My eyes adjust slowly to the evidence of a successful massacre, tiny bodies torn, tattered, mutilated, are triumphantly displayed across the dark hardwood in every direction of the room. The palette of artificial skin tones and polyurethane hair create a neutral rainbow of disheveled parts, limbs twisted into compromising positions. She must have pulled and ripped for a while, which explains her absence. I chuckle and smile.
The door makes a loud thud as I shove it all the way open to enter my baby sister’s room. An arm flies through the air then lands next to the tiny bed nestled against the left hand wall from where I stand. I step forward and something soft gives way under my weight. Flipping on the light illuminates an abdomen. I step to the right only to land on a head which rolls out from under the ball of my foot smashing the face into the ground. It makes a “pop” as the plastic eyes shoot out sending me off balance into the little wooden dresser against the right hand wall. The framed group soccer photo falls to the hardwood, along with a little league trophy that lands on top of a severed leg. I put everything back the best I can. Then, something giggles in the walls.
“Mitra?” I call out.
There is a stir in the closet, a loud boom before the double white doors fly open and a small mass bursts free growling, and baring baby canines. “Impressive” I wink at my little sister. She smiles, stands all the way upright tilts her head back to look at me. Her chest puffs like a rooster. It rises and falls as she catches her breathe, trying to hold back laughter. Her blue eyes look out from under her bangs, her blonde hair matted at the crown. She’s wearing her favorite long blue nylon soccer shorts, oversized light blue t-shirt, high socks, and of course cleats. She looks like a gym teacher.
“What are you doing?” I move her hair from her eyes, and she swats at my hand.
“Pwaying” She points to the baby holocaust.
“What did you do to your dolls?”
She smiles, pushes her hip out, twirls her hair between her tiny, chubby fingers, and gestures to the floor with her other hand to where all the dolls lie in their plastic cemetery. They’re all nude. Their clothes are strewn about the piles of doll heads which have been separated from the bodies. The faces are covered in what seems like black writing.
“What did you write kiddo? It looks like you’re worshipping Satan.” She tilts her head and furrows her brows.
“I don’t know, supposedly someone who is really rude”.
“No, Saman is your older brother”.
I suppose that might be the equivalent to her.
Being the oldest I don’t understand the trials and tribulations of being a younger sibling. Her “rude” older brother is only eight years old, someone I regularly take on play dates, and send to his room when he says something inappropriate, like “penis”. God forbid a kid say the name of a body part. The same part my father used to repopulate planet earth with his “strong Persian” genes.
I pick up a head by its stringy, blond ponytail. At closer inspection I realize the doll doesn’t have writing on her face, rather she has been “re-assigned” with facial hair via black sharpie marker. The facial hair was new, an addition to her usual undressing and dismembering. She takes the clothes off of them claiming they, like her, are more comfortable that way. Living vicariously through them: naked and hairy.
“Why facial hair Mitra?”
“They juss look betta dat way”
She frowns as she catches on that I am ever so slightly weirded out.
“Of course they do honey”
“Wanna prway leggos?”
She tilts her head waiting for my response with her hands on her hips like she has seen her mother do. In fact, she looks just like her mother, and nothing like the rest of us being the only one with light features. In my family, regardless of how pretty she might be to most of the world, she will never be told so.
My father regularly picks her up and inspects her like a rotten potato.
“Why is she so white”?
He’ll say with his whole face scrunched up, mouth pursed, and arms straight out in front of him with my sister dangling in his hands where he holds her under the armpits so they are eye to eye. He talks through her to my step mother on the other side.
“Shut up Abbas before I beat you to death.” She’s half joking.
My blond, Mormon step-mother will scream in her soccer mom voice then shoot death glances over one of her thousands of fashion magazines pulled from one of the many stacks neatly kept on our 15th century antique Italian coffee table in the living room. There are boxes of them, hundreds or thousands. She’s “a hoarder”, like a chipmunk, but a very clean and orderly version.
My father will look at me after putting her down to scuttle away,
“She won’t chenge dat color, doesn’t she look dead dat color? You are a good colair, but you would be much better if you didn’t have half the stupid white in you. You would be smarter too; you only have half da brain”.
“No really, I’m serious, Persians are the most beautiful, and most intelligent, not like stupid white, who are so stupid they have to get someone from Africa to run their country for them…stupid, stupid”.
“Abbas, so help me god, if you don’t shut up I am going to come kick your butt.”
