A Sparkle of Hope
The repulsion toward my jagged fingernails does not deter me from bringing my right hand back up to my mouth. I pace, like a wind-up toy tightly wound. With each step, I can feel the carpet wearing under my heavy footfalls.
Tomorrow is my wedding day, and before I can live happily ever after, I have one more chore to complete. I am going to try and persuade my parents to come to my wedding, a burden I would not wish upon my greatest enemy. Apprehension fills the foyer as time moves closer towards the resurfacing of the parents who, almost eight years ago, disowned me and refused to speak or see me, until today.
Paige, my fiance, sent them a letter, including the wedding invitation, about a month ago and they responded with an acceptance to this meeting but not the wedding. It cut deeply to learn that they made no mention of the marriage but, they’re on their way over now. I wait, agonizing over my parents’ arrival at my home. They have never met my wife to be, and I’m terrified of what they may say when they see me. I went through great lengths to mold myself into whom I wanted to be, and it’s a far cry from the person they expected. My optimism wavers but doesn’t fall completely apart.
Paige put her hand on my arm, stopping me mid-stride. “Calm down; it will be okay.” She says this with love reflecting in her eyes. The magnitude of adoration in her gaze envelops me. Paige has always been a pillar of strength, and I find no reason to doubt her now. I grab her hands, cupping them both in mine. Raising our hands to my mouth, I place a kiss on each of her fingers, exhaling love with each kiss. The doorbell rings and my whole body goes rigid. Paige squeezes my hands before she releases them and heads towards the door.
The absence of the heat from her hands cause momentary fear but the warmth I feel as I watch her walk away, sets me in motion. I turn and head to the living room as per our plan. I take my rehearsed seat in the recliner, diagonally facing the loveseat and wait. I look around our living room, admiring the art and mismatched furniture. I hear the teapot heating in the kitchen to my right, and I sit angled so that I’m staring down into the hallway that leads to our bedrooms and a single bathroom. I twist my index finger around a loose thread as I hear Paige open the door and greet my father as Mr. Campbell and my mother as Mrs. Campbell. I hear my father stumble through a brief hello, followed by the ruffling of clothing as they enter the house.
This is their first time seeing my home, and as the thought crosses my mind, I look around again, on edge thinking about what judgments they will make about our decor. Paige and I purchased this small yet comfortable house when we first decided that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. That was well over seven years ago, and we haven’t made changes since. We were in our early twenties and probably should have waited but this house has become the foundation for the love we share, and it would feel wrong if we lived somewhere else.
The appearance of my father and mother in the tight entry into the living room causes me to jump up from the chair. I try and play my reaction down, but by the look on Paige’s face, I doubt they bought it. I meet them partway and put my hand out to my father as a peace offering.
“Hi, Dad. Mom. So nice to see you.” My father grabs my hand and shakes it with authority and says, “Alex,” in a sharp tone, before releasing my hand.
At the mention of my old nickname, I feel a pang of regret. After the relationship with my parents regretfully dissolved, I was reborn from the ashes of my former self. “It’s Alexander now, Dad.” He says ‘oh.’ and looks uncomfortably to my mother.
My mother looks me up and down in bewilderment. I want to run out of the room and into the comfort of my bedroom. However, I ignore her expression and gesture to the loveseat, asking them to sit down. They thankfully sit, and I return to the recliner.
The sound of the teapot whistling cuts through the silence and Paige excuses herself and move towards the kitchen. She wanted my parents and me to talk through our differences and for me to somehow convince them to end their avoidance and attend our wedding. Paige and I met shortly after my parents decided I was unlovable and although I told her what happened, she has no idea how adamant they were and the lengths they went through to stay out of my life. I’m amazed that they are here, sitting in my living room. I can feel the disapproval flowing from the loveseat, but I hold onto the miracle that brought them here and began our conversation.
“Thank you so much for accepting the invitation. It makes me happy to know you’re both here.”
The corners of my mouth turn up briefly but drop at the sound of a grunt from my father. I deflate, and like a misbehaved child waiting for punishment, I wait for him to speak.
“I, am only here because, according to Paige, we didn’t give you a good enough opportunity to express yourself. So talk.”
As my father speaks, I plummet right back into high school. He was always curt and almost abusive in the way he addressed a person. I take a deep breath and hold onto the loose thread, attempting to protect myself from the memories I now have to relive. The anxiety I felt before they arrived has now increased to that of a frightened puppy who has gotten too far from home.
“Dad, I just wanted you to understand how I felt.” My voice betrays the dejection of my memories, “I was alone in high school because no one knew what I was going through. I needed you. I had no one else until Paige came along.” I tell myself to keep it together as I swallow the lump in my throat and widen my eyes to contain the tears threatening to fall.
My mother cuts in with the sweetest voice she could muster, “Sweetie, we just didn’t understand how to help you.”
It’s hard for me to trust her words, but I have to agree that it was a confusing time for us all. My dad looks to my mom and back at me like a dragon ready to spew fire, “Ha! What was there to understand? Our little girl decided she didn’t want to be a girl anymore. I mean, what the hell?”
