This story is bare feet treading summer grass, thick and resplendent above the hallowed ground, and beneath, all the tender, creeping things.
A five-year-old version of myself, tow-headed and freckled, thick-legged and brimming with mischief, put on a pair of low-cut, up-to-the-belly tricot briefs sewn by her mother, and wore them and nothing else out into the front yard to splash in a wading pool with other neighborhood children.
One of the kids immediately piped up. "You can't wear that!"
"It's my swimming suit," five-year-old me demanded, and in my memory it was so. What might she have paired it with, a cotton camisole?
"You need something on top," said childhood neighborhood kid.
"No, I don't," me insisted. "This is my suit."
"Girls don't wear suits like that."
Adult me wonders where neighborhood bossy-pants got off luxuriating in my five-year-old self's kiddie pool and bringing my choice of swimwear into question. Adult me wonders why five-year-old me didn't just tell the neighborhood know-it-all to go home. But adult me knows as far as back-coverage went, my champions were nil, and when no one's got your back you become a sponge that absorbs and absorbs bullshit until you can cry it all out bedroom-privately into a stuffed animal, or on the banks of the canal where no one else goes, or in the reference section of the local library where no one else goes. Adult me gets that five-year-old me was well on her way to becoming town freak, and that what I said next didn't help.
"I'm not a girl," me retorted. "I'm a boy. This is my suit."
And I will tell you it is glorious to feel the rays of the sun on your flat chest and tiny nipples. I will agree that it was simply more my mother's style to not have to style long hair which is why mine was always cropped short. I will corroborate that my parents told the story of my birth including the exclamation of the doctor that "It has boy hands!" before he offered to send me back as my genitalia didn't match. I do have boy hands, nine-year-old me met her budding breasts with alarm, I walked with an assured gait, sat with my knees wide apart, met other's with a direct gaze, questioned authority, played by my own rules (read: total loner), and engaged in wicked competition when challenge was extended.
The memory bank fades after I told everyone I was a boy. I was probably called inside to put on a camisole. I likely splashed around in the water in the front yard in my proper underwear suit until called for dinner or to clean my room. My knees were probably either grass-stained or caked in mud. The neighbor kids probably had contests to see who could sit on the lawn sprinkler the longest, and someone probably had the bright idea to see how long we could stick our heads in the pool water before playing chicken to the brain freeze.
Thirty-seven years later I could take five-year-old me on my lap and reassure her, I understand what she wanted. And even though she was not a boy, it was going to be okay. I was never going to be alright with my body. I would try peeing through an empty toilet-paper tube to see what it was like standing up. I would figure out pretty early on that I was far more sexually interested in girls than boys, and even though I'd indulge that where I could, sharing the lingerie section of the JCPenny catalogue with the boys in third grade, I'd get that somehow I was not like other girls. In the seventh grade, in a mixture of puberty and middle-school confusion I'd confess that I was in love with my best friend, only to spend two weeks backpedaling and experiencing further alienation from my peers. I'd hear enough about lesbians to know the label was a hiss and a byword, even if I didn't fully understand that I was seriously implicated. I'd date a lot of boys, and pine for a few girls. I wouldn't really belong anywhere, but butterfly-like, I'd float around. And chameleon-like, I'd learn the art of adaptation and camouflage