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Creative Nonfiction Sad Drama

This story contains sensitive content

***Trigger warning: violence; child sexual abuse, mental health***


“Life is a game of hopscotch,” she tells Emily, her 20-year-old granddaughter. 


Emily is ebullient, bursting with excitement over landing her first job. Grandma’s thrilled for her, but the pain in her back is so severe she’s struggling to keep smiling. Visits from her daughters or Emily, or whoever’s left of her diminishing circle of friends are so few and far between these days that she really needs Emily’s youthful exuberance to brighten her day and ease the loneliness of old age.


“Young people have so many better things to do” is how she consoles herself as day after visit-less day goes by. A young woman like Emily has more exciting things on her plate. How bloody boring for a young person to spend time listening to an old lady prattle on about her arthritis, peripheral neuropathy, cataracts, swollen ankles, and aching knees, or her worries about her granddad’s increasing sugar cravings, and almost total deafness. How bloody boring indeed. She even bores herself.


And worse yet, if she’s not grizzling about how everything hurts, then she’s complaining about Grandpa’s annoying habit of constant channel-swapping during the commercials. She remembers telling her elder daughter, Vanessa, ages ago, or was it last week…she can’t remember now…each day’s the same as the day before…that


“…his channel-surfing pisses me off big-time!”


 Vanessa had replied: “Yes, I know Mom. You’ve told me that several times now.” 


She had caught Vanessa rolling her eyes but pretended she hadn’t. Vanessa’s exasperated, what-can-I-do-about-it sigh couldn’t stop her when she was on a roll. It was such a relief to have someone else besides herself or her deaf old hubby to talk with. Otherwise, too many unwanted memories found a way to fill the silent void of her days.


“You know, your father is so riveted by those stupid battle bots, that when he finally switches back to Law and Order SVU, we’ve missed the prosecutor nailing some damn misogynistic rapist. You know, that’s my favourite part of each episode, Vanessa. I hate missing it. Lock ‘em up and throw away the key, I yell at the TV.”


She’s jolted back to the present by the vehemence of her unspoken feelings and the quizzical look on Emily’s face. Did she just say that out loud or only in her head?


“We were talking about why you say life is a game of hopscotch, Grandma. Remember?”


She doesn’t remember but it’s easier to pretend she does, to lie, than to be honest about her mind forever going walkabout lately. It’s her father’s fault that she lies. He had turned her into a liar when she was a child, when she realized that telling the truth brought a smack across her face or a fist into her ear. When you get punished for being honest, you may as well lie. So lying became second nature, even when she didn’t need to lie. It’s called mental survival. So she lies to Emily when she adds:


“Oh, I was just thinking about you and your excitement over your first job. I suppose it will be the first of several jobs in your lifetime. That’s part of what I mean about life being a game of hopscotch.”


“Oh, so you mean forever hopping from job to job?”


“I suppose I do.”


“Oh, grandma. This is the job of my dreams. I can see myself staying with this company forever!”


She’d like to have ten bucks for every time she’d told herself similar stories over the past seventy-plus years, not just about the various jobs she’d held, but about the dozens of major decisions she’d made believing they were the right ones, only to find herself back at square one again and again. A game of hopscotch. 


“That IS what you mean, isn’t it Grandma?”


How sweet Emily is, trying to keep her engaged in the moment instead of lost in memories and too often lately, in regrets. It’s so easy now, when she hasn’t much else to do and no-one else to talk to except a husband who can’t hear her unless she shouts, to go wandering down depressing paths into the past looking for happier times. On those paths, she keeps running into old friends with whom she spent her younger days, only to remember now that many are long departed. She wonders how many made it into that heaven for which they sacrificed “their wicked innermost desires” in case they jeopardized their chances of getting inside the pearly gates. What about the others? Some probably went to that hell they might well have deserved but who would know if they did? All of them wore masks and covered up lies and indiscretions. Okay, sins if you insist! And then the rest? As she expects will be her case any time now, they simply returned to the dust from which some nun or priest said they came. Another insignificant human…just dust. Back to square one.


“Hopscotch, grandma?”


“Scotch, Emily? No thanks. I hate the stuff. That’s your grandpa’s drink, dear, but thanks for asking.”


“No grandma. I wasn’t asking if you want a drink. I wanted to know why you said life is a game of hopscotch. I asked if you meant constantly changing jobs…”


“Oh yes, we were discussing that weren’t we sweetheart. I remember,” she lies again. “Well, going from job to job is just one part of why I say that. But it’s…how should I put this? Okay. Let’s try this. When I was a child, though I wasn’t very good at it, I loved playing hopscotch with my playmates. Do kids still play hopscotch today or are they banning that along with books because the chalk defaces the sidewalk or kids might hurt themselves or some such contemporary insanity?”


