When he left home for the last time, his name was Simon, but his mother called him princess. He had gone back home for spring break, not expecting to have to deal with his family for longer than a couple of weeks, but as the Texas spring went on and bubbled over into a blistering summer, the heat of his mother’s presence and the weight of his clothes had begun to drag him into the dirt. He could feel his feet digging indents into the gravel paths that he took every day to his garden. Most days, he would sit and sweat with his plants, marigold and mint and chrysanthemum, and wait until the sun baked their scents with his and he could go inside smelling of the earth. That summer was especially hot, and when he sat for the last time under his tree, the pungent smell of the flowers was withered by midday, and all he had left were the muted sounds of his mother’s voice inside the house. Her shrill and girlish screams sounded a bit too much like his own when he got angry, and he could remember exactly how he had picked apart his own voice for those same feminine qualities. Not a breeze blew over him. He could feel the sweat dripping down the front of his shirt, in between the clefts in his breastbone, the fabric constricting tight against his skin. The sweat slicked on his forehead and he felt slowly encased in the heat and the taut skin draped over his chest. He wound his shirt between his hands, grasping at something, anything, to force him to get up and let go. He felt an odd sense of nostalgia as he packed up his bags and left.
He saw his mother again, reflecting back in the airport bathroom mirror. The beginnings of what he hoped was a mustache lingered at the edges of the smirk he had inherited from her. A quick glance behind him; an older man paused on his way to the stall staring at him. His mother’s chest stared back at the man. He was going to be caught here, he was going to be found out, he knew it. His clothes were suddenly too tight again, his skin crawling and unbearably warm, and his mother’s piercing voice screamed at him to leave, to avoid embarrassing himself. “Look at the body you gave me,” he wanted to tell her, but all he did was grab his bags, give a curt nod to the man, and run away, straining under the weight of his carry-on and his mother’s voice at the gate.
He found himself safely landed in a quarantine single with only his bags and himself for company. His room was high enough off the ground that even with the windows open he couldn’t get a breeze circulating, and a thick tree blocked his view to the street. Even if he had wanted to, he couldn’t have gone anywhere other than his room and his body. The college campus meant no air-conditioning, so every flat surface that could fit in his hand became a fan. He had to work constantly not to let himself drown in the sticky heat of the summer. But despite all of the frustratingly small inconveniences involved with it, his isolation became one of introspection as well. His thoughts wandered to summers and years past, to his future, his family and friends, everything that was normally so grounding. And as painfully, excruciatingly slow as the days went, just as suddenly were the days precarious, anticipating, and waiting for something to happen. Rife with potential.
As he waited out his quarantine, he recalled the image of a little girl that had once lived in his house—grew up at the same time as him, even. His thoughts often went to her. She was so little, he remembered, even then. So involved, so passionate, all she wanted to do was stick her head into everything. He remembered the time when she discovered fantasy novels, and she was convinced that she could control the wind with her breath. He could see her in his mind’s eye running through the cool grass, laughing with the blustering wind. She loved adventuring as little boys did. She would often wander, her small frame slipping easily through cracks in the fence, but she would always come back before midday, smelling of grass and morning dew. She was safe and happy. He saw the same sort of wide-eyed, boyish dreaming in himself.
Then, she had wandered off one day and had come back different. Never quite the same. She had always been a people-pleaser, but when her mother came jangling in with her metal anklets and wine-scented perfume, she started trying to please her too. When did the pieces begin breaking off? When did her little face start to smear with makeup and her mother’s tight-lipped smile? Skirts and dresses began to cling too tightly to her hips and chest, and the masculinity she had worn before with so much ease now slowly began to morph into something intensely unfamiliar. She had never been the person her mother wanted.
He remembered the day that the roiling discomfort had boiled over, and she became him. A man so masculine that his mother would never try to put a dress on him again. Before visiting his family for the last time, he bought himself a hockey jersey. A sport that he didn’t know anything about and a shirt that he had never wanted to wear. Suddenly, he felt a steady, stifling heat settle onto his shoulders, and he began to pack his bags to leave.
Quarantine didn’t necessarily solve everything. It was a slow, unraveling process for me: questioning, uncertainty, and then a gentle release of my bags and my fears at the doorway. And as tightly as I had coiled into myself, building an immense shell of crackling pain around my tightly-wound heart, so now did those layers slowly begin to unfold. As the warmer seasons ended, and I found myself out of isolation but still stuck inside, a kind of quiet settled over me and the town, a muffled, introspective quiet. I was free of expectations. My mother couldn’t reach me here. I felt unfettered and cool, like emerging from a hot shower, scrubbed clean and with all of the heat and sweat wicked off of my body. Me and the little girl-turned-boy I used to be were all here too, all of my pieces in one place again. It felt like contentment, relaxation into my pieced-together personhood. I’ve stopped wandering now, stopped running, taken a seat, and relaxed into my identity. My nonbinary identity.
My mother doesn’t scream at me from my mirror as much anymore, and I’ve settled into the idea that I don’t need to get away from her to be myself. My femininity is much more than my mother, and my masculinity is much more than not-my-mother. I can love myself wholly without fitting into any sort of rigid expectations of gender. Being alone in quarantine allowed me the space to become familiar and comfortable with my boundaries and personhood; I am not the woman my mother wanted, and I am not the man I stumbled into. I’ve put my bags down now, and I’ve begun to find more and more pleasant breezes passing by.