Conceived – America: The Pink Shirt (Vigil 2)

by Talia Stotts 

And now, three years later, after finally understanding what was so bad about the pink shirt, I am sitting here in front of my parents telling them they were right. I feel the urge to cry rise up and I pinch the soft skin at my wrist, bringing my attention to the pain there and away from my parent’s clear hatred for me. A moment passes in silence.

“Mom, I –” I stop when she finally lifts her head away from Dad’s shoulder. Her mascara is smeared, and she looks overcome with grief. It breaks my heart immediately and I avert my gaze.

“How could you?” Her voice is small and low, somehow both accusatory and wounded.

I had hoped that at least Mom would not take it so hard. The day of the school shopping disaster, she had come up to my room, running a soothing, soft hand up and down my back as I lay facedown against the damp pillow, the way she had always done when I was upset about bullies at school or monsters in the closet. And as she stroked my hair, she had told me that it would all be ok, that Dad just didn’t understand, he was a little bit old fashioned, and that I had looked sharp in my new outfits. Just like that one male model on some runway show we saw on TV last month.

At the mall the next day, Mom stood in line for returns and I wandered back to the clothing section, wondering if Dad would find the teal version of the shirt more acceptable. I didn’t want to risk it and headed toward a stack of plain-colored t-shirts. By the time Mom had finished the return, I was holding my new replacement items: a navy crew neck sweater, a gray t-shirt, and a black belt – all very boring and sure to be acceptable to Dad’s masculine standards. We headed back to the checkout and I stopped at a display that caught my eye. On a spinning rack were multicolored socks, all with different whimsical prints. I fingered a deep turquoise pair with tiny fuchsia-colored flowers on them. They were beautiful.

“Why don’t you grab them?” Mom’s voice called my attention away from the socks. I looked at her, bewildered. “Dad’ll never notice them. I think they’re great. Go on.” She smiled encouragingly, holding out her hand. I passed them to her, hesitating as I put them into her open palm before throwing myself at her in a giant hug.

“Thanks, Mom,” I whispered into her hair.

“Anything for my baby boy.”

The conspiratorial kinship we shared at that moment is nowhere to be found now. I wait for her to call out to me, to bring me to her and tell me it’s all going to be ok and that I’m still her baby boy and that she loves me, but the words never come. Instead, she buries her head in her hands, overcome with heartache for the loss of her only son.

Later that night, as I lay in bed, finally able to cry, I hear my parents’ slip into their room after tucking the girls in. They don’t come in to say goodnight to me, instead going straight into their room across the hall. Their voices are muffled, but after a moment I can hear Mom begin to cry. Dad’s voice starts low but begins to rise. I know I shouldn’t, but I creep to the door, opening it a crack and sticking my ear to the hallway. I can just begin to make out what they’re saying.

“My fault?” I hear my mother ask through sobs. “All I did was love him, same as the girls!”

“And that’s the problem, Marianne – you were too soft on him! You coddled him! It’s alright for the girls, but you treat him like he’s some kind of baby!”

“I didn’t think –”

“That’s the problem, Marianne,” my father interrupts, “you don’t think. You don’t think about what you’re doing to him. You let him wear those ridiculous clothes, you let him cry, hell you even have him help you bake! How are you surprised that he’s –…” He cuts himself off this time. “That he is what he is.”

I am frozen in the doorway. That I am what I am.

I am suddenly tired and turn away from the growing voices. I crawl into bed again, exhausted and out of tears. As I drift off to sleep, I recall the final moments of the day shopping with mom as she came to say goodnight.

“Mom, why did Dad really make me take that stuff back?”

Mom hesitated, thinking. I knew the face; it was the one that said she was trying to find the right words for something that she’d never had to think about too much. She’d never voiced the concept before and wasn’t quite sure how to proceed.

“Well, sweetie, Dad just doesn’t really understand about fashion. He thinks that liking certain colors or styles might mean something else.”

“But what? I just like the colors. They’re in – you know that.” At our weekly outings to the local library, I pored over the latest fashion magazines – Vogue and GQ – while the girls looked for illustrated kids’ books.

“I know, honey.” She paused again, eyebrows knit together as she thought. “Alex, you know how we’ve talked in church about what God wants and the things that offend Him?”

I knew very well. Each Sunday had been spent in church for several hours. Children’s ministry, Sunday School, the main service – I quickly flicked through all the things that I had learned at church, trying to find out what sin I had committed, what commandment there was that prohibited me from wearing a salmon-colored shirt.

“Of course, Mom,” I responded, still visibly confused.

“And you know how one thing God wants is for men and women to get married and have children?” She waited for me to nod. “And how some people offend God by trying to mix up his commandments?” She paused again, waiting for me to understand. I didn’t. “Some people think that it’s ok for a man to marry a man, or for a woman to marry a woman.”

I waited for more explanation. What did this have to do with me?

She sighed. “Honey, Dad thinks that wearing a pink shirt –”

“Salmon,” I interjected.

“ – a salmon shirt means you like boys and that isn’t what God wants.”

I was stunned. “I don’t like boys.” I didn’t like anyone. I had friends that were boys and some that were girls, but I hadn’t like liked anyone yet.

“I know you don’t, sweetie. I know you’re a good boy. I’m sure there’s some cute girl in your class that’s caught your eye.”

“I don’t like girls either.”

Mom smiled and chuckled. “You’re right. It’s too early to talk about girlfriends. For now, you just keep being a good boy, and don’t worry about too much else. Except for school. Keep those grades up.” She stood and turned to leave before turning to face me again. “God is very happy with you that you’re not hurting him like Dad thinks. You’re such a good boy.” Her long pink fingernail clacked the light switch off, leaving me darkness, wondering why anyone would care about liking girls or boys when there were games to be played and TV to watch.

(…to be continued…)

2021: Conceived – Volume 2 of a Contemporary Transadaptation 

January: The Pack – Alejandra Baccino (Uruguay)

February: The Pink Shirt – Talia Stotts (America)

March: Dragging the Past out into the Light – Kate Korneeva (Russia)

April: Looking Forward to Spring – Marilin Guerrero Casas (Cuba)

May: Every Little Thing – Gennady Bondarenko (Ukraine)

June: The Girl Who Chased the Rainbow – Toni Wallis (Sarah-Leah Pimentel) (South Africa)

July: Another World – Jonay Quintero Hernandez (Spain)

August: Life after Nare – Nane Sevunts (Armine Asryan) (Armenia)

September: Meeting My Homeland – Rayan Harake (Lebanon)

October: Catching Water (Part Two) – Javier Gomez (Argentina)

November: Remember – Seyit Ali Dastan (Turkey)

December: I Can’t Breathe – Veronica Cordido (Venezuela)

Background – Context

In the Middle – Prelude to a Contemporary Transadaptation, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2020)

Peripatetic Alterity: A Philosophical Treatise on the Spectrum of Being – Romantics and Pragmatists by Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)

La Syncrétion of Polarization and Extremes Transposée, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2019)

The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2018)

L’anthologie of Global Instability Transpuesta, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2017)

From Wahnsinnig to the Loony Bin: German and Russian Stories Transposed to Modern-day America, (eds.) Angelika Friedrich, Yuri Smirnov and Henry Whittlesey (2013)

Emblems and stories on the international community

Perception by country – Transposing emblems, articles, short stories and reports from around the world

Credits

Cover photo: Tyler, Texas – Prism reboot – Michael Dziedzic (Unsplash)
Source: The Codex of Uncertainty Transposed

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