IN A way, my parents’ utter stupidity when they named me was a blessing. It’s a lot easier for people to get the memo that you’re a girl when you’ve been called Raimi all your life. But then again, it was a total pain in the ass to get the gender on my driver’s license changed.
I was one of those boys born to look a little like a girl. I’d like to say it was my lush chocolate hair. Or maybe it was just that my mom’s attractive genes had played unusually dominant. Either way, it made facial surgery pretty straightforward. No nose jobs for me, just some minor nip and tucks and a touch of laser hair removal. Gotta love modern day technology, right?
I sighed, my shoulders settling restlessly. I tried smiling in my car’s mirror and redid my lip gloss. It was my first day of high school in Little, Connecticut. More to the point, my first day of real high school. Although I was going to be a junior this year, I’d been homeschooled back in Texas. Which meant that I was as terrified as any freshman on their first day of high school with the big kids.
Satisfied with my makeup, or at least resigned to this being as good as it got, I slowly opened my door. It was a bigger relief than I had thought it would be, knowing that this was a fresh start. No one would question it when I went to the girl’s bathroom. No one would even know I started life out as a boy. That fact alone gave me the strength to walk through those ominous, craptastically tacky orange doors.
I don’t know what I expected from a brick-and-mortar high school, but this wasn’t it. I guess I imagined a preppy, pristine populous with their ties tied and skirts perfectly pleated, or maybe a postapocalyptic jungle of horny animals. Instead, it was just normal kids, age fourteen to eighteen. Completely ordinary.
Some of the girls gave me narrowed stares, and I smiled to myself. It was one thing for people to finally see me as a girl, but it was something else entirely to be seen as actual female competition. I had to stifle a laugh when the jocks turned to watch me walk by like I was a shiny new toy.
I knew I was pretty by girl standards. I mean I had a really good surgeon that we had paid to make me pretty. Except it had never been about being an attractive girl. It was about getting into the body that fit my real gender. But that didn’t mean today’s stares weren’t flattering.
I glanced down at my schedule and navigated to my first class. AP Spanish. Ugh. Not the best way to start the morning, but I supposed it could be a lot worse. It could have been chemistry.
When I entered the Spanish classroom, the kids already there looked up at me in confusion. “You’re not a senior,” a muscle-bound blond boy from the back announced.
Wow. A real Einstein, there. I nodded at him, smirking a little despite myself. It was good to know that the football players at least met my expectation in their polyester-and-pleather varsity jackets and semiliterate English. I strode across the room, readjusting the strap on my book bag.
“Hello, Mrs. Gonzales, I’m Raimi Carter, the new girl from Texas,” I murmured softly.
She beamed at me from her desk and rushed to shake my hand. “Raimi! Oh, it’s such a pleasure to meet you! It’s been so long since Clark has had a new student. Estoy deseando tener a un estudiante talentoso en mi clase. He oído que tu madre te enseñó bastante en Texas,” she gushed, her accent absolutely perfect. Translation—I look forward to having such a gifted student in my classroom. I hear your mother taught you quite a bit back in Texas.
It was clear she would be a sweet teacher who cheered for all her students to learn and graded easy, and that wasn’t a bad thing. I nodded and said as correctly and quickly as I could, “Me encanta el idioma, es tan hermoso. Y sí, mi madre fue criada en España y me enseñó muy bien. Espero continuar con mi aprendizaje.” Translation—I love the language. It’s so beautiful. And yes, my mother was raised in Spain and taught me very well. I look forward to continuing my learning.
The teacher’s eyes lit up. It was obvious she hadn’t expected me to be quite so fluent. I could almost hear my mother laughing, refusing to speak English to me until I got the accent marks right on a grammar exercise or the pronunciation perfect on a particularly challenging word.
Mrs. Gonzales shuffled through several piles of paper on her desk until I had all the handouts that she would call on as resources in class.
I silently slid into a seat on the back row, abruptly tired of being stared at. I sat, toying with my necklace until the bell rang and class began. After about five minutes of a lecture I had already learned last year, I tuned out and started doodling in my journal.
