The Cast: Dad (my father), Myself (the one full of ‘Will’ power), Rawlin (my brother, the physically stronger one).
Some of you may be familiar with the hand held game of Mercy. For those who are not, this is a game in which two players join hands—Player 1’s right hand takes Player 2’s left hand and they interlock fingers, then Player 1’s left hand interlocks with Player 2’s right hand—and hold them at about chest level. Then one player tries to bend the other players hands backward until the other calls out “Mercy!” because they are in so much pain. As an adult, I haven’t seen it a whole lot, but as a child in the 80’s it was the bully game of choice. The idea of “Let me show you how much stronger I am than you by hurting you” was very popular. Rawlin liked to play it a lot. With me. But I never lost—not to him.
Remember, Rawlin is about six years older than I am. And when you’re only seven years old, older brothers can seem very big. Rawlin needed to win (see Don’t Worry, Pee Happy) and because I never lost this would drive him crazy. As a result, every so often he would initiate a game of Mercy. Now, to be clear, there is a variation of this game where the players, instead of keeping their hands at chest level, someone will swing their arms and hands down to about waist level and then they lift up instead of pushing over the top. This approach makes winning much easier. Rawlin and I never played that way. And on a personal note, I tend to think of this as the sissy/cheaters way.
“Let’s play Mercy.” “OK.” Was usually how the game started. Rawlin would ask, I would go along. Sometimes I would initiate, for the life of me I don’t know why—I knew what was coming, and Rawlin was always willing to play. The game would drag on and on. It almost always ended with me crying and Rawlin angry. He could never beat me. Because in order the win, someone has to say “Mercy”. I would not.
On one particular day I once again found myself engaged in a game of Mercy with Rawlin. However, the family had to run errands and the two of us needed to go as well. So my parents, my two sisters, my brother and myself (still dead-locked in our game of Mercy) all loaded up into our car. The benefit of lackadaisical seatbelt laws made boarding the car—still locked in Mercy-ful combat—easier. How my parents tolerated this game I’ll never know.
Rawlin and I spent the car ride desperately trying to win in the only way we each knew how. His method was to outmuscle me. Which was pretty easy considering his age and size compared to me. Mine was to endure the pain, not quit, and wait for interference. That interference would, at times, come from mom. Usually, however, it would come from dad. Dad would become tired of my crying (not literal, just crying out in pain) and make the game stop. I just needed to not give-in.
The drive wasn’t long, maybe 20 min, but it felt like an eternity. Because the inside of the car was small Rawlin had little room to maneuver and couldn’t just overpower me. Dad was driving and didn’t know the game was still going on. I just sat there, pinned, my arms going numb from pain. So, no pain, really.
We arrived at the store and that’s when my father discovered Rawlin and I were still going at it because he had to open the car door. Rawlin was demanding that I give up. I just kept gritting my teeth and telling him never. The family walked into the store. Rawlin and I were not quite inside when he almost mentally snapped. I could see it in his eyes, the anger and confusion as to why his younger brother would rather endure the pain than to just give in. He didn’t really understand until years later what I understood early on. Rawlin could literally do anything to me, but if I never gave in, he could never win. He might beat me in a game, or literally beat me, but he could never win. So I never said the one word he needed to hear. Mercy.
At this point the two of us were in that section of the parking lot, almost to the sidewalk, near the doors, but far out enough that a car could hit us if they didn’t see us. I was on my knees, my arms bent so far up and over my head that I swear they touched my butt. Rawlin bearing down on top of me, his face inches from mine, “Just say it.” It was said so calmly but so full of his trademark anger/confusion/frustration I would come to know so well over the years.
To the best of my recollection, my father only yelled three times. He raised his voice maybe twice that much. This was one of those latter times.
“No more!” Came the warning from my father. He had stormed back outside once he realized the two of us weren’t inside with the family. “You’re in the middle of the parking lot! Can’t you see what you’re doing? Can’t you see that he is never going to give into you?”
It wasn’t us he was talking to. It wasn’t even me he was speaking to. He was directing this at Rawlin. And he was mad. My dad didn’t get mad.
“It’s over! Rawlin, you lose. You always lose. You’ve never won. He never gives in. You two are never allowed to play this game again. You could have broken his arms!”
I was released. Staggered to my feet. My arms were numb from pain but they hurt just the same. Rawlin was slumped over in permanent defeat and didn’t say much the rest of the trip.
I got in some trouble too for being stubborn—too stubborn. I should have just given in—or so I was told. But as we walked through the aisles I realised something very important. I had never lost this game to Rawlin. And now, I never would.