The Players





idk how i feel about what’s going on, but you should of not drank so much…

ur last night on earth wuz a good one. way to go down! DAF!!!

we should of charged that bitch extra!

some people just deserve to have dicks rubbed on their face. LOL!!!

dont wanna be THAT girl tomorrow morning…

how do you brush a giant wad of cum out of your hair? ask the new girl… ROTFL!

who is this drunk bitch on the floor? Is that HER pee? I dont think so…

Drunk Sluts are the BEST!!!!!!!!!!!!!

im sorry, theres NO WAY you sleep through getting stuffed in the butt. hard to wake a DRUNKASFUCK girl I guess!!!

i have no sympathy for whores.

does anyone even know her name?

*     *     *

Player # 82: Lineman

“He/Him, She/Her”

I know what it feels like to be the new kid in school. I was the new kid in school once, but that was way back in eighth grade. I was a fat kid and that’s never good in general, but it’s really bad when you’re in middle school, and it’s really, really bad when you’re in a middle school where you don’t even know anybody.

It took me one day to become famous in this town. It’s not hard in a town like this. Place is so fuckin’ small and nothing ever happens here, so if you have a bad day and someone’s busting your balls about being a fat kid and you smash his face in with your elbow so that blood sprays all over the place—and I mean all over the place, all over our shirts and faces and the desks—then you become famous pretty quick. Some of the girls were screaming because it was such a mess in there. I was sent to the principal’s office. I heard later that they had to get the class out of the room so the janitors could clean up all the blood everywhere. That kind of scene is hard to forget, sticks with people, so like I said, I became famous pretty quick.

After busting that kid’s face open, he left me alone. That was the good part. The bad part is that I kind of got this reputation for being a real tough guy. Funny thing is, I’m not. I mean, I’m big and everything—I’m six feet tall and I weigh a lot and I’m on the football team and all that—but I actually felt pretty shitty after I elbowed that kid. I almost started crying on my way to the principal’s office, and it wasn’t because I knew I was going to get in trouble—and believe me, I got in a lot of fucking trouble for that—it was because I was really mad at that prick for making me feel like shit about myself. The last thing I wanted to do was break the kid’s nose—I just wanted to shut him the fuck up. It worked and everything, breaking that kid’s nose, but it didn’t make me feel any better about getting teased for being fat.

After getting with those two guys, I don’t know, it all just got easier to give in to more and more guys. No use fighting it—one way or another, they’ll make you feel like it was all your idea…

When I came back after suspension, though, a weird thing happened: I was a king around school. Busting that kid’s nose was like the best thing for making friends because, after that, I got all kinds of invitations to do things, like go to other dudes’ houses and sit with them during the basketball games, all from guys I still hang out with now. But that elbow to the face became a running joke. It was like, Don’t fuck with HIM or he’ll bust your face up with his elbow, and suddenly, forever, I’m HIM, the big kid who busts people up with his elbow, even though I haven’t done anything like that since seventh grade. Not even close.

The problem is that it’s a level of respect that’s hard to get from guys you go to school with and you can’t be like, “OK, guys, let’s stop with the breaking noses stuff,” because then you’re a pussy, and it’s way better to be the guy who breaks noses than it is to be a pussy. At least when you’re in high school. And because I’m big and on the football team, people just assume all kinds of things about me that aren’t true.

Like, they assume that I was part of what happened after the party that night just because I’m friends with those guys. Well, I wasn’t a part of it. I might’ve busted some kid’s face open for calling me fat in the eighth grade, sure, but I don’t do mean shit to girls and I don’t think it’s cool to do mean shit to girls.

Except, you wouldn’t know it from the way I acted that night. I was in the pictures a bunch of people took with their cell phones, holding a beer in one hand and doing stupid shit, like giving the thumbs up or pumping my fist with my other hand, like I was celebrating something really awesome while this girl is laying there passed out in the background, arms and legs all twisted up like a rag doll, missing half her clothes.

I see those pictures and I think about how she went from being the new kid in school to everybody talking about her over a weekend. Because of this thing that happened, she’s not a person anymore—she’s just this story everybody is telling about her and the story is everywhere. You say “she” and “her” and everybody knows exactly who you’re talking about. And because of those pictures, everybody’s talking about me and my friends, too. I didn’t do anything to the girl, but I’m the shithead in the background, laughing, drinking, and pumping his fist.

I would like to think that I wouldn’t have acted like that if I hadn’t been so wasted, but even that doesn’t make me feel any better, just like busting that kid’s nose didn’t make me feel any better in seventh grade.

I don’t even remember his name.

