Sunlight Shining Through Clouds
My early formative years were spent in relative seclusion, my parents had a small social circle but were never active members of any community. Indeed, all of their friends did have children, but they were mostly teenagers so there was really no one that I could relate to, no one that was like me. Even the cousins I had my age were all males.
I still remember the first day my mother dropped me off at Primary school; I would have been about four and a half at the time. Rather than take me to find my class, she walked me past the sports oval towards the main building, then all of a sudden handed me my bag told me where to go and briskly walked off without a backwards glance.
I stood there shaking, and it wasn’t long before the tears started to fall. All my young life all I had ever known was her company and now I had been abandoned in this strange place. A few older girls had seen me and must have taken pity as they came to help me and quickly found my classroom for me.
It wasn’t long until I was settled that day when an extreme fascination came over me I couldn’t explain; it was basically the first time I had been in the company of girls my own age. As I settled into school and made friends with the other boys, it was quite apparent I had little in common with them, everything they reveled in doing seemed strange and uncomfortable almost distasteful for me.
One day I started talking to a girl called Vanessa; we became fast friends and would sit in class together and talk at playtime. There were no issues with the fact that I was a boy and she a girl. She was the best friend I have ever had. A few months later, I received an invitation to her birthday party and begged my parents to take me, I had been told by Vanessa that I was the only boy invited, but as I’ve previously stated my parents had no interest in such things with the community so I didn’t get to go.
The Sun wasn’t shining that day. A few weeks went by and suddenly my friend had disappeared, nowhere to be seen. All I can remember was our teacher telling us she would be back soon. One of the things my Primary School did back in the 80’s was to have a weekly school assembly where we would sing God Save the Queen and Raise the Australian flag as the Grade six boys played marching drums to a military beat.
This would always happen first thing on a Monday morning, week in week out. Forty years later, I struggle to remember which day of the week it was, but one day that was not a Monday, the Principle announced we would be having a full school assembly in ten minutes. We all marched out into the courtyard prepared to sing yet again, but instead of singing our Principle walked past all of the lined up students with his head down, straight up to the flag pole where the flag that hat been raised on Monday proudly flapped on the breeze.
He reached out for the cord and proceeded to pull the flag down to half mast; I had no concept of what that entailed at the time, but would certainly know shortly. When he returned to his usual speaking position at the entrance steps to the school, he preceded to inform us that a student had passed away. I will never forget to my dying day his words, “It is with deep regret that I have to inform you all that Vanessa Wisheart from Grade One passed away from leukemia this morning.”
I don’t think I really perceived what had just happened; she was gone. The Sun wasn’t shining that day. Vanessa was the first person that saw me, not as a boy or a girl, because gender didn’t come into it, not for her. She was the friend I needed and she was gone. As the weeks passed, I continued trying to be one of the boys; it was harder now, I still had no idea why. I just thought I was weak. So I hid it as best I could, I was never truly one of them, but as I had a quick wit I could make them laugh and gained some acceptance through my use of humor. However, I would always see the girls, see what they were doing, see how they dressed and most importantly, see how they interacted with each other.
It seemed such a better kinder world I knew I should have been a part of. So I decided in my child’s mind to set for myself hard, almost impossible tasks. For example; if I could walk the two kilometers home from school that afternoon without stepping on any cracks in the footpath I would wake up the next day and God would make me a girl. Now I know this sounds ridiculous, but I went at little tasks like this for weeks and weeks all the time, planning harder competitions for myself in the hopes that my wish would be granted, well you all know how it turned out. God doesn’t work that way. When it became apparent God wasn’t listening.
I started wondering what I could do, telling someone what I desired never even came into my mind; I guess when your that age you have no reference on what to do. My pain was internal and mine alone. One of the things I did love to do was my daily bath. Back then you only had one full tank of hot water each day, and once it ran out so did the baths and showers. My father had recently left working for a large firm and as a parting gift they had given him an expensive gold razor.
He proudly displayed it in our bathroom for all to see. I never told him or anyone until now, but as a five year old, I would sit in that bath every night with his razor in my little hand trying to raise the courage to correct Gods mistake myself. I never really attempted it; I was too scared of what would happen and the trouble I would get into but the thought never left me, and the act of contemplating it seemed to help in some strange way. As if I was rebelling or being defiant to the injustice of my predicament.
About a year later, at the age of six, I remember it was the middle of winter and the boys of my class were playing a game of poison ball. As we were playing the game I noticed some girls from our class skipping ropes and others were braiding hair. I stopped in my tracks, transfixed, unmoving as tears started streaming down my face. I was like a statue in a moving sea of humanity or maybe more like a sad scarecrow in a windy field. As I stood there, longing for the life I desired, a ball hit me square in the face and knocked me to the concrete ground. It didn’t really hurt, but I lay there, everyone must of assumed I was crying because I’d been hit, but that wasn’t so.
As the teacher bent over to check on me, I looked up and what I saw was not his face; what I saw was the sunlight shining through the clouds, and as strange as it may seem, as the heat hit me from the weak winter sun, I knew I was a girl. I knew this was not my world. My world was over there skipping rope and braiding hair.
It took me another 40 years to finally make this a reality, but if I know anything, through those 40 years, Vanessa has been with me, a silent Angel who has patiently waited and known. As I write these words, even now, I have tears for her, and If I close my eyes, I can still see her face, her smile, and her love. Today, and every day yet to come, the sun is shining through the clouds.