| Arts & Culture
Queer Life Halloween 1998, Old Man with Old Wife
Obviously, I cannot be the old woman. Obviously, I cannot be the woman.
On a Saturday in mid-October, we finger rubbery masks at Party City.
I am standing stock-still in the aisle, waiting quietly for Lauren’s permission to feel bonded to her in this new way. A joint costume. When she suggested it, I immediately felt anticipatory pain, her taking it back, away. We are with her parents, who are so much older than mine it’s unfathomable. I worry that if we buy these masks, the old man and the old woman, we will offend them. Lauren is cool and I want to be, so these masks are a perfect costume. Understated.
Obviously, Lauren and I cannot both be the old woman. Obviously, I cannot be the old woman. Obviously, I cannot be the woman.
Mostly, Lauren and I spend our time together choreographing dances to our favorite pop songs. It is such girlhood. It’s 1998 and we’re eleven. She has her own CD player and only one sibling. I’ve heard her fight with her mom, but they always try to take it aside—outside, even—and I don’t hear their words. I see her mom’s disappointed mouth yelling on the sidelines of our soccer games, whispering in the kitchen while I wait awkwardly on the living room sofa. Her parents never ask me to stay for dinner.
No one in this town does. I want to see what they eat, want to see anything about how anyone outside my family lives. There are three big families in town and mine is one of them. My family’s dinners are all arms reaching over each other, all yelling, all stealing food off each other’s plates, all tooth and gristle. We moved here two years ago, and best friend from last year has already moved on, onto better things.
My mother has yellow-green teeth and a mean Brooklyn accent. She stands on our front step and screams out into the woods our names one after another. She always has a lot to say. My brothers and I play manhunt, we rollerblade down the biggest hills in town. Sometimes, we sneak our neighbors away from their backyards to the dangerous hill through the woods. It’s not that steep, we say, watch. We are flying downhill in a genderless pack. The boys, my mom sometimes says as an accident or an unconscious acknowledgment.
I haven’t gotten my period during a basketball game yet and I still eat when I’m hungry and when I want to and maybe the boys in class call each other faggots sometimes but I’ve never noticed. They leave me alone, I punched a girl in the stomach at recess and everyone saw. I am a gym-class hero. I am covered in dirt and I am wearing overalls. I smell like sweat and peanut butter and kids’ shampoo, still, because I am still a kid.
Krystyn Michael Sean Ryan Kathleen, get in this house, my mother screams through the endless trees.
Lauren and I dance to Spice Girls, we dance to Usher, we dance most of all to Will Smith. We move and move. Lauren is not looking at me, she has her eyes closed, she is feeling the music and I am staring at her moving, moving. Her parents are in another room or another house or another world. Lauren dates, whatever that means. I am not cool enough to sit with her at lunch. I am in her house only, secret-like, jumping up and down to Third Eye Blind. She has big braces and I don’t like her, don’t like anyone yet, I don’t think.
Maybe that’s wrong. Maybe I love short boys with long hair because they feel nonthreatening but acceptable to my mother. I buy their posters. They have tight jeans and soft white hands in their hair. I lie on my bed and say to myself it must be coming, love. I tell Lauren I love a boy in our class who is so short and has psoriasis so bad I know he and I are the same, somehow, we’re on the outside of everything.
Lauren and I dance to Spice Girls, we dance to Usher, we dance most of all to Will Smith. We move and move.
He takes my hand in his. His name is Chris too. His hand feels like my mother’s leather jacket on the outside, but the inside is smooth, smooth.
Nothing about the man I become when I try on the Halloween mask is monstrous. He is gentle and happy, and I wear a navy sweatshirt and jeans and we take pictures hugging and pretending to be old. I want to be old. My father is thirty-nine and he doesn’t have a single gray hair and he coaches basketball and he smells and looks and acts young. He has brutish legs with no hair until where his dress socks end. Powerful and mad and mean. With Lauren I am tender and old in my soft rubber face.
What happened to Lauren? She does not spark out, just dims, tennis racquets in the back of her parents’ Cadillac, her CD player and the way her rug felt. Essays like this are supposed to be about the big crush, the first crush, but Lauren is before the first crush, before anyone asked me why I always acted so old, before I realized I wanted to grow up and grow old and get out.
We have plans to go out trick-or-treating on her side of town but for now we are in homeroom together, our masks in plastic grocery-store baggies in our backpacks. We will wear the costumes at lunch. I tell a joke and she laughs. I look inside her mouth, all metal smile. At recess mostly girls stand around while I play basketball. Today we are married. Everything about standing next to her is electric. Her face is small and round and we are the same height but she stoops over and my life is magic, must this day end, must the sun set, must night fall, must I return to my own house where I am not a man, not anything.
The Natural Mother of the Child
, a memoir by Krys Malcolm Belc, is out from Counterpoint Press. Get a copy here.