All Michael wanted to do was to wear the prettiest dress he ever saw; he knew he'd look so lovely, but he faced challenges from strange places
The Pink Dress
by Katherine Day
During the Depression of the 1930s, even a 10-cent child's haircut was a luxury that Michael's parents could hardly afford, and Michael's light brown hair was long, giving him an a most girlish appearance. Even as a little boy, he recalled, he was often to hear: "My, what a pretty little girl you have, Mrs. O'Hearn!" It happened so often that finally his mother gave up trying to explain her child was actually a boy and usually answered, "Thank you," continuing on about her business.
The question, "What's her name?" at first would fluster his mother, but soon she learned to say simply: "Mickey."
It didn't help that Michael was also a very fragile child, with a slender body and stick-like arms and legs. As much as he could he avoided playing games and sports with the other boys of the poor Irish neighborhood where he grew up, hurrying home after school to curl up on his bed in the room he shared with his older sister, Maeven, to read, or write poetry or stories or else to merely day-dream. A makeshift drape had been hung between their two beds in the tiny room, providing some privacy for the two.
He had two other older sisters, and no brothers. Their small three-bedroom apartment was primarily then a female household, largely because his father was rarely home, choosing to run out of the house shortly after supper to find his own solace in Paddy Murphy's Tap down the block. His father, for whom he had been named, was a medium-sized man, wiry and strong from his work as a house mover. Despite his small frame, he would often dazzle his co-workers by besting them in what he could lift, a result of his experience in knowing how to lift, as well as the unsuspecting strength that he carried in his relatively small frame.
His father delighted in showing his macho nature off at Murphy's by the time he was into his second glass of Pabst; it became soon apparent that his father found Michael Jr. to be a big disappointment.
"I think my wife birthed a girl," he grumbled more than once at Murphy's as other men would brag about their son's prowess in football or basketball or in how the kid may have beaten the old man in arm-wrestling.
He wouldn't say that often, however, since he preferred not to mention Michael and to pretend he never existed. In that blue collar neighborhood of Depression Years being a "man" was what counted, being strong and great in sports. What could he say about his son, Michael, who had now become "Mickey" in the neighborhood and who looked and acted more like a girl?
In the few moments when his father and mother might find some moments to share in their family life, he would say: "Kathleen, I'm worried about that boy. He's not strong. How's he ever going to get a job?"
"Oh, Michael, lay off him," she'd respond. "He's such a good boy; he helps around the house."
"Yes, doing housework, like a girl."
"He's getting good grades in school," she'd respond.
Indeed, Michael had become a top student in at St. Patrick's Catholic grade school. The nuns favored him regularly, often praising him in front of other students. For Michael, it was the worst thing that could have happened. He was now teased as being not only a "sissy" and "teacher's pet," but he was called "Sister Mickey."
"Going to become a nun?" teased Danny O'Hara one day. The other boys gathered around on the playground, picking up the line, and Michael tried to run, but they only pushed him back and forth between them, until finally Marilyn, one of the girls in his class, grabbed him and held him, her superior strength trapping him.
He was too weak to break her hold, and his humiliation was ended only by the morning school bell ringing the students to class.
The truth was he loved going to school, since he loved to learn, particularly literature and history. He had read all of his sister's teen books, including "Little Women," and the Nancy Drew series. Yet, every morning, he faced the prospect of going to school with dread: What humiliations might he face that day? Who would call him a "sissy" or a "girl?" What part of physical prowess might he fail in, as he always did?
The joys of learning and his own curiosity helped motivate him to overcome those daily dreads, and go to school.
Sister Agatha, his fourth grade teacher, was an aging nun, gruff in her demeanor and feared by most of the students; yet, Michael found her to be very attentive to his interests; she found his written work to be very creative. Rather than scribbling his papers, Michael wrote in a tiny, neat script, more typical of the girls in his class.
"What marvelous poetry," Sister Agatha said one day in early in his 4th grade school year as the class was preparing for Halloween fun, calling Michael up privately after class. Students had been told to write anything, a short essay, a story or even a poem. Michael turned in four short poems all written in his tight, neat script.
Sister Agatha knew enough not to praise the boy before the class about the poetry, since she had already seen how the others had teased him for his sensitivity. The poems were simple ones. They were about a pretty sunset, the sweetness coming from a fresh rain, his mother's cookies and one called, "The Pink Dress." His Catholic grade school upbringing shone through the simple verses, all tracing the beauty he saw in the poetry to the work of God.
