The Young White Girl
Congdon Park Municipal Code of Conduct and Community
Article A, Subsection 1, Clause A: The Congdon Council, made up of five highly-qualified elected officials, must maintain, create, and enforce laws that protect a safe and thriving community.
Congdon Park Municipal Code of Conduct and Community
Article A, Subsection 1, Clause B
Background checks of current and upcoming citizens—specifically looking into criminal, sexual orientation, gender identity, immigrant status and political party affiliation—are a mandatory requirement.
(TBD by majority vote)
Of all the promises I’ve made in my life—and I’ve made a lot, trust me—the only one that truly mattered was the one I made to Santa.
Susan, my mother, was known as the local Trash Witch, constantly pawing through dumpsters looking for anything she could turn around and sell. When Margaret Wilson died, Susan was there before the body was even cold, dragging home a random assortment of garbage—a wicker basket she claimed was made of ‘pure evil energy’; a hairbrush that was missing most of its spokes; a winter hat made out of old Pabst Blue Ribbon cans. I dismissed it at the time, like I always did, but among the trash was a porcelain deodorizer modeled after Santa Claus.
Susan filled him with baking soda—without washing it first, I assume—and tucked him away on the top shelf of our ancient upchuck-green refrigerator. His left hand was tucked in his belt just above the crotch, while his right hand was frozen in a jollied wave. His eyes were two little black dots, like something you’d put on a snowman. His white fur fell victim to Mrs. Wilson’s Virginia Slims addiction, and there was a crack that ran from the top of his hat down to his joker-like smile. When you shook him hard enough, the soda inside would fall out like snow. I imagined my father looked like him, and that’s why Susan decided to keep it.
When I would come home from school, puffy-eyed and worn down, I would open the fridge in hopes that Susan had gone to Walmart. But more often than not it was empty, save for a bottle of ketchup for ketchup sandwiches and that ethereal Santa. Back then, I didn’t fully grasp the mechanics of the fat man. I was never told you had to write him letters, and I didn’t think that he lived anywhere other than the top shelf of our Maytag. I did know, however, that he brought presents to the good boys and girls around the world, and I assumed that if I behaved, he would pop to life and drag a sleigh full of fresh fruit and chocolate milk to my house.
Of course, this never happened. When I cried about it, Susan would tell me that I fought too much in school—which was true—and that I was too naughty when she was drinking her sorrows away at Bernie’s Main Dry, which was also true. I did what I was asked, went with her to dumps and garage sales, pocketed the things she couldn’t, tried to pull slip-and-falls. But no matter what I did, how hard it was for me to hold my tongue when Kelsey Ruthary would call me a ‘dirty little girly boy’, I figured I just wasn’t good enough in the eyes of Jolly Old St. Nicholas.
Everything blew up when I was 10. Kelsey’s parents announced they would be getting a divorce, telling her that she would need to be a big girl and split her life in half. They told her—and she, in turn, told us—that all of it was fake. The Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, the Sandman—all tools parents used to keep their children well-behaved.
“But not Santa, though,” someone asked, “right?”
“Santa is the biggest lie. You really think some lard could squeeze down your chimney? That reindeer are real? Grow up.”
Half of our class broke out in tears, while the other half laughed, thinking that she was just being mean. I, however, was furious. I wanted to run home, take that porcelain bastard, and smash it over Susan’s head. How dare you, I’d say. How dare you manipulate me like this? I spent my entire life walking on eggshells, praying for a fridge full of oranges and raspberry yogurt, and for what? To teach me some sort of twisted lesson? So that you could pay off bar tabs and buy Marlboros by the carton?
Instead, I went home, looked into that man’s dead little eyes, and made him a promise. It was the same one Scarlet O’Hara made on the dusty remains of Tara: As God is my witness, we shall never go hungry again. For as long as I lived, he would, too. We would be prosperous together. We would be safe; we would be happy.
So when the sound of him shattering on my kitchen floor pulled me from my dreams, the immediate feeling that this was an omen that disaster was on the horizon was completely and utterly justified.
