Connections, by Karin Bishop
Chapter 5: Celebration!
Mom, Marilyn, and I adjourned to a nearby restaurant to eat and celebrate. Part of my mind was tickled that we’d used so many legal terms, like ‘verdict’, ‘judgment’, and even ‘adjourned’. Well, my case was won, so legal or medical, it was time to celebrate. I couldn’t be happier; I could be me!
Once we’d ordered—salads all around—Marilyn took control and I think we were both glad of it.
“So we’re in agreement, then? There are three females at this table?” There was a pause. “Alice?”
My mother nodded, delayed and reluctantly.
Marilyn was exasperated, but playfully said, “Aren’t you going to say hello to your daughter?”
“Hello, honey …” Mom’s face went through some changes.
“Um, hello, but what’s wrong, Mom?” I asked, concerned.
She seemed on the verge of tears. “I don’t even know your name!” she nearly wailed.
Marilyn surprised us both by bursting out laughing. “Omigod! You’re right! We’ve been walking on eggs for a week. We don’t know …oh, Lord, this is kind of funny!” She shook herself. “So, what is your name? I know you have one.”
She knew because that was part of the strange connection we shared. I took a deep breath. “Mom, before I was born, did you have a girl’s name picked out?”
Mom made a sad face; even stranger was Marilyn shaking her head sadly. My mother answered. “Your father wouldn’t allow it. He was so certain that he was going to have a son that even discussing the possibility you might be a girl was not allowed.”
“He actually told me that I was not to discuss it with her, either,” Marilyn explained. “Control freak. Macho control freak.”
“Now, Marilyn, he had his good points,” Mom placated.
“Oh, yeah? Name one!” Marilyn shot back.
“My child,” Mom said, looking at me.
Omigod, that turned the mood around! I blushed and felt such warmth for my mother, and although she was still stuck in her ‘my child’ mode, it meant she valued me. I could only hope that she could one day say ‘I’m thankful for my daughter’.
“Thank you, Mother,” I said, quietly.
“I’ll grant you, that is a very good point,” Marilyn grinned. “But to fully answer your question, your father said his first born ‘son and heir’ would be a fine strapping son named Michael. Your mother didn’t even get to choose that.”
“It’s a good name,” Mom said.“For a boy. For a man.”
I wanted to get her away from that subject. I really wanted to know her choices for a girl’s name, but I had to soften it by starting more generally. “Well, what names would you have chosen, Mom? For a boy or a girl?”
“I rather liked Michael, I must say. Also John—too vanilla, I know, but a strong name. I thought Nicholas might be rather nice, but I never explored it because …I was told you would be Michael.”
“End of story,” Marilyn supplied the line that I’d learned my father had used to end discussions.
“But what about girl names?” I pressed.
The ladies looked at each other and sort of shrugged. “It never came up. You were Michael, although I …”
“Well, any name that you have would have come from that period of my life with your father. It colors everything. I’ve tried to put it behind me, and start fresh.”
I could feel Marilyn closely observing me. She said to Mom, “I think your daughter may already have a name.”
I gave her a look meaning ‘Yeah, you got me’.
Mom said, “Already have a name?” She turned to me.
I was saved from answering because the salads arrived. In the bustle of adding dressing, taking first bites, and such, I marshaled my thoughts. Once things had settled down, I resumed.
“Mother, the name I’ve been calling myself is Melanie. I could change it if you don’t like it; as my mother, the naming should come from you.”
“Calling yourself, how?” Mom asked.
“In my mind. I mean, I never had anybody to speak with or to introduce myself, but …well, I did call in a radio talk show once and identified myself as Melanie. They don’t let you do last names.”
“What was the topic?” Marilyn asked.
Mom said, “Marilyn, that’s beside the point.”
She gave Mom a raised eyebrow. “Not if it moved her to call. I take it you don’t make a habit of it?” she said to me.
I shook my head. “First and only time. They were talking about the energy crisis and ethanol and hybrids and how Americans are responsible for gas being so expensive.”
“You don’t drive; how could it matter to you?” Mom asked, seemingly interested and disinterested at the same time.
“Well, it’s the world I’m growing up in,” I said with a shrug.
“What did you say?” Marilyn continued.
Mom said, “Marilyn, this is beside the point.”
“Sorry. But I would like to know.” She looked at me.
I glanced at Mom; she gave Marilyn an exasperated look.. I answered, “I called and said that any discussion of energy that failed to mention the expanding markets of China and India wasn’t a complete discussion. That no matter how many Americans drive hybrids or go as green as they can, the millions of new cars flooding Asia may soon surpass any American impact on demand, further affecting international oil pricing.”
“You said that?” Mom asked, surprised now.
“Hey, Ma, dincha hear? I’m a borderline genius!” I said in a New Jersey accent.
Marilyn laughed into her salad, but my mother said primly, “You are not to flaunt your intelligence or your IQ scores so flagrantly! It’s very uncouth. This is why I never discussed them with you.”
“I’m sorry; I was only fooling,” I said, trying to sound contrite.