“It’s not tha--”
My father cuts me off, flailing his arms around, “How were we supposed to react? Throw you a damn party?” He continues in the all too familiar sarcastic tone, “Look, neighbors! Our sweet Alex cut her hair and change her clothes, so now she’s a boy. We’re so proud!” He plasters a joker smile across his face and throws up spirit fingers making light of the changes I made to myself once I figured out that I was transgender. At the time, I didn’t know the word ‘transgender,’ existed but with the support of Paige, I was able to find myself finally.
“Jon!” my mother shouts while slapping my father’s arm.
My father’s face flushes with anger, “What, Grace? Don’t sit here and act like you didn’t feel the same way.”
My mother blushes, “Well, I wouldn’t have put it that way.” She turns to me, addressing me as you would someone standing on the edge of a cliff, “ I’m just confused that’s all. Why go through gender changes? Then, you decide to marry a woman? Wouldn’t it be easier to be one of those lesbians?”
One of those lesbians. The question echoes through my mind. She directs the queries to me but my father, in his typical fashion, decides to answer. “No hun. Our Alex could never take the easy route. Always one to make a mountain out of a molehill.”
He laughs, taking too much enjoyment in my misery. The flood gates that, just moments ago threatened to open, shut with haste. It was the second time my father used my old nickname. Part of me knows that he is using it from memory, but a more significant part of me wants him to accept a piece of my identity. I scoot to the edge of the seat. My upper lip curls in disdain as I lean in close to my father.
“For the last time Dad,” I stretch out the word ‘dad’ and whisper angrily, “It’s Alexander. Not Alex, Alexander! I am a man who likes women. Why can’t you get that?”
I take a few deep breaths before pushing back into the chair. I close my eyes and rub the bridge of my nose. My parents sit in silence, and I tell myself that the silence is because they are allowing what I said sink in and they now understand me. I am envisioning a happy family but deep down, I know it's just shocking because, for the first time, I stood up to my father.
I open my eyes to find my daughter standing at the edge of the living room, rubbing the sleep from her eyes. My parents turn, trying to find the source of the tiny voice but fail to see her past the back of the loveseat. I gesture for her to come to me. I never expected my parents ever to meet my daughter, and I didn’t want them to meet her until they decided to be in my life, but her nap was cut short by the rise in our voices.
As she approaches the chair, my mother’s mouth goes agape and tears spring to her eyes. My father looks like he wants to say something but I challenge him with my stare, and he keeps his mouth shut.
“Hunny, this is your grandmother and grandfather. Can you say hi?”
I speak softly to her as I gather her in my arms. She lifts her hand and gives a small wave. My mother waves back. Since she is now present in the room with us, I decide to introduce her properly.
“Mom, Dad, this is Alexandra Hope Campbell. She will be three next month.”
My mother briefly takes her eyes away from Alexandra and looks at me in confusion, “But how?”
I smile and rub small circles on Alexandra’s back as she begins to drift back to sleep. I rock gently in the chair, gathering my thoughts because I never imagined I would be answering this question from my mother.
“I froze my eggs before undergoing any treatments. I knew I wanted kids of my own. We used a donor, and Paige gave birth to her.”
My dad looks at me in amazement and speaks with soft tones, “She is the spitting image of you when you were, you know.”
With Alexandra in my arms, I find that I am more rational in my thoughts. My father is not malicious in his ignorance concerning my life. He is genuinely misguided, and it softens my heart to hear his curiosity. It feels like an opening for a fresh start, so I take it as a chance to be heard.
I look up to address my parents tenderly. “Dad, I know that you don’t understand how I feel and why I did what I did, but I want you to know that I am finally happy.”
Hope flourishes as my parents look at me with new understanding. I look down at my baby in my arms as a warmth permeates around the room. I continue without taking my eyes from Alexandra, “I’m sorry I wasn’t who you wanted me to be. I needed to be who I, was meant to be. I want you to love me and accept me the way I am.” This time, the flood gates open and I allow the tears to flow down my cheeks.
After a few moments, I lift my head and find my parents having a quiet conversation. When they notice I am looking at them, my mother looks full of resolve, and confusion etches my father’s face. The silence pushes on, and I find that I don’t have the strength to fight any longer. The room begins to cool, and my hope for acceptance diminishes with every passing moment. My mother stands and approaches me. She kneels and grabs one of Alexandra’s chubby hands.
“I have always loved you, Alexander. I will do my best to accept you. It will take me some time, but you have my word, I will try.”
She touches my shoulder, then pats it before retreating to the loveseat. Her touch lingers long after she sits down next to my father. It was more affection than I expected and exactly what I needed for that moment. My father looks at me and attempts a smile. It’s not precisely acceptance, but it is a step in the right direction.
Paige joins us, after asking if it is safe to enter the room. My mother and Paige bond over wedding details, while my father sits and says nothing for the rest of the visit. Before they leave, my mother accepts the wedding invitation, and my father grunts goodbye. I look down at my daughter’s beautiful face, seeing so much of myself in her tiny features. I kiss her on the forehead, then sit in silent reflection. As the last ounce of unease leaves my body, I can finally say that I am ready for the next chapter of my life.