Content warning: family abuse, dysphoria, slurs, references to sexual violence
I. I had a father once. His hands had a condition where they grew an inch every time I spoke. When I was a bulb, he could fit me in his fist. When I broke out of the ground, he could pinch me between fingers. His hugs wound twice around my body, constricting me, and I wondered if this was what a sports bra felt like. When he braided my hair (he never taught me to braid it myself), he pulled too much, like he didn’t know the strength of his own arms.
a. I cut it all off. He said he didn’t like it, so I kept it close to my skull for a few more years, in case his hands got strong enough to unwind the hair from my scalp.
II. I cannot remember when my own hands started to grow, but I am sure it was winter, because the woman budding inside me froze and fell off my sternum, my stem. New words reached up my throat, and again I could not speak for myself: “tomboy,” “queer,” “dyke.” Let us name it to prove we know what we are talking about:
a. Imagine my hands, twice the size of my feet, pointing to parts of my body and dissecting them, digging in to find the soil underneath. On my breast, I search for flower petals, but there is only an uncharted map of skin. Between my legs, I find pollen, and I name it Stamen. I am older now, I have breasts now, I have petals, I only name the Stamen. The Pistil names me and I find myself in a white-walled room, filling out charts. Name: Teddy—no, Margaret. Gender: clumps of breath, earth, and leaf—for these purposes, let us call me female.
III. I call myself female and ask them to swallow the question mark in my belly. My father does not know of this clinic. My mother would cry. I tell them I am unemployed, a student, and they click their pens, bite their lips. Sexual history? Why does it matter, I ask, I am not getting an IUD for fear of someone else’s seed, but my own. When a womb denies itself, the hollowed eggshell swells in a desperation to choke the host, scrape out space for someone new to name it. I do not want to be someone else’s home. I am already my father’s house, my mother’s doorstep, the bed of many men who thought they could fit me in their fists.
a. They lay me down, say it will hurt. Three women in white robes, one holding my hand. I tell them I am used to pain. They nod, they understand: “Women are used to pain.” No, I say, it is something else. Do not call me one of you unless I ask first—did I ask first?
b. It is searing. My life does not flash before my eyes, but I can feel death in my ovaries and black bile in my breasts. Will I become a boy when I sterilize the girl? My life does not flash before my eyes, but I see her life rewrite itself. That daughter, that child who will never exist, because my name is not Mother nor Father.
c. Father forgive me: I was raised Catholic. It cannot be an abortion if she never existed, if there was no fertilization, if it is only my body’s monthly resurrection that will rust away. No need for a eulogy.
i. But it does feel like a burial when they use metal to pry open my insides and put something alien there. They tell me it is the shape of a T, and I imagine the cross, a prayer reaching up my legs.
d. When I leave, I am shaking. Something orange falls out of my mouth, out of me and onto the snow. I want to devour it, bring it back to my body, baptize my rebirth in vomit. And yet I speak, say to my sister, “Let’s get out of here. You drive.”
e. And then we are at her house, and then I am on the toilet, and then my womanhood falls out of me. I still have eyes, and I see the tablespoons of blood in that toilet, and I think I must be dying. But I do not die.
i. (We do not die; we suffer and cry, and we wipe our own tears, for fear that someone else’s hands will only get stuck in our eyes.)
IV. The story is not over until someone is devoured. When my mother was pregnant, she opened her tongue and spat me out, orange. When I was her daughter, it was only because I had yet to look in the mirror and wipe my face of her stain.
a. I am no longer a girl, if I ever was. I met men who only knew how to love with large hands, and when they caressed my face, I could kiss their palms, but they never let me speak. It is those hands, the hands of men who wanted to make a woman out of me, that stuck fingers down my throat and choked her.
i. (I think of my father’s palms, my mother’s face covered by her palms—no, his palms.)
