When you were still a tiny seedling curled up inside me, the Mexican spiritualist held a silver chain over my swelling belly. There’s a strong masculine energy here, she solemnly pronounced. The baby will be a boy.
But you weren’t. At our next doctor visit, your father peered into the spectral ultrasound image, the pulsating heart at its center. She’ll play soccer, anyway, he said stubbornly.
When you were a little sprout of four years, you were the prince in elaborate make-believe scenes acted out with your sister. That was the year you told us you’d never marry.
At six you made a collage of beautiful women cut from magazines. Look at my sexy ladies, you told me, lowering your voice on sexy. I put it in your baby box; it’s there now, on top of the blue-and-pink-striped hospital toboggan and your first onesie, Daddy’s Little Princess.
At eight you wanted to be Isaac Newton in the school play. I look like him, you protested when the teacher said no. All the boys had long hair back then. I agreed. We chalked it up to Mrs. Lambert’s lack of imagination, but I knew what else might be there, lurking behind. Like the tea set an aunt bought for your birthday, the year you asked for a Spider-Man mask.
Late one afternoon when the sunlight was sparkling off the pond, you asked me, What if I’m gay?
Then . . . you are, I said, draping an arm over your shoulder. We walked on, and after a while I added, Uncle Paul is gay.
I love Uncle Paul.
And the one that does Dory’s voice in the Nemo movie?
That’s right. She’s one of the coolest people I can think of.
You were satisfied.
You grew. New teeth replaced smaller, lost ones (carefully labeled by date in zip-loc bags in your baby box); you stretched upward, blossomed. Now you’re a tall, willowy creature in whom I hardly recognize any sign of myself. A beauty, by anyone’s standards.
Mom, can I talk to you? you ask one night. I look up from my book, blinking at being so suddenly drawn back to the here and now. You sit down on the bed beside me, push your bangs back absentmindedly. Your dark eyes are anxious, and I feel a flicker of fear myself. There’s so much against you: the world’s cruel prejudices, its judgment. It’s hard enough to be a woman, any woman.
Then I rally. To hell with them. You have us on your side. Until my dying breath, you’ll have me.
So I smile, take your hand. Tell me about her, I say.