Seven-year old Liam has just been checked into the hospital by his mommy to have his tonsils removed. His hospital roommate is the meanest boy in the fifth grade.
Fools Rush In: The Day I Had My “Tonsil-mee”
By Angela Rasch
I liked the feel of the hospital dress even though it hung open in the back. However, it felt really bad to be seen wearing it by someone like Tommy Becker. I quickly jumped up into the hospital bed and pulled the covers over me.
My mommy insisted on kissing me before she and the nurse left the room. It was nice, but not something I wanted Tommy to see us doing.
The nurse had stuck a needle in my arm and pulled out some of my blood, which she said they were going to give to a lab. My friend Jodie has a lab, but I don’t think they feed it blood. The only other scary thing was the miniature alligator that they used to bite my finger. The nurse said it was so they could tell if I was feeling okay by looking at the numbers on a machine next to my bed. They could have just asked me how I feel. She put a nice rainbow band-aid over the hole she made in my arm. I didn’t cry.
I looked over at Tommy after they left. His left leg was in a big white cast from his belly to his toes and pulled above him by a bunch of ropes and a big metal arm that was attached to the bed. He was reading a Superman comic book and didn’t seem to notice me.
I sometimes read Superman, but I really like Archie or Donald Duck.
Tommy didn’t move his eyes from his story.
Because he’s in the fifth grade and I’m a second grader I don’t expect him to be very friendly. Also, he isn’t just any fifth grader. He rules. When we’re on the playground for recess he tells everyone what to do with his hurt-for-a-week titty-twisters and lift-you-off-the-ground wedgies.
“How did you hurt your leg?” I asked after waiting a really long time for him to maybe talk to me.
He didn’t look up or even nod my way. Two minutes later he finally said something, but he kept his eyes on his reading. “It’s not just ‘hurt.’ It’s broke and I’m going to have this cast for six weeks. It looked like a sexy jump, but it turned out to be a bad session. I broke my deck – and my leg. I took a slam doing an acid drop down the steps in front of the library.”
I don’t know much about skateboarding but I do know an “acid drop” is when you go off the end of an something without grabbing the board with your hands. I gasped. “You flew down those steps? There has to be about a dozen of them.”
“That’s what I did. I’d done the handrail about two thousand times and thought it was time to up my game.”
My hands and feet feel like ice cubes. Not freezing cold like when you make too many snow angels, but cold enough that I should probably call the nurse and ask for another blanket. She said I could ring her, if I needed anything. She also said that I couldn’t eat anything and could only drink water. She seemed sort of bossy, so I don’t want to push the button for her to come unless it’s really important.
“I don’t expect a little girl to understand skateboarding,” Tommy grunted. “but those library steps were made for someone like me to rule.”
“Little girl?” I objected quickly.
“Uh huh,” he said while taking a bite out of a red licorice. “You’re little . . . and you’re a girl. Hey! Why do you suppose the hospital is making me share a room with a girl? That’s sketchy!”
“No way!” Jeez, why do people keep making that same mistake. Mommy sometimes calls me her little sweetheart which makes me feel almost like a girl, but I’m not really one. “I might be little, but I’m a boy.”
He put down his comic and turned toward me. After staring at me for at least thirty seconds he shook his head. “Don’t try to be a poser on me. With all that long, curly hair and those big eyes, you look a lot like my little sister.”
I wonder what a “poser” is. “Do you want me to prove to you that I’m a boy?”
“How ya going to do that?” He sneered.
“I could show you my peter,” I said in a whisper.
“Your peter?” He snorted, and then laughed so loudly that I was afraid the doctors and nurses would come in and tell us to “be quiet.”
I’ll make him think about something else. “Did you really try to fly your skateboard down the library steps? That doesn’t sound very smart.”
His eyebrows got all smunched together, and then, for just a moment, he grinned liked a scary jack-o’-lantern before speaking. “Why are you in the hospital? You don’t look hurt or sick.”
