by Andrea Lena DiMaggio
St. Michaels, Castle Pollard, West Meath, Ireland…
Aidan sat in the pew well after the service was over. He looked around and noticed that the church had emptied out pretty much except for the two lads from school sitting across the aisle from him. They were joking with each other about some unknown amusement, but he had an idea about the subject. He turned back and noticed a boy sitting all by himself. The boy was about his age; sixteen or so, and seemed to be upset. Aidan shook his head and turned his attention once again to the boys in the pew on the other side of the church.
“Tommy…Hey, Tommy….Psssst,” the towheaded lad whispered back across the aisle. Looking around, he noticed that the church had emptied out and that he and his mate and Tommy and Aidan were alone.
“Hey…Tommy…ya fookin’ girl! I’m tellin’ Father Pat what Oi saw the other day. No more acolytin’ for you, ya fookin’ fairy!” At that, Tommy got up and stood in the aisle with his fists balled up, but not in rage, but in helpless frustration. He shook his head as tears flowed down his cheeks, leaving a trail on the old oak floor as he ran out the side door.
“You know,” Aidan said, “You lads are awfully quick to be callin’ names. I sure hope you never have anyone treat you the way you just treated that lad there!”
“Ah…gowan, you fookin’ queer lover. Shut up before I come over there an help you shut it.” He stood up and half-swung his fist in threat toward Aidan. The red-haired one smirked before the two walked out the front door, laughing.
Aidan sat in the church, alone. He felt helpless and didn’t have a clue as to how to be of any kind of help to Tommy. He only knew the boy from school, but even at that, he already knew the boy was different. A bit soft some might have called him, but it went beyond that. The boy wasn’t much of a boy at all, from what Aidan could see, and that left him open for the foolish taunts of the two boys just then. And likely even more at school, from what Aidan could surmise. Strangeness doesn’t work well with children, even if there’s nothing wrong. Like a shark to blood, kids will feed off fear, taunting and teasing to survive to make themselves feel better, even if for mere moments until their own lives take hold once again and plunge them into the same lack of self-esteem as their victims.
Aidan put his head down. He’d tried so often to be a good boy…a good Christian, his mother would often remind him. He was at a loss, having never really gotten into the discipline of prayer. So he had no expectations other than the hopes he voiced as he bowed in silence, his thoughts a petition to a God he hardly knew.
“Dear God. I’m not much for askin’ for anything. I know you helped me mum with the cancer last year. I’m sure of it. I don’t know what to do, other than ask for help. I think you want me to be a good Christian to that lad who just ran out. But I don’t know how. It seems to me that if things were somehow different, then he’d be a bit safer; maybe no worse off than me or those idiots…sorry...those lads who was doin’ the teasin’ just now. So I guess I’m askin’ for whatever change that would help the lad. Maybe make things different so he has a friend…you know? Whatya say, God?”
Aidan lifted his head. No bright lights streamed through the stained glass over the altar of the small church and no harps or horns played gentle tunes of inspiration; silence and the same darkness of the church remained.
“Well…that was just fantastic,” he said with only a bit of sarcasm in his voice. He looked up at the Crucifix over the Altar and smiled.
“Well, nothin’ happened when Mum got better, so I guess I’ll be takin’ no sign at all as a sign that you’re on the job, aye?” He smiled and got up from the pew and walked out.
“I sure hope you’ve got somethin’ in mind, God, since I’ve got nothin’ for that poor lad.” Aidan hopped on his bicycle and pedaled off down the road toward home.
The McAuley home...
“Hello, my darlin’ boy? Did you tell Father Pat that I’ll be around for the vigil this evenin'?” Moira McAuley smiled as her son walked into the kitchen to the aroma of fresh baked bread.
“I’m sorry, mum, but he’d stepped away by the time I got out. Musta lost track of time.” Aidan said as he kissed his mother on the cheek. The gesture felt oddly incomplete, and he hugged her tightly. She pulled back to almost arms length and gave him an odd look.
“Don’t you worry your head, dear. Your father is still at the hospital workin’ a second shift and won’t be home before dinner. Let’s get you off and changed while we can, dear. We haven’t got much time, but what we have is ours, aye?” His mother smiled at him and things seemed oddly familiar but curiously out of place at the same time. She literally ushered him upstairs to his bedroom.
“I laid everything out for you. Now don’t forget to put everything back when you’re done. You might even come down for a bit of tea and some bread and honey if you’re quick about it.” She smiled at him once again and pointed to his bedroom door with a broad gesture. He recalled leaving his door open when he left for church. Shaking his head in confusion he quickly entered his room and saw that everything seemed to be as it usually was. Stepping around the corner into the nook where his bed lay, he got a surprise; the biggest one of his seventeen years, since it was the quickest he could recall ever seeing any answer to prayer for anyone and the strangest he’d ever, ever know.
“I hope you don’t mind, but seein’ how it’s Sunday, I figured you wanted something nice.” Moira called from downstairs. She started singing a hymn, which was almost an eerie movie-like score to the moment. Aidan stepped up to the edge of the bed and looked down. On top of the covers his mother had laid some panties, a full slip, some hose, a garter belt and a yellow floral print dress; her favorite.
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph…craiceáilte …Dear God, me mum’s gone crazy,” he thought. But as he sat down on the bed in anxious confusion his hand brushed up against the nylons carefully placed on the pile of clothing. No shock to the system. No odd sexual feeling or fetishistic sensation. Just the feeling of normalcy and belonging and identity. He picked up one of the stockings and held it in his hands, examining it as if it was the first time but feeling like he had done this all before.
“This goes really nice with the dress,” he thought before dropping the stocking in near fright. It almost wafted down to the floor on a breeze from his bedroom window. He shuddered as a shock seemed to run up and down his spine. And then Aidan did something he hadn’t done since he had fallen off his bike in Rang a Tri.(about 9 years old) He started to cry. Memories he never recalled before flooded him; overwhelming him with the emotion of every slight. Every slap or taunt. Every cruel joke he had ever heard.
“Look at McAuley…what a girl!’ The boys would say at school.
“Hi, Aidan…would you like to come over to my house. We’re having tea,” a girl had said, not meaning to be cruel, but still hurting the boy’s feelings.
“You can’t come over anymore, Ai…me mum thinks you…well, you know.” His best friend turned his back.
A slap to the face told him just how much his father had really always hated him…or at least what he was.
“No son of mine. Moira…what have you been fillin’ the boy’s head with?” Slap…Punch. Crashing into the coffee table, lying on the floor in tears with makeup ruined by crying and a wig knocked askew.
“Now leave him alone, Seanie…he’s…different.”
All the times he would lie on his bed at night and hear his parents argue. All the torn clothing and the beatings and yelling. The trips to the doctor. The trips to the Rectory to speak with the priest. The stares …the odd smirks and smiles and sideways glances when they thought he had turned away.
And the boy who sat next to him in Sunday school forever; his only friend. And he the boy’s only friend as well in Rang a Se'(about 12 years old)
“I’m glad I’ve got you at least, Ei.” The boy would say.
The kissing and the crying afterwards. Not knowing who or what they were or should be. The experiments…the touches. New love? The tastes and forbidden smells as well. And the sadness of leaving without departing. He remembered both of them crying when they realized that Eileen was meant probably for another…maybe a Colleen or a Maired or an Agnes? And Tammy would be meant for a Paddy or a Martin or a David? Still best friends forever. Seventeen and both together but both alone.
No future and a past that hurt? Turndowns and snubs? How would he ever fit in?
“No…I can’t, Aidan…you’re sick… you make me sick,” Kathleen would say.
“I’m sorry, Eileen, really I am,” Janey would cry but still insist.
The time he walked in on Tammy just in time to save her life; the blood barely begun to flow into the bath water. A close call.
Memories that he never had that knocked him down and turned his whole world around as he recalled all of the hurt, the pain and rejection both boys had endured until it was too much for one. At nineteen; barely six days past her birthday, Tammy drove her mother’s Opel onto the railroad tracks and waited until it was too late. Aidan began to cry; harder than he had ever cried before.
He cried for his own pain…the rejection by his best mate from ignorance and hate and he cried for the loss of his best friend and sister to the hate and ignorance of others. The physical and verbal slaps and throttles from his father and the helpless weeping from his mother. He sobbed and sobbed until no sound came from his mouth; his face twisted in horror over the death of his friend and his own demise inwardly and then…suddenly…it was over....
As his body relaxed, he heard the sound of a car door slamming.
He sat up in bed; his own bed exactly as he had left it made before church other than a bit of muss from lying on top of the covers. No clothing other than what he wore. He swung off the bed and onto the floor. Walking down the stairs and into the dining room, he saw his father sitting at the table.