“You know there are other factors in oil prices that have nothing to do with cars,” Marilyn observed.
“I was going to get into corn production and hog farming as other examples of influences but they cut me off.”
“Corn?” Mom asked, mystified.
“The production of corn, from harvesting to processing to delivering, as well as with pork, is responsible for a fifth or more of all gas consumption in the US, maybe even a quarter.”
My mother stared at me and shook her head. “That can’t be correct. I’m sure you misunderstood.”
“She’s right,” Marilyn said calmly. She smiled proudly at me. Then she tilted her head and asked, “And how did they like your topic?”
“Not only did they cut me off, but they changed the context and began talking about China’s secret plans to dominate the US through oil. A little on the paranoid end of things, but I got what I wanted.”
“What was that?” Marilyn asked.
“You can’t hear yourself talk when you call in, and you can’t listen to the radio and talk because of the lag time of the signal, but I’d set up my computer to record the conversation online.”
Marilyn nodded, a grin spreading. “I thought you might.”
“I heard myself identified as Melanie and spoke like a girl. They never let on that I was anything but a girl. And then I got a real taste of girlhood; they dismissed my input as coming from an ‘uninformed young girl’.”
Marilyn laughed again and clapped once. “Second class citizen on her first broadcast!”
Mom looked stern. “Never do that again without my permission, do you understand?”
“Yes, Mother, I do.” I really was contrite, now.
There was an awkward pause. “Well, what do you think of that, Alice? Melanie Stanwood?”
Mom paused, as if tasting something, and then nodded slowly. “My initial reaction is …generally favorable.”
It wasn’t entirely believable to me; I thought Marilyn might call her on it but could tell she decided to ignore the lack of enthusiasm.
“Well, that’s as close as a cartwheel, coming from you!” Marilyn leaned over and playfully nudged Mom.
“What do you think, Marilyn?” Mom asked, sounding uncertain.
Marilyn looked at me. “Personally, I think it’s a grand choice. Greek for ‘the dark one’, which is certainly descriptive of her wonderful hair. As to my reasons. First, it’s true to your Yankee culture, Alice. It’s not too frilly, not too trendy, and has possibilities.” She held her hand up in the air as if viewing something and reciting reviews. “The brilliant young actress, Melanie Stanwood, thrilled the audience with her performance in Mourning Becomes Electra. Oh, you’ll want to speak with Melanie Stanwood, our Director of International Banking. And Melanie Stanwood led the US Women’s Soccer team to an Olympic Gold Medal with three unassisted goals. Yes, I think it has possibilities.”
I blushed, staring at Marilyn. I looked at Mom, who stared at her too, every bit as flabbergasted at the display. Mom slowly turned to me.
Now tears did roll down my cheeks. “Oh, God, Mother; you have no idea how fantastic it is to hear you say that! Hello, Mother, I’d be proud to be your daughter Melanie!”
Just so the mood wouldn’t get too maudlin, Marilyn used a country voice to crack, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Hey, Mel; how’s about passing me them breadsticks?”
We all three burst out laughing and got on with our dinner.
I am Melanie Stanwood, now and forever.
Chapter 6: Toe In The Bathwater
Once we got home I decided to take a bath, a long soak. I’d been so nervous about the doctors’ verdict that the relief almost had me shaking. A bath would relax me, give me time to think, and I wanted to, well, allow myself to think of my body as a girl’s body now, no longer a boy’s, strictly speaking. Yes, there was the ‘male member’—my brain played with variations of ‘remember you’re male’, ‘your male re-member’, and so on—but I’d always had to think in terms of ‘body is male, soul is female’. But thanks to the doctors, I knew that it was ‘body is mostly female’ and this mostly-female body wanted a soak!
I had stripped down to my tightie-whities and Mom appeared in my room with a tape measure and notepad. I was excited; I knew she was taking down my sizes for girls’ clothing, so I willingly submitted to a whole slew of measurements. I remembered that during the meeting with the doctors, the question had been put to her about a new wardrobe for me, but she hadn’t answered it. Now I guess she’d be able to get my first things, thanks to the measurements. She collected her things and said, “Have a nice bath, honey.”
Drowsily laying in the steamy bath, I was wondering when I’d get my new clothes, and what they’d be. I thought a little of the styles I liked, and looked forward to shopping with Mom—and especially when we could be mother and daughter. In the meantime …I’d kept my promise and not done or worn any girls’ things until the verdict; now that I knew I’d been given the green light, I tucked my penis tightly between my legs and admired the smooth mound—for the first time without guilt or despair. I knew that my male part was underdeveloped for my age—‘under-formed’ in the odd phrase used by Dr. Stevenson—and that worked in my favor. Lying there all relaxed, I never wanted to see again the slight bobbing motion of my penis in the water, preferring to imagine the time it would be gone.