*     *     *

The Slutty Girl

“The Wide Receiver”

Last summer, the football players made a list. It included all the girls from the soccer team. We were all given really sexual names. Wanna know what my name was? “The Wide Receiver.” They call me that because, basically, I’ve hooked up with a lot of guys. It’s not a big deal, really—no one takes that sorta stuff seriously anymore.

At least not if you’re a guy.

If you’re a guy, you can hook up with as many girls as you want. The more the better. If you’re a girl, though, it’s not the same. You’re not supposed to hook up with a lot of guys. But if you don’t, then you’re a cock tease for giving guys blue balls. Guys hate blue balls.

Kinda funny, but they named one of the girls “Blue Balls,” too.

I guess I’d rather be The Wide Receiver than Blue Balls. I’d rather be the girl who gets guys off than the girl who gets guys mad. I’ve gotten guys mad before.

There were two guys in particular. And when they get mad at you like that, you don’t know what to do. Giving in is just sorta easier because it’s not like you can push ’em off you or bite down really hard, even if you think pushing off or biting down would make them stop doing what they’re doing.

After getting with those two guys, I don’t know, it all just got easier to give in to more and more guys. No use fighting it—one way or another, they’ll make you feel like it was all your idea, to the point that you’re not even sure they’re wrong, to the point that you’re not even sure you hadn’t put the idea in their heads in the first place.

And then there you are, right in the middle of it, all confused and so fucking awkward. Too late to stop at the moment but far enough along that you might as well just get through the whole pathetic scene of it: him, humping away, making all those awful noises and spastic movements; you, scrunching up your face and trying not to move too much, just waiting for the guy to finish.

At least when they’re done, they’re not so fucking mad anymore.

*     *     *

The Girl in English Class

“The List”

I wasn’t one of the girls on the girls’ soccer team, on The List the football players made. I guess I’m not pretty enough or don’t have big enough boobs or whatever for that kind of attention.

Mostly people tell me I’m the kind of girl you marry, or the kind of girl guys want to be best friends with. I’m not sure what that means, but my guy friends tell me that’s some sort of compliment—it’s a compliment not to be hot. They say I don’t give off the kind of vibe that would make guys think they’d have a chance with me. I don’t know what that means, either, because I’m not stuck up and I like to go out on dates and get dressed up or whatever, but I guess I’m supposed to be relieved that I wasn’t on The List.

Two summers ago, in the weeks before classes started, the football players all came for the summer doubles, the practices that happen twice a day until the start of the season. They were waiting for a thunderstorm to pass one afternoon, so they all went to the locker room and wrote up this list of “positions” for the girls on the soccer team. I guess they thought they were being clever or something by assigning different sexual positions to each of the girls they wanted to get with. And after each of the names, they talked about what the name meant, as if it weren’t already clear.

You’d think the teachers, one of them at least, would cut the girl some slack or, I don’t know, try to talk to her. But they didn’t.

One of the girls they called “The Wide Receiver” because, to use their words, “There’s not a wide hole she wouldn’t receive you with.” I thought it was pretty disgusting that they would say that about her. About anyone, really. She’s got a pretty well-known reputation for being a slut. I feel bad for her. I don’t know if that’s how I should feel about her, but I can’t help it because it doesn’t seem fair. If a guy gets with a lot of girls, he’s a hero, he gets praise from his friends—getting girls is like something for him to brag to his friends about. But it’s not the same for girls. If a girl does something with a guy and the details get out—and let’s face it, guys talk about this kind of stuff all the time, whether what they say is true or not—she’s supposed to be ashamed or embarrassed. I’m not sure why it works like that—I only know that it does.

The weirdest part of the whole thing was that the team didn’t even really get in trouble. I mean, The List was photocopied and left scattered all over the hallways, so everyone—and I mean everyone—saw it, even our teachers, not that any of them would talk about it. The school made this half-assed attempt to address the “behavioral concerns” by sending a letter home to our parents explaining the incident and assuring them that “appropriate measures” would be taken. No one knows what those “measures” were, which most likely means nothing happened at all.

Well, one thing happened: one of the girls ended up in the hospital for cutting herself. They called this girl “The Full Back” because, to use the boys’ words, “She has the kind of ass they want to back up into them.” Her parents pulled her out of school the next day. It was after that that the administration sent the letter home. Last I heard, she’s at a private school, three towns over. She plays soccer there now.

The story landed on the news and everything, but, just a few weeks later, the whole thing just blew over. That’s the way things go around here, and before we know it, that’s what’s going to happen with this story too. It’s a big deal right now, what happened to the new girl, but soon no one’ll even remember what happened and we’ll all be on to the next thing, whatever it is. I know this because there have already been attempts to sweep this under the rug to protect the football coach or the boys in trouble.

