One Word and One Year, by Karin Bishop
Chapter 1: One Word
“Mark, you absolutely have to hear this,” Taylor declared as she slipped the new Ramses CD into her player. Even before it started, she cranked up the volume. Ded Morrison, the lead singer, blasted out of her speakers, immediately bringing Taylor’s older sister Monica down into the den.
“That’s my CD, twerp!” Monica yelled over Ded. She reached the player and flipped open the lid.
“Don’t do it that way, Mon!” Taylor yelled back in the silence. “You’ll damage the player.”
“Stop taking my things, Taylor,” her sister warned.
“I didn’t take it; I found it in the car.”
Monica made a face. “No, you didn’t; it was in my room.”
Taylor said, “Yeah, it was in the car; you left it when you and Brad ...” Taylor made a rude gesture with her fingers.
The truth dawned on Monica. “Shut up! We didn’t ... just shut up, okay?” She slumped a little. “Okay, you didn’t take it from my room. Um ... okay ...” Her face changed. “Don’t tell Mom, okay?”
Taylor had a triumphant smile. “Okay. But can I listen to it?”
Monica relented. “Yeah, okay. Only not so loud, okay?”
“Geez, Mon, it’s supposed to be loud. Don’t turn into an old fart.”
“Listen, twerp, I like it loud, too, but if you play it too loud, Mom or Dad will take it away, so we both lose. You want it loud, use the phones.”
Taylor shrugged. “It’s not the same, Mon, but I know what you mean.” She started up the CD again, and the sisters adjusted the volume until they both nodded. It was respectably loud, but not Parent Killing Loud.
Monica headed back upstairs. “Leave it in the player when you’re done, okay?” Over her shoulder she called, “You girls have fun.”
Taylor had her mouth open to respond to Monica, then turned slowly to me with a wicked grin. “Did you hear that? She thought you were a girl!”
Oh, God, I thought; not again. I sighed and sagged into a bean-bag chair. “Yeah, I heard it, Tay.”
I’d been hearing it off and on all of my life. I have a weird family. I know every teenager thinks that, but in our case, you just have to look at the four members of the Chambers family to agree with the statement. My dad is 6'10", with dark eyes, brown curly hair and skin that tans beautifully. He’d played pro basketball in Europe before going to college at Carnegie-Mellon. He entered the military as an intelligence officer after college, and now worked for a large security firm, but you could still see and feel the military in him. Mom, on the other hand, is barely 4'10", blue-eyed with creamy white skin and straight blonde hair, and burns instantly. When people met the two of them the first time, you could see the same question form in their minds—how did they have sex—how could they fit?
Well, they obviously found a way, at least twice. My brother Jake takes after Dad; not only with dark hair and eyes, but at 17 he’s already 6'6" and still growing. He’s fielding offers from both basketball and baseball scouts, because not only does he lead the league in rebounds, he’s a hell of a good pitcher.
I’m 13 and I take after Mom—like I’m from the same template as her. Blue eyes, creamy skin, straight blond hair. And I’m almost 5'3". Almost. That means, in reality, I’m ‘five-foot-two-eyes-of-blue’ and if I hear that one more time I’m gonna scream.
I haven’t said anything to anybody, but for a couple of years now, there’s been a growing suspicion in my mind that I should have been born a girl. The rest of my family makes sense, even with Jake next to Mom because you can see her eyes and smile in his face. It’s when you include me in the picture that it gets weird. Lately, I’ve become aware that other people think I should have been a girl, too. I’ve sure heard the snickers and remarks behind my back at school. In the last year I watched as other guys started developing muscles and hair on their bodies. And along with everything else, I’m pretty much hairless—it’s really embarrassing in showers at the rec pool—and what hair is blonde and nearly invisible. Also, I have no hips. I just go straight up and down.
Well, I’m not being truthful. Actually, my waist is a little thinner than my hips, nipping in enough to further add to my embarrassment in the showers.
