You Are You...


East Aurora, New York…

Gary practically sprawled on the couch. His arms were folded in a ‘go ahead – entertain me’ hug and he bit his lip. He was bored for sure, but that wasn’t the worst part of his day.

“Now…Gar….honey? Go help her with her stuff, please?” Gina said to her oldest. The boy shook his head in frustration before hopping off the couch. He walked slowly down the hall to the last bedroom and knocked on the door.

“Come in….” the girl’s voice trailed off. Gary opened the door and found his sister sitting on her bed, holding a pillow like a stuffed animal. She had been crying.”

“Mom says I gotta help you….” He said sharply. She turned and looked at him and saw that at least he was smiling for a change.

“That’s okay, Gar…I got everything.”

“Really…let me help,” the boy protested; his tone softened.

“I…I’m sorry about before. I didn’t mean to….”

“I know…but I cry all the time, Gar, so it’s no big deal.” She shrugged her shoulders.

“It’s just…I don’t get this ….I don’t understand, and I….”

“You miss him?” Hailey smiled and looked back at the bedroom. Sports posters that had adorned the walls seemed to vie for attention with new decorations and décor since Hailey had inherited the room.

“Yeah…I do…. It’s hard being the only boy in the house…. At least when he was around things were different.” Gary sighed. Hailey walked up to the boy and pulled him into a tentative hug.

“I know….but it’s gonna be okay. I promise.”

“I guess.” The boy blinked back tears. It was hard living in a family in the midst of so much change. A father unexpectedly leaving for deployment. Move to yet another town. And to have the whole family in upheaval over the departure of his brother in a way was too much for Gary. His best friend ever was gone and nothing made sense anymore. But it was about to make a whole lot of sense…

That afternoon...

A woman stood in the center of the large courtyard. To her back and circling around on both sides were friendly-looking cabins; large and inviting with bright colors on festive looking signs as well as the window and door trim. She grabbed a microphone and spoke.

“You’re welcome to participate in the events of the week,” she explained as the parents and siblings stood while the children were ushered quickly to the cabins surrounding the courtyard.

“Now that doesn’t mean anything other than to encourage your children and sibs, okay? This isn’t for everybody, and it’s okay if you’re here to support them. We have found a few willing siblings who jump in when they realized just what we do here and how much it means to the family, but for the most part it’s all about showing them how much you care for them and support them while they’re here and especially when they return home. “

“Do I have to …you know…?” A boy spoke haltingly while raising his hand; his face only a bit darker from embarrassment.

“No, honey, not at all. This is for them. If you wanted to, of course that would be all right. The fact that you’re here means a whole lot to them, but we only want to encourage each step as it comes to each of them and all of you as well. I’m so glad you came,” she said to the boy and to the families as she used her hand in a broad gesture of inclusion.

A short while later...

Many of the families had gathered in front of the cabins as their children settled in for their time at the camp. Gary and Gina stood off to one side.

“Gary? Are you sure you don’t want to join in?” Gina patted him on the arm; not meaning to tease, but her words sent a shudder up his back nonetheless. He turned and frowned at her. At nearly fourteen, he felt completely out of place even if he was there to support Hailey. Gina shook her head in apology.

“I’m sorry. This must be hard for you. Let’s take a walk. Bonnie is with Hailey, and we need some Mom to son time, okay?”

“S…sure,” he nodded reluctantly. She grabbed his hand for a moment, but thought better of it. A few minutes later they were sitting at a picnic bench off to the back of the courtyard, away from the cabins and all the activity of the first day of camp.

“You don’t….it’s so ….” Gary began to speak, but the words seemed to get stuck. Gina patted him on the wrist and smiled.

“Go ahead…it’s okay…” She sighed, feeling helpless to encourage her son. Too many changes already and the biggest one seemed to loom large on the horizon. She smiled.

“Mom…this is so…it’s fucking crazy,” he looked over her shoulder at the bustle of activity behind her. She was tempted to say something about his language, but held back. Her smile gave him permission to continue.