I slept very little that night. There had been a voting booth technical glitch the day earlier so the results of the City of Duluth’s mayoral election would be announced in this morning’s newspaper. All of the hard work I’d put in campaigning for Rebeccah Write—the first openly trans woman to run for office in Minnesota—was on the line. Was it going to prove to be fruitful, or had I completely wasted my time? It didn’t help that my husband, two-time Winter Olympic silver medalist Spencer Hamm, had tossed and turned, got up several times to pee, and made a phone call at 3:30 in the morning. I hit him with a pillow several times, even smacked the phone out of his hand, and tried to sleep, but it never truly came.
I knew it was Santa right away. I tried to convince myself that it was just another glass Doorknob had dropped, or maybe Chandelier had something to do with it, but there was something in the hollow echo that told me different. I pulled myself awake, careful not to wake Two-Time, popped in a piece of Cinnamint gum, and threw on my bathrobe.
It was worse than I feared. There he was, his body parts scattered like shrapnel on the hardwood floor, his baking-soda innards blown out. His hat was smashed to smithereens, while the glove and crotch had stayed intact. Beside his pieces was a small black marble, which I thought was just another piece. His eyes were also spared. They looked up at me in pain, as if saying with a dying breath, You lied to me, Hamm. How could you lie to me?
“Oh, goddamn it,” I cursed, crouching down to try and pick up the pieces, but there were too many shards to hold. I pulled one of the decorative Canadian bowls Two-Time got during the Vancouver games and set them carefully inside. I could put him back together if I tried, I told myself. I’ve always been great at puzzles, but I’d never done a 3D puzzle. Maybe there was a YouTube tutorial.
But the little porcelain bastard was right. How could I let this happen? Sure, I never told anyone who he was, what he meant to me, but he was clearly an artifact, clearly important to me if it was the only thing I’d kept when I married Two-Time. I would wake up every morning and start my day giving him a gentle kiss on the top of his head, giving his little Buddha belly a good- luck rub. Regardless of how silly this ritual was, or how weird my nosy neighbors must have thought I was, it was something that kept me grounded. My mind was spinning like a gyroscope in every direction. Was this a sign from the universe, showing my prosperity smashing like him? That I, too, would crumble? Was this some unfortunate accident, or did one of my kids do this just to spite me?
“Watch your mouth, please.”
Chandelier sunk herself into her high-collared puritanical sweater, avoiding my fiery gaze as I whirled around, while her brother sat at the opposite end of the table, his posture sunken and curved, dropping his head into his cereal bowl. Doorknob’s eyes were wide, looking at his sister as if begging to keep their unspoken pact. I loved these kids as if they were my own, but sometimes…. I strolled over, trying to be menacing, and slapped my hands down hard on the oak table and leaned in close like an interrogation.
“Mom,” Doorknob said, his talk sweet like agave. “First, can I just say how beautiful—”
“Zip it, kiddo.”
“It wasn’t me,” Chandelier whispered.
“Oh great, thanks. Just throw me right under the bus why don’t you.”
“All I said was that I didn’t do it!”
“Yeah, but there’s only two of us, and if one person is innocent—”
“Enough!” I slapped my hands down a little too hard on the dining-room table, causing droplets of milk to fly out of the bowls. I took a deep breath—inhale positivity, exhale anxiety, as Beyonce once said. “Look, guys, I’m not mad—”
“You’re just angry.” I’d said this once, while we were in Sochi, drunk off of Russian vodka and the crisp mountain air, and Doorknob will never let me live it down.
“I have evidence, you know.”
Chandelier and Doorknob gave each other puzzled looks. I held up the marble, rolling it through my fingers, Exhibit A. The more I played with it, the more I thought that both kids were too old to be playing with marbles. But, as I was about to grill them more, I looked down at my hands. They’d turned orange. This was no marble, but a taconite pellet.
No one spoke. I was just as flabbergasted as the kids. Why would there be a pellet in my kitchen? Someone had opened the window directly across from the fridge, unaware that I’d taken the screen off to replace it when I found the time. Is that what caused Santa to burst? Someone had to know something, but these kids could be professional poker players.
The silence broke with the sound of my bedroom door clicking open, followed by the heavy, tired footsteps of two-time Winter Olympic Silver Medalist Spencer Hamm. Doorknob’s thrumming stopped, Chandelier dropped her spoon, and my body immediately relaxed. “Thank God,” I said, much to Chandelier’s disappointment. I might not be able to pry the truth from these kids, but their father would be able to snap them wide open.
