Trigger warning - contains scenes of violence, strong language, transphobia and mature themes.
Darkness flooded every line of sight as Otis gently opened her eyes. An intense, throbbing pain radiated from the back of her head. The fog lifted from her slumber, and she remembered why her father locked her in the closet. She was frightened. Father has never been this enraged ever before, Otis pondered and curled up into a ball on the floor between two shoe boxes. She shouldn’t have told him.
Jacob Hill was once a loving and charismatic father. Was. Everything changed shortly after Otis’ fifth birthday when the manufacturing plant laid her father off. Jacob began drinking heavily and entered a deep depression. For years, Jacob couldn’t even get out of bed, let alone find any work in their tiny little town.
Otis remembered the day that her mother, Elena, died. She was only 38 years old when the doctors diagnosed her with stage four lymphoma. She sadly passed two months after Jacob lost his job. Otis loved and missed her mother deeply. In her eyes, she was the most loving and nurturing person in Otis’ world. Her last words to Otis were ‘Sweet baby. Now is a time for courage.’ She loved her father too, but disliked the person he had become after Elena’s death. Jacob’s drinking was out-of-control, and he became a full-on monster. She never stood a chance after Elena died.
By seven years old, Otis was Jacob’s punching bag. She had no choice but to comply with Jacob’s force-fed, antiquated standards of being a man; but Otis was not a man. She realized she was an effeminate little girl trapped in a little boy’s body at a very young age. Jacob monitored her every move and punished her accordingly. She spent many nights locked in her closet over the years. Not by choice. ‘It was god’s will,’ Jacob would often say to her. This was his attempt to absolve himself of his guilt after the beatings.
Today, Otis turned 14 years old, and she felt one more year closer to liberation. A few months went by with no altercations, and she was feeling at ease. Jacob had joined a 12-step program at the local Anglican church and actively sought employment. Otis loved her school and her friends. She was extremely obedient and thought that if she kept this up for a few more years, she could finally plan her escape. She had a plan. Until one day, Jacob came home, drunk, with a pamphlet. It read, ‘Become the man that you were destined to be. Join the Church of Unification and Purity now.’
Jacob joined the church almost immediately and dragged Otis to every gathering. Otis figured out quickly that this church was the farthest thing from being a church. It was a group of militant, blue-collar white men dedicated to preserving traditional roles and ways of life under god. They preyed like fanatics, talked like maniacs, and hated like devils. They abhorred LGBTQ+ people and anyone associated with them.
Otis had no choice but to hide her true self for survival, and she longed for a life of authenticity. Jacob’s unwavering devotion to this church and his connection with the other members made him furious and strict. Eventually, he became unbearable. The fellow members would often come to the house and party on Friday nights. They would treat Otis like a servant and refer to her as The Little Embarrassment. She knew that as long as Jacob was alive, living an authentic life was nothing but a pipe dream.
The sound of gospel music permeated through the walls as Otis rearranged her body to a more comfortable position on the closet floor. There was not a lot of time left before Jacob would come for her. The events leading up to this moment began playing like a movie on the back of her eyelids.
“Hurry up with them dishes, Otis!” Jacob shouts from the living room into the kitchen and cracks open another beer. “Evening prayers start in 5 minutes!”
“I’m having trouble with scouring the frying pan. I’ll be there shortly.”
Otis focuses intently on the frying pan. She does not want Jacob to get upset with her, especially on her birthday. It’s easier this way. She finishes scrubbing the frying pan and leaves it to the side to dry. She is one minute late.
“Forgive me, father, for my lateness.” Otis mutters as she walks in to the living room.
Jacob’s already kneeling before the altar and had lit the candle. He kisses his prayer beads and begins murmuring a prayer to himself. Otis kneels obediently down beside him.
For the entire grueling hour of prayer, Otis’ thoughts are hyper-focused on the frying pan. She knows it is unacceptable that she left it on the counter to air dry. Jacob finishes up his prayers, stands up and staggers into the kitchen to get another beer from the fridge.
“What the hell is this?!” Jacob yells.
Otis stands up and walks into the kitchen. “What’s wrong?”
“The frying pan is all spotty now. You lazy kid! You didn’t dry it right away, did you?”
“No, I didn’t want to be late for prayer.” Otis wells up with tears.
“Such a sensitive boy.” Jacob runs his hand down Otis’ cheek, then smacks her hard in the mouth. “You are an embarrassment, you know that? God will never accept such a weak, pathetic man into his kingdom.”