"Michael," she said, after the class had emptied. "I particularly like this one."
She read aloud the "The Pink Dress:"
"On the door, the pink dress hung before me,
The folds of cloth flowing to set thee free.
Oh, how the skilled hand of God did create
This gown of sweet satin so to decorate
My lovely sister in its heavenly glee.
Oh sister, my sister, let it be as well for me."
Michael began to blush; he loved his sister's pink dress and it had been hanging on the inner door to their shared room for several days, and he could see it clearly as he lay in his bed, day-dreaming. Now, he wished he hadn't written this poem; or at least, he wished he hadn't shown it to anyone.
"What prompted you to write this poem," she asked.
Michael didn't know how to answer; he stood before her desk erect and prim, holding his slender hands tightly together.
"Oh, I just think it's a pretty dress!" He hesitated, then, as if he had a divine inspiration, continued, "It would be an example of another work of God, of how beautiful He can make things." He was now pleased with himself that he found an answer he thought the aged nun would accept.
Sister Agatha, however, was not to be conned, even by this bright nine-year-old boy. "Don't fool around with God," she said, giving him the stern eye she was famous for. "It sounds like you wanted to wear that dress."
"Oh no," he said immediately.
He answered so quickly, that he expected Sister Agatha would know it was a lie. The fact was that during the days it had hung in full view of his eyes he had longed to wear that dress. In his own mind, he pictured how pretty he would look, how much like a real girl.
"Well this is a very pretty poem," she said, her demeanor suddenly warming. "You've got some of your meter wrong, but the key to good poetry is to convey a nice feeling, and you've done that."
"Thank you, sister."
"Now, Jesus wouldn't want little boys like you to wear dresses. You know that, don't you?"
"Oh yes, sister, that would be a sin."
"So just don't get any ideas that boys can wear dresses."
"I won't," he said. "Never, never, never. I'll never wear a dress."
Michael wondered why he stated that so strongly. It was a lie and one he'd have to confess to Father Pete, unless he could sneak off to another parish to tell his sins to a priest who wouldn't recognize his voice. The fact was that his sisters had often dressed him up as a girl. He found he liked it, and liked dressing as a girl.
If he did it anymore, he'd have to confess it to a priest. And, he didn't want to do that.
The pink dress hung for several days before his day-dreaming eyes, always there when he got home from school prompting visions in his mind of how he'd look if he had the courage to take it down from its hanger and slip on over his head. But, if he did it, it would be a sin, and he'd have to confess it the next Saturday.
In the years before the 1965 Vatican II reforms, Catholics were required to confess their sins, both minor and major ones, on a regular basis to a priest in the privacy of a darkened booth; a cloth hung over the window separating the priest from the parishioner so as to give the confesser a feeling of anonymity. Father Pete, however, knew most of the grade school students by their voices, having taught religion twice weekly to the fourth graders. Most Catholics then went to confession at least once a month, many on a weekly basis.
Thus far Michael's confessions had been simple ones, like "not obeying his father three times" or "taking the Lord's name in vain" five times. How in the world could he confess that he wore a dress, and especially to Father Pete who would certainly recognize his voice. His mother had invited the young priest over to the house many times, since she was so active in the Ladies' Sodality. She knew his holidays might be lonely, since his own mother lived many miles away, and she enjoyed fixing Sunday dinner for him. Often, the priest would enjoy sharing sports talk with his dad. It was one of the nicest periods of his childhood, in Michael's memory, having the crew-cut, athletic young priest join the family for Sunday or holiday dinners.
Last Saturday, Father Pete destroyed Michael's faith in anonymity by ending his confession saying: "That was a good confession, Michael. For your penance, say five 'Our Fathers' and five 'Hail Marys' and make a good 'Act of Contrition.'"
It was on a Friday, three days after Sister Agatha had praised his poetry and he had promised "never, never, never" to wear a dress that he returned home from school, eager to go to his room, strip to his underwear and lay in bed looking at the pink dress and imagining himself as a pretty girl all pink and fluffy.
The dress was always in Michael's memory bank, intruding into his thoughts at mass, during boring times in school and sometimes on the playground when he looked at the girls of his age romping about in dresses. Girls of the era wore simple school dress uniforms of one-piece in a tan, institutional color, made of cotton. The dresses went below the knees of the girls, and the more tomboyish girls always seemed to have grass stains or dirt gathered about the hems. The uniforms had flat, wide collars and short sleeves. The girls were permitted to wear sweaters over the dresses if they felt cold and shivering.