“Been nappin’, have ye? Well. What a day. I heard over at the Chemist’s on the way home that Timmy McCormack’s boy Tommy got admitted just as I got off shift. Tried to kill himself this afternoon; the lads got to him in time. They say there was blood all over their flat.” Aidan sat down, shaking his head slightly. He had just seen the boy in church that morning.
“Jamie Flynn says the boy’s got problems…that whole thing about bein’ a girl. What a fookin' waste. I’m at least glad my own boy isn’t fooked up in the head like he is, right Aidan?”
He reached over and grabbed Aidan’s shoulder and squeezed it; father to son. Aidan winced a bit and pulled back.
“Not my boy!”
He smiled at Moira, who put a plate of lamb and potatoes in front of him. Aidan put his hand up to his shoulder, feeling the muscle that his father had just squeezed. And Aidan noticed with a bit of unfamiliar but welcome relief that his father had stopped just short of feeling a bra strap through his shirt.
His bra strap.
As his mother bowed her head to say the blessing over the meal, he seemed to hear recall the verse from Father Pat’s homily that morning.
“Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive."
He shook his head no before a wave of recognition came over him as Father Pat’s words gained meaning; likely the first time in his life he ever made a real connection with God.
Aidan looked up and over at his image in the mirror over the sideboard. Had his features always been that 'soft?' He smiled at his reflection before nodding his head in a nervous agreement with the answer he had so earnestly sought. He didn’t know what would come of him next, but something inside him spoke to that area of faith that perhaps resides in us all and said that everything was going to be okay.
A Friend In Need!
The McAuley home...several days later...
Moira called from downstairs. Time enough to get ready for school…What was so different about this morning? Aidan had a fitful sleep the night before, and the reasons for his uneasiness came back to him as he sat up. As he pulled the covers off to swing his legs onto the floor he noticed the black bra that stretched across his chest. He crossed his hands over the bra and his face grew warm from the newness of the old memories; the prayer he had prayed had changed things…quite a bit.
“You said you wanted to go see the boy in the hospital…I can run you into town when I pick up your Dad, Aidan, but you best find a way to get home before end of day, or I don’t think visiting will be such a good idea. You know how Dad would hit the roof if he found out you were still friends with Tommy.”
“Sure, Mum….” Aidan shrugged his shoulders nervously before reaching back and unhooking the bra. Where did that come from? He remembered only vaguely helping Eileen McKenna with her bra when he was twelve, but the memory seemed more like a dream while his own experience with the garment seemed to deepen even as he set it aside on his bed.
Getting up, he noticed that his toenails were….pink. And that something felt odd on his legs…or rather ‘off’ his legs since he realized he had no leg hair. The uncomfortable embarrassment quickly gave way to an odd satisfaction as he stared at his legs; had he grown taller? He realized that the illusion of height was from the smooth line of his legs right up to his satin bikini panties. His panties.
“Oh…shit…” He quickly pulled off the panties and grabbed his bathrobe. He was about to walk to the bathroom to shower when he heard his mother coming up the stairs.
“Aidan…come on…be quick…I’ve got the laundry to put away before going out to St. Michaels for mornin’ Mass…” She said before returning to the hymn she had been singing.
Aidan picked up the panties and bra and looked around the room. Where to hide the clothes? And how didn’t his Mother know about them…and how did he? Looking over to the window, he noticed a pile of hurly gear sitting on the window seat. He ran over and pushed the gear aside and lifted the lid. His treasures lay carefully folded in a plastic bin within the seat…..his treasures. Lifting the lid, he placed the bra and panties inside, laying them on top of a black satin slip. The reverence of his treatment of the garments surprised and reassured him even as his face grew warm once again.
“Aidan…are you decent?” His mother called from the hallway.
“Yes, Mum,” he cried while tying the belt to his robe. He grabbed a towel off of his dresser and pushed meekly past her as she walked into the room with the laundry basket in her arms.
“Well, Good mornin’ to you, too,” she laughed as he quickly padded down the hall to the bathroom. It was only after he got into the shower when he realized his toenails were still pink.
Castlepollard Paroc Nation School at lunchtime...
“Hey, McAuley…I heard yer girlfriend tried to off herself… Fookin’ queers!” Danny Brennan shouted across the lunchroom.
“Don’t let it get you, Ai…” He turned to find Billy O'Flynn sitting next to him.
“You’ve got to feel sorry fer the lad; bein’ that he’s a bleedin’ moron!” Billy laughed.
“And here we are, while the lad is laborin’ back in the nineteenth century. I’m guessin’ that his folks maybe dropped him on his pate when he was a babe; probably how he got so narrow minded?”
Aidan looked around and noticed that he wasn’t sitting in what he recalled to be his ‘usual’ table with his mates; instead he found himself at a table off to the side where Billy and he were joined by Agnes McGuire and her girlfriend Noora Pradeep.
“You needin’ a ride to the hospital? I’m so scared for Tammy,” Noora said.
“She’s hit a rough patch, aye,” Billy nodded. The friends seemed familiar; Aidan noticed two empty seats; one of course for Tommy/Tammy and another for Trisha…his…girlfriend? Just then a soft hand brushed his hair which he was only just then realizing had grown out to nearly his shoulders.
“Hey, Trish…come over here and I’ll show you what a real man has to offer, aye?” Jimmy Dolan laughed. She ignored him and sat down next to Aidan. The girl was dressed in jeans and a work shirt, and her hair was cut nearly to the scalp. She leaned closer to Aidan, and he expected some sort of covert communication as her lips drew close to his ear. Instead of a whisper, she spoke plainly.
“Don’t let the bastards get to you, Ai. I think yer just fine meself,” she said as she kissed his ear.
“Oh…okay…” he muttered as the newness and the familiarity collided in his head.
“Let me be an instrument of your peace.” The words came to him as Jimmy Dolan walked over to the table and sat down next to Trisha.
“Whatcha wanna go fookin’ this fag fer, darlin’?” He said as he reached over to touch her arm. She looked around and noticed that none of the teachers were looking in her direction and she punched Jimmy in the side of the head, knocking him to the floor. The loud thud, accompanied by the sound of a tray falling to the floor, caused Ms. Magnuson to turn her head in their direction. Instead of getting up, she looked over at the boy on the floor once before nodding her head at Trisha.
“I don’t really like anyone touchin’ me, Jimmy dear,” Trisha squeezed out as much charm as she could before turning her attention to Aidan. Part of the boy grew very uncomfortable and anxious; the warmth of his face reminded him just how unfamiliar this girl was. But a stirring down below gave him pause to reflect on how much this girl really attracted him. The roles were reversed, so to speak, and try as he might, he couldn’t help thinking that this was the way things ought to be.
“I’m really sorry about takin’ charge, love, but he’s such an annoying fuck, you know.” Trisha smiled at Aidan before standing up.
“We’re all goin’ to the hospital after school. Call yer Mum and tell her you’ve got a ride, alright?” Trisha kissed him on the cheek once again, causing his face to turn red.
“I’ll try not to take so much charge the next time, love.” Trisha said finally before walking out of the lunch room. Aidan looked down at his lap and hoped that the lunch hour wouldn’t end too quickly.
Mt. Carmel/St. Joseph's Hospital...that afternoon
“Tammy?” The four teens poked their head into their friend’s room.
“Don’t call me that…ever again.” The boy turned his head toward the window. They walked in slowly. He had been taken off precaution and was on the ward waiting for discharge. His mother sat in a corner by the window, her face etched in frustration.
“What can be keepin’ the doctor?” She asked of no one. The nurse came in and smiled at the group.
“Oh, lookie, darlin’, your friends have come a callin’.” She smiled and nodded.
“Oh…Mrs. McCormack? The doctor is going to be droppin’ by shortly. But there’s somethin’ I need to discuss with you. Can you come over to nurse’s station for a moment?”
“Of course.” Tommy’s mother got up and left the room, leaving the boy with the group.
“Hey…come on….cheer up, lassie,” Trisha teased. The boy turned over and nearly shouted.
“Stop…just stop it. It’s never goin’ to work, so just let it go.”
The boy was in near hysterics and buried his face in the pillow. Aidan walked over and did something that once again felt odd and oddly familiar. He leaned over and kissed the boy on the cheek. After a few moments Tommy turned his face toward Aidan and sat up, putting his face against Aidan’s chest as he wept. Aidan patted the boy on the back awkwardly. Every touch and every word seemed to bring him closer to knowing the best friend he never had…. The memories of toys shared as five year olds and kisses as twelve year olds and sad fears as fourteen year olds and different paths as sixteen year olds.