I know what I look like; I don’t look like any other thirteen-year-old guys. Saying ‘it’s genetics’ is the explanation, but it doesn’t help with the snickers and remarks.
To compensate for my non-macho build, I’ve tried to blend into the hard rock crowd at school; kids who like grunge and metal. I never actually fit in; I was rejected by the rejects, so to speak, except for my one friend Taylor. She liked hard rock, and I did, too, but I also liked other stuff, too. In fact, I’d started listening to jazz, and fell in love with Ben Webster’s sax after I heard him on a jazz station. So except for getting together with Taylor after school, my days were filled with school and coming right home, doing my schoolwork and then reading. I read all the time, sometimes two or three books at a time. I loved to learn from books but I wasn’t like a grind or anything; my grades were about 3.6 or so but I never broke a sweat studying. They could have been better, though. My parents had been fixated on me going to a private school, St. Martin’s, but I’d begged to be allowed to go to the public school so I could ‘blend in’—as if that could ever happen.
Anyway, to blend in with the rock crowd, I’d let my hair grow. Mom didn’t mind as long as it was clean and held back in a ponytail; Dad didn’t seem to mind, either. Well, Dad didn’t even seem to notice, really. In the last two years or so, it seemed like he’d been spending more and more time with Jake. It was understandable, of course, because sports will be Jake’s ticket to college—and I suck at sports. When I was younger, they were always great at including me in their games, but I always slowed down the action. I’d make up an excuse and go in to see Mom. I’d hear them crank up their game, which they would go on to play for hours. I didn’t really need to see Mom, so sometimes I’d sit and read, but often I’d go in to help her, so over time I learned quite a bit about cooking, laundry, and things like that.
Of course I know that boys should learn those things; a lot of them will wind up as bachelors. And I knew the high school now required boys to go through a sort of Home Ec class to learn basic skills. But from what I’d heard from other kids with big brothers, they were usually not taught those things at home. Jake wasn’t; Mom never taught him to bake, for example.
So even though my parents were very open-minded about a lot of things, we still had the old-fashioned ‘traditional’ roles. Jake and Dad ‘threw the old pill around’, or sometimes they ‘threw the old bean’ around and I was never sure what kind of ball they were referring to, but they were out front throwing it around. Or tuning up the car. Or building something in the garage. Meanwhile, I was in the kitchen with Mom making dinner, or in the laundry room separating colors, or whatever.
Traditional division of labor by gender, basically.
I’ve got to be honest; it all happened so gradually that nobody noticed, least of all me. But it became clear to me, if not to the rest of my family. One of my few male friends, Glen Stevenson, had moved away after fifth grade. After a year and a half, he came to visit while his dad had business in town. At first it seemed like old times; we got caught up on who was doing what with whom, and he told me about his new school and friends.
Then Mom got home and I helped her. Glen worked at a can of Pepsi until I was done. I didn’t think anything about it until I noticed his eyes, which were wide and looking at me differently. I will never forget what he said: ‘Dude, are you turning into a chick?’
I denied it, astonished that he’d even ask, but he presented his case and I had to admit it was convincing. I’d helped Mom put some groceries away and peel some potatoes. It wasn’t just the way I moved and talked with her that struck Glen as feminine; it was the apron I put on—my own apron. And, I pulled my hair back with a scrunchie that was next to the sink. The thing is, I didn’t even think about it; Mom did the same thing when she worked at the sink, so that’s what I did. What Glen said got me thinking, but he’d been discreet about it.
And now Monica’s innocent mistake had made Taylor look at me with new eyes.
“Oh, my God!” Taylor gasped. “Why didn’t I ... geez, Mark, I never ...” She began banging her forehead with the heel of her palm. “Stupid, stupid, stupid! I can’t believe I never ...”
“It’s okay, Taylor,” I said calmly. “Lots of people don’t speak in complete sentences.”
She playfully slapped my arm. “You goof! Oh, my God!”
“You said that.”
