A gaggle of girls made their way out of the ladies room into the slowly emptying J.C. Penny. The sun was setting outside the glass doors nearby. The mall would be closing soon. The last, indecisive shoppers rushed to make their purchases before the doors closed. Cara just stood there, staring at the large, suddenly intimidating door.
They can go in just fine, she thought to herself. They get a group. Why don’t I have a group? That would make this easier.
“Come on.” She revved herself up. “Come on, there’s almost no one left now. It’ll be fine.” Taking one final glance at her clothing, convinced that they were androgynous enough, she made her way for the door, only to swerve at the last minute, and found herself in the men’s room.
Her eyes got heavy and her vision was blurry. She felt disgusting. A freak. She left the room quickly and made another lap around the store, looking at jackets that would probably look amazing on her, but that she knew she would never buy. The clocks scattered here and there all said what she already knew. She had about ten minutes to get out of the store before a security guard came by and made her leave.
She found herself by the restrooms again. “You’re an adult,” she told herself. “Well, almost anyway. This shouldn’t be so difficult. This is something every other girl in the world does on a daily basis.” She slumped. The door was made of a dark wood. She could tell just by looking at it that it was sturdy, but nothing too amazing. It wasn’t the diamond ring that would impress other restrooms in other stores, but it might make the restrooms at public schools a little jealous.
But to her, it was huge. It was the Wall of Jericho, built to keep her and other like her out. The little girl, white paint against the black square, had cute little dress that mocked her. She could feel the little demon staring her down, sizing her up, and looking at her sideways, wondering if she really belonged.
Cara wanted to stand up, and stare back. She wanted to scream, and yell, and hit the door. “No, I don’t belong, but I’m damn trying, aren’t I?” She wanted to cry and heave and be held. More than anything, she wanted someone to go in with her. She wanted a friend who would understand, and walk her inside, and just be there with her for a minute.
As if hearing her prayers, and feeling determined to stomp on them, one of her classmates walked by. “Dylan?” he said, obviously curious as to why she was sitting on the floor against the wall while the employees closed up around her.
She cringed visibly at the sound of that name, before she heard herself say, “Hey Tim. Whatcha doin’ here so late?” She felt herself curl up inside at the sound of her voice.
“Came to get a few things from GameStop.” He held up a bag. “My ride’s comin’. Why are you still here?”
“Eh, better than being at home.” At least she didn’t have to lie.
“Oh. Hey, you played this yet?” He took some game out of his bag and showed it off. No, she hadn’t played it yet, and she couldn’t care less. She just wanted him to leave, in case she finally got the courage to make her move.
“Nah,” she replied. “But I’ve heard good things about it.
“Yeah, it’s got this cool mechanic…”
She tuned him out. He was so into the game and she was so experienced with her persona that she barely had to concentrate while he went on about it. She would give him a nod, or an “Uh-huh,” and maybe make some comment about something, and he just went on without a clue.
After what seemed like hours, a car pulled up outside, and Tim finally said, “Hey, gotta go. See ya in class,” and Cara waved him off.
She sighed. If she had done anything to encourage herself before, her meeting with Tim destroyed it. She rolled her head back and stared at the ceiling. She couldn’t have much longer before the security guard made his round. Outside, the sun was almost gone, and she knew she would be walking home in the dark. She had to make this trip worth it.
She tugged at her purple bracelet, twisted her hair, and worried of what would happen if the guard saw her walk in. What would he think? What would anyone think? What if Tim had walked by a little later, and he had seen her go in? Would he tell anyone? Would it matter?
There were only a few minutes left. She was sure she was the only customer left in the store, and so she finally allowed herself to cry. She wiped tear after tear off of her face. It wasn’t fair, but she didn’t know how to change it. She knew other people did. She heard of other people through the internet—her only safe haven—who were able to walk into the ladies room, and actually use it. That was still light-years off for her, but she just wanted to go in. Just be in there for a minute.
It wasn’t fair. She should be allowed to go in if she wanted. She felt defiant now. She patted herself down again, sure that she could pass if she just didn’t talk. She brushed her hair to the front of her shoulders, and readied herself.
When she heard the jangling of keys coming down the narrow walkway, she knew her time was just about up. She stood. She had to do something. She sauntered up to the door, and she stared down that little girl of white paint, and she rested her hand on the metal that, for some unknown reason, was meant to make the door easier to open. Her mind rushed. The guard was almost there. She took a deep breath and felt her whole body relax. She was ready. She pushed the door open and peered in. Her heart quickened but her breathing stopped, and she took a step inside.
It wasn’t what she imagined. Actually, it wasn’t really all that different from the men’s room. Urinals were replaced with extra stalls, and there was a fairly large metal box that dispensed feminine products. She considered buying a few, just to keep in her bag, before she realized that she didn’t have any change. It wasn’t much, but it was enough for her. It didn’t matter if it looked different. She wasn’t disappointed.
A moment later she stepped back out, worried the guard would lock her in without knowing. Unfortunately, he was standing right in front of her when she left. And the look on his face made her want to hide herself.
He looked disgusted, angry, and very surprised. She didn’t want to know what he was surprised at, and he didn’t make it all that clear, and she tried to make her way to the exit, wanting to say sorry but also not wanting to talk in fear of giving herself away. But his voice stopped her.
“Uh, Miss, shouldn’t you be gone already?” His face softened to match his voice now.
“Sorry,” she managed, looking down. She stepped outside, and cried.
Originally published in the Spring 2016 edition of The Helix in the “Gender & Sexuality” Section.