In Between and Neither
When the first students start pouring into the auditorium I feel the sudden urge to crawl away somewhere safe. I know they can't see me here in the backstage area, but I feel far beyond merely anxious at this point. It doesn't feel right for me to be here. It's all too much... too big for little me. I begin to feel sick, as I sink to the floor where I end up sitting on my knees, while my stomach tries to find a way out of my throat. I cover my mouth with my hands as I make pathetic retching noises. Tears make their way down my face. I feel beyond miserable.
Suddenly gentle hands grab my shoulders and softly pull me backwards into a more relaxed position as Catherine's voice tells me that everything is fine. For a few moments I just lie there, lying against Catherine's chest while she strokes my hair and whispers comforting words I do not comprehend but which nevertheless seem to have the intended effect. I take a deep breath.
“Feeling better now?” Catherine says, as I look up at her smiling face. Inside me I feel a warm sensation of gratefulness as I answer her question with a weak smile of my own and a brief nod. I feel as weak as a newborn kitten.
“The event is going to start soon. Don't worry, we got everything under control. The principal is going to start talking first, until then I'll stay here with you, okay?” Catherine tells me.
I just nod again. In the auditorium the sounds of students talking with each other and the occasional shout has become more intense than a few moments ago. For a moment I imagine all those voices directed at me, ridiculing and making painful remarks. I whimper.
“They'll soon be praising you for your strength and will want to learn more about what you have gone through, Alice. Trust me. No one could truly hate you for who and what you are.”
I just nod weakly while fresh tears start flowing down my cheeks. Then, through a haze of tears I can see the principal walking onto the stage, towards the microphone which has been placed there. After talking for a moment with Mr Kessinger he turns towards the assembled students and motions for silence. At first it seems like he has gone unnoticed, but then gradually the noise dies down.
I suddenly realize that most of the students probably do not have the faintest idea why they are assembled in the auditorium. Part of me tries to imagine their response at the upcoming revelation, while another part of me is just grateful for the silence.
As Catherine folds her arms across my chest and I lean back against her, I listen to the principal's speech.
“Good morning, everyone. Aside from those who didn't make it out of their beds in time, of course.”
A few suppressed snickers can be heard, as well as a few 'good mornings'.
“Most of you are probably wondering why you have been assembled here.”
Voices of agreement are raised.
“Well, I won't keep it a secret any longer; we are here to talk about a fellow student, named Alice Kingsley. In particular I... we would like to discuss some recent events and the facts surrounding them.” The principal pauses for a moment while ripples of muttered questions and smothered remarks make their way through the auditorium. When the worst commotion has died down, he resumes.
“I assume that all of you are familiar with a certain event over a month ago involving Alice?” Looking at the students, a few find the courage to answer the question.
“We heard that Bruce beat her up!”
“Bruce has been telling everyone that Alice used to be a guy!”
I feel myself cringing at that last comment as many painful memories resurface.
Many more students answer, but their words are lost in the din. I think that I'm probably grateful for that, as I close my eyes and try to relax in Catherine's embrace. I idly wonder what she is thinking of right now.
“It seems clear that a lot of rumours and half-facts have been making their way through the school. Allow me to rectify the facts on this particular event. Mr Kessinger, if you please?” The principal resumes.
The sounds of feet on the planking of the stage, then Mr Kessinger's voice can be heard.
“On that particular day I was walking around the school, as part of every teacher's duty to keep an eye on things, when I noticed a crowd of students walking away from the sport fields, even though no one was supposed to have classes there at that time. This raised my suspicions, so I walked towards those fields after making a mental note of who were in this group.
“When I walked around the fields I suddenly came upon the silent form of Alice. She had been stripped of most of her clothes and was badly bruised all over her body as well as unconscious. After covering her with my jacket I carried her to the school's infirmary, where Ms Yorke took care of her. Fortunately Alice didn't suffer any permanent injuries, other than the emotional scars of the traumatic event.”
I suddenly feel ashamed that I have never asked who found me that day and carried me to the infirmary. I guess I should thank Mr Kessinger later. Even if I'll probably have to blush severely considering that he has basically seen me naked. At least he seems to be a gentleman about it, I guess. I smile a bit as I remember his earlier words to me.
Another brief shuffling of feet commences until the voice of the principal resumes.
“Those suspected of assaulting and injuring Alice have been reprimanded and will do best to ensure that this event doesn't repeat itself. I hope that everyone here now has a better idea of what really happened that day.”