She stuck her tongue out at me, but then her eyes widened again. “Oh, my God!” She held up a finger. “And before you tell me that I already said that, I know it.” She just looked at me.
I squirmed under her stare. “What?”
One of the things that I like about Taylor is that she’s honest, direct, and doesn’t beat around the bush. She tilted her head slightly and said, “So are you gay or bi or trans-something or what?”
“What about hetero white boy?”
She shook her head. “Uh-uh, not gonna buy that one.” She paused. “But then ... look, Mark, I shouldn’t make assumptions. I mean, Monica made one and it was colossally wrong.”
“Well ... sort of right, too. The absolute truth, Tay, is that I’m not sure what I am. It’s all new to me and very confusing.” It felt good, a relief to be honest for once, and I knew I could with Taylor.
“No kidding. Well, do you feel up to Twenty Questions?”
“About the Ramses CD?” I asked hopefully.
She slapped my arm again. “You know what about. Let me get us drinks.”
She spun around to the mini-fridge in the corner and pulled out two cans of Pepsi One. Handing me one while she opened the other one-handed, she said, “Seriously, though, if this is too weird, then we’ll forget about it.”
I opened mine, took an ice-cold swig and said, “What’s the likelihood of you actually forgetting about it?”
“Zero to none.”
“Yeah, I thought so. Fire away,” I said.
The truth was, though, that I was curious what she’d ask—and I was curious about what I’d say.
Taylor tilted her head again and said, “No penalties for wrong answers. No need to phrase your answer in the form of a question. Your mileage may vary. Okay, do you have a label for yourself?”
“Yes. I like to call myself … Mark.”
“Goof! You know what this is about.”
I looked at my Pepsi can and sighed. “Yeah. Monica thinking I’m a girl.”
“Right. And dumb Taylor not noticing. Anyway, the subject of our Twenty Questions is ‘What’s going on with Mark?’ Okay?” I nodded. She bounced a bit as she settled in on the floor. “Okay. So, what’s going on with you, and do you have a label for yourself? That’s one question, by the way.”
“Label …you mean like gay, bi, whatever?”
“No,” I said honestly, “I don’t, because it’s all so new to me. I haven’t been …” I sighed again. “Taylor, you called yourself dumb; I feel pretty dumb, too, because I’ve been kind of blindly going along, not thinking about myself. It seemed easier that way, but lately it’s becoming more difficult. It’s only recently become apparent that … that I do know that I’m not ‘normal’, whatever that means.”
“Fair enough; then, ‘what do you see when you turn out the lights’—Beatles aside, the next question is, alone in the darkness, what are you?”
“I know what you mean, and even Ringo sings better than you. The answer is, I don’t know. Yet. The funny thing is, I do know that I’ve never felt male, if being male means feeling like Jake or my dad. They’re like an alien species. I’ve gotten closer and closer to Mom, but there’s always something getting in the way of really, really bonding with her.”
“Something like a little bitty Y chromosome?”
“God, Taylor … If I’d been born a girl, it would all make sense—all of it. If I was a girl, I would fit in my family.” I had a momentary rosy glow of happiness at that image, but it vanished. “But I don’t. Because I’m not.”
Taylor looked at me for such a long time that I wondered if I’d grown a third head. In a soft voice she said, “But you should be.”
An immense sadness weighed me down. “Yeah.”
“But you could be ...”
I looked at her and frowned. “No way, Tay.”
“Way, Mark. Look, I’m your friend, right? And I wouldn’t hurt you for the world, but if I’m gonna be honest I gotta tell you that you look just like a girl.”
“You never said that before; it’s just because Monica made a stupid mistake. Just basing things on one word.”
“No ... I mean, yes, I never saw it before. It’s that thing about seeing someone every day and not really looking at them; not studying them because you’re so used to them. I’m sorry, but it’s a little like taking someone for granted. And then something happens and you see them with new eyes. I wouldn’t have noticed, just hanging out with you like we always do, but God bless my big sister ... she pulled the blinders off my eyes. Mark, you could do it.”