The boys wore shorts in warmer weather, but since the climate in Michael's northern US city was usually cold, they typically wore corduroy knickers with tan stockings. Michael always felt they were ugly uniforms, and certainly didn't give him a good appearance; his legs and arms were skinny and soft, and didn't show to advantage either in shorts or knickers.
"How do girls lay in bed?" he wondered often. He'd curl up, laying on his side, bringing one leg up closer to his chest, and place his arms above his head, in what he thought was a girly manner. Then, with one hand, he'd caress an upper arm, finding it slender and soft, telling himself he had girl's arms. Michael loved to put his fingers in his hair, twirling the flowing locks daintily; he watched how his sisters played with their hair, and copied their motions.
In those moments, he loved his slender body, forgetting how often he had failed in accomplishing normal boy activities due to his physical weakness. He'd picture himself as a girl, wearing the plain, cotton uniform dresses to school, giggling with the other girls and flirting with Jimmy Hutton, often called the "cutest boy."
Then, he'd think of himself in 6th Grade as "Mickey," a cute girl, planning to wear the pink dress to the annual class harvest dance. That's what his sister Maeven was planning to do with the dress, Michael knew, now the dance was a week away.
Perhaps it was the reason why the pink dress was not hanging on the back of the door to their bedroom when Michael returned home to spend his after school time looking at and musing about the dress. "Where are you, my lovely dress?" he said as he stripped down and sat on his bed, wondering about the dress.
His memory of the dress, however, was clear in his mind. It was of a silky cloth, and Michael wasn't sure it was silk, which would have been too expensive for the family. The pink seemed to blush out at him. He'd seen his sister model it when they first brought the dress home from Diamonds Department Store; it went to her knee length; since he and Maeven were the same height and weight, he realized he could wear it perfectly.
The dress had a full flowing style, with a belt, the folds of the skirt portion spreading out lightly. He knew Maeven would wear a petticoat under the dress to make the skirt even wider. The top had short, puffed up sleeves, and, in compliance with the Catholic school rules and his own mother's prudity, the dress scooped up tightly to her neck. Lovely lace designs trimmed the bodice and hemline.
How Michael envied his sister, and he dreamed that by 6th Grade he'd too be a girl and would wear it at the dance, with Jimmy Hutton at his arm. Of course, it was a foolish, never-to-be attained dream.
"God wouldn't like me then, as a girl," he murmured to himself.
On that Friday, he came to the realization that not only was the pink dress gone from the door, but so were his dreams of ever being the girl. And, Michael began sobbing, his anguish filing the room, sobs becoming loud, so that they caused his oldest sister, who was in high school, to rap on the door and ask: "Are you sick or something, Mickey?"
"No, Patty," he said through his sobs. "I'm fine."
"Yes," he said quieting his sobs.
"Why don't you come out, Mickey? You're always alone in that room."
"Maybe I will, Patty. In a few minutes."
Michael smiled in the realization that around the house everyone called him Mickey now, except his father and his mother when she was mad: then it was "Michael." He loved the feminine sound of "Mickey," though it could be a boy's name too; after all, Mickey Mouse was a boy.
Michael quieted himself and decided it was time again to be a boy and join the family. He put his play clothes on, pants and plaid shirt and went out to join his sister Patty, where the two would do their homework at the kitchen table.
"Patty," he said tentatively, a few minutes after beginning their homework. "If you want something real bad, I mean, really bad, and you can't have it. Is that a sin?"
'Don't ask me," she replied. "Ask Sister or Father Pete."
"Thou shalt not covet is a commandment, isn't it? And I'm coveting something I can't have."
"What's that, Mickey?"
"Oh, never mind. It's nothing."
"It must be something, or else you wouldn't have asked?"
Michael was blushing now, realizing how badly he wanted the pink dress. To steal it, that would be a sin, he knew that. But to merely look at it and dream about wearing it, how could that be a sin?
"Oh tell me. You're blushing," Patty said. She was a tall girl, now 15 and still carrying some of her baby fat, but she was a sturdy, strong girl, like her father. No doubt she would mature into a striking, healthy young woman.
"Come on, little girl, tell big sister," she said. She remembered how she and Maeven used to dress Michael up as a girl, using their own hand-me-down clothes. They had done this off and on as long as Michael could remember, but not in the last year.
Patty knew perhaps better than anyone in the family how Michael seemed to relish his moments dressed as a girl. Often when she was baby-sitting for her little brother, he would ask if she could dress him up. She enjoyed doing it, loved brushing his hair, putting in barrettes and maybe ribbons, or making pigtails.