“Ai….what am I gonna do? Da threw me out the other night….Mum snuck me back in and he beat her…and then he went after me… ‘it’s all your fault, you fookin’ girl!’” He spoke haltingly as the other teens stood by the bed and held hands.
“If only he really felt that way…but no…it’s an insult….I could handle it if it was just me, Ai, but Da hit Mum so hard that he broke a tooth. And now I don’t know what to do.” A moment later the answer came; not easily and certainly not with any feeling of ease or comfort for Tommy or Aidan, but it came none the less.
“Excuse me…” A kindly looking man in his forties stepped into the room.
“I’m Dr. Patterson, Tom…I’ve got to talk to you for a bit, if your friends don’t mind.”
“Shouldn’t me Mum be here, Doctor?”
“I’ve talked to her already. She’ll be in to see you in a few minutes. Children, if I could have some time alone with Tommy here?” Dr. Patterson smiled and the group filed out of the room.
“Hey, what do you suppose he wanted to talk to Tammy about?” Agnes asked. Billy, Noora and Trisha looked to Aidan. Without missing a beat and having been excluded from the conversation, Aidan nonetheless said with an unfamiliar conviction,
“I think he’s telling her that he’s talked to the Protection people about her mother and her bein’ beaten. At least that’s what I’d be sayin’.” The boy nodded at his own remark. He found himself strangely confident about everyone except himself at that moment. A few minutes later, Dr. Patterson exited the room and nodded at the four.
“You can go in to see your friend now… And don’t worry. She’ll be alright,” he said, using the female pronoun for the first time. They smiled back at him and filed into the room once again. Tommy was sitting up; looking much more at ease; though it was obvious he had continued crying in their absence.
“What did he have to say?” Noora asked.
“He said….me Mum is goin’ to talk with me…But the doc said she’ll be goin’ to go to a shelter for a bit until me Da can get some help…if he chooses.”
“If he chooses? Why wouldn’t he?” Agnes asked. Trisha looked at her and shook her head.
“For the same reason Mrs. McCormack has to go into the shelter. But what about you, Tammy? What did he say?”
“He….he told me I’d have to go to foster care or a youth shelter; I can’t be in the woman’s….the woman’s shelter.” He stammered and began to cry; the implications of being hurt for not being a boy and then not recognized as a girl by the people charged to protect her was too much.
“That’s alright…we’ll figure this out.” Noora rubbed the boy’s back. And Aidan looked at his best new friend and smiled awkwardly, saying something that would have far reaching consequences for each of the teens in the room.
“That’s right. You…you can come live with me.” All of the others stared at him as he shook his head, wondering what he had just let himself…and his family…in for.
Father Knows Best
Early that evening at the McAuley home...
“Aidan Patrick McAuley, you come here this instant.” Moira called from upstairs as Aidan walked into the house.
“Yes, Mum,” he said nervously. And he didn’t even know why he was nervous, but he was about to find out.
“Would you mind explainin’ this, young man?” She stood next to the window seat in his room. As he walked into the bedroom he noticed a small bit of fabric hanging out of the window seat in plain sight. Moira was staring at it with her arms folded, looking rather cross.
“Mum…I can explain….” He tried to think of an excuse, but she interrupted his train of thought.
“Of course…that’s just what yer father would expect, now wouldn’t he?” She didn’t wait for an answer.
“And of course then I’d have to explain why you needed to explain this.” She pointed to the fabric, which turned out to be a bit of a satin half-slip that got caught in the lid.
“And then we’d have to explain to Father Pat just why he would have to take time out of his busy schedule to be doin’ a funeral. And here he’s supposed to be goin’ on a fishin’ trip with Da.” Aidan stared at her as she continued.
“Beggin’ yer pardon, Father, but Oi seemed to have killed me wife and son for keepin’ secrets. Oh and by the way, Aidan will be buried in a nice yellow sun dress with a hat n’ gloves to match, aye?” She began to giggle; the first time in a while he could remember her laughing so easily.
“Oi’ve been workin’ on him all winter, Ai….don’t go n spoil it with some carelessness. You rush things and forget; take yer time and make sure everything is put away proper before runnin’ out of the house, aye?” She lifted the lid and picked up the slip and folded it and replaced it in the bin under the seat.
“Mum? I don’t understand.” He didn’t. Since he had prayed for Tommy McCormack, his life had been turned upside down, going from a fairly mundane existence to one on the edge of change. Did he always want to be a girl, or was this part of the answer to his prayer? He shook his head and sat down on the seat next to his mother. She pulled him close and kissed his cheek.
“Ai, dear dear son of mine? I want you to know somethin’ before we go any further.” She sat down on the window seat next to him. He pulled away slightly, having no clue as to why he was anxious.
“Yer Dad may be hard to hear sometimes, but it’s only because he cares. He really loves you, but he never learned how to show it. When he caught you that one time when he came home early, it was more because both of you surprised each other.” She looked away and took a breath.
“What time did he…” As soon as Aidan tried to recollect the time, memories he never had before became as real as the moment, and he shook from the beating he got from his father. The broken coffee table seemed to appear in his mind’s eye, but an instant later he remembered his father on his knees, kneeling next to him and crying for forgiveness. All of the times of counseling and even his father looking at him with a smile that neither could explain.
“Since you were fourteen, he’s been tryin’ to understand. How the boy he raised could turn out this way,” she pointed to the lid beneath them and the clothes underneath. Aidan bit his lip and began to cry softly.
“I’m so sorry, Mum…I didn’t mean…I don’t know why….” He put his head on her shoulder and she put her arm around him gently.
“No need to be ashamed, Aidan… you are what you are, and you’ll always be your father’s child…never forget that, aye?” He shrugged his shoulders and mustered a half-smile.
Even as she assured him things would be alright, there came a very strong sense of well-being; another part of the answered prayer, Aidan realized that he indeed had always know he was different; just how different was becoming clearer every day. He was an instrument of peace because he was meant to say the prayer; no mere coincidence that he happened to be in church when Tommy needed a friend the most. And his answer to his own prayer for Tommy turned out to be Tommy’s answer and even his own; both boys had needs as much as anyone who feels alone.
“Now, I’ve got some things to do, and your father is working two shifts again; I’m truly sorry for all of the work he has to do but I’m also glad he’s got a job and that he’s a good man.” She blinked back some tears.
“He still doesn’t understand this, so it’s best we keep it to ourselves while we all learn about it. Dr. Reilly called and said the pills should be at the Chemists, so you can pick them up after school tomorrow.” She smiled again.
“I don’t understand all of this, but I can say that while I was happy you were born my boy, it feels sorta right that you’re going to be my daughter.”
Aidan looked at her and then down; almost as if he was bidding goodbye to himself. He burst into tears and hugged Moira, who hugged him back with a strong squeeze of his shoulders.
“There, there, Ai…it’s okay.” She put him at arms’ length for a moment and smiled.
“Well, at least we know that while you may look like yer Dad’s sister Katie, you get your temperament from my side of the family. Now, before we go any further, a little bird told me that you’ve got some company coming over for a bit?”
“I was on the phone with Billy O’Flynn’s mum….So the McCormack child is comin’ to live with us?” Aidan went to explain but Moira held out her hand to stop him.
“No need, dear. The child needs a place to stay, and heaven knows we’ve got enough room. I’ll be talkin’ to yer father about it when he gets up tomorrow after he’s had a wee bit of rest. He’s a reasonable man, even if he doesn’t know it yet.” She laughed and Aidan joined.
“He’s your best friend….Ai…she’s your best friend. We both know she’s been that way a long time, and you’ve been the best thing for her, and I suppose she’s been the best for you, right?” Aidan nodded.
“Now…like I said, we’ve got quite a bit of time on our hands. Why don’t you take your bike and pop over to church and confession, and I’ll have tea and some nice warm bread for us girls to enjoy, aye?”
Aidan nodded and Moira stood up.
“Oh, and there’s a package that came for you today… You can open it when you get back?” He nodded once more before kissing her. He bounded quickly down the stairs and was off on his bike.
Shortly thereafter...at St. Michaels...
“Bless me Father..for I have sinned. It has been one week since my last confession.”
“Aidan….I heard what you have chosen to do!” Father Pat’s voice always had authority but it never sounded more ominous than when he heard confession. Aidan winced anxiously until the voice continued.
“The poor lad is beside himself with fear; no place to go and his parents split up and all that. He’s needin’ a friend, no doubt, and I’m glad he’s got you.”
