I never should have listened to them. I was in the 4th grade and we were getting ready for the Christmas play. It was a play the whole class was going to put on where we dressed up like toys and sang songs beneath a Christmas tree.
All of the guys in the class were sitting around talking about what kind of toys they should dress up like.
Should I be a G.I. Joe?
Should I be a football player?
Should I be a cowboy?
I was going to dress up like a football player too, but then Ammie, this cute girl in our class, said, “Why don’t you dress up like baby dolls? It’ll be funny.”
A couple of the guys laughed about how funny it was and then my buddy Jay said, “Yeah why don’t we? Why don’t we dress up like baby dolls?”
My friend Mike said, “Yeah let’s do it.”
Ammie’s friend Nicole went, “Please, Please.”
Then Carrie said, “Please, Please.”
Then Jay said again, “Yeah let’s do it.”
And then they looked at me, but I didn’t want to.
I wanted to dress up like a football player. I knew you had to be careful doing these kinds of things. I remembered my 5th birthday party when I asked for Barbie dolls and the Barbie doll swimming pool (not because I wanted the pool but because I wanted to drink the water from the pool), and all of my uncles just shook their heads when I opened up my Barbie.
They said, “Yeah. That’s not right.”
So I knew that you had to be careful doing stuff like this.
Jay said, “What are you chicken?”
I said, “No.”
Mike said, “Are you chicken?”
I finally said, “Okay. I’ll do it.”
Jay said, “Well you better. I don’t want to show up this evening and be the only one dressed up.”
I still wasn’t sure if I was going to do it or not, even after I told my mom about it when I got home.
She laughed and thought it was a great idea.
“Oh gracious Scott. That’s such a great idea. You guys will be the cutest things there.” Before I knew it we were in the bedroom and she was getting out a pair of her old pantyhose. Then she was getting out one of her maternity dresses and clipping the bottom of it. Before I knew it I was wearing this pair of pantyhose, and I was wearing my mom’s ratty dress. We laughed and looked in the mirror just like when I was a little boy and she dressed me up like a girl before my dad came home.
We looked in the mirror, and she put the lipstick on me and then two big red spots on my cheeks.
“Oh Scott you look so cute,” she said and handed me one of my baby rattles.
She put a bow in my hair and said, “Do you feel cute?”
And guess what?
I stood in front of the long mirror in my pantyhose and my dress.
I swirled the dress around me and I touched the bow in my hair and for the first time in my life I felt cute. For the first time in my life I felt beautiful.
I was still feeling beautiful when I showed up at school that evening and walked to the music room in my doll baby shoes. My dad shook his head with another “That boy’s not right.” I walked into the music room and everybody started laughing. My friend Mike wasn’t dressed up like a baby doll. He was dressed up like a G.I. Joe. His face was painted with camouflage face paint. When he saw me he started laughing, too.
He said, “I can’t believe you did it. What were you thinking?”
I looked at him and said, “I thought we were all going to dress up like baby dolls.”
I thought we agreed to it. He laughed.
I thought, “Well at least I can still count on Jay.”
I knew Jay would be dressed up too.
But then Jay came walking through the door and he wasn’t dressed up like a baby doll either. He was dressed up like a G.I. Joe.
I looked at them and said, “I thought we were all going to dress up like baby dolls.” Jay laughed at me.
Then Michael laughed at me. I was still pissed off, and shook my head at what a bunch of pussies they all were. Pussies. They wouldn’t say anything. They kept laughing and playing with the bow in my hair and touching my dress and smearing my lipstick like jerks. I tried knocking their hands away, but they wouldn’t stop laughing and touching my dress. Besides that, it was time for us to go to the gym and get ready for the Christmas play.
We walked over to the gym and sat down on the risers with the big purple curtain closed in front of us. I sat down beside Ammie, who was dressed up like a princess and listened to all of the parents talking outside.
Ammie leaned over and said, “Don’t let those guys bother you. You look beautiful in your dress. You really do.”
I shook my head and said, “Yeah,” because I thought so too.
We all sat on the riser along with all the other toys waiting for the curtains to open. And then they did.
And then it was quiet for a second.
There was a giggle.
There were two giggles and then there was a whole gym full of people laughing. They were pointing their fingers at me and I could read their lips. They were laughing, “Look at that little boy dressed up like a girl.”
There were people taking pictures of me instead of taking pictures of their own kids.
They were taking pictures of the beautiful baby doll.
I sat in the bleacher beside Ammie and let the people take pictures of me.
“It’s a boy dressed up like a girl.”
I sang along to the Christmas pageant songs and tried to disappear.
I didn’t feel cute in my baby doll clothes anymore, and besides that I was shivering. I was cold.
I was so cold that there were goose bumps bumping up on my legs.
I tried scooting closer to Ammie. She put her arm around me and tried warming me up, and I felt myself getting smaller. Before long it was like I wasn’t even there anymore.
It was like I was gone.
So after it was all over, I ran back out to the car in the snow and tried getting in before anyone could see me. Jay was walking behind me, too. I saw him watching me wiggle and jiggle in my baby doll dress, and it looked like he liked the way I walked. He picked up a snow ball and tried throwing it at me—BAM. But it missed. And then I was in the car and my parents were with me and we were driving all the way back home. At home my mother helped me take the bow out of my hair. She helped me take out my clip-on earrings.
She helped wipe some of my makeup off and said, “You remember when we used to play dress up when you were a little boy.”
And I giggled, “Yeah.”
She said, “You remember when we used to dress you up like a little girl and then fix you up like a vampire.”
I said, “Yeah.”
Then she helped me take off her maternity dress, and I just stood without anything on except for my white pantyhose.
“You know I never got a chance to have a little girl—but you were the prettiest one there tonight. I always wanted a girl.”
By this time I was sick of talking about it.
I stood in my white pantyhose and my red lipstick. And then I went and sat down in front of the TV and watched this Vietnam War show on CBS called Tour of Duty.
I watched the G.I. Joe guys in camouflage shooting machine guns in the jungle.
I watched a man take a knife and stab a Viet Cong.
I watched a soldier get shot and start dying as the helicopter came down to pick the soldier up.
I watched the helicopter lift up as the Viet Cong shot all around it.
Then Zeke, the platoon leader, called in an air strike and there were explosions and bombs blowing up, and hand grenades exploding, and things dying. And so I just sat in my white pantyhose and my red lipstick and I imagined myself a soldier in some far away land, searching for something beautiful to kill.