He stumbled his way down the staircase, mid-yawn. One of his hands covered his mouth, as if trapping the yawn, while the other hand slipped down the back of his personally monogrammed USA Under Armor sweatpants, scratching his butt cheeks softly. His eyes had deep, dark bags under them, and his face seemed puffier than usual. He’d been waking up like this lately, stumbling drunk-like through the house after a restless sleep. I tried to get him to take one of my Ambien, but he’d read some article claiming that Yannie Petrovka’s broken leg was a result of unknowingly running laps while under the influence of the miracle drug. I hadn’t seen any evidence of this, but knowing how much he wanted to destroy Yannie, who was I to drug him up?
“Perfect timing,” I said, stepping back from the table. “Twoie, you gotta—”
He put a playful hand over my mouth, walking right past the frightful faces of his kids and into the kitchen. As he reached up to the cabinet and grabbed his Sochi mug—a white cup with a circle of rainbow feathers and the Olympic rings underneath—the back of his T-shirt rode up, just a little bit, enough to notice two big bruises on the dip of his back. Had he fallen again?
I was about to warn him that the coffee pot was dry, that my morning routine was thrown into such complete chaos that I forgot to make some, but he noticed before I had time. He had started pouring nothing, his mind clearly somewhere else for him not to notice how light the pot was.
There was a sudden flash—he’d chucked the pot across the kitchen—followed by an explosion of papers and cursing from Two-Time. It’d hit the chore-listed cork board that I’d put together my first week as the Hamm household’s Young White Girl. The pot didn’t break, thankfully, but thumbtacks and washing-machine directions were scattered everywhere.
The silent tension grew. He’d been like this lately—temperamental, swearing and chucking things around the gym he’d made in the garage and screaming at Doorknob when he came home late from hockey practice, calling Chandelier a moron for her newfound, born-again Catholicism and even going so far as to raise his voice at me whenever I asked him to take out the trash or pick up the sweat-stained jockstraps he left haphazardly around the house (this wasn’t really an issue—I love the smell they leave behind, a harsh musk and sickly-sweet perspiration that reminded me of sarmas—but I’d never personally seen him blow up like that).
He leaned into the counter, lightly smacking his head into the cupboard. “Sorry,” he said, “sorry.” He grabbed a K-Cup and popped it into the machine, leaving it to brew while walking to the bathroom. These freak-outs never lasted longer than a second or two, and his apology was always sincere. He only had a few weeks before whatever the Olympic thing is, and it was the most important season of his career. A gold medal—and a long-awaited name change—was on the line.
I turned around, hoping to continue my grilling, but the kids were looking at each other in genuine fear. Chandelier had her crucifixion necklace in her mouth, nervously tapping it on her front buck teeth, while Doorknob took off his Penguins cap and ran a hand through his ridiculous, slicked-back, black-as-night hockey hair. My ropes of patience were thinning with every second, and I refused to snap like my husband.
“I can play this game all day.”
“You sure about that?” Doorknob asked, pulling up his phone and flipping it towards me. 7:25. Shit.
They had to be at school in 35 minutes. I wasn’t dressed and didn’t have enough time even to put on mascara. The post-8 a.m. Caribou Coffee rush would most likely beat me to a slice of cinnamon coffee cake, and I’d be damned if I lost another thing I cherished.
“Pack up, goobers,” I said, tossing the bowl of Santa bits on the kitchen island, rushing up the stairs, tearing off my robe in the process.
I’d thrown on the first things I could find: an old Def Leppard tour shirt of Two-Time’s that I’d cover with a beige raincoat, some Lululemon leggings, and a cheap scarf to wrap around my throat. I pulled my hair back into a tight bun, which looked like a Krispy Kreme donut as I ran past a hallway mirror. I passed on the mascara.