Aidan sighed. He was still worried about how his confessor would feel about him; the boy wanting to be a girl. Had he really felt that way all along? The question kept arising, but way back when, as they say, before any thought of prayer for another like him; the boy recalled the little child who longed to wear a communion dress like his cousin Bridey. The softness; not just of the fabric, but the feeling inside. He loved his Da, but he wanted to be just like his Mum.
“Aidan…let’s cut to the chase, shall we? I know the company you keep; folks talk all the time, you know? Oh, I know they shouldn’t, and I tell them as best I can, but it seems some folk are quite happy to confess on someone else’s behalf. Even if there’s no need to confess.” Aidan swallowed hard and went to speak.
“Now don’t worry, lad….And I use that term loosely.” His laugh was almost contagious; Aidan did laugh, but it was more out of nervous energy than anything.
“You do recall your last confession? Our little talk? Well, it’s okay. I’ll be havin’ a talk with you tomorrow about Tommy and maybe how we can get the child some help. It’s a good thing you’re doin’ Ai…no mistake about that. If anyone gives you a hard time, you tell them to come see me.” He laughed again, this time softer but just as welcoming.
“Father Pat…Am I a Sinner?”
“Ai, lad, you are. But then again, I am as well. Maybe there’s hope for us both?”
“I…I guess.” Aidan’s voice was soft and quiet and filled with doubt.
“May I ask you a question, Aidan Patrick McAuley, me namesake and a fine child of God that you are… Perhaps two or three?”
“Of course…Father Pat…yes.´ Aidan shuddered at the thought of being asked ‘those kinds of questions,” as his friends might have put it.
“First… My understanding from last time…you’re still decidin’ how far to take this. Does the O’McManus girl…Trisha is it now…does she object?”
Had he told the priest about his girlfriend…he must have; another memory-shaped blank in his mind being filled with new oldness as he was coming to know it.
“No, Father. She supports me and I…I hope….”
“So we might have a weddin’ after all in the McAuley household….just still haven’t decided who’ll be wearin’ what.” He laughed and Aidan actually felt more at ease; certainly the most he had felt in quite a while.
“I don’t know. I’m not sure what’s goin’ on, Father Pat. I only know that this is the better part of who I am…Oh I don’t mean better like one vs. the other. This part of me is the person I’m meant to be, whoever that is.” He paused and heard ‘aye’ in response; an agreement of sorts.
“Well, then, I guess there’s only one thing left to ask. And this will be for our purposes here; I’m quite sure that our parishioners wouldn’t take too kindly to any public endorsement…at least not just yet, but someday.”
“I don’t understand, Father Pat…what endorsement? What do you mean?”
“Well, since you’ve told me how things are, it wouldn’t really be proper, you know? So…do you mind if I call you Eileen?”
Mullingar Child Protective Service….a few days later
A very nervous figure sat in the small waiting area. She wore a soft purple cowl neck sweater with sleeves that came past her wrists and a hem that nearly fell to her knees, along with dark gray leggings and a knit purple cap that covered most of her hair; the dirty blonde ponytail peeking out and back down her neck. She wore no makeup, wanting to appear ….less of herself, as if that was possible. The woman at the desk nodded and she rose to enter the inner office, as a loud buzz indicted that the door had just unlocked. Waiting on the other side was a prim looking woman, save for her bright red glass frames and a nice smile.
“Aidan McAuley, you’re certainly a different sight for sore eyes, child,” the woman said as she pulled the boy in for a hug.
“Moira said there had been changes, but my, what a change indeed.” Kathleen Farrell remarked as she led Aidan to her desk.
“Yes…” The boy said quietly as he sat down, putting his purse…’his?’ purse….on a second chair next to the desk.
“Aunt Kate? Will there be any problem?” Aidan had always heard his father ask the question, ‘Now why would any intelligent human being ever want to be one of them,’ meaning social worker. Often insulted; hardly appreciated and rarely even liked by some, the social workers that helped out kids like Tammy did exist. Ones like Kathleen Farrell, his father’s sister, worked hard and dedicated their lives to helping, even if it meant often being vilified even in their own communities and even families.
“I talked to my supervisor; she’s already familiar with the family, and she knows your family through me. I filled all the paper work out for the home inspection. She’s lookin’ it over even as we speak, so your friend should be able to move in this afternoon, aye?” Aidan shook his head at the similarity but also at the wonderful coincidence of needing and having help in the right place at the right time. Was this another new part of his life; his mused question seemed to answer itself.
“I’m glad that after all this time, at least someone in the family will benefit from what I do. Your Da has been teasin’ me all these years, and maybe this time he’ll….” She stopped when she saw the look on Aidan’s face; fear mixed with discouragement.
“You and Moira haven’t told him? Oh, Dear Mary Mother of God, what were you two thinkin’?” She acted put out until another grin crossed her face.
“Easier to ask for forgiveness than permission? Oh don’t I know that well? Here,” she said, handing Aidan her card.
“This is my number, just in case somethin’ happens. You’ll best be aware that Tammy’s father is still on the wrong side of gettin’ help, and he’s angry with everyone that his family has been taken away from him. Call me immediately and don’t forget your Uncle Danny works right there in Castlepollard.” Danny Farrell being Kate’s husband, who just happened to be stationed at Castle Pollard Garda Station; another coincidence?
“Aidan…honey…don’t you worry a bit. We’ll all see that this child has the help she needs. Now tell me…what’s goin’ on inside you? You still look scared and a wee bit sad as well. Tell your Aunt Kate, startin’ with what you call yourself, aye?” Aidan looked down at his clothes before taking a deep breath.
“Your grand mum’s name…a fine choice, dear woman.” Aidan nodded and smiled until it dawned on him that his Aunt Kate wasn’t referring to his grandmother when she said ‘dear woman.’
“When you and my Mary were little, you were so sweet and kind and gentle together, like sisters more than cousins.” Aidan flinched at the word ‘sister.’
“Oh don’t you mind a bit, child. We all knew you were different; special even. There was something almost magical about how you could be friends with everyone; you got along well with my boys and my Mary. I know Seanie and Mikey teased you at times, but they came around, didn’t they?” The memories seemed to be mixing together; the past that he always knew blending nicely with some new things that felt good and right and holy. The thought of it brought him to tears.
“There’s a fine doctor over in Roscommon that might be able to help you sort things out, child. We’ve referred there quite a bit…well several times throughout Westmeath, and you know that the family….well Danny and the kids and I and yer mum all love you and support you.”
“What about Da, Aunt Kate. I know he loves me, but now…this way and with Tammy….but I didn’t have a choice….she was goin’ t have to go live with strangers. I couldn’t let that happen.”
“No, you couldn’t…that’s what makes you so special, Ei…you care more for others than you do yourself; you always did. I have a feelin’ about yer Da…that when it comes to it, he’ll be just fine; even if the gettin’ there is a bit rough at first, aye?” Kate smiled at Aidan and touched his arm.
“Now…let’s just see how much fun I can have takin’ my favorite niece to lunch, aye?”
The following day at the McAuley home….
“I’ve got all her clothes here, Ai…Some Copper was sittin’ in a car outside the house. I got scared until he got out and walked over…big man…Sgt. Farrell was his name. He made sure we were okay and even helped us pack some.” Trish smiled and lifted a large plastic bag out of the boot and handed it to Billy O’Flynn. Aidan took the other bag and the three entered the McAuley house quietly.
“Well,” Moira said as they walked into the kitchen. “Lucky for all of us that yer Da is workin’ another shift. We could use the money and you could use the time to think of some way to explain all this.” She pointed to the three other plastic bags sitting in the living room beyond and the nicely dressed if very scared looking girl sitting at the kitchen table.
“I suppose there’s no more Tommy, no matter where you end up?” She smiled and Tammy nodded silently.
“Oh, come on, child. We’re all friends here…at least ways presently. And if I know my Kevin, he’ll come around; sooner maybe than later, but all the same, he’s a good man.”
Aidan looked out the window, almost if on cue to see memories flash before him; times of reconciliation if still in awkward silence, his father weeping and asking for forgiveness for God only knew since Aidan couldn’t recall. Past hurts seemed to heal in a moment as wounds received new salve and care from unknown places. And Aidan also looked past the kitchen window just in time to see his father’s car pull up to the house.
“Well, we’re goin’ to find out soon enough,” Moira said after hearing the familiar sound of the car door creaking. There was certainly nothing to be done. The back door opened up to see four teens sitting down at the kitchen table as Moira poured some tea.
“Home early, love?”
“Aye.” Kevin McAuley nodded as if nothing was out of place. He stared long and hard at the girl sitting closest to him; her short hair cut seemingly out of place amidst the long hair of the other three kids.