Sounds of confirming voices ripple through the auditorium. They seem less excited than before. Maybe they are feeling somewhat impressed by now. Maybe...
“I will now let our esteemed nurse, Ms Yorke, tell you about Alice, what is truly going on with her and what her situation is. Alice would tell it herself, but unfortunately it is too emotional for her to tell it herself.
“Ms Yorke, please.”
I am gently pushed forward and assume a sitting position. I look up at Catherine.
“I guess I really should get going.” She says, smiling warmly at me. I nod meekly back in response.
As Catherine walks onto the stage I pull my knees up to my chin and wrap my arms around my legs. I feel so very alone right now. On one hand I'm grateful that people are being told about my situation, but on the other it makes me feel so... different, as though every word of explanation further distances me from a 'normal' life. All these students here are normal boys and girls. The principal and Mr Kessinger are normal men. Even Catherine is so... regular. I don't know how to fit myself in amongst it all.
Blinking away new tears, I try to focus on Catherine's words, but I find I'm having trouble concentrating with all these thoughts going on inside my head.
“I first met Alice when she was brought into my infirmary by Ms Kessinger, as he just explained. I had been informed about her physical condition beforehand, as is proper. What I wasn't prepared for was the person behind the medical details, and the story she told me.”
Finally giving up on holding back my tears I let them flow freely, while quiet sobs make my body tremble. I wrap my arms even tighter around my legs as I bury my face between my knees. It feels so good that someone is finally telling my story, yet at the same time it hurts so much, because I know that it doesn't have an ending yet. Not a good one at any rate.
Suddenly I hear footsteps nearing my position. Quickly choking back my tears while furiously wiping my face to erase any evidence that I have been crying, I look up to see Mr Kessinger standing there, smiling friendly.
“Mind if I sit down next to you?” He ask. “It seems I don't have much to do at the moment, and all this standing around is making me feel kind of tired.”
“It's fine.” I say, the words exiting my mouth sounding all weird and choked. I look down at the floor as Mr Kessinger sits down next to me, not too close nor too far, like the perfect gentleman. I realize I feel embarrassed.
Meanwhile Catherine is still telling my story.
“In cold, medical facts what we know about Alice can be summed up as follows: she is intersexual, meaning that her body has both male and female characteristics. No proper medical diagnosis has been performed yet, so there is only the suspicion that she is a hermaphrodite, which is a person with both male and female reproductive organs.
“Now, in the confusing world of human emotions this means that Alice has never known what or who she was exactly. Her environment didn't know or notice that something was out of the ordinary, and just assumed that she was actually a boy, as her birth certificate notes her as such, even when during puberty she developed a distinct feminine figure and experienced breast-growth
“Although before puberty she had been able to just ignore her body and gender in general, she now was forced to acknowledge her body, and realized that she had to find out what was going on, thus she visited many hospitals in this country over many years to find out the answers to her questions. However she could find no doctor or psychologist who took her seriously. She ended up at various so-called gender teams who normally only treat transsexual people, where they told her that she was just a feminine-looking boy.
“An MRI scan made at a foreign private clinic resulted in the diagnosis that she is a hermaphrodite, but back in this country this was firmly denied, and no further tests were performed. Basically at this point Alice knows as much about her body as she did before she visited all those hospitals. The only thing she has gained is a severe trauma, also known as a post-traumatic stress disorder, something commonly encountered among soldiers and rape victims.”
Catherine pauses for a moment. To my surprise I notice that the auditorium remains completely silent. As Catherine resumes her voice is very soft and has a kind of sad note to it.
“Alice has always been living in a kind of twilight world where she does not know where she belongs. Even at this school she does her best to just live her life, even though she can not approach others because she is not sure how to behave. She is afraid that if she behaves like a regular girl people will learn about her secret and laugh at her. She wants to behave like herself: an intersexual girl, but she doesn't feel like she can tell people. She desperately wants to be heard and loved, and yet finds herself unable to reach out. It is her hope, and that of me and everyone else here who organized this meeting that through this people will finally be able to understand her and what she has gone through.
“Please, let Alice feel that she too has a place at this school... and in this world.”
As silence descends on the auditorium, I look up and look at Catherine. She is standing with her head lightly bowed and has her hands folded in front of her. It appears as though she is begging the audience to please consider her words and her request, while the bright stage lights almost seem to make her radiate. To see her stand there, so alone on the big stage and yet so impossible to ignore, I simply can not think of any description which would fit the scene.
