This has been sitting on my drive for over two years. It doesn't feel finished but then who can say? I don't think I will be able to continue it. Can anyone else love an orphan story?
by Wanda Cunningham
It started when I turned twelve. I guess up until that time, I'd just been a little kid and if I thought girls had the better of things, well, it didn't seem that important. I got teased and even bullied a bit for being small, unathletic and uninterested in a lot of the things boys did; but others had it much worse than I did.
But when I started seventh grade, I noticed that the girls had already developed a shape. They had started turning into women. And it really hit me. In a few years, I would start turning into a man.
I got physically sick thinking about it. I couldn't think about it for very long without getting aches and pains and feeling like I might throw up. And I couldn't not think about it. Something that had never crossed my thoughts before now took up almost all my waking moments.
I wanted to talk to someone about it but I couldn't think of who. I felt sure my parents would not be sympathetic. They were great people but Mom and I went to church every week, sometimes as much as three or four times, and our pastor had preached a few sermons on how God punished Sodom and Gomorrah for men trying to be women.
And I knew that I wanted to be a woman, a realization that came upon me like a slow-motion lightning bolt. Growing up to have hair on my face and a deep voice seemed like the worst thing God could do to me and right then I started wondering how anyone could actually know what God was thinking. That began a process that ended with me developing my own brand of non-religious faith -- something that took many years and still isn't finished.
The crux --apt word-- of my dilemma was that I knew I wasn't a bad kid. I didn't smoke or drink or gamble; I didn't steal or cheat; I didn't hurt anyone, not even with words. I didn't even talk bad to my cat when he peed on my pillow. I tithed from my allowance and any money I earned doing little jobs, and I even made sure to give an offering above tithes every month. I put in work at the church and helped Mom around the house. If I wasn't the sort of kid God wanted me to be, then I didn't know how to be that person.
And yet, I felt bad because I thought I had failed God somehow. I wanted to be a girl and according to my pastor, that kind of thing had once made God so angry he had destroyed whole cities.
No wonder I got sick.
And I couldn't go to my father, he wouldn't understand either. I had a more distant relationship with him than with my mom, since I would rather learn to roll pie crust than learn to change spark plugs. Grampy, mom's father, had been a professional baker before he got sick and Dad would say when I had flour on my nose that some things ran one way in a family and some another. Still, I knew it disappointed him that I wasn't a football-loving motorhead like him and his brothers.
Dad didn't go to church that often and he sometimes cursed, but he paid tithes and worked on fixing the cars for the church and our pastor and his wife -- and even the cars and trucks and buses of other churches. And he made sure that the dealership where he worked offered clerical discounts for anything he couldn't do himself. He had a different sort of relationship with God than Mom and the church-going ladies she hung out with but I didn't worry about him going to hell or anything just because he smoked and said "Damn," more often than Mom liked.
But me. I really thought I could feel the touch of brimstone and fire every time I saw a girl walk by looking pretty and pleased with herself. And looking at other boys was no help at all. At least, not the boys who had started to turn into men. If I didn't feel sick thinking about turning into one of them, they affected me in even scarier other ways.
I knew I would surely go to hell when God found out.
I stayed home from school for two days, sleeping mostly. Mom checked on me several times an hour but I just lay in bed and groaned.
On the third morning, Mom didn't seem convinced that I was really sick and kept asking about how school was going and if I had any problems with my friends.
"Everything's okay at school, Mom," I said. "Mrs. Tolmuth called and gave me my homework assignments last night and I even did them all."
"Don't you like school anymore, Lyle?" she asked.
"Well, yeah, I mean, I like school okay. I'm just sick."
"Anyone causing you problems? Teasing? Bullies? A fight with a friend?"
I don't know where she gets these ideas. I coughed into my hand and shook my head but she didn't seem convinced.
"I'll make egg-in-a-basket, your favorite breakfast, if you'll come to the kitchen to eat," she said.
"I'm just not hungry, Mom," I said. And really, the idea of an egg looking back at me from the hole in a piece of toast made me feel queasy.
"You've got to eat something, Lyle," she said.
"I'm afraid I'll throw up," I said. I couldn't tell her why I felt sick.
"Well, I'm just going to have to take you to the doctor," she said. "Maybe he can figure out what to do." From her tone of voice I had finally pushed her too far. Not eating breakfast was a serious matter in her family, I knew from having stayed summers with Grammy and Grampy.
"I don't want to go to the doctor," I said. Probably whining about it, but I knew that Dr. Phillips would try to find out what was wrong and I already felt bad about not telling Mom.
"Stop whining," Mom said. "If you're sick, you're going to the doctor. Let me call your father for a ride."
Mom had never learned to drive, machinery bigger than a washing machine made her nervous. Dad could probably take off or he would send one of the parts runners at the Chevy dealer where he was Service and Parts Manager to come get us and take us downtown.