Eventually getting out and toweling off, I carefully dried my penis—I really didn’t like handling the thing because it was the symbol of my mis-diagnosed life. I chuckled, thinking that today, I was ‘miss-diagnosed’! Once I was dry, I pulled on a fresh set of tightie-whities and pulled my little penis back between my legs without shame. It completely disappeared, and the underwear was tight enough to keep it in place. I knew that I’d have to dress as a boy at school, but it would be a masquerade. And even when I had panties of my own, I wouldn’t wear them or anything else feminine under my clothes on the off-chance that some jerk tried to pants me for the last time of the school year. It happened twice last year and once so far this year. So, no panties. But I’d stay tucked and of course my testicles weren’t an issue.
We’d arrived home to find the hospital had left a message scheduling me for the scan after school, and Dr. Thompson set an appointment for next Thursday. Then I was measured, I bathed, and got ready for bed. I wondered if it would be the last time I wore my ‘boy’ sleep things, boxers and a t-shirt, although I knew that many girls slept in boxers and tees.
School was typical, but there was a new buzz of excitement as kids began to realize that it was almost over, and that they were in very last days of being an ‘upperclassman’, big eighth graders—because next year we’d all be starting at the bottom of the heap as lowly freshmen. But we’d be big high school kids!
Mom picked me up at school; I was anxious about the scan and I think she was, too, because we were unusually quiet. Once I was at the hospital I sat and tried to calm myself; Marilyn’s insistence on the scan had me wondering if she knew or suspected something other than the usual ‘boy guts’. They called me in and I stripped to the tightie-whities, wondering if they could tell I was tucked away and thinking that the testicles in my abdomen might confuse them. It was my first scan and once it was done, I could say the process was pretty unremarkable.
I thought we’d go shopping afterward, but Mom took us home, stopping only to get a roasted chicken at the store. I prepared vegetables and rice and waited to talk during dinner. Mom asked how the scan went, and after telling her, she simply nodded and we cleared the table. Confused and hurt, I went into my room, coming out just before bedtime to find her on the couch, staring at the TV but not really watching.
“Mom …can we talk about this?” I asked, tentatively.
“What is ‘this’ to which you refer?” she answered obliquely.
I sagged in frustration. “Mother …will I be allowed to dress as a girl now?”
She looked up at me slowly, like she was underwater. “Yes, of course …I gave my word.”
I went and sat down on the couch. I made a point to sit with my knees and ankles together, on the edge of the couch. I was going to be Melanie at home no matter how I was dressed, and wondered if she’d notice any changes in me.
“Mother, may I wear the clothing I have, or will we get a chance to go shopping?”
“I never …I never asked what clothing you have.”
“I understand, and I did as you asked. I didn’t touch anything until we saw the doctors. But they cleared me to become a girl now, didn’t they?” Had I missed something?
“Well,” her mouth twitched, “in a sense, but in a sense they said you already are a girl. You’re certainly sitting like one,” she nodded to my position on the couch.
She had noticed! Maybe something would come of this …
I said, “For too long I’ve had to force my body to conform to what people expect of a boy, even one as small and insignificant as me.”
“You shouldn’t call yourself that.”
“I don’t—about me. But that’s how I’m seen by other kids. And I kept that boy façade going around you, but now that you know the truth about me, I can relax and be myself. And …this is how I sit.”
“Are you sure the …feminine posture isn’t the thing being forced?”
“No, I know for sure. You haven’t seen me in my bedroom or before you get home. I’m me, now, your daughter, and I hope you can learn to accept it.”
“Accept it or not accept it; ‘learn to accept it’ is somewhat meaningless,” she replied automatically. She was always on the hunt for sloppy grammar, but I usually got away with it. I’d realized that she used correcting my speech as a way of distancing herself from the subject.
“Understood. Mother, do you accept me as your daughter?”
She looked me in the eyes and then away. I thought I saw her lip trembling. “It’s hard …so hard …”
“Well, let’s take it a step at a time, then. Will you accept that I may now speak and move and just …exist as Melanie?”
“As Melanie …yes, of course. It will take some getting used to the name.”
I thought for a moment. “The night that you found my lipstick, I asked if you wanted to see me dressed and you said no. May I dress now?”
“Um …” She furrowed her brow. “I’m not sure, but not for reasons you may suspect. As I said before, I don’t know what clothing you have.”
“I have one dress, two skirts and a top. Not much, but they’re ‘honest-to-goodness’ girls’ clothes and they’re mine.”
“How did you acquire them?”
“I saved up my allowance and got them at a consignment shop.”
“A second-hand store?” she said with some distaste.
“All I could afford,” I confirmed. “I had to have something to call my own.”
“Very well. I would like to see you in the dress.”
“Thank you, Mom,” I said, standing. “I’ll just be a minute.”
“No, it’s late, thank you. Tomorrow, please, when I get home. And after you’ve completed any homework.”
I stared at her a moment, thinking about Marilyn telling me to count to ten. “There’s actually very little homework; we’re in the last weeks of school. Just studying for Finals.”
“Well, studying is more important than fashion shows,” she said rather primly. “So after studying, you may …dress, and I will see you when I come home.”
I knew that was as much as I was going to get from her, so I told her I loved her and goodnight—and I do love her, but right then I wasn’t feeling terribly friendly towards her.