My step-mother will yell again. My father, knowing he’s getting close to actually being in trouble, will chuckle nervously, and then continues. At this point I tune him out because I can only handle his Persian Empire speech for so long before I lose my mind, or my temper, which my father will then attribute to my bloodline of warriors. All of his five mostly illegitimate children are half “white” as he calls it, though Persians are technically Caucasian so I don’t know what the hell that means. I have decided “white” actually means “fair skinned”. My sisters and brother all look like me, dark hair, and greenish almond shaped eyes, olive skin. In me and my sister Chanelle’s case we are also gifted with huge hips that scream to all semen in a ten meter vicinity “impregnate me, I am a baby factory”.
This is not the case with Mitra. You wouldn’t know she was my sister because of her coloring, but even more so because she doesn’t look like a girl. She looks like a feminine little boy. This is part of the reason I agree to babysit her despite generally disliking children, she’s constantly entertaining.
In general children make me uncomfortable. I can’t, “cooo” and “caaaah” like women are “supposed” to do. Being around them is an awkward experience, even stressful because I constantly worry about breaking something I don’t own. What if I trip over it, or teach it to accidentally say “Fuck”? Being around children for me is like walking through a fine dining collector’s aisle of an upscale store; it’s a fear of breaking something I can’t replace. I might look feminine, but I’ve never felt it. I’ve always felt like a strange mix, too masculine for child rearing, too feminine for construction work, though I do enjoy automotive repair.
Mitra is still staring at me wondering if I can play Leggos or not.
“We can play after you eat”
She’s not listening. Instead she bends down to the floor to add a mustache to a doll with a beard. The doll now looked like Santa Clause and I’m reminded of last December when my step mother asked, “What do you want for Christmas?” and pointing to her crotch she said, “That thing I don’t have”. While other children are asking for dolls, video games, etc., my sister wants Santa to bring her a penis.
“You can fix her facial hair later, come on”
I turn and walk out of the newly painted, light blue, little girl’s room to check on my niece, Avah, who I am also watching, and who is downstairs alone doing god-knows-what. “Come with me Mitra”
I call her again after noticing she’s not behind me. No response and she have yet to step into the long hallway leading to the staircase, which leads to the tea room on the main floor. I wait another minute and she is still in her room, I roll my eyes, “Jimmy” I yell. She immediately turns the corner from her room pushing her hair from her face walking towards me. More and more she only responds to the little boys name she gave herself a few weeks ago.
“Why did you choose the name Jimmy?” We take the first step down, slowly because she has to take one baby step at a time, and the marble is slippery. I have always refused to help her so she no longer asks. Instead I wait patiently while she holds the rail, eyes on the step in front of her, stepping down, waiting to make sure she is steady before transferring her weight. The more she can do alone, the better off she will be when she gets older and realizes the more she can do for herself the better.
She makes it down two steps and pauses to answer,
“I like it”.
“But why not something like, King Edward, or George?”
“Those are stupid”
“But Jimmy isn’t?” I mumbled.
At the bottom of the stairs I tell her to go find Avah, and play with her. She nods, then sprints across the tea room into the living room. I linger long enough to take in the room, the gold, the Persian carpets, the painting depicting a man and his herem, a hand-dipped, gold and sapphire chandelier. My father’s décor reeks of tradition. His objects attest to the fact that he has physically left Iran but never really left Iran. I hear the little girls talking and cannot help but laugh. Mitra thinks she’s a boy, Avah is the out of wedlock child of my little sister, and me, well, I’m an impoverished, life-long student of useless degrees with a history of failed relationships, and no social skills. I smile because we, the fruit of his loins, are Karma personified. Every year that we grow older, we always do yet another thing that makes him regret not using a better contraceptive.
In the kitchen I pull out pasta and watch the little girls talking on the other side of the room where they interact like petite adults. They gesture with their tiny hands sloppily, exaggerating the movements, speaking back and forth with importance inappropriately close to each other’s faces still unaware that culturally we are obsessed with distance in a way that creates psychological space too. Their happiness is my happiness, and I’m thankful that their childhood is not my childhood. It took a few months to get used to the idea of having a little sister that is twenty years my junior, and some time get over the fact that it took twenty years for my father to become emotionally available, just in time for the new, younger kids to have the life I’d only ever seen in the movies.
The little girls, my sister, and our niece are only three months apart. The two are related, sharing subtle characteristics. The real difference is their hair and clothing. Avah’s white hair pulled up high in a ponytail on top of her head with a crown of pink berets, Mitra’s long, wavy, dirty blondish hair hangs in a mess over her little shoulders like a mop. Avah looks like a spray-can of pink paint exploded on her, Mitra looks like a mini David Beckham.
