It’s a Boy
by Jennifer Gorham
There were no “congratulations it’s a boy” signs like the internet had jokingly told me. No blue streamers or bright blue balloons with the obligatory clipart of a baby boy crawling around. I did not feel as though this coming out was a rebirth worthy of a jokey baby shower. It was just silent, awkward, and nauseating. Hayden, my longtime boyfriend, and I sat across from my mother and step-father, cinnamon cake going untouched, drying out in the cold drafty air, coffee growing lukewarm as the silence swells between us and the staring match continues. All I could do was worry my lower lip until I felt something split under my teeth.
“Why did you do this to us Sammy?”
“I dyed my hair blue a week ago,” I said. Although being honest, it has been this color for months and it has been this short for years, but I know it was not the color or the length she was talking about.
“Sam,” her voice was stern. “That is not what I mean. What have you done? Why aren’t you… You! Why have you waited so long to say this? You live one state away and you make this trip every five months and you never once bothered to see me or call me?”
“It’s every three months,” I say back and immediately divert my eyes. Was it out of guilt, shame, or fear? Perhaps it was all three. Perhaps it was none and just genuine apathy that emerged when too many things had been left unsaid.
I heard the chair scrape back watching as my mother left the room entirely. The table grew uncomfortable to sit at again. James, my step-father who had been silent as he watched, stands up and nods slowly. “I can clear the table,” I offer as I follow their lead as I get to my feet.
James shakes his head as he tucks in his chair, my heart felt heavy as I looked at it. If this dining set could talk it would tell of a little child who hot glued moss to the legs when they believed it would bring fairies into the house only for the painful removal that left the legs pockmarked with unlacquered spots. It would remember how many tears were soaked into its wood when the family was told there would only be three months left with my real father, then it would remember how many more when that time was cut down to only a month. “I can get it Sammy. Don’t you worry,” he says as he lifts a few of the plates, “Need any money for a taxi?”
“No,” I say as I pick up the rest of the plates while Hayden grabbed up those still filled coffee mugs. “We got it but thank-you James.”
“Anytime you need anything kiddo, give me a call,” he says as he pulls me into a hug, “I love you Sammy. Stay safe out there.”
I could feel thick tears build behind my lids. I held tight to James. “I love you too James. Thank you for everything.” I walked away with Hayden following behind me staying respectfully silent. James followed us to the door and stood inside the inner doorway as we pulled our shoes on. The frigid air was already seeping in before the main door had even opened us up to it. Hayden and James made idle talk as I tucked my feet in those well-worn street shoes. He waved to James as we stood on the steps of my mother’s New England townhouse with its stoop and planter boxes on each of the narrowed front windows with a steep sidewalk that drops down rather rapidly. The houses were all perpendicular to the sloping streets creating a leveled stair-like appearance, it always felt like you were about to plummet down the thin road. Hayden had grown up in the Midwest with the flattened spacious suburbs instead of crammed city streets. He let out an abrupt sound as his footing wobbles on the abrupt decline. He dug desperately around in his pockets before pulling out the car keys with a relieved sigh. He unlocks the door offering me the driver’s seat before he cautiously gets into the passenger side. The car smells cold but clean and far too familiar.
As we waited in the slowly heating car, I looked up at the windows that at one point in my childhood had been eyes with lashes made of lace, always happily drawn up and excited to see me. Now those lids are closed ending in streams of ivy that grew up from the minuscule back yard that housed my late fathers attempt at a garden. We tried growing a variety of things in that boggy soil but neither of us had the green thumb required to get it going. “Sam?” Hayden calls as he gently taps my shoulder. “I think it’s warmed up now if you are ready to go.”
I drove through the busying streets towards the opposite end of town. Hayden chattered away about a new movie that had come out. He wanted to see it again but with me this time, he thinks I’d like the main character and relate to him. The cinematics were phenomenal, the camera’s they used were “top-notch,” “state of the art,” and more jargon used in his line of work that I just couldn’t remember. His voice waivers as he looks at me gauging my reaction. I was watching traffic’s sludge-like movement before I signal and jerk us over into the exit lane. I heard at least three horns go off and someone shouting as we slid into the tunnel. I flipped on the defroster as our car filled with condensation from Hayden’s nervous talking habits. “Is it an art film?”
“Sammy, I would never subject you to that again,” he says with a sort of laugh. I can tell he is remembering something, that far off look in his Spring colored eyes and the shortened snorting laugh that follows confirms it for me.
“Tonight? You want to go out tonight?” I ask while we slow to a stop inside the muggy tunnel. Hayden’s body tenses as his breathing grows labored. I heard the aerosol whooshing of air, several grounding breaths following. Once traffic began to move past the yellow flashing construction lights he wheezes a sigh of relief. “Yeah, I think we can do that.” I sat in that theater passively watching this movie Hayden was devouring with a voracious appetite. I could see him digesting every scene and analyzing it with his well-educated mind. He would lean over whispering about cinematic history before apologizing, sitting back in his seat, and repeating multiple times throughout. I never minded. At some point near the middle, I moved the armrest, so he wouldn’t have to lean over anything. He was right though. I had liked the protagonist. He was a generally relatable man, not so specific to me. Afterward, we went back to our hotel room and laid in our shared bed. He was asleep within moments leaving me awake and staring into the ceiling.
