The heat always reminded me of her. It matched her personality: harsh, forceful, and itchy under the skin, like the dresses I wore when she treated me like a girl. Even in my childhood memories, her hair was always curled; stylized in a doll-like perfection. I wondered what it would take to make her snap.
The ice-pop in my hand melted, despite the AC being on full blast. I was answering my own questions with that unnaturally blue liquid dripping on my hand. Adora would hate that. She would hate anything out of order, including me. Or, rather, in her words: what I choose to become.
The sweat on the nape of my neck was irritating. I wanted to shower, to move, to escape. I only ever felt like this when Adora curled my hair and forced me to wear nail polish - I probably should’ve got out of the car earlier, but I wanted to just stare outside that house – the spotless white walls and neatly tucked curtains all disguising the prison cell existence within.
I shouldn’t have come back.
The lawn was mowed to perfection. Nothing less, for Adora.
I don’t know what prompted me to turn the AC off and make my way inside, but I was standing on the porch, having rung the bell, immediately regretting my decision. How can small, prim and proper Adora ever let her trans child back in the house they ruined? How can she let that monster - the one that broke her ice thin façade of perfection - ever dare to show their face again?
This time, with a light stubble.
She opened the door – in her evening dress, accompanied by a smile that didn’t reach her eyes – her hair was curled and pretty. The sunlight was harsh and I convinced myself that was the reason for her not meeting my gaze, and not the previously mentioned facial hair.
“Jessica! What a lovely surprise,” She didn’t move forward to hug me, and I didn’t initiate a further greeting. Was it too hot? Was it her unease at my sudden, taller appearance?
“Adora. Hi,” I said, and the fake smile was gone. Her eyes questioned me as she stepped aside to let me in. She looked smaller and shorter. Or was it the hormones that made me tall? It was so hot my shirt was practically plastered to my back. (The shoulder growth was very much welcomed.)
I stopped calling her mama the day she refused to call me Jess instead of Jessica.
I gave birth to a girl!
The house seemed smaller than I remembered. The wooden furniture was perfectly dusted and varnished. Nothing was out of place or missing – every picture frame the same. The air was stiff with tension and humidity, making it hard to breathe.
Or was that just me?
“How long are you in town for?”
She was clenching the edge of her dress extremely tightly. I shrugged, unsure of what, exactly, I was back here for. I could let her wipe that sweat from her palm on her dress, but I doubt she is capable of doing that without smoothing the dress out.
An apology, perhaps? Acceptance of the sneakers instead of heels?
I couldn’t find any substitute for the love a mother gave their child out in the city… and it was only when her pleading eyes looked at me did I realize I never found it here, either.
“Just a night or two,” My voice was raspy.
Her dress ruffled and her shoulders relaxed. She smoothed the creases.
One, two, three times.
“Drinks?” She asked, already moving into the kitchen. She didn’t look at me as she started pouring the water in a jug. There were beads of sweat on her forehead. She was going to wipe them down with a tea towel, three times, the same way she would make me remove and wear necklaces laced with pearls, despite my protests. She would always serve lemonade in the summer and tea in the winter.
I stood, unsure of what to do with myself. Conversation was out of the question, despite being away for so long. Should I have gone upstairs and check out my old bedroom? Would it still be as messy as I left it, or will that too, be sorted and folded neatly, ready to be tucked somewhere deep so that we don’t need to worry about it? The t-shirts and the torn up dresses…
The walls were still white, still spotless, and had no personality. I felt like a stranger in the house I grew up in, staring at the blank canvas of a wall I would daydream on throughout my early life. In a weird way, it was familiar.
Feeling like a stranger in your own house - in your own dress, heels. In the pearls so white they seemed fake, so much so I convinced myself I was as blank as those walls. That feeling of not feeling like yourself in your own skin.
Not feeling like you're home in you're own home.
Adora cracked the ice cube tray and some fell into the jug.
When she poured the drink, there were exactly six in the jug, two landing in my glass and two in hers.
It always had to be even.
The pearls situated on each side of my neck had to be even, the length of my socks, the number of dresses I own. The ribbons on each side.
“So. Jessica. Tell me about the city,” Her bangles clanked with the glass as she spoke.
