I glance right, scanning the parking lot of the Used Car Motor Mall as I ease through the intersection. A red Honda Civic is sitting in the spot that has housed a yellow Corvette for the better part of the last month.
About a block away I look for the hummer that recently showed up at another dealership. It’s yellow, too, and I can see it’s still parked just east of the driveway. Five points, I think to myself—even though I know the rules. I know it doesn’t count. You can only earn points if your opponent is in the car with you. No carryovers; no exceptions.
I didn’t notice yellow cars before T; I’d never given them a second thought. But now I see them everywhere—in oncoming traffic and in my rear-view mirror. Sometimes they’re parked in the easy, predictable places: like our neighbor’s yellow car that’s almost always at the end of our street. T calls those the lucky spots. And even though I know the rules, I can’t turn it off. When he’s not with me, I still keep a mental tally of my score and scan all the lucky spots I pass.
T started calling points the day he came to live with me, but it took me two full months to figure out what he was mumbling about. From the backseat of my car, he would suck on his coat or the collar of his shirt and stare out the window. Every once in a while, his body would stiffen and he’d mutter something incomprehensible.
“What was that, buddy?” I’d ask. But he’d shrink back and just keep sucking and starring. So, I kept asking, encouraging him to look up—imploring him to use his voice and speak his truth. With time I started to piece together bits of what he said.
It was a game. His nana made it up. He had never won. He’d never even scored when his brother and sister were playing; they were too fast. Now, from the backseat of my car, the Points Game was his to own. He was in charge, and, slowly, he invited me into his world and asked me to join him.
I gladly accepted the invitation.
Yellow cars are worth five points. Motorcycles are worth 10. Yellow motorcycles are 15. Bit by bit I figured out enough to play along. When I messed up, he’d stop sucking on his shirt long enough to correct me.
“No, Amy,” he explained once. “You’re not winning. You don’t win in the Points Game. You just play the Points Game.”
“Oh. Is it fair to say, ‘I’m ahead’?”
“Sure. But please don’t brag, Amy. That’s annoying.”
School busses never count—there’s way too many. Yellow Beetles count, but if you call slug bug, you lose points. (T never knew how big the penalty was for this infraction, but he assured me it was severe.) Construction equipment seemed to be outside the scope of the original rules, so we decided it would count as five points, too.
The Points Game was a daily ritual as we drove to school that first year. There were two lucky spots on our route, but if we were a little early the yellow jeep wouldn’t be at the insurance agency quite yet. The Ryder truck was always in the same spot, though—and if we were having a good day we would race to call it. Sometimes, on our not-so-great mornings, we’d both miss it. Or one of us would call it and the other would declare we weren’t playing.
This past summer, on a road trip home to see my family, T hit an all-time-higher-than-high world record with a whopping 545 points.
There are two things I love about the Points Game. The first is simply that it’s a reminder of how far T’s come. The first winter he lived with me, he would come home from school and his shirt would be soaking wet. His lips and chin were constantly raw from rubbing against the fabric—from the non-stop sucking and chewing. At least two of his school uniform shirts were destroyed from his nervous energy.
But that kid—that kid who wouldn’t look me in the eye, who never spoke up, and who sucked and chewed on his clothes because of his constant anxiety: he’s been transformed. T hasn’t sucked on a piece of clothing for well over a year. He doesn’t suck his thumb at night anymore, either. He can tell me exactly how he’s feeling—good or bad. And even though he still has big emotions (and big reactions to those emotions), he’s learned to manage them in healthier ways.
Like today, when I dropped him off at school. He gave me a hug as he got out of the car. “I’m really sorry about that little freak-out I had back at home, Amy,” he explained. “It’s silly to get so upset about a quarter. It doesn’t matter that I lost that quarter, and I shouldn’t have treated you that way.”
A year ago—or even six months ago—that kind of quick resolution and empathy would not have been possible.
But the other thing I love about the Points Game is that it’s a tangible example of what T’s given me. We’re constantly playing, and I’ll forever think of him, and of his story, when I see a yellow car.
For better or worse, we’ve spent the last two years giving each other what we’ve had to give. Sometimes, that’s meant he has deposited endless love and affirmation in my account when I have felt heavily taxed. And I hope the reverse is true, too—that I’ve given him enough love and stability to unlearn and relearn and maybe even to build and grow and thrive.