“Yes, Grandma. Kids still play hopscotch. So as you were going to say…?”


Ah, Emily. How good she is at keeping her Grandma focussed! 


“Well, what I’m trying to say, and not saying very well, I’m afraid, is that as a child, whenever it was my turn to step on that starting square, I would tell myself that this time I wasn’t going to lose my balance when I had to hop on just one leg, that I’d land properly when I had to come down with both legs but on opposite squares, and that I’d get all the way to the end in one go. In short, that as long as I kept trying, I would succeed.”


“Was succeeding important to you, Grandma? Why?”


Why? Careful here, Grandma. Emily is plunging her back into those dark, early days. Those days growing up with that tyrant she called daddy sometimes, father other times. The one who convinced her that she was ugly and would never succeed at anything unless she did everything he expected of her, without question, because only he knew what was best for her. The one who terrified her so much she didn’t dare oppose him or deny whatever he wanted. The one whom she knew, deep in her soul, was doing a bad thing but she didn’t know how to stop him. An ongoing game of father-daughter hopscotch. She was too scared of her father, a narcissist whose belt made sure she got the message, who insisted that good daughters always did what their daddies told them to do. A so-called “father” who played hopscotch with everything she was. He played with her essence so often that all the chalk lines were erased, and she lost so much belief in herself that she ended up starting from square one, again and again, just to get to where she was now.


“Grandma? 


“Uh…yes…Emily?”


“Where did you just go?”


“Oh…um…I was just picturing myself playing hopscotch with my friends and remembering how I got better and better at landing on two feet by constantly re-drawing the lines someone else tried so hard to blur and nearly succeeded erasing altogether.”


“So then, you mastered hopscotch, Grandma?”


“Well, it’s more like I mastered myself, Emily, by refusing to believe those who said I wouldn’t succeed. It took one hell of a lot of self-talk!”


Emily plants a kiss on her wrinkled cheek, asking, “Can I make you a cup of tea or something, Grandma, before I go say hi to Grandpa?”


“No I’m fine,” she lies again. “Thanks for dropping by sweetheart.”


Is she fine? No, she’s not. All that lying is going to land her in Purgatory at the very least. Bah! That’s B.S. Good thing she stopped believing in all that religious nonsense when he first started playing hopscotch with her heart and soul and years of prayers changed nothing. 


Her chat with Emily has stirred up too many unwanted memories, the ones buried so deep, the ones she never fully succeeded in erasing…the ones that take her back to square one again and again. 

April 16, 2023 17:30

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69 comments

08:59 Sep 05, 2023

https://exampledomain.com/?u=XXXXX&o=YYYYY

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Amanda Lieser
05:45 May 05, 2023

Hi Viga, This piece was equal parts heartbreaking as it was brilliant. I really loved the way that you did justice to the character’s story and I thought that you did an amazing job of capturing their mindset. I also really appreciated the way that you characterized her family and her friends because I could tell that they really valued her. Some end up alone on the world towards the end so it was nice that your story kept them all involved.

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Viga Boland
13:13 May 05, 2023

Thanks for taking the time to read this one, Amanda. It’s a personal favorite for many reasons so comments like yours validate its place here on Reedsy where there are so many gifted writers like you.

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Nona Yobis
20:48 May 02, 2023

I wish I could send a hug instead of a message. Such a vulnerable and honest character. You are so good at peeling back the layers that the characters create for themselves.

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Viga Boland
12:28 May 03, 2023

That’s a lovely comment Nona. Thanks so much.

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15:07 Apr 26, 2023

This has a great Granny Weatherall vibe. The stream of consciousness she gets lost in very believable and has the strongest writing in the piece.

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Viga Boland
16:47 Apr 26, 2023

Thank you Anne. I confess I’m not familiar with Granny Weatherall. Enlighten me please 🙏

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18:15 Apr 26, 2023

Really famous short story: https://www.k-state.edu/english/baker/english220/Porter-Jilting_of_Granny_Weatherall.pdf

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Viga Boland
19:45 Apr 26, 2023

Thanks Anne. Will check out the link. ✌️

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Jack Kimball
00:50 Apr 25, 2023

Hi Viga. The depth you reached here was wonderful. I don’t think I’ve read all your submissions, but from the one’s I have, I see you developing, reaching a wisdom that is so worth learning from. I actually teared up when I read this, not from the abuse ( as awful as that was) but just the pure honesty. Your story, if you can even call it that, was incredibly insightful.

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Viga Boland
02:46 Apr 25, 2023

Thank you Jack. To know my story has moved a reader emotionally means everything to me.

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20:50 Apr 24, 2023

This was so cleverly written! I enjoyed how vivid the inner dialogue was, and the reality of being snapped back to conversation. Nicely done.

