- This Is How It Always Is
“Used to be a…” Marginny trailed off.
“Poppy was born as Claude. Well, not born as. You know. We named her that in the hospital. Him.” She laughed nervously. Now who was babbling? “So for a few years she was Claude. He was Claude. We thought she was Claude. When he wanted to wear dresses, well, at first I guess we thought it was just a phase.” Why was she telling them all this? “I mean dress-up, pretend play, make believe … boys will be boys, you know?” They did not look as if they did know. “But it turned out it wasn’t a phase. Deep down, he feels like a girl. She feels like a girl. She is a girl. So that’s what we did.”
“Did?” It was like some tiny creature inside their faces had turned the light off.
“It’s a long story,” Rosie admitted.
“You, um … turned your son into a girl?” Frank finally managed.
“Not turned him into.” As with so many disasters, it seemed the only way forward was deeper. “More like accepted who he—she—already was.”
They were silent for a moment, taking that in, which Rosie supposed was fair enough; she just wondered if they couldn’t do it elsewhere.
“We saw this drag show once at a bar in Capitol Hill,” Frank said hopefully. “Is it like that?”
“It is nothing like that,” said Rosie.
Then, of course, the back door opened. “Good news, Mom,” Orion called. “The sandwich place at the bottom of the hill gets their cheese from Wisconsin.”
“And it’s at the bottom of the hill,” Rigel added, “so it’s an easy walk.”
“Only if you want to move in,” Ben said. And when that seemed to elucidate nothing, “Otherwise it’s uphill on the way home.”
Roo rolled his eyes. Penn piled what looked to be lunch for forty into Poppy’s arms so that his could be free to greet the Grandersons.
“We live next door.” Marginny went back to the beginning. “We came over to welcome you. And to invite you to an end-of-summer barbecue at our house tomorrow. The whole neighborhood will be there. You’ll be able to meet everyone all at once.”
Rosie was exhausted just thinking about it and began to brainstorm ways to politely decline.
“We’d be delighted,” said Penn.
It was ten o’clock, late for company, when the doorbell rang for the fourth time. Penn and Rosie paused the movie they were collapsed in front of to open the door to an embarrassed-looking Marginny. Rosie had known the woman for all of a quarter of an hour so far, but she could already tell she didn’t embarrass easily. This did not bode well.
“Settling in okay?” Marginny seemed to be holding her breath.
“Slowly,” said Penn.
Rosie winced at several loud, heavy thumps coming from somewhere upstairs. “We have lots of hands, but it’s an open question if that makes unpacking harder or easier.”
“I thought you were going to say harder or much harder.” Marginny’s smile, mom to mom, was genuine all of a sudden. Rosie wondered, for the first time, if she might actually like the woman. “Listen, I wanted to … not apologize for Frank this morning, but, you know, I hope he didn’t offend you. Talking about the drag show and everything. He was just … taken aback. We both were.”
“Sorry it was so awkward,” said Rosie. “I think I might need practice. You’re the first people we’ve known who haven’t … known.”
“Yeah. So about that,” and Rosie braced herself in case she might have to stop liking Marginny as soon as she’d started, “I just wanted you to know that we decided not to tell our kids.”
“Tell them what?” said Penn.
“About Poppy.” Rosie answered without looking at him. She felt his arm go around her waist.
“It just seems like it would be unnecessarily confusing for them.” Marginny was twisting her fingers together like braids. “Why tell them just to ask them to forget? We’d have to explain and explain just to get them to understand and then we’d have to explain and explain about how they can never mention it again. So we thought isn’t it best to just let nature take its course?”
“Nature?” Rosie and Penn said together.
“As long as we don’t say anything, our girls will look at yours and just naturally think of her as one of them. That’s what everyone wants, right?”
“I guess so.” Rosie wasn’t sure what her objection was, but it felt like there must be one.
“Anyway, I just thought I should let you know.” Marginny smiled that genuine smile again. “May these be the most awkward conversations we ever have.”
And how could Rosie object to that?
“You told them?” Penn unwound his arm from her waist as soon as the door was closed.
“Yeah? Was I not supposed to?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t thought this through I guess.”
“Why’d you tell them?”
“It’s the truth?” said Rosie. It came out as a question.
“It’s not really.”
“That she’s really a boy?” said Penn. “She’s not really a boy.”