When I became "Peter Malinowski," in Maine, my 17-year-old son ("Mason" for the purposes of this blog,) became a 15-year-old girl from around the area I will call "Brooke Shaner." I only had a brief time with him to digest what had happened to us before Brooke's parents came to collect her. She had disappeared weeks earlier, initially to spend the night with Trevor, and then simply vanished (into whatever limbo where bodies are held... a question I don't want to ponder) until Mason's transformation. That's two weeks without knowing where their daughter was. I'm told she concocted some kind of flimsy cover story that was starting to grow suspicious by the time Mason was transformed. Mason's shellshocked appearance upon "rescue" was likely not helpful.
The way they arrived very quickly after the change leads me to believe someone tipped them off, who would have knowledge of the Inn's magic (Mason doesn't seem to think they have a clue.)
As a result, while I've been Peter Malinowski of Dover, Delaware, my son has been living in Maine for the past several months, as a girl somewhat younger than himself, and I have been tearing my hair out (which I shouldn't do since I gained a good amount of it) trying to keep tabs on him from a distance.
Understand, I hadn't been a full-time parent in years before my wife left him with me to go "do good" in Central America. So I'm a little protective of him, and the idea of leaving him with strangers, to play this new role, was frustrating to me, but I had no choice. I wished I could have been there, especially in those scary early weeks. It might have brought us closer together. Instead, we are further apart than ever.
I contact him often, to ask how he is feeling. Mostly he dodges the question by giving simple answers. He tells me things are fine, and I wonder how that can possibly be.
So I told him, over the Christmas holiday, I was going to use some vacation time to go to Maine and see him. He seemed reluctant, but I told him it was non-negotiable. It was a time for family, and he was important to me. All I asked for was one day of his time. By then, he had behaved himself as Brooke to where his disappearance was forgiven and he was getting a bit more leeway with the Shaners to do as he pleased.
I met Mason at a café not far from his house. I was very early. I kept my eyes fixed on the door. I knew what he looked like, but was not used to seeing it in person, so every young lady who walked through the door got an unfortunate once-over from me before proceeding to the counter to order. I had sent a recent photo so that he wouldn't mistake me for someone else. I was being very cautious.
The last time I had seen my son in person, he was very much traumatized, so the mental image I had was of a tense, shuffling, awkward girl. I had to look twice when a comparatively poised, confident young lady breezed into the coffee shop and, after a moment's glance of recognition, took her seat across from me. I didn't know how to react.
She was wearing a green scarf and a dark coat, undone. She had her dark brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. She didn't appear to be wearing any makeup, that I could tell - a few spots of acne dotted her face, which made me wonder if Mason would be more or less self-conscious from wearing cover-up (as I believe many teenage girls and grown women do) than letting blemishes show.
"Hey," she said softly. Then, collecting herself, she added "Dad" more softly.
"Hi... Brooke." We were in public, so "Mason" wouldn't do, but his new name stuck in my throat awkwardly. I went in for a hug, and he leaned forward only slightly in his seat to allow it.
"Sorry, I didn't know how I should..." he said, before trailing off.
"I understand," I said - even in our normal form our hugs were perhaps not as comfrotable as they could have been. "Are you going to have anything?" Maybe later, he said.
I asked how things had been. I had asked often enough over text, but there he was able to be evasive. I hoped in person he would be forthcoming.
"It's okay," he said. We weren't off to a good start. "School is easy since I took a lot of these classes already, but I get a little tired of repeating stuff. Brooke's friends are good people."
"Interesting," I said, "Do you feel like... you fit in?"
"Sure," he said.
"Is it strange?" I asked, "Having a body so different? Are you okay with it?"
"Yeah, it's fine," he said, "It took some getting used to, but, like, it's been months, so whatever."
I guess I didn't expect him to tell me if he spent his nights crying about it. But his phrasing, that it "took some getting used to," suggested he was now officially "used to it." This would be in line with what I knew about Leon, and Cathy for that matter. The implication that he was as used to it as they were, or most of the people who go through this blog, unsettled my stomach.
"Tell me about your new friends, then, what are they like?"
"They're ok. They make fun of me because they think Brooke is going through a serious tomboy phase, not to mention becoming a total amnesiac about her own life, but they're still nice to me. That part is really reassuring. We hang out a lot. I was afraid to ask for girl tips from them but I get a lot of info just from listening to them talk."
"Okay, that's good."
"It's better than when I was living with you, because I didn't have any friends in Illinois."
Ouch. But at least he was finding silver linings. And it didn't really sound like he was blaming me for that...
He named off a few friends... Katies, Melissas, Lauras. They sounded like typical teenage girls, discovering make-up and fashion and, yes, boys.
Then he started naming boys who were friends of Brooke's - Dereks and Lukes and Brads. "Brad and I watched a few football games together. Luke's into Xbox, so we stay up late playing over the headset. Derek is always the first to sit next to me at lunch."
To write it out, it might sound very innocent, but as he described it, he was practically swooning.