The next school day was almost a waste; it was only a Thursday but people’s minds were already on the weekend. Even the teachers seemed to be marking time until Finals. I came home and thought that it didn’t matter how I dressed to study and went to my ‘stash’ …but I’d told Mom I’d wait. So I waited. I pulled out the books and went through them for an hour. I was so prepared to ace every test—except for PE, of course—that it was frustrating following my mother’s request. Then the hour was up.
I showered and once I was dry, I bent over and dried my hair out full, straightening up and brushing it. Then I gathered it all up on the crown of my head with a scrunchie into a kicky ponytail. I’d been growing my hair long for quite awhile, and had been careful with it. It was long enough that all of it could be pulled back with no straggly wisps. I took a pick and pulled out a strand over each ear and twisted them around, giving them some curl. I shook my head in the mirror; it was a cute girl’s happy face looking back.
I had no lingerie to speak of; only a single camisole and panty set in a light blue. I’d panicked before buying anything else; I’d been blushing so furiously I thought people in the next county could tell I was buying them for myself. Now that I was tucked, though, the panty looked lovely and there was no guilt wearing the set. I pulled the dress over my head and zipped it. It was a brown and red striped sheath—it had harvest colors because I’d bought it in November—that ended mid-thigh. It wasn’t a mini by today’s standards, but I was always pleased at how pretty my legs looked. It had a scooped neck and capped sleeves and I always felt cute in it. All I had was a pair of brown sandals with a tiny heel, but I strapped them on.
Then I thought of the bottle of deep plum-colored nail polish that I almost never used, because the danger of getting caught was so great. I’d bought it along with remover in a moment of bravado. But although my sandals were already on, I bent and applied the polish to my toes. I’d do my fingers last.
I had a tiny supply of makeup, a discarded, marked-down trial set. I applied some blush, a tiny bit of brown eye shadow and liner, some mascara, and my one other lipstick—Mom had not given back the tube that started all this.
Looking at myself in the mirror, I approved. I took the polish to the kitchen, made a bowl of ice water, did my fingernails and plunged them into the cold water. I’d read about this on the net but had never tried it and lo-and-behold! It really worked! I cleaned up everything—reveling in seeing the plum polish on my fingers—and went to the couch to watch TV.
It was amazing how I felt. I was fully dressed and made-up, as I had been only a few times before. But before, there was an unhappy gloom hanging over me. My moves had been furtive, guilty …but now I could fully relax as Melanie for the first time in my life. I sat with my legs crossed at the knee and wondered about my future wardrobe. I was going through the Sunday flyers openly, looking at styles, when Mom came home.
She had bags from the grocery and I rushed to help her. “I picked up two of those grilled chicken salads we both—” She froze, looking at me.
I tried to brazen it out. “Hi, Mom. Have a good day?” I said in my teen girl voice.
She inhaled sharply and dropped her face to the floor. “I …yes, it was a good day, thank you for asking …I …”
I pretended nothing was wrong, taking things out of the bag and putting them away, but there was a tight fist of fear in my stomach. I was putting one box away that went on a high shelf—well, high for my size—and stood on tiptoe, feet and knees together, to reach it. I realized my dress was riding up the back of my leg; it wasn’t short enough that my panties would show but it was definitely something my mother had never seen.
“Please …you’ve put everything away nicely, thank you …could we go into the living room?”
I nodded and meekly followed her. She sat on the couch and I stood before her, knees and ankles together, holding two fingers of my right hand with my left in front of me. I was under scrutiny.
She studied me up and down with a frown. “I certainly never …When you said you had a dress, I assumed something smart and modest. This …this is unacceptable. Immodest, even for an older girl. And you say you bought this with your own money?”
Count to ten, count to ten, I thought desperately. “Yes, Mother, I did. And it’s not too short; it’s technically not even a mini. Several girls in my class wear these, and that’s why I was so happy to find one on consignment.”
“Obviously placed there because a girl’s mother disapproved of it as I do.”
Count to ten …“Is it merely the hemline that you object to?”
“To which you object,” she corrected, delaying. “It’s just …a sheath is too mature. And are you sure it fits you? It seems rather small. Your sleeves are creeping up your arms.”
“They’re called ‘cap sleeves’, Mother, and it’s a standard of female clothing.” It was all I could do to not be snippy.
“And please, please, remove the makeup. You are much too young to be wearing—and nail polish? Absolutely not! Remove it immediately. And that’s a most immature hairstyle and does not suit you.”
Count to ten, count to ten …I could count to a thousand; it wasn’t working. “Well, what about the sandals, at least?”
Her jaw tightened. “They are acceptable, but barely. They are neither safe nor sanitary, but I will accept them, provisionally. Obviously, I will have to do your shopping for you.”
“Couldn’t we go together, as mother and daughter?” I asked, almost begging.
“Out of the question. You have nothing suitable for public wear. That’s the end of it. Please change to your regular clothes.”
