This place, this beautiful Eden-esque place holds a very important place in my heart. The quaint little avenue over-arched by the trees was where I spent most of my childhood. Unlike most avenues, this one was not infested by traffic. Usually the only vehicles that could be seen here were bicycles being ridden by kids, and prams being pushed by parents.
I rode my first bicycle here, had my first fall from a bicycle here as well. I kissed a girl for the first time in this very avenue and had my first fight here as well. But I remember this place for one main reason. This was where I met her.
I think I was ten then. I used to go ride my bike with Mitch, my best bud then. We used to be the bane of young moms with their babies in prams. Once we were so involved in our racing that I lost control and almost ploughed into a pram. Miraculously, I jerked the handlebar with a violent tug at the last second and averted a nasty collision. Instead, I went of the path and collided head-on with her.
She was wearing this dirty summer dress. She was about my age, I guess. But she didn’t belong to the locality. I had a bump on my head and a loose tooth because of the fall. She had a deep gash on her leg. I’m pretty sure others might have gotten angry at the idiot who bumped against them. But, not her. The first thing she asked was I was okay. I mumbled an apology. She just waved it off, scooped some damp mud and applied it on her gash and skipped, or maybe limped, away. I had never seen anyone like her before.
My home was not the most peaceful place on the planet. Mom had remarried a couple of years after Dad’s death. My step dad was okay, but he was never warm to me. My sixteen year old step sister, Ashley, though had one and only one mission in life, and that was to make my life miserable. I was always envious of her gorgeous dresses, her accessories, and her flawless skin. She never allowed me near any of her stuff. She also made constant snide remarks about my mild buck-tooth and freckled face.
I still remember the amount of hell Ashley raised when she caught me trying her bracelet on. She was dating Mitch’s brother, Kenny, a known bully. By association, he too started to harass me. Kenny also used to whack Mitch around, in a self-appointed mission of trying to make him a man. So, I guess that’s what made us stick together – two kids pushed around by their older siblings.
For a while after the bracelet incident, Kenny did not allow Mitch to come over to our house. Instead he was made to tail Kenny’s posse of bullies instead. That was when I became friends with Hannah – the aforementioned girl in the dirty summer dress. I met her again a month after our collision. It was a pleasant spring’s evening. Flowers were in bloom and there was a slight drizzle in the air. I found her collecting wild flowers in the avenue and placing them in her tattered basket. She looked so peaceful and serene, and that made me go to her and say hello.
We fell into easy conversation. That was the best thing about Hannah, you could talk just about anything under the sun and not be judged. Over the next few weeks I became close to her. We swapped our life stories, her father worked as a janitor in the local hospital and her mother was a florist. She had five siblings and though they didn’t have much in terms of finances, they made the family work by sheer will and love. I poured my heart out to her about Ashley, Kenny, and Mitch and about Mom’s general lack of interest in me. Hannah just smiled and placed a ring of flowers on my head. I think I fell more at home whenever I was with Hannah than when I was with my own family.
My friendship with Hannah became stronger over the next few months. I started sneaking Ashley’s old clothes and her dolls and trinkets out to my new friend. We went for long walks in the park near the avenue, we collected flowers, made garlands and wore them, I even taught Hannah to ride a bicycle. Mitch saw us once in the park and stopped talking to me completely. He started hanging out with Kenny’s gang often and even started dressing up like those douchebags. I started to ignore him as well.
One day, Hannah told me her greatest desire. She had always wanted one of those Easy-Bake ovens, but her folks had never found that extra bucks to buy one for her. I remembered that Ashley had one that was collecting dust in the garage. She never allowed me to play with the damn toy. I asked Hannah to come over to my house on a Saturday, so that we both could play.
That Saturday, Hannah came wearing a garland of daffodils on her neck. . Mom and her husband had taken their annual trip that weekend and Ashley had gone over to Kenny’s. We headed over to the garage and dusted the Easy-Bake and started playing. Hannah was wearing one of Ashley’s old dresses that I had given her. She looked beautiful and I said so. She smiled and asked me why I never wore my step-sister’s dresses.
‘Because I hate her!’ was the only answer that came to me.
