Jack is five, and she’s been skating for two years. She’s good at it-- not as good as Papa, because she’s five, but better than anyone else her age.
Papa says she should start figure skating classes. Mama says she should start hockey, like Papa does.
Jack is inclined to listen to Mama, in this as in all things, so Papa watches a few figure skating routines with her, and Jack thinks its brilliant, moving on the ice as though you’re flying, but it also appears to involve sparkly dresses with very short skirts, and Jack is five but that’s old enough to know that a girl with legs as fat as hers are shouldn’t wear a skirt like that.
(It doesn’t feel like there’s much she can wear. Sometimes, she’ll look at clothes shops or her wardrobe and feel a coil of worry begin to spool underneath her skin. Mama expects her to get it, to be able to look at a top and decide whether it’s good or not, whether she can wear it or not, but she can’t, and when she can she gets it wrong. She doesn’t much like being wrong.)
Jack is nine, and a boy on the hockey team says she shouldn’t be on it. Jack think that’s silly, but the boy goes to the coach and says it again, and the thought of not playing hockey gathers like stinging bile in her chest and makes her shake.
She goes to Papa and says “You get into fights all the time, teach me how to throw a punch,” and her Papa laughs and says no.
Mama doesn’t. Mama says, “Your Papa doesn’t understand a lot of things about being a woman, Jaqueline. I’m not quite so enthusiastic about violence as your father, but I can teach you the basics.”
Jack (not Jaqueline, to anyone except her mother and her Grandmere) thinks that there are some things about being a girl that she really doesn’t like. Regardless, she goes back into school and breaks one of John Rademyer’s teeth, and nobody brings up the fact that there’s a girl on the boys’ team again.
Jack is ten, and knows she can’t play hockey like her dad does, and knows she can’t be as pretty as her mama is, and is ignoring both of these facts with a violent intensity. She decides, vaguely, that if she had to pick one of two unachievable goals, she’d pick hockey, ‘cause she doesn’t care about much else.
Jack is fourteen, and is captain of her middle school hockey team. They go to state. She scores a hat-trick, and John Rademyer, sitting in the back of the minibus home, says nothing and glares, but Jack has made it clear that if he puts another foot out of line - he’s been trying for a date with Lily Cole a tad too aggressively, and Jack did not approve - he’d be off the team with another broken tooth. She doesn’t actually have the power to remove team members, but Jack has learned that if you carry yourself with enough false confidence, no-one will ask any questions. And besides, she can break another of his teeth.
Jack is fourteen, and she’s decided that she doesn’t give a shit about boys. Oh, there are the boys on her team, and she looks after them and intimidates them into excellence and even enjoys the company of some of them, but boys as a demographic group, as an institution, she doesn’t care about.
She asks her father why she can’t just wear her jersey and jeans to school, and Papa says that boys wouldn’t like it. She says she doesn’t want boys to like her, which is true, and Papa says ‘atta girl,’ and Jack begins to get the idea that Papa is just a grown-up boy, really.
She asks her Mama if she can shave her head. Hair gets in the way, and you need to wash it and that takes forever, and you have to brush it and put it up and she’s never been very good at that, and buzzed hair feels really good when she touches it. Mama doesn’t say no, exactly, but indicates that maybe her head is too round, too fat for a buzzcut, and Jack thinks that’s bullshit.
(Mama turns up outside her room at bedtime that day, and sits very awkwardly on Jack’s bed and says “Honey, you know you can tell me anything, right?”
Jack knows that’s not true, but she can’t think of anything she wants to tell her. Oh, she wants to talk to someone about how she feels sick and shaky all the time, about how the thought that she lost at state makes her feel like she’s made of ice even though she got a hat-trick, but she can’t talk about that.)
Jack is sixteen, even if she doesn’t feel like it, and she skates faster and harder than any boy she knows. She tried to try for the Q last year, was told that ‘cause of differences in bone density or testosterone levels or some other nonsense she can’t compete. Papa shrugged, said “There’s always collegiate hockey, darling,” and expected that to be that.
Jack says that Junior League is Junior League, and she might be from Quebec but nothing’s stopping her from applying to the OHL.
Jack is sixteen, and lives by herself five days a week, because Mama and Papa have to be in Quebec for work reasons and the only junior league place she could get was in Ontario.
The boys on the team think that’s grand. Jack tries holding parties, tries being Cool Jack who hasn’t got rules, and finds that it’s just like being Regular Jack who has too many rules except that there are people in her house all the time. Jack stops holding parties.
Jack starts to lose the weight, hits that point where she’s got boobs and quads, finds that for a while the boys on the team think that Regular Jack is real grand, and so do some of the boys’ girlfriends. Jack takes advantage of it, because the boys on the team think precious else of her.
Jack is sixteen and her shoulders are so wide that she doesn’t fit in girls’ shirts any more. She’s shot up three inches in two months and everything hurts and she’s the tallest on her team and she broke Carl North’s nose, and the boys on her team don’t think she’s grand anymore. Jack wants to not care. She cares, not ‘cause she wants to be pretty but ‘cause it was the only time they were nice to her.
Jack is seventeen, and understands what her mother was trying to ask. Mama was saying: You’re not what I expected from a daughter, and I don’t know how to deal with it. Mama was saying: the only girls like you I’ve known were gay, so if you’re gay, I’ll know how to deal with this. Mama was trying to say: it’s alright.
Jack doesn’t know if she’s gay. She knows she likes girls, likes looking at them and likes kissing the few of them she’s kissed, but she doesn’t know if that’s because she’s gay or because boys are so awful. There are a few boys she likes, a few who she likes kissing too, but she just doesn’t know. She doesn’t know much about anything.
Jack’s lost pretty much all of the weight, now, not by any conscious effort but by the combination of training as much as anyone will let her and the fact that her new medication suppresses her appetite. She’s buzzed her head, and it’s brilliant, and all her old clothes don’t fit, so she goes shopping with Mama and tries to buy jeans and baseball tees and more jerseys and Mama buys her shirts that fit too closely and jeans that are cold and thin and pretty pointless.
She has a diagnosis, now, and that’s good.
She’s coming up on eighteen, though, and then she’d have to watch the boys she’s skated with go into the draft, and she won’t, and she doesn’t think she can deal with that. She talks about it, a little bit, with her new therapist, but her therapist is a middle-aged man who doesn’t appear to have cared about anything in his life, and he tries but he doesn’t understand at all.
Jack is still seventeen, and Mama has noticed that something is wrong. Jack doesn’t understand why she has to explain it, because it’s obvious, isn’t it?
She tries to explain.
Mama understands perhaps even less than her therapist does, but here is the difference: Mama knows people. Mama talks to people.
A scout comes to one of her games. She makes her way to the bench after the second period, hooks her elbows over the barrier and asks him, “Are you here for Rademyer?”
It’s perhaps the hardest thing she’s ever done.
The scout isn’t there for Rademyer.
Here is the deal the scout made:
She’s got an offer for two training camps, the Bruins and the Aces.
If she can impress at camp, she’ll be entered into the draft.
There’s no guarantee of an offer from anyone, and the media backlash of taking on a girl may well scare off teams, but a chance is better than nothing.
She’s more determined to get the entry than she’s ever been in her life. Her therapist might not understand, but he ups her dose when she asks, and that’s all she needs.