When the homework was passed out, I finished the simple worksheet at light speed and leaned back in my chair to observe the room. I literally could not describe how anticlimactic it was.
I was struck by the sad, bland, white-bread color of everyone’s faces. I glanced down at my own caramel skin, inherited from my Spanish mother. My mom’s people came from the south coast of Spain. Sailors and pirates from southern Europe, Africa, and the Middle East had spread their genetics pretty freely in that part of the world for many centuries. I figure I’m more or less a mutt. A different looking mutt.
I had never gotten a sunburn in my life. I just tanned darker until I was a creamy caramel, and then my skin just decided to give up and stay that color. I was short for a boy and tall for a girl, maybe five foot six on a good day. I had long, dark brown hair and thick eyelashes to match. My hair was naturally really wavy, but I straightened it most every morning. My face was more heart-shaped in structure than anything else. I had a thin nose, and my lips were full like my grandmother’s. Not much different about all of that, right? But my eyes, they were what made my face. They were like honey, warm and golden.
When most people first saw me, they just stared at my eyes, confused. Or maybe they were trying to see the lines of contacts. Except there were none, much to the chagrin of skeptical onlookers. My mom always told me that it was my inner beauty coming from my heart that made people stare, but I honestly thought it was the weird mix of my corn-fed Iowa boy of a dad and the exotic, fierce, almost catlike looks my mom had been blessed with. Lost in my thoughts, I jumped when the bell signaling the end of class chimed obnoxiously over the loudspeaker.
I gathered my things and rushed out the door, eager to get to my next class. Math was my absolute favorite subject of all time. It was embarrassing, but numbers always made sense to me.
When I first started gender transitioning, my mother had been the most supportive parent of all time. She pulled me from school and taught me from home for two years so that I could be myself in peace. She’d gotten a master’s in education before she went to law school, and I sincerely believed she was the smartest person I had ever met. She brought in tutors to teach her what I needed to learn, and then she taught me.
Her big spiel on sacrificing her normal career and social life for me was that she loved me, and love is love. She gave me the best education I could have hoped for; therefore, I was in all senior AP courses in this school as a junior. Of course, going to this school was more about learning the ropes of teenage society and interactions from a girl’s point of view.
My mom hoped that life for all of us would be blissfully uneventful in this small town. So did I.
Truly, I wasn’t expecting anything big, anything revolutionary or life changing in my human experience to happen in the next two years. Imagine my surprise, then, when I walked into the AP Calculus class and saw arguably the most beautiful girl I had ever laid eyes on. She literally stopped me in my tracks.
She had that whole windswept, Farrah Fawcett thing going on with her long flaxen hair. She had fair, flawless skin, the blonde girl equivalent to mine. Her legs were crossed beneath a tiny skirt, her limbs seeming to go on for miles and miles of tanned muscle tone. I was lucky enough to walk in as she was laughing, her toothpaste-commercial smile lighting up the entire room.
But her eyes.
I swear they were like turquoise, that same blue-green sparking like flint and steel across the room. I stared at her the entire way to the teacher’s desk. I handed the wheezing old man my transcript, and he mechanically handed me papers. Seeing her was like looking at the sun for too long. I took a seat in the far back of the room, trying not to make my amazement overly obvious. I didn’t even think she had seen me. Unfortunately, my complete, budding hero-worship was interrupted by the dreaded bell.
The old man stood, his knees popping like giant knuckles. He shuffled over to his podium and leaned heavily on it. He didn’t even bother smiling. His deep voice just boomed out to address us.
“Welcome to hell, my unsuspecting victims. There will be pop quizzes, and there will be homework every night. Get used to it because life doesn’t get any easier. That said, I will treat all of you fairly and try to teach each and every one of you the material to the best of my ability. Now, I would like everyone to introduce himself or herself,” he droned.
A glint of humor in his eyes told me he meant every word he’d said, but that he was a cool guy beneath it all and a confident teacher.
No doubt about it. I was going to absolutely love this class, even if he gave lots of work. He nodded at a boy in the front row, who I’m pretty sure was stoned, to start us out.
Everybody said their names like good little children, until the boy sitting behind the prettiest girl on earth. He smirked like the asshole I knew instinctively that he must be and said, “My name is the Beast.” His voice was deep and flat like a dead fish.
