I was just about done with my costume. I had the dress and blouse, the slip, and my straw blonde hair braids like manila rope.
"Can you hurry up, Heidi?"
Tammy stood in the doorway, wiggling her feet and changing her posture every second or so. If I didn't know better, I'd call that twitchy.
"What is it?"
"I gotta go," she said urgently.
"I will as soon as you're done."
"Just close the door. Lock it if you're worried, but Robbie won't bother us. He's not that kind of little brother."
"It's not that."
"Then what?" I finished untangling the last of my braids.
"It's you, Dani."
"What about me?"
"I can't go to the bathroom with you here."
"Why not? I don't know how many times I've seen you pee."
"That was different. You were a girl back then."
I thought I'd be happy for people to think of me for what I am. The truth is, I've been Danielle so long I'm used to it. I wear it like an invisible raincoat, though I didn't know it was there until I tried to cast it off.
Was Topher like that too? Was hit deep down inside just a tiny fraction of a boy? Was it just infatuation with hir or was this some 5% solution of puppy love?
"I don't get it. Why does it matter? I'm not a boy."
"Well, you sure as hell ain't no girl, and that's who I share a bathroom with."
"Tammy I don't get it. Who says you can't share a bathroom with me? We've done it lots of times and nobody ever objected."
"But everything has changed."
"Does this mean you object to me using the girl's restroom at school?"
"Maybe you could use the faculty restrooms." She looked apologetic but still said it.
"Look, honeychild, we still friends and we always be friends I hope, but I don't make the rules. This is the South, or close enough to it; we don't have no co-ed bathrooms in I...in Missoura."
I felt betrayed, if that's not too strong a word, and confused. Was this really a social taboo for her? Could the rules actually apply to me still, just in a different way?
She closed the door and locked it.
Nothing left to do, I suppose, but make small talk.
"Tammy, what are you gonna do for a costume?"
"Are you even going to the party? Topher invited you too."
"Dani! I'm trying to go."
I don't know how a stream of water hitting the toilet bowl can sound urgent. Maybe it gets amplified somehow.
It went on for a good minute. Then a flush and the sound of her washing her hands, and finally, the hook-eye latch scraping against the paint.
"I'll go," she said, as if nothing had just happened.
"What kind of costume do you want? We only have a day."
"Don't worry yerself," she assured me. "I got something all planned up. Won't take ten minutes to do."
"Are you sure? This is a costume party. And I'm sure there will be boys there. For you, of course."
"Thanks, just what I need—a twenty-year old transvestite. That'll make dad happy."
"I never met your dad."
"You ain't missin' much, hirlchild."
"'Hirl-child?'," laughed. "Where did you hear that?"
"I just made it up. It fits the pattern. You should add it to your list."
"Give it a chance, hirlfriend," she was running with it now. I hoped she wasn't heading for a cliff.
"Stop right there." I demanded, "in the name of humanity."
"I'm bored, Tammy."
We were laying on the bed in my room with the door slightly ajar—Tammy insisted—listening to the Sex Pistols, that tape that got me in so much trouble, and trying to relax. It was a lazy weekend before an exciting event, and the music didn't fit the mood.
It was a bad tape, bootleg for sure; a live recording from a pub or concert hall. You could hear drunken British and Irish accents in the audience.
The acoustics were bad, the music was bad, the lyrics were bad, the singing was bad. If these guys were musicians, I was Miss America. Musical terrorists was more like it, trying to hijack my ears.
It was just bad.
"Well," she said, propping her chin up on her hands, "what do you wanna do?"
"I don't know. Life's been so fun since I met Topher."
"Here we go again..."
"Admit it, you like hir too."
"Hit is a lot of fun. And I likie hits motor-bikie. Hit took me with hir to get dig some clay, out by the Cahokia mounds. We was goin' ninety mile-an-hour down I-255."
She was using the right words without effort now. Would that all my disciples were so adept. Daddy tried, but failed a lot. Mother was coming around and Gina was my staunch ally. We were getting closer for some reason now. It seemed weird that it took a gender gap to bring us together.
Robbie was just an alien; getting him to speak Human was tough enough.
I got up and went to the stereo.
"This music sucks." I pulled out the tape and the discordant cacophony ceased. My ears thanked me then sent my brain a nasty note about the ringing.
