I remember the Crow’s Nest. A gigantic metal structure, it stood as tall as Mount Everest – or so it seems in my eight-year-old mind’s eye. Looking back, I suppose it may only have been a ten-foot drop from the top. It sat on the mulch in the corner of the playground, towering above us all, tempting us to climb to its vaulted peak and ponder all the possibilities that arise in the mind of an elementary school student.
My two friends at the school – I dare call them that, though time has even erased their names from my memory – they and I were a motley crew. One African American, one Hispanic, one Indian – we were all the colors of the human rainbow, save the only shade of pristine purity, white.
During recess, we three played together. We would climb to the top of the Crow’s Nest, and simply sit there, alone, the only three colored children at the school.
Children can be cruel. They can be vicious. There were some, little boys, no older or younger than me, who would come after us as we sat, trapped above them with no escape, and pelt us with rocks and mulch – the sticks and stones of the playground. Their words were angry expletives, degradations of everything from our skin tones to our very humanity.
Though the days were painful, I refused to shed a tear – at least in the presence of my family. I was perhaps too proud, maybe too weak, to tell them the truth. The fact was I would never tell them about the bruises that painted my brown skin with purple and green. I would never tell them about the cuts and scrapes that marred my arms and legs. But more significantly, I could never tell them the words those children uttered. I could not tell them of the pain that pierced my heart when the color of my skin – the color of my family’s skin – was attacked. I was unable to tell them that they too were not fit to live as human beings.
It was those words, rather than the sticks and stones that could break my bones, that hurt me. With time, the bruises vanished, the cuts healed, and the physical pain was forgotten. But those psychological wounds, those terrible words that scarred my very soul, those are still painful even a decade later. It is this, this that I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.