“It? What is ‘it’?”
“Become a girl. I could show you how, and you could ...” She trailed off, then got a huge smile. “Mark, I’ve got an idea how you can find out about yourself. Not everything, but some things. Become a girl for a day—no, a weekend.”
She told me her plan, which was pretty obvious. I would dress and act like a girl and hang out with her, doing ‘girl things’, for the weekend. Then I’d have a better idea if I was a boy or a girl, whichever felt more natural and right.
It might sound simple, right? Nothing is ever simple with Taylor.
The funny thing is, it appealed to me. After Glen’s question that day in the kitchen, I’d begun wondering if he was right. If I was ‘turning into a chick’—if, in many ways, I pretty much already was a chick—and I’d begun wondering what it would be like to wear girls’ clothes and just try … being a girl. But I didn’t want to violate Mom’s trust by trying on her clothes. Lately, though, it had been on my mind so much that I was about to search for ways to try on girls’ clothing. I’d also made a conscious effort to be more feminine in my gestures and movement when I was alone at home, like vacuuming or doing laundry. I’d hold my hands and arms differently, and moved my hips differently, just to see ...
Okay, I swished.
Maybe I was too good at it, or maybe I’d been doing it too much, but lately it seemed that the swish was not something I ‘tried’. It was something that I just did. My body did it without forcing; I just relaxed and it was how I moved. And, truth be told, my swish was now more natural than Macho Mark. I found that I had to force myself to move like Mark. But when I wasn’t Macho Mark, who was I? Taylor read my mind.
“Do you have a girl’s name?”
“No, I never thought about it. Honest.”
I shook my head.
She squinted a little and said, “Mark ... Marcia ... Marcy ... .no, the M-A-R thing doesn’t suit you.”
“What about Hortense or Gertrude?” I joked.
She kept a straight face when she said, “Naw; if you were Hortense then I’d have to shorten it to ‘Hor’ and neither of us wants that.”
Pepsi bubbles nearly came out of my nose.
“See?” Taylor shouted and pointed at me.
“What?” I gasped, my nose stinging.
“What you just did! When you snorted the Pepsi, you held your hand up.”
“Duh! I didn’t want to spray you!”
She waved it away. “No, no; I mean, thanks for thinking of me, but it was your hand.”
“Strange thing; I’ve got one on the end of the other arm, too.”
“Goof! No, I mean … well, I saw something about this on some nature show. If a guy squirted Pepsi out of his nose, he usually shoves the back of his hand to cover. Or his palm.”
“Or he doesn’t cover it, to see how far he can squirt it!” I laughed.
She did, too. “And then he brags about it! But girls … we extend the fingers, palm towards the face, either up or to the side.”
She slapped my knee. “Don’t you get it? That’s what you did, without thinking. That’s the point. You can be careful with your answers and try to play mind-games all you want, but your instinctive reaction was female. Feminine. Whatever. It was a girl’s reaction.”
I was stunned and silent, mulling it over and comparing my movements while Taylor picked up a People magazine and thumbed through it.
“So, a name for you …” she said as she consulted the articles. “Heather ... no, got enough of those. Jennifer—got more than enough of those! Julia, no way; Lindsay—definitely no way. Hmm,” she squinted at me. She took a long pause, tossed the magazine aside and said, “I think I’ve got it, but I’m not going to tell you until we’re done.”
“Done. And you know what I mean, girlfriend,” she grinned. “Look, my folks are out for the rest of the night, and Monica already thinks you’re a girl. So it’s girl-play time.”
“Sounds like a Japanese toy.”
She giggled. “You mean like ‘Have happy-happy joy-joy with Girl-Play time’? Cool; I like it! Okay, Mon thinks you’re a girl, so there’s no problem if you come on up to my room and we’ll see who we see.”
