How to Win at Simon Says
I love games. I always have. That’s why I was so thrilled to play with Simon.
He would come out of the woods behind my house every now and then, always as the sun was about to set, always when I was alone. Usually I would be wrapped up in the imagination that was granted to me, but I always stopped my games of shooting zombies or creating the world’s most difficult hop-scotch course to play with him. There was just something about him that made me smile and giggle. It could have been his ridiculously tall form or his toothless grin. It might have been his lazy eye or tattered, brightly-colored clothes. Over time, I decided that it was the make-up he wore, reminding me of the silly clowns that would give me flowers at the circus. I liked clowns almost as much as I loved games.
But something changed one day. No, Simon still looked like a cartoon created from my mind, he still came striding up to my swing set and lifted me to my feet, and he still gave me a small kiss on the cheek before the game, but his lazy eye was a little bit colder. The fun was drained from the iris, but I would only realize that later. As a child, the physical world had not changed, and I hardly concerned myself with metaphysical worries.
“Simon says,” he began in his raspy voice. It reminded me of my father’s; he was a smoker. “’Spin around as fast as you can!’”
I laughed. I let the wind hold my skirt as I twirled around like a professional ballet dancer (or, at least, that’s what I told myself). He clapped at my performance and gave me a nod of approval. I guess that is what I really craved from his attention.
“Alright, that was easy,” he breathed. “Simon says, ‘touch your toes.’”
He knew I couldn’t. He let out a noise that I thought was laughter as I struggled to bend my small frame.
“You promised you wouldn’t do that one, Simon,” I complained, my shoes still a mile away from my stubby fingers.
“Riiight. I forgot.” It really came out as, “Riiigh, I fogo,” but I was an expert at deciphering his toothless dialect. I forgave him instantly.
“Okay, next one!” I exclaimed, straightening up. This is where the game started.
“Righty-o. Simon says, ‘do jumping jacks!’”
I bounced up and down. I had never really been taught how to do jumping jacks, but he never seemed to correct me if I was doing them wrong. It was all a game, after all, and so he just opened his black maw into a cavernous smile.
“Simon says, ‘rub your belly.’”
He liked that one. I could tell by the way his breathing grew heavier.
“Simon says, ‘hug me.’”
He was so warm.
“Simon says, ‘kiss my cheek.’”
I would always return the favor.
“’Lick my hand.’”
I skipped away from him at that point and just stuck out my tongue. “Simon didn’t say! Simon didn’t say!”
“Oooh, I always forget how good you are at this game. Well done.”
I glowed at his praise like the last rays of the setting sun. I let him ruffle my hair because when Daddy did it, his hands were always unwelcomingly sticky. Simon’s were smooth and free from calluses, and his touch always gave me goosebumps like when Grandma used to run her fingers down my back. I knew he liked me, and that was all that mattered to my young mind.
“Okay, so this next one will be much harder. Are you ready?” he asked.
Of course I was. This was the next level.
And I was well prepared for what he told me to do. In the past, Simon had given me various objects. The first was a lighter, one where I simply had to press a button to make a frightening flame appear. He told me to burn my cat’s ears. That was the first time I had reservations, and I remember crying and hitting him as he guided my hand firmly to where he had my cat in a crate. We had just gotten the animal, but I still squealed in accompaniment to the cat’s frenzied yowls as he held my hand, lighter included, to the cat’s ears. That was also the first time I saw Daddy drink. That was also the first time he hit me.
Simon made it better, though. He told me to believe that it was just a game. And then he told me to give him a hug. It did get easier as time went on, the mauling, the way animals screeched at the sight of a knife and the way the kids ran from me on the street. Whenever a parent voiced a complaint to Daddy, he would just draw an open hand across my face and send me to bed with a burp. He would always say that he didn’t know what to do with me, but he would forgive me if I was just sad since Mom died. Unfortunately, when I explained that Simon helped me feel less lonely, Daddy would beat me again.
Simon told me to believe that Daddy didn’t love me. He said to understand that I did not deserve purple flower blossoms on my face. He told me to cry, to let out my pain, and to let him help me heal. Of course I let him. Simon was my friend, and there was something oddly satisfying about the tearing of muscles and searing of flesh. A therapist would later tell me it was called sadism, but I would just tell her I got good at the game.
That’s why what he told me to do next that day did not come as a shock. In fact, it came as a sort of relief, like a dark cloud had suddenly congealed inside of me, masking the bruises and the pain that arose from what Daddy drank. And besides, Simon said.
“Simon says, ‘Kill your father.’”
I will admit that I did not hesitate. I will confess, smiling, that I took the knife Simon handed me and fucking skipped up to my house. My friend did not follow, but he nodded with approval and gestured for me to go on and open the door. Before I stepped through that portal to hell, though, I called back,
“Say, if I do this, do I win?”
And Simon grinned, ear to ear, as happy as a cat toying with its prey. “Of course. You always win.”
The police reports I was shown later described a grotesque scene. The adrenaline prohibits me from recalling too many details, but I still know that Daddy was sound asleep when I stuck him like the swine he was and unzipped his flesh from his organs. The feral screams rang like a deep bass through my soul and rattled my body, but the knife was big, and Daddy’s skin was soft. Blood must have formed a geyser, for the police said that they found me covered head-to-toe in crimson death. At first, the police said they thought I was the one hurt, but I had no physical wounds to show. Besides, I was smirking the whole time, mirroring the one on Simon’s face as he stared at me through the window.
I won the game.
I married my therapist’s son years later. Most of what Simon said was a repressed memory that my therapist helped me recall, but I was told that he never existed. He was merely the spawn of a lonely, confused young mind that desperately needed a friend. I was told I was not to blame, and rather that I had severe PTSD and schizophrenia that could be killed with a handful of brightly-colored pills. My husband knows my past, but he isn’t perfect either, and together we work through the hell we’ve landed ourselves in.
I believe we were redeemed when we had our daughter, Bonnie. She showed us the way to climb up through the pit of Tartarus. She forgave our sins with every peal of bell-like giggles. She made us better people with every simple “I love you.” And, damn it, I loved her, too.
That’s why it’s so confusing that my schizophrenia is acting up again. After all these years, my life had finally settled into a state of perfect bliss. My past was behind me, and Bonnie promised the brightest future. So I wonder why my pills have stopped working.
I wonder why my daughter came bouncing into our house last night, aglow as she told us about her game of Simon Says.