Copyright 2007 by Heather Rose Brown
The damp morning breeze was still chilly, but I left my bedroom window open anyway to get rid of the smell of recently dried paint. The lacy white curtains fluttering in the breeze didn't really look right for a boy's room, but they would do until Mom could find some decent ones that fit my window.
I was laying in bed, staring up at the slanted ceiling and wondering how much of doing nothing I could fit into my first day of summer vacation when I heard a knock. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. From the timid sound of the knock I had a good idea who was there, but I wasn't ready to see him yet. To stall while pulling myself together, I shouted, "Who's there?"
"It's . . . it's me."
I felt like such a jerk when I heard the nervousness in his voice. Since our parents had sat down with me to tell me about the changes that were going to happen this summer, and especially after I'd been moved into my own room, I'd been avoiding talking to my little brother. It didn't look like I'd be able to avoid him any more. "Come on up, Brian."
I realized I was in my underwear as the door creaked open, found a pair of sweat pants in the pile of clothes next to my bed and quickly slipped them on. It felt weird worrying about being seen like that by someone I'd spent years sharing a room with. As I sat back down on my bed and started pulling a musty smelling, but still wearable, polo shirt over my head, I heard soft steps slowly climbing the carpeted stairs.
The first thing I noticed when I could see past the collar of my shirt was his hair. It wasn't the first time I'd seen him in a ponytail before, but seeing it higher on his head made him look a little different. He froze when our eyes met and his expression shifted somewhere between worry and fear. "You sure it's okay? I didn't know you was still sleeping."
That was my little brother, always thinking about other people's feelings. "It's okay, Bri."
My brother smiled when I pronounced his nickname as 'bree' (to rhyme with bee) instead of 'brye' (to rhyme with bye) and started climbing the steps again. I wasn't ready to call him Brianna yet, but bending on the nickname wasn't all that bad. Seeing his sunny smile was definitely worth it. I smiled back and did my best to brace myself for what I'd see next.
I was a little surprised when I saw he was wearing a pretty ordinary t-shirt. Yes, it was pink and yes, it had tiny white flowers on it. If you ignored the flowers and colors though, it didn't look all the different from a boys shirt. I was even more surprised when he climbed another step and I saw he was wearing even more ordinary looking blue jeans. "I thought you'd be wearing a skirt today."
He stopped again and his smile wobbled. "Actually, I was gonna. Should I go back and change?"
I realized right then he must be as nervous about talking to me as I was feeling. "No, you look fine."
Bri's smile came back and he finished climbing the steps. That's when I saw the shoes. They were pink, shiny, had little holes where his white socks showed through and thin straps on them that buckled on the side. No matter how much I tried, I couldn't imagine them being anything a boy would wear. "Ummm, nice shoes."
His cheeks turned a deep pink. "Thank you. I really like them a lot."
Seeing him just standing there looking shy and nervous was just a bit too much for me, so I jumped up from my bed and shouted, "Tickle Monster attack!" Before he could take more than a step back, I swooped down on my brother and grabbed him around the waist.
He was already giggling when I dumped him on my bed and it didn't take much tickling to have him squirming and squealing. "Stop! You're gonna make me pee!"
"Well," I said in my gruff Tickle Monster voice, "I don't think your big brother would like that, so I'll let you go . . . for now."
Bri was still smiling as he recovered from being tickled, but there was a sadness in his eyes. "I've missed my big brother."
"I've missed my little br-- I mean, I've missed you too. Sorry I've been such a jerk lately."
"Well, we ain't talked like we used to, but you ain't been mean or nothing. Dad told me you wasn't talking 'cause you felt confused and needed to figure stuff out."
I sat on the edge of the bed and looked over my shoulder at my . . . sister? That word still felt weird when thinking of someone I'd always known as my brother. "I still feel pretty confused."
Bri sat up and slid across the bed until he was sitting a few inches away from me. "What you confused about?"
"Mom and Dad tried to explain to me how you're a girl on the inside even though you're a boy on the outside."
He looked down at the floor and bounced the heels of his pink shoes against the wooden sideboard of my bed frame. "I dunno if I can explain that too good. It's kinda like me being left handed. It ain't something I just decided to do. It's just part of being me."
"I won't say I really understand it, but I'm trying to wrap my brain around the idea. What I'm really stumped on is why you feel like you need to dress like a girl all of a sudden. If you've always been a girl and you've always worn boy clothes up until now, why do you need to change?"
"Because the boy clothes felt uncomfortable."
"What was wrong with them?"
Bri's feet stopped bouncing and he looked up at me. "They just felt . . . off. It's like--" I could almost imagine a light bulb popping up over his head as a grin stretched across his face."I got an idea, but I need to borrow your shoes. Where they at?"
"Umm, over there in the bottom of my closet."
Bri bounced off the bed and ran in the direction I had pointed, then skipped back a few moments later carrying my good going-to-church shoes. After laying them in front of me, he sat on the floor and looked at me, still wearing that silly grin. "Okay, put your shoes on."
I looked down and noticed the right shoe was next to my left foot, and visa versa. When I crossed my right leg over to reach the right shoe, Bri grabbed me by the ankle. "No, not like that." He then moved my right foot over to the left shoe, slid it on me, then did the same with my left foot. After tying the laces in neat bows, he looked up again with a slightly more serious expression. "How they feel? They too tight or anything?"
"It feels weird having my shoes on backwards, but it doesn't hurt or anything like that."
Bri got to his feet and held a hand out to me. "Think you can stand up?" I took his hand and carefully pulled myself up from the bed. After I had my balance, Bri let my hand go and took a step back. "Okay, try walking now." Bri followed me as I did a slow circle around my room. "So how's it feel walking with your shoes on backwards?"
"I don't know. It just feels. . . ."
It was my turn to have a little light bulb appear over my head. "You mean, this is how you've been feeling all your life?"
Bri silently nodded, then took my hand again and led me back to the bed. The bedsprings groaned as we both sat down. As I bent down to untie my laces, he grabbed my arm. "Before you do that, think of what it'd be like if you couldn't never take them shoes off."
I sat back up and looked at the person I'd spent so long thinking of as my brother. I tried to imagine what it must feel like to go through life feeling wrong. My feet started to hurt as I sat there, and I wondered if it hurt Bri to feel wrong. My heart nearly burst as I thought about someone I cared so much about going through life hurting like that. I wrapped a protective arm around Bri, who looked up at me with surprise. "Everything okay?"
"Of course it is. Can't a big brother hug his little sister?"
Bri's lower lip trembled and a tear rolled down her cheek. I reached down and pulled her onto my lap and rocked her as she sobbed into my shoulder. I'm not ashamed to say I was crying too. Neither am I ashamed to say I love my sister. I may not understand a lot of other things, but that's one thing I do. When you have love, does the rest matter?
I kicked off my shoes and mentally defied the world to prove me wrong.
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