There was something wrong here; my instincts picked it up at once. Jobeth’s caution floated through my mind, and I instantly regretted forgetting it. The living room was innocuous, hot and dark. It didn’t have a water cooler like our apartment and the air was so still it made it hard to breathe. A television squatted in the center of the room, with a small divan in the corner. There was nothing else in the room, except for Davie’s dad, who stepped in front of me like Bella Lugosi with a hangover. Davies’ dad is weird, I thought. My spidey sense was tingling now, big time, and as I looked up at the man with the tangled eyes, I knew I was in serious trouble. I took a deep breath. Maybe it’s just my imagination, I told myself. Mama is always after me about that. “Hi, little girl, what’s your name?” he asked. “Lily,” I lied. It was wrong to lie, I knew, but all bets were off and I felt safer if he didn’t know my real name. I eased toward the door, but Davie swung it shut. I heard it lock. “Lily and I are going to watch cartoons,” Davie whispered. “Cartoons? Why that’s a fine idea,” Davies’ dad, (whom I suspected wasn’t his real dad at all) said. “But first, how about we take a few pictures. You like having your picture taken, don’t you little girl? All little girl’s do. You can be a fashion model for me. You’d like to be a fashion model wouldn’t you?” I thought about the picture of me Donna and Pam slipped into the clamp on my dresser mirror, our arms intertwined, our gap toothed grins shining; buddies for life. It’s not going to be like that, I thought. Not a friendly arm around the shoulder thing, and no fashion model thing either. No sir ree Bub. “I suppose so,” I said. My heart was really hammering now. Jobeth warned me about pictures . . .and bad things. Why hadn’t I listened? The door was locked, and I knew if I ran to it, old Tangle Eye would grab me and then it’d be game over. I thought about Bette Davis, how she chucked a planter onto her dear sister’s head in last night’s movie. Hadn’t they tried to drive her crazy? But this is crazy, my mind roared. Crazy and there’s no planter in the room, just me, Creepy Davie whose lip was trembling as if he were to belt out one loud howl, and Daddy Dearest, who I couldn’t figure out for the life of me how he could even take a picture with his eyes being so twisted up. “I have a special room. .A special room in the back,” I half heard. “You can go in there and take your clothes off. Don’t worry though, it won’t hurt, not at all, and you’ll like it. You and Davie will be in pictures together, and you’ll like it. It’ll feel good.” His voice was rising now, like a woman on the brink of hysterics. “And afterwards you can watch cartoons and have ice cream, how about that?” I didn’t want to go into that room. I damned sure didn’t want to take my clothes off, and I was certain I wasn’t going to like what he and Davie had in mind. “Okay,” I said, doing my best to take the fear out of my voice. “But first, I have to go to the bathroom. I can go to the bathroom, can’t I?” The Man’s face did a weird little dance. “Okay, Davie show her where it is.” Davie, head hung down, shoulders trembling, led me to the bathroom. I went inside, then the door slammed, and something heavy scraped against the door. I tried to push it open but it was blocked. I’m trapped, I thought, and my fear was starting to swallow me whole. After the pictures there won’t be any ice cream and cartoons, my heart of hearts warned me. After the pictures, there won’t be any you, and Mama and Daddy will wonder whatever happened to you. I sat on the commode and hucked back tears. I can’t cry now, I told myself. I have to get out, now, right now. They won’t let me hide in here forever. I thought about trying to shove the door open but whatever they placed against it was too heavy. Besides, the front door was locked, and I’d have to get past them, which wasn’t going to happen. I looked around the bathroom, hoping for a laundry chute or anything big enough for me to squeeze through. Sunlight spilling through the narrow window above the bathtub provided me with an answer. It was high up, with a narrow ledge, but it was open, the screen having rusted out and big enough for me to squeeze through. I was still on the second floor, but at that point, it didn’t matter. All I wanted in the world was to get away from Davie, his dad and those evil pictures. I climbed into the bathtub, and stretched until my fingers dug into the windowsill. Holding my breath, I scrambled up the wall and hung, virtually in midair as I balanced my narrow chest onto the sill. I turned my head and looked down, my heart pounding, my eyesight shattered by tears. There was a fire escape connected to the back of the apartments. Except from where I was, it was a good four-foot drop to the platform below. There’s a window behind that platform, where you can step out in case of a fire. If Davies’ dad should happen to see me, he could grab me and suck me back inside. A loud scraping sound from behind me made up my mind. They were about to open the door. Before I could change my mind, I swung my legs over the edge and held onto the sill. I looked down, my fingertips burning. The platform was closer now, but then again, so were the voices inside the bathroom saying something about getting a rope. I let go. I hung in midair for a moment, thinking that I had missed the platform and was now falling to my death. Then, my feet hit the metal grate, jarring my teeth as I landed. I looked up and saw Davie’s dad looking down at me, his face twisted into a mixture of rage and lust that terrified me beyond words.I scrambled off the platform, down the wrought iron steps, sure that Davie and his dad would be on the ground to grab me. I fled around the corner, slammed into Jobeth who was kneeing her soccer ball into the air. I staggered, recovered and virtually flew home.