“I’m sorry, father. I will do it over right away.” Otis grabs the frying pan with one hand and a tea towel in the other.
“Put it down! The damage is done. Why don’t you put on your little panties and go cry in a corner?” Jacob pulls out a pair of women’s underwear and flings them in Otis’ face. “I found these in your room. Obviously, those are yours! You couldn’t land a girlfriend!”
It mortifies Otis to think that Jacob ripped her closet apart to find her hiding spot. She tries to think of excuses, but none come to mind. In a split second, she snaps.
“I’m a girl, father!” Otis blurts out uncontrollably. “I am not a boy! I am a girl! I have never felt like I was in the right skin!”
“Get in that living room and get on your knees!” Jacob pushes Otis, and she almost loses her balance. “We are going to ask god for forgiveness.”
“Stop pushing me! I will not pray anymore!” Otis screams.
Jacob picks up the frying pan and swings it aiming for the back of her neck. The blow knocks Otis off her feet and onto the ground. She lays still on the floor and drifts in and out of consciousness.
“Look what you made me do!” Jacob glares at Otis laying on the floor, unresponsive.
“Please father, no.” Otis gasps weakly.
Jacob grabs her by the feet and drags her down the hall to her room. He opens the closet, stuffs Otis inside and slams the door shut. Jacob swears under his breath as he fumbles for his keys.
“No, father, no!” Otis shouts and tries to push on the door.
“It’s god’s will.” Jacob whispers through the door as he turns the key and leaves the room.
The old record player skipped relentlessly, and Otis immediately knew that Jacob passed out in his chair. This happened often. She knew that this was her chance to escape. Even if Otis managed an escape, there was no place to go. They lived on a farm in the middle of nowhere and there was no one to reach out to. Jacob was an only child and all other family members have disappeared. She had no one except for her group of friends. Unfortunately, they were all too young and had issues of their own to deal with. Otis wept quietly in the darkness when suddenly a familiar voice filled her ears.
“Sweet baby. Now is a time for courage.” The voice sounded a little like Otis’ mother.
“Mom? Is that you?” Otis called out.
“Shhhh. He’ll hear you.” The voice warned. “I am not your mother, but you know me very well. I am you. I am your authentic self. I am here to prepare you for after this closet door opens.”
“Please help me get out of this closet. I’m afraid that he will kill me if he wakes up. I can’t take another beating.”
Otis frantically felt around in the dark for anything heavy, or a weapon of some sort, or anything that could help break her out of the closet.
“Please stay still. You will wake him.” A wave of calmness and serenity fell over Otis’ body. There was something about the voice that grounded her. “Let me explain.”
“Who are you really? How can I be talking to myself?” Otis questioned. She could feel an embrace that felt like being wrapped up in a warm blanket.
“Close your eyes and let your mind go. I will show you who I am.”
Otis closed her eyes and she could see a small light in her mind’s eye growing gradually larger and closer until it filled her eyelids with a bright white light. A beautiful woman’s face appeared out of the light that looked uncannily like Otis.
“You are me!” Otis cried out.
“Yes, I am the authentic you, and my name is Olivia.”
“Pleased to meet you, Olivia. You are beautiful!”
“Yes, you are, my dear. But please listen. I have something important to tell you. Your father is about to die of a heart attack and you are going to be stuck in this closet for quite some time until help arrives. Your life is about to change drastically, and you and I need to get to know each other.”
A tear rolled down Otis’ face as she stared Olivia in the face. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “How do you know all of this? I don’t understand.”
Olivia responded fervently. “That is not important, my dear. What’s important is that I am here to prepare you for what is about to happen. We need to prepare for the aftermath of this horrific moment in time.”
The white light slowly dimmed into obscurity, and Olivia’s face faded into the darkness. Otis’ mind conjured up an image of her father in the living room slouched lifelessly in his recliner with a spilled beer on the floor beneath his hand. It appeared as though she was hovering from above, looking down at the scene. Flashing red and blue lights filled the living room window, and the sirens became louder and louder as an ambulance pierced the pitch black blanket of the night and roared up the driveway to the farmhouse. A man that Otis recognized from the church stood outside on his cell phone. He waved frantically at the ambulance as the paramedics got out and rolled the stretcher out of the back.
“He’s in the living room. I think he is dead!” The man points to the living room window.
“Thanks. We’ll take it from here.” The paramedics fling open the front door.
