Father hurled a baseball at my head while bellowing, “Catch it Darren, goddamit. Catch it for once already!” I could never quite bring myself to reach out my thin, delicate hands for the ball hurtling at me. I always ducked. This response was always followed by the sensation of deep success. I imagined the ball to be a grenade and myself caught in some Allied trench, knee-high in mud with dried blood on my well fitting uniform, my husky French lover expiring at my feet.
“J’taime,” he would whisper, while stroking my sinewy calf as I stood over him, a perfect tear rolling slowly down my tanned cheek.
This was the scenario Father and I replayed every summer at the farm. I would stand, petite shoulders slumped in anticipation of defeat, as he threw any number of iconic masculine objects at my face. I feared for my face, as it was lovely, graced with high cheekbones, a slightly freckled, aquiline nose, and long, feathery eyelashes, a few delicious shades darker than my sandy brown hair. The idea of being hit with an orb covered in animal skin whilst standing in the middle of a field ripe with green grass, vibrant flowers and fat humming bees sent shivers of terror down my willowy limbs.
It was in the midst of Father’s grenade launching that Maggie first emerged from around the corner of the house. She was a vision in blue jeans, a denim shirt tied in a knot at her waist. Though I normally detested a double denim ensemble, Maggie wore it well. Her chestnut hair was gathered at the back of her neck in a loose bun, her dark eyebrows like storms across her high white forehead. When I first saw her she was holding a bag of Granny Smith apples in one hand and a large purple cabbage in the other. To me, she looked like the Goddess of Meals, capable, beautiful and strong.
We will eat tonight, I thought as my imaginary lover continued his masculine death at my feet.
The summer Maggie arrived to care for us was also the summer of my thirteenth birthday. I could not have known what her glorious presence would bode. I certainly couldn’t have imagined that a war would be waged on the day I turned thirteen.
I had opened my presents over a breakfast of pork sausage and waffles swimming in maple syrup. Father had given me a football, a present every thirteen-year-old boy except me would covet. My sister Rita had gotten me a set of watercolors and a Snoopy card that read: To my Drag Queen brother, Darren: Congratulations on being such a poof. Though insulting, I was happy to receive anything from her, as she was fifteen and always angry.
Only Maggie really understood me. She gifted the most perfect present of all which, when opened, eventually led to the screaming.
I would spend the day of my thirteenth birthday hiding in the barn, smartly avoiding the conflict brewing in the house. The wind and rain would beat against the outside of the barn as I lounged dramatically in the fragrant hay, watching our dog Rolo masticate slugs, his jaws working furiously as he tried to extricate the sticky parts from the roof of his mouth. I would be able hear the din through the wind and rain. “Fascist!” screamed Maggie. “Come and get me you fascist pig!”