As we left the house, I saw that there was no plastic-wrapped Congdon Chroniclein its usual spot on our welcome mat that read ‘Winners Welcome!’, and on the one day I actually wanted to read it. I’d purposely shut off my phone, trying to ignore any updates from the campaign team, hoping to see the life-changing headlines for myself. I hoped to see Rebeccah’s happy face on the front page, holding up her win like Dewey did after his campaign for the presidency, except this time it wouldn’t be a mix-up. I’d promised to call her the minute I saw it so we could scream and cry with joy—we were both very emotional women—and to tell her how thankful I was. I even had a Laverne Cox quote that I’d attached to a bouquet of flowers I sent to her office. ‘It is revolutionary for any trans person to choose to be seen and visible in a world that tells us we should not exist.’
Most importantly, I promised her from day one that if she won, I would come out myself. She’d give me that revolutionary courage I’d need to get this boulder of a burden off my chest. But, as with Santa, I had a dark feeling that my promises would prove fruitless. I just needed to know as soon as possible and on my own terms.
I’d pick up a copy at Caribou on my way home if there were any copies left.
We didn’t leave the house until 10-to and didn’t even get on the road until 5-to. Normally, I would be in full panic mode. I hated being late for anything—it was a sign of laziness. A community theater director once told me: “To be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, and to be late is unacceptable.” But the view of Lake Superior and the boardwalk of Duluth quashed my shaking. There were two freighters drifting slowly towards the dock, while another one cruised under the lift bridge. There were the usual tourists walking along the boardwalk, down the pier, circled around the Breakwater lighthouse. A colony of seagulls danced in and out of the groups, snatching French fries and mini donuts from (shop) out of their hands.
I loved this view more than anything in the world—the closest I’ve ever gotten to the ocean was the lake’s expansive and seemingly endless horizon. Usually, I don’t get enough time to stare. The morning traffic from Congdon doesn’t usually pick up until 9, but there we sat, bumper to bumper in a line of Explorers and Escapes that snaked from Superior Street all the way up to North Hawthorn. I tried to watch the ships closer, trying to see if they were moving, but I was too busy checking and rechecking myself in the rearview mirror, hoping I wouldn’t run into anyone with my busted mug and cheap scarf tied around my neck.
What in the hell was going on?
A car behind me—a convertible with its top rolled down during the beginning of November—laid on its horn.
“Ass,” I muttered through gritted teeth. Where was I supposed to go? We were at a snail’s pace. Traffic in Duluth wasn’t dead by any means, but I’d never sat in a jam longer than 10 or 15 minutes, and we were going to be here for a lot longer.
Doorknob pulled out his earbuds, a subdued scream of metal pouring out. “What’s the haps?”
Chandelier rolled her window down enough to stick her head out. She looked like an Afghan hound. “There’s some sort of parade goin’ on.”
“A parade?” I asked.
“Yeah. There’s a bunch of people with signs standing in the middle of the road.” Awesome. The kids would be late for school, and I had a phone appointment with Lester Holt at 9 that I’d been pushing off. The chance that Caribou had newspapers left was slim to none. I’d have to stop at Walgreens. Just the thought of it sent a sciatic tingle down my legs.
“Wait,” Chandelier said, unbuckling her belt and leaning further out the window. “There’s a cop—no, two—pushing them aside.”
I rolled down my own window, trying to catch a glimpse of the drama. I was parched for some juicy tea. I could see the tops of the signs starting to pop up as we started to crawl, but from my vantage point, they were unintelligible scribbles. I checked the clock: 8:10.
I turned around and gave the kids my most serious face I could. “I’m dropping you off here.”
Doorknob rolled his eyes. “But Orden is soooo far from here.”
“It’s three blocks, lazy.”
“Why don’t you get out and walk then, Sister Christian?” The douchebag behind me laid on his horn again, seeing that the line of cars in front of him had pulled a car’s length ahead.
“Guys, please, evacuate. I’ll make it up to you.”
“J.J. Astors,” Chandelier said with no hesitation. “Please?”
“I’ll call and get us a reservation. C’mon, scoot scoot.”
Doorknob gave out a hoarse cough, as fake as a Friends laugh track. “I’m not feeling well, come to think of it. Maybe—”
Chandelier cut him off. “Promise?”
The car honked again. Against my better judgment, and my current promise-breaking streak I was on, I agreed. They grabbed their book bags and slipped out onto the street with a quick wave.