"Get up and get dressed," Mom ordered and she left before I could protest. I knew I would have to go so I sat up in bed, feeling a bit dizzy. It was ten thirty in the morning and I had already stayed in bed all day Tuesday and Wednesday and nearly half the day Thursday.
I looked around my room. There were a few toys here and there, mostly the action figures that I liked to play with. Spider-Man. Iron Man. And my favorite, Sue Storm, the Invisible Girl. She was invisible from the waist down -- actually made of clear plastic. I told little stories for myself with the figures and I realized that Sue was always the one to save the day.
I didn't own any of the villain figures so usually one of my old G.I. Joes or some large object played the villain. Or Iron Man, who I called Steel Man when I needed him to be the bad guy.
Steel Man would be beating up on Spider-Man and Sue would rescue him with one of her invisible force fields that the villains could never figure out. And Sue would say something clever like, "It's a good thing I'm not afraid of spiders."
I smiled for a moment before I realized. That was me -- the Invisible Girl. I wanted to pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep forever. Maybe I could dream about being a girl.
But there was no help for it, I had to get up. Mom would not take 'no, I don't want to,' as a reason not to go to the doctor. She would have made a good supervillain, I thought, and that made me smile a bit.
I got out of bed and noticed that the pajamas I had been wearing for two days now had a smell. "Mom," I yelled. "I'm going to take a shower."
"Good idea," she yelled back. "I called the doctor and they can get to us before lunch, sooner if we get there right away. So, don't dawdle and don't wash your hair." From the sound, I knew she had finished up right outside my door.
She stuck her head in, and said, "Okay, good, you're actually out of bed. Hurry and get your bath. That'll probably make you feel better, too."
"I hope it don't make me sicker," I said.
"Doesn't make you sicker. No excuses. Move it, Lyle, now!"
"Okay, okay." I started pulling the pajama top off over my head and Mom went back to her room to find shoes. She has like a million and always spends time looking at them before leaving the house, even though there are only four or five pair she wears most of the time. I made a bet with myself that she would wear the navy low heels to the doctor office.
I picked out some underwear and got my robe from the back of the door and headed down the hall to the bathroom with the shower. I must have been moving slowly and I didn't know Mom could see me but I heard her, "Try not to let your feet hit you in the butt when you run, Lyle." I moved a little quicker. Mom's sarcasm is something to be avoided if you can.
In the bathroom, I stripped down to nothing and stood in front of the mirror on the back of the door for a moment looking at my reflection. I didn't seem to have changed much in the last year, still a skinny kid with no body hair. I looked at the evidence of my maleness and wondered if I could hide it and see how I would look.
"No dry cleaning," Mom's voice came through the door. "Use water. And soap!"
"Okay," I said. That was safe enough. I heard her snort, she must be standing right outside the door.
I reached inside the shower to turn the water on. We had a really good water system and I knew it would be hot enough to shower under in just a minute. I looked in the mirror again and frowned at how my hair looked. Two days in bed had made it all stuck together and poking up here and there in the wrong places.
I called out, "Mom! My hair probably stinks, can't I shampoo if I'm going out of the house?"
She called something back that I couldn't really hear and I decided to pretend that she had said, 'yeah, sure, I guess so.' I grabbed my favorite strawberry-flavored shampoo and got towels and washrags ready. Then I climbed into the shower stall and got wet all over. The water was just a tiny bit chilly but it felt good and it warmed up fast.
I got my hair really wet and put some shampoo in to lather it up. I knew why Mom didn't want me to wash my hair; I like to wear it long and it takes forever to dry because it is very thick and fine at the same time. I thought about why I liked to wear it long while I shampooed. All this time, I decided, I had liked long hair because it was more girly and not just because I liked how it looked.
I rubbed the shampoo on my arms and legs and body and even in my crotch. Then I used a soapy washrag to get my ears and neck, elbows, wrists, knees and feet.
Just for an experiment, I pushed my boy parts up inside me. It kind of surprised me that they went in so easily. I could hold them in with my legs but if I moved much they popped right back out. I wished I could see what that looked like, while they were hidden.
I rinsed and did everything again, using a clean washrag to work on my face. I turned off the water and stepped out of the shower onto the rug, pulling the big towel I had made ready off the rack and wrapping it around me like a skirt.
I took the small one, patted my face dry and then wrapped it around my head to soak up some of the water from my hair. I used the big one to soak up water all over and then re-wrapped it, this time around my chest like I had seen girls do in movies and TV.
I looked in the mirror. The towels were pink. I gasped at my reflection. I could see the Invisible Girl.
* * *
It stunned me. I looked in the mirror and I saw myself as a girl. I knew I was a girl, it was just the detail of what was between my legs that made people think I must be a boy. Why couldn't they see me the way I saw me?
I couldn't move. I just stood there, staring at my reflection, staring at the girl I wanted to be, the Invisible Girl that no one else could see. I know I forgot to turn on my invisible force field because my mom found me standing there in front of the mirror with the towel around my chest.