"You're the prettiest girl in school," she'd tell him after she was done. He'd respond by pirouetting and curtseying. Patty never said so out loud, but she truly felt he was the prettiest one in the family.
Michael felt he could confide in Patty; she had always listened to him, had taken his fetish that he was a girl seriously. She was, however, beginning to worry that Michael was still not developing as a boy should, and that his future would be difficult.
"Promise you won't tell," he said.
"Well, remember how you used to dress me up?"
"I liked that, you know?"
"Yes. So what are you coveting?"
"It's a promise now. You won't tell," he paused. "I felt those were such special times, Patty, when you and Maeven treated me as a little sister."
"They were, and you were such a pretty little girl. But, what do you want?"
Michael paused, and finally said. "Maeven's pink party dress."
Patty in truth was not shocked; she knew Michael's desire to dress like a girl still haunted him. "But, you know, Mickey, that Maeven's wearing that dress to the school dance."
"I know, and I don't wanna steal it. That would be a sin. I just wanna wear it, and Sister Agatha said that was a sin."
Tears started welling in his eyes, and Patty got up and went to his side, taking his puny frame into her arms, hugging him tightly, her hands caressing him.
"She said ... (sobs) ... that Jesus wouldn't want a boy to dress like a girl," he said.
Patty held her little brother close, patted his head, thinking that Michael was facing tough times ahead.
"Oh honey," she said. "you're such a sweet boy."
His crying heightened, coming in loud, high, almost dainty spurts. Patty herself now was crying, realizing that her little brother was truly more like a girl, than a boy. His sobs were even girlish, she thought.
Patty had always enjoyed dressing Michael up as a little girl. When she was 12 and Michael was 5, she'd dress up in her mother's clothes, and she'd put Michael into the dresses or skirts and shoes and stockings she wore when she was younger. They'd play-act they were mother and daughter; she'd encourage Michael into playing with her dolls, holding them, dressing them. She taught Michael how to sit as a girl and to frolic about, lightly tossing his slender arms about.
His side of the bedroom had girlish touches as well, and you'd think two sisters shared the room. There was a dollhouse in one corner. It had been Patty's, and when she became too old to play with it, Michael had convinced his mother that he wanted to use it as a place to park his toy cars. Instead he rarely played with his cars but was constantly rearranging the furniture. He had two fuzzy animals on his bed, his favorite being a once-pure-white bunny rabbit, now a bit frayed and graying, but with a cute pink nose.
"The dress is not there today," Michael said, finally stopping his crying.
"I think mom took it to clean it. Let's wait until after the dance next week. Maybe Maeven will let you wear it in the house for a while after the dance."
"You think she will, Patty? You think so?" Michael's eyes brightened with the prospect that he might soon be modeling the pink dress.
Patty smiled. She loved her little brother's girlish enthusiasms. "I'll make her let you."
"Oh Patty, you're the sweetest sister there is."
The two returned to their homework; after a few minutes, Michael said. "I can't wear it."
"Because Jesus wouldn't like it. It's a sin."
"Oh don't worry about that. Remember priests were dresses, right? And the apostles look like they're wearing gowns."
"I guess so."
"We'll make you pretty in the pink dress," Patty said, and the two returned to their homework.
Michael's smiles grew; he so loved looking pretty and cute. Everyone said he made an adorable little girl. He was dreaming now of how truly girly he'd look in that marvelous dress.
Patty, in her musings, suddenly came to the realization that she was encouraging Michael in ways that would probably cause him much hurt as he grew older. It was one thing to dress a cute little boy up in girl's clothes, but as he grew older, he'd be treated so badly by the other kids. She had seen how they had teased Stephan, a boy her own age who lived on their block, because of his tender, soft nature. She hated to see those things happen to Michael. And, she knew how upset her father was when he found they had dressed Michael up as Shirley Temple for Halloween. She knew Michael loved it, and he truly did make a lovely girl.
So far, it seemed that Michael hadn't minded the few taunts and teasing remarks he got for his somewhat girlish nature, which some thought made him a "sissy." Patty knew, however, that it would soon be difficult for him.
At the present, Michael had his school workbook open, but he wasn't seeing what was on the page; his mind was racing with thoughts of how he'd twirl and prance and dance about once he was in the pink dress. In his mind, he saw his feet in patent leather black flats and white ankle socks. He knew he would look even prettier than Betty, the girl across the street who was his same age and with whom he often played, sometimes sharing dolls.