I was nervous following her because she’s a bit wild when she gets on a mission or quest. Also, her parents didn’t allow boys in her room, so I’d always been confined to the downstairs den when I came over. I hoped Monica didn’t get another look at me, because I was sure she’d realize her mistake and boot me from the house. We didn’t see her, and made it to Taylor’s room safely.
I had trouble reconciling Ramses-listening rocker Taylor with the exquisitely feminine room. There was a queen-sized bed, one with four posts and a white lace canopy. In fact, all of her bedclothes were white lace, as were the curtains. The walls were a soft color I’d learned was called lilac, with white enamel trim around the window. She had some prints hung, not just posters but actually framed, of a Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec. Along one wall was a large dresser in white with darker purple accents—lavender, maybe?—that looked like an antique. The top had jewelry boxes and pictures of her family. On another wall was a matching vanity with mirrored trays holding her cosmetics and a full-length mirror in a swivel stand was on one side; the other side was a coat-rack or hat-tree with hats, caps, and scarves. White carpet led to sliding mirrored closet doors.
I was absolutely staggered by how lovely the room was, except for the silly thought: ‘Who has white carpeting?’
“Taylor, this is ... incredible,” I said, stunned.
“I know; it sucks.”
“No, it’s great! I love it!” And I did; I wasn’t just saying it.
“Well, you passed the first test. You’re a girl, all right. This is my mom’s dream room, and at first I didn’t have the heart to tell her I hated it, but over time I kind of like it. It’s like a refuge, sort of.”
I turned to her and referred to our shared love for Lord of the Rings. “It’s the same kind of feeling like when Frodo comes to Rivendell. Really peaceful and restful. You’re right; it’s a refuge. Cool!” And I meant it.
Chapter 2: Pulling the Mask
I pulled the padded bench out from the vanity and sat. Taylor was bopping around, talking to herself. I heard her mutter, “No, too prep” and “Maybe the satin ...” and “Oooo, yeah!” and that worried me, because she had this glint in her eyes that I knew often led to Detention for somebody ...
“Mark, do you trust me? I mean, really trust me?”
I could tell she was absolutely serious, and answered as seriously. “Yeah, I guess so. Yes, I do. Um ... do you trust me?”
She hadn’t been expecting that; her head snapped back and her eyes widened. “Of course I ...” Her tone got serious. “Yes, I do. More than my sister, more than any of my friends. You’re ... just the best.”
I smiled. “I feel the same way, except for the ‘sister’ part.”
Suddenly shy, she sat on the edge of her bed and held her hands between her knees, her dark curly hair falling over her face. “Um ... okay. The trust thing is the most important, because what we’re gonna do ... what I’m gonna do is help you find you.”
I looked around, then in the mirror and pointed. “Whoa! Look at that! Job done! I’m right there!”
She shook her head. “Nope. Somebody in a Mark package is sitting there, but not you. Because the you I’m talking about—that I’m absolutely sure of it, now—isn’t a boy named Mark. We’re going to find her … the girl within.” She snickered. “Sounds like a movie on the Lifetime channel! You know, the one for women?”
I didn’t tell her that Mom and I routinely watched movies on Lifetime; I never thought about the network being primarily for women. I just liked being close with Mom, and talking about the families the movies were about.
Taylor narrowed her eyes. “What time do you have to be home?”
“It’s Friday, so …ten-ish, eleven-ish, something like that.”
“Is there any way you could, well, lie and get a sleepover?”
I shook my head. “Tay, I don’t have any guy friends that would do that; you know that. You’re my best friend.”
The realization that I didn’t have any male friends hadn’t occurred to me until just then, either. Geez, I thought; just how out of it am I? And my mind quickly went over who I was friendliest with in school, and I realized that besides Taylor, I walked between classes or had lunch with Amy, Chelsea, and Amber, usually. Or Megan or Hailey. All girls …and this also explained some of the looks I was starting to notice in the last month or two of school …
Taylor broke into my thoughts.“Is there any way … wait a minute. Could you tell your mom that you and I are going to the movies with Monica and Brad, and there might be Midnight Movies, and after Brad takes us home you crash here?”