I took my time formulating a response to this. I wanted to be fair to this but I also wanted information.
"And how do you feel about the way these boys treat you? Is it... different from how it used to be?"
He scoffed a perfect teenage girl huff. "Obviously."
"And... do you like it?"
"I don't know, kinda," he said, shifting in his seat. "Are you asking if I like boys now?"
"No, well... I would like to know if you have thoughts on it. You don't have to hide that from me."
"I don't know. I don't want to talk about it. It's weird."
So now it was weird. A minute ago he kinda liked it. I'm trying to remember what it was like been a teenager and having lots of confusing feelings.
"I don't want you to judge me," he said, "If I'm not some all American super boy like you want."
"I don't care about that. Who told you I did?"
"Trevor," he said. "He told me you were really rooting for him when he went out for the football team."
"You talked to Cathy?" I said, using 'Trevor's' proper/original name.
"Sure, we have lots in common." I supposed that was true, in a sense. Their experience is... closer to each other's than mine. But it still felt like a betrayal because neither mentioned it before now and I had no idea what they were saying to one another.
"Did you know that she's dating?" I said, maybe a little spitefully.
"Yeah," Mason said. "It's not really dating though. Nothing official."
That didn't make me feel more at ease.
"You should be careful, Mase," I said firmly, "These boys probably are interested in you, at least some of them."
"So?" he sneered petulantly, "I can make my own decisions."
"So... I don't want you to do something you'll regret."
"You don't trust me," Mason said, crossing his arms under his breasts and looking away.
"It's not that. I just don't trust... other people."
"If I was a boy, you would never talk to me this way. You're a sexist."
"You don't know what you're saying!" I snapped back. "It's different for girls and boys, okay? You at least know that much, right?"
"I can handle it. Don't talk to me like I'm an idiot. You don't even know me."
"Apparently I don't."
We sat there silently for a moment, then he murmured, "You're hooking up with Leon, for God's sake, and that guy is digusting. Don't talk to me about urges okay?"
I was aghast. Finally, I sputtered, "What I do, what adults do, is none of your concern. You're still a child, you're my child, and that makes you my responsibility."
"Oh yeah?" he said, standing up to leave, He leaned in and hissed "Why should I listen to you? I'm not your son anymore."
"You think it's that easy?" I said, frustrated, "That some magic curse overrides my parental responsibility? Poof, you're a stranger to me?"
"Why not? You had no problem handing me over to them - and they're way nicer than you anyway."
"I was never mean to you! Don't make a scene. Is this... just your hormones or something?"
That, admittedly, was the wrong thing to say. He left, saying only "Don't follow me."
I felt very bad after he left, especially for the hormones remark. I was very bothered by the fact that my timid, introverted son would never have spoken to me that way. Had estrogen warped his brain, or was he finally about to really let out what he really felt, emboldened by the fact that he no longer had to rely on me for parental support, and no longer had an identity that was tied to mine. That he can declare me a stranger so quickly was startling.
I sent a very carefully worded e-mail to him afterwards, acknowledging that things had not always been perfect between us - I stopped short of outright apologizing because 1) I firmly believe I did my best, and 2) I think it is a sign of weakness for a parent to apologize to his child so quickly. I told him that no matter his feelings, I had his best interests in mind 100% of the time, and that, with nobody nearby who knows his situation, it is incumbent on me to help him get his normal body back.
Assuming that is what he wants.
If he would rather be a girl? Well, I suppose the chips will fall where they may, but there is a woman in upstate New York who lived the first 16 years of Brooke's life, and I doubt she would be pleased about being cut off from it, and I told him so.
Mason sent me a lengthy e-mail in response, in which he also did not apologize for his behavior but hinted at admitting wrongdoing. He defended his attitude and admitted things "had been difficult" to figure out (re: identity and sexuality, I guessed) and that I hit a nerve by suggesting he was somehow wrong to feel that way.
I told him I didn't mean to give that impression, only to give the advice I would want to give a daughter, if I had one, about boys' intentions. I guess that was both stupid (because he was a boy and knew their intentions) and a double-standard, because I had never warned him off of girls and in fact encouraged him to do his best to win them over.
Mea culpa on that one.
The last part of my response concerned Cathy/Trevor, who I assured him was NOT the son I wanted. I wanted him, no matter who he is - athletic or nerdy (apparently that's a cool thing to be called now?) boy or girl.
He appreciated my saying so. Once that was smoothed over, we agreed to meet again before I left town. This time he arrived wearing pre-ripped jeans (I had no idea those were back in style, yuck.) I asked if his legs got cold, and he laughed it off. I complimented his hair, which was up in a messy bun.
"Thanks... it's not that hard once you learn the basics."
Things were a lot more warm between us this time. He told me that no matter what, he did want to go back to being himself. He didn't know how to make it work, given that the Shaners were going to be watching their daughter like a hawk come summertime, considering her disappearance last year. He thought maybe he could get one of the girls to claim they were going on vacation together. I don't like the idea of a child having to lie to parents, but obviously we have limited options. I told him to let me know.