I was crying for real now, because I caught a glimpse of Davies’ crazy tangle eyed father standing on his porch watching me as I tore across the green and up the steps to our own apartment. I hurled open the door, my sneakers skidding against the hardwood floor as I rushed inside. I slammed the door and locked it. Mama came out of the kitchen, her favorite yellow apron tied neatly around her waist, protecting her dress from the remains of the meatloaf that encrusted her hands. “Mama!’ I cried, ran, and threw my arms around her. “What’s wrong, baby?” she asked, “Did you have a fight with one of your friends?” I shook my head, unable to speak. I howled into her apron while she held me close, her warmth, and her womanness comforting me. In another year, I’d never be comforted like that again.-7- I stayed inside for the rest of the week. I was too scared to go out. Davie came to the door once, tentatively knocking, and me telling Mama that I never wanted to see him again. “You should tell him that yourself, instead of having me do your dirty work for you,” but she didn’t understand. She hadn’t see Crazy Davie’s dad and his awful pictures. I lay on my bed, with my knees curled to my chest, resolved to stay inside my room forever. I hadn’t eaten much, Mama bringing me in a plate with fried chicken, my favorite, which I left untouched. I simply lay there; too scared to move, wishing with all my heart I could go back to Oklahoma. I entertained the idea of asking if I could go and live with grandma and grandpa, who still lived in Claremore, but I knew if I asked, there’s be questions, something I didn’t want. The days passed. Daddy came in, and touched my forehead. “Are you sick, Sister? Do you need to see a doctor?” I shook my head and curled tighter into a ball. “I don’t know what’s come over her,” Mama said from the foot of my bed. “She’s been like this all week. She hasn’t eaten or said hardly a word since she came home all upset. I thought she had a fight with one of her friends, but Jobeth told me this morning that there wasn’t any squabbling going on.” “Did you and Jobeth have a fight?” Daddy asked. “No,” I whispered into my sheet. “Then what’s got you so upset?” he asked. “I want Uncle Jay,” I whispered, not understanding why I could tell him but not my own father. Maybe it was because I knew how mad Daddy could get. “Can I talk to Uncle Jay?” “Sure,” Daddy said, with an odd tinge in his voice. “Mama’ll call right now, okay?” “I want him to come here,” I said. “I don’t want to talk on the phone.” Daddy sighed. “I’ll see what I can do.”-8- The hot day retreated into a stuffy evening. I continued to lie in bed, my hand curled around The Black Stallion, more for comfort than for reading. I heard Uncle Jay’s voice in the living room, my mother’s concerned whispers, and Daddy’s muffled voice competing with the cicadas outside. The door opened, and I heard Uncle Jay’s heavy footsteps across the room. “Hey, Little Bit,” he said as he eased himself onto the foot of my bed. “Something bad happened didn’t it?” I nodded, the sheet rising and falling with the movement of my head. “Let’s talk about it.” I shook my head. The words had gummed up in my throat and I was afraid I’d cry again. “I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what’s going on,” Uncle Jay said, “After all, I drove here all the way from Balch Springs to hear what you have to say.” I sat up, and held my knees to my chest. I looked up at Uncle Jay’s face, his eyes wide and earnest. “You won’t get into trouble, if that’s what you’re worried about,” he said. “If a bad thing happened, we need to know about it. We can’t make it better if you don’t tell us what’s scared you.” I drew a long shuddering breath, and then told him everything. He sat still, his whole being focused on every word. Once I began, I found it was easier to talk. Toward the end, everything gushed out. I leaned against him, trembling and crying quietly against his chest. He asked me to repeat it again, and I did. He stopped me occasionally and asked questions, which I answered. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll take care of it.” Just like that. Uncle Jay was going to take care of it. I didn’t know what he meant, nor did I care, but he gave my arm a gentle squeeze and left my room. I could hear muffled conversation in the living room, my mother’s shocked gasp, and Daddy’s fluent swearing punctuating the low grade muttering from my Uncle. It took a few minutes for me to realize the rest of the conversation had morphed into Cherokee. I strained to hear, but I wasn’t quite sure of the words. “Be careful,” Mama said in English, loud enough for me to hear. Somehow I think she knew I was listening all along. I heard the door slam, and Uncle Jay’s convertible fire up. I felt infinite relief because I knew that they were going to take care of business. How didn’t matter, only that after tomorrow, life would reset itself, it would be safe to go outside once again, and evil would be limited to the glass tube in the living room. I crept into the living room and sat beside my mother on the couch. Her arm pulled me close. I sighed, knowing now everything was going to be all right. I saw the glint of cold blue steel half hidden under her frilly yellow apron. Her hand blurred, trying to hide the barrel under a frill, but I knew instantly what it was. It was Daddy’s gun. -9- Davies’ dad—whom we found out later—wasn’t his real dad at all, but a stranger who picked the boy up off a playground close to his home In Bandera, Texas. Davie’s real name was Sammy Caldwell, and had been missing for a year. I never saw him again, but Jobeth told me that social workers took him home to his real parents. The man who claimed to be Davies’ dad vanished. The police entered the apartment and found his stash of what my mom alluded to as ‘dirty pictures’ in a spare bedroom. An all points bulletin soon followed, and that afternoon I sat on the hood of the patrol car with the officer’s hat on my head, and told the story of Davie, the man he lived with, and the scary jump out of the window and onto the fire escape. And no, I didn’t let him take any naked pictures of me with Davie.-10- According to ancient Cherokee tradition, the village warriors hurled anyone who harmed a child off a cliff as punishment. Whether that’s historically accurate or not, I cannot say. All I know is that shortly after the incident, we moved to Sunnyvale, and we never talked about Davie’s creepy dad again.-11- In 1975, Uncle James and Uncle Jay died within six months of each other, both having succumbed to cancer in midlife. The house on Kimberly Lane was sold, and a strip mall was about to take its place.The new owners, feeling put out no doubt, had Uncle James’ junk cars pulled out of the embankment. One of them, an aged Studebaker, lumbered up the side of the cliff as the wench from the tow truck pulled it from its final resting place. As the workman removed the cables from the back of the car, the trunk latch, long since rusted out, popped open. He looked inside, astonished, as the curled husk of a man lay half hidden by a rotting Navajo blanket, peering up at him with one putrid tangled eye.
Causes Patricia Snodgrass Supports
The Hunger site
Children's Miracle Network
American Cancer Society
The American Heart Association