& AStephanie Dickinson
I sit in the back seat as Daddy races us down the Garden State
Parkway in a Red Thunderbird. We both like red and hes bought me a box of Charm
suckers (red) the kind he ate when he was a kid. The red has purple in it and shimmers,
getting redder and purpler the more you lick it. Like a lip thats been kissed too
much or a hickey on a stick. This is our Saturday adventure, and were heading to the
beach at Sandy Hook. Daddy lives in Clinton Gardens, and Mommy and I on the Upper East
Side. Every other weekend Mommy lets Daddy take me out. Theyre friendlier now that
theyre not married.
Brad Boonshaft, a friend of Daddys, has
stolen my seatthe passenger seat. Although I havent seen much of him except
the back of his fuzzy hair and a cellphone for an ear. "Donnie, Donnie," Brad
says breathlessly to the spaz hes yammering with, "you should have seen this
chick. Cellulite thighs. No, Donnie, thats Debbie, pretty face but porky in the
"Daddy, do I have to listen to him?"
"Brad, keep it down, will you."
Although the phrase will you should be followed
by a question mark, Daddys voice has a period at the end of it. Hes not
wearing the Chalay blond wig he wore two weekends ago; the wig looks like a farmers
cornfield that a tornados touched down in. Wig or not, Im supposed to use the
pronouns she and her when referring to my father. For the almost twelve
years of my life Ive called him Daddy. But hes still going through the
transformation. While were in the car I have my handsome six-foot-three father back.
I tell Mommy Im totally open to his decision. I tell my friends that Daddy is
transgender, and they say "Cool." I dont say "Cool." I refuse to
say "Tampon Breath" or "Tard Jar" either. Mommy calls them empty
phrases. Theyre the equivalent of empty calories.
I lean over the seat, sniffing. "Why do you have
man cologne on today?"
Daddy works as a bank examiner for the Department of
the Treasury. His co-workers are slowly getting used to his changing from cologne to
perfume. Besides, there are rules against sex discrimination.
"Dalloway, when I drive I have to be macho. Boy,
your nose dont miss anything."
Brad finishes with his conversation and is text
messaging. Im already wishing Id brought a book.
"Daddy, when youre completely a woman will
you stop driving?"
He lets out a booming laugh that crinkles his blue
eyes. "Youre the sharpest tack in the drawer, Dalloway," he says, glancing
into the rearview and winking. "Twelve years old and a protégé."
"I wont be twelve for two weeks," I
remind him, feeling the warmth of the wink.
For Christmas, Daddy gives me tons of stuff wrapped in
fuchsia and black paper with lavender ribbon. But the best gift is still his wink. Brad
Boonshaft turns the radio to an AM station. That talent vacuum Madonna is singing Poppa
"What kind of business are you in, Brad?" I
ask, moving across the seat.
Daddy chuckles, "Dont be shy, Brad.
Dalloway knows everything."
"The ladies garment industry," Brad says.
His curled lip tells me what he thinks of my skinny face. The kid is fugly.
"Is Brad Boonshaft your real name?" I ask.
"Or is it a porn stars alias?"
He sniffs, grabs for a Puffs. After he blows his nose,
he pushes the Puffs out his window. I watch wind stretch the crumpled tissue into a long
Daddys knuckles whiten on the wheel. "What
the hell, Brad?" he shouts. "Cant you read signs? NO LITTERING."
"I dont litter."
"You didnt just throw out a Kleenex?"
"No, I did not," Brad says, smoothing his
puffed-up hair that I can see inside of like an exploded dandelion.
Theres a crease in Daddys forehead when he
presses a button, putting a lock on all the windows. I cant figure out the
connection between my father and this goof. I lean over the seat fishing for information.
"Brad, what kind of clothing do you sell?
He clears his throat: "Actually, Im the
sales manager at the very high-end Seventh Avenue boutique Tranny Fashions. Were
located in the penthouse along with the spa."
