It feels as if all the blood in my body is rushing to my face, specifically the spot where Devon’s balled fist made firm contact. I’m not sobbing, but I’m not calm, either – my breath is ragged and fast, a foolhardy attempt to calm myself down. I can feel the tears welling and falling, heavy as they do, the saltiness in my mouth before I can stop it.
“You’re a baby!” my sister screams at me, perhaps even angrier than I am. “You cry like a big baby!”
At that point, I lunge myself at her, fists flying wildly with my childhood lack of coordination. “Don’t call me names!” I yell back, my body making contact with hers and then the pair of us tumbling to the floor. At this point in my life, I don’t know how to fight properly, but I grab fistfuls of my sister’s hair and pull as hard as I can, spurred on when she yelps in pain.
This lasts only a few seconds before our father, home on a Saturday afternoon for what feels like the first time in my life, yanks me off of Devon. I’m still crying and Devon is nursing several wounds, whimpering (but not crying) from her injuries. “Daniel Christopher,” my father speaks sternly, though I can barely hear him through my frustration, “who do you think you are, attacking your sister like that.” He shakes his head and lets go of me, tsking as he does.
My father catches my gaze for the first time and looks deeply offended for only a moment. “Are you crying, Daniel?” His words are dripping with contempt, an emotion I couldn’t have fully understood. He looks between me and Devon, who is still laying dramatically on the floor, rubbing at her scalp, before he speaks again. “Even your sister isn’t crying. Only little girls cry like that.”
In an instant, anger turns to hurt and my attention is fully focused on my father; I’ve forgotten all about what Devon had done to make me so angry and can feel the sting of my father’s words as I swallow them, fresh poison in my system.
“Stop fighting and be quiet. I have work I need to finish and you two making such a racket doesn’t make it any easier.” Without another word, he stomps away.
Embarrassed, I pull the sleeves of my sweater over my hands and rub furiously at my eyes, determined to not be crying. “But I’m not a girl, daddy,” I want to yell after him, “I’m a boy.” But I stay silent, furious with myself, choking back the desire to cry harder. By now, Devon has stood up and moved towards me, awkwardly pulling me into the tightest hug she can manage.
“I know you aren’t a girl, Danny, even if your hair is real long,” she says sympathetically. “Want to play tag?”
I nod immediately, dropping my hands away from my eyes. She claps her hands together and bolts off through the house and to the back door. I linger behind, reminding myself that only girls cry. I repeat them to myself, burn them in, until they’re there, until they’re stuck. Until I can’t forget them.