“I miss Dad…. I miss my friends… our old house…and now? I miss my brother. Why can’t things be the way they used to be? What did I do to deserve this?” He turned his head and gazed at the place.

“It’s not about you, Gary. I’m sorry, but that’s just how things go sometimes….” She blew out a breath in frustration and continued.

“I’m still pissed off at your Father….but I knew going in that he was committed to a cause. That there would be times when it would just be me and you kids. And I love him, Gary. You know that, right.”

“Oh….yeah…. yes, Mom. I know. You just miss him. But that’s just it. It feels like you can miss him but I can’t miss my brother. Like somehow I did something wrong and he was taken away. Dad is coming home, but my brother is never coming back. And it fucking ….I’m sorry….It hurts so much, Mom….why did he have to go?” No explanation could ease any of the boy’s pain. Gina took a breath and tried anyway.

“I don’t know, honey. I’m still trying to figure it all out myself. All I know is that we’re still a family, and we all love each other, and that’s what we’re going to have to hold onto, okay? That’s the best I have, I’m sorry. I wish things were different, but we’ll get through this.” She blinked back tears as the boy rested his head on her arm and began to cry.

“Don’t tell Hailey about this, okay?” He looked up at her and she smiled.

“It’ll be our secret, honey. I promise.”

A bit later...

Gary leaned against one of the light poles surrounding the courtyard. Gina had gone back to the car to retrieve her purse and he felt almost abandoned in a sea of people. He heard footsteps on the soft gravel of the path that encircled the courtyard and he turned to find his sister Bonnie standing with an excited look on her face.

“Gary? You wanna come see Hailey?” The girl tugged at his sleeve.

“Not right now, Bonnie. You and Mom can go…maybe in a little while.” The boy placed his hand on Bonnie’s back and ushered her toward Gina, who had just walked up.

“You’re going to have to come over sometime, Gar…. Don’t wait too long, okay? I know you don’t feel good about being here, but it’s going to work out. You’ll see.” Gina smiled once again before she and Bonnie walked over to the pavilion on the other side of the courtyard. Gary waved at them before turning back. He noticed a Coke machine by the office nearby and walked over. He fished in his pocket and came up with a few coins. Counting them, he realized he was fifty cents short.

“Oh fuck,” he punched the machine in frustration.

“I’ve got a dollar you can have,” a voice came from over his shoulder. He turned and came face to face with a girl. She smiled.

“Nah…that’s okay.” He protested, but the girl took the dollar bill and thrust it into his hand.

“Please? It’s okay. Go ahead.” He nodded reluctantly and fed the bill into the machine.

“Here?” She handed him another bill and smiled again.

“Sprite? All the way on the bottom?” He looked at the machine and found the large button. A moment later the two stood awkwardly, drinks in hand.

“My name is Dylan, what’s yours?” The girl held her hand out. He stared at it for a moment before taking her hand in his in greeting.

“Gary.” He smiled and a look of confusion crossed the girl’s face. She tilted her head and her eyes grew wide in recognition.

“Oh…I’m sorry. I thought you were one of us…” her face darkened.

“N…no…I’m ….my….” He stammered.

“What’s her name?”

Her name? Oh…. Hailey.” In a moment his face had grown hot in embarrassment.

“I’m so sorry….”

The girl bit her lip. She looked down at herself, as if taking inventory. She wore a yellow skirt and a white tank top under a green pullover. Her legs were adorned with white and red striped tights and she had on brown leather sandals. She looked like she would have fit in at Kohl’s or Marshall’s sales flyer photo shoot but for her very short if somewhat pixyish red hair. He followed her gaze as she eyed herself. Even if she was a bit younger than him, she was cute, and he found himself staring at her until she looked up in question.

“It’s okay….I don’t ….I’m here for Hailey…that’s all. Who are you here for?” He smiled nervously and she half-frowned.

