I was born into a role filled with expectations rather than options. I was expected to capitalize god, only speak when spoken to, take piano lessons, help in the nursery, stuff newspapers into boxes, babysit to buy the trinkets I wanted from Claire’s, tithe, save myself for marriage, sit near the front in church, pull in the good grades, separate my lights and colors and darks, sing in the choir, shop clearance racks, joke using puns, attend baby showers and weddings, blush when sex is mentioned. Marry a man. Bear his children. Dote on them all. Eschew myself. Make Crockpot chicken. Sew wayward buttons back into place. Laugh at family sitcoms. Buy a home. Fill it with wooden knick-knacks from craft fairs. A dog wouldn’t hurt. Buy themed birthday presents. Hang a cross on a wall somewhere. Drive a responsible used car, best a Honda or Toyota. Send Christmas cards. Iron his shirts. Work a job to help with the finances. Make sure it offers decent health insurance. Don’t work a job, the kids need me at home. My husband is the head of the household. Never go to bed angry. Bite my tongue. Bite my tongue. Bite my tongue. Swallow the blood.
So, when my mouth first filled with want for a body and the body belonged to another girl, I lodged my secret in my tonsils. I kept it away from where it didn’t belong. I belonged by being someone who followed rules, orders, roles, orders. When I first wanted to kiss a pair of lips, they were light pink and sticky with gloss. Instead, I held hands with a boy whose palm could envelop my face. When my hormones and adolescent angst had compressed inside me like a clamped spring coil, I let a boy take my clothes off, watched the spots dance on the ceiling while his dick howled through my tight virginity. When I realized he had filled my womb, I called Planned Parenthood, panicked that although I held my secrets in my body, my body could blab them if I wasn’t more careful.
I wasn’t careful enough for the compiling secrets growing up required: one slipped away from me. But I could fix this me. When my boyfriend proposed I swallowed the no that climbed up my throat and said yes with a nod meant to convince myself. I loved him in a way. In a way where I felt cherished as I was: damaged and impure. I could fake this role. I would keep better track of my secrets, grow paranoid, feign purity. Wife wouldn’t suit me, but I could suit up inside it, stand tall.
Until I slumped over the wheel, seized. After a decade had passed of Crockpot meals and buying a house and bearing children again, this time to keep.
When I first lay next to a woman, it was twice my lifetime from when I had first longed to. Unlike everything before, it came easy to me. I simply went out to lunch one day and then out for coffee and then to a party and then to a play and soon, she was curled up next to me and I wanted it to stay that way. It was an option I had always ignored until suddenly, after a very long time, I realized I had choices. I could simply decline the role I had inherited that didn’t suit me. Life wasn’t one mole trap after another underneath one of my father’s upside-down five-gallon buckets in the front lawn.
It can’t be.
Don’t take off the bucket; I don’t want anyone to see me caught like this, my neck clamped in metal jaws.
Holly Pelesky is a lover of spreadsheets, giant sandwiches, and handwritten letters. She holds an MFA from the University of Nebraska. She cobbles together gigs to get by while writing. She lives in Nebraska with her two sons.