I was the only one in this hotel awake. I wanted to scream to waken the world and beg for a do-over. To restart my childhood that I had as a little girl with all the pinks and purples. To get those stupid blue balloons that were blatant signifiers of who I was instead of what I was born as. The only person who met me for who I really am was Hayden. He hasn’t known me as anything else. I had mistaken him for someone else when I saw his back. His dark hair was in a bun, jaw covered in thick facial hair, and a concentrated pointed look on his face as his lighter colored eyes focused on the screen attached to his large camera. Headphones covered his ears, so he couldn’t have heard me if I was to call out the wrong person’s name. After every class around this same time on the same days, he would be there with a large camera I had only ever seen in movies. The woman he filmed with was perky, blonde, and everything I refrained from being.
She looked comfortable in her skin while I sat watching in the background, my own body wrapped tight with compression wrap to hide my curves, the same type she flaunted so easily. I could not breathe when I was forced into those pink lacey dresses as a child. I felt restricted and hesitated to draw breath. Now my breathing was literally restricted, but I felt so free despite it. Each inhale would tighten the binding, but it didn’t matter. His intense gaze left me breathless.
I noticed you were watching us, he said to me. He was wrapping up some cables and tucking them into a foam padded case along with that massive camera he had been holding. I wasn’t, I said back as I returned to reading something I had not really been reading. He asked me my name and that was the first time he gave me a smile that turned my heart into marshmallows and made my eyes feel like they were looking through cotton candy glasses. When he saw me naked for the first time, I cried out of shame. I lied to you, I said, and he just held me. I expected him gone in the morning, but he wasn’t. He didn’t pry or ask anything else, just helped me ease the bruises that ran along where I had wrapped myself and scrambled us some eggs. He asked for forgiveness, eggs were all he knew how to do. When I went to the doctor for help breathing and was told to not wrap but look for binders, he helped me measure myself for them. The night I received the binder and saw my figure stay flat without constricting myself, I offered to teach him how to make curry. It was something easy that my Father used to make me when I needed to talk to him. Heat, he would say, helped honesty emerge. “We have been dating for several months now, I feel it is time to talk about the obvious.”
What obvious? He asked as he poured himself some freshly brewed coffee. It was black, bitter, a stark contrast to his personality. He was picky when it came to what he drank, I found out after a very late-night party that left us in a 24-hour diner. Hayden had gagged over the coffee he was given. This must be what the dirt in Hell tastes like, he said to me across from the dingy grey table at that ungodly hour both of us stinking of smoke and booze.
“Hayden, I’m,” I hesitated and thought about his words. “Well I start next week.”
“You think you might grow a beard?” He asked stroking his own manicured beard. I smiled at him.
“No, don’t be silly,” I said.
“Are you going to visit your mom?” He asked.
“I’m not sure,” I said back.
Eight years, countless surgeries, doctors visits, and hundreds of pill bottles later, I lay in this hotel bed comfortable in my body while listening to Hayden’s snores. The soothing hum of his alarm clock cut those sounds I had been enjoying short. He jolted as he awoke, rising out of the bed and out of my arms. I watch him from the still warm bed, lazily moving to be on his side of the bed where it was his sleepy warmth still imprinted on it. Normally I’d be up and about but my body felt tired, aching with the cold tendrils that pushed in from the window. I remained in the bed with my body hidden from his gentle eyes and from the yellow lit reality the mirror and its vanity lighting would bring. I was closer to how I wanted to see myself but all I would focus on was what I didn’t have. Habits and parts Hayden had that I would never have or would have to struggle to learn. He had a routine; trim his facial hair, brush his teeth, and a cup of that bland yet still paradoxically bitter tasting hotel coffee. Every morning he would follow those same steps and after that first sip he would gag and say again as he had in that diner; “This must be what the dirt in Hell tastes like.” He set the mug down before finishing his routine and looking ready to leave. “You’ll be late.” He says.
“I have time,” I say without looking away from him.
“I’ll bring you some coffee then,” he says before picking up his wallet.
While Hayden was out, I started to pack up the whirlwind of clothes I had strewn about yesterday in my haste and anxiety. I stacked our luggage over his expensive camera equipment he insisted he would need. There was a knock on the door. It was a quickened staccato rhythm that was nervous. I answered and stared in bewildered shock at my rather frazzled looking mother standing before me. I asked if she would like to come in. She shook her head but cleared her throat.
“Sammy, I love you. I don’t agree with what you’re doing and what you’ve done although being honest with you young lady…” she paused and shakily recanted, “young man, I’m more upset about you not visiting than anything but, James was looking at your baby pictures last night with me and I felt like you’d find this as funny as I do,” her voice was no longer accusatory or angry but softened. “Even though it isn’t for a few more days, Happy Birthday Sam.”
She handed me a photo with a slightly yellowed back and a water stain in the corner. And there in the center of it in my father’s neat handwriting was the question “who ordered those balloons?” with a little hand-drawn winking face. I flipped it over and there surrounding the newborn baby me in my princess dress, were an assortment of blue balloons that said “congratulations! It’s a boy!” with little blue clip art babies crawling around the circumference.
About the Author
Jennifer Gorham is a writer and student attending Utah Valley University. She has never been published before but is constantly writing and thanks to her wonderful wife (and three cats) gained the confidence to try submitting things to be published. Currently, her biggest project is a queer sci-fi fiction piece and everything she writes has a touch of LGBTQIA within it because life always has need of more rainbows. Follow Jennifer on Instagram and Twitter.