"We gotta do something," I said and tossed the tape into the box beside my bed. "I'm antsy."
"They ain't no place to go."
"We used to go to places."
"But they're no fun anymore. It's all kid stuff."
She got up and went to the window.
"We should go somewhere; I sure wish you had your license."
"I'm taking the test next Friday; I've been lookin' at a car, and I wanna drive and take it to my test. The guy at the lot said I could if I put down a deposit before I drove it off the lot."
"They gonna let 'choo mark 'none of the above' for you sex?"
"Not yet, but I've got court all next week, so I won't be in school at all. Wish me luck."
"Luck," she said. "You're gonna need it."
"Thanks. Tell me something I don't know, Tammy."
"Like what? Hirl, I don't know anything you don't."
"Stop using 'hirl' it's not official. And that's not true; everyone knows something no other human being in the world. Tell me something like that. I have a hunger for something new."
"I hate myself."
"I hate myself; that's my 'something new'."
"You don't hate yourself Tammy."
"Okay, then I loathe myself."
"Because I'm useless, stupid, no-good, I got no friends, and my life sucks; I'm fucked up hirlfriend."
If she kept this up, the hirl- morpheme could creep into my new lexicon. It was useful, but they would surely abuse it. It could be worse than hain't. It would blur the lines and then start evolving. I couldn't have that.
But she needed my support now, not a lecture on genderless linguistic morphology.
"You are none of those."
"I got no future in school. I might as well drop out and get a job at McDonald's, while I'm still young. I got nothin', Dani. Nothin'"
"Is that why you act like you're black? Because you see people like your uncle in East St. Louis, and think they're all bad? You think they're worthless, and if you're worthless, you gotta act like them?"
"No, Dani. You got it all wrong. I don't act like I black. This is who I am—who I be."
Her face was set in stone but there was a tear streak under her eye.
"Maybe I do have it wrong, Tammy, but I know there is more to you than that. You are not feckless. You have it in you to be a beautiful person."
"I'm not a beautiful person now?"
She wasn't what most people would call beautiful. She was slightly heavy, though not overly so. And she had totally let her hair go fallow. Her face was long and round and she had full-lips. Plus she tanned well; in the right light she could look like a mulatto maybe. She's the kind of girl who fit into the category known here as Arkansas Virgin.
"You are beautiful, Tammy, but you're beautiful bud. With a little self-esteem you could develop into a beautiful flower."
"You think so?"
"I know so. And you are none of those other things; you do have friends."
"No. Topher's your friend too, isn't hir?"
"Topher is your friend, I just know hir. You my onliest friend in the world."
That was sad, but it couldn't be true, could it? She was normal, who wouldn't like her?
"No," I hugged her, and she leaned into it. "You have other friends."
"No I don't, just you. You and me, we's friends.
"And Leftie; you, me and heom."
Was she making up friends to fill an empty space in her life? Was I?
"Leftie's my kitty."
"Oh my God, Tammy, you didn't tell me you have a cat. You have to let me see it."
"I just got heom. Heo's still a little-bitty kitten."
"Teeny-weenie," she said, but made no effort to show me.
"What kind of kitten?"
She grinned. "Siamese."
"Oh, that's so cute."
"Why sad...A kitten is a joyful experience. I wish my folks would let us have a cat."
"It's sad 'cause heo got hurt."
The held up three fingers. "Heo's only got three legs."
"Three-legged kitten?" Nothing in the world could be sadder than that.
"Where'd you get this kitty?"
She was looking guilty now, or at least furtive.
"Out in the alley, behind Snoopy's."
"Really? I never saw you with a cat. Is it a stray? Does it have its shots?"
"No, heo's not a stray. Heo probably ain't have no shots."
"Why do you keep saying heo? You don't have a transendered cat do you?"
"Cause I don't know if it's a boy or a girl. You know how kittens are."
"I gotta see it."
"Heo's at my house...," she began, and looked at the floor.
"Let's go. I ain't never been to your house before."
"I told you, you ain't missing much."
"I'm missing Lefty."
She smiled but still retained her apprehensive demeanor.
"Okay," she said, taking in a deep breath. "I'll take you. For Lefty."