The back door banged open with the arrival of Maeven, who always seemed to be charging about almost with a recklessness associated more with boys.
"Aren't you the two cutest girls?" she said teasingly.
She had seen Michael toying with his hair, flicking his slender fingers through the straight, fine hair much as a girl would. He was unaware that he was doing it, but both his sisters and his mother had noticed it and tried to end the practice, warning him that "you look too girly doing that." Nonetheless, he couldn't help himself; it seemed so natural.
"Never you mind, Maeven," Patty responded. "We're doing homework."
"He's getting to be such a girl. I'm ashamed to say he's my brother," Maeven said, almost angrily.
"Maeven, I'm sorry. It just seems I can't help it," Michael said, still twirling his fingers through his hair.
"Let's turn him into a girl, Patty," Maeven teased. "Oh, we don't have to. He's already a girl. Look at him. Let's put him in a dress now."
Michael blushed. He wanted to protest, but was so excited as his sisters talked about him being a girl.
"He'd love to wear your pink dress," Patty said. "Wouldn't he be pretty in that?"
Maeven screamed, "No! That's for the dance."
"Not now, Maeven," Michael answered. "After your dance. Can I wear it? Please!"
Patty added: "He's really in love with it. I think we could take him out shopping with it. But he knows he can't try it on until after your dance."
"Please Maeven, I'll not soil it," Michael pleaded.
It was true. Michael certainly wouldn't soil it. His side of the bedroom was always neat, his bed always made and his clothes put away. In contrast, Maeven's side was always a mess, hr clothes tossed together with her bed sheets
"If you quit telling mom on me! On me wearing the same panties two days in a row? OK?"
Michael giggled. He sometimes found his sister to be so gross, but he said, "I promise. Can I?"
"Yeh, after that awful dance, you can wear it," she said. "Wished I didn't have to go to that dance, anyway. But Tommy kept after me to go."
"Oh Maeven," he rose from his chair, and pranced about. "I can wear the pink dress."
"Arrrrrrghh," growled Maeven. "That's so sickening. Why can't you be a boy?"
Michael continued prancing about the room, finally hugging Maeven, feeling her slender, but hard muscular body.
"I love you Maeven," he said.
Maeven broke away from his hold and retreated to the bedroom, Michael rejoining Patty at the kitchen table.
His joy quickly turned to tears and sobs.
"Now what's wrong?" Patty asked.
"I can't wear the pink dress. It's a sin."
"Mickey, you're so sweet. I don't think God will mind. You can wear it at home. No one else will know."
"But God will and I'll have to confess to Father Pete."
Michael's crying continued and Patty took her little brother in her arms, patting his head. He felt so tender and fragile in her arms. She felt so protective of this pretty boy, as a mother would. How indeed would this sweet boy be able to face the cruel world, she thought? Should he have been born a girl?
"Honey," she said softly into his ear. "Stop your tears now. We'll see what you can do, OK?"
"Ok sis," he said, wiping his eyes, tears still streaming down his pretty face.
"My sweet little sister, Mickey," she said, holding him tightly. "Now don't tell mom you're interested in that dress, OK?"
"I won't. I know she'll be mad. She doesn't like me acting like a girl."
"It'll be our secret," Patty said, patting his head gently. He really is a girl, she thought, maybe even more than I am, and certainly more girlish than Maeven, who was becoming quite a tomboy.
The next week in school he found himself teamed up with Marilyn Kramer for a history project, and he felt scared. She was a tall, hefty girl, taller by a few inches and definitely stronger. She could often be seen playing with boys, since she was really good at walking herself along the monkey bars, or hitting a baseball.
Several times these groups of toughs singled him out for his obvious daintiness, and he recalled the time Marilyn had wrestled him to the ground, and pinned him easily, his weak arms powerless against the girl.
Actually, Marilyn had been egged on by the crowd, and only reluctantly had tackled him. He went down so easily, she was shocked: How could a boy be so defenseless? She got off him almost immediately, but not before the others called him "girl," "Mary" and "sissy," among other names. He gathered his books and ran home crying, sneaking into his room before his sisters could see him. He curled up, almost in a fetal position, tears still coming from his eyes, cursing the shame he felt.
What was wrong with him? Why was he so weak and girly? And, why did it seem so natural to him to want to be a girl? These thoughts constantly bugged him. He felt so inadequate as a boy.