People around town are already acting like the whole thing’s been blown out of proportion. I overheard two men talking in the grocery store saying how “it’s such a shame” that this one incident is going to follow these two boys their whole lives, and how it’s going to “ruin their chances” at a scholarship and a football career, and how “they’re only boys doing what boys do,” and that “they’re young” and “don’t know any better…”

That’s what a lot of people around here are saying.

And when The List came out, it was the same thing. I remember hearing kids at school be like, Oh, that’s just guy talk, or, Oh, that’s the kind of things guys that age do. Even the girls’ soccer coach said things like, you know, Boys are stupid at this age and they’re just being boys. I’m not sure he knew what to say, but he could have done better than that because it didn’t make any of us feel any better about the whole thing. He did his best to have the football team shut down for the season, though. I’ll give him that.

He started a petition and everything, and though I can’t prove this, I’m pretty sure he’s the reason the story got onto the local news. I think he was hoping for some support from the people who live around here, but the football coach just rode the whole thing out and now no one’s talking about The List anymore. Coach is old as the town itself, and so many people in this town love him and his winning record that I’m pretty sure him and his boys could get away with anything. The girls’ soccer coach was only in his second season. He resigned at the end of the year.

I don’t know how true that is, though. The whole thing seemed pretty sketchy, him leaving at the end of the year like that, especially with a winning record of his own. But it’s not like we could ask anybody about it. Adults don’t really tell us the truth about anything—they don’t think we know how to handle things, so, instead, they just lie or pretend like nothing is happening until they think we’ve moved on. Most of the time, riding it out doesn’t work—I don’t know why adults don’t get that.

The day or two leading up to “The Full Back” hurting herself, I remember her getting kicked out of class for refusing to participate in the discussion. She wasn’t rude or anything, but the teacher threw her out anyway. The teacher asked her some stupid question about The Scarlet Letter and the girl just looked at her. When the teacher asked her the question again, she shrugged her shoulders and played with the wire spirals in her notebook. That pissed the teacher off pretty good and before we knew it, the girl was gathering her stuff to leave.

You’d think the teachers, one of them at least, would cut the girl some slack or, I don’t know, try to talk to her. But they didn’t. And it’s not like they didn’t know what the football players wrote about her. Wearing baggy sweatpants and refusing to participate in class—I guess those weren’t big enough things for people to notice. But cut yourself up in the girls’ bathroom on the second floor and that will get some attention.

I’m ashamed to admit it now, but, up until “The Full Back” cut her arms up with a razorblade, I felt pretty shitty that I wasn’t on that list. It’s one of those things: if you’re on The List, you feel like shit, and if you’re not on The List, you feel like shit. I’m not sure why it works like that—I only know that it does.

*     *     *


“Quinn and the Kitten”

Now that the pictures are all getting out, pretty much everyone who was there that night is in trouble. It doesn’t matter if you didn’t do anything because what a lot of people are saying is that if you were there, you were a part of the whole thing, whether you did anything to that girl or not. And I want to be clear that I didn’t do anything.

Well, I laughed. Is that bad?

Is laughing the same as doing something?

It’s hard to know in these situations. I’ve been in them before.

It’s not exactly the same thing, but before I moved to this town, I watched one of my friends shoot another friend in the head. He killed him. I was there and I saw the whole fucked up thing of it, but just like this party, I didn’t do anything. I didn’t pick the fight that started the whole thing and I certainly didn’t pull the trigger. Fuck, I didn’t even want to see the gun in the first place. Things just got way out of hand so fast.

Adults don’t really tell us the truth about anything—they don’t think we know how to handle things, so instead, they just lie or pretend like nothing is happening until they think we’ve moved on.

It started out pretty simple enough. It was after school one day, we’d just started seventh grade, and Quinn—that was the kid’s name—Quinn told us he had a gun. Well, actually, Quinn’s grandfather had a gun, but Quinn knew it wasn’t locked. He just wanted to show us, that was all. I wasn’t dying to see it or anything—if I’m being honest, guns scare me.

I didn’t play it like that, obviously. You can’t let shit like that out with your guy friends, even at that age. And the need to prove you’re tough only gets to be more and more important as you get older. It’s like this unwritten rule that all guys know starting from really young. We don’t talk about it, but it’s there. And you’re fucking dead if you even think about talking about things like being scared. You can’t be sad, either. It’s all gotta come off as pissed because being pissed, that’s a feeling guys understand.

Sometimes I think it’s the only feeling guys understand.

But Scotty? He didn’t play it right—he let on that he was scared. He tried saying things like, “C’mon, Quinn, we shouldn’t be up here,” and like, “Your grandfather’s gonna be pissed if we’re in here.”

See? Pissed.