Whew. For a moment I thought he was going to get mad at me. Tommy isn’t someone to have as an enemy. He’s always making kids say “uncle” by bending their arms behind their backs. “I’m in for a tonsil-mee.”
Tommy looked at the wall for a while. Then the corner of his mouth smirked before he started to talk. “Tonsil-mee? I had a friend who had a tonsil-mee a few years ago. I’m sorry to hear that’s what’s wrong with you.”
He bit his lip and seemed almost ready to cry. His head moved from side-to-side and his entire body shuddered. “My friend, ahh. . .er. . .Skippy, was a sick baseball player, really good hitter, and then he had his tonsil-mee and his baseball playing days were over.”
“Why?” I asked excitedly. “The doctor told me all they’re going to do is put me to sleep, and then remove my bad tonsils.”
“That’s what they told Skippy.” He pushed his comic books away from him and stared at me like I had red polka dots on my face. “Say, did they tell you that you can have whatever toy you want when you wake up?”
“My mommy said I could go with her to the store and pick out a toy,” I declared proudly.
“Have you decided what that’s going to be?”
I grinned. “You bet! I’m going to get one of those play drones that can fly as high as a house.”
His head went up and down in agreement. “That’s what Skippy was going to get, too. But after the tonsil-mee he changed his mind and asked for a doll.” When Tommy said “doll” his mouth twisted like he’d tasted something yucky.
“Oh?” I played with the sheet on my bed, twisting it with my fingers. I almost asked Mommy for a doll last Christmas. My two best friends are Sue and Carla and they talk about their dolls all the time. I’d love to be more like them.
“Look, kid,” he said, while picking up his comic. He turned to me as much as he could. His face screwed-up like he had an ow-ey in his leg if he moved too much. “What’s your name, kid?”
“Liam. I’m named after my grandpa.”
“What’s your grandma’s name?” He asked.
“Sandra Mae Ohlsson.” Why would he ask me that?
“Sandra. There’s a girl in my class who’s name is Sandra. She’s gnar. She might be a great Pro Ho in a few years when I’m a ripper. Everyone calls her Sandi. It won’t be too bad for you being Sandi . . . you’ll see.”
“What? Why would I change my name?” Sandi is a pretty name. Anyone would be lucky to be called Sandi.
He bit his lip again. “I shouldn’t tell you anymore. What’s going to happen will happen, no matter what. There’s nothing you or I can do to stop them adults, once they get stoked over some idea they had.”
We sat for several minutes. The nurse had said that she would be back to “prep” me at 3:00 and it was 2:15. The big girl in the green house across the street from us goes to “prep” school, that must be where the nurse went to school, too.
Mommy said she would be in to see me before I want to the operating room. I hope she remembers.
“Tell me more,” I begged, when I couldn’t stand it anymore.
“Okay,” he said, looking sort of mad. “You asked for it. If you need me to stop, if it’s too scary for ya, just bail.”
I dipped my head.
There was an evil look to his eyes, but his voice seemed friendly. “Skippy is now called Emma. Emma was ‘her’ grandma’s name.”
“Skippy’s. Aren’t you listening?” He shrugged. “If you’re not going to listen I might as well save my breath.”
“But you said. . ..” I started. “You said ‘her’ grandma and Skippy’s a boy.”
“That’s the point, numbnuts. Skippy’s not a boy any more. When they did the tonsil-mee he became a girl.”
“Nooooooo.” I felt dizzy. “Did they cut off his peter?”
Tommy laughed, as if I had told him a big joke. “Nahhh. When you start sex classes in the fourth grade you’ll learn more about these things. A peter only decides how you pee. It’s your man-switch that picks if you’re a girl or a boy. A doctor can flip the man-switch any time. Like the doctor did to Skippy. You have to be really asleep, because it hurts so much when the doctor flips the switch that if you were awake it would kill ya. But if they do it when you’re knocked out cold in the operating room, you won’t even feel it.”