“It’s possible,” I said, frowning at the lie, but then, I was a teenager now, and wasn’t lying to my parents part of the job description? “Let me think how to put it … well, I’ll either get the sleepover or at least a real late curfew.”
“Good enough.” She picked up the phone and tossed it to me. “Do the deed.”
It was easier than I thought. Mom was rushing around trying to get ready for hosting a bridge game, which meant that Dad would find something to do out of the house so he could avoid The Ladies, as he called them. And Jake would be out with his girlfriend Ashley Dunlap, most likely. So Mom said it would be fine, once we established that Taylor’s parents would be gone but Monica would police things, but she said if I got ‘homesick’ I could call and she’d come get me, no matter the hour. Geez, like I was ten or something! And it was only that one time!
I ended the call and found myself looking at the phone in my hand as if I’d never seen one before.
“That was weird. She said yes. I think she …”
“She still thinks you’re a little kid?” Taylor said gently. “I know. We’re at the age where they sometimes think of us as teenagers and other times just as little kids. Mom’s driving me crazy right now because of it. But it means that we’ve got this little … what do they call it? Oh yeah; a little window of opportunity while it lasts. Otherwise she never would have allowed a boy and girl sleepover.”
“Yeah, maybe that’s it,” I said, hanging up the phone. “Still …” There was another possibility …
Taylor sat next to me on the dresser bench and softly said, “Do you think it might be because somewhere, deep down, your mom thinks of you as her daughter? I mean, not openly, but you said she was distracted right now for her party, and it just sort of slipped out when you said ‘sleeping over at Taylor’s’? Maybe?”
“Maybe …” It did fit, sort of; it had just felt …well, as strange as this day was turning out.
“So, back to my original question. Do you trust me?”
“Yeah, sure. Why?”
She looked into my eyes quite seriously. “I’m going to ask you to do things that you might not want to do. You’re going to think you shouldn’t do them, but that’s not really the case. It’s just society, social stuff, making you think you should or shouldn’t do things. But society doesn’t understand the real you.”
“Taylor … you’re not talking about drugs or stealing or anything like that?”
She surprised me by laughing. “Yes! Exactly right! We’re going to shoot up a lid of acid and shoplift truck parts!” She whooped with laughter. “Geez, Mark! Ah, God, that’s funny …” Her laughter was over almost as quickly as it began. “No. I already told you, you’re going to meet you, and as long as you trust me and know that I love you and only want what’s best for you, you’ll be okay. Oh, and you have to be totally honest.”
“Shoot up a lid of acid? You don’t even know what you’re talking about,” I teased, then sighed. “Okay. Honest. But I always am, Taylor, at least with you.”
“I know, hon. But no saying what you think I want to hear when I ask you questions, alright?”
“Okay, but it goes both ways, right?”
“Right. Okay. I’ll get more drink fixin’s and check with Monica. Be right back. Oh, while I’m gone, I want you to go … no, follow me.”
She got up from the bench, tugging my hand. We went to her adjoining bathroom and she pointed to things as she spoke. “You’re going to take a shower. Shut up; you are. So, there is the shampoo and conditioner to use, there’s the body wash, and towel’s there and then put on this bathrobe.” She indicated a pink chenille robe on the door, and then pointed to a jar with a plunger. “Oh, use this on your skin all over except your face, and then that body talc under your arms and …well, between your legs. You know what I mean. Come back with the robe on and your hair damp.” She left me.
What the heck? I stripped and folded my things and then followed her instructions. It was very nice shampoo and the body wash had a slight lavender scent and left my skin feeling very clean. After I toweled off, the moisturizer was a cream but made my skin feel slick. Using the talc was weird but I did what she told me, and then put on the robe.
She was sitting on her vanity bench, waiting for me with new cans of Pepsi and a Tupperware pitcher of ice cubes, and some cookies.