Now Marilyn was assigned to work with him on a project to build a diorama of a Roman street scene. To Michael's surprise, she had been friendly and nice and the two worked well together. Even though Michael could see how much bigger her hands and thicker her wrists were, she made no mention of his obvious more slender and dainty body features.
They giggled a lot together, and the two obviously enjoyed each other. He soon felt comfortable being with Marilyn, the girl he felt had first mocked him. When the time came to assemble their project, Michael suggested that Marilyn come to his house for the project; perhaps, too, his sisters could help, he told Marilyn, and she accepted.
On the day they were to go to Michael's house, Marilyn appeared in a bright, baby blue dress, something totally out of character for her, since her dresses usually were simple and drab. Michael had often felt that she would have preferred boy's clothes because of her skill in sports and her apparent tomboyish nature. It was an era before girls wore anything but skirts and dresses to school and Michael thought that Marilyn may have been felt trapped in girl's clothing while he was trapped in boys' outfits.
Michael wanted to say how pretty she looked in the dress, but was trying so hard to act like he was 100% boy with her. He said nothing. In truth, he felt he would like a dress just like that. True, it was not as pretty as the pink dress, but it had a light feminine quality. It was a simple dress, with full, puffed sleeves, a high neck line, and a full skirt that went to her knees. A white stiff, lace-fringed trim lined the neckline, wrists and hem.
Finally as they were walking from school together, she asked: "Did you like my dress Michael?"
Michael at first acted as if he hadn't heard, or cared about the dress, trying to decry any interest in such 'girly' things. Finally, he mumbled are faint "yes," although he was dying to tell her how pretty it was.
"I made it myself," she said, quickly. "Well, with mom's help, I guess."
He was momentarily startled, but recovered quickly to state she had done a good job. "I didn't know you sewed," he said.
She smiled at him, and then gave him a gentle punch in his arm, saying, "You thought I only liked sports, eh? I love pretty things, too."
"I wore this to show you," she admitted. "I know you like pretty things."
He blushed and she did a quick pirouette on the sidewalk, as if to model her dress. It played out nicely from her sturdy tanned legs. She wore simple brown shoes, and brown knee high stockings. During this Depression-era period, most children had only one pair of shoes, which they wore for school, play and church.
Her round, freckled face shone with delight as the two 10-year-olds walked on the street. Michael felt so happy; for the first time in his life he seemed to have found a playmate with whom he could be at ease, with whom he could be himself. When he'd get home, he wondered, should he show her the pink dress? Would she mock his interest in the dress?
"Michael, I like you. You're not like all those other boys, who are crude and nasty and push you around. That day I pushed you to the ground; they were daring me, and I shouldn't have done that. I'm sorry."
He relived that humiliation briefly , but his growing friendship for Marilyn overcame any resentment. "Oh Marilyn, that was OK. I'm just not good at wrestling, I guess."
"Oh, you're good at other things, like school and writing."
"Your poetry was nice."
Sister Agatha had shared two of his poems with the class. He was embarrassed that she had done that; fortunately she had not read "The Pink Dress," but even so he felt the eyes of some of his classmates staring at him, perhaps wondering what kind of a sissy 10-year-old boy writes poetry.
"I liked the one about the rain on the street," she said. "It was so beautiful."
He thanked her, and then added: "I really like your dress. Did you do the sleeves? That looks difficult to sew."
"Well, not entirely. Mom had to help me on those."
"You're so pretty in that dress."
She grabbed his hand, and the two skipped the remaining half block to his house, looking very much like two school girls. He was so happy; here he was with a girl who wasn't about to mock him for writing poetry or for enjoying the beauty of a dress.
His sister, Maeven, was already home from school when they arrived; their mother's work schedule didn't get her home until nearly six o'clock, so the children had cared for themselves ever since Patty had turned 12. Maeven was surprised to see the tall, freckled girl in the blue dress, but she quickly recovered herself.
"Oh hi Marilyn," she said. "Aren't you dressed pretty?"
Even though two grades separated the two girls, the school was small enough so that most of the students knew each other. Besides, Marilyn lived over on Manitee Avenue, just two blocks away.
"Thank you, I made this dress myself, with mom's help."
"I bet you like it, Mickey," she said in a teasing tone to her brother, using the nickname they had called him.
Michael said only, "She looks nice."
Maeven continued. "Mickey likes dresses, don't you Mickey?"
He said nothing at first, his face reddening, fearful that Maeven was going to tell Marilyn about how they used to dress him up as a girl, and now about his interest in the pink dress.
