Mason stares straight ahead, her hair falling to the ground as her step-father shouts that she should be like a man, not a little girl. Sometimes she contemplates killing him. She tells herself that she’s not serious, but deep down she knows she is. She knows she would do it, the way her mom’s been looking at the man recently, the deep rooted fear in her eyes sending anger coursing through Mason’s veins- she never wants to see her mother look at a man like that again. She never wants to see anyone look at anyone like that, least of all her family, Randy and Mindy cowering in the corner, the same looks of wounded animals coming across their faces, and she wishes she was strong enough to fight back, but instead she just keeps quiet and when he looks around, yelling about who has a problem with an extra drink at the dinner table, she pretends she didn’t hear a damn thing, and when the glass comes shattering through her world she lets herself be torn apart bit by bit.
Her dad’s heart is in the right spot, she knows that, but every reference he makes to them being men together makes her shiver a bit. He acts like she’ll have to be just like him, pissing on the fire like “real mountain men” do, or whatever he had said. She wishes he would stop telling her to be this thing she’s not, a big, strong, mountain of a man, groaning and griping about women being flimsy things and about how “us boys” will camp together this weekend. She knows he means well, but sometimes, these things don’t really get through the right way. Sometimes, there’s just gonna be a disconnect.
When she takes her first picture with her new camera, her girlfriend takes her to the skate park, where half the guys are drinking substances out of paper bags and making out with girls in a way that makes Mason understand why people hate PDA and despite all of this, her camera makes everything okay. Taking those pictures makes Mason feel fantastic, like everything that’s going on is a carefully composed piece of music, and Mason is unknowingly and accidentally conducting it.
She feels absolutely complete.
Her high school girlfriend tells her to man up. She calls her up on the phone one night, when Mason’s home and feels like shit, and wishes everyone would just shut up and there she is, whispering into the line because her mom’s up, and if she hears her, she swears she’ll be dead by morning and Mason knows what that’s like so she lets her whisper, and the only thing she keeps saying over and over is, “Stop being a pussy, you just gotta man up and tell your mom about it okay. Tell your mom the shit they been calling you. Don't be a little bitch. Man the fuck up.”
When she first moved to this fucking town she went to the bathroom, and these kids decided it’d be great to mess with her a little. New kid, new town, fixing her hair in the bathroom for two seconds, easy target. She knows she’s such a fucking easy target, but she just won’t stop. When they called her a pretty boy and left her to stare in the mirror, she wished that she could just be pretty.
Mason’s father sees her wearing her sister’s skirt in the small room Sam uses and he doesn’t say anything, but he grins a little.
The grin’s not mean, just kind of sweet, and Mason whispers, “Shut up, you don’t know, okay, just shut up.”
Her dad just softens his expressions and whispers back, “Anything new you want me to call you?”
“You want a purse to go with that?”
Husband #3’s response to the nail polish she’d put on herself in 6th period was obviously pure comic genius, and the only thing she can think to do is refrain from saying, “Yeah. I think light blue would go best with this, don’t you?”
Sam tries to defend her, but of course numero tres is working as hard as he can to be an asshole and skips around the possible conversational escape in favor of ridicule, which Mason so greatly appreciates that she could just punch him straight through his already unattractive, “I-did-three-tours-in-the-army-with-no-casualties” face.
She would know how, too. Her dad taught her at the ripe old age of 14.
Sam’s lying in the dark next to her and she whispers it to her real quiet.
“Sam, um, what’s it like being a girl?”
“Why would you wanna know, Mason? Some long, lost fantasy?”
“Yeah,” Mason laughs, because this is what 12 year olds laugh at, and whispers back, “What’s it like?”
“Well, what’s it like being a boy?”
Mason turns a shade of red that she’s happy can’t be seen in the dark, “I wouldn’t know.”
Suddenly, Sam gets all quiet and Mason can hear her shifting in her sleeping bag. She looks at her, and the moonlight is hitting her just right, her face outlined well, “Mason. Are you... a girl?”
Mason’s mouth is so dry that she doesn’t think she could even answer well. She waits a moment and then slowly nods her head.
“Okay. I always wanted a sister. But, still. No touching my stuff. Just because you're my sister now, doesn't mean you can do that.”
“Sam. You can’t tell mom.”
“Okay.” Sam shrugs, like that’s no big deal and she remembers why she loves her.
When she turned 15, she got a bible with her birth name written on it in gold ink. Mason didn’t like that much, because the way it had been done felt like the most "man's rite of passage" thing she had ever seen. She looked at her dad who winked and passed her a note saying 'We can change it later', so that made it all a bit better. She liked bible stories, and even though she wasn’t too religious, she was okay with getting a bible. Her step-grandma looked so happy, too. Who didn’t want to read about sin and redemption anyway? It was the basic principle of nearly every story ever written. She was pretty sure it was the basis of her own story, wherever that turned out.
She thought again about her name on the cover. One day, it would be different, she was sure of it.
She gets her ears pierced, and she comes home to find her mom’s boyfriend being a drunken dick, but since when is that new. He says something about guys with earrings being gay, and she can’t help but laugh at how much he had misjudged this situation.
Her dad calls her “my little girl” now, and her mom calls her “kiddo”, as she always has, and Sam just calls her a freak which doesn’t faze her in the least.
She calls herself “a fine young woman” in replace of every time those words have come out as “man” instead, and she steadies herself in the fact that she doesn’t give a shit what guys say about her painted nails now. It’s all over.
The sun’s setting over the rocks, and Mason can’t imagine a day better than this, a cute girl who doesn’t look at her funny for telling her she’s a girl, a beautiful new start to a new life, new friends who are howling deep into a canyon. She knows she’ll be okay now, and she keeps looking over at that girl, and the urge to kiss her is so much, the urge to take a snapshot of this, because this. This is what life is lived for.