"Lyle!" she shouted before I even realized she had opened the door. She paused and said in a calmer tone, "You don't look sick."
I tried a cough but it sounded fake. I let the towel fall down to my waist and whined, "My stomach hurts." I didn't mean to whine but I know it came out that way.
"We'll see what the doctor says," she said. "Now get dressed and if we hurry, maybe you can go to school this afternoon." She started to turn away then looked back. "Don't make that kind of face. If you're not sick, you're going to school today."
"Yes, ma'am," I said.
She didn't close the door when she left but said over her shoulder, "If you aren't dressed in five minutes, I'll drag you out to the car naked."
I doubted she'd actually do that, but I didn't want to find out what she would do so I hurried to my room without even putting on my robe, dropping towels on the way. Less than five minutes later, I had my shorts and shoes on and had pulled a bright yellow pocket tee-shirt over my head. My wet blond hair looked dark in the mirror and hung to my shoulders but even I couldn't see the Invisible Girl anymore.
Mom came in and handed me my comb off my dresser. "Comb your hair until it's dry. I thought I told you not to wash it?"
"Um, it was rank, Mom," I said. "Really."
She nodded, checking the time on my clock. "Car should be here soon, your father is sending the new kid so let's hope he doesn't get lost."
That could actually happen. We lived on a dead end street that didn't have any street signs at all, only people who lived there and the mailman knew what it was called. But everybody knew my dad and could give directions to our house. "If he gets lost, he can just ask somebody." I winced as I pulled at a knot in my hair.
Mom sniffed as if she thought I'd said something funny. "Give me that," she said, taking back the comb. "We ought to get you a haircut. Either that or a hair dryer. Which would you rather have, a haircut or nice hair dryer? Maybe a pink one?"
I know I turned pink but I couldn't answer. What could I say?
"You have nice hair, it's like mine," Mom said. "I guess I understand why you like to wear it long but don't the other boys tease you?" She pulled through another tangle and I winced.
"Sure, I get teased," I said. "Then I ask Marlou Stokeley if she'd like to play with my hair and the guys get all jealous."
Mom laughed. "Is Marlou your girlfriend?"
"She's like six inches taller than me," I pointed out. "But she does like to play with my hair."
"I'm surprised she doesn't try to put ribbons in it."
"She teases me about that," I admitted. My chest seemed to have gotten tight. "She told me that some of the girls are jealous of my hair."
"It is pretty," Mom said. "But you really are going to have to get it cut. You'll be thirteen this summer."
"What's that got to do with it?"
She didn't answer because we both heard the sound of the parts truck turning into our street. "Sounds like the new kid didn't get lost. Why don't you run out and make sure he finds the right house while I make a stop in the necessary?" She headed for the bathroom and I ran down the hall to the front door, forgetting for the moment that I was supposed to be sick.
Outside, I saw the full-size white Chevy pickup slowly cruising up the street with an unfamiliar red-headed driver. I ran on out to the sidewalk and waved at him and he saw me and waved back before making the left turn into our drive. He pulled to a stop and called out, "Hi, there!" before getting out of the cab.
Wow, I thought. He must have been over six feet tall, with freckles, muscles and wiry red hair all over his arms. He looked a little older than the usual kids who got the parts runner job just out of high school but not more than his early twenties. "Hi," I said, feeling a bit shy for some reason.
"Hi there," he said again. "I'm Jack Fell. You must be Hutch's little girl." He smiled and his brown eyes looked warm and friendly and my heart turned to ice. I shook my head and ran back inside with him calling, "Wait!" behind me. I hid in the living room behind a chair while Mom went outside without seeing me, then I ran to my room and hid in the closet.
I could hear their voices outside sounding confused then Mom coming back through the front door. She had locked it as she pulled it closed behind her and she had to get her keys out to unlock it and I knew she would be really annoyed. "Lyle Marshall Hutchinson! Where are you?" She stomped straight to my room and pulled open my closet door and glared down at me squatting on the floor. "You always hide in the same place, Lyle. Now get out of there, we're going to the doctor's office."
I just put my arms over my head and hunkered down more, not saying anything. I might have been crying.
"He didn't mean anything, honey," said Mom. "It's that long hair, we're going to have to get it cut."
I shook my head. "He saw me," I said.
"What?" Mom asked, leaning a little closer.
"He saw me, he really saw me."
She stepped back and sat on the edge of my bed. I leaned on the stack of boxes in the corner and rubbed at my eyes. I don't know what Mom thought, she didn't say anything for a while, just sat and watched me cry on the floor of my closet. After a bit, she stood and headed out to the hall. "Wash your face and come out to the truck," she said. "We still have to go see the doctor."
"Okay," I said. When I heard her close the front door, I got up and went to the bathroom to splash some cold water on my eyes then I went outside, too. I knew I would have to face the boy who could see the Invisible Girl.
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