V. I did not realize what it meant to be grafted until it happened to me. My stem wilted without a flower to weigh it down, so I sewed my body to a trunk, and I grew in ways that felt both fully myself and fully other. I called myself “boy,” “faggot,” “genderqueer,” “mentally ill (or maybe insane),” “survivor,” and none of these were true, and all of them were true. At least I could speak them for myself now, try them on, wear them inside out. To be called Woman from birth is to be told you must bloom when you do not know yet how to speak. But in unnaming myself, I became the ugly, the bizarre, the unspeakable, and I began to search for a new kind of beauty in my mother’s mirror.
VI. This is not the end of the story. There has been no devouring; I am not my mother’s cutting board. If I have lived less time than her, at least I have lived at all. I had a father once, but I never had a mother. The woman in my house was already a ghost, and she preferred her flowers freshly cut, so she could watch them die on her perfectly white windowsill. So we fought each other in this way: she called me a weed, and I survived to spite her. If I am my mother’s daughter, it is only in shame. It is only in my inability to ground power in womanhood. Just as a girl died to grow my leaves, my mother ripped roots to keep herself intact. She was once green, but that was long before me. By me, she remembered she once had flesh and eyes, blue eyes, and she hated me for it, and I hated her for it, too. And she remembered her own spite in me, and I spited her to survive.
(We are all flowers. Sometimes, I wonder why we are ripped from the earth, colorful and crying for some priestly eye to confirm us women. Are we not as beautiful left alive?)
VII. My mother loves her daughter, but she is yet to know what it means to love me. Her hands are transparent, and I wish they were more than that. I wish she weren’t so easy to blow over, to shred in a simple rain, to waste on cicadas. She is nourishment, and they feed, and my father lets them feed. She hurts, but she hurts in silence, and my father pulls her closer to him. A blade of grass newly cut secretes stench to warn other blades, a silent scream. My mother does not even do this.
a. Had she done it, I would have smelled my father’s cologne before I found myself drowning in pesticides. Before I found myself incapable of becoming a man, incapable of flowering into woman.
VIII. My mother loves me, she says this like a slap. “I love you,” and I say, “I love you,” when what I mean is, “I am too afraid to tell you the truth.”
a.“The Truth”: If I love her, it means I cannot leave her, that there is some hope in saving her. When I was smaller, I imagined my father dying, my mother and I surviving together. My hair grows out again, and she braids it. We start making pottery, dirt on hands, and we mess up more than we don’t. When a pot goes wrong, you water it down and start again. We remold ourselves. I imagine her tucking me into bed, singing like she used to. But my memories of her are still always silent.
b. I learned that to survive was to draw words from nothing. When she kissed me goodnight, it was usually something else, “I am in pain.” It was, “Do not save me, do not save yourself. Lie here on the road to Damascus and die with me.” If she withered, I do not know. I left before I could see the sun beat her down anymore.
c. There are words in the silence. There are seeds underground, waiting for rain, waiting for spit, waiting for flame. Sometimes, waiting to decompose.
IX. This is what I have found for myself: it is possible to love, maybe love again. Slowly, without naming it, I open my large hands and try to smell the pollen there. Someone reaches out and licks my palm, offers me water, washes the chlorophyll from my neck. I am dripping in spring, I am smelling the dew between my legs in a way that used to scare me. There are hands everywhere, asking, asking quietly, “Can I touch you. Can I love you. Can I hold you, just hold you.”
X. The sunset today is orange. I do not have to stare at the sun to feel the color bathing me again, so I sit with my back to it; I can see enough on my own. My hands are shrinking now, enough to hold a pen, enough to hold a hand. My hands are the hands of my father, hairy and scarred. My mother, silent and furious. They are my lover’s, my friends’, my sister’s, my daughter’s. I am learning to sew, to sew my tongue shut again, learning to let flowers bloom out of my throat. It is only an outline. The story does not end until someone is devoured, but if I devour myself, digest the orange and turn myself more me, perhaps there will be an ending. Just as there is an ending to my skin, an ending to the cross in my belly, an ending to the growth of my hair.
I. I was a daughter once. Now, I speak for myself when I say I am nothing in need of a name, and I swallow.
TEDDY DAVEY B’19 is a plant who only eats plants.