And that was, like, all Quinn needed. His whole attitude towards Scotty changed and he was saying shit to embarrass him, even looking to me for approval. I didn’t say anything, but I was laughing. “Oh, you bein’ a pussy, Scotty? A fuckin’ pussy. It’s not even loaded, you little bitch.” Guys hate to be called names like that. I don’t think there’s anything worse. Faggot, maybe. So guys’ll do just about anything to prove that they’re not faggots and pussies, that we’re all men, real men.

And there was Quinn, kinda shoving Scotty on the shoulder every time he called him a pussy or a faggot. It was like Quinn wanted him to feel the words every time he said them: Faggot. Pussy. Homo. Bitch. It started to get pretty intense after like a minute or two of that. I can’t say how long it went on for—felt like fucking forever. Quinn was antagonizing Scotty enough that I could see Scotty start to turn red and breathe heavy through his nose. He might have been trying not to cry because forget it if you fucking cry in front of your boys. They’ll never let you live that shit down.

I mean, friends are really important, but sometimes, I felt like they weren’t good for me. Like, they push me to do shit that I wouldn’t do, and afterwards, I don’t know why I did what I did, only that I have to, like, deal with the fact that I did it. Quinn was one of those kids—he pushed me to do all sorts of things—and I could see that he was pushing Scotty pretty hard. I kinda expected Scotty to lose his shit on Quinn.

I saw that happen once, too.

It was like a year before I came to this school, so we were young, like ten or eleven, maybe. Me, Quinn, and Scotty were walking to the park to shoot some hoops. Quinn was dribbling the basketball when we came upon this little kitten. It was probably one from this crazy cat lady who lived down the street from another kid we knew. She had all kinds of cats just running around the streets of our town and new kittens showed up all the time. Quinn saw one—couldn’t have been more than a week old, it was so small—and he bent down and made a sweet noise. He held out his hand for her to come over to him, which she did. Scotty and me bent down to pet her and try to play with her too.

Then Quinn did the kind of thing Quinn used to do: he stood up real fast, brought the basketball over his head and slammed it down on her tiny skull. Blood and guts shot out onto our knees and sneakers. The kitten let out this awful noise. It was fucking disgusting.

Scotty stood up and screamed, blood all over his hands, trying to beat the shit out of Quinn. I remember Quinn laughing, running in circles around me, trying to deflect Scotty with the bloody basketball.

I just sort of stood there.

When the two of them were tired out from running, they were hunched over, hands on their knees, trying to catch their breath. Scotty looked at Quinn and said, “You’re so fucked up,” then snatched the ball from under Quinn’s left foot and punted it down the street. Quinn walked after it. Me and Scotty walked in the other direction.

We didn’t talk the whole way home because, like, what do you say after something like that? I remember thinking that Scotty looked as shitty as I felt: he was sweaty and dirty, covered in kitten guts and blood, and crying. I didn’t let on that I was upset too—and looking back, I kinda wish I did—but when I got to my room, I cried.

I cried hard.

Cried like a bitch.

I never told anyone about that.

The day that Quinn killed the cat felt weirdly like a warning of what happened the day Scotty shot Quinn in the head: the two of us standing there, breathing heavy, covered in some other body’s blood and guts, crying. It all happened as fast as Quinn and that basketball, Scotty just fucking snapped and grabbed the gun from Quinn’s hand, aimed and pulled the trigger of a gun that wasn’t supposed to be loaded. Turns out Quinn’s grandfather had a terminal disease and his gun was part of some plan to off himself.

I read once that’s how boys kill themselves most often, gun to the head, a sure thing. Girls do things like take a bunch of sleeping pills or drink mouthwash and then, like, text their friends to tell them about it right after, so they always get saved. It’s like they don’t really want to do it, but they want people to know they do. Guys? Guys are just the opposite—they’d rather die before being saved. Guys will pretend everything is fine and then, one day, the school has to contact everyone’s parents to tell them about the tragedy.

It was shortly after Scotty’s suicide—by hanging; Scotty’s grandfather didn’t have a gun—that I came here, to this shitty little town. My parents were worried that I might do something to myself because I always seemed to be mixed up in things, like Quinn and the kitten, and then later, Scotty and Quinn.

And now the thing with that girl. Not involved directly, but always there, somehow, never knowing what to do.

I wonder why that is.


Lauren Marie Schmidt is the author of three previous collections of poetry: Two Black Eyes and a Patch of Hair MissingThe Voodoo Doll Parade, selected for the Main Street Rag Author’s Choice Chapbook Series; and Psalms of The Dining Room, a sequence of poems about her volunteer experience at a soup kitchen in Eugene, Oregon. Schmidt’s fourth collection, Filthy Labors, a series of poems about her work at a transitional housing program for unwed mothers, was published by Northwestern University Press/Curbstone Press in 2017. She is currently at work on a young adult novel. The Players, as published in Lunch Ticket, is comprised of non-consecutive chapters in a larger