"We need to work on our project, Maeven. Let us alone. We'll work here on the kitchen table."
"Have fun you two," Maeven said, and in an exaggerated girlish manner left the kitchen.
Marilyn didn't say anything, but Michael felt she was looking at him strangely, wondering what his sister was teasing him about. Or, he feared, maybe Marilyn had suspected that Maeven was referring to Michael's obsession for girl's dresses. His face now was in a full red blush, no doubt betraying his uneasiness.
"Let's get our project going," he said.
"You're blushing," she said, then. Oh, he thought to himself, why must I always blush so fast? But he did blush, and he felt it was another sign of his weakness, of not being a 'boy.'
"Don't worry, Michael," she continued. "Sisters always tease their little brothers. I tease my little brother, but he gets mad and tries to hit me."
"Maybe, I'll beat her up some day," he said, knowing he would never try. He hated physical violence, probably because of his weakness and he always seemed to come out second best. Right now, he knew Maeven could probably beat him up easily enough.
Soon, however, they had forgotten the incident and were deeply into their project, cutting paper and cardboard, folding and pasting the materials and painting them with the gray poster paint they felt would resemble a Roman temple. They used toilet paper tubes to form the columns; Michael and Marilyn had been saving them for several weeks.
"Oh you're so artistic," Marilyn said, as she watched Michael's slender fingers fashion an intricate doorway.
The two worked in almost a common creativity, enjoying each other's contributions and ideas as they formed the temple, which said on a sturdy piece of cardboard that measured 12" by 24.
They were admiring the finished project about an hour later, waiting for the paint to dry when Maeven appeared in the kitchen, carrying the pink dress.
"Marilyn," Maeven said, holding the dress up before her, as if to model it. "This is Michael's favorite dress."
Michael shot up out of his chair and said flatly, "No. No it's not." His protest was loud and definite, but he knew he was lying.
"Yes, it is," his sister teased again. "You want to wear it, don't you Mickey?"
"No," he said, tears beginning to flow down his face.
"Yes, he likes to wear dresses. Patti and I like to dress him up as a little girl. He likes it."
"No I don't. You just force me."
Marilyn interjected. "Oh Michael, I think it's nice to see a cute boy in a dress. I sometimes dress my little brother up. He's so cute. I bet you're cute, too."
Michael was so embarrassed now, his face was in a total red blush and wet with tears. He folded his skinny arms across his face. He loved the pink dress, and now his sister was mocking him with it.
His secret was out, he feared. They both must know that he loves dressing as a little girl, but he was still a boy. Oh, he hated himself now, realizing he was not much of a boy, that he was weak and girlish in nature.
"We're done now," Marilyn said, referring to the temple project. "Michael's so good at this. I think we'll have the best temple in class."
Michael's tears subsided and he smiled. "We both worked so well," he said.
Even Maeven admitted it was a good job.
"Come on Michael," Maeven said. "Try the dress on. Show Marilyn how pretty you are."
"No," he said. "It's your dress for the dance. You don't want me wearing it; I might dirty it."
"No you won't," she said. "You never dirty your clothes. He's so neat."
It was true, Michael was always a 'neat freak,' always putting his clothes away, arranging things precisely.
"Yes, Michael," Marilyn said. "Let me see you in it. It's OK, I won't tell anyone."
"Oh no, I can't. I'm a boy."
"Oh come on, let me see you in it. It's a pretty dress."
Michael was just dying to put the dress on. He would look so pretty in it, he knew, but he couldn't do it in front of Maeven or Marilyn. His older sisters had not dressed him as a girl for a year now, after their mother had warned them not to.
"Yes," Maeven said. "I'll help you get into it."
"No, I can't."
"Why not?" They both said in a chorus.
"Sister said it's a sin," he replied.
"A sin?" Marilyn asked.
"Yes that's what she said. A boy shouldn't wear girls' clothes because Jesus wouldn't like it."
"Jesus won't know," Marilyn argued.
"Oh yes, the Catechism says the God knows everything. And, I'll have to confess it to Father Pete."
The girls were silent for a minute.
Finally Marilyn asked: "Why did Sister tell you that?"
"That's funny thing to say," Marilyn persisted.
"I dunno," he lied, knowing full well that Sister Agatha was prompted to raising the issue because his poem, "The Pink Dress," probably showed that Michael yearned to wear the dress, and perhaps liked the idea of dressing as a girl.
"Well, if we force you to wear it, Michael, it wouldn't be your sin," Marilyn said.
