Charlie Easeman rolled over in bed when he smelled her perfume, her everyday touch reminding him what time it was and that he was in need of a shave. He felt her soft hair tickle the underside of his nose, and then her lips lovingly upon his. There was no better way to be awakened; and as he did every morning, he smiled.
He noticed how fresh her breath was – minty from mouthwash – and realized how foul his must be, his mouth dry from a stopped-up nose and stale from the night before. Then he remembered what day it was, and he wasn’t smiling anymore.
“I don’t fell well,” he said, pulling away from her touch, rolling over onto his front side and pulling the covers over his head.
“That’s what you said last year,” said Christie.
“I didn’t feel well then, either.”
There was silence. He swallowed, wide-eyed and looking away.
“I just don’t understand why you’re acting this way. If my parents didn’t want you to come they wouldn’t have invited you.”
“They didn’t invite me,” he said, “they invited you.”
“They invited us.”
“That’s what I mean.”
“What’s the difference?”
“What’s the difference?” he snapped, and now he was looking for a fight.
He was looking for one last night, the night before, and for some time now, ever since the first hint of the holidays. If she wanted a fight...well, he’d give her one – just like last year.
“What’s the difference?” he pounced, gritting his teeth – but then he saw her face. There was no fight in her eyes whatsoever. He took hold of her hand. She seemed about to cry.
“There’s no difference,” he said, and he swallowed hard
“Yes, there is,” she said, and she squeezed his hand. “Now, we’re married.”
She was right.
“Not that your father approves,” he said.
“I don’t care what he thinks,” she said, her inherent stubbornness coming through loud and clear.
“Well, I do. It’s just that, well, I felt so uncomfortable last year – so out of place.”
“We weren’t married then. You know how my family is.”
“It isn’t only that – I don’t care about that. It’s just that I feel so out place. Your brother, your sister, your cousins – they all have children; they all have families of their own. It’s just that I feel so...out of place.”
“You have me.”
“I know – I know, baby. But you end up spending all your time with your family. When they play their games: the tetherball tournament; the volleyball match; the father-son sack race. Do you understand how I feel?”
She didn’t respond.
“How could you? I’m sorry.”
“I do,” she said, and he loved those two words.
“Baby, you know how much I love you,” she said, fussing with his hair.
“Just come with me and I promise – no matter what happens this time – next year will be different. You do trust me, don’t you?
“Of course,” he said, and he did. Why shouldn’t he? She had always taken good care of him.
“You do love me, don’t you?” she said.
“Of course I do.”
“And I love you, more than anything in the world. You know that.”
“Yeah, baby, I know.”
And then she had that look in her eyes, like the first time they made love, like the time after their first big fight, like last year – like now. She kissed him lovingly, then clothes and sheets were tossed, spread from dresser drawers and desktops alike. Within her arms, his fears vanished completely. She would take care of him, he knew.
They arrived at her father’s some time around noon, as pitchers of tea were brewing in the sun, just as the father-son sack race was about to begin.
* * *
Charlie Easeman rolled over in bed, Christie’s everyday touch reminding him what time it was. But mornings weren’t so pleasant any more, and never perfumed. Her hand fell tiredly upon his face and he knew what that meant: she had been up all night.
He was so tired. Then, he remembered what day it was. He felt her soft hair tickle the underside of his nose. He tried to go back to sleep, but knew that he had to get ready to go to her father’s.
There it was again, and he stumbled – half asleep – into his pyjamas. The baby was crying. Half-cocked and cranky, Charlie was actually looking forward to the holidays. There was no better way to be awakened; and as he did every morning, he smiled.
“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*
I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves – thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.
* Gloria Steinem