Daddy lifts his blue eyes into the rearview. "Kim
shops there, baby."
So thats the connection. I pick up my sucker,
which Id set on the arm-rest half-licked. Why Kim? Why not Tess or Andrea or Ophelia
or Dalloway? Out of all the names on the planet why did he choose Kim for his woman name?
A jeep passes us carrying a trio of girls, their yards of blond hair flying straight up.
It roars down the off-ramp carrying its babe cargo. Daddy grins as if he were a normal
man. He once told Mommy he still likes women, and that after the final operation they
could be lesbians. Mommy started to cry. He was a beautiful man. Why would he choose to
become a middle-aged woman?
Then Daddy lowers his voice and tells Brad that his
breasts are rumbling like newborn volcanoes. Things feel different under my T-shirt too. I
press my forehead to the window. Haze like beer malt. Almost everything is interstate and
the leftover spaces are junkyards or sewage pools of crème de menthe shit.
"Look, Daddy. Thats sea oats."
"Dont you want to cheer it on? Living in
spite of everything trying to kill it."
"Dalloway, do not become a vegetarian like your
mother. Meat is protein. Thats why apes became homo sapiens. Meat. Meat. Meat."
The Thunderbird is gridlocked. I hold on to Daddys headrest and examine him in the
sun. His lip without the mustache is weak as an earthworm. His sideburns removed by laser
have left ghost patches. Hes been getting facials. His face looks pale and
extraterrestrial. Climara patches make him thirsty, and he keeps a permanent quart of
water beside him. I found his list:
"Who invented the first commercially successful
steamship?" he shouts abruptly, feeling my eyes. He loves Q&A. We play it
whenever we drive.
"Thomas Edison," Brad sneers.
"Robert Fulton," I volunteer.
"Right on, Dalloway. How many passengers could a
night boat hold?"
"Who told her that?" Brad scowls.
Daddy ignores him. "Thomas Edison Light Company
installed three hundred incandescent lamps on what boat?"
"The Saratoga." Then its my turn to
ask, "What year did the Saratoga get lamps?"
Daddy squints into the rearview. "1880."
"1888," I say. I've read the picture books
on Phantom Steamboats of the Hudson.
"See, Brad, Dalloways brilliant. Shes
about to skip junior high and go straight to high school. Shes got great DNA."
Daddy needs to believe he fathered a genius. I worry
that Ill be even skinnier and fuglier next to the fourteen-year-old kids.
We park the Thunderbird next to the Sandy Hook
Visitors Center. The lot is lumpy with sand that has gusted into dunes that look
like camels with their humps blown away. Across the beach the gray ocean rides up onto the
sand. Daddy pops the trunk. "Okay, kids, how about a walk to the haunted
I wear my new bathing suit under my T-shirt, a pink
two-piece with real breast cups. "Daddy, you promised Id get to swim."
"You will, Dalloway, but Im not letting you
near that ocean full of hypodermic needles. Were going to a beach house with a
private Olympic-size pool."
Its the first Ive heard of a beach house.
I watch a fresh set of gray waves roll toward the shore. I dont care if the waves
are dirty. The sand is blown through with salty flowers. I kneel and pick one. I make a
"Come on," Daddy laughs, "the beach
house is just a mile past the lighthouse."
"I think Id prefer driving there,"
Brad says, looking alarmed.
"You have no choice."
Daddy has brought his space blanket with metallic
underside to collect sunrays. Then theres the mini-ice chest and Brads sample
case. "Think you can handle this, Dalloway?" Daddy hands me a windsock
emblazoned with the word KIM and slogs ahead. Brad begrudgingly follows lugging his
stupid suitcase. What if Brad is Kims boyfriend?
When the salt grass closes behind us, Daddy takes off
his windbreaker and T-shirt. He has on an orange one-piece ladys bathing suit.
Its no big deal, Ive seen him dressed before, its not a thong or a
bikini, not an illness, not anything.