“Trish…yer mother took me second shift; she wanted you to know that she’ll be home after midnight and to put in some wash, aye?” He smiled at Trish who smiled back blithely as if it was a common occurrence.
“Billy O’Flynn… nice to see you’ve cut yer hair,” which seemingly belied Billy’s long locks, but they had been past his shoulders. Now collar length and trimmed, Billy’s hair looked good.
“Ai…They’re lookin’ fer someone to volunteer at Hospital this summer; maybe you and I can go and put in an application tomorrow?” Aidan’s face grew red with embarrassment; at the very least, to soften the news about Tammy’s living arrangements, Aidan had planned to change clothing before his father got home. But now Kevin stood at the kitchen sink, kissing Ma and acting as if his dress was alright. He realized he had taken off the hat and his leggings were hidden by the table. Kevin finished his greeting with a big hug and another, more romantic kiss to Moira before saying,
“Tommy…I’m really sorry about yer Da…he and I go back a long ways, but I don’t …well, after what Aidan and his Ma had to put up with dealing’ with me all these years…. I just hope he chooses to get help. Yer more than welcome to stay her as long as you want. And Moira can give you a ride over to the shelter tomorrow to visit yer Ma, aye?” Tammy looked up at Kevin and tears flowed like a stream.
“Oh, no…not the waterworks, lad…I can’t handle that…” He laughed softly before saying at last,
“You folks best help Moira here since I expect you’ll all be stayin’ fer supper. Ai…why don’t you take Tommy up to your room and help him get settled. I think I’m goin’ to go lie down on the couch for a wee bit before supper, okay love?” He said, standing patiently at the door. Moira sighed and nodded and he walked out of the kitchen.
“Like I said, he’ll come around, and sooner is so much better than later, aye?” All four kids looked at her and said, almost in unison,
Who Am I, Anyway?
“Well, Ei…you heard your Da…get goin’!” Moira laughed and turned her back and started working on the afternoon meal before turning around again to Trisha and Billy.
“Okay, which one of you wants to peel potatoes?”
A short while later...
“Ai….I can’t ….thank you and yer family enough….” Tammy choked back a sob. Refuge in a storm comes in all manners; best fit for each refugee. Tammy needed hope, and she had just witnessed it in the form of a father who cared, but she knew that Aidan hadn’t always had that.
“Yer Da…he’s…different...he's...changed.” Tammy said looking out the bedroom door.
“That he has,” Aidan said as if it were something he knew all along. Things still seemed jumbled; the brand new not so much squeezing out the old of his life, but memories seemingly willing to share space in his head; mixing together to form a life that felt right and good.
“Well, let’s see about gettin’ you settled?” Aidan smiled and Tammy fell into his arms and began to cry once again. The boy in him wanted to protect Tammy and he realized it wasn’t so much the boy as it was who he and she together had been all along. He patted Tammy on the back and spoke softly as the sister Tammy never had.
“It’s goin’ to be alright, Tam…I promise. My Da changed…maybe yer Da can too. Let’s just hope for the best, shall we?” He sounded so adult; such a maturity had come from the perfect blend of adversity and hope, as he recalled...
At the Church Rectory the day before...
“Yes…Eileen. Should I be callin’ you that? Well, seein’ how this is my office and no one to explain anything to but God Himself, Eileen it is.” He laughed softly and pointed to the chair facing his desk. Eileen sat down.
“I need to talk to someone …about me. I’ve got some questions.” The look of concern on Father Pat’s face was a perfect match to the look of worry and doubt on Eileen’s face.
“You look a bit scared and sad, Ei. Tell me about it.”
“I’m…I prayed last week…and things…aren’t….they aren’t the same, Father.” She put her head down and began to cry softly.
“There now, Ei…What’s so bad that yer cryin’? You can say anything to me…It’s alright, you know. As far as I know, the Vatican hasn’t bugged my office, and God hears anything you’ve already thought, so no worries.” His soft laugh helped the girl continue.
“When I prayed…things just changed.”
“Things always change when we pray, child…but you already knew that.”
“I know..it’s the old, though.” She shuddered as if a chill had gone down her back.
“Like what you remembered doesn’t seem quite the same…almost but not quite?” Eileen’s eyes widened in recognition.
“How can he know that?” she thought. Her answer came right away.
“Imagine life…yours…mine…everyone’s….like a long road. You and I are standing on the road and time goes from the beginning to the end, you see. And God is standing tall over the road, with one foot at the beginning and the other foot at the end, like I said. He suppasses… transcends time. So sometimes….when we pray? He reaches into our past…further back on the road…and moves things a bit. But it’s always in agreement with what we prayed because when we pray, it’s not so much us choosing to pray to him about…well, say for instance, your friendship with Tommy…your prayer at church? It was because God knew you were just the right one to pray for the child at that moment, do you follow?”
“I…I think so…” It hadn’t ever occurred to Eileen that she had been chosen.
“Well, when you prayed? Part of the answer was that God reached back and set things to make it …not so much easier as more expedient…for you to be a part of the answer to your own prayer. You asked for him to give Tommy a friend, right?” Eileen nodded.
“Well, you became that friend, and you remember,not just this week but last week and all the time you spent together. But I’d be willing to bet you were always the one available, had you known?” It sounded …right.
“You ever feel like you were missing something…no so much you yourself incomplete, but like something was supposed to happened but hadn’t?” Eileen’s eyes widened once again.
“And sometimes when you’ve prayed, things don’t look different…but it feels different..and that incomplete feeling has gone away?” Eileen nodded and wiped her eyes with her hand.
“Now with you and Tommy, after you prayed, what did it feel like…did it feel awkward or wrong…did you feel uncomfortable?”
“And now…you yourself…how do you feel? How do things…line up?” He looked from left to right, almost as if he was looking in both directions on that road of time.
“It feels ….like it should? Like it’s how it’s supposed to be.”
“And your friendship with Tommy…does it feel awkward….out of place?”
“No…it feels that this is how it…how it should be.” Her face brightened at her own words.
“I think that might be the answer you were lookin’ for, aye?” He smiled.
“I think so, too. Thank you, Father Pat.” Eileen went to rise but stopped.
“Father…what about this? It feels…right…but I…you know how I said that things seem changed?” The priest nodded and smiled without comment.
“This…it doesn’t just seem. I remember….back before….” She looked frustrated and confused.
“Before everything seemed ‘blended?’” The priest’s words struck a chord in Eileen.
“Yes…when I was little…” She bit her lip and she began to tear up. The thought of her past seemed to overtake her and she shrugged.
“Go, on, girl. It’s alright.” She lifted her head at the last word that he spoke. It was the first time in her life that anyone had called her a girl…the recognition…the affirmation.
“Father…since I was old enough…to remember? I love my Da…but….”
“You always favored your Ma, right?” His words literally shook the girl; her face became a mask of shame.
“No…no, child. No condemnation here. Right? You remember your Bible…No condemnation.” His eyes began to fill with tears, matching the emotion of the girl in front of him; a shepherd’s heart.
“Yes….I…wanted to be…like…like her.” She began to sob, as if she had confessed something terrible and wrong and evil. Of course she had, according to what her shame and fear were telling her, but the priest leaned closer and said softly, like a father to a child…The Father.
“Eileen? Eileen?” The name came softly and assuredly as identification; the name she was born with, in fact.
“This is who you were meant to be…God knows and he loves you. Yes I know there are some things that you’ve been told…but I…Patrick Francis O’Flynn. I’m tellin’ you this is who you are.” At the mention of the priest’s last name, Eileen’s eyes widened one last time in recognition.
“You see, Ei, it’s one thing to say somethin’ from the pulpit without goin’ through the pain; You must do this…you shouldn’t do that. It’s another thing entirely to say somethin’ with conviction. Like ‘God never gives you anything you can’t handle,’ unless you yourself have walked through that…Tellin’ a mother that God is the God of all Comfort when she loses a child means nothin’ if you’ve never felt that deep a loss yourself.” The girl bit her lip; still ashamed of who she was despite the accepting hand offered by the priest
“You’ve got nothin’ to be guilty or ashamed about, child. No more than a baby with a cleft palate or a bad heart? Not evil or even broken or bad, but someone needin’ healing and adjusting and rearranging, like surgery on a club foot; just a little bent out of shape and needing to be moved back into place, aye?” She nodded and he continued.
“I know what it is to lose someone close,” he said as tears once again came to his own eyes a commonality of grief, since he was nearly twelve years as a priest and nearly fourteen as a widower.
“And I know what it’s like not to fit in,” he said, recalling his nephew; the boy who still felt hurt and out of place; Billy O’Flynn, the gay black sheep in his flock.