“What? Oh……No….I’m so sorry,” Dylan shook her head and her eyes began to tear up. Gary looked at her askance, wanting to know what he had said to upset her. She put her head down even as she began to speak.

“I…I’m not here….for anybody…..” She gasped.

“I don’t… I….what do you mean?” He asked nervously, as if the answer he expected was the worst possible thing he could hear. She looked up at him and frowned before blurting out,

“I’m here for me….sorry….I gotta go….” She turned quickly and ran across the courtyard. He shook his head as he saw her disappear in the crowd by the cabins. The look of confusion on his face gave way to awkward insight as he realized that Dylan was just like Hailey. He shook his head and walked slowly toward the cabins, wondering what the rest of the day would reveal.

“Thanks, Gar….” Hailey said as Gary sat on a chair in the large cabin. Gina was kneeling down, helping Bonnie, who had insisted on adorning Hailey’s toes with some dark pink polish.

“S’okay,” he said absent mindedly. The day was already old and he was tired.

“Can we leave soon….The Bills are on at four and I wanted to catch at least some of the game, Mom.” Gina frowned at him until it dawned on her that the game wasn’t so much important as not being there with Hailey had become. And she understood or at least thought she did.

“It’s okay…they’re having a welcome dinner tonight, but we can just come back later. I know this has been a long day for everybody, and I’m sure Hailey wants to go catch up with some of her new friends.”

“At the word, ‘friends,’ Gary cringed. A short while ago he had seen Dylan and Hailey talking; a moment which was huge for Hailey but extremely uncomfortable for Gary. It was as if everything he ever feared was coming to pass in that single afternoon.

“Yeah….okay….” He nodded.

“Mommy….Hailey says I can eat dinner with her friends. Can I stay?” Bonnie tugged on Gina’s sleeve.

“Oh I don’t know honey… it’s supposed to be for her and her friends.” Gina shook her head.

“It’s okay, Mom…. I think Bonnie will fit in just fine. I’m glad to have a baby sister I can share with everybody.”

“I’m not a baby,” Bonnie protested. At nearly ten, she was hardly a baby, but Hailey understood what she meant.

“No…you’re not… you’re my kid sister. Is that okay with you?” Bonnie nodded at Hailey and turned to Gina.

“Well alright. Gary and I can catch supper at the diner up the road…. You guys have fun and we’ll be back later.” Gina kissed the top of Bonnie’s head and hugged Hailey.

“Back later, okay?” She said at last as the girls nodded enthusiastically.

At the diner...

“I know this is hard, but you seem even more …. What’s bothering you, Gary?” Gina paused and poured gravy on her fries. Taking a sip of her Diet Pepsi, she eyed her son; looking for some way past his defenses. He shook his head silently and pushed some fries around on his plate in distraction.

“I saw you talking to one of the girls. She seems nice.” Gary looked up at her and shook his head in frustration.

“She’s not nice?”

“She’s not a she, Mom…. She’s just like everybody else here,” he snapped, looking away through the big window down the road to the camp.

“But that’s just it, Gary… Don’t you see?”

“Of course I can see, Mom… she’s ….just like Hailey….I mean…fuck….” His face grew red.

“So… because she’s just like your sister, that makes her something wrong?”

“Just like my sister? Mom? I don’t have a twin sister. Hailey’s my brother. Not a girl… a boy…” He hesitated and Gina jumped in, hoping she could manage to mend everything that was coming apart.

“I know this is hard, but it’s …. It’s who Hailey is…not what, Gary. We talked about this, and I thought you understood.”

“Understand, yes. Like it…fuck no! I want my brother back!” He pursed his lips in frustration, searching for the words that would convince his mother…or someone…anyone who could make things the way they were.

“Do you hate Hailey?”

“What? NO! I love him…he’s my brother.”

“She’s your sister, Gary. And deep down inside, you know that’s true.” Gina sighed; hoping that she could reach into her son’s heart and pull out every bit of kindness and caring she knew dwelt inside him.