“I talked with Monica. She’s going to have Brad over here—Mom will think I’m policing her, while your mom will think that Monica’s policing us—and I told her we’re having a ‘girls’ night in’. She knows what that means.”
I sat on the edge of her bed. Oddly enough, I kept my knees together so the robe didn’t fall open. “What does that mean?”
She leaned over, her elbows on her knees. “It means exactly what it is. For the purposes of keeping Monica off our back, she’s going to think it’s two giggly middle-school kids playing. Believe me; she won’t care, and she’ll have her hands full with Brad.”
“Oh. Okay. I thought you meant—”
“Oh, I do, I do.” She wiggled her eyebrows theatrically. “Now. First things first.” She got up and went to her bureau and pulled out some yellow panties and handed them to me. “Put these on.”
“Oh,” I said dumbly, fingering the softness. “You did mean …”
“Yes,” she said in an odd voice. “We’re going to meet the real you, and I think—I’m pretty darned sure—that the real you is a girl.”
I stared at her for a moment. Something … tilted inside my head and somehow it just made sense to bend over and put my legs in the panties and pull them up. I stood as I tugged them up under my robe, and frowned. I turned my back to Taylor and bent over and pushed my little male parts between my legs and then pulled the panties all the way up. I parted the robe, looking down, and then turned back to Taylor. She held my eyes for a moment and then looked at the panties. Her eyes flickered for a moment and she smiled.
“Right. About what I thought.” She sighed deeply. “Okay. The hard part … drop the robe and …”
I knew what was up; she was holding the yellow bra in her hand. I didn’t drop the robe; I folded it closed and laid it on the bed and stood waiting. Taylor rose and held up the bra as she looked me in the eyes. I held her gaze and put each arm through the straps; she reached behind me and did the clasp. Only then she surprised me. Turning back to the vanity she opened a box and took out a fleshly blob.
“From when Monica thought she’d never grow up,” she murmured, and inserted the blob in the bra cup over my heart.
She repeated with the other, and then pushed slightly and rearranged the straps, stood back and nodded. “So now, bend, stretch, walk, whatever. See what you think.”
It was certainly strange to feel the new weight on my chest. As I moved I could feel them move slightly; not swinging back and forth but just a subtle … ripple that something was there. I thought that women didn’t notice it like this because they didn’t go from flat to filled bra; they had a gradual growth. And for some reason, the thought of growing my own breasts floated through my mind for the first time …
Taylor said, “Try turning—never mind; you’ve got it.”
I guess I’d done a pivot of some sort; it felt natural but also un-natural because I was aware of her scrutiny and was observing myself at the same time.
“Okay. Now walk to my full-length mirror and tell me what you see.”
One door of her walk-in closet was a full-length mirror; the other door was a sort of massive cork board filled with photos, ribbons, and mementos. I quickly decided to not look at myself until I was fully in the mirror, and when I turned it was …
When I was little there was that fuzzy time when I changed from Being The Entire World to discovering there was a split; there was Me and there was The World. From that time on I was aware of differences, between boys and girls, children and adults, boys and boys … I learned that I did not look like other boys. I hadn’t quite put it together that I looked like a girl. That was taken care of by taunts and insults from boys at school. But it was one of the reasons that I had so few friends, and none as close as Taylor.
Looking at the girl in the mirror, the differences I saw went in two directions at the same time. First, I looked just like a girl. It was that simple; it was just a girl in the mirror, no different from Taylor or Chelsea or Amber or any of the girls I knew at school—not that I’d seen any of them in just bra and panties—but the overall effect, the image, was of a similar girl. So the difference was removed.
The difference was magnified in the other direction. I used to not look much like the other boys in my class. Now I looked not at all like them. I had crossed a line between boy and girl—heck, I was so far over the line that it had vanished in the distance. The way I viewed the world had changed, and the way I viewed myself had changed—not to mention how I would fit in my family.
I turned from side to side, looking at the girl who had always been inside me and was now looking at me in the mirror. Trapped in glass. To be freed or imprisoned again?
