By Adrian Slonaker
Published on May 23, 2019 12:08 PM
DG Mag Issue 1
I'd just turned eleven in the fall of 1982 and couldn't have been prouder of the birthday gift my parents had placed next to the devil's food cake that shouted “Happy Birthday Alan!” Those Sergio Valente jeans looked awesome with the striking white stitching along the sides, signature bull logo, and must-have proprietary label on the rear right pocket. My husky frame necessitated adult jeans. Size 36. Dad, fortunately a sewing ace and conventionally virile enough not to be questioned about it, altered them for my five-foot-one frame using his trusty white Singer that whinnied when he stepped on the foot pedal.
Designer jeans—Calvins, Jordaches, Bonjours, Sassoons, Sergio Valentes, Gloria Vanderbilt’s—were coveted in my sixth-grade class. The denim status symbols wowed the more style-conscious girls, but not the other boys. I was already familiar with that disconnect. At that age, I didn't swear or tell bathroom jokes. My favorite crayons in the mammoth 64-Crayola box with the sharpener were aquamarine and orchid. I refused to watch Knight Rider and had zero interest in dirt bikes, baseball, or football. I even preferred Ms. Pac-Man to her bland spouse.
I was never physically harassed in the homogeneous halls of Cherry Lane Elementary despite falling short of the only acceptable image for a boy. Maybe it was because my classmates found me too pathetic to bother with. I would've been an easy target since I sucked at running and would've never fought back. Mom and Dad, both lapsed General Conference (as opposed to the horse-and-buggy Old Order) Mennonites, still championed the importance of pacifism. Even plastic squirt guns were fabodda in the Yoder household. Maybe if I'd been slimmer and less of a helpless geek, I would've been clobbered on a regular basis.
When I was about five, my parents asked for my opinion about the blue ships-and-globes wallpaper that would soon be plastered on the walls of my bedroom. I tried to convince Mom and Dad that the pink option would be prettier, but that idea was swiftly vetoed. After discovering Brady Bunch reruns a couple of years later, I fashioned a clumsy dress from yellow construction paper and Scotch tape and announced that I wanted to be Jan Brady; Mom shot back that “the Brady boys are nice too.”
Despite having once been a Boy Scout and a celebrated high school tackle, Dad never forced or even nudged me to take up such stereotypically masculine activities. He knew that I'd have groaned non-stop. I was left undisturbed by Dad, Mom, and my nine-year-old brother Randy on frosty Sundays when I'd cuddle with my plush menagerie on my olive-green bedroom carpet while devouring Trixie Belden mysteries.
This quasi-acceptance emboldened me to let down my guard more than I should have. On the first Thursday afternoon in November, Randy and I were at home with Mom because school was closed for a Teachers' Institute day. While Randy played in his fort outside, I was finishing up my lunch, a buttery grilled cheese sandwich, as I waited for I Love Lucy to start on one of the fuzzy UHF TV stations. Sitting across from me at the kitchen table, Mom asked whether I had any ideas for her weekly grocery list. I requested that she make her chicken and mushroom crepes, which were nothing short of divinely inspired.
Mom's nostrils flared as they did when Randy or I broke something. She stubbed out her half-smoked Salem Light in the amber glass ashtray and snapped, “Don't say it like that!”
Squirming against the back of my brown vinyl seat, I whined, “like wha-a-at?”
Mom winced and imitated me with uncharacteristic mean-spiritedness. “Crepeth. It's effeminate.” Mom stood up. “I was a very feminine little girl, but you've got me beat! It's embarrassing.”
I wrestled with the urge to disappear. Or die.
Realizing the wound that her initial blast had inflicted, Mom looked down at me and softened her tone. “I want you to work on that. Think of men you admire. Try to be like them. OK, Alan?”
I nodded anemically and slunk out of my seat, saying nothing else. Creeping out of the kitchen, I took care not to cry, swish, or sashay. Once in the family room, I switched on the TV and twisted the dial to channel 32. Unable to sink deeply enough into the harvest gold recliner opposite the set, I resolved, at least when I was outside my bedroom, to act more like Ricky and less like Lucy. ♦
A fan of jangly folk-rock music, Earth shoes, bloodstones, and elderflower and lemon soda, Adrian Slonaker zig-zags back and forth across the Canadian/US border and works as a copywriter and copy editor. Adrian's work has been nominated for Best of the Net and has appeared in Pangolin Review, Algebra of Owls, Aerodrome, and others.