I’ve never been much of a girl. I grew up in a small town outside of Portland, Oregon. The houses in the neighborhood backed up against a small forest along the Willamette River. All the kids my age were boys. We would swim in the river, build forts, and wage war upon each other – with pinecones for grenades.
I quickly learned that there were no emotions. It wasn’t ok to cry over skinned knees. It was better to have a particularly nasty scab to show off than to be labeled a cry baby. The boys that I grew up with were overactive, and most likely should have had a strong prescription for Ritalin. They believed in playing games like Throw the Orange and See Who Gets the Biggest Bruise and Let’s Tie Heather to the Basketball Hoop. They believed that they were invincible so long as they were wearing football helmets – even if it meant jumping thirty feet from a tree fort. Usually they were wrong.
The boys were all I had. My father left when I was five, my mother was working so we could survive on our own, and my sister was off with her girlfriends. The other families in the neighborhood were nice enough to take me in. The other mothers looked at me sympathetically whenever I received a wet willy, or a particularly hard slap on my forearm during a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors.
There were many times – a lot of times – when the boys would single me out for being a girl. Some afternoons I wouldn’t be allowed to play with them. There were “no girls allowed.” Those days hurt, but I knew they would be there whenever I needed them. Days when I would cry – missing my dad and feeling alone – I knew one of them was bound to come along and find me, comfort me, hug me.
One Friday in the third grade I wore a skirt to school. It was one my mother had recently bought in an attempt to make me more girly.
“You’ll look so good!” she had said.
At recess the boys stared at me like I was a foreign creature. They had never seen me in anything feminine. My pale skinny legs poked out of the hemline. I stood in front of their critical eyes. I watched as they judged me for being different – for being female. One of them ran up behind me, lifted my skirt, and yelled to the entire playground, “Flip Up Friday!” I stood there with my skirt up, revealing another of my mother’s buys: a pair of silk, pink underwear.
I believe in wearing blue jeans. They remind me that no matter how much I trust someone, I should never let my guard down. The tomboy lifestyle still runs in my veins. The boys had humiliated me far worse than this and, later in my life, they would continue to add to their list of evil deeds. But on that day they had separated boys from girl. They had exposed to the playground an underlying difference we had always known was there: my pink silk underwear and everything they stand for. Yet, by wearing blue jeans, I am reminded to never sweat the small stuff. To always be ready for someone to yell Flip Up Friday.