“So, come on, Eileen McAuley, go home and be the daughter you were supposed to be all along and be a friend to your friends, just like you’ve always been, aye?” He smiled and his soft, accepting, loving laugh disarmed the girl’s shame and doubt as she nodded and smiled before finally saying,
“Aye, Father Pat…Aye.
Back to the present, shortly after dinner
The meal was over and Billy and Moira were cleaning up. Trish was talking with Tammy and getting her caught up on the work she had missed at school while in hospital. Aidan had stepped outside and was sitting on the stone wall that divided their yard from the neighbor’s.
“Ai? Can I talk with you a moment?” He turned to see his Da standing there, looking very nervous; maybe scared.
“Su…sure, Da.” The boy didn’t offer, but was pleased when Kevin sat down next to him on the wall.
“I wanted to….well, your friend has come to stay with us.” Aidan nodded, even though it was an obvious statement, his father was going somewhere with it.
“I’ve been thinkin’ about what his father…what he’s done.” There was a pain in his voice, and he grimaced.
“He…he’s almost my best mate…and….I…I’ve known what he’s been….He talks all the time at the pub about it…oh…not the hittin’ or the yellin’, but the anger about…about Tommy.” There was almost a soft lilt in Kevin’s voice when he said the boy’s name.
“I’m sorry, Ai…I am so sorry.” His eyes began to tear up. In Aidan’s nearly eighteen years, he had rarely seen his father show any emotion other than anger. But the look on his Da’s face was utterly sad and ashamed.
“After your Ma and me split up the one time….I felt like I was goin’ to die. And the time…” His voice choked. Aidan did something himself that was brand new as well. He put his arm around Kevin’s shoulder and the man began to sob, unable to speak for several minutes before continuing. He looked up at Aidan and continued, his voice halting and almost inaudible at times.
“Yer mother sittin’ on the floor in the corner, her head turned to the wall. And you standin’ there, shaking… .unable….you….couldn’t move.” Aidan closed his eyes and was back in the moment with his Da, but now stronger and secure.
“I…the coffee table on the floor…we built it together….and I…” Kevin bit his lip and began to shake. Aidan leaned closer and kissed his father’s cheek, the bristle of his beard almost sharp but still comforting.
“It’s alright, Da. I forgave you a long time ago.”
“No..Ai…it’s not alright…don’t you see?” He shook and closed his eyes as he shook his head no.
“I came home early…a surprise for your birthday and you standin’ there in the dress, makin’ fun with your Ma…and I lost it. I was so angry. So mad that my boy was a fookin’ sissy.” He shuddered at the word, not just knowing that it was wrong, but how he was back then.
“The…the whole reason for me bein’ there is the first place is that I wanted to be with you and your Ma because I loved you….but it…Oh, fook…I’m so sorry, Ai…Please forgive me.”
“Da…I did forgive you.”
“No…Ai…not for that…though God only knows why you did…no…forgive me…because I didn’t love you….I came home and it wasn’t what I wanted for you…you were a fookin’ sissy as far as I knew…not my boy…but….” He shook his head, struggling with the frustration of wanting to confess all…to reveal everything.
“Da…what….I forgive you?” Aidan began to tear up at his father’s emotion; a love that he had never felt for or from his Da.
“My child….is broken…and it’s my fault….I hurt you and your Ma so bad….and you’ve been hurt…maybe…”
“Da…look at me.” The adult…the parent in Aidan rose up and spoke firmly.
“Nothing about me is your fault. Nothing. I am who I am….not because of what you did…or didn’t do. I was made this way.”
The tears began to fall freely from Aidan’s face even as the child spoke for the first time….in her own voice. Her demeanor changed in a split second, and instead of a son speaking forgiveness to his father, a daughter instead introduced herself to her Da; no longer ashamed and hiding, but glad to be alive and filled with hope at the change in her father’s heart.
“Da…please look at me,” Eileen said softly, not pleading but inviting and welcoming. Kevin turned his face toward her and beheld his daughter for the first time. No physical change that might take place could ever surmount the absolute wonder and awe in Kevin McAuley’s heart as the expression and emotion and joy on Eileen’s face convinced him just how wrong he had been about his child.
Not wrong in an evil or twisted sense, although his reaction and behavior had been so much of that. Wrong in that he had been ignorant; misinformed in a way by his own prejudices and pre-conceived notions.
“Aidan…how can you look at me like that? What is it in you that can forgive what I did to you and your mother?” He blinked his eyes, unable to staunch the flow of tears, as he shook his head, more in disbelief, but also in an utter feeling of failure and shame; as if he didn’t deserve to be forgiven. But then he was right, since he didn’t deserve forgiveness; and that was what made it all the more wondrous and special.
“I love you, Da. I love you!” Eileen fell into his arms and they embraced for the first time as father and daughter.”
“Oh, Aidan…I’m so sorry…I…I love you.” Aidan McAuley had never heard those words uttered in all of her seventeen plus years, which made them all the more special to Eileen. She pulled Kevin closer and put her head on his shoulder and they wept together.
And looking out the kitchen window, Moira saw the scene and breathed a sigh of relief as tears streamed down her own cheeks.
“Ma?” Billy O’Flynn put his hand softly on Moira’s back, a look of worry crossing his face.
“What’s wrong? Are you okay?” He asked?
“Nothing’s wrong, Billy…I’m alright?
“You’re okay, then?” He asked again, still worried. She turned to him and hugged him and smiled.
“Aye, Billy…I’m just fine.”
You Can't Go Home Again...Yet!
At the home of Noora Pradeep…a few weeks later…
“Hold still,” The girl squirmed in the chair, almost trying to resist the ministrations of her two friends. She rose slightly only to feel a firm hand pushing her down.
“I’m almost finished! Don’t be such a baby.” Noora laughed and her girlfriend Agnes giggled only a wee bit and nodded.
“I think you look just fine.” Granted her hair was way short and she had never worn much makeup, but their work seemed to be coming along fine, but for the protests from their charge. The girl strained to lean far enough to the side to catch her reflection, but Agnes quickly covered the mirror with a towel.
“Now, none of that, young lady. Yer gonna have to wait until Noora here has finished working her magic.
“She’s going to think I look like some bleedin’ whore.” Trisha McManus continued to squirm. Due to her proclivity for tomboyish behavior and dress, her hair still made her look a bit like Sinaead O’Conner’s twin, but for a wee bit longer growth and the decidedly dark red color.
“Now that yer Da has figured out you don’t have a dick, maybe you can act like a girl maybe just once and awhile, aye?” Agnes laughed at her own joke but Trisha just glared at her.
Sean McManus married late in life, and between him and his wife Maggie, they had only two children, both girls. With her sister all girly-girl, it fell upon Trisha to fulfill her father’s need for a scion, which she did with great zeal; even if something was missing between her legs. But she was increasingly coming to a place where she realized even she had no control over her destiny, as her heart and her mind became more and more needing of her father’s affection and affirmation for who she really was.
“Aye…since me Ma passed, her presence has been sorta floatin’ about the house, as Da says, and I guess she told him what for! He said he was sorry, and of course I forgive him, but we don’t have to take just one date to make up for all the fookin’ lost time.”
“Ow,” she said, as Noora hit her on the top of the head with the hairbrush.
“None of that, Pádraigín MacMaghnuis. You stop that at once!” Trisha’s gravitation to boyish behavior often went beyond wearing clothing and language more suited for a construction worker than a seventeen year old girl.
“There…all done.” Noora stepped back and folded her arms and beamed with pride. She had a right. The girl in the chair looked nothing like what her friends were used to. Her short, almost auburn red hair was ‘mousse’d’ enough to look almost pretty. But the face, more used to dark brown eyeliner and not much else, was pretty; the makeup subdued and nuanced as if she bore the natural look all the magazines endorsed. Her eyes, green as jades, seemed to shine more than ever with subtle browns fading to soft gold eye shadow, with only a hint of liner. Her lips were almost a dark pink, which nearly matched the natural rose of her newly scrubbed cheeks.
“Tá tú go háilinn!” Agnes said almost with a sob as Trisha beheld her reflection; really a true depiction of what she had been inside all along, just waiting to get out. She put her hand to her face and choked back a sob.
“I…look just like me Ma.” She began to cry.
“Easy on the cryin’, Trish…we just got finished and you’ll mess it up.” The girl turned and nodded with a smile.
“Do you…what if she won’t go for it?” The girl said, wondering about Eileen’s reaction. The confusion of gender and roles and expectations were too much for most adults, much less for two teenagers struggling to find their way in a critical world.