I was halfway out of the room and turned back to her with tears in my eyes. “Mother, do you understand that the doctors told us that I am a thirteen-year-old girl? These are my regular clothes!” I left the room, knowing I would only make things worse if I said anything else.
In my room I sadly stripped and put away my clothes. I kept the cami and panties on, threw a robe over them and went to remove the polish and wash my face. Coming out afterward, I stuck my head into the living room.
“Mom, I don’t want to force anything. I just hope that someday you will call me your daughter and know that I’m your daughter, a girl. Good night.”
Chapter 7: Strange Friday
I slept fitfully, tied up in knots by Mom’s reluctance to accept me. Finally I thought that maybe I was overreacting and being too pushy and should back off. So I wasn’t angry when I woke up, but somewhat depressed.
That changed at school for two reasons, each a little strange. The first was very simple; it was the last day of PE. Next week started the Finals schedule, mostly half-days and no more PE or sports of any kind. So I had the last of my personal hell, failing to run fast enough or climb fast enough or do enough pushups. The coach always seemed to take my poor performance as a personal attack. It wasn’t; I was just small and weak. Because my attendance was perfect and I had no demerits, the teacher couldn’t fail me, and the system allowed that the worst he could give me was a B minus—compared to having an A in all of my other classes. But I took it and actually got the last word, not that I was looking to …
As I passed the coach on the way out, where he handed the graded summaries—with my B minus—he had one last chance for his favorite insult. He glared at me and softly smirked, “Next year you ought to sign up for Girls’ PE!”
I nodded. “Thank you, Coach. I will!” and walked away, leaving him sputtering. I’d agreed with him, right? I didn’t contradict him or talk back, did I? He made a recommendation and I said I’d follow it. But I felt warm inside, hoping and praying that I actually would be able to take Girls’ PE next year.
The other reason was very strange. Walking down the hall after Lunch, a very pretty girl waved at me. It took me a moment to recognize Cheryl Ferguson, a girl that I’d help tutor last semester. She was popular, a cheerleader, and going against the stereotype, she was quite smart in many classes but just didn’t grasp History. It had been a pleasant few weeks, because I went to her house and her mother was very kind to me, bringing Cokes and cookies to the dining room table where we worked. It was probably the closest I got to a girl, not just passing one in the halls. Since she was smart, I realized her problem was that some teacher had screwed up her concept of history—one of those names-and-dates guys. It was a jumble of facts with nothing connecting them. It was pretty easy to make her realize that it was real people getting up in the morning and doing real things, great things, terrible things, boring things. Once she understood the ebb and flow, the interconnection, the threads, it was easier to string the names and dates in order.
I guessed Cheryl was coming up to say ‘have a nice summer’ or something. She said ‘hi’ as the people flowed around us, rushing out to Lunch or to skip the rest of the day. When we were more or less alone, she suddenly seemed embarrassed.
“Michael, I …I want to thank you for saving me in History.”
“Sure. It was easy; you’d been messed up in the past and I just pointed you in the right direction. You’re really smart and took it from there.”
“Yeah, and thanks, but …it would have messed up my GPA if you hadn’t gotten me ‘in the right direction’ and so, wow, thanks.”
There was something on her mind but I had no idea. “Got any plans for summer?” I asked, just for something to say.
She looked down the hallway and back to me. “Yes. That’s why I wanted to see you—well, to thank you again and I’ve done that, but …we’re moving.”
“Oh; sorry to hear that. Where to?”
“Chicago area. Today’s my last day; my folks cleared it with the school.”
“Well, tell your mother hello for me and tell her I’ll miss her cookies!”
She nodded. “Thanks, I will. Listen, Michael …” She looked down the hall again. “I want to say something and I want you to know up front that I think you’re really great and I would never hurt you.”
I pretended to be hurt. “You’re going to tell me I’m short, aren’t you? I’m not short—there’s just a surplus of Tall at this school!”
She chuckled politely. “That’s one of the things I like about you. You’re so …together.” She bit her lip and leaned in and quietly asked, “Michael, are you gay?”
That rocked me, because it wasn’t meant as an insult, the way I usually heard it. She was interested. And since my life was in the process of turning around, it was a difficult moment.
She blushed. “I don’t mean …anything to hurt you.” In a rush, she said, “I just want you to know that if you’re gay, it’s okay with me; you’re a really great guy and it’s perfectly understandable and I just think you should be proud of yourself and thought maybe it would help you next year at Madison to know that I support you …even though I’m in …Chicago …” She made a little strangled sound and kind of froze.
I said, “Cheryl, it’s okay. Relax. And thank you for your support, even long distance; it’s nice to know that I won’t be forgotten. But I need to ask you why you think I’m gay?”
Her eyes widened. “Omigod! You’re not? I’m so, so—”
I waved my hand, cutting her off. “You’re so sorry; please, I understand, no need to go there. Without worrying about my feelings, please tell me, as honestly as you can, why you think I might be gay. It’s important to me that you say what you truly feel.”