I blinked. “Are you sure?”
“Sure I’m sure.” He looked around the room as if he was checking to make sure no one else was with us. “It takes a special doctor called a . . . germologist to make the switch work. Look . . . all I really know is what Emma told our class when she came back from the hospital. It’s not like I read a book, or nothing. She stood in front of our class and told us all about it. Ever since she got back from the hospital she’s been wearing dresses to school, playing jump rope and hopscotch, and switched from the cub scouts to the girl scout juniors.”
I shook my head in disbelief. I wanted to join the brownies last year, but Mommy said that boys don’t do that.
“I made my doctor swear – before he put me to sleep to fix my broken leg – that he wouldn’t mess with my man-switch.”
I closed my eyes and clenched my fists and wished the same wish I’d make a hundred million times.
“Liam. . ..” He stopped and reached for a raggedy billfold on the nightstand between us. He dug around in it, and then shoved something toward me. “Here’s a picture of Emma.”
I took the picture he handed to me. The girl in the school picture looked like one of my cousins -- and nothing like a boy. I turned the picture over and read, “To my friend Tommy. – Emma.”
“See,” he bragged, looking like he wanted to laugh out loud for some reason. “That’s all the proof you need. I’ve got a few pictures at home of her when she used to be Skippy, but I don’t carry any old pictures on me. I’ve got too many friends to haul around every picture I ever got.”
“Why?” I asked. “Why did the doctor do that to Skippy?”
Tommy’s smile left his face and he looked a little confused for a bit. Then a big grin took over his face. “It was a royal mix up. Skippy was sneaking though his mom’s things looking for money for the ice cream truck. He accidentally spilled some of her perfume on his sleeve. His dad decided that Skippy would only want to smell like a girl, if he secretly wished he was a girl. So they had his doctor flip the man-switch.”
“Oh.” Mommy sometimes let’s me stand close to her when she sprays perfume, so we can smell alike. Daddy’s never acted like it was a bad thing. He says everyone is different -- and we should be who we are.
“Did they tell you that you’re going to have a sore throat for a few days?”
I nodded. “They said I could eat ice cream and drink smoothies.”
He made a face like he was fifteen times smarter than me. “What they didn’t tell you is that they’re going to take out your boy voice box and put in a girl’s.”
“That’s what they did to Skip . . . er … Emma.”
My head spun. I’m going to be a girl.
I turned away from Tommy, stared at the wall . . . and then smiled.
I’ve been wanting to be a girl for as long as I can remember. I haven’t told anyone because I don’t want people to yell at me or call me names. Now everything’s going to be okay.
I’m going to be a girl.
The nurse came in and wheeled Tommy out on his bed. She said they were going to take more pictures of his leg. Tommy said something about a sucker, but I hadn’t noticed them, and I couldn’t eat anything anyway.
I’m going to ask Mommy to get me a Rebecca, American Girl dolly. Sue and Carla have Rebeccas and really love them.
I can finally wear my sister’s hand-me-downs. I’ve snuck into her room a few times and looked at her things and wished. . ..
I’m going to be a girl.
I can join the brownies!
People won’t pick on me for being so small anymore, because no one cares how big a girl is.
I’ll tell Mommy it’s okay. I’ll make sure that she knows I’m not mad about the tonsil-mee.
Mommy walked into the room.
“Mommy,” I said happily. “After my tonsil-mee I want to go to the store and get a Rebecca, American Girl dolly. Can you bring that yellow dress to the hospital, that Margo is too big to wear anymore? You know, the one with the really pretty white stuff around the collar. I want to wear it home. I’ve always wanted to be a girl.”
Mommy hugged me. “I’m not sure what got into you, but it’s about time you leveled with me. I’ve suspected that you felt this way for some time, and I’m happy you’re finally brave enough to tell me about it.”
This is the best day of my life!
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