“Oh, don’t worry about that. She’s a good one, she is, and she really cares about you.” Noora said as she bit the handle of the brush in thought.
“Besides, she’s up for a paint job herself tomorrow, so we’ll see.” Agnes added before sighing as she looked upon Trish’s beaming smile.
At the McAuley’s home…several days later…
Two figures lay side by side in the small bed, huddling under the thick down of the comforter.
“I’ve got you….you don’t have to worry none.” The girl shook in his arms.
“I know.” She trembled. Their time together was soft and gentle and every bit as lovely as anything she could ever imagine or remember, but she cried nonetheless.
“Why was I made this way?” She stuck her lip out almost in a pout before dissolving into tears. The boy stroked her face with his hand, which was trembling almost as much as her body, but for entirely different reasons.
“I don’t know. I don’t know why I’m what I am, either, so I can hardly begin to say why for you, aye?” Billy McGuire lay beside Tammy on the bed in Aidan’s room. So much confusion and mixing together and tearing apart for all of them; at least for all the friends. For all they knew, the rest of the kids in school didn’t feel rejection or hurt or disappointment; at least not in such a way as to cause so much pain.
“I’m sorry, Billy, I really am…but I’m not a boy.” Tammy had been a boy; or so she had been led to believe for nearly all of her life. Too much guilt and shame spoiled the moment for her; a kind friend reaching out and loving her in the only way he knew how; the way he had been taught perhaps, but in kinder and more loving fashion than the act required.
“You can’t help what you are, Tam…I understand. I wish you were a boy, too.” He regretted his words as soon as he spoke them. And it really might have seemed almost foolish. The form remained the same even as the heart was convincing the mind to recall and accept and rejoice her true nature. The body still went along with the old way, even if it didn’t quite function the same way anymore and even if it was clad in soft fabric rather than rough cloth.
“I’m so…so sorry.” The trembling gave way to nearly violent shakes as the girl sobbed in Billy’s arms. Too much had been offered and accepted, and both felt guilty over what should have been a precious moment for both. He looked at the only boy he had ever loved and gave way to his own tears.
The following Sunday afternoon at the McAuley home…
“Did you hear…Mother of God, Billy McGuire is in hospital….They say he’s goin’ to make it…took some of his Ma’s pills,” Kevin said to Moira as he sat down at the kitchen table. She poured him some tea, remembering only a week or so before his gentle hand and concern for her.
“Dear Mary, what’s this world comin’ to?” She shook her head and sat down. A moment later a familiar face appeared at the table, but garbed in old familiarity. The tears on the face were the same, however as Aidan grabbed Moira’s hand.
“Why, Ma…why would he do that? He…we all love him…I don’t understand.” His words were halting, interrupted by gasps and sobs. He felt a strong hand on his arm.
“Because he gave up hope. I don’t know why, but that’s why we do what we do…why some give up…some hurt so much that the pain isn’t just too much to bear, but that we don’t ever imagine the pain will go away. Don’t worry. His uncle and I had a talk last evening...he made some time for me, and we talked about Billy and you and Tammy and everything…how none of us knows how to help.
“Oh,” was all Aidan could get out. Kevin looked him up and down, for the first time it seemed, questioned almost why he wasn’t wearing a dress or a skirt. He shook his head slightly, but the look on his face wasn’t one of criticism but of care as he half-frowned and sighed.
"You'll not be needin' to do anything any more to please anyone other than God, okay? We already discussed this and they'll be no further accommodatin' for anyone, Eileen...you're not my son...we know that now..." He leaned over and kissed his child tenderly on the cheek, an act all too foreign even in the recent past, but a needful addition to Kevin McAuley's return to membership in the human race.
“Did Father Pat say how he’s doin’?” Moira asked, her voice tinged with sorrow but graced with anticipating hope.
“He’ll be okay, but it’s the inside they’re worried about. Somethin’ must have set him off, and it just pushed him enough to make a bad choice." At the last of his words, they all noticed that Tammy had come down and was standing with a look of shock on her face.
“I’m sorry you had to hear that so roughly, Tam.” Moira walked over and ushered the girl to the table, sitting her down gently and kissing her on the cheek like her own Ma would do.
“Don’t you worry none, Tam,” Kevin said. He had taken quite quickly to affirming the girl by using her name.
“I’ll be happy to take you and Ei here to hospital to see him, if you’d like.” Moira said as she sat down, placing a cup of tea in front of the shocked girl. Tammy looked up at her. It seemed almost that she had no strength even to cry for her friend. She just shook her head slightly before putting it on her arms on the table.
Later that afternoon…
The car sped up the road and pulled into the yard. Tommy McCormack practically flew out of the door and stormed up to the house, banging on the door.
“Where’s my boy, McAuley…You’ve no fookin’ right.” He shouted angrily and stood with his fists balled up in anger waiting for Kevin to appear.
“Now don’t be comin’ to my door on the Lord’s day usin’ that language, Tommy boy! We may go way back and all, you bein' my best lad and all, but you’ll not be usin’ that tone with me.” Kevin said it almost as a soothing comfort rather than a rebuke.
“I want to see my boy now, Kevin McAuley,” Tommy spat out Kevin’s name at the last, as if it were a curse word.
“Well, according to her worker…my sister, by the way, you can’t see her unless you’re supervised, and me bein’ the supervisor and all, maybe you should be a little bit more polite, aye?” He laughed and Tommy glared at him.
“Nothin’s fookin’ funny, Kev…and just where to you get off callin’ my son a girl…you may have a fag for a son but not me.”
“Don’t be comin’ to my house and insultin’ me own, Tommy McCormack. Especially if you want to see your…daughter.” He stressed the last word, and Tommy’s face grew red.
“My daughter? My daughter?” He grew loud enough that Mr. Kielty from next door came out of his house. Kevin nodded as if to say ‘I’ve got it, okay?’ Tommy went to push past him and a moment later he found himself on the ground, rubbing his chin.
“You hit me!” Tommy was more surprised and indignant than angry, but went to stand anyway, his fists balled once again.
“Now don’t be tryin’ anything stupid, Tommy. You’re actin’ like an idjit, and you know it.” Kevin said, his palms down in conciliation.
“You’ve no right. You of all people. With your own family, so don’t be getting’ so high and mighty on me, Mr. Kevin Fookin’ McAuley!” Tommy was still loud enough that Moira had come to the door. Kevin turned and shook his head. She smiled and retreated to the living room where she resumed her reading. The curtain in the window of the dormer upstairs parted slightly and Kevin noticed Tammy’s face before the curtain snapped shut once again.
“Now just think a moment before you go makin’ more of an arse than you already are. I spent six months livin’ in a fookin’ room in someone else’s house in Longford just for the same reason that you’re sittin’ on yer arse in my front yard. It took that and Moira threatenin’ to make it permanent that got me to get help, and that’s where yer at right now, Tommy.”
“So you’re all changed and all that? You don’t fool me, Kev…your own kid is a fag and you’re tryin’ to make me feel bad?”
“No, Tommy…I’m tryin’ to keep you from makin’ the biggest mistake of your life. You want to see your kid, it’ll be here and now in my livin’ room with no yellin’ or cursin’. If you walk away, they’ll make this arrangement permanent, and you won’t be able to see her until you’re old and gray.” He held out a hand and Tommy pushed it away. Kevin glared at him once before holding out his hand again, which Tommy accepted reluctantly.
“Now here’s how this is goin’ to go, okay...no yellin' and no cursin' I may even have you raise your hand to get permission to speak.”
Kevin sat on the couch and Eileen, who had made a return after a brief departure, sat next to him. Moira was in the kitchen getting tea. She heard the creak of the stairs and turned to see another familiar face, but clad in strange clothing; strange in that their house guest was wearing boy’s clothes. Her hair was short and raggedly cut and she had tears streaming down her face. She forced a smile to Moira before walking into the living room.
“I’m so sorry, Da…I’m so sorry. I’ll be a good boy…I promise.” She said it almost as if in a trance before falling to the floor in a dead faint. Her hand hit the coffee table on the way down, and a pill bottle fell onto the floor.
“Mo theinne cinaire, she’s gotten into my meds…the ones for my back sprain. She’s breathin’, thank god.” Kevin picked the girl up in his arms.
“Moira…call the hospital..Let them know we’re on the way…and call the shelter…Better yet, go over there and pick up Catherine and meet us there.” Kevin said as he and Tommy headed for the door. Eileen went to follow. Kevin shook his head and then looked upward. Eileen nodded and they were gone, leaving her alone and scared for her friend…her friends, as she remembered Billy McGuire as well. She walked back into the living room and sat on the couch.