Taylor said, “Well? What do you think?”
Silent, I walked back to the vanity bench and sat, my legs together, my hands in my lap, thinking furiously. There was something happening; a lump in my chest and my breathing became difficult. I was too young for a heart attack, right? But it felt like the Chestburster from the movie Alien. And then it exploded. I burst into tears, racking sobs, grabbing handfuls of the tissues Taylor quickly handed me, and then she sat next to me with her arm around me, stroking my hair.
“God, Mark, I’m so sorry! Geez, I never meant … look, this was a bad idea. I’m stupid. I’m sorry; oh, I’m so sorry!” She went on and on.
I waved a hand at her to quiet her and went back to dabbing my eyes and nose. Finally, shuddering, I knew the storm was over and oddly enough I felt much better. I grabbed some new tissue and did the cleaning up, aware that my eyes were probably bloodshot and my nose still runny.
“Taylor,” I began, and drew a ragged breath. “It’s okay. It’s alright. Don’t …” I choked slightly. “You don’t have to be sorry. It’s just … oh, God …”
She was making little shushing noises, still stroking my hair, as if I were an infant. Well, maybe I was; the world had changed tonight and I was new-born.
Taylor misinterpreted and said again, “Look, this was a bad idea. Here’s your things,” she handed me my boy clothes. “I’ll … I’ll just go downstairs for a bit.” She rose to leave but I reached a hand to grab her arm.
“No, Tay, it wasn’t a bad idea. It was … an idea whose time had to come. It was best to come when I was safe with my best friend. Um … you were right.”
“I was right? Okay. I’m not used to being right … right about what?” She sat again.
“About there being a girl in me. Inside. Or maybe not inside so much as … being revealed. Like pulling off a Halloween mask. I haven’t had time to think about it or put it into better words …”
“No, I think the Halloween thing is pretty good,” Taylor nodded slowly. “There never was a time when I thought you were … well, if I thought about it at all; because that’s where I’ve been really stupid. I always kind of sensed it but never actively thought about it, you know? And I guess it’s like I took you for granted. I’m sorry.”
“No, no; it’s okay. You sensed it?”
She nodded and reached for her glass. “Yeah, from time to time. The idea of the girl inside, like next to Mark, or behind him, I didn’t feel. Not like a split, not schizo or anything. Thinking about it now, it was like you were a girl just like me. I mean, we just get each other the way girls do. We relate like girls. I don’t mean we get giggly about boy bands or gossip about other girls and makeup and stuff, but just ...” She took a sip, thinking. “It’s just how we view the world. Boys see it differently; I don’t need to have a brother to know that.”
“Well, I’ve got a brother and I can tell you that you’re right; boys see the world differently, and …” I shook my head sadly.
I thought of her statement that we don’t get giggly about boy bands and stuff—we actually did that sort of thing. Just that afternoon, before Monica burst in on us, Taylor had been talking about how hot the singer for Ramses was, and I’d asked if he sang as good as he looked. Then she’d put on the CD and Monica entered and said the word ‘girls’.
So we did get giggly like girls did. And boys didn’t; my brother certainly never would. “I just never got Jake, and my dad, and all this … stuff between them.”
She gave me a knowing look. “Of course not; it was guy stuff. Like that saying, ‘You wouldn’t understand; it’s a girl thing’? That’s what we’ve got.”
I nodded. “Yeah. And why Mom and I get together so great …”
Laughing and holding up her hands, she said, “Whoa! My mom and I fight all the time! And my sister and me, too!”
“Different thing; that’s family fighting, not relating.”
“Ah, I see … so you are saying it’s all … relative?” She giggled.
“I’m not even going to touch that,” I sniffed playfully, which made me sniff more and I blew my nose. “Sorry.”
“Eh,” she waved a hand dismissively. “Don’t be. To be female is to cry. And you are—” She stopped abruptly, censoring herself and watching me closely.
I nodded. “Yeah. I am female.”
End of Part 1
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