When I was young I had a reoccurring dream that I was a boy. The dream was so sweet. It was like licking sugar off a spoon. Becoming a boy seemed like a stretch. Looking like one didn’t. I already looked like one. My hair was shaped like a bowl, sometimes parted down the middle to approximate the shaggy cool of JTT and Devan Sawa. Those boys had the kind of hair a girl could only dream of having. My body was as flat as a skateboard. My legs were in a perpetual state of mosquito itch. My neighbor accidentally called me “he” and I loved him forever.
In my dream, I was Aladdin and I was on a magic carpet ride with Jasmine. Jasmine was hugging my arm as we zipped through the swirling meringue of clouds. We giggled and Jasmine gazed at me with her enormous eyes. She would only ever look like that at a boy. I knew it right away. When I woke up from the dream, sadness was sitting on my chest. It felt like my serotonin had slipped down my spine and skittered out the bottom of my feet. Maybe you’ve done MDMA. Maybe you felt so sad afterward you just wanted to put your head inside a blanket. I’ll call it a gender comedown. That’s the feeling I had when I woke up and wasn’t Aladdin. There was no Jasmine. There was no magic carpet. I was just a girl in my bed.
Catherine Elizabeth was my best friend. Most people called her Cat Liz, but I called her the Lizard and she called me the Snake. The Lizard and the Snake were the stars of our own adventures. We twisted plots in our favor. The Lizard wore dresses but she still knew how to climb a tree and cross a creek. She seemed really comfortable in her dresses. They gave her more room to move. I cut a deal with my mom that I only had to wear a dress one Sunday a month to church. I could wear jeans all other Sundays. I already had this strange sensation that the clothes I wore could change my life. For instance, during the dress days I only ate one donut during coffee hour. But during my jean-wearing days I could eat two. Maybe more. I could eat everything.
By accident I discovered that if I laid on my back and put my feet in the air I could make my vagina fart. I wanted to see if the Lizard could do it, too. Turns out she could. We spent an entire afternoon farting from our vaginas. This same afternoon, the Lizard’s mom came in to see if we wanted a snack of fruit leather and Pecan Sandies. Admittedly, it was the wrong time for the mother to enter the scene. The Lizard and I had our vaginas against each other and were farting into each other. We thought it was hilarious. A joke that we could tell the other with our bodies. We were 8. It seemed harmless. But looking back now, I can see why the Lizard’s mom freaked her shit.
After the farting incident, the Lizard stopped being available to hang out. Her mom was still nice to me, but she rarely let me stay for dinner anymore and the Lizard was suddenly enrolled in Ballet Saturday, which was during our normal hang time. The Lizard dropped the Liz at school and started going by Katie. There were already so many Katies at our school. She became lost in a chorus of Katies. If I called her name, ten heads would turn. I couldn’t find her anymore. Maybe she liked it: feeling that she was just one of the girls.
The Lizard’s place was not vacant for long. I needed someone to fill the friendship-sized hole in my heart, and that’s when I met Mason. Mason looked like an angel, which was lucky for him because he acted like the devil so the two just about evened themselves out. Mason’s eyes were blue as rainwater. His dove-white curls literally flounced. This is how Mason got away with it. It being everything.
When I met Mason, he told me he had figured out how to build a bomb from a AA battery and skateboard bearings. The bomb did not work. But it’s the thought that counts. Mason had a rifle under his bed that he swore wasn’t loaded, but when he pointed it in my face, I almost puked on my Ninja Turtles tee shirt. His dad would take him hunting the one weekend out of the year they saw each other. Mason had the smooth buck antlers to prove it. A picture on his wall showed him smeared in dark blood holding the head of an animal to his chest. The jet-black eyes of the deer had gone glassy. Its pink tongue was the only thing that looked alive.
My mom thought Mason was a delight. He said yes ma’am and ate her steamed broccoli and more than anything he had the aura of a lost puppy that needed his ears scratched. Mason was exactly what a boy should be. I tried to laugh like him: that silent guffaw that shook his shoulders so cutely. We already dressed similarly, but I was taking notes. He wore white undershirts with the necks stretched and subtle dirt stains down the front. A fishhook was pierced through the bill of his ball cap. My heart went swollen when I looked at him. We were the same height, same weight, same shape. When we wrestled I could pin him down. His body wriggled beneath me. He hated to be beat by a girl. I hated it, too.
Mason stole a pack of his mother’s cigarettes, and that’s how I smoked my first Marlboro. We went behind his house and walked down through the gulley littered with teenage trash from teenage parties. He hated his mother smoking, which is why he took them from her, but Mason said as long as we had them, we might as well use them. The most exciting part about smoking was the wet filter. It never got more intimate than that: our spit touching on the same cottony tube. It was like kissing him with something in between. We shared the soggy cigarette until I coughed something yellow onto my shoes. We arm wrestled on a tree stump and I thought about letting him win. The light had gone weak pink at the sky’s edge and the sun was poised just above the maples, ready to sink under the Earth. At the last ah-ha second, I used the full force of my bicep to level his arm down on my winning side. When he shook his hand out, his knuckles were flecked blood and bark.
During my friendship with Mason, my dreams got even more confusing. I wanted Mason to be my Jasmine, but only if Jasmine could be a boy and I could be a boy, too. I wanted to wear Mason’s undershirts with their subtle stains down the front. I wanted him to hug my arm while he wore the same shirt. I wanted boyish perfection, and I wanted that boyish perfection to love me. Mason was sent away to military camp before we turned 13. I saw him during the summers after that. His body continued to grow and so did mine. We no longer had the same height, same weight, same shape. He stayed a lanky, boyish thing; just a bigger version of it. His voice deepened until it sounded like he was growling when he spoke. He carried pistols on his belt and an Army crew cut replaced his flouncy curls. My body had started a deceit that it never stopped. I left those skateboard lines behind and filled out in places I wanted to hide under baggy jeans and tough black tee shirts. When Mason was 19 he died in a hotel room after being released from rehab. A needle was stuck deep in his elbow. His boyish body was put in a casket, and we buried it in the softest dirt. I still dream about him. He is on our magic carpet. He is riding it forever.
The part of the story I haven’t told you yet is that Mason and the Lizard fell in love. It happened one summer when he was home from military school. There was something they found in each other they could never find in me. I was not enough boy for the Lizard. Not enough girl for Mason. I was something in between them. I was both too much and not enough. Mason and the Lizard now called Katie would drop acid on the shores of a dirty dammed up lake just outside of town and escape their minds together. I will resist the magic carpet metaphor here and instead tell you that they really liked each other. I never spent time with the two of them together, which looking back seems strange. But I heard about their summer. They each said I reminded them of the other. I was there, even when I was not.
When I think of my childhood now, I don’t remember myself as a girl or even as Aladdin. I think of myself as Mason, who is actually a dead boy. There is something sick about that. About imagining yourself as a dead boy. What is a dead boy if not a boy that never dies? I imagine Mason as the man I never could be, but also as the man he never could be. Because he never was. When I picture him now, he is always laughing. He is laughing silently under those curls that were supposed to help us get away with everything but never actually helped us get away with anything at all.