She had a set of jewelry she brought with her from Africa. Earrings, necklace, bangles – all ivory. She loves wearing it as often as she can. The sound of them always reminded me of the sharp pain I’d feel from her metal rings as she’d smack my head for ruining the carpet. She has a weekly subscription to a charity fund for providing water to villages in Africa.
Same country, wrong charity.
Stop it! The tassels were arranged nicely!
Same child, wrong gender.
It would be nothing compared to her pulling my hair, though.
“Cold,” I said, wishing it was over here. Adora didn’t bother turning the fan on, and I didn’t ask. She seemed displeased with my answer. She was staring at my hair – it was growing out, now, after I shaved it… before the hormones.
But you had such pretty hair!
Her nails were sharp and even. Unnaturally so.
“That seems nice.” She said, placing the cup on the table. She stared at it uncomfortably, and then moved it so that the edges would align with the printed pattern on the mat.
I stared at her for a minute, wondering what she could have been like if she agreed to get help. Her makeup was immaculate, her lipstick lined with precision.
There was no one in this town meeting her, or any appointments she had to fulfill – but, always, just in case.
Her nails would dig into my cheeks as she forced my head to stay still - she needed to go over the mascara again. One, two, three times.
And go around taking pills all day? Like you? And lose my lovely hair?
I know very well what she thinks of me now: a flat chest and flannels, sneakers and worn out jeans. I had become the very opposite of what she had groomed and conditioned me to be.
“You used to have so much fun, running around in dresses,” She said, her fake smile returning.
I was a Barbie doll to her, always dressing up and getting ready. But she wanted a level of perfection that I could not give her. I could not do much in those dresses, god forbid the roughhousing… the shitshow of a scene it made when I came home with a white lace all muddy.
The sound of those slaps still make me flinch.
One, two, three.
I smiled. “I can still wear a dress for you, if you want,”
“That would be improper!” She said, jerking her hands up and then placing them folded on her lap.
Do you acknowledge that I am a boy, despite referring to me as a girl?
“How so?” I asked, unsure of the conversation.
She looked conflicted. “It must be very sad to be whatever it is you are,”
If I came here for an apology, I sure as hell wasn’t getting one now.
I could say the same thing for her.
She shook her head, as if tired, and I felt bad. I was past the anger – years of argumentation didn’t bring anything - It was a sudden bout of loneliness that rolled off of her that made me want to, for some odd reason, hug her. I didn’t.
Heck, she wasn’t wrong.
There is something about a blank canvass that screams isolation.
“You’re room isn’t done,” She said, getting up before I could stop her.
She made her way upstairs and I trailed behind her, asking her to sit down and rest. She never rested, I knew that much, but there was a particularly violent memory I had of her smoothing bed sheets repeatedly, not resting until she was sure she had done it the correct amount of times. She was sobbing throughout the ordeal.
It needs to be perfect.
I was sweating by the time we reached the top – she opened the door and I gasped at the sight.
Everything was just as I had left it. There were three pieces of clothing, sprawled across the floor. The desk was dusty, and the sheets were not done.
It looked as if I had only left yesterday.
Adora’s hands were trembling.
Suddenly, she rushed to the desk and arranged the pencil – I didn’t even notice that it was there – so that it was aligned with the rest of the notebooks. When she looked at me, there was no guilt or panic.
“I thought we could do it together,”
A wave of guilt washed me as I took in her small frame – she was grieving the loss of a child and battling a sickness all alone. I felt stupid for wanting her to cater to my need of her accepting me.
Not a stupid need, really, but neglect has a way of reflecting in generations.
“Okay,” I said, picking up the discarded clothes.
And although that didn’t excuse her behavior, she smiled the first genuine smile I had seen on her ever since I told her about my true self.
And although she still calls me Jessica, and is confused, she sees me, and doesn’t stop me at the door.
I can’t undo the damage that she has done to me, only manage it.
I fold the clothes neatly, instead of rolling them up. I tuck them and stack them on top of each other, so that the collars are showing – the way she does it. Then I flatten my palms and pat them down, one, two three times.
The way her mind wants it done.
I look at her and she’s crying, but her eyes – oh, her eyes – they are so happy.
There is a muddled form of acceptance and understanding. And it might just help her heal.
The pronouns can wait.