Following the Rules: NaPoWriMo


Every year we’re given the cards to fill out. There are boxes to check, the numbers 1, 2, or 3. In case of disaster, we will either stay at school, be taken to some central location, or our parents will come for us. My mother doesn’t take it seriously. She randomly checks one box or another. But I am a child, and I want my mom. I’m scared my family will be separated. In my sleep, I overhear news about brinkmanship and missiles in Cuba, the Iron Curtain and freedom. In my sleep, I hear my parents argue, hear the word divorce. Dreamworlds and destruction. But I am awake. I am a good child. I calmly kneel with the other children on the linoleum, dusty with playground dirt and tossed-away dreams. Our heads rest against the lockers in the hallway of this Dallas elementary school. No one ever voices the thought: if the bombs are dropped, there will be no escape. We do as we’re told, trusting the adults around us and following the rules. I am a good child. I slowly and carefully tug my dress down so my underwear does not show.


Mushroom clouds unfurl

in the desert, blooms of death,

poisonous beauty

warn us, still we play again,

still we keep score, game, set, match


Embed from Getty Images


This is Day 20 of NaPoWriMo. I covered several prompts here. Though it’s not really about games or sports, my haibun does include a sports reference. (Gasps from all who know me.)

This haibun is also for dVerse, Haibun Monday (a few days late) where the prompt was to write about a fear we’ve experienced. And I’ve managed to include all of Secret Keeper’s words in this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge: Score/Sleep/Free/Calm/Escape











46 thoughts on “Following the Rules: NaPoWriMo

  1. Ah, yes. Those school days of duck and cover, with no real warning about what to do when you’re playing outside – or, what to do after the explosion, for that matter. I remember civil defense supplies in the high school basement (1971), near the archery range, that hadn’t been touched in years.

    • I remember being really afraid, probably because I actually read and have an imagination. But my daughters had to deal with the reality of 9/11 and practice school lockdowns.

  2. This is so poignant in both parts, the voice of the child who has to trust the adult; and the adult voice of the poem which says, we’re afraid and we don’t know who to trust. The “play again” and “game, set, match” are chilling.

    • Thank you, Jennifer. I think both parts are true. I remember being scared as a child, but following the rules. As an adult, this past year, the world has seemed to become scarier.

  3. Oh this is so moving. Seems there has always been the underlying fears for children and adults to cope with. Lovely write.

  4. I don’t remember being scared, but looking back you have to wonder what good they thought it would do, to crouch in the hall with your head against the wall. And of course 9/11…well my older daughter’s high school was 2 blocks away from WTC and they had no plan…they didn’t send the kids home until after the first tower fell and the cops came in and said “You’re still here??!!” (That was a day.) So of course, the drills afterwards made total sense to me. But really, there’s no escape from the darker side of humanity. Fear is understandable, but not very productive. (K)

  5. I don’t remember being very scared during that time as a child, but I can see how these things could scare a child. There was no talk of divorce so this might have helped and we were on a farm. The schools did not have drills. I do remember my father worrying over finances and this did scare me in a way I did not understand well at the time.

  6. My sisters and I spent a lot of time speculating where we would hide if the Russians came. I wondered if hiding in the fruit cellar was the safest place from an atomic bomb. Food to last a long time but that small window worried me. Debating whether Iowa would be a bomb target. I felt no because we produce so much food they needed. My older sister felt that was the exact reason they would bomb us. We were such kids. The anxiety was definitely on our minds.

    • That is so interesting, Carol. I’m glad I sparked this bit of memory. I don’t ever remember discussing it with my sister. And there was no place to hide at home. I remember thinking we’d have to go into one of the bathrooms if a tornado came.

  7. Dear Merrill, I loved this. You literally made the world jump out of the page and grab me by the throat and tug me back. Your words fit so well you conjured that time back again for a re-examination. Wonderful writing – on a sad note isn’t it worrying that so many kids games are based on actual fears? Just as the Grimm brothers wrote about actual things and folk lore. We think kids are innocent but they know a lot and see a lot. This was superb.

  8. The contrast from your childhood experience and today’s world situation was written with grace and was hauntingly eerie. We had tornado and fire drills, but no bomb drills.
    The week of the 2017 inauguration my brother’s discussed, via a group text, which dreadful outcome would be the most likely: WWIII, impeachment or assassination? They are pacifists whose 70’s parents had said if their draft number had been drawn; they would support leaving their country. We are just steps away from at least one of these horrible outcomes!!

  9. sorry to be so late responding to this wonderful haibun. I have been tied up taking care of my mom. But I like this haibun. several people wrote on this fear and it is one I also grew up with. Thank you for posting. Please post again this week! I promise to do better now that my mom is being taken care of.

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