By Sally Simon
I sat in a bathroom stall at a Westchester County, NY, country club, trapped. Not because the door wouldn’t open or someone on the other side was blocking my way. I was trapped by a conversation I wasn’t meant to hear.
Upon entering the restroom, I’d walked past the sitting area with a fireplace and comfy couches, and continued into the marble-floored chamber of stalls, intending to do my business and get back to the awards dinner. But now, between my stall and the exit, I overheard two girls from my daughter’s high school in the other room. They were talking about my daughter, and I knew exactly who they were.
“I can’t believe I have to introduce him, I mean her,” said a girl named Patty, to her friend Wanda.
“You mean it?”
Their words pierced me, all but drawing blood.
My respiration and heart rate quickened as I listened to them disrespect my daughter, Addison.
“Does he really think he passes for a girl?”
“Ugliest damn girl I’ve ever seen.”
“Except for last year when you did his hair and makeup.”
“But he was joking around then.”
The year before, my biological son had informed me that he needed a dress for the junior prom. He was going in drag. Years earlier, at summer camp, he’d done lip-sync performances dressed as a girl, so I didn’t think much of it. He attended a small private school that had a high tolerance for individuality and creative expression, so I knew he wouldn’t be bullied. His friend Wanda had offered to be his stylist for the event.
I sat still, careful to not make a sound. Do I stay in the stall until they leave? Should I flush and walk out? Do I dare tell them off, or act as if nothing happened?
I flushed. Conversation stopped.
My heart and mind were running a race as I left the stall and walked to the mirror. I stared at myself in a black cocktail dress and had to admit that it failed to hide the common South Jersey girl hidden beneath. The girl who wasn’t used to fancy awards ceremonies and didn’t have the right words when she needed them. I took a deep breath.
I turned the corner into the lounge area and proceeded toward the door, stopping halfway to look in their direction. I forced a smile. “Hi, girls,” I said, and continued into the hallway, where the air conditioning hit me like an Arctic cold front.
That cold air slapped some sense into me. I turned around, opened the door, and reentered the bathroom. Patty and Wanda’s chatter stopped abruptly. They looked at me, their thought bubbles reading What the fuck.
“I came back to say something you need to hear. My daughter has more bravery and dignity in her little pinkie than both of you combined.”
They sat there and took it without retort. I turned and left a second time, walked directly to the makeshift bar, and ordered a glass of red wine. My nerve endings pulsed with electricity.
The walk down the hallway to the awards ceremony was a blur. Plates of half-eaten chocolate mousse told me the speeches would be starting soon.
“What took you so long?” my husband asked.
Addison, my daughter, interjected, “What’s wrong, Mom?”
I gulped the Merlot. “Nothing.”
“You’ve been crying.”
“I had words with two girls in the ladies’ room.” I wiped my eyes with my napkin, got up, and knelt beside my daughter.
“Who was it?”
The sound of clinking dishes echoed around the room as waiters rushed to clear tables. Excited chatter surrounded me as I knelt on the floor and fought back tears. In hushed tones, I answered more than her question. I explained how the whirlwind of anger and disbelief momentarily paralyzed me into inaction. How when I passed by Patty and Wanda with sickeningly sweet words, I felt superior until I closed the door behind me. How I had to do something to make them hear me and see her. How I had her back and always would.
“I’m not surprised,” Addison said. “They’ve been bitches to me all year.”
“You should have told the headmaster. You didn’t have to put up with—”
“I did, Mom. He talked to them. But then they did little things when no one was looking. I just ignored it.”
Moments later, the headmaster was at the podium, instructing the seniors to get into position. Patty and Wanda rushed into the room and got into line. I wondered if I’d gotten through to them, or if they laughed at me when I left.
When the time came, Patty walked to the microphone. Before she spoke, she glanced over at the headmaster. My daughter stood ten feet away, pulling at the sides of her dress with both hands. The air felt heavy with the anticipation of the letter “S.” I found it difficult to breathe.
Patty cleared her throat.
“Next is Addison Simon, who’s been coming to the school since,” she paused, “she was in seventh grade.”
My muscles relaxed. I watched, filled with pride, as my daughter held her head high and walked onto the stage.
Sally Simon lives in the Catskills of New York State. She’s the proud mom of two LGBTQ+ children. Her writing has appeared in Hobart, Truffles Literary Magazine, After the Pause, Flash Fiction Magazine, and elsewhere. When not writing, she’s either traveling the world or stabbing people with her epee. Read more at www.sallysimonwriter.com.
Image: RedWireDesigns, LLC