It was good to know that the people around me were genuinely ridiculous. It made me feel a little better about myself, at least.
The beauty just rolled her eyes and said in a soft, sultry voice, “I’m Clare Strickland. Otherwise known as the Beast’s girlfriend.”
I thought I was going to fall out of my chair. It was like someone had knocked the breath out of me. But a) she was taken; and b) she had a boyfriend who could obviously stick his fist through a brick wall and not flinch. Sigh. Oh well.
I waited my turn to speak and said obediently, “I’m Raimi.” I hoped my voice was loud enough for Clare to hear.
She raised a perfectly shaped eyebrow at me and said lightly, “Raimi? No offense, but where did your parents get that?”
The class laughed. I shrugged. “Story of my life, hon.”
She laughed then, throwing her hair back. I heard some snickers from the back at my use of “hon.” I didn’t care, though, because it made Clare laugh.
The rest of the day was horribly uneventful, going by about as fast as molasses. During my study hall, I had to pick up a few textbooks I was missing, which brought me down the school’s wide front hallway. My beat up Converses squeaked on the linoleum as I approached the attendance office.
When the woman there looked up at me from behind the glass window, she broke into a tentative smile. She slid back the glass window to talk with me. “Hello, dear. What can I help you with?”
“I need to get some textbooks I’m missing. Is there somewhere I should go or someone I should talk to?” I asked.
She nodded, pointing down the hallway in the opposite direction of the entrance.
“Just go down that hall until it ends and turn left. The book room is the first door on the right. Grab the books you need and fill out one of the sign-out forms in the folder hanging inside the door. Bring that to me. You’ll turn the books in at the same place at the end of the year. Is there anything else?”
I shook my head and turned down the long hallway. I gazed up at the ceiling, counting the ceiling tiles as I went. Each of them was painted, an art project I’m sure had taken hours and hours to complete. When I turned left, the decorated tiles ended. I wondered what would get painted on the blank tiles once it was their turn to be covered in too-bright acrylics. They were kind of like me. I had once been decorated one way—garish and clumsy. Now I had a fresh coat of white paint on my life, waiting once more for a story to be painted upon it.
I turned the door handle slowly and peered into the dusty stacks of dustier textbooks. Quietly, I made my way through row after row of books. I found everything except for the Art History book I needed.
I still don’t know what made me turn down that particular row marked Science and Tech, but I’m glad I did. I stopped midstep, hushed voices reaching my ears from the next row over.
“Brad, I really don’t want to.” Clare’s voice was recognizable, even in its cautious whisper. It had a silky quality to it that I couldn’t have forgotten if I tried. I crept forward, trying to hear better.
“Aw c’mon, baby. Just a quickie?” Beast said. Although I’d heard at lunch that his name was actually Brad.
My nose squinched up in distaste. I heard a shuffling of books and then small noises of protest. That was when I decided to make my presence known. I circled back and walked into the mouth of their row, Humanities, trying to look completely involved with the titles of books.
I squeaked in surprise and murmured, “Oh, um, sorry, I didn’t know you two were back here. Um, you wouldn’t happen to know where the Art History textbooks are, would you?” I stumbled, honestly surprised by the scene.
Brad had Clare arched backward over a low, wheeled book cart, his hand dangerously high on her thigh. The look he gave me, well, I honestly thought he would growl at me in a testosterone-induced rage and charge me. He straightened slowly, and I thought that maybe I heard him growl under his breath.
Clare looked sick with fear as she wiped the corner of her mouth where her lipstick had smeared, lowering herself off the top shelf of the cart and tugging her skirt back down where it belonged. I noticed her surreptitiously pushing Brad’s hand off of her leg as she pointed in the other direction from me.
“Art History is down that way, last shelf on the right, eye level.” Her voice quavered badly.
I tried to shake the unease churning in my stomach and pasted on a big smile. “Thanks!” And with that, I rushed past them to get my textbook. I heard them leave and hurried out behind them. I just wanted to go home and try to forget what I had seen.
High school was nothing like what I thought it would be.