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20:50 Apr 24, 2023

This was so cleverly written! I enjoyed how vivid the inner dialogue was, and the reality of being snapped back to conversation. Nicely done.

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Viga Boland
21:33 Apr 24, 2023

Thanks so much Shannon. I appreciate your reading it and leaving me a comment.

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Helen A Smith
14:09 Apr 24, 2023

Hi Viga I can strongly relate to your story. The connection with lies and a game of hopscotch- always back to square one to survive a horrendous background. The added complexity of a fading memory and the relationship with the granddaughter adds potency. Well done.

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Viga Boland
14:54 Apr 24, 2023

Thanks for reading and commenting Helen. Your interpretation of my stories makes the effort of writing worthwhile.

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Susan Catucci
20:50 Apr 22, 2023

This is masterful writing, Viga. I know you can't see me but just know I am giving you a standing ovation with all the bravos and encores I can manage. This beautifully written, tragically all-too-real scenario warrants tears, nods and a round of applause for its grit and realism - and life. I love it - and your style. A triumph.

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Viga Boland
00:44 Apr 23, 2023

Wow Susan…what a way to make my old head spin! I can hardly believe I deserve such praise. And that comes just when I may be forced to put my writing on hold for a while. Darn! At least I know when I can write again, I may indeed have more others want to read. Thank you so very much.

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Susan Catucci
12:02 Apr 23, 2023

A real pleasure. Just turn that break into creative gold and store up inspiration in your internal storage facility. Then, when you're back at it, retrieve all that good stuff and send it out into the world. I'm anxious to read what you've got.

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Viga Boland
13:06 Apr 23, 2023

Thanks for the faith, encouragement and support, Susan. Be back soon as I can, for sure ✌️

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Grant Jahn
19:03 Apr 22, 2023

This is a wonderfully crafted dialogue. I'm particularly fond of how personal the narrative is, living just outside of Grandma's mind in the third person, but so intertwined with it that it gets lost in the ruminations, memories, and begins rambling, only to have her snap back out. Makes you feel like you're in grandma's head. Beautiful!

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Viga Boland
00:35 Apr 23, 2023

Well thank you so much Grant. You just made my day with that. It always amazes me what other writers see in my stories that I didn’t. How awesome. 😊

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KT George
14:20 Apr 22, 2023

What a beautiful yet heartbreaking story. That first line was an immediate draw, "Life is a game of hopscotch." I love how you weaved the prompt in multiple times and kept bringing this idea of hopscotch back around, relating it to life. Borderlines blurring, lying to survive, childhood trauma that sneaks up on you when you aren't looking for it...these are all powerful images. You did a fantastic job writing about a serious topic without going into full detail. The subtleness with which you skate the real issues is masterful.

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Viga Boland
14:55 Apr 22, 2023

Thanks so much KT for your constant support of my writing. This prompt, and the analogy, metaphor, allegory or whatever name one wants to apply to it just jumped at me and begged to be written. I felt as if someone invisible was guiding my fingers on the keyboard. Yes, it hit deep into my own reality, both past and present, but when I finished it, I felt good about it. Sadly, it might be the last story from me in a while. For starters, some recent events in our personal lives this past week are going to seriously shorten my writing time. Wh...

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KT George
16:07 Apr 22, 2023

Oh, Viga, I have experienced similar setbacks with my writing dream. Life is full of unpredictable ups and downs. You know that more than most. Perhaps the lesson is to learn to work with those ups and downs vs. putting equally important things aside (your dreams). Yet, I fully understand your choice to support your family over yourself. If you cannot write but want to stay in touch, please feel free to email me! My address is in my profile. 🤗

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Viga Boland
16:23 Apr 22, 2023

Thanks KT. Love that you offer me support beyond Reedsy. I certainly hope I’ll be able to write during “up” times, when my daughter is at work. But when she’s home with us. If she needs my company, she will have it.

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Wally Schmidt
04:16 Apr 22, 2023

The juxtaposition between the game of hopscotch and what it means to the girl, and what it means to the woman is a structure that works well on many different planes. The deep caring between the grandaughter and her grandmother is sweet with each of them focusing on where the other finds themself. Despite the woman aging, she keeps getting pulled back to a time when she was a girl and like the game of hopscotch, she turns around and starts over. I'd like to think that every pass she makes on the board, her legs get stronger, she feels more s...

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Viga Boland
13:41 Apr 22, 2023

Thank you Wally for taking time out to read my story in a month that has unexpectedly given you some difficult news to cope with. As always, your analysis of my story hits the key issues. Thanks for sharing your observations.

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Delbert Griffith
14:21 Apr 21, 2023

Wow. Powerful, Viga. Some things can never be forgotten, even if you find a way to move on. And moving on isn't easy advice to follow, right? Only abuse victims can understand what other abuse victims are going through. Well written and hard hitting, my friend. Great work.