Pasta swirls in a strainer, the steam stings my face and I hope it opens my pores enough for me to sneak into the bathroom after and do a sugar scrub. I feel old. Through the window above the sink a deer nibbles the mint in our garden.
“I’m the dad you can be the mom, so now you get me food”.
Mitra’s voice bellows through the empty space, reverberating off of the high ceilings.
“Why do I have to make food?” Avah screams.
“Because you’re the girl!” Mitra retorts.
“You’re a girl too!”
“NO I’M NOT! GIRLS ARE STUPID!” Mitra screams.
I dry my hands and start towards them but before I arrive Avah takes a step forward and in what seems like slow-motion punches Mitra in the shoulder. Mitra cries, oozing liquid from every orifice. Avah starts to cry too. They scream, kick, and punch while I carry them to the couch like tiny bags of potatoes. On the couch they sit on my lap doing a strange breathing thing that sounds like gasp, gasp, gasp, sigh, gasp, gasp, gasp, sigh.
“Mitra, it looks like girls are tougher than you give them credit for, because she just landed a mean jab”. I’d like her to stop hating her own sex, enough women in the world hate themselves, she doesn’t need to be one of them. Avah, like a snow princess, sat on my right knee very proud of herself.
“It’s not nice to hit, Avah”.
She frowns, her pale white skin and bright greenish eyes make her seem angelic, clearly a facade.
“She called girls stupid!”
“I know, but hitting is not nice. Use your words next time, attack her self-esteem”. They both tilted their heads confused by this thing called “self-esteem”.
“Mitra, you don’t call girls stupid, you’re a girl, I’m a girl, Avah is a girl”.
“I’m not a girl!”
“Yes you are and you’re lucky too! Do you see daddy and mommy? Which one is in charge? Mommy right? Because a girl is better.”
She growls, fists balled up against her sides, head down, eyes blazing from under her messy locks. I watch her for a moment and wonder which of the many factors has her convinced it’s better to be a boy? Living in a house with two older brothers is probably part of it. I was a tom-boy when I was a child, anyone who is competitive and intelligent might see the tragedy in being female. The little ones calmed down quickly and soon enough they were making weird noises and playing again; I kissed them both leaving them on the couch.
“Look, both of you be nice while I finish your food. Play, or just sit and stare at the walls. No fighting!”
I bring their food into the living room where Avah is still sitting on the couch, but Mitra is gone. “Avah, where is Mitra?”
“I don’t know”
“MITRA!? JIMMY!” I yell towards the ceiling in case she’s on the second floor. A noise comes from the bathroom off to the side of the living room. I enter to find Mitra standing over the toilet, holding her shirt up, peeing everywhere wiggling around trying to find the best angle to hit the bowl of the toilet.
“MITRA! What are you doing?! Sit down! You are peeing everywhere!” I’m trying not to laugh at how ridiculous she looks, but I’m not judging. I tried that once when I was a kid because I was jealous of my brother who could do it. I got into a lot of trouble, I didn’t want to be THAT asshole but, my empathy was fading as I realized that I am the grown up and would have to clean up the pee.
“I can do it like this!”
She screams. I contemplate explaining that physiologically she really can’t but she’s too young, and already made a giant mess so what’s the point. She finishes peeing all over the toilet, backs off of it, wipes, then wiggles her little pants back up grinning from ear to ear. I help her wash her hands struggling not to burst into laughter. Who am I to crush dreams? I’m just here to make sure they remain alive until their parents return.
The girls eat their food at their little person table, talking among themselves, friendly, smiling, in between over-sized spoons of noodles that mostly fall out of their mouths onto the table. One wouldn’t know they were just trying to beat each other to death.
My cell phone rings.
“Hey” his voice is soft, too soft, as it always.
“Hi. How’s your day going?”
“Okay, thank you. How are the girls?”
“The girls are great, fighting a bit. Mitra is mad that she is a girl.”
“Isn’t she always mad about that? I would much rather be a girl” He laughs. I don’t laugh because he’s serious. Despite liking him as a human, the entertainment of dating a man that wants to be a woman is fading. There’s nothing wrong with liking women, I just don’t want to be dating one that has a penis.
“Oh, the girls are being nuts I have to go” I lie, “call me back later”.
Oddly, my sister decided she wanted to be a boy at almost the same time I was dating a boy who wanted to be a girl, not the “transsexual” kind of way, but in the “can I wear your dress” kind of way, all while writing my sociology thesis on “sexual fluidity and social influence”. When I met Tom I was working at a gay club and at the peak of my research for my thesis. Now, I didn’t date him for research reasons, but I was extremely fascinated by him. He was dressed in a tie, a button down, slacks, and high heels. From the feet up he was completely masculine, and model attractive. He was nice, interesting and extremely relaxed which is what I needed. I’d been going through a rough patch and needed companionship without any expectations. The fun of dating someone different was gone now as I took a step towards my future I needed someone who could take a step with me. That wasn’t him.
