To a Casey I wish I could hold in my arms,
Recent member of the Shaved Heads Club, who still ends emails with exclamation points and your unisex name, wonders what your version of happiness was.
You are eight years old in the summer of 2005, cornrows stitched to your head, shying away from the pale blue grit of the diving board. Tell me why, little puff cheeks, does diving into a pool scare you—even more than cicadas crawling on your forearms? You find solace in the watery washcloths and 50-cent disposable tattoos, sneaky sips of crisp caramel cola when mom turned away, pulling white wool socks all the way to your ankles and listening for the warning from the minivan circling your elementary not to wipe the thick cream—your second layer of skin—off of your face.One week, a visiting lifeguard teaches you the dolphin stance and to run—fear first—into the water. I wish you could have had that fearlessness about all the other things you wanted to do, but were afraid to. I want to squeeze the hesitation out of you the way only Pop-Pop could—to stop your brown hands from lowering, afraid they won’t answer the question right, erasing names off of lists to join clubs or sign up for plays, not squeezing a girl’s hand despite your feelings. I want to tell us everything will work out. I long to caress our heavy shoulders. As I write to you now, I am folding the page on your goals for the moment and letting you grow, because from spending so much time in this skin, I know we need to.
The corners of my mouth turn upward thinking how you turn the switch downward and press your sticky palms together without a clue of who it is you are praying to. The words “dear God” will not leave your lips, even though the preacher starts his prayer that way before collection is taken up each Sunday. You only ever use “I hope” and “I wish,” wanting so badly to fix the parts of life you clumsily work on by yourself; the hurting hands across black-and-white keys, the book reports on Anne of Green Gables, the diary entries stuffed with hopes and wishes to be any color but the one starting in b and rhyming with lack. A lack of color washes over the school you show up to every day: Here are the people you point to whenever someone asks, “Who do you wanna be when you grow up?”
You do not cry after falling from the monkey bars or slamming your chubby marker–tattooed fingers in the heavy bathroom door. You only swell up like a bee sting if you are frustrated, like when you count the time until the walkie-talkie announcing the school carpool calls your name, in case 4:30 comes and your mom does not show. To collect the tears behind your eyelids in other moments, you sing incoherent chords—resembling “Happy Birthday”—over the phone in your living room after your 7 AM bowl of oatmeal slams into the sink. Sundays at 5 PM, you reprise your melody when the caller lD displays Grammy and Pop-Pop Smith, a women with seamless hands and a man who liked spinach more than Popeye. One day, you will leave, as if to cure them of remembering who you were versus who you have become.
Now you are 11. It’s almost time to abandon your itchy rainbow sweaters and navy-blue jumpers from J.C. Penney’s. Your mom tells a friend’s parent, “We don’t shop for Casey in the Kids department anymore.” The only way it’s acceptable to feel like the K-I-D word is to break out your dolls and visit your next-door neighbor, who is five years younger than you. Around the same time you start wishing for the opposite sex to find you attractive, Mother will conclude tying up your hair to look “neat” by getting you the straight hair you thought every girl dreamt of. You still have discussions with your friends exclaiming why you’re brown,not black. Later on, humming along to an indie playlist you swiped from your big sis, you remember this reinvented self as a way of “dreaming life away,” as Bethany Cosentino sang.
When you reach the third grade, you brag that you too could pee like the boys. But boys and girls were still wary of cooties, and none of your girlfriends would join you as you stood up in the pink-tiled bathroom. Not even five years later, clad in your middle school’s new uniforms, you share a cold, five-second smooch on the soccer player with shoulder-cut blond hair. You keep telling people, “We’re in lesbians with each other.” I guess by now you have learned it is just another name for love. Your arms start being called chubby instead of stubby and you sport woven bracelets woven by a girl with brown bangs, a summer-camp friend who pissed off the counselors and the boys; you named her hero. Those tanned limbs with brown and blonde hair covered in glitter and paint from art class are parts you will never see grow and change. It’s an epidemic: Best friends come and go, like good grades, all except the last close person—if you will, your only person.
Soon, your big sis will start calling you moody, and “a mess,” and a brown spot in your underwear will lead to a long discussion. You will slam doors after being pleaded with to “start acting like a lady.” To make sense of it, you scrawl secret lyrics on a Post-lt note in your agenda, and hide them inside composition books your mom reserved for English class. You stole mementos from boys and girls who kissed one another at the end of PE class—changing time—because you did not have a counterpart—a person you could swap love notes with—not yet.
Imagine: What is love? Scrapbook magazine pages—a practice you do not yet know is named erasure poetry. Hum along and call the piece “Ballad of a 14-Year-Old Body,” because that is all you were in 2010. That girl you kissed: Her dad will own a restaurant, that, from the sidewalk, will be more homely than the friends you are walking past it with, some smoky, sweaty, sunken-in show-going mates whose post-punk hair lifts into the atmosphere’s smell. Those heads shaking awake to a familiar drumbeat—up and down/back and forth—will become a movement permanent in your body’s memory.
You begin dotting your i’s with hearts and convincing your friend’s you like pink and are crushing on the guy on American Idol. You never forget his name: David Archuleta. Forget about passing notes asking to kiss boys under the bleachers because you and I both know your lips are not buzzing with lighting like Hannah told you. It will be very upsetting that the people next to you with frilly socks in the stall whom you’ve been eyeing in your “straight” costume won’t realize it doesn’t stop. They call out boys with cooties, and, later, hide in the back of the bus with them, sucking on something so inhuman to you, that you move to the front seat alongside the science teacher because to watch or to join—that is committing an act of suicide to everything you feel.
Reach out. Think of your person’s hand pressing fluttering buttercups up to the soft bit of your chin where water dribbles down when someone says something funny. When a trace of yellow shows up, she squeals that you are a flower child, because the color only shows on them. When you hold her hand, a spark erupts from the back of your neck to the front of your face, and everything feels red and hot. Every feeling you’ve never known for yourself rushes into your chest and won’t stop reminding you of the truth—your sister was right—you are a mess.
I wish my taller and less concerned body could whisper that your regret about the time you spent feeling ashamed of your heart will devour you, the way you do the last bit of Talenti gelato in the bottom of the freezer. Little one, you have to decide that, even though your friends claim to hate the marinade of cilantro and lime that tastes essential to your tongue buds, to keep enjoying it. Don’t deny yourself that freedom. A few years down the line, you will get closer to feelings and people that also enjoy your tastes. You will not be the only one of your kind forever.
I’m doing this for you, little one, small-handed person; this is an ode to your endless imaginations of what could be. I will forever be carrying around that picture of you on a swing and never letting it fall. Spend your life trying to make real everything that will help us to eventually become ourselves. Once your uncertainty leaves you,you’ll have an even greater craving for life.
But you already knew that,
Future Casey ♦
Casey Bell is a genderfluid almost-19-year-old from the East Coast who really likes donuts and Claudia Rankine. She is currently writing lots of essays and story fragments on her blog and trying to understand what being a Libra means.