Otis watched helplessly from her vantage point. Jacob was indeed dead. Shortly after, the police pulled up and began questioning the man from the church, while the paramedics removed the body. Otis could hear herself in the distance, banging on the closet door and yelling for help. A police officer heard her cries for help and ran into her bedroom.
“Please stay calm. We will have you out of there momentarily.” The police officer lifts his leg, kicks the door handle with his boot, and it flies off into the corner of the room. He opens the door and finds Otis lying on the floor, curled up in the fetal position.
“He, he locked me in here. He, he was going to beat me.” Otis stutters.
“Please stay still.” The police officer instructs, then turns to the bedroom door and calls out, “I need a paramedic in here!”
After she explains the events of the evening, the police officer instructs her to go with the paramedics to the hospital in order to get an examination.
The scene faded into the obscurity of her mind’s eye.
“Olivia? Are you still here?”
The white light gradually filled Otis’ eyes, and Olivia’s face materialized. “Yes, I am still here. I will never leave you.”
“I need to save my father! Why would I leave him to die?” Otis attempted to pound on the closet door.
“He can’t hear you. It’s already too late.” Olivia said quietly as Otis thrashed about. “It is his time to go. You can’t change that, no matter what you do. I need you to focus on you right now.”
Otis’ head was pounding with pain and her body was weak. Gradually, she gave up trying to get out of the closet. The same calming sensation as before came over her and it forced the anxiety and stress away.
“What will happen to me? I mean, after I’m rescued?”
Olivia’s face faded into obscurity once again.
“Great things will happen.” Olivia narrated while Otis gazed in awe at the glimpse into her future self. “You will finally be free from the brutality, the hatred, and you will thrive. Life will always have its difficulties, and you learn to overcome your obstacles. Sure, it will be hard at first; but the strength you will gain from surviving this dreadful night will be unparalleled. You will use this strength to build armor around yourself and finally become the person you desire to be.”
Olivia manifested clear and vivid images of Otis’ foster home and that same lovely couple eventually adopts her. They will accept Otis unconditionally and support her every step of the way in her transition to Olivia.
“That is so beautiful.” Otis sobbed and wiped the tears from her cheek. “But none of this changes the fact that my father is out there dying right now.”
Olivia’s face reappeared. “Like I said, it is going to be hard. You will mourn your father’s death for years, but the pain and grief will subside with time. The agony from the years of abuse that you endured will become more manageable with every passing year. It becomes the catalyst for your immense strength. You will become whole again with the help of your new family and become a role model for others as well. Always remember that time really does heal all wounds, and love always wins in the end.”
“I’m terrified.” Otis wrapped her arms around herself. “When is help coming?”
“Soon. Soon. For now, rest. You have a bad head wound.” Olivia comforted Otis as she faded once again into obscurity.
Otis drifted off into a deep sleep.
A loud banging on the back door interrupted the rhythmic skipping of the record player. It startled Otis awake.
“Jacob! You okay?!” someone called out from the patio.
Otis heard the door creak open and footsteps into the living room.
“Call 911, he’s dead!”
Otis tried to call out and make a noise, but nothing was coming out. Her voice was non-existent from dehydration and she was delirious from the blow to the head. She tried to make a noise, but her limbs would not move. She was drifting in and out of consciousness.
A few moments later, Otis heard sirens in the distance. She focused all her energy on moving her limbs and trying to make a noise of some sort. She did not hear the men anymore and figured they went back outside. This was her only window of opportunity for rescue.
The fog gradually lifted from Otis’ mind. Her body was waking up as she successfully moved her arm towards the closet door and made contact. The piercing sound of the sirens ceased. They were here. She remembered the scene Olivia showed her, only now it was playing out in real time.
Otis mustered up every ounce of strength to prepare for the paramedics or police entering the house.
“He’s in the living room. I think he is dead!” someone shouted. Otis heard footsteps. This was her opportunity. It was now or never.
“Thanks. We’ll take it from here.” Otis heard the front door fling open.
Otis mustered up every ounce of strength, and her arm contacted with the door. She banged as hard as she could and called out, “Help! Help! I am in the closet! Help!”
She heard footsteps in her bedroom and called out once again. A voice replied, “Please stay calm. We will have you out of there momentarily.”
Otis covered her eyes as she knew the police officer was going to kick the doorknob off. A loud bang rang out, and she saw light coming in from the doorknob hole.
The door finally opened, and Olivia emerged from the closet. Her journey towards love and an authentic life was just about to begin.