The little girls had abandoned their food to play Leggos on the floor.
In the dining room I take a seat at the over-sized, gold and dark-wood dining table. Every giant, gold adorned piece of furniture was generously topped with more gold. I pushed the gold- plated fruit bowl out of my way to put my head on the table. I’m tired. I’m confused about life, love, and children. Watching children is tiring; I can’t imagine why parents agree to do this for free. Good parents, the ones who stick around and actually try do a lot of work, what’s in it for them?
I walk back into the living room where the girls were still playing leggos. I plopped down on the big brown leather couch to watch them. Avah is aggressive like a little boy and Mitra thinks she is one. Maybe she thinks that because the way girls are ‘supposed’ to act is lame. I think that too. I played soccer, I enjoyed wrestling and getting dirty, I hated dolls and preferred He-man figurines. Gendering is too confining. Our culture is too defining, too restricting. I coughed and their attention turned to me. They both slowly lost interest in their creation and crawled onto the couch..
“Can we watch a movie?” Avah asks.
“Snow-white” she smiles her pageant smile, all of her teeth showing. Mitra bolted up glaring at Avah.
“NO! NOT THAT!” Mitra Screamed, “I hate princesses!”
Like a member of the swat team Avah had jumped off of my lap onto Mitra’s lap. I dragged Avah off of her. Watching babies brawl is like midget wrestling. I pulled them apart again. Enough was enough, my step-mother and sister would return to find their children missing chunks of hair and teeth if I didn’t separate them. I put them in separate bedrooms for a “time-out” session. Mitra was being punished for “verbal insensitivity”. She had no idea what that was. Avah was in trouble for being a small, white, female version of Mike Tyson. She didn’t know who that was.
Then he calls again.
“Have you killed the children yet?” he laughed.
“No, I’ve stopped them from trying to kill each other a few times though”.
I laugh uncomfortably,
“What are you doing tonight?”
“I don’t know. You?”
“Watching Dracula, because the guy who plays him is really handsome, and then…I don’t know. Ty wants to do some project where I dress in drag and flirt with people for fun.
“Interesting. You’re more comfortable in women’s clothes lately”.
“Yeah, cause it’s funny. And besides I make a hot woman. We still need to talk about you being bothered about me not being ‘manly enough’”.
“Excuse me?” I ask.
“I prefer being quiet” he continued. “I like observing more than being active in conversation. I know that it bothers you. I can tell. I’m not a super manly guy; I don’t know what to do about that exactly”.
“Well you were wearing yellow pumps when I met you. I know you’re not super “manly”.”
How annoying. That he’s trying to call me on my bullshit, and that I care about something so fake, appearances and society, as if I’m the most social butterfly. How many of us really care what another person is saying or doing? We nod, pretend to care, ask the right questions on cue, and try not to think about our laundry or homework enough to pick up on the next cue requiring our response. People usually become automated outside of their comfort zone. So why is it such a desired skill when there is nothing real about it?
“I understand that I have a lot of stuff to work through. You’re leaving for Italy though. You won’t be back for eight months and you already told me you don’t want to date anymore. Is it really an immediate problem now?”
“I’m not certain. And maybe it’s less of a social thing than it is a passive thing. Passive people worry me. I had better go check on the girls again. I want to make sure they’re not sharpening toothbrushes into knives and all that”.
“Good luck”. He said.
I hung up the phone, stood against the counter for a moment wondering what’s wrong with me. He’s perfectly nice, I would never have to worry about him lying or cheating (with a woman anyways), yet, I am not interested. There are much worse things than liking women’s clothing. He could be vile like most men, picking his nose, spitting, being generally misogynistic. Haven’t we gotten over the olden days of the “great protector” or the “delicate flower”? How many “male” traits are considered desirable these days? Brute strength hasn’t been valuable for a few hundred years.
And my little sister, there is nothing wrong with her just because she likes “boy” things. She’s smart and determined, and more importantly she’s happy. Society has created such rigid standards; it’s only natural that everyone can’t follow them.
I went to check on the girls one more time. Both were fast asleep in their little beds. They were probably just tired, and therefore homicidal.
At the end of the day give or take a little hormones, an inny or an outy, we’re all just people, naked, vulnerable, and trying to do our best to stay sane.