Our eyes held for a moment, and she gave a small nod. “Okay. Well, at school you’re just …another guy, you know? Small—but you know that, of course—and not very …noticeable. Sorry about that.” I nodded and she continued. “But at my house, tutoring? You were a different person. You were funny, smart—brilliant, really—and my mother really and truly doesn’t do the cookie thing for my friends. She said some things, as well. You just seemed …”
“Go on, please.” I smiled as reassuringly as I could.
“You just seemed more like …well, more like a girl. You didn’t talk funny or anything, you didn’t sound like those gay guys on Runway. It was different.”
“I seemed more like a girl,” I clarified.
“Yes.” She shrugged. “That’s it, exactly. Mom even said it was a shame you were a boy because you were so pretty, and because we got along so well she thought you would be a nice girlfriend.” Her face showed her embarrassment saying this. “It was just …a vibe that I got.”
“Cheryl, do you have to get to Lunch?”
“Not really. I’m pretty much done with school and was just going to walk home when I saw you. I didn’t plan this out, I just thought it was …I just seized the moment.”
“Would you like to go to the Quad while I eat?” The Quad was a big area where people ate singly or in groups, scattered around. “I have something to tell you.”
“Sure,” she said.
We found a spot near some trees, giving shade, and I pulled out my lunch. I handed her the granola bar—chocolate chip—which she took gratefully. I thought for a moment that if she wasn’t leaving, she probably wouldn’t risk being seen sitting with me …but then maybe she would; she was always independently minded. I thought wistfully that if I’d only known earlier, we might have been great friends.
“Cheryl, you said you were asking because ‘I’m a great guy’. I’m not.”
“Yes, you are! You’re smart and …” She stopped because I had my hand up again.
“I’m not a guy. Tell your mom she was right. I only wish we could have been girlfriends all year.”
She stared and slightly shook her head. “So you are gay!”
“No. No …it’s a lot stranger than that.”
I told her that I’d never felt like a boy, that I’d confessed it to Mom, that I’d been proven by doctors and psychiatrists to be nearly completely female, especially medically, that I was going to be a girl full-time as soon as school was over, and that my name was Melanie.
She stared at first, frowned a little, nodded, and was smiling when I finished. “God, Melanie, it would have been great to have you as a girlfriend …but we just didn’t know.”
It was the greatest, most wonderfully grand thing she could have said, and I wanted to hug her, but of course as ‘Michael’ it couldn’t be done. Instead, I shook my head sadly. “Nope. Timing is everything. Well, if by chance you come back any time, we can hang at the mall or something.” I stood because it was the end of the Lunch period and she was heading home.
She bit her lip slightly. “What about boys?” she asked shyly.
“I think they’re the opposite sex!” I said. “Some are dumb and some are pretty neat!”
We both giggled and impulsively hugged, ‘Michael’ be damned. I asked her to tell her mother about me, and wished her the very best, and I went to class walking on air.
By the time I got home I felt pretty good; I’d made up my mind what to do. I took another shower, cleansing me of the ‘boy funk’ I carried at school. But I did something else …I shaved my legs and under my arms. In my stash of items I’d acquired over time was a three-pack of pink disposable razors, and a ‘travel size’ of ladies’ shaving gel. So, with PE out of my life, I could finally shave my legs. I was oh-so-careful and didn’t nick anywhere, and I knew to blot and put on baby oil—Mom had some in the medicine chest.
I felt sleek and feminine and wonderful. I put on the blue panties and camisole set again because it was all I had; since I’d only worn it briefly last night. I put on my one denim skirt, which hung down to my knees because it was a little big for me, and a girls’ t-shirt, yellow with a Rainbow Brite picture on the front in sparkles. I did the flip-thing with my hair again and wished I could put on lipstick and jewelry but didn’t want to provoke Mom. I thought I was within the bounds of her modest taste.
I was wrong.
Mom called me around five and said she was going to be coming home later; did I want her to pick up anything for dinner? I told her there was a box dinner I could make for us and she could heat it whenever she wanted. So I prepared the dinner, happy to be a girl in my cute skirt and dreaming of shopping and having girlfriends like Cheryl Ferguson. I ate my portion of the dinner and curled up to watch a rerun of Pretty Woman. It was interesting watching movies I’d seen, but freely able to be watching them again from a female viewpoint.
Mom came in the door at nearly eight, with several shopping bags. I jumped up to help her, and again had the stomach-dropping sensation when she stared at me. She handed me the bags and thanked me and said I could take them to my room. I did that, figuring they were clothes for me, but since she hadn’t specified, I chose not to look into the bags but merely returned to the living room. Mom looked tired, as she often did after a long week—and this week had probably more stress than usual!—and I asked if she’d like some ice tea. She looked at me for a moment and said it would be lovely.
Mom was sitting on the sofa when I brought her the tea, and I sat next to her with a glass for me. There was an awkward moment while she sipped and thanked me. Then she turned to me.
“I would have thought you would have been trying your things on.”
“You hadn’t said they were my things, only to take them to my room. I figured they were for me, but I didn’t presume to open them without your approval.”
