Like Me?


an answer to the question, Exactly?
by Andrea Lena DiMaggio
thanks to Kelly Blake for the help with the artwork!

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you

“Bella. I think that would be a nice name for you. That is if you don’t mind.”

“Please, Nana?” The child cast her vision downward in shame once again while continuing to speak.

“I’m so fucked up.” The woman couldn’t recall a time when her grandson swore, but she understood perfectly; perhaps more than she ever realized in that moment. As disconcerting as the words sounded coming from one so entirely engulfed in shame and fear, they were appropriate if only to help her understand exactly how the boy felt.

“No, honey. You’re not messed up,” she said, not wishing to even give him any hint of agreement; she avoided the curse words, which likely reflected the curse the boy felt he deserved.

“Billy? I know what it’s like to feel alone and like you don’t fit in. When I was your age, I felt like the whole world was right and I was wrong. She looked down at her body, remembering a time from long before the boy was even born....

If your heart is in your dream
No request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star
As dreamers do

Fate is kind
She brings to those who love
The sweet fulfillment of
Their secret longing

Years before...

“What are you doing in here?” The woman practically barked at the child who stood in the middle of the bedroom. Nothing had ‘occurred’ to that point, but even being in his mother’s bedroom was as if he trespassed; forbidden ground both literally and figuratively.

“I…I was…” The boy stammered. His mother stepped closer and glared at him; her arms crossed in angry judgment over something so small and yet looming so large in the boy’s soul.

“Mom….can we talk?” Marie shook her head; not in disagreement but in anxious hope. She had been left alone when the boy was a baby; being mother was hard enough when you bring forth a hated bastard child, but she had tried to be a father to the child as well. Only help from each of her three brothers got her through being a single parent, but they found themselves frustrated by what they felt was maybe a phase. Even in enlightened times, not everyone lives under a handy lamp of education.

“I’m sorry.” She put her hand to her mouth; an odd realization came to her even as nothing at all was displayed other than the boy’s demeanor. She had thought she recognized something but her own guilt and shame drover her into ignorant denial. What she saw in the boy as a baby was pushed aside as he grew up, but now at twelve, her original suspicions seemed to blast past any notions that she had placed on both her and him. She had tried to be stoic for his sake; boys don’t cry after all, and she had sought for so many years to help him in that regard. But boys do cry. Her older brother had showed her that when he returned from a hell a lifetime and a hemisphere away.

Being a woman in a man’s role was hard enough, but made much more difficult with a child who was different because of her sin, she felt, so she kept quiet and reserved; only showing her heart on occasion and sparingly at that, while weeping in secret over her child. A bad woman who was punished with a child whom she adored but never knew how to love. Until that moment.

“I’m so sorry.” She offered no other words, repeating them over and over while holding her child close and weeping frustrated tears over time and energy wasted on trying to make both him and her something they could never be.

“Mommy….” The moment softened things a bit, and the boy felt safe enough to speak an endearment he long abandoned to be a little man for her. Mommy she was, even if she never realized how important that one word had been to him.

“Mommy…I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Two souls apologizing for not knowing; it wasn’t that they sought out ignorance. It had been laid at their doorstep by an uncaring father, so to speak. She held the boy tight and gripped his arm, fearing without reason that he would finally run away from her. He stroked her hair and pressed his face against hers. She felt his tears roll down her cheek; their weeping intermingled in a way.

She was never a father; she never needed to be, since she had in her those things that we frequently attribute only to men and often never to women. She was strong but had sought to be stronger. She was brave, but felt the need to be braver. And while having a husband and a father for her son would have been better in so many ways, she never needed that; being exactly what the boy had needed.

“I’m so sorry.” They echoed each other even as they spoke through sad crying. Seven years out of their life trying to be what they weren’t while missing the beauty in what each of them had always been. She was his mother; that wasn’t just enough, but a supreme blessing to the boy, even if she had made mistakes. And he was never her son, if truth be told. She recognized and set aside her hopes with guilt and confusion pushing him into a role for which he was never intended.

“Mommy….I’m so sorry. I think I’m a girl.”

Simple but profound. How many of us set aside our own beliefs about ourselves to fulfill roles and expectations in the easiest of demands and most loving of families. How much more for a child who knew she was a girl, but felt a need to apologize. His….her mother embraced her once again, doing her part in the dance they were dancing; a rude tango that really needed to be a gentle waltz between a mother and daughter before her first date? That moment of letting go while welcoming change. They say it’s better late than never when remembering many postponed moments of fulfillment. The child looked into her mother’s eyes and felt a peace that no matter what was lost; everything would be okay because of what was found.

The present, once again...

Like a bolt out of the blue
Fate steps in and sees you through
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true

“Bella means beautiful, did you know that?” She stood once again next to the child as they faced the mirror. He put his head down. She stooped down to one knee and cupped his chin; lifting it gently.

“I never felt beautiful until my mother said three words. It didn’t really make sense to me for a moment until I realized what they meant to her. ‘I’m so sorry,’ she said. She stood almost where I’m standing now, and I was standing right where you are standing. I never felt beautiful because I never felt right. That it was wrong for me to be who I thought I was. When she said she was sorry, it was like she was sorry for that. She apologized for not seeing me the way I saw me, do you understand?” The boy nodded a bit; confusion mixed with fear mixed with dreaded hope against hope, as the old saying goes. She smiled and patted her chest.

“I was exactly like you when I was your age. And my mother realized then what we both know now about you, Billy. My sweet girl, right?” The boy nodded; a bit more enthusiastic, perhaps, but still cautious.

“You can choose any name you like, honey. I just wanted you to know how beautiful you are even if you don’t see that yourself.”

“You think this is beautiful?” The boy used his hand to point to the reflection; the awkward child dressed in his grandmother’s gown. She smiled and kissed the child on the cheek. She turned and looked at the reflection. Two peas in a pod; both starting off in nearly the same manner. And she loved what she saw; a woman nearly past her prime who still had become comfortable in her skin. And a young lady moving into the wonder of womanhood even if she had experienced too many false starts.

“I think you are beautiful. And I bet when your Mom gets home from work, she’ll say the same thing.” She squeezed her grandson’s hand gently and led the boy to the bedroom door.

“You’re like me, Nana?” He looked down at his body and then to hers; wanting so much to believe what he felt inside was true. She kissed him on the top of the head.

“Exactly like you, mi dolce Bella. Exactly”

Fate is kind
She brings to those who love
The sweet fulfillment of
Their secret longing

Like a bolt out of the blue
Fate steps in and sees you through
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true

When You Wish Upon a Star
Written for the Motion Picture Pinocchio
Words and Music by
Ned Washington and Lee Harline
As Performed by Miss Linda Ronstadt

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