Who Is Ben?
I liked to think of Ben as my little brother. I liked to think that because my parents never gave me my own little brother, even when I only-child-bullied them about how much it was chafing my emotional well-being. They were really poor sports about it and didn’t take my very actionable demand seriously. If I had been born a boy, my name would have been Michael.
Brotherless (and less tragically, sisterless), I was marooned between my obnoxious yet necessary parents and my own perfect, dangerous solitude. Misty-blue mind with a vigor like red, and an affection for numbers that never played out in math class. OCD detracts from subtracts from detracts from it (it: 1, 8, 1, 8 never break god fucking damn it).
Ben was great as a little brother because he was such an agreeable little putz. One time, my anger for him overflowed so greedily into my hands that I shook him by the shoulders, my lips held prisoner by my rabbit teeth, my eyes rosy with hate and button-mean girltemper. I shook him, a splitting image of my mother and her aggression when she lost her temper with me (I could kill you but I won’t dearest lamb my life is an echo of what I said I could never stand and here I am, my lamb, for you, because of you, but for you too). Or, in my case: you broke my tent, you little shit, it’s a Lion King tent.
Poor Ben and his traveling self-esteem. Whenever I wanted to play lava monsters, we played lava monsters. Whenever I wanted to play animals, we played animals and I picked the animals. We were both boy animals, or usually.
I didn’t want to be a woman. I knew I was a girl, and that was fine I guess except for the dresses and demeaning color schemes and whenever we went to McDonald’s, my mom had to answer, “boy” (the drive through lady would ask, “Boy or girl?” with regards to the smelly plastic toys they put in Happy Meals). Boy or girl, will that complete your you?
They still ask you this question, at least if you drive into the suburbs (I still answer this question, with another question, from my you). This is notable because it is 2018. What’s more notable is the fact that people in my family are still going to McDonald’s, despite being smart and thin and otherwise pretty healthy. There is no science here.
I didn’t want a penis. I wanted to not have boobs. What a nuisance, I reasoned. What an embarrassment, I exaggerated. One time, our block had a block party. It was great if you like food and people. I took the opportunity to savagely beat Ben at a sword fight. I’m pretty sure that was the most important stage I’ve ever commanded.
Before Ben moved, but after he gave me chicken pox and after I stole one of his books by hiding it under my shirt and just walking out of his house unannounced, we were playing together in the backyard (together is for equals, so how can I really be a girl?). Our shirts were off (I aggressively championed public nudity from a young age), and I pointed out to him that my nipples were bigger than his. Even though I was taller, even though I was older, my slightly “more of” nipples (areolas, actually) seemed a more meaningful attack. Together is for equals, and I’m still winning.
I hope that Ben remembers, even now that he’s a likely tall and definitely handsome man, that when he was seven years old a girl and her anatomy voiced an equality that momentarily shattered his ego. An equality ground out of the sort of self-assurance that only exists once in a lifetime. An equality that breathes, my body is faultless even when others are inside of it. An equality that has never reasoned against itself. An equality that has since left her heart and body like the sheen of virginity, only to be replaced with useful and dangerous breasts.
Virginia Petrucci is a writer, artist, and mother from Ventura, California. A former columnist for the LA Post-Examiner, Virginia has authored two poetry chapbooks: The Salt and the Song (Headmistress Press 2018) and Recipes and How-To’s (Red Flag Poetry 2017). She received a Pushcart nomination for her poetry, and her work is published in Flash Fiction Magazine, Avalon Literary Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Flash Fiction Online, and Best New Writing, among others. Follow her on Twitter: @veepetrucci. Discover her writing, drawing, painting, and more on her website: www.virginiapetrucci.com