"Yes, let's get him in the dress," Maeven agreed. "He's too much of a sissy to fight us."
Michael blushed. He hated it when his sister teased him about his sissiness or his girliness; yet, secretly he knew it was true. Either of the girls, he knew, could force him to do whatever they wanted.
"No, no," he protested, but his voice was so soft they hardly heard him.
"Will you do it, Michael?" Marilyn said. "I'll not tease you. I just think you'd be so pretty."
Michael believed Marilyn was telling it straight; he enjoyed being with her so much since she was so creative and interested in him. Too be truthful, they giggled a lot, finding humor in just anything. She was able to make fun of his fussy nature in a warm, friendly way.
"OK, for you, and just for a little while," he said.
"Good," Maeven said. "I'll get you some panties and a training bra out, a little slip and some stockings and my new pink shoes."
"Oh he'll look so pretty," Marilyn giggled.
Michael grew so excited now; his dream was coming true and he would soon be a pretty little girl in the pink dress he adored so much. Maeven led him into their shared room, and got out the undergarments he would wear, leaving him to put them on himself.
"I know you don't need any help in putting these things on. You've worn them before."
Even though his sisters had stopped dressing him in girl's clothes, he had loved it so much he had snuck into Maeven's side of the room when she was gone and put the clothes on. Even though he had been careful to return the clothes to their previous places in her closet or dresser, she must have suspected he wore them from time to time.
As he put the clothes on, doing it in a very girlish manner, as he had seen his sisters do, he could hear Marilyn and Maeven giggling in the other room. He wished that someday he could be joining a gaggle of girls, being one of them, enjoying talking about clothes, 'cool' boys, or sexy male singers. "I wish I were a girl," he mumbled to himself as he put on the clothes.
He put everything on easily, snapping the bra from behind as easily as any girl would. He put on the bra and panties, both pink satin with lace trim, stuffing the bra with some socks to fill out his breasts. He put on the stockings which were coffee colored and sheer, doing it in a female fashion, as if he had been wearing them all his life. He loved the act of put the stockings on, feeding them into his slender, pretty feet and then running them up his legs, smoothing them out on the way. He felt all tingly and girly as he did that, as he had watched his mother and sisters do very often.
Finally, he took the pink dress, the lovely, sweet pink dress, from its hanger. He handled it tenderly, not wanting to muss it in anyway, and slipped it over his head and down so it rested neatly on his shoulders. He was unable to snap it closed in the back, and one of the girls would have to finish that for him.
They would also want to brush his hair, and maybe put a ribbon in it. He was so excited now, and went to the mirror that Maeven had in her side of the room, and was even more impressed.
"I am girl," he said out loud, as he saw the slender figure in the mirror, his lovely legs and skinny arms and soft featured face.
Suddenly, he was frightened. Should he really expose himself dressed as a girl to Marilyn? Would she laugh, tell other boys, making him the laughing stock of the school?
No, he told himself, she wouldn't do that.
He paused again, thinking, "I like this too much. I must be committing a sin. I can't do this."
Michael started to cry; he so badly wanted to share his prettiness with the other girls, but could he?
Maeven yelled: "Come on Mary Alice, we're waiting for you."
"Yes," Maeven said. "That's your new name. Mary Alice."
Suddenly the bedroom door burst open and Maeven appeared. "See you're all dressed. Come let us see you."
He came out slowly, but walked with the short steps and more erect posture he'd seen girls do. He walked into the kitchen, spying Marilyn, who exclaimed:
"Isn't she the prettiest girl?"
"I told you, she is pretty," Maeven said.
They were using the "she" pronoun now, and Michael was embarrassed, yet he liked the idea.
"Mary Alice is a pretty name," he said, using his tiny, high voice. His voice still hadn't changed, and he often was mistaken for Maeven when he answered the phone at the house.
"A pretty name for a pretty girl," Maeven agreed. "Let me zip you up in back."
She took his tiny shoulders, turned him around and zipped up the back of the dress. He momentarily cursed his slender, weak arms and shoulders, but then realized they actually made him that much more feminine.
"Oooooohhh. this is fun," Marilyn said, as she stepped behind Michael and began brushing his longish hair. She attached a pink band across the back of his head, adding a cute touch to his appearance.
"Now let's put on these pretty shoes," Maeven said, holding up the silver sandals. She gave them to Marilyn, who knelt before Michael, as he thrust his right foot out towards her. She caught the foot by the heel, holding it and looking at the foot, before beginning to slip it