I’m still not sure what went wrong. I grew up with two, loving parents who told me I could be anything I wanted to be as long as I believed in it strong enough and put enough work into my dreams. I always wanted to be Wonder Woman. In fact, I wanted it so bad that for Christmas when I was four years old my dad made me a Wonder Woman costume out of a brand new pair of underpants and an undershirt. I even had a long piece of yellow yarn that I could throw around people as my golden lasso of truth, yet it never seemed to do the trick. I had been lied to all along. I couldn’t be anything I wanted to be; not really.
The sad truth is that I wouldn’t learn this for many, many years. A year after my fantastic costume had been worn out, we moved from an apartment into a house with a full, cement basement. That winter, famous internationally for the Midwest Blizzard of ’79, became more famous locally as the bitter winter of discontent between my parents. Between shouting matches where I could hear my father trying to console my mother, my friend Jessie and I would roller skate in that magnificent, cement basement/roller rink; she playing the part of Hugh Hefner in a long, red kimono and myself as Donna Summers in a black, afro wig. We’d laugh and hold long pencils like they were cigarettes and act like we were hanging out at the Playboy Mansion, something which had become a fascination to both of us just earlier that year. As we pumped out legs across the cement, Donna Summer crooned Bad Girl lyrics under the strung Christmas lights hanging from the steel frames holding the house together, while upstairs, my life fell apart.
That same year I also decided I wanted to be one of the Charlie’s Angels, as long as it was anyone but Sabrina. It was becoming apparent to me that women just had more fun in life. While my mom and her friends would sit around, drinking martini’s and smoking cigarettes, listening to bad disco or Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors album, they’d laugh and gossip, dancing in their tight jeans and wedged sandals, their long hair flowing down their backs. Thelma Houston’s Don’t Leave Me This Way became my mother’s mantra that year, figuratively and literally. She sang and he left, and in retrospect I don’t blame him one bit. My mother was a lot to handle. She fluctuated from baking cookies in the kitchen to playing tennis days on end to reading James Joyce and speaking intellectually non-stop about the importance of stream of consciousness writing and analysis four times a week.
The year was 1977 and amidst blizzards, divorces and roller skating in the basement, life was really, really good. That summer all of the neighborhood kids would have baseball tournaments in the cul de sac, and even though by that point I could run a base or two, I quickly learned it was safer to hang out on the metal, electric box with the “other” girls and play cheerleader while sucking on generic flavor ices and slapping our ass cheeks when the boys yelled crude statements. In looking back, I don’t remember anyone making fun of me or treating me any different. I fit in with my short, terry cloth yellow shorts with white trim and a matching tank top, complete with knee high socks and off brand shoes. My hair hung in feathered bangs and I felt wonderful.
I never wanted to be a woman, I just wanted to fit in and have a tribe of people like myself. I liked being a boy, it just seemed that girls had more fun. In almost 43 years, I don’t think I’ve ever felt more like myself than I did sitting on that grey, metal electric box with Jessie laughing at the boys and slapping our ass cheeks and telling them to kiss it.
I was five years old.
I couldn’t wait for weekends with my cousin Caroline, where I could harass her friends and listen to their conversations about softball and boys. I remember our dads taking us to see Star Wars, the Star Wars, for the very first time. Later that year, our grandma would take us both to see Raggedy Ann and Andy. She would only be alive for a few more years, but neither of us knew it at that time. On our weekends with Grandma we’d lay awake next to each other, both hunkered into one single bed in our “jammies” and we’d whisper to each other while the cars rode away into exciting adventures on the street right outside our grandma’s apartment. The next day we’d wake up to Hee Haw and Lawrence Welk, while our Grandma played bridge with her friends, smoking cigarettes and drinking strong cups of coffee. I so wanted to be one of them, shuffling cards like a Vegas dealing and throwing them down with a cigarette gripped by the corner of my mouth.
On my birthday that year I asked for a doll that would eat and poop, my mother replied that she thought it was a good idea because one day I would be a father and it would help prepare me. My father was a good sport about it too and I still have pictures of he and I, hiking in the woods, the poor, naked, pooping doll in a death grasp in my hand.
That fall I entered school and the truth came out. One fall day while eating in the lunchroom a boy made a joke about me being a homo like the homogeneous milk carton. The mystery was out. I was different, except no one had told me that before. I had just been a kid who was allowed to wear Wonder Woman costumes and lasso the truth out of people. I was able to be Donna Summer or an ass slapping cheerleader. No one had criticized me either way. Even the likes of me carrying around a naked doll with ratty hair had never phased anyone. Yet in that one moment in the lunchroom, I was different.
I don’t even remember who said it. In my memory, I don’t see a face and I don’t hear a voice. I definitely don’t know a name. All I remember is the feeling that accompanied all of that laughter; shame. I stopped talking and grew very silent, suddenly very afraid that my movements or voice might trigger more laughter. There is quite a difference between laughing with you and laughing at you. I have, like many others, experienced both and they do not feel the same. It would take many, many years, almost into my late thirties, until I was once again comfortable to move freely and speak with the tongue I was naturally given.
But I have never again felt the way I felt on that grey, metal, electrical box. Sometimes I wish I could go back to those carefree days of Bad Girls and roller skating through a blizzard. Hell, I might even be Sabrina if it meant I could be one of the Charlie’s Angels. And many, many times I’ve dreamed of flying away in an invisible airplane.
After all, I still kind of want to be Wonder Woman….
Please check out my book!