portion of the artwork for Patricia Parkinson's story

The Night Before the Last Night of the Year
Patricia Parkinson

Tomorrow is the last day of 2014.

I have one more day to make this a good year.

Do you remember your life in good years?

Or do you remember your life in good days?

For me, it’s days.

Tonight, one night before the last night of the year, I think about my best day of 2014, my son Benton’s graduation.

The celebration lasted longer than one day. The month of May, and pretty much all of June, were all about grad. The air was filled with the rite of passage, parties, photos, pride, and other good words that start with a P. Potential. Parent. Purpose.

When they called Benton’s name and he strode to centre stage in his cap and gown, I had not expected to think of her, of my daughter, Helaina.

I cannot remember our final words.

I play back the tape in my mind but no matter how close I get to the last moment, sounds elude me.

It’s a sunny August day in 2012, I remember that. Helaina and I drive in the van to downtown Vancouver, to a trendy, high-end hair salon. Suki’s, on Granville.

My daughter tells me it will take three years for her to get on the list to have her breasts removed. She pulls up a picture on her iPhone of the hairstyle she wants. She plans on donating her hair to an organization that makes wigs for cancer patients. Her hair is the longest it has ever been—falls halfway down her back.

She is lovely.

I had called Suki’s one week in advance.

“My daughter is transgender and she’s becoming a boy and wants to cut her hair off and I think it would be fantastically fabulous if you would be the ones to do it,” I told them when I called, freaking out inside.

I made the appointment. I had seven more days with Helaina.

At the salon, I get my roots done at the same time and sit in a chair without a view of her chair. When my color is processing, I stand. I walk. I don’t recall how many paces. I see her feet. I see the hem of her gown. I see more with each step. The last of her long hair is pinned up and falls in wispy bangs about her forehead.

She is smiling.

I am next to her. We do not touch.

We look at the hairdresser, who is the patron saint of hairdressers, brilliantly cast in this pivotal scene. She wears torn jeans and Converse runners. A gauze hippie shirt.

Helaina and I look at each other in the mirror. Her head bows as the stylist begins to shave the back of her neck. I stand in a pile of sun-streaked hair. It wafts about my feet.

I look in the mirror to watch her again. It is at this exact time on this sunny day when she raises her head to sneak a peek at the progress that I look into her eyes.

This is the moment.

My heart breaks in a way that is new and scary and sad and eloquent.

Sitting at the graduation ceremonies, at my highlight of the last 364 days, I thought of this moment. The moment I saw Helaina look at Benton in the mirror for the first time.

I remembered the year 2000 and another highlight day, the first day I dropped my daughter off at Discovery Town Preschool and I thought of how now, 14 years later, I would be bringing home my son.

I wondered what Helaina would make of all the grad fuss. There is no way on this earth that she would have worn a dress to this occasion. It makes me smile remembering my tomboy, my elfin girl, who got boy toys with her Happy Meal and played with Ken, never Barbie. Who wanted to be a Vancouver Canuck, was my ghostly ghoul each Halloween, and the first person I read Goodnight, Moon to.

These memories bring a pang, another P word, they’re the best—or at least the truest. A pang of guilt. I should have known. I could have saved her years of anguish, living in a body that was not connected to her soul.

Writing this, I now realize, at the moment I watched Helaina become Benton, there were no words. Only a stillness that shook me. I watched as my child recognized his reflection for the first time.

My child, who has always been brave, funny, goofy, creative, prone to nose bleeds, maddening, loving, and wise beyond all of the years that I will live. My child who wore pants to my wedding and won back-to-back gold medals in high jump, kicking the boys’ asses. My child who raced bravely toward adventures at the mysterious hobo house in the forest.

My child’s life, as Benton, is just beginning. There is much more to be said, of course, about the prior events, struggles, anguish, tears, hesitancy, fortitude—all the years that constituted my child’s life before—but what stays with me, indelibly, is the image of my child looking at the face in the mirror and, for the first time, truly recognizing that face, and exhibiting a fresh, unbridled joy.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 45 | Spring 2015