“Good b—that was good of you.” She was silent, looking at me. I held my skirt out at the sides, hoping I met with her satisfaction. She frowned and said, “Well, what you’re wearing is marginally better than the dress you wore last night.”
“Just casual, you know; skirt and a tee.” I tried to be as everyday-normal as I could.
“They misspelled ‘Bright’,” she said, eyeing the appliqué with distaste.
“It’s the name of a character, ‘Rainbow Brite’.”
“I still think it’s sloppy. By wearing it you endorse their misspelling.”
“It’s a trademark, Mom; a brand name. Like Marlboro cigarettes aren’t spelled b-o-r-o-u-g-h. Or those Evenflo products don’t have a ‘W’ at the end. Just corporate trademarks.”
“So it’s, what, a television show, a movie? Are you a fan?”
I smiled. “No, I’m not a fan; it’s a TV show that girls six to ten usually like.”
“Then why are you wearing that shirt? You’re not …of that demographic.”
Count to ten, I thought. “Mom, I must make three points. First, wearing the logo for something not in your usual demographic is considered Post-Modern, and kind of fun, like wearing logos for 1940’s malt shops. Second, if I’d been raised as a girl, I would have been a fan of Rainbow Brite when I was approximately six to ten, and probably would have had Rainbow Brite sheets and a Rainbow Brite nightgown. And third, it’s a cute top and fit me and was cheap.”
She looked at me a bit longer. “I’m sorry. I’m rather …out of touch with things. I’ve never heard of Rainbow Brite, but you made three valid points. I don’t think that skirt fits you too well, though.”
“No, it’s a bit too big, but very good quality and I could learn to sew and take it in.” The heck with the count-to-ten thing; I had to ask this. “Mother, are you ever going to allow me to just …be? Just be me, Melanie, without criticizing? I know it’s a child’s character tee; I know my skirt’s too big. But they were all I have, and I bought them and I like how they feel and how they make me feel. Yes, I’d still be a girl wearing a gunny sack, but having proper clothes would be nice, too.”
I thought I’d pushed it too far, but she nodded, her jaw set. “Well, you have some proper clothes on your bed. Why don’t you try them on? Don’t remove the tags in case we need to return them.”
I shouldn’t have used the words ‘proper clothes’, because that’s certainly what these were. First of all, the bags were from no store at the mall. My mother disliked malls, and preferred to go to stand-alone stores. While it was nice to patronize small merchants, their stocks were not always current. Which made it easier to find these ...non-fashions, I guess. There was a dress in blue and white stripes in a style from the 1950s, called a ‘shirtwaist’. There was a jumper—part of my mind registered that the British word ‘jumper’ referred to a sweater—that was sleeveless and about knee length in a dark textured black wool. It looked almost like something a postulant would wear, like the opening of The Sound of Music. There was a white blouse with a Peter Pan collar and half-sleeves, and one in light blue, and a plaid wrap around skirt more like a kilt—it even had a large brass safety pin holding it together. A three-pack of full-sized panties, what girls called ‘granny panties’, a three-pack of short white socks, two white knee socks, girls’ t-shirts—not camisoles, but like athletic shirts—and finally, one pair of black flats that were like ballet slippers but sturdier and not as fashionable.
Apparently Melanie lived in 1957; it was obvious her mother did …
I was almost in tears; while I certainly didn’t expect Mom to come home with miniskirts and tube tops, I thought she’d buy average girl’s clothes. If she’d gone to a mall, that’s all she would have found. That got me thinking—along with Marilyn’s ‘count to ten’ and ‘be willing to bend’. I got myself together and went to the living room.
“Thank you for buying me those clothes, Mom. Would you like me to model them for you?”
She looked at me. “You’re welcome, dear. Yes, that would be lovely. I hadn’t thought about it, but it would …yes, lovely.” She nodded. “Oh, you haven’t removed the tags yet, have you?”
“No, Mother,” I grinned. “You raised me better than that. What would you like to see first?”
“Your choice, dear; surprise me.”
As I went to my room I realized that she had not bought these things to punish me, or to make any kind of point. In her somewhat cloistered world, these were appropriate clothes for a thirteen-year-old girl. That actually made me hopeful that I could bring her into the 21st Century …eventually. One thing was for certain: I couldn’t go out in public in these clothes. They would draw more attention to me than a miniskirt and tube top. It would be like the Amish walked among us.
I opened the pack of panties and sighed at the size of them. Yes, they fit my waist—Mom had measured, after all—but there was enough material to make a parachute. I pulled them up as high as I could to keep my male part tucked, and then added the athletic top. It had a little satin bow in the center of a nicely scalloped neckline, and I thought they’d be great on hot days, but the thought of that led to thinking about bras and breasts and all sorts of things my mother was definitely not ready to handle.
Next came the Peter Pan blouse, the tag scratching a little on my waist, and then I put the jumper on over it. I decided to try the shoes without socks; they were a bit scratchy but I liked how my feet looked in them. I fluffed and brushed my hair, looked at myself in the mirror—a parochial schoolgirl looked back—and went to show Mom.
