A Letter from Jenny.
By Tom O’Connor
On the night that Jennifer wrote the letter the snow was starting to break on the roof. A thaw was coming. Winter was almost over.
It had been a very hard letter to write, but after two hours of ripped paper, re-written phrases and scraped lines, she was content with the message. She, however, was still not sure she had the power to leave it for him. She looked it over one last time, folded it and slid it into an envelope.
She turned it over and wrote three letters on the outside. She had never thought much before about the three letters. She had never really thought that the word D-A-D had been the first word she had said. She never really thought that as a little girl she had said the name over and over again and again, tens of thousands of times. She had never really thought that over the past few years she had said it less and less. Recently, she seemed to go out of her way not to say it. Instead, she slammed doors and hoped that if she stayed angry her parents would keep their distance and never find out.
She plucked the magnet that the family had bought as a souvenir three years ago when she was 12 and they had visited St. Anne de Beaupre in Quebec. She put the letter at eye level and pushed the magnet to the fridge. She held it there for an extra second. Then she let go and walked upstairs.
Her room still had the pink walls of her childhood. But over the past few years posters of bands and comic characters had slowly eaten away at the pink and left the room looking like a gothic comic book; one that her parents did not want to be part of. The pink was still there, but hardly. She got under the sheets and looked at the case she had packed. She rolled over and somewhat surprisingly fell asleep.
* * *
It was 11:00 and warmer than usual when Ted Martin drove home from the factory. He had rolled down the window and could sense that spring was coming. Although his arm was cold, the change was good. He stepped into his house and quietly removed his boots. His wife, who got up for work at 4 AM would have been asleep for hours. His daughter Jenny was probably still up, holed up in her room reading some morbid comic and listening to one of the weird bands she liked who wore way too much makeup and didn’t appear to know how to sing. After removing his boots he looked up the stairs and saw no light from the crack at the bottom of her door. He made his way to the fridge where he opened a beer and tossed the cap on the counter. He sat and tilted the bottle back. His habit was to have one, unwind and have a shower before going to bed and starting everything all over again tomorrow. As the pain in his joints set in after a long shift he often found himself wishing he’d have made other decisions.
It was then that Ted saw the letter on the fridge. It looked formal. Usually, any communication between the family was scrawled on a post-it note or on the back of some bills. He moved aside the magnet and opened the letter. As he removed the letter he began to unfold it. He could tell by the handwriting that it was Jenny’s. He removed his reading glasses from his breast pocket and put them on.
I have struggled for a while to think of a way to break your heart.
It is not that I want to break your heart. It is just that I cannot live my life without breaking your heart.
And for that, I am truly sorry.
I want you to know how much I love you. And, I hope you can understand what I am about to tell you.
For the past five years, I have struggled to understand who I am. I have thought about it every day and felt as if I have been eaten alive from the inside out. I have felt like I was a disappointment to you. I know you wanted a boy, and that when you got me you had to “settle”. Luckily for you, I have been an exceptional Tomboy. I remember helping you build our deck or working on the car. Mom used to hate when I would come in covered in oil or grease. But, I think it helped you deal with the lack of a boy.
Of course, this letter isn’t about that though. This letter is to tell you something.
I am a boy.
I am not gay or a dyke. Really, it has little to do with who I am attracted to. It is more about who I am. I am a boy. The dresses mom has bought me that are holed-up deep in my closet feel like fire on my skin when I wear them. I have three pairs of men’s underwear that I wash when you guys aren’t around.
When I see myself naked in front of the mirror I cry.
As I write this letter I am both fearful and also free.
I am sorry Dad.
But, this is who I am.
Ted Martin held the paper in the hand and got lost in the area above it. A daze settled in on him. He put down his beer and walked to the sliding doors. He slid them open and walked out onto the deck that Jenny had helped him build. He sat on a patio chair and breathed a slow deep breath. His thumb and middle finger came to his eyes and tried to wipe the tears. But, they kept falling.
Although he had enjoyed her always being a tomboy, he had also grown to love the idea that she would fall in love, get married and raise a family. She had always been his little Jenny, and he just felt that this “phase” as he and his wife had been calling it, was about her understanding herself. He had not even considered that she was gay, never mind, the thought that she was not really a girl. He couldn’t really understand it. He had heard about someone at work whose nephew was a drag queen in Toronto. He and the other guys made jokes about it all the time. But, this isn’t dress up, this is different. The guys at work could never find out. It would be too hard for him to deal with.
Over the next few hours, Ted pulled out photo albums, had a long shower and cried. By 2 AM he was worn out. He didn’t know what to do. He put the letter back in the envelope and stuffed it in his lunch bag. He couldn’t let his wife see this. He needed to sleep on it.
He walked up the stairs, and as he walked by Jenny’s door he stopped. He rested his palm on the door for a minute. Then, he moved his hand down and opened the door quietly. He leaned against the door frame and stared at her. To his left was the long mirror they had bought at an Ikea when she was 8 years old. He assumed it was the mirror she spoke of in the letter and sadly imagined her crying in front of it. He thought about how hard his work would be. But then he thought about Jenny. Do I call her Jack? He thought about her standing in front of the mirror and crying. Suddenly the difficulty of the idiots he worked with was nothing.
Ted walked into his daughter’s room and knelt beside her bed. He looked at her for what felt like a very, very long time. Then he quietly spoke.
“Jenny. Jenny wake up.”
Her eyes started to blink and move. As she came to her eyes blinked repeatedly and her head moved from side to side, as if she didn’t know where she was. It was as if she had forgotten about the letter. He stared at her as she awoke. It was at times like this that he seemed to travel back in time. She had always woken up this way. He could see her at three, six or even twelve years old waking up in the very same way. Then a seriousness came upon her face as she realized why her father was in her room and she began to sit up. As she did, she looked over his shoulder at the case leaned up against the wall.
As tears overwhelmed her, she spat out: “I’m sorry dad”.
He immediately grabbed her and held her in his arms and held her tightly like she was a child again.
“I’m sorry,” she said.
He turned her face towards his. “I’m not mad” and as if to convince her he said it again, but slower and with a stronger pronunciation, “I’m not mad. You have nothing to be sorry about”.
“Look, I will always love you, no matter who you are. I mean, look at this room. I love you enough to come in here.” he joked.
She laughed an awkward laugh that excreted a small bubble of snot that emerged from her nose for a brief second before she caught it.
He laughed as well.
“You need to know though. I’m gonna need some help with this. I ain’t gonna lie. This is kinda difficult for me to grasp. But, I will read everything I can on it. I will go to meetings. Whatever. I will be here for you though. I just, I just don’t want you crying in front of the mirror. I don’t want you thinking you need to hide from me. Okay?”
“Okay.” She said through a wave of tears.
Ted Martin smiled. “By the way, I have some ugly boxers your mom bought me at Christmas. You are welcome to have them”.
Jenny laughed through the tears. “Thanks”.
There was a long pause as Ted held Jenny’s face in his hands.
“I love you son”.