Image of Set Stories Free - 2018
Image of Short Story
I should have noticed things weren’t ideal when I found myself holding my knees to my chest, sobbing grossly in the shower. Each heave was followed by a short, desperate gasp for air. My fingers didn’t know what to do so they alternated between gripping my knees and digging into my shoulders.

Safe to say: things were not ideal, and I was not okay. I was having another fit of hating everything about my body and face, but not for reasons most people expect.

“Alison?” My father’s voice attempted to reach me from outside the bathroom, drenched in deep concern. “Alison, are you okay?” His knuckles pounded the door rapidly, fearing the worst.

With every ounce of will, I pushed myself out of the slippery, cold tub. Shivering, I slipped on my pajamas. I caught sight of myself in the mirror and felt an indescribable pang of sadness deep in my gut, empty and heavy at the same time.

My sad brown eyes that sat underneath my thick eyebrows were just shades darker than my skin. My hair was short, only creating a barely sizable Afro, and that sometimes crafted the illusion that I was a boy to others. But the closer they look – the closer I look – my face is entirely too feminine.

I sigh and open the door.

My dad automatically wraps me up in a big hug, lifting me about a foot off the ground. He’s a big guy, 6’5 and sorta buff, so with every squeeze I can feel how scared he was. The tears are starting to well up in my eyes again but no one wants to cry in front of their dad.

Except... I feel his body start to shake. And I feel him exhale deeply, trying to control it. And I realize he’s crying.

So then I start to cry again. And it’s a mutual mess of the two of us crying for 15 minutes straight, neither of us telling the other what they’re crying about.

But I can figure it out.

I’m crying because I don’t want to be Alison, and he’s crying because he’s worried for Alison. He’s worried for his daughter.

“Dad,” I pull back and my voice is shaking. I breathe in, closing my eyes and preparing for... something. The truth maybe? I prepare to tell the truth. Here in the small hallway of my house lit by the still-on light of the bathroom, who I am feels so close.

“What’s wrong, Ally?” Dad whispers. And just the way dads do, he tries to take a few guesses. “Is it someone at school? Is it a class? Did you get hurt?” All the question he kept inside when he held me came flooding out, like hugging me was the dam that kept those ideas in, and now they’re rushing freely.

“No, Dad,” I try and force a smile. “Well...” I debate between the truth. Saying this could change everything.

But I’ve thought about this for years. Mulled over the idea and toyed with this feeling for months on end. In class I’d think of names and how it’d be to tell my classmates. Thoughts of emailing my teachers to change my Alison on the roster nagged at me when I tried to fall asleep. But the most enticing day dream I have is the one where I didn’t need to do anything. Because I had been born the right way in the first place. One where I wasn’t Alison. And it terrifies me because everyone loves Alison. My dad loves Alison, my friends love Alison, my teachers think Alison is a great role model.

It feels like someone reaching into my chest, trying to pull out what hurts me the most. Their fingers dance over my ribcage, tug on my vocal chords, and then they reach my heart. They wrap their hands over it and pull and pull and pull, but they can never get it out of my chest. So it sits there, in pain and struggling forever.

“Alison,” My dad gulps. He looks into my eyes, searching for something. Anything.

“I’m not a girl,” I huff out. “Dad, I can’t be Alison.” I’m awfully aware of my voice cracks.

My dad works through a slew of facial expressions. First surprise, then grief, then acceptance, and finally contentment. A smile tugs on his lips and he brings me in for another hug.

“Just like that?” I question, tentatively putting my arms around him.

“Ally– sorry,” My dad stopped himself. “You can be whatever you want. My job is to be there for you, Alison or not. Nothing changes. But your name, I guess. We’ll work that out. It’s a lot.” He sighed, resting a hand on my shoulder. “But your my baby, baby. Still just 15, you’ve got time to figure this out.”

And then I feel it. My heart is finally yanked out, but it’s not painful. It’s like someone replaced a broken cog in a machine. And slowly, a new one is slipped in. Shiny and new and true.


The ‘T’ in true sets something off. I’m not Alison. So... maybe I should put more thought into it but all I can think of is the ‘tr’ and suddenly my mind sparks.