I Am Not a Boy by Kelly Graham

My father said he wanted a boy. I remember hearing this when I was young—maybe six years old—standing in the Grill Room at the country club. I was most likely wearing Bermuda shorts, a cotton collared shirt, and sandals in a “Kennedy-esque” style, which was my mother’s preference.

I was not a boy.

My younger sister told her kindergarten teacher that Mom had been spayed. How she knew this I do not know. That is the story my father was telling in the Grill Room, and the men were laughing. The Grill Room was filled with men.

My sister was not a boy. I was not a boy.

I also wasn’t the girl—the little lady—my- mother wanted. My exuberance was too much to be tolerated in a female form. My insistence on cowboy boots with my bathing suit, candy, and adventure spilled out over the pretense of propriety. This little-girl shell, this thing I was supposed to fit inside of, but didn’t. Late ‘60s, still buttoned-down, white, middle-class country club and life. “No colored people allowed,” the sign said—not as members anyway.

I played in the grass near the kiddie pool. Caught a bee in my hands and it stung me. I didn’t cry.

I will prove I am as good as a boy.

I positioned this decision like a grain of sand in my Keds sneakers. Encouraged its irritation. Accretion. Accumulated toughness with a thick, glossy finish.

I will prove I am as good as a boy.

And so I did. I pretended not to care about things and people. Got upset silently. Played golf—which I hated but was pretty good at—and that made my father happy. Cut my hair short and wore boyish clothes.

With occasional, unladylike bursts of outrageousness. Performing my new gymnastic routine for the neighbors upside down with panties showing.

And then came puberty. The day I walked down to Tony Hall’s basketball court in his driveway, as I did every afternoon after school. His cousin, Jimmy, was asking about me…and not about riding dirt bikes. Tony thought it best to cut loose. And that was that: I was no longer one of the boys, and we were no longer friends. I walked back up the hill to my house alone.

I couldn’t be a boy.

I heard my father say he wanted a boy, forty years ago at a taken-for-granted tidewater country club—most memories of which are pungent and sweet, the substance of clouds and humidity in the eddy of Washington, DC, in the summer.

I am not a boy.


Kelly Graham has been writing creatively since a class with Francois Camoin in 1996. Along with writing, Kelly enjoys yoga. Her work has appeared in Hobo Pancakes and The Manhattanville Review. 

© 2014 Kelly Graham