I was a child who hated dresses yet wore my tangled hair so long it reached the base of my back. I performed in ballet recitals yet despised the makeup they required be plastered on my face. I loved glitter and stuffed animals and motorcycles and wooden swords. I was a princess, but I was one who could rescue herself.
I did not call myself a tomboy, though. The word fit awkwardly in my mouth even then, much like choir dresses and pink tights fit awkwardly on my chubby form. It’s only in adulthood that I understand why I hesitated to claim the label: tomboy implied girl. To be a tomboy meant to be a girl who liked boy things, who was unlike ‘normal’ girls but who still, beneath the mud and the bruises, was a girl. And I was not a girl.
I was frozen pond water. Freshly mown grass. Coyotes howling in the night. I was wild blackberries and ripe apples and library books, wood smoke and Play-Doh and agates. I was thousands of memories and sensations squashed into the jelly bean-shaped body of a human child. They might have been consolidated under a given name and assigned gender but they never truly united into one concept. Yet what child worries about such things when they’re tromping through wetlands or howling at the moon?
I’ve since shed the last of the dresses and most of my hair, and with them all the labels I once accepted (albeit with resignation) as my default. Replacing them with nothing has left me freer than since I was that blissfully unaware child. Besides, I am still her, still mushrooms and noisy crows and pressed pennies; we just understand us better now.