When his parents were gone on those church trips, the boys were usually left in the capable hands of any one of the four teenage girls that lived in the neighborhood. But to be capable in his parents’ eyes is to keep Spencer and his two brothers from bleeding from their eyeballs or some such injury that would land them in the hospital. To be capable in Spencer’s eyes was different, though. It was everything.
It meant he didn’t have to scrub the toilet. It meant he didn’t have to find clever ways to avoid his father. It meant he didn’t have to do as Jesus would do. Wine from stone aside, it just wasn’t that appealing.
Miah and Marcus reacted as most kids would. They went crazy. And as long as the messes were cleaned up before the parents’ arrival, and they kept it within the confines of their bedroom, they were free to do what they wanted.
But, one Saturday evening in August of ’92, things turned out differently.
“Alright kids. I need to make a phone call. Keep it down,” Tiffany, the first-year college student from three houses over, said to Spencer, Miah and Marcus shortly after the Grum parents pulled out of the driveway.
“Who are you calling?” Marcus asked.
“Yah, who ya call…”
“Guys, stop it,” Spencer interrupted. “Lets go to the bedroom.”
“But I want to know who she’s calling.” Miah responded.
“It’s none of your business. Let’s go. Who wants to play Monopoly?” Spencer said.
“I do!” Miah exclaimed.
“I get to be the boot!” Marcus replied.
“I’m the race car!” Miah said.
“I’ll be the thimble, okay? Let’s go.”
Monopoly always seemed to work. It was the one board game they owned that still had enough pieces to make it playable. They had a checkers set that was once used as ammunition for the boys’ grossly inaccurate, and mildly racist reenactment of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The checker pieces that found their way up to the roof never were retrieved.
For the next two hours, the Grum boys sat cross-legged on the floor in their bedroom and played Monopoly. The structure of which typically went something like this:
- Game opens with delight, fervor
- 30 minutes pass without much change
- Miah expresses desire to make his one procured property a “super duper,” that has the power to burn its unwanted occupants with molten lava
- Marcus and Spencer roll their eyes and deny the request
- Another 30 minutes pass by with a handful of houses purchased, mostly by Marcus and Spencer
- Marcus is distracted by Miah’s constant fidgeting and promptly–and throughout the remainder of game–complains
- Miah expresses delight at having once again annoyed his older brother. He does so by making “neener neener” faces
- Spencer waits patiently
- Spencer places mansion on Boardwalk
- Miah and Marcus charge Spencer with cheating
- Spencer laughs at his brothers’ inability to handle time consumption
- Miah calls Marcus and Spencer a “poop eater” and quits
- 10 minutes later, Marcus quits for lack of money
- Spencer puts the game back in its box, happy to have distracted his brothers for the two hours
For Spencer, the time spent post-Monopoly matches was undoubtedly the best. His brothers, annoyed and pouting, kept mostly to themselves. The babysitter found solace in her phone calls. And he was met with a calming respite from the pressure.
Mostly, he didn’t have to keep up appearances. He wasn’t his father’s little soldier.
He was himself. His own self.
His own self.
His own self.
These are the words that played again and again as he fell to sleep on the floor in the dining room that evening in August of ’92.
When he woke hours later, with a hand around his ankle, the words seemed so far away, so distant and foreign and never to be reached again.