I busily wipe away tear after tear as they keep escaping when suddenly Mr Kessinger says:
“Let's join Catherine on the stage, shall we? I think this moment calls for it, don't you agree?”
At first I revolt at the thought, but then, while looking at Mr Kessinger's extended hand, I find myself smiling and put my hand into his.
“After you, Mr Kessinger.” I say, as he helps me back up onto my feet.
“Oh no, ladies first. And please do call me George. We are hardly strangers to each other any more, are we?” George adds.
I find myself blushing up to the tips of my ears.
“I believe they're waiting for me.” I mutter, then rush towards the stage, only slowing down right before I enter it. I can feel George's presence right behind me.
The first thing which occurs to me is that stage lights are even brighter and hotter when you're on the stage itself. Just slowly walking there, my eyes focused on Catherine as I make my way towards her, I already find that beads of sweat are beginning to form on my forehead. Then again part of it could also be from anxiety, not to mention Mr Kessinger... no, George's earlier comment.
Glancing a bit at the audience, I get the curious sensation that I'm being watched, much like an interesting animal at the zoo. Part of me feels tempted to turn around and run back into the safe darkness of backstage. Then Catherine turns around and smiles at me. I can see that she has shed a few tears as well. As she turns back towards the audience, she proclaims: “Everyone, may I introduce to you, Alice Kingsley.”
To my utter shock I can hear people clapping in the audience, which quickly gets taken over by others until I feel surrounded by the din of the applause. I almost find myself giggling at the thought how much this seems like they're applauding a performance of mine. Then the serious part of my mind informs me that this isn't so far from the truth. My life so far has been quite a performance, something which would make for an intriguing play or movie. They're essentially applauding me thanks to the brief summary Catherine just gave about my life.
I feel confused as to how to respond, so I do the only thing which comes up in me. I look directly at the audience and bow. The applause gets even more deafening. I imagine I can hear people yelling encouragements at me.
As I get up from my bow, Catherine motions at me. As I get near her, she bends towards me and asks me whether I want to say something to my fellow students. To my own surprise I find that I do not have to think about this for very long. I nod at Catherine and step towards the microphone. Even before I reach it, the roaring din of the applause has faded away.
“Thank you, everyone.” I begin, hesitantly. After a moment I continue: “I don't usually talk in front of crowds, so please bear with me.”
I take a deep breath, then resume.
“I'm not sure what else I can add to what Catherine... Ms Yorke already has told you. I just... I guess I just hope that maybe from now on I can be more a part of this so-called 'normal' life everyone always seems so excited about.” I try a smile.
For a moment it's quiet, then I hear a few laughs and giggles, followed by what I assume are all kinds of invitations to lunches, parties and the like. I feel a bit light-headed at this apparent success, then step away from the microphone and make another bow.
As Catherine are sharing lunch again later that same day, we reflect on this morning's events. After the excitement this morning and the barrage of questions I got flooded with right after the event and between classes it's pure bliss to sit here in the quiet infirmary, enjoying the sun whose rays are flooding the room as well as a tasty lunch. Since I didn't have time to prepare my own lunch, Catherine made extra.
“How are you feeling right now, Alice?”
I think about that question for a moment while chewing on my sandwich. Swallowing, I reply: “Alright, I guess. It really wasn't easy for me to stand there on the stage, let alone observing it all from backstage, but I guess I am glad that it happened.”
Catherine nods. She looks quite a bit more relaxed than yesterday, when we were sitting here too. Neither of us has to ask the question about whether those behind the threatening letter will leave it at this. Whether this morning's revelation matched their idea of what would happen if others learned about my condition is anyone's guess. Deep inside I think we both fear that they will come up with something else to haunt me with, but we have done everything we can right now. All we can do is wait.
“What kind of questions did they ask you this morning?” Catherine asks me, a hint of worry noticeable in her voice.
“Oh, nothing special. Just the usual questions about how things look like down there, where I pee from and whether I would want to be a girl or a guy.” I respond in a casual manner.
We look at each other for a moment, then we both start laughing. We keep laughing until our sides hurt and we are running out of breath. Both of us wish we will be laughing like this more often from now on.
Author: Maya Posch In Between and Neither – Part 5 Date: 2011/04/08