Two Days of Magical Thinking
For two nights and two days when I was in second grade, I prayed to god I would wake up in the morning with a penis. I prayed for hours, or maybe almost an hour, the left-on closet light splaying my dark shadow wide on the bedroom wall. My sister Sarah, four at the time, was asleep in the other bed, but I stayed up to barter with god—not that we were well acquainted—for something I had never seen before. I knew my father had a penis, or at least, there were rumblings about such. At school, I learned more. Stories about the boys’ bathroom. Boys were different. How? A penis. Of course.
Allison and Bailey from down the street claimed to have seen their father Jim’s penis. A lot.
“It is purple and has three holes. When he pees, it goes like this.” Allison mimed a whirligig, a summer sprinkler gizmo.
Sarah and I nodded. Of course it was.
Boy dogs had penises, but the general thought at the bus stop was that dog penises were not like a dad’s penis. And boys’ penises were not like a dad’s penis, either, the girls with little brothers reported this fact. So it did no good to look at boy dog or cat penises, not that anyone had ever seen a cat’s penis, though it was possible Ginny Snoot—who lived with her alarmingly single mother—had. She’d seen everything.
But in 1966, back in second grade, I wanted one. A penis all my own. For two whole days, I waited for it. That first night, I got on my knees on the bed (the way the angels kneeled in the children’s bible my mother read to us) clasped my hands tight, and closed my eyes. Because I didn’t want to wake up Sarah, I prayed silently, telling god that all I wanted was a penis. I wouldn’t ask for anything else. Ever.
I went to sleep at some point (all I remember now is my hunched over prayer shadow, my parents’ voices out in the living room, my sister’s tossing and then soft breaths). In the morning, I reached down between my thighs (for that’s where I assumed my prize penis would grow) and felt nothing by my own damn parts.
At school that day, I glowed with my big secret, even though god hadn’t granted me my wish right away (it could be starting to grow, I imagined). Soon enough, I was going to leave behind all these stupid girls and their endless four square games and jacks and songs. No more orange-haired trolls or Barbies or colored pens (my set? I stole them from Laura Goodwin earlier in the year). I was going to be okay on my own, a boy. A boy because I had a penis and that’s what boys had. None of these girls would tease me about my short hair (kitchen chair bowl cut) or my slip-slidey ankle socks that slunk and clung under my heels or too-short dress (a hand-me-down from a neighbor).
With my new penis, I could wear jeans and t-shirts with holes. I could get dirty and climb trees. Probably, I wouldn’t have to wear underwear, which I always felt trapped by, two leg nooses in every pair. No one would care about the fifty-cent piece sized scabs on my knees. No one would make me sit still. No one would bother me about my handwriting, my messy desk, my mud-caked shoes.
With my new penis, at home, I could eat what I wanted and as fast. Bologna sandwiches with mayo, bags of chips, glasses of the whole milk my mother hide at the back of the fridge. No more powdered milk for me. I would eat whatever I wanted and when.
I’d have a penis.
That night, certain of my convictions, strong in my beliefs, ready to take my place in the boys’ world, I prayed even harder, my eyes clenched tight. Please, I thought. Please. Let me have a penis. Just this one thing. I’ll be good forever. I’ll be nice to Sarah. I won’t lie or cheat or steal. Never again.
Over and over I begged. My parents went to bed. The house lights—all but the closet light—flicked off. The night grew still and dark and empty. My eyes burning, I stared up at the dark ceiling, waiting for my penis to sprout between my legs. Pressing my hand against my usual smooth and silky self, I imagined I felt something happening, a trembling, an upward swelling. There it was! It was here!
I bolted up in the bed, unable to breathe. No. No! I didn’t want a penis. I really didn’t. Smashing back down to the mattress, I lay on my stomach, face in my pillow, my hand against my tight little hairless self, imagining I was holding back what I’d begged for.
“God,” I whispered, not caring now if I woke up Sarah. “I’ve changed my mind. Don’t. No. Really, I made a big mistake.” How silly could I be? I’d forgotten to ask for all the boy things, not that I could figure out what else made them different. Maybe their veins and bones and teeth were different, too. I’d left out too much. I’d not really known what I’d been asking for. My prayer had been horrible and wrong and stupid.
Barely able to take breath as I waited for the horror to start—a nub, a tiny growth, like the warts the doctor froze off my knees and elbows—I conjured my terrible future. What was I going to do with a penis? How could I explain it to my mother? I’d never be able to take a bath with my sister ever again. They’d all see. They’d understand my mistake. I would be a girl with a penis. Not a boy at all.
Eventually, I fell asleep, and when I awoke the next morning, grabbing my soft body in fear, I had no penis. I relaxed. God had finally given me something. After a short lifetime of him never doing anything, he’d answered my prayers after all. Once again, I felt for a tiny penis and then all over myself for something unexpected. A lump. A bump. A change. I stroked my arms, legs, stomach. All the same. As the house woke up, my mother clanking around, feeding our dog, making coffee, I flushed with relief and then with anger.
I was still me.
About the author:
Jessica Barksdale’s fourteenth novel, The Burning Hour, is forthcoming from Urban Farmhouse Press. Her short stories, poems, and essays have appeared in or are forthcoming in Compose, Salt Hill Journal, The Coachella Review, Carve Magazine, Mason’s Road, and So to Speak. She is a Professor of English at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California and teaches online novel writing for UCLA Extension. She has an MFA from the Rainier Writers Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University.