“Me again… Mo theinne cate…ton debhil a mo…’m sorry………and now Tammy… please…if you need to take someone…oh I know…but you know what I mean…please let her live…and Billy too? I don’t remember…what should I say? Oh, please….I’m so sorry.” Eileen looked at herself. What had she been thinking? She gave way to the needless guilt and undue shame and fell on the couch, weeping bitter tears.
All's Well as Ends Better!
The chapel of Mr. Carmel/St. James Hospital...two days later...
“Don’t worry, Ei…she’ll be alright. The doctor said your Da got her here in plenty of time.” The girl sat on the seat in the chapel. After a long night of prayer at home, Eileen had finally gotten to hospital with her friends. Father Pat sat beside her, rubbing her back. It seemed almost out of place, since the priest was using her femme name, but once again she wore the clothing of her other half, Aidan McAuley.
“Can I ask you a question, Father?” The priest nodded and she continued.
“What if this is all my fault? If I hadn’t prayed what I did, maybe none of this would have happened?” She put her head down.
“You mean if you hadn’t been kind enough to care that the poor child was feeling alone and scared? Listen, Ei…you can’t control what people do with the opportunities they’ve been given. You didn’t cause her to take yer Da’s pills. That was her choice. And who’s to say if she wouldn’t have succeeded at another time if you didn’t care in the first place?”
“But…I don’t understand. I have this feeling that…things changed too much…that maybe they were supposed to stay the way they were.” As she said it, she unconsciously looked down at herself, which didn’t escape Patrick McGuire’s notice.
“Let me see…you wonder if you would have kept quiet about how you’ve felt all along about who you are? Well, you seem to have fixed that…How does it feel to be shut back up inside, Eileen?” He smiled at her and she frowned before beginning to tear up.
“I mean, isn’t it much more satisfying to wear Aidan’s clothes? Do you feel any better about yourself and the future? Maybe you should tell the McManus girl that you’re not interested since she’s one of those girls anyway? Maybe you should just forget about all those things that you do remember…the things that didn’t change other than that they finally had a voice after so many years of life tellin’ them to shut up?” He frowned, not at her, but at the choices she had been forced to make.
“Would it be better for everyone if your father never got help? What if he doesn’t talk to Tammy’s Da? What happens then? You told me that Mr. McCormack was…how you did you put it? Scared for whom?”
“Tammy…Da says that Mr. McCormack cried all the way to hospital…that he prayed ‘don’t let my girl die.’” Eileen stopped and realized what she had just spoken.
“So…yer Da finally realizes how much he hurt you and yer Ma…you finally get to be who you really are. Yer friend’s family may just have a chance of surviving. Yer friend is on the mend. And you’re sittin’ here with me sayin’ your real name. Would you take any of that back, child?” Eileen looked up and saw that her priest…her friend was crying alongside her. It was too much and just enough to tip the balance between fear and faith, and she embraced Father Pat and wept.
In another part of the hospital...
“They say yer gonna be alright.” Tammy and Billy faced each other in nearly matching wheel chairs. Both of them were still very weak from stomach pumping and IV pushing and chest pounding and all sorts of other life-saving interventions. What really had been so exhausting was the crying both of them had done; sad and scared mixed with joyful hope as both of them realized how much they really wanted to live.
“And you as well, aye?” Billy spoke softly, but quickly turned his head.
“Am I that repulsive, Billy, that you can’t face me?” Tammy began to cry, but Billy quickly returned his gaze to the girl.
“No, damn it. It’s because you’re not…repulsive. It’s because you’re beautiful. Fook…it’s not supposed to be this way….I don’t like fookin’ girls. But I luh..I like you, damn it.” Revelation takes many forms. In this case a slip of the tongue…quickly addressed, but not quick enough.
“You…love me?” Tammy said softly, almost as if to apologize for gaining the affection of the boy she loved.
“No…I didn’t say that. Stop puttin’ words in my mouth.” He snapped at her, but his heart wasn’t at all in the anger he tried to express. Instead, he began to cry as well. Too many tears over the past several days meant nothing to his heart, and he wept, almost eagerly, since it wasn’t out of sadness, but out of relief.
“You…love me?” Less self-accusing, but still tentative and fearful, Tammy slowly wheeled over to the boy and came along side.
“No…go away…I don’t…I can’t.” Too often, mostly out of good intentions and a need to fit in or to fit someone else’s expectations or even our own, we deny what is true and good and just because it doesn’t match or correspond with what we believe to be true.
“I don’t like fookin’ girls.” Billy protested, but he was lost in his own maze, and a hand reached through the hedges of his heart to pull him out.
“I love you, Billy McGuire. If bein’ a boy is what you need from me, then that’s what I’ll do.” So long the girl had tried to fit what her father wanted; first out of guilt and shame and then from an absolutely desperate need to please her Da. But this was truly out of love; needless as it was, since she heard the words she had needed to hear since she was five years old.
“Yer not a boy, Tammy McCormack? Yer not foolin’ me and yer not gonna fool yerself any more. Yer a girl, and that’s the truth. And Tammy…yer the girl I love…Okay…I said it…are you happy now.” The boy put his head on her shoulder and wept, harder than he had ever in his life. Yes, perhaps he was a homosexual, if some prefer labels and categories, but life is more than just what we say we are. It’s really who we are inside that counts.
“Oh, Billy.” Tammy tried to get closer, but their chairs kept them just enough apart. She stepped out of the chair and fell to the floor, draping her body in his lap as he caressed her hair with his hand.
“I’m sorry, Tammy…I guess I am in love with a girl after all.” He laughed softly at the trick life had played on them both. Finding solace, comfort, and love by letting go of shoulds and musts in order to grasp what God had provide all along…a friend.
Sometime...a wee bit of time later...
“Hold still….you’re movin’ too much.” Noora laughed at the sight of the girl in the chair. Only an hour before, another girl had sat in the same chair.
“Tá tú go háilinn!” Agnes said; this time almost in a whisper as she wiped the tears from her eyes.
“There…all done.” Noora said like someone announcing a big reveal on a reality show. The girl looked into the mirror and sighed. It was a special day, and Noora had done marvelously. Noora removed the cape and Agnes pulled the hairpiece off the dresser and pinned it to the girl’s hair.
“Now she’s doon!” Agnes giggled.
Belvidere House Gardens and Park...Mullingar, West Meath, Ireland...
“Now...who gives this woman in marriage.” A very atypical ceremony for Father Pat. He was standing, not on a platform in front of an altar, but outside with the sound of a gentle breeze causing him to raise his voice. The civil union had been witnessed and all the proper paperwork signed and filed in a cabinet in an office in town. After a brief pause as the breeze quieted itself, a man spoke.
“Her mother and I do,” Sean MacManus spoke softly, his eyes quickly gazing upward as he acknowledge his late wife’s presence before kissing Tricia.
“Yer my girl, dear. Yer Ma would have been…she is proud, and so am I.”
“And who gives this bride in marriage?” Father Pat smiled and looked over at the bride who nodded in thanks.
“We do,” Moira and Kevin said in unison. Moira lifted Eileen’s veil and kissed her cheek.
“We love you, Ei…we do.” Her father said, fighting back tears.
“May we have the rings, please?” Father Pat said softly. As much as he was thrilled for the couple, that request warmed his heart the most.
Tammy McCormack McGuire stepped forward and handed the ring to Eileen.
And Billy McGuire stepped forward and handed the ring to Tricia.
“Go ahead.” Pat McGuire smiled.
“I love you…I always have and I always will.” Eileen said. It was simple, but as heartfelt a vow as anyone had ever witnessed.
“You make my life complete, Ei…and I love you, too.” Trisha smiled.
“Well, then, I suppose since these two have already joined together, we witness and affirm their love as well. May the God of all blessing touch both yer hearts and bless you. May the road always rise up to meet you and may sun put a smile of both of yernfaces, aye? May the wind always carry you on yer way until we meet again. And may you know God's love…always.” At the word always, Agnes burst into tears and Noora sighed.
“Well, you two…what are ye waitin’ for….All’s well as end’s better, to quote me old Da,” Father Pat said with a laugh. Eileen looked into Trisha’s eyes and smiled before they kissed; for the first time in public as an official couple in civil union as endorsed by the Republic of Ireland, or as Father Pat would tell everyone proudly, HOLY matrimony!
And Eileen sighed in contentment as she realized for the first time the prayer that she prayed that one fateful day was in God’s will because it was exactly what God had planned.
Mbeannaí Dia dhuit. An Deireadh
Until We Meet Again
Malachi Cush, Pam Sheyne
Martin Sutton and Don Mescall
as performed by Dervish
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