CW: Maternal transphobia, religion and death
My mother wasn’t suited for the particular burden of raising a young child by herself. I know it’s not fair to curse the dead, but my mom cursed him every night for dying before her as she said her nightly prayers. The carpet beside her side of the bed still retains the indented shape of her swollen knees from years of hard labor and untreated diabetes. As I trace my fingers over them I consider kneeling down myself, but for whatever lack of reverence I have for a God who never answered my prayers I somehow still have reverence for my mother’s sacred ground. I think my mother would make some bargain with the devil to come back and haunt me if I desecrated her space, but at least we would get to spend time together.
I turn to the neatly organized bookshelf against the wall beside her bed. In between the books on marriage and raising god-fearing children, I spot the stack of books I begged my mother to read. They are still shrink-wrapped. She always said that she didn’t understand what I was going through so I gave her books about depression, transitioning, how to love a transgender child. She scoffed when she saw the titles. I don’t remember much of that night. I know there was shouting, my mom, gazing upwards so as not to make eye contact with me, pleading with whoever would listen to her that I would not go down this sinful path. Apart from my belongings tossed carelessly on the grass, I just remember that scoff. That light, dismissive scoff was the nicest thing she said that night but it was the thing that stung the most.
Next to the books is a single framed photo, my mom wearing her favorite green, fleece sweater, me wearing an army print shirt and jeans. It’s from the first Christmas after dad died, the first year we had to go get the tree by ourselves. I practically had to force mom to go, it was tradition after all, and some things needed to stay alive. That green, fleece sweater. I remember trying it on along with anything else in reach, treating my mother’s closet like a fitting room at the mall. I still remember the look on her face when she found me wearing a dress that was too big with pantyhose and heels that didn’t match. She wasn’t angry, she wasn’t disappointed, she was ashamed. She looked like she wanted to close the closet door and not let me out. I didn’t run away, I didn’t cry, I just turned back towards the mirror and imagined a life with a closet full of dresses and heels, far away from her.
Back at home I hang up the green, fleece sweater in my closet and set the framed photo on the nightstand as I kneel down beside my bed.
Josh Telle is a queer, non-binary writer based in Long Beach, CA who uses they/them pronouns. Their writing focuses on QTBIPOC characters and bittersweet moments of queer life. Their Twitter handle is @jjtelle