"Im taking you guys through the holly
forest," he announces.
There are flies everywhere. Were marching
through a fly forest. Mosquitoes dive bomb us.
"See that fence, Brad? Dalloway, tell him what
that is. "
I press my lips together. Is that all I am to him? A
"Spit it out, Dalloway."
"A Nike-Hercules missile site."
"It was abandoned in 1970."
The fact didnt taste good. I stare at the rusted
electrified fence covered with birds, all shrieking and shitting.
"And?" Daddy asks.
"There's a good chance that some live missiles
are buried back here."
"That sucks major sword," Brad shrills.
"Cripes, we could step on one of them."
But instead of blowing up we come to a railroad track
littered with thousands of dead monarch butterflies. Like pieces of silken tux sleeves. I
ask Daddy for his windbreaker and he gives it to me and I fill one of its pockets with
butterflies. I would like to live in a world of butterflies. Thousands of golden
hairstreaks. A million fatal metalmarks. A billion cloudless sulfurs. I put on
Daddys windbreaker and keep my hand in the butterfly pocket.
Then Daddy drops the mini-ice bucket. "Dalloway,
Ive got pain." He clutches his chest. "Jesus, shooting pains." He
could be having a heart attack from the hormones. Its one of the risks.
Brad peers over my shoulder. "Kim, is the pain in
the middle of your chest?"
"Any numbness in your extremities?"
Daddy lifts his right, then his left leg.
"Shooting pains from your stomach?"
"Yeah," he grunts from between clenched
teeth. "I need a nurse."
"You need a toilet." Brad straightens up.
"Its gas," he announces like an expert. "Before Tranny Fashions I was
at The Lei Lei Boutique. The owner walked into the showroom holding a traditional Chinese
satin with a crane pattern. It was beautiful. He fell over with the hanger in his hand. I
kid you not, Kim, his heart blew, and by the time he hit the floor he was black as a Hefty
Daddy figures the nearest bathroom is at the
lighthouse. Hes not sure about the exact route so he digs for the guidebook30
Walks in New Jersey. He throws the book to me. "Dalloway, youre the
I find the "To the Lighthouse" section
marked with a pink paperclip and read aloud: "In the lily marsh you'll hear the
croaking of wood frogs. The sound is distinctly noticeable. It's been in the air since the
beginning of your walk."
"Right or left, Dalloway?"
"You haven't heard the croaking before, but
now that the roar of automobiles dies away . . ."
"Right!" I shout. "Through the lily
forest to where the trail meets the bridge."
"Meet me there," Daddy yells. His bathing
suit blazes as he runs into the thicket.
The lily forest is really a swamp. The trail twists
through a tangle of lily pads floating like Chinese takeoutwater
chestnuts and snarling bean sprouts. Bees buzz above the lilies in a trance. My sneakers
sink and when I pull them free, I have a wardrobe malfunctionthe gray canvas oozes
mud, even the shoelaces.
Brad and I come to the slat bridge. On the other side
stands the lighthouse, a white tower with an aqua Porta-john in plain view. Daddy must be
inside; theres the mini-cooler and space blanket outside the john. An old hippie
emerges from the lighthouse with the longest grayest beard Ive ever seen. He stomps
over to the Porta-john, his potbelly getting there before the rest of him.
"This is private property. Get the hell out of
there," he barks, pounding on the door.
I run across the bridge to protect my father.
"According to 30 Walks in New Jersey this is public property."
"Book's ten years old," the man claims, like
hes just finished reading it.
I turn to the flysheet. "Actually, the copyright
"Way to go, Dalloway, you saved the day,"
Daddy hoots from inside the john.
I feel a flush of pride. Im glad to be carrying
the KIM windsock. The old hippie slinks away. He must be making believe hes a
lightkeeper. No one these days turns the fog signals on. There are no more lighthouse
Daddy comes out of the Porta-john and says, "Race
you to the top, Dalloway!"
