Christmas morning, birthday parties, first kisses. These are some of the happy moments in a child’s life. Surprisingly enough I’ve had many memorable moments in my childhood, but there is one moment that always sticks out, and it never fell on the 25th of December or the 22nd of February, and I wasn’t when I first kissed Ashely on the rocks behind the school.
This one odd, but satisfying moment forever frozen in my childhood was when I used to dress up in my Mother’s clothing. Clothing as in, I would stuff her bra with a few pairs of whatever socks were laying around, throw on one of her blouses, put on a pair of heels, a couple of my Grandmother’s curlers and strut around her Bronx New York apartment. I pushed my brand new artificial bosom outward like a proud peacock. I couldn’t have been more than eight or nine years old at the time. I would rummage through my Mother’s jewelry boxes looking for rings, bracelets, and necklaces to put on, anything to make me shine and destroy any evidence of my prepubescent masculinity; if I was lucky, I would find a pair of magnetic earrings; on account of my ears wasn’t pierced at the time.
My mother was always accepting of other people and their pleasures, so the first time that I cat-walked out of her bedroom looking like I just walked out of the women’s section of a JC Penny catalog, she just laughed it off. She more than likely assumed it was only a phase that would soon blow over, like Legos or Little League, and it did blow over, rather quickly. And although she wasn’t disturbed by this, I remember hiding it from her at first as if I knew that it was socially frowned upon.
I remember when my mother asked me why I was doing this. I simply told her that I was having a little fun, but it was a complete fabrication of my young and damaged emotions. The truth was that I wanted to be someone else. I didn’t want to be Ricky anymore, not because I identified as a girl, but because as a boy I hated who I was.
I was being physically and mentally abused by the father who I grew up adoring. I thought to myself that if I were a little girl, then maybe he would love me. Maybe he thought that I was an ugly little boy and if he could only see how beautiful I looked in heels, maybe he would stop hitting me. But I couldn’t have let him see me like that; he would have surely, without question beaten me to death, along with my mother for allowing such an atrocity in his eyes to have taken place. But I felt liberated from my father’s fist when I hooked the clasps of my Mother’s necklace together around my neck.
Even at that young age, I knew that women didn’t have it easier than men in life, so it’s not like I was trying to escape the hardship of what my future of being a man was going to bring. But I did know that looking in the mirror and seeing myself as someone else made all of my fears disappear. While wearing a cheap blouse, I could stop feeling like Ricky and feel more like someone who didn’t pray to die before he prayed for more presents on Christmas morning.
As much as I felt safe in women’s clothes in my Mother’s apartment, it truly was not a safe haven for myself or my brother. Together my brother and I would watch our Mother fall apart while her mother drank herself to death as they both filled our lungs with the same cigarettes that we were stealing to smoke ourselves.
The only part of my childhood that stuck with me like a thousand starved leeches was my inability to feel comfortable in my own skin, my fear of looking in the mirror and becoming mentally paralyzed. Maybe playing dress up was the antidote for my soon to be and rapidly brewing Body Dysmorphic Disorder. I cannot look in a mirror today without wanting to die. I used to have to get either drunk or high to feel comfortable looking into the mirror or to feel comfortable just living my life. I’m currently sober today and still struggling with that debilitating aspect of my life; sobriety. It is quite the challenge, but worth my sanity.
It’s been well over twenty years since playing dress up, but choosing what clothing store to shop at, based on the lighting in the dressing room and not the quality and price of the clothes, it is a molehill that I cannot seem to step over. Mirror lighting is not something that would cross the mind of your average everyday man, but I’m not your average everyday man. Like Michael Jackson once said, “I’m not like other guys.” There can be great lighting and terrible lighting in the dressing room, it’s the bad lighting that makes me want to go home and swallow a bottle of my prescription anti-anxieties.
I do know one thing; the mirrors at my local H&M retail store make me feel fucking beautiful. So much so that on multiple occasions, when I wasn’t in need of a new article of clothing, I went this particular H&M instead of going home. I grabbed a shirt off the rack and tried it on just to make myself feel better. I didn’t even buy the shirt; I just wanted to feel good. It’s like a drug, almost better. They have amazing artificial lighting strategically placed on the sides of the mirrors at that H&M, and it works. I love it. It’s like the good cocaine that I could never afford to buy when I was living in Rochester NY, so I switched to Adderall instead. (I’ll get to that story another time)
And I know another thing, if I’m looking for a bargain, which I usually am, Old Navy is the last store that I will go to, simply because the mirrors in those dressing rooms will have me on the verge of wanting to jump off the nearest building, that offers the 100% chance of not surviving the fall. It couldn’t be a building where if someone saw me falling they might quickly say to themselves, “Well, maybe he’ll survive?” It would have to be a certain and definite death.
I hate exhausting so much effort on body image, but one’s image acceptance is serious. It’s easy to alter your appearance to make yourself feel better, whether it’s Botox, breast augmentation, dental veneers or wearing makeup as a 7th grader trying to cover up your acne. I’m not at all opposed to someone getting surgery to make them feel better, just as long as they’re doing for the right reasons. I have six porcelain veneer’s myself, and if I could afford it, I would have the rest of my teeth done, including replacing the two teeth that I had a dentist remove instead of fixing because I was in a drunken haze. (That’s a whole other story as well)
I’ll never know if my mother thought that she might have had a cross-dressing pre-teen son, or maybe she just thought that I was just a theatrical kid. After a quick costume change out of my denim bugle boys and into her brazier and favorite silver and turquoise jewelry, I was the most fearless little girl on the North Side of the Bronx, and that helped keep me alive.
Go into the night quietly as you rest your head to dream.
Yesterday was but a mere glimpse, a forgotten thought.
Tomorrow is only a possibility.
If you wake, if you do rise, just go and live.
Do not dwell on forgotten thoughts and mere glimpses.
Richard De Fino 7/13/17 1:22 am
Photo @Isabel Cortés Úbeda