“Oranges is a story about how early the search for our true identity can begin.”
Joelcy Kay | Editor | Edge of Humanity Magazine
Written by Athena Vasquez
The earliest memory I had of feeling like a girl was at the age of five.
My aunt, Tia Daisy, was babysitting my brother Anthony and me. My mom had gone off to work at Lip INK, a cosmetics company where she answered phone calls all day. It was the only time my mom worked in her entire life. Later, when I was old enough to understand why she locked herself up in the restroom all day, I brought this up to her, her lack of work experience and laziness, anytime we argued about anything. I wanted to make her feel shitty about herself. The way she did to me when she mocked my physical appearance. Nine out of ten times I had it out for my mom like one does an archenemy.
I was singing along to the theme song for Sister, Sister, in sync, with Tia Daisy. If it wasn’t for our eleven-year age gap and nephew-aunt relationship you’d think Tia Daisy and I were best friends. I’d look at her and she at me when we sang like the lyrics were relatable. She was Tia and I was Tamara. She was the sibling that liked the things I liked and was not like Anthony, who wouldn’t wear my mom’s heels with me when I asked him to play with me. “That for girls!” he’d exclaim. I didn’t care that the heels belonged to my mom nor that they were set aside for girls. All I knew was that they made me happy. The way I’m sure Anthony’s cars and tazos did. He had his things, and I had mine.
My mornings with Tia Daisy always started with a slew of Sister, Sister episodes while Anthony played with his toys on the chipped travertine tiles of the kitchen floor, using the dried-up gum as ramps for his Hot Wheels or stands for his tazos.
The usual routine followed. After a couple of hours of Sister, Sister, I played several games of Slide with Tia Daisy, typically until my hands ached from slamming my knuckles onto hers. Every one of her babysitting shifts ended with me combing her hair until I counted one-hundred brush strokes.
But this time when I got to one hundred my mom still hadn’t walked through the door like I expected her to. My mom typically got home from work when I reached the 90’s, which took more than ninety seconds because I brushed her hair with the same velocity and caution I used when I tried to unwrap a mazapán and eat it whole, no cracks or crumbs. Tia Daisy must’ve seen my face, confusion-ridden, when I didn’t see my mom walk through the Crayola-scribbled white door.
“She’s going to come a little later today,” Tia Daisy said. “She’s doing her nails.”
I loved spending more time with Tia Daisy than my mom anyway. It was simply the disruption of the ordinary that had me confused and a little contemplative.
“Come,” Tia Daisy said, grabbing my hand.
We walked into my mom’s bedroom and Tia Daisy slid open the glass sliding closet doors. She sorted through the clothes, one after another like looking through files in a drawer, until she pulled out a black halter dress.
“This one,” she said.
And she put it on me.
She fitted the dress to my five-year-old body by clipping pink barrettes in the back.
“Oooo!” Tia Daisy said. “Perrrrrtty.”
I felt my cheeks getting warm with an infusion of shyness and another feeling I still wasn’t old enough to understand. It wasn’t atypical for a sixteen-year-old like Tia Daisy to want to play dress up with her baby nephew. Later I would do this to my cousin Kate when I babysat her.
“Can I choose my shoes,” I said.
“Go before your mom comes,” Tia Daisy said.
I ducked under my mom’s bed to retrieve my favorite black heels. I always misplaced them there and made my mom believe she had left them there after a night at the Rodeo.
My foot slipped right into the black suede heels that were encrusted with cubic zirconia at the topline. I stomped around all over the house in those heels–except when I jumped over the dark pee stain I had left behind on the brown rug in her bedroom, a serious case of sleepwalking I later found out. The heels were so loose-fitting and big I had to shove my feet towards the tip of the heel to keep my feet from slipping right off or come tumbling down. My feet in the heels were like two fat Tootsie rolls bouncing around in a large paper bag.
“One more thing, Tia Daisy said.
I followed Tia Daisy to the kitchen. On top of the counter there was an oversized glass fruit bowl with kiwis, pears, apples, oranges, and bananas. Tia daisy grabbed two oranges and adjusted them to look like breasts on my chest.
Tia Daisy’s pager started beeping.
“I’ll be back,” she said.
I stomped around from the kitchen to my mom’s bedroom back and forth and back and forth, alternating the position of my hands from my hips to my hands stiffly on my sides the way plastic dolls had them.
I could hear Tia Daisy on the phone telling someone she missed and loved them. She made a loud kissing noise on the bottom of the phone and hung up.
“Do you like it?” Tia Daisy said.
“Uhm,” I said.
Tia Daisy took everything off before my mom came. She knew my mom would get upset. Being a former gang member and coming from a traditional Mexican family, my mom had her ideas about what was a boy and what was a girl. While on the other hand, my Tia Daisy, the boundary breaker, knew something about me that I wouldn’t know for another nineteen years.
Text © Athena Vasquez
Athena Vasquez is a second-year MFA Creative Writing student at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) where she teaches an intro to creative writing course at CSULB.
In her creative work, she explores sexuality, gender, and Mexican culture. This comes directly from her identity as a Mexican transgender woman. Some of her short stories have been featured on Dig Magazine and Literally Stories.
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