And before Brad can even settle his behind onto his
sample case, Daddy sprints inside the lighthouse. Hes taking the iron stairs two at
a time before I reach the first step.
"Are you still having a heart attack?" I
call after him.
"Not anymore," he yells down.
I like the spooky spiraling steps. The
lightkeepers specter eyes. Black clouds and storms from another century hang around
"Daddy, I wish I could be a lightkeeper," I
say when I make the top. Id talk only to people the sea swept in. I wouldnt
have to walk by boys and wonder if theyre about to jeer "Theres a
candidate for breast implants." I imagine the lantern rooms that used hundreds
of candles in revolving chandeliers. I close my eyes and hear fog bells.
"You are my lightkeeper," Daddy says,
his hair blowing skyward.
Later I wonder if the day is worth saving. The modernistic house is built on three tiers
that fall toward the ocean. A waterfall runs over geometric stone levels. BMWs alongside
Porsches crowd the driveway. I want to go home.
"Wow," Brad whistles. "Who lives
"You'll see," Daddy says.
"I dont like it here," I spout.
"Dalloway, give it a chance." Daddy takes my
hand and leads me down a set of cedar stairs toward the pool. If I like his hand taking
mine, wrist against wrist, why do I feel like crying? The water in the kidney-shaped pool
is Windex-blue and chaise lounges fan around it like spots in a peacocks tail.
Theres zero tolerance for kids here. Everyone seems to be Daddys age. A
redhead in a FEMS Maid Service hat rouses herself to peer at us through the upper beige of
her two-tone sunglasses. In the next lounger a man half her size reddens with freckles.
"Hello, were here," Daddy calls out,
but the only person who seems interested is a woman in a turquoise bikini who raises
herself up from the lounger.
"We've all been waiting," she gushes.
I hang back.
"Come on, Dalloway, be nice." Daddy squats
and pulls me down so were eye to eye. "Baby, this is Dr. Bonnie Peeler. She
wrote the transgender definition for the DES Manual. Shes a pioneer in her
"I dont care. Shes not much of a
"Not nice, Dalloway. I want to show you off to
The Dr. Peeler woman uncurls herself and her drink
from the lounger. "You must have champagne!" She holds out her glass as she
waltzes toward us. Inside the glass is a blackberry giving the bubbles a purple gleam.
"Kim, help yourself to the house if you want to freshen up. And, Brad, go ahead and
display Tranny Fashions. Olé!"
When she laughs I can see her tonsils.
"This is my daughter. Shes just been
promoted from sixth to ninth grade."
Why did he have to mention the promotion? Why did he
have to use the word just? Which means a minute ago when the letter came months
"Olé!" Dr. Peeler says, raising her glass.
The three of them leave me by the pool and disappear
into the beach house. Scuffing mud from my sneakers, I stare into the water. A woman dozes
on the top step of the shallow end, a mask of blue pouches over her face. Her head might
be a jellyfish. A caterer carries a tray of toothpick-speared cheese blocks to a table
where tri-color pasta salad, lump crab, and mango have already arrived. I keep holding the
KIM windsock and trying to smile.
"Is that ginger ale?" I ask when a different
caterer passes with a tray of plastic goblets filled with pale yellow.
"Its champagne. Would you like a
glass?" he smirks.
I drop the windsock, taking a goblet in each hand. He
shrugs, not his business. The pale yellow tastes like spoiled apples, but I like how it
fizzes. After I guzzle both glasses and nothing happens, I slip off a sneaker nudging it
into the pool. At least some piece of me is going swimming.
I stand perfectly still. The woman in a FEM's Maid
Service hat is waving for champagne, the dinky man swaggers to the buffet table. They
cant see me. The only person whos ever seen me is Daddy, and today hes
not noticing. He hasnt mentioned the inches Ive added to my height. In the old
days hed take me on real estate runs up and down the Jersey Shore. Whenever he saw
something interesting wed stop and hed take a picture. I was his perspective.
