Continuing with additional recognition for 2014 winners of the Council for Wisconsin Writers contests by posting their winning work or excerpts of that work on this blog, today is Chapter 3 of Bridget Birdsall’s book, Double Exposure, for which Bridget received the Tofte/Wright Children’s Literature Award, and which she read at CWW’s May 16, Awards Banquet. The book addresses gender issues, teenage insecurity, bullying and overcoming obstacles.
Bridget Birdsall reads from her debut young adult novel, Double Exposure. (Copyright 2014 by Bridget Birdsall. Reprinted with permission from Sky Pony Press, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.)
Fresh start. Our new code words. A direct result of my run-in with Prickman and his apes. At first, Mom wanted to do it the old way—try to convince me that we should report them.
“Alyx, you have every right to be safe here.” She didn’t get that it wasn’t personal with Prickman. He sensed I was different, and that’s what guys like him do; sniff out and hunt down super-freaks.
“It’s not just Ricky Pearlman and his dweebs, Mom. You don’t get it, do you?” I’d told her.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Yes, it does. Alyx, for God’s sake, it matters to me. You matter to me!” Both she and I knew I couldn’t survive another beating. Her guilt was palpable. “Your dad and I did the best
“It’s not that—”
“If you’d just talk to me, Alyx.”
“I tell you everything, Mom!” Hot with rage, I’d whipped off the T-shirt I’d slept in. “LOOK!”
She blushed, but she didn’t look away. I laid my hands over my small, but obviously budding breasts, tried to get her to see. “Ricky and his buddies are growing beards, and I’m growing these. What do you expect them to do? I’m a friggin’ freak!”
“You are not a freak, Alyx.”
“Yeah? Then what am I?”
“I will not allow you to denigrate yourself like this.”
“I told you. I told Dad. I showed you guys. I tried telling you a long time ago, but you wouldn’t listen.”
“We did listen, Alyx. We didn’t want to overreact and regret things later. That’s why we found Dr. Max. So you would have someone to talk to.”
“Yeah, then Dad conveniently got cancer because he couldn’t deal with the fact that you guys screwed up. Got him out of family therapy for life—right?”
“No one screwed up.”
“You did! Majorly. I’m living proof.”
I scrambled into the corner, yanked my shirt back on, and glared at her. “Why didn’t you just make me a girl? That’s what everyone else does with their ambiguous babies, right?”
“Alyx, you know it’s not as simple as a DNA test. If it was, we’d have done it.”
“Dad would’ve rather had half-a-boy than a whole girl, right?”
“That’s not true.”
“It is. He told me.”
“We didn’t want to choose for you. That’s what he told you.” She put her head in her hands. “We wanted you to lead the way.”
She started to cry. I wanted her to feel bad, but after a few minutes, I got up, went over, and touched her shoulder.
“Mom?” I said. “You want to know how I feel?”
She nodded. She was sitting on the edge of the bed, her face still in her hands.
“Like I’m stuck with your mistake. And I can’t do it anymore. I can’t be a boy. Not for you. Not for Dad. Not for anyone.” My voice got all shaky. “Because, I’m a girl. I always have been. And now Dad’s gone, so we both need to face the facts.” I sank down to my knees in front of her.
“Neither! Both! I know! Intersex. Eunuch. Hermaphrodite.
Ambiguous genitalia! One of the two percent of twenty-one mutant genderless baby strains born every year, and none of that matters, because you know what, Mom? I still need to
pick a Goddamn locker room! That’s why I want to be dead.” The tears started streaming down my face. “Just like Dad. Dead. Dead. Dead.” I hit my fist on the bed.
She grabbed me, hugged me, held me, and we both cried. Hard.
That’s when she decided we were moving.