Her reaction was totally unexpected. Her mouth flew open and her hand rushed to cover it. Her eyes were wide and shiny. “Oh, my goodness! You’re so pretty, Michael!”
Talk about raising me up and smashing me down! As pleasantly as I could, I said, “I’m Melanie, Mother.”
She caught herself and waved a hand. “That’s what I meant, of course.”
“Mother …could you please say what you said when I entered? Again, please?”
“What I said …” The light dawned, and she smiled. “Oh, my goodness, you’re so pretty, Melanie.” It still sounded kind of forced, but there was a smile …
“Thank you, Mother,” I did a little curtsy. The jumper fit okay but was narrowly-cut and went to mid-knee so the curtsy was a bit constrained.
My mother inclined her head, regally. “You really are …lovely, Melanie.”
That one felt better and although I wasn’t sure of the pause, I’d take what I could get.
“Would you like to see the next in our Spring Line?” I asked playfully.
“Certainly,” Mom smiled.
Walking back to my room, I thought that being willing to bend was much better than if I’d burst into tears and we’d had a fight. Thank you again, Marilyn! I removed the jumper, thinking I’d have to learn the proper way to put these things on, and kept the blouse on and added the plaid wrap skirt. I came back to Mom.
She nodded. “Quite dignified,” she said.
“Don’t you think it’s a bit …Scottish?” I asked.
“Well, we do have a bit of Scottish blood.”
“Hoot mon, outta me way, who d’ye think ye ar-r-e?” I sang, from The Road to Bali. Mom loved the Bing Crosby-Bob Hope comedies and had introduced me to them so I knew she’d know the reference.
Next up was the shirtwaist dress. It seemed too tight up top and I went out to show it to Mom, who agreed that it was probably mis-sized.
“One of the things you’ll learn is the maddening inconsistency of sizes. Different manufacturers use their own idiosyncratic gauges. So a kiss is still a kiss, but a six is not a six.”
It was a typical statement of my mother’s; rich in vocabulary, with a song lyric reference—from ‘As Time Goes By’, and a verbal twist. I thought it was probably an unusual upbringing compared to my classmates’ families, but then, I was unusual in several ways.
I was glad the shirtwaist was a No, because I hated the full skirt. Even more than the other clothes, this one felt time-warped decades backward. “Do you have a preference for what I wear now?” I asked politely.
“Whatever you feel comfortable in, dear,” she said with a smile.
“May I add the clothes I already have into my new wardrobe?”
“Not that dreadful dress you first showed me, but that denim skirt would do. Do not wear it until it has been properly altered. Is there any other I don’t know about?”
“I have a black skirt, but it might be too short for you.”
She gave me a look. “The question is, is it too short for you?” She sighed. “In the privacy of our home, you may wear that, and thank you for your concern. So,” she clapped her hands once, “you have underwear, a jumper and three skirts, two blouses, and whatever shirts you wish to add from your closet. Oh, but not that horrible metal thing, please.”
“Metal thing …Oh, you mean Metallica? Mom, it’s a world-famous band.”
“I don’t care if they’re world-famous, I don’t like the shirt, and that’s that.”
“Sure,” I said quickly, to forestall the storm clouds. “I only wore it to try to look like a boy; many boys follow that band. Let me get out of this,” I gestured to the shirtwaist. On the way to my room I turned back to her. “Mom, I didn’t notice …did you get any sleepwear? I’m not demanding more, more, more; I was just asking.”
“I understand, dear. I thought what you slept in would be sufficient.”
“I thought, maybe …maybe a nightgown? Like you wear?”
She shook her head with a condescending smile. “Oh, no, no, no; you’re much too young for a ladies’ nightgown. And no need to go to additional expense since what you wear will be only under the covers of your bed. Your t-shirt and boxers have sufficed this long and are certainly serviceable.”
I bit back the thousand things I wanted to scream at her, but merely nodded and went to my room, grinding my teeth and wondering what she’d slept in when she was thirteen—a union suit? I removed the shirtwaist and put on the blue blouse and my black denim skirt. It was my pride and joy; it was mid-thigh and as things stood I knew Mom would never allow me in public in it, but I had her provisional okay so I thought I’d test.
Returning to the living room, I stood as demurely as I could, hoping the primness of the blue blouse—and my demeanor—would offset the skirt length. “Mom, this is the black skirt I mentioned; I know this wouldn’t be worn in public, but just around the house …?”
Her jaw tightened, but I’d played it just right. “I’m glad that you appreciate my sensibilities on the subject, dear. Yes, you may wear it in the house—but don’t open the door to anybody while wearing it.”
Don’t open the door …What, the pizza guy might see my knees? But instead of saying that, I thought of Marilyn, counted to ten, nodded and said, “A girl alone shouldn’t open the door to strangers anyway, Mother!”
As I turned to go back to my room, I heard her gasp and murmur, ‘a girl alone …’ as if it were impossible to conceive.
I was glad she couldn’t hear my teeth grind.
End of Part 3
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