Hannah winked and reminded me that Ashley was not around and encouraged me to do what I had always wanted. I went back to Ashley’s room, picked a light blue skirt and a yellow top from her wardrobe and wore it. Hannah braided my hair and placed a daffodil. I must admit that I liked the way I looked. We went back to the garage and continued with our play when I heard a shriek.
I turned around and saw Ashley standing by the door. Kenny, Mitch and a couple of their friends were with her. For what seemed like an eternity, we stared at each other.
And then, Ashley started laughing. ‘Haha! Hey, Mikaela! What are you doing wearing my dress?’
The others started laughing as well. Kenny snorted and thumped his brother on the shoulder, ‘Look at your friend, Mitchie. I always thought he was a faggot. Never knew he was a tranny.’
Ashley stopped laughing and came forward. She looked at Hannah as one might see a slug, ‘Who is this, Mikaela? Is she a tranny like you as well? Why is she wearing my dress as well?’
Heat rushed to my face, ‘Stop calling me Mikaela. My name is Mike, and this is Hannah. She’s my friend.’
Mitch came forward, ‘I’ve seen her before. She is that toilet cleaner dude’s daughter.’
‘Leave us alone.’ I pleaded. Ashley grabbed me by my hair, ‘Remove my dress, both of you. Now!’
Kenny stumbled towards us. I think he smelt of beer. ‘When my girl says she wants her dresses back, you better give them back, Mikaela.’
‘Shut your mouth, Kenny. And, get lost!’
A punch landed on my stomach, making me to double over in pain. ‘Don’t you dare speak to my brother like that, tranny!’ Mitch’s words hurt more than his punch.
Ashley slapped Hannah and pulled her dress hard enough to rip it. I jumped up and kicked my step sister in her shin. She howled with pain and indignation. That was all that was needed for Kenny and his friends to fall on me. When they were done with me, I had a broken tooth, two broken fingers, a cracked rib and a swollen eye. Kenny ripped Ashley’s clothes off me and then stripped me naked. Ashley had rendered Hannah in a similar state too.
Kenny laughed and pointed at my genitals, ‘That, Mikaela, is a penis. You use it to pee. If you so want to be a girl, you shouldn’t be having that. See!’ He grabbed my face and turned it towards Hannah who was trying to cover herself with her hands, ‘Now, that, is how a girl looks naked. Get it? I’m glad I stopped Mitch from hanging out with you. He’s a real man. You better realize that you ought to be one too.’
They kicked me a few more times and tossed us out of the garage. I led Hannah to my room, where we dressed in silence. Howls of derisory laughter followed us as we made our way out of the house. We went to walk along the avenue that evening. Hannah slipped her hand into mine. I stopped and looked at her. She smiled.
‘Mike, I don’t understand.’
‘Why did you feel insulted when they called you Mikaela? I can understand if you don’t like that name.’
I sighed, ‘I don’t know, Hannah. I know that it was not because I like to be called Mike.’
She sat down below a tree and patted the grass beside her. I sat next to her, ‘I’m confused, Hannah!’
‘What do you want to be, Mike?’
‘Are you ashamed that you feel like wearing girly stuff?’
‘No! I don’t think I am. But I guess, I’m scared.’
‘Dunno! Mom’s reaction, maybe? Others too.’
‘What about your own reaction?’
‘Are you comfortable with who you are? If you are, then whatever others say will never affect you. But, if you are not comfortable with yourself, then even a pebble thrown at you will seem like a boulder hurtling down a hill towards you.’
‘Wow! You speak like a saint.’
‘Well, when you are poor you do get a lot of wisdom being thrown around in the house.’
Hannah reached over and kissed me lightly, ‘Mike, you need to decide. Whatever you decide should be something you are and will be comfortable with.’
I decided that moment to leave my old life behind. I ran away and didn’t look back. I struggled a lot but I did make it work. I moved two continents and five time zones eventually. Luckily, I had Hannah’s words ringing in my ears every moment of my growing up period. I’m a well-known writer now. I champion the causes of youngsters who go through what I did all those years ago.
Twenty years has passed since that Saturday. I felt it was high-time I came back. Mike might have been scared, but not me. Mikaela Parker doesn’t scare that easy. I hope to run into Hannah while I’m there. I know it’s a long shot, but I’m optimistic. But, most of all, I felt like seeing the avenue again.
This was where I was truly born.
Written for #writephoto hosted by Sue Vincent.