Minna Onken

Sticks and Tones

If you find a stick that’s as long as your arm, that’ll do. It has to either be “swish”-y or “whoosh”-y. Thin and malleable makes the best “swish” sound as it cuts through the air, therefore, it is the best whip. Shorter sticks, that are thick and covered in bark, are the best swords. They make a hard “whoosh” when you swing them.

 

If your sword breaks because you hit a stronger one, you must leave the battle for repairs. Repairs will include (but are not limited to) finding another stick and throwing dirt at people. Throwing dirt is not deemed a “good activity”. Repairs are limited to just sticks. Dirt is thrown discretely when adults aren’t watching. Sometimes to spice things up, you’ll throw rocks. This is quickly outlawed though when Jason gets a bruise.

 

If you have a sword, you can conquer mountains, face any fear, and rule distant lands. Mainly, you’ll just run barefoot around the field surrounding the electric plant across the street. Gravel will stick to your calloused soles, but you’ll have your sword and your kingship. The other children elect you mayor because you are the oldest and thus the fittest for the position. Sometimes your mother will shake her head like she’s disappointed in you. If you don’t see it, you won’t know. In the future, you’ll wonder how you could have missed it.

 

If your mother is playing she will not choose a stick. If the other person doesn’t have a sword, you tell her, they can’t play. Your mother tells you, “maybe you should play something else then”, and you’re ushered back inside to play dolls.

 

If you go to a show with your grandma, you’ll get a real sword. Those are best but can’t be used in stick sword fights. Even if a sword is plastic it can be considered real. That is why your brother has his arm chopped off while reenacting your favorite Star Wars scenes in the living room. It’s not really chopped off, you’ll tell him, just pretend. He cries anyway. Your mother will make you sit in time out. Girls shouldn’t play with swords, she’ll say. You will want to tell her that they can because you do. There’s no talking in time out.

 

If you find yourself without a sword years later, use your words. This is something that you learn very quickly. Even if you’re not sure where the words come from, they hurt as badly as sticks and plastic. They may hurt coming up sometimes, but you can push through it. Crying is weakness, and you are not weak, so you fight. Playing with swords is no longer an option, playing with dolls is even less of one.

 

If you grew up fighting tooth and nail to be something you weren’t, at this point you may not know who you are, but you know how to fight. It’s something you’re good at when you can manage it. When you’re trying not to get lost in the constant stream of passive aggression that manifests in you as actual aggression. You’ve had trouble controlling anger in the past, you will tell yourself that this has passed and you’re in control now. Lying to yourself is better than lying to your mother. Is withholding the truth much better?

 

If you don’t know how to control your anger, you run into problems. Words will feel like nothing to you now. You’re numb to everything, it’s comfortable, but it’s still numb. Words don’t hurt coming out at this point in your life. Tears do. You find yourself crying when you’re angry. It makes people pity you, and no one will take you seriously. Words mean even less when you write them. Words are your sword now. Against every adversary, words are a sword you carry with you.

 

You’re eighteen when you destroy a friendship because you don’t have any words, and then suddenly too many words in too short a time.

 

If your mother sends you and two of her friends an email with an article attached, don’t skim it. Read it carefully. It will still be offensive, and you will still feel hurt through the numbness, but at least you will have read it. So that when you send your reply, angry words, wounded by the sword of the email, you can have some explanation. Something that doesn’t smash open the door you’d so carefully locked back when you played with swords.

 

If you are still called to the kitchen by your mother, hold your breath. It’s the only way you won’t cry and mess up further when she yells at you. You will realize for the first time that your mother has always had a sword of words, and it is sharper than you had ever hoped yours would be. “If that’s how you’re going to act around me,” She’ll spit at you, “maybe we should stay away from each other from now on.” Go to your room, when she’s finished. She doesn’t want to see you anymore, she tells you as you leave.

 

If you know how to fight, you also know how to stay silent. You can sneak around the house and hide in the highest nooks and lowest crannies. Hide in your room. Stand with your back pressed against the closed door and realize, this is one of the first times your father won’t stand up for you. You’ll wonder how many pills you can swallow before you’re forced to call an ambulance. You don’t feel numb anymore.

 

If you hunt around your room for long enough, you’ll find a wooden sword. It’s lodged between your bean bag and the wall. You’ll remember your grandmother giving it to you when you were little. Just hold it in your hand and let yourself feel some of the power it gave you when you were young and couldn’t see the disappointment in your mother’s eyes.

 

If you put it back in its place, you can go to your bed and cry.

 

 


Minna Onken is a gender queer writer who draws inspiration from their own experiences with navigating sexuality in the world today. They study Literature and Creative Writing at Miami University and have not been published yet. Their work focuses on their experiences growing up as a trans person and how they navigate the world today, with a special focus on family life.


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