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Viga Boland
15:39 Apr 21, 2023

Thanks for reading and commenting Delbert. A topic close to my heart. Probably be the last story from me for a while now. Bit of domestic upheaval in our personal lives right now as we move an elder daughter back home. Lots of rearranging rooms, furniture and tons more. My time for both reading and writing will be limited. Will need really inspiring prompts plus TIME to write over next few months.

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Michał Przywara
20:37 Apr 20, 2023

This story hits hard, as others mentioned. And the combination of tags and the trigger warning were unsettling. That said, it's written very well. I think it really captures that getting-stuck-in-memories feeling, when something is eating at you. Considering the way it ends - despite having a nice visit from a loved one - these memories drag everything down again. It's a sad ending. Or in a way, a problem unending. It highlights very well how some wounds just don't heal. They can be managed but not erased. "She’s jolted back to the pre...

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Viga Boland
20:46 Apr 20, 2023

Thanks Michal for your intense look at this piece. Yes, the ending is sad, but appropriate according to my own experience and other victims of childhood sexual abuse whom I’ve helped with writing their painful memoirs. You see, if theres’s one thing those who haven’t been abused say too often to victims it’s “just get over it and move on.” That’s ideal, but far from real for most victims. We do get on with our lives; many have successful lives. But few ever forget. What happened is always lurking in the dark recesses.

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Michał Przywara
20:58 Apr 20, 2023

Oof! What a brutal thing to tell someone. I suspect it comes not from malice, but from a lack of empathy. That's one of the reasons I think stories, like this and otherwise, are so powerful. For just a moment they let us see what it's like for someone else, and hopefully that helps us grow a bit.

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Viga Boland
22:15 Apr 20, 2023

That’s why I wrote it. 😊

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Lily Finch
17:56 Apr 19, 2023

Viga, strict parents' raise liars. Scotch is just an added bonus. LOL. Hopscotch really does keep your life hoppin'! You hammered it home and the story was sobering to say the least, Viga. You bring the true, real story subjects out with magical realism. Well done! LF6.

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Viga Boland
22:29 Apr 19, 2023

Love the last line of that feedback Lily. Thanks so much.

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Lily Finch
22:33 Apr 19, 2023

Anytime, of course. LF6.

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Riel Rosehill
13:27 Apr 19, 2023

I love how this story starts with “Life is a game of hopscotch,” and ends with "back to square one". I think the contrast between an innocent children's game and childhood trauma works really well here. My favourite metaphor (loved this!): "re-drawing the lines someone else tried so hard to blur and nearly succeeded erasing altogether"

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Viga Boland
13:44 Apr 19, 2023

That is my favourite line too, Riel. Thanks for reading and commenting.

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Corey Melin
03:40 Apr 18, 2023

Very well done. We do hopscotch through life and it never ends. The question is do you keep on playing the game or take a tumble and stay down for the count? Many times it comes close. Good read and relatable

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Viga Boland
06:14 Apr 18, 2023

Thanks Corey

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Glenda Toews
03:27 Apr 18, 2023

Awe Viga... Written like one who has first hand knowledge of this version of hopscotch. Life can be so very difficult. Thank you for capturing that.

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Viga Boland
03:36 Apr 18, 2023

Thanks for reading it Glenda. Didn’t mean for it to go there but I let the old girl’s thoughts go where she wanted them to.

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Cindy Strube
01:06 Apr 18, 2023

Viga, I haven’t had much reading time lately, but so glad I read this one (and the comments.) I do enjoy your lighthearted Banter stories, but this one is at a different level. Please stick around! You certainly add a special element to Reedsy. ; ) Absolutely perfect title and theme for “back to square one”. Hopscotch… what a simple concept to illustrate the careful stepping through life. You carried it seamlessly. It’s very moving, for many reasons. I’ve never suffered any sort of abuse, but my grandpa did. His father was an alcoholic who ...

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Viga Boland
03:03 Apr 18, 2023

Oh Cindy….why don’t you write Grandpa’s story? It would be a fantastic tribute to him. I’m guessing he’s no longer alive? Your dad’s line re “the little boy who kept digging through a pile of manure because “there must be a horse in here somewhere!” is priceless! Stories like your grandfathers twist my guts. I despise alcoholism. I’ve reviewed so many heartbreaking memoirs by children abused by alcoholic fathers. Cuts me up everytime. Thanks for your thoughts on Hopscotch. That analogy, allegory, whatever you want to call me jumped at me ...

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RJ Holmquist
21:59 Apr 17, 2023

You always handle these tough, real life stories so well. "Its more like I mastered myself" What a great perspective, and it seems like an evolving process the writer is attempting to do again under different life circumstances.

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Viga Boland
22:28 Apr 17, 2023

You nailed it RJ

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