"A Painful Game of UNO"
A game of Uno is the perfect antidote to pent-up frustration, and soon I have three other children gathered around a card table in a take-no-prisoners game, which is shockingly cutthroat for six-year-olds. We're loud and boisterous, and my mood lightens. Soon, we've attracted a few observers. I offer my hand and seat to Carlton, taking a spot behind him to offer a few strategy tips.
That's when I first notice the bruises rising slightly above the neckline of his shirt. My eyes drop to his arms where a set of older bruises would have been invisible had I not been alert for them. I make a mental note to check his legs when we go outside. A litany of reasons for those bruises present themselves as I try to avoid the one I don't want the answer to be.
We've been coached on the signs to watch for. Many of the children who come to the rec center are here because they've no place else to go. They come from families that can't afford daycare or other types of camps. Some of those families rest on nests of dynamite.
Carlton must sense something because he turns to look at me over his shoulder. In doing so, he hitches his shirt a little higher and the bruises slip out of sight. The deep sadness in his big brown eyes, however, can't be hidden under a T-shirt. I recognize it for what it is because sometimes I see it in my own eyes when I catch my reflection in the mirror.
His head back in the game, he levels an accusatory finger at Monica. "You didn't say Uno. Draw five cards, sucka!"
"Nuh-uh," Monica protests.
"He's right. You didn't say Uno." Mikaela jumps into the fray. "Draw five, draw five."
Monica, stubborn to the end, insists she said Uno, but the other children pick up the scent and begin to circle. "Miss Ellen. Tell them I said Uno," she says.
"I'm sorry, sweetie, but I didn't hear you say it, so I'm afraid you're going to have to draw the five cards."
With a loud groan and sidelong glare at Carlton, she takes her penalty cards. Carlton plays his card and the game continues drama-free for the next ten minutes.
"Uno!" Carlton yells in unison with Mikaela as he slaps down his second to last card.
"Draw five cards!" Mikaela says.
"Nope. I called it." Carlton wears a smug grin on his face.
"You were too late."
After a few more volleys in the was-not, was-too game, Carlton launches to his feet, breathing heavily. He growls out “was too,” draws back his fist, and punches Mikaela in the face.
"Carlton!" I rush in to separate them, but not before Mikaela unleashes a banshee-like howl that nearly has the windowpanes vibrating.
I pull the boy away. Procedure requires us to split up any fighting children and put the aggressor in a solitary activity away from the other child for the rest of the session.
"No! I wanna play Uno! I wanna play Uno! I was winning. Not fair!" He jumps up and down, stomping his feet onto the industrial carpet atop cement. His face turns an ugly shade, and as I take a firm hold of his skinny arm, he winces then kicks me in the shin.
I run limping after him. He breaks away, angling toward the exit.
"Somebody block the door!"
Release Date: 09/16/14
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