O U Kid (Part 2 of 3)

redwood sorrel

Peg was not hurt, but she’s a complainer. For the rest of the morning hike we had to hear about the chances of delayed symptoms of injury. And although it’s true that after that event, Peg didn’t walk the long option on any other days of the trip, it wasn’t that slide that held her back. Even though the trip information listed extra hiking shoes as a must-have item, even though Paula and I strongly seconded that recommendation, Peg insisted that her one pair of Timberlands would be enough. Her suitcase wouldn’t hold more, and there was no way our stylish friend was going to fly anywhere in hiking boots. The blisters that she started growing on day one ripened by day two, just in time for the mud hike. It may even be that she slid because her foot was hurting and made her step abnormally. Anyway, even with rest and moleskin, Peg didn’t do much hiking after that. Instead she got to know whichever of our tour guides was driving the shuttle. Quality time with Jack or Kurt.

For the remainder of that slippery hike, Paula and I tended to Peg. I tried to look at tree leaves, but I kept returning to thoughts of gender. Reading tree leaves. Remembering how amazed/dismayed I was at how differently people treated my brother and me. We were much alike. Except I was older and smarter and stronger than he. My brother was a really nice kid, but I had more spirit and drive. The only other difference then was between our legs. Our sissymakers. Mom did not teach us different words for our genitals. We both had sissymakers. Through them we made siss. Now, I’ll admit “siss” is onomatopoetic, but I have no idea why our mother decided to depart from convention and consequently (of course) lead us to embarrassment out here in the real world, where people say “piss.” Mom called shit “doody,” or maybe it was “duty,” for “doing your duty;” she never spelled it for us. To poop, in my family of origin, was to fart. Go figure it.

My brother and I both had sissymakers, which looked different but did the same thing. Yet my parents and their friends expected me to be afraid of insects and him to hate dolls. It was assumed that I would be interested in the kitchen talk: babies and food and disease. Actually I wanted the livingroom politics, and I lurked there. My brother was always interested in cooking; it would have been much more appropriate to give him all that kitchen time.

Looking back on it all, it’s no surprise to me that I wanted to be a boy, a lad, a young man. The surprise is that I changed my mind and decided to be a woman. That’s where I got to in my meditations that morning; we reached the crest of our hike and stopped for lunch. I tried to eat light and healthy and I probably overdid my moderation. After all, I was on a walking tour and burning calories; I’m sure I would have felt better and enjoyed it more if I’d just relaxed and let myself go. Story of my life… After lunch we put Peg in the van and Paula and I hiked together.

“I read a book recently and the author kept saying that sycamore leaves are hand-shaped, and sycamore trunks are white,” I commented. “Do you think she was talking about another variety of sycamore? ‘Cause look at these: their trunks are putty-colored. And the leaves aren’t nearly as hand-shaped as maples…” Paula had gotten into botanical and avian identification after marrying her fourth husband; it was something they could share. But she didn’t know any more about sycamores than I.

“I always thought liquidambar leaves looked the most like hands,” Paula answered.

“Oh, no. Not hands. Starfish. Or sailboats after they’ve fallen onto the wet sidewalks: one of their points always upwards like a mast…”

She smiled at me as she imagined that. “We never had liquidambar trees where I grew up.”

“We neither. But we had lots of maples. Remember playing with the polynoses?”

“The seed pods? Yeah…gee: I’d completely forgotten about those… how the hell do you remember all this stuff?”

“I can’t help myself. I don’t know how not to remember. What boggles me is how most everyone else seems to have forgotten.”

“It’s not like you had a really great or really bad childhood, which would – you know – tend to fix things in your memory…”

I said, “I was bored, I was frustrated, and my parents loved me. I wanted every day to count, and I couldn’t stand how much of my time was wasted doing things I didn’t want to do. I couldn’t wait to grow up and have power.

“I knew a lot of other kids, and they didn’t seem substantially happier than I was. Yet all the adults I know now seem to recall these happy childhoods that they want to replicate for their kids. Frankly, I don’t believe I just happened to grow up with the one set of unhappy suburban kids in America. I think my current pals are misremembering.”

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