“I…I know Mom….but it’s not like we had any ….I’m not ready for this….” He looked out the window again. She reached across the table and grabbed his hand softly.

“I wasn’t ready for it either. None of you came with instructions. It would be easy if you all were like your father… Straightforward….this is what you see…this is what you get. But we’re people, Gar…. We’re all different and all the same.”

“But….what about….”

“You, honey? What about you?”

“Yeah… Am I just like Hailey?”

“Well, you are twins. You’re about as kind and caring as she is….but no…you’re you…that’s what this place is all about. You are you…. Nobody else in the world is exactly like you. Or Hailey….or even that girl…” Gina paused, believing her son to be the fine young man she had raised. He smiled awkwardly.

“Yeah…her…” He bit his lip.

“She’s pretty. I saw you smiling.”

“Well yeah…until….”

“Until you knew that she wasn’t always like that?” Gina refused to give into his ignorance.

“She’s a boy, Mom. Like even her name… Dylan….”

“Well, at least you’re calling her ‘she,’ Gary. That’s a start.” Gina grinned.

“You know what I mean. I was looking at …at her and I …”

“Well, like I said, honey…she is pretty.”

“What does that make me, Mom….how do I put all of this….together?”

“That’s something I can’t answer other than to remind you how much you love your sister. That you are struggling and confused but every time you talk to Hailey you give her hope, because you believe she is who she says she is. Whatever else is going on, honey, you believe in her. And maybe that’s a start?”

“I feel so stupid…so fucking weird.” Gary blinked back embarrassed tears. But that was a beginning because he realized he cared that he cared. Dylan was more than just someone he met; she was another example of how things can be and how that isn’t so wrong after all.

“What should I say if I see her again, Mom? I mean…I’m a guy….”

“Well….” Gina wasn’t about to correct him; her own brother was gay, and Gary loved him because his uncle was who he was. But she also understood the awkward moments that stretched into days and weeks and months for a teenage boy. She nodded and smiled.

“I guess it’ll be okay, Gary, since you like girls and Dylan is a girl, right? Just like your sister?”

“Ye…yes?” He half-smiled; hoping he was passing the latest of life’s pop quizzes. Gina nodded and patted him on the hand.

“You’ll do just fine, and I know you’ll have just the right words for her when you see her, okay?”


After the events of the evening...

“Hailey…got a minute? We’re gonna get going, but I need to tell you something, okay?” Hailey stopped and smiled to the girls at the porch to the cabin. She turned and sat down on the porch; patting the step next to her. Gary walked over and sat down.

“I…. I just wanted to tell you that I’m so proud of you.” He smiled awkwardly. She looked at him and bit her lip.

“You…you’re proud….of me. I thought you hated me.”

“What…no….I…I’m so sorry. I…just didn’t know what to say or how to feel.”

“You’re my brother…what did you think you had to feel.” She turned and began to cry. He reached over and gently tugged her chin in his direction. She looked into his eyes and saw that he was crying…that he had been crying for some time. She tilted her head in anxious confusion.

“I miss…I missed my brother, Hail….like you went away….” He sighed and she went to turn her head once again.

“No…please….I’m sorry. I know now you never went away….you’ve been right here….and I should have said something sooner. I thought I’d lost you when you did all this….” He pointed to her. She shook her head.

“No…I mean it…I’m sorry. I didn’t understand….I know this is who you are. You’re still Hailey…you still love Mom and Dad and Bonnie and me…..” He bowed his head. It was her turn to coax as she lifted his face with both of her hands.

“I do love you….you’re my best friend, Gary…that will never change. Ever…and I love you.” She choked back a sob, but he looked at her with the kindest smile she had ever seen as he spoke gently.

“I…I love you, Hailey….and I’m so glad you’re my twin….” His voice trailed off and she sighed.

“Oh…okay….” She said. He smiled again and spoke.

“And I’m glad you’re my sister.” He pulled her close for an awkward hug and she did exactly what anyone would do in her situation; she burst into tears.

