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I wake up with a gasp and my eyes pop open. I have the same dream almost every day of my life. Not that I mind it. No, my dream makes me let out a hefty sigh and think about the body beside my own. My husband lies in slumber beside me. I don't need to look over; I feel it. I can feel it from the temperature change between the cold sheets and the heat from his body. I can feel it from his weight depressing a small fraction of our mattress. I can feel it from the instinctual consciousness of him that I've always had.
Although it was fifteen years ago, the Easter of 2005, I remember the night as though it were yesterday...
I was so frustrated I had to blink back possible tears. Here I was, at a stranger's house, in this frilly dress. Sitting on a My Little Pony sleeping bag, I was surrounded by squealing little girls.
“I want to be a ballerina.”
“That's nice, but I'm going to be a princess.”
“I love having tea parties with mommy.”
I wasn't exactly macho, but my thing was most definitely not priss. I was an awkward nine-year-old, new to homeschooling and completely friendless. Exactly two hours before, I had fought my stepmother tooth and nail to be able to wear pants. It was Easter Sunday and she wanted me to be a girl. So I was stuffed into this little, sleeveless, cold dress. It was so … eh. The dress on my body was white with pink, purple and blue polka dots. Pastel, fragile colors. I didn't have a pastel or fragile personality.
“Why can't we go to grandma's? I don't even know those people and they won't have anybody I like there.” I clenched my jaw.
My stepmother replied, “Adrian, they invited us. And the little girls are gonna be there. You'll have fun.”
I was assuredly not having fun. I was sitting there, crossing my arms, ignoring the Barbies on the floor beside me. I hated the world and everything in it. Even in my sour mood, I had to admit this house was amazing, though. It was three different houses all squished together, with only doors separating them. I resided in the main house, in between the front door and colossal winding stairs. Later I found out it was over two hundred years old. I was sitting in this spooky, haunted old house hoping to be struck dead. I hated it here.
I was sitting, staring off into the distance when I glanced toward the vast staircase in front of me. Two boys came marching toward me. The first was taller, broader, older and more handsome. The other looked quiet and shy. They both looked tough. I heard the big one say, “Now we attack the demons on the sleeping bag!” besides size and personality, on first appearance, they both looked alike. Sandy blondish hair, deep blue eyes that laughed and smiled. Their faces were different though, I realized later. I hated the girls on the sleeping bag behind me, but any action was good for me. I stood up and stomped over to the boys. “You will not touch them! They didn't do anything to you!” I stared at the leader, because he seemed like the main threat. He was two heads taller than me, and probably double my weight. I wasn't scared. For the first time ever.
I grew up a lonely only child, with only a slightly abusive uncle. I grew up mostly scared of everything and not even exposed to the tumbles and bruises of normal children. I never learned how to do a lot of things most kids did. In short, I was really deprived when I was small. When I was seven, my dad married my stepmother and things changed. Then suddenly, my parents were always enforcing modesty rules and all sorts of crazy ideas about being a lady and not going to college and being a stay-at-home homeschooling mom. They tried to teach me that I needed to grow up and bend to my husband's every will and command. That didn't really work for me.
Growing up sheltered and without pain made me scared of everything: pain, other kids, people that could hurt me, boys, my parents. So... why wasn't I scared of this boy? And why wasn't I afraid of the punishment I might receive for this? For the first time ever I wasn't scared of my parents either.
I squared my shoulders. I could feel the prickle of adrenaline and sweat as I prepared myself for my first fist fight in years. (My uncle and I were only a few years apart and we lived together as small children; fist fights were a daily thing.) The leader and I stared at each other for a very long time. His eyes screamed rage, and so did mine. We were in a heated tug-of-war for dominance, both refusing to submit. Finally, his hard face cracked into a smile. “Welcome aboard. You're my new second in command. You'll be taking Joe's place.”
My mind was just blown out of the water. This boy, that I didn't even know, had almost punched me in the face, or so I thought. I was used to these kinds of things resorting to violence. And now I was going to be his “Lieutenant” as he called it? Why on earth did he suddenly like me? I thought he meant the game when he said I would be his right hand man... but maybe he meant something else too. Anyway, the first thing he said caught me so off guard I didn't even notice his thick southern accent. But when he introduced himself, I recognized it.
“I'm Zachary Johnson. That's my brother Joe. We have seven other brothers and sisters.” His thick accent drew me in.
“Adrian Kahn.” I pulled all my masculinity into shaking his hand with a firm grip. “Where are you guys from?”
He smiled a toothy grin and said proudly, “Somerset, Kentucky.”
I really paid very little attention to Joe.. He was quiet and weird and just didn't talk much or show much emotion. He just stared a bit and followed Zachary and me around.
Zachary was the first boy I was really friends with. He was the most mature. Every other boy I'd ever known treated me like dirt because I was a yucky girl. But not Zachary. He talked to me the same way he would anyone else. I followed Zachary up those huge stairs, through several doorways and scary rooms until we were finally up in a massive bedroom. There were two sets of bunkbeds and more legos than I had ever seen in one place.. Trinkets and games were all over the floor. I'd never been in a boy's bedroom before. It was fun to just play like a boy.. something my parents had never really let me do. I played harder that night then I ever had before. I sweat and didn't cry once, and ran around and yelled despite my stupid dress.
I had more fun that night than I ever had before in my life. Zachary introduced to me a whole new life of boys' games. We had egg wars and mud wars and wrestling matches and I ruined that evil, evil dress. My stepmother was going to kill me, but I let everything go and decided I didn't care. This was the first time out of many to come that I would have this kind of transformation.
There was something about Zachary that made me feel powerful. This dress didn't matter. He mattered. Somehow, he became my best friend that very night. Maybe because I didn't have any friends, but that wouldn't have changed it anyway. He was just the best thing for me. He made me brave and daring and really pulled me out of my baby stage. All in that one Easter night.
…As I lay in bed, all these years later, I can't help but smile at my first memory with Zachary. I reach over and touch his shoulder blade. “Zach?” I get a slight groan in reply. This makes me smile broader. Zachary changed me forever. He was the one person that got through to me and made me see how silly I was as a nine-year-old. Without him, I don't know where I would be right now. I would probably be a stay-at-home mom, always wearing skirts, with no aspirations. My! How different from that I really am! I smile one more time as I turn back onto my stomach and try to fall back to sleep. One last thought crosses my mind before I doze off;
I am everything I've always dreamed of being. Totally and Completely.