I thought the crowd seemed to be multiplying like rabbits with every tap of my gas pedal, but I realized they were just being pushed out of the street and crowded onto the sidewalk. Some people were honking as they drove by, while others were flipping the bird out of their windows. The chanting of the crowd was getting louder and louder.
I pulled up to the red light to see that it was no parade, but a protest.
My heart leaped up, catching in my throat, causing me to gag. I didn’t need to read the newspaper to know that Rebeccah Write had won the election. The joy I’d hoped to feel was killed, immediately replaced by fear. Most of the protestors were Congdonites: Jasmine and her husband Pete Doughty, who owned a ritzy funeral home and had a daughter named Meldy—short for Formaldehyde—had a big fuck-off sign that read ‘Dump the Dyke!’; Ryan Jacobson, the stay-at-home dad whose girls were the same age as Chandelier, had his hands cupped around his lips, spit flying while screaming something angrily; Rhoda LaBine and Billiam Eicholtz, the two conservative members on the council, held up a banner that said ‘Evict the Enemies!’; Maria and Marsha Martier, the alternating vice presidents of the Bi-Weekly Movie Club led a circle of people holding hands. It was a mob—and they were unknowingly after me.
But, at the forefront of the mob, with her perfect mint-green, black-roots hair, pulled into a perfect high-pony and a perfect megaphone clutched in her perfectly manicured hands, was the bane of my existence—the Joker to my Batman, the Betty to my Joan, the Phillip to my Diana, ad nauseam: Clarissa Smythe.
“Ladies and gentlemen!” Her voice—which was already nasally and stomach-churning—crackled its way into my car. “We are lucky, blessed even, to live in a bubble! We are safe from the immorality that is Duluth! We have our own rules, and now is the time to enact them!” She was talking about the Congdon Park Municipal Council and their most recent bill they were trying to pass that would force everyone to submit to intensive background checks.
I’d put in so much hard work for Rebeccah that I completely spaced on the election for the vacant spot left behind by the liberal Mrs. O’Malley, who moved to Florida to start a chain of dog-therapy clinics.
Clarissa handed the microphone off to a short, fat chump of a man in an ill-fitting suit whom I didn’t recognize. He had been glued to her hip, smiling wide with dead eyes. He reminded me of a cross between the mayor from Thomas the Tank Engineand the Penguin from Batman Forever, except he would never be as charming as Danny DeVito. He fumbled with the megaphone for a while, accidentally pressing a button that let out a screeching WWII-era siren, then another button that made the Wilhelm scream. He hit it twice with an open palm, finally getting it to work. The whole thing would have been comical, had it not been for….
“Gooooood morning, Congdonites!” The crowd gave out off-putting hoots and hollers, clapping with no rhythm whatsoever. “It is my great honor that I, Barry G. Johnson, will serve dutifully as your new councilman!”
Barry G. Fucking Johnson. The left side of my body started to tingle, and I could have sworn I smelled burnt toast—classic signs of an aneurysm. I’d never met the man personally, but I’d heard more than my fair share of inflammatory horror stories. When he was 15, he legally changed his name to Barry Goldwater in honor of his hero. When he was 17, he tried to sue the Fon Duluth Casino for ‘racially profiling’ him after they kicked him out for being underage. When he was 20, he raised enough money to purchase a ‘whites only’ drinking fountain down on the boardwalk, though someone put a rainbow sticker on it and wrote ‘gays only’. There was even a rumor that it was his uncle who shot and killed Harvey Milk.
But, most importantly, Barry G. Fucking Johnson was Clarissa’s father.
Just as the opposite light was turning yellow, Clarissa and I locked eyes, mine fearful while hers were full of treachery, trickery and threat. She flashed me a quick, condescending smile—something I was beyond familiar with.
Somehow, I managed to keep my hands on the steering wheel instead of flipping her off, and told myself: Breathe in positivity, exhale negativity.
Luke Kingsbury is a proud Minnesotan and graduate of the University of Iowa. Luke is a Carly Rae Jepsen fan through and through, an Elle Woods wannabe, and can quote the entire Titanic screenplay by heart. You can catch him playing Apex and Overwatch for hours on end or in the McDonald’s Drive Thru at one A.M.. He strongly believes that there could be 100 people in the room, and 99 of them don’t believe in you, but all it takes is one and it can change your whole life.