“I’m sorry….” He repeated and she shook her head even as she continued to cry.

“No, Gar… it’s okay….it’s just that you never once told me that you loved me and now you’re…. I’m your sister.” He patted her on the back; confused and feeling out of place until she kissed him on the cheek. Hailey the boy had never done that, but Hailey the girl kissed her brother and it was good.

After lunch, the next day...

“We’ll be back to pick you up, hon…okay? I know you’re going to have a good time and I’m so happy for you.” Gina said as she opened the car door. She placed her purse inside and stepped back and closer to Hailey. Giving her a hug, she smiled and nodded at Gary, who was standing on the passenger side.

“See you soon, honey.” Gina got in the car and nodded again in encouragement to Gary. He stepped around and met Hailey at the front of the car; giving her the first non-awkward hug in their short relationship as brother and sister.

“My game won’t be over until five, so I can’t come with Mom when she picks you up. But I’ll be waiting for you when you get home. Maybe you can tell me how things went, okay?”

It did get awkward. As much as he loved Hailey, learning about her first experiences with makeup and nail polish and best girlfriends was something he didn’t really look forward to, but they still had the Bills and the Sabres and everything else they would still share for a lifetime. She kissed him on his cheek and walked quickly to the cabin area, crying happy tears.

“Gary?” He turned around to find Dylan standing there; a nervous smile on her face. He noticed for the first time that she had freckles; something he never would have thought attractive, and yet she looked pretty. He smiled back.

“I just wanted to say a couple of things before you go, okay?” He cringed in anticipation. She stepped closer. He could smell the scent of some girly perfume, and it added to the awkwardness of the moment.

“I heard you talking with your sister last night. I just wanted to tell you how proud of you I am…That was the bravest thing I’ve ever seen.” Her nostrils flared and tears began to spill, making it even harder on the confused boy. He shook his head.

“I’m not brave….she’s just….she’s my sister.” He protested. She shook her head in return.

“My parents don’t even know I’m here. My Uncle Danny found out about this place. They think I’m in Grand Island at a Youth Retreat. My brothers won’t even talk to me and mom won’t stick up for me. I’m supposed to be getting help for my problem, you know?” Gary looked at her, continuing to be confused.

“You showed your sister what kind of man you are.” She smiled. It was hard for him to think of himself as a man, but he was every bit of what his Mom and Dad had hoped for.

“And….I’m …” Her face reddened. She wanted to speak but the words got stuck. Gary stepped closer. The moment called for a goodbye kiss on the cheek, but neither of them was ready for that. He nodded and stared at her right hand. She looked down and got his meaning, and offered it to him.

“I’m kinda glad I met you, too.” He would have added that he’d like to know her, but they weren’t ready for that either. He shook her hand and smiled.

“I gotta go. Maybe ….if my game gets rained out I can make it back here when Mom picks up Hailey.”

“Maybe….” She sighed.

As brave as Gary had been to that point, he got even braver. Sure, it was easy to show acceptance and tolerance when surrounded by people of like mind. But he also had to be brave for himself. He had never seen a girl quite like Dylan; no matter where or when or how or who any of the other girls were whom he had met. And he took his next step into the rest of his life and the continuing journey into manhood. Pulling her closer, he hugged her and kissed her cheek. Maybe it would never be anything but a brother to sister kiss, but it was exactly what both of them needed. She pulled away gently and shook her head; disbelief mixed with sadness mixed with relief and finally mixed with joy as she smiled before walking slowly back up to the cabins.

Gary got into the car and Bonnie leaned closer from the back seat and laughed softly; not a tease, but a happy moment. And Gina nodded as she put the car in gear. As they drove down the driveway, she noticed Gary was still following Dylan’s walk up the path. She smiled and said with a soft, knowing laugh,

“That’s my boy!”

Inspired by ‘Camp You Are You,’ a four day summer camp for non-gender-conforming boys and their parents (the camp name is changed to insure anonymity)

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