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between hurting and healing

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When she's six, Chris hears someone on TV say, "Here's the thing—" and it becomes her new catchphrase.

So here's the thing about bras: they don't always work when your chest is flat. The first time Chris tries one on, it's her cousin Emma's, and it's 3 sizes too big, but it feels right. She's thirteen the first time she feels right, the fabric of the lace brushing against her ribcage as it hangs off her body.

So here's the thing about coming out: you never do it once and the first time feels like heaven. Her Mama is peppering her freshly christened face with kisses and yelling about buying her dresses. Her Baba leaves the room and leaves the house and, a year later, leaves them. But it all feels like heaven to Chris.

So here's the thing about hockey: it’s harder, when she’s fourteen. Somehow getting checked into the boards by her own teammate hurts less than the coaches still saying "he," hurts less than her name on the roster still being Christopher. "That’s not me!” She wants to scream, but it feels like such a bad omen to talk so poorly of the dead.

And here’s the thing about graduation: moving on is never hard when high school was never home to you.

Chris’ first pride is the summer before college. The store downstairs isn’t doing that good (it never is) and Chris doesn’t even know if they have enough to pay rent this month, but her mama, with broken English and a smile like the sun, spends $45 on pride tickets and buys Chris whatever she wants.

It’s all so much, too. She meets a drag queen who tells her about how she’s been sober for 2 years now. Her name is Angel and Chris says she’s proud of her and means it. “Young people always mean it.” Angel says, and smiles as she takes a drag off her cigarette.

She meets an old lesbian, named Kirstie, and listens when she tells stories about the eighties. “To be alive and gay and happy is a protest all it’s own.” She says, and Chris cries.

Chris cries when a gay man and his husband offer her a summer job at their firm. “But this,” He whispers, gesturing around him towards the parade. “This isn’t to be discussed in the office.”

(When she was a sophomore she’d been dragged out of the goal post and had her helmet torn off and—she understands. Maybe the best thing about all of this is understanding.)

Chris cries when a baseball player on a float waves at her, Chris cries when her mama puts a blue, pink, and white flag behind her daughter’s ear, like she used to do with cherry blossoms when Chris was a baby. She cries when her mother puts a string of pink, blue, and purple beads around her own neck. They hold hands, blue and pink and purple and white and together.

Chris cries when she asks her mama about taking a trip back to China one day and she answers, “They don’t like girls in China.” The words are hard; her mama has to pull Chris into her small chest to stop the sobbing.

Chris doesn’t cry when she takes her hormones the next morning. There’s a first time for everything.

So here's the thing about your new friends calling you "her": it doesn't hurt. Chris shouldn't be surprised. Have the stars ever hurt when they shine?

...From the desk of Lauren Webber, resident psychiatrist at Samwell University. Transcript from her mandatory evaluation of Christina Chow of the Samwell Men’s Hockey team.

I’m going to use quotes to get a better feel for your mental state. After I say each one, just say the first thing you think.

“Despite your best efforts, people are going to be hurt when it’s time for them to be hurt.”

I don’t know. I guess I wish I could tell this to Derek. I wish I could tell this to myself. Maybe God opens us up to hurt so we don’t forget we’re still human. But, like, maybe God just forgets to put some of us back together again, and we just hurt forever. I don’t know. I hope He remembers them one day.

“But love was always something heavy for me. Something I had to carry.”

This is true, I think. I don’t really know what he meant when he wrote that but, like, when I was in high school, I had this boyfriend who always said how much he loved me. And it never sat right, y’know, it was too much. My mom said when she left China all she had was a big bag of all her stuff and it hurt her back a lot and sometimes she still feels it and, I don’t know, sometimes it’s like that. I don’t think real love should make you feel like a refugee.

“Maybe we just lived between healing and hurting.”

I guess it makes sense. Like, if you hurt you have to heal. If no one ever teaches you to heal you’ll just slap band aids all over and wait for a change that’s not coming. Don’t you ever feel like that? Like you’re sitting at a train station but the train isn't coming and also it’s an airport and everyone’s going overseas and seeing mountains but you’re just sitting. You’re just waiting.

“What happens when people open their hearts?”

They get better. That’s the quote, right? My Baba loved Haruki Murakami. What? Does he still? I don’t know. I don’t know him. I don’t want to.

“No man or woman born, coward or brave, can shun his destiny.”

My cousin says that everything happens for a reason, you know? Like my Baba left because his life wasn’t supposed to be with us, anymore. Sometimes I think people just use destiny to make themselves feel better. Sometimes Babas just leave. That’s life.

“Let my soul smile through my heart and my heart smile through my eyes,—”

... That I may scatter rich smiles in sad hearts. That was my senior quote! Sometimes I don’t know if I have a big heart or if it just hurts so much that I make it larger than it is. Sometimes it doesn’t hurt at all and I almost forget it’s there. Memory is weird, right?

Last one, you’re doing great. “There is only one happiness in this life; to love and be loved.”

Do you know Caitlin Farmer? I just met her yesterday.

So here's the thing about girlfriends and the word "lesbian" and falling in love: they're not all empty. Some words are undeniably full, with Farmer. With Farmer, everything is that kind of white that tips the waves back home. It rains on their first date, and they cuddle and watch Bridge to Terabithia in Chris' dorm. When Leslie dies, Farmer says she’d never leave Chris alone like that.

Chris believes her.

He doesn’t even come to the fucking championship game. Chris breaks her own heart and reaches out to him—on Facebook, because she doesn’t even have his fucking phone number anymore—and he answers. Maybe, he says, Maybe, he is always saying.

“Maybe’s are always no’s with men.” Her mama tells her later, sitting on the bathroom counter after the championship and washing Samwell red paint off her face.

So here's the thing about fathers: they stay the same. Chris accepts it but she wants him to come to their games. She wants him to see the ice her skates cut up and know that she is imagining it’s his chest instead. She wants him to be proud of her.

He always used to say she was so spoiled.

Chris is a junior when she stops cutting her hair short. She likes it that way, sure, but she’s always wanted to try it long and now that she’s able to play on the women’s team there’s nothing stopping her. Her new teammates gush over her bra and help her deal with the transition from SMH to SWH. She stays in the Haus even though they’re not technically her team anymore, because Lardo comes back and dares someone to kick her little sister out. Her heart doesn’t hurt that much anymore.

By senior year, Christina Chow has a engagement ring and an offer from the Riveters to play pro. Her barrettes keep her new bangs out of her face while she writes her thesis. Her Baba is getting remarried and she sees pictures of him with his new step-son at Pride and isn’t as bitter as she thought she would be. Her hair goes to her shoulders and her top surgery is scheduled for next week.

So here's the thing about hope, and maybe the meaning of it all: it's not easy but sometimes you find a girl who promises not to let you drown and sometimes you find a team that knows Chris is short for Christina and sometimes your cousin sends you her padded training bras for Christmas when you’re fourteen and sometimes being alive is a protest you’re not ever ready for and sometimes you turn your flag around in your purse so no one on the train can see you’re coming from Pride and sometimes Baba leaves before you’re old enough to realize he was never really there at all and sometimes that's all okay.

Chris goes back to California for Pride after she graduates. Her mama is too old to go, now, so Caitlin comes instead. She sees Angel again, in the same spot, smoking a cigarette. Angel is the one crying this time, and she says she’s so proud.

And here’s the thing: Chris is still young enough to know she means it.