When I Was a Boy

I hurt my knees three weeks ago doing something in a movement class I knew I shouldn’t. I’ve never had any trouble with my knees, even after years of running, dancing, and tumbling. So I’m icing them like a fiend, popping ibuprofen at regular intervals, and switching over to swimming.

Sitting with ice packs a few nights ago, I had a good look at my knees. I noticed a scar on my left one I got while riding a bike down Oriole Street. I was five and didn’t yet have a two-wheeler of my own. I didn’t know the bike couldn’t brake and, trying to stop, I flew over the handlebars. The bloody knee hurt like anything, but I was okay. I think I got back on the bike. I also have a faint white scar on the top of one of my ankles. It’s from when I lay stomach-down on the seat of a swing, twisted myself up as tight as I could and let go. I spun at light speed, only stopping when my ankles skidded across the concrete gouge where sand should’ve been. The instep of my left foot bears a purple mark I got from a piece of glass. Nobody ever wore shoes during the summer. We were tanned on top and callused on the bottom. All the boys and girls were a fierce and merry little band of men, raising polliwogs, visiting the bulldog family in the alley, checking on the decay of a dead black cat.

We were girls and we were boys and we were the same.Rachel Brown, age 4

When I was a boy I seldom had long hair, and a new set of sneakers could set me running faster than anybody.

When I was a boy I rode my Big Wheels tricycle all the way to Richard’s house, before I turned 6 and got my yellow Schwinn Fair Lady. Then I was flying to 7-11 for Big Daddy bubble gum and Tootsie Rolls.

When I was a boy I painted masterpieces at a huge easel, and dug for gold with my sister in our sliver of a backyard, next to the sunflowers. When I was a boy I wore Toughskins jeans, and played with a Tonka jeep and a Fischer-Price airport. I piloted a jetliner! I could climb to the top of the hanging ropes faster than the twins, Kyle and Carl, when I was a boy…

…Except I was a girl, and didn’t have to pretend, then, that all of it belonged to me. It just did. When did we all have to begin to choose a side? Maybe at 12 when my light had to be refracted through separate lenses, and only select rays could fall. Resisting this half-life, I brushed my hair down over my eyes, covered my body in shapeless clothes, wore my eyeglasses like a disguise. The boy and the girl partially smothered, partially tapping out an S-O-S in Morse code: Save Our Self! we said. We’re saying it still, pulsing the message into the palm of each other’s hand…