He has albums of an almost peopleless universesnapshots of
stone walls, arched windows, doorways, fireplaces, and iceblock glass dividers, and
Im standing in all of them. Dalloway, four-feet-five inches tall, Dalloway, five
feet. Although as a bank examiner he doesnt handle anything but interest rate
schedules, Daddy knows his way around outlet boxes. He taught me the difference between a
hot wire and a mounting hole. Together we installed track lighting in my room.
Im shifting from side to side, my bladder is
full. Daddy will probably be back soon to show me where the bathroom is, but I cant
wait much longer. Then I see Brad exiting the sun porch in his swim trunks. I kick my
other sneaker into the pool and run up the redwood steps. I slide the glass door open and
Im in a room with a skylight. The beautiful room leads into another beautiful room.
Why not take the stairway? Arent bathrooms usually upstairs? When I get to the top I
find myself in a corridor. Photographs decorate the walls, pictures of men in lipstick,
men without eyebrows, men with gold hair. Theres a man with butterfly wings attached
to his shoulder blades. Daddy told Mommy that cross-dressing is a celebration of the chaos
principle. She rolled her eyes. For an activist and whole-earth catalogue subscriber, he
was sorry to discover that she was an exclusionist. Werent transgender people worthy
of the same respect as whales?
Farther down the hall a door is part-way open. Must be
the bathroom. Before I know it Im inside a spacious room with shampooing sink,
manicure table, and hair driers. Like Misas Beauty Salon where Mommy takes me to get
our haircuts. It takes me a second to recognize Daddy lying on a massage table, a sheet
covering his bottom. He looks like a gigantic baked cookie. Dr. Peeler has a lab coat over
her bikini and sits on a chair with wheels. Shes peering at his back through a
magnifying mirror. "Mmmm," she says, like shes eating cheese cake. Behind
the massage table is a box with dials and gauges.
"Hi," I say, "what are you guys
"Dalloway, come on in. Dr. Peelers not only
a shrink but she performs electrolysis in a pinch. Were doing a little
"Im wearing a backless dress tonight,
"Tonight! Were not going to be here tonight?"
"Just for a little while, sweetheart.
Theres going to be a band."
"What kind of a band?"
"A dinner dance band."
Daddy wears a light pink lipstick and beige
foundation. I wish Mommy could come for me only she doesnt have a car. Parking is
too expensive. Dr. Peeler gives me one of her smiles, and then talks about re-entering one
of Daddys hair follicles.
"You mean you pull out his hairs?"
"We burn them out one by one. Sometimes more than
This is why his skin looks like Braille. Dr. Peeler is
taking Daddy away. How soon before he doesnt even come for me on weekends? Dr.
Peeler tells me that Kim is the most intelligent being shes ever met. I wish I could
say youve made it this far as a man, Daddy, cant you make it the rest of the
way? But I dont.
"Wheres the bathroom?" I ask.
Dr. Peeler croons, "Sweetie, in the middle of
this hall to your right." Then she sniffs. "Dalloway, are you drinking?"
"I had some champagne."
"Youll need to eat something. Do you like
"How about Buffalo wings?"
"Dalloway loves Buffalo wings in blue cheese
dip." Daddy winks at Dr. Peeler.
If I ever liked wings, Ill hate them forever
now. I try to deny what I saw. His eye involuntarily twitched, he had a lash in it. He
never winked at Mommy; he saved it just for me. Winking was reserved for Dalloway.
"Dalloway, why dont you eat some chicken
fingers poolside," Dr. Peeler coaxes. "You kids love those."
Stuff your stupid chicken fingers, Im no kid. If
Daddy had plans, he should have cancelled our day. He can keep his winking.
I back out through the doorway.
"Isnt she a smart kid?" I hear Daddy
say. "She was raised on OMNI and Science Digest. We humans are still in
Stage Zero. Stage Four we're immortal. But weve got to do something quick or we're
going to become extinct."
Dr. Peeler asks, "How so extinct?"
"An asteroid's heading for us right now. Eight
miles wide. The one that took out the dinosaurs was six miles long. If we exploded the
thing, all vegetation would die."
I stop and take a last look at them. Dr. Peeler gets
up to push her pen needle into Daddys shoulder. When she does I scurry over and kick
her chair into the manicure table. Hundreds of fingernail polishes clatter to the floor. I
imagine a red river of Red Surreal, Sanguino, Misto Argento, Sensuale, Vampirina, running
like different shades of fire.
"Get a grip, Dalloway," Daddy snaps, but
there is something besides anger in his voice. Maybe its fear.
I cant feel my feet. Theyre being dragged
into the floor. I start to laugh. Ive heard it all before. Nuclear winter. Eternal
I find the bathroom and lock the door. It feels like an island. Everything floats.
The bathtub is a pedestal, the sink too. Everywhere I turn theres a mirror, hand
mirrors, two-way mirrors, mirrors on accordion hinges. You cant miss the
I open the medicine cabinet. Ointments, deodorant,
tweezers, prescription bottles. I read the labels. Pills with tragic Greek namesAtivan, Ultram, Xanax. Mommy sometimes takes Xanax when it gets to
be too much. I unscrew the lid and look at the violet-colored wafers. I shake out two and
fill the water glass.
I sit on the toilet for a long time. The drops pinging
against the side of the bowl turn into a waterfall, and then go back to gentle spring
rain. I chew one of the purple pills. Like a Flintstone multiple vitamin. It tastes bitter
and salty. When I tell my friends that I took a Xanax theyll be impressed. I chew
another one. Two is a perfect number, two is twins. Pill crumbs stick to my tongue like
the stuffing in Oreos. A terrycloth robe hangs from a hook on the door. I put it on over
my windbreaker and swimsuit. I like the way I disappear. When I kneel on the carpet it
feels like Im sinking. Its nice here in the warm grass.
I dont know how long Ive been kneeling when my teeth start to chatter.
The temperature of the carpet is dropping, and the robe feels like snow. Im almost
too frozen to stand up, and I have to claw my way out of the terrycloth. I take the pill
bottle with me into the hall. I open more doors. Bedroom. Bathroom. Bedroom. A shaft of
icy sun hits my face from the skylight. My shoulder bumps into the wall. I bounce back and
forth. I think Id like to have wings growing from my back like that man in the
photograph, the one with gold hair.
My hand is far away. I dig into the pocket for the
Xanax bottle that keeps sliding away. Two of the purple pills didnt do anything. I
put another one on my tongue. The sconce lamps look warm, and Im shivering. Then I
know where all the cold is coming frommy hands. They are causing the rest of me to
freeze. I climb onto a tabletop, but thats not true, because I leap and abracadabra
Im standing on it. I reach into the scone and cup the bulb, but Im
disappointed. The light is an egg of ice. I have to warm the light, keep holding on with
all my might. How do stars collapse? 400 million light years away two black holes are
moving toward each other. When they merge they will warp the fabric of space. Nothing can
escape, not even light; they will drag stars into them. I remember the last outing Daddy
took me on when he still lived with us, the water lilies at the botanical gardens. They
floated across the water; each stalk had six petals. Daddy explained how the root detaches
and sinks itself in new mud at the bottom of the pond. He pointed out the Giant Water
Lily, the Night Lilies that bloomed nocturnally. Although I was a big girl, Daddy held me
up so I could see. In the wild these lilies attract bats and snakes. His arms were strong,
and I knew Id always be safe.
Theres a smell in my nostrils that reminds me of
the odor in Dr. Peelers electrolysis room. Like burning skin. If Daddys right
an asteroid is heading for us. Before that happens I want the butterflies to come back to
life. I take a monarch out of my pocket, its wings are folded, but she still has both of
them. I cup her in my palm and hold her to the bulb. Maybe the butterfly will think
its the sun.