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It looks like a good pool. It’s pretty blue, like the color of the wallpaper in my bedroom. Not as dark as the blueberries we ate on our cereal this morning, but not as light as Daddy Joey’s faded t-shirt with all its holes and dangling threads all around the seams. Daddy Michael told me once that it’s called cyan. The color of the pool. He told me that even though the bottles of water we buy at the gas station look clear, or “translucent,” Daddy Michael called it, because he wants me to be smarter than everyone else when I go to kindergarten soon, it’s really cyan. There just isn’t enough water there for someone to tell. That’s kind of funny, I think. How it looks like one thing but it’s really completely different and no one even knows unless someone tells them. But there’s a lot of water in this pool, and it’s all cyan. A bunch of kids with goggles and brand new, vibrant swimsuits are splashing around and diving into the deep end with their arms slapped together above their heads like giant noses. The water ripples where they smack into it, and bubbles up into the sky, raining down in beads that shine with tiny little rainbows caught inside them. They bounce back on to the cyan surface and, for just a little while, they skate along the top as white froth.
I really want to get in the water. It’s so hot; the sun is a big, round ball of fire, all red and yellow and orange and prickly with little rays sticking out. I’ve got sweat gushing down my face; it falls off my face and hits my chest and then keeps going, rolling around in my belly button for a while. I’m not burning, though. Daddy Joey put sunscreen on me when we got out of the car, so I don’t feel like a “roasted pig” like he said I would. I just feel greasy like a pig covered in oil that’s going to be roasted. I have new swim trunks from Daddy Joey’s sister. They’re too big on me because she thinks I’m taller than I am, but the new, white drawstring is pulled really tight and when he put the sunscreen on me, Daddy Joey yanked on the shorts to make sure they wouldn’t fall off. He said if they did fall off we’d just go to Target and get some new ones real quick, even though he and Daddy Michael don’t have any money right now because Daddy Michael lost his job. He used to have a lot of money, but then he came home one day while I was doing a puzzle with Daddy Joey and he said “I’m fired.” Daddy Joey looked really worried, but Daddy Michael said we should go get ice cream and don’t worry because he’ll find something.
My trunks didn’t fall off. So now I want to get in the pool because I’m hot and sticky and the other kids are all having fun. But there’s rusty iron bars in front of me. I can stick my head through them, even though Daddy Joey caught me doing stuff like that once and said it wasn’t a good idea. But even though I think I could turn sideways and slide through, my parents couldn’t do that and I’m not supposed to either. We’re supposed to go through the locker room. That’s the only way even though we’re all dressed for the pool already.
Daddy Michael and Daddy Joey are both talking to the lady behind the desk with the big check-in book and the cash register. I don’t know why they’re wasting all that time since they could just turn left and walk in the locker room – which is just for boys so she couldn’t follow them. And then I could fit through these bars and we could all go swimming.
Daddy Joey told me once that I’m lucky because other little kids like me have to choose who to talk to. They have to say “Mommy” or “Daddy” and whichever one they say means someone different will listen to them. But I can just say one word and then they will both pay attention to me. They told me, though, that if I do want to ever act like the other kids and only talk to one of them then I can say “D.J.” for Daddy Joey if I don’t want to say his name. And Daddy Michael said I can call him “Odd” because that sounds like “O.D.” which means Other Daddy. I think it’s easier to say D.J. But right now I don’t care who answers.
“Alex…” Daddy Joey says in his distracted voice when he wants me to know he heard me but he’s busy. “Please,” he says in his adult voice. “That’s our son over there. Alex. He just wants to go swimming with the other kids. He’s a great swimmer. He might be an Olympian one day.”
“I’m sorry,” the lady tells him, in a voice that means, “I’m not sorry.” That’s the kind of voice Bradley uses when he steals my Legos and his mom catches him and makes him bring them back. “There’s nothing I can do. It’s our policy.”
Daddy Michael nudges Daddy Joey’s arm so he’ll back up. Then Daddy Michael leans in to her, really close so that I have to take my head back from the bars and slide really slowly toward him so I can hear. “We called a week ago, requesting the family package. We were told that’s the only way that our son can swim in your pool. It was fine over the phone; we’re registered. We’ve paid.”
“I’m sorry, sir. Gays aren’t considered family. There’s nothing I can do. If one of you were an uncle…”
Gay. Daddy Michael and Daddy Joey always tell me you have to be careful about it. They tell me, “Remember, Alex. Gay is a label. That’s not a good label, or a bad label. It’s just a label. You know? It makes people feel better. What if you went to the store and you wanted to buy ketchup and you saw something that you thought was ketchup but you didn’t know because it didn’t have a label, you might not feel comfortable, right?” “Okay, Daddy.” “Well people like knowing if someone is gay. That’s not bad. What’s bad is when people try to be mean. You have to be really careful with that word, right, Alex?” “Yes.” “Don’t use it as a bad thing.” “I won’t.” “Being gay isn’t bad.”
It sounds bad right now. The lady is looking at my parents with scary eyes and telling them we can’t go swimming because one of them isn’t a girl. “Daddy…” Daddy Joey pulls me into a tight hug when I come over. I’m shaking a little bit, even though I don’t really know why. His skin gets all slick with my sweat but he’s sweating too; his shirt is damp and darker and he smells like deodorant. “Why are you supposed to be a girl?”
He tries to smile but his Adam’s apple jumps like it does when he’s trying to not be sad. Daddy Michael starts frowning hard and keeps staring at the lady. “We have a four-year-old son. It’s hot; he wants to go to a pool.”
“You’ll have to go to a different facility.”
“We’re not gonna contaminate your precious water.”
“Sir, I can’t –”
“No, of course not. How stupid of me. Two men and a young boy certainly can’t go swimming. I completely understand. The problem is, Alex doesn’t.”
“That poor child is going to figure out – ”
“That poor child,” Daddy Michael repeats disbelievingly. “What are you saying? We abuse him? We don’t give him Legos and trucks and books like everyone else? We don’t put him to bed at 8:00 and make him pancakes with blueberry smiley faces in the morning? We don’t buy him markers and crayons and take him to preschool? We aren’t a family?”
“Look at the water, Daddy. Look at those kids over there on the diving board. Can I go on the diving board?”
“What? Why not?”
“What? No, I don’t want to.”
“Alex, we’re leaving.”
“No, we’re not.”
But the lady doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t say anything at all. She just puts on her big sunglasses so no one can see her eyes, and then she runs a tube of something red on her lips and pats her hair and then she smiles at the Mommy and Daddy who are trudging down the sidewalk with a little girl skipping ahead in her Dora the Explorer swimsuit and purple flip flops and a baby boy sitting serenely in his Daddy’s arms sucking his thumb and looking around with cyan eyes that match the pool while his Mommy carries the green swim bag.
Daddy Michael takes my left hand and Daddy Joey takes my right hand and they try to swing me in the air but I don’t want to so I make myself heavy and they stop. Then we just walk silently all the way back to the parking lot. I look back a couple times but the lady never turns away from the real family. My daddies put me in my car seat and turn on the engine. The car pulls forward and we head out, all of us soaking with sweat. My big trunks are dry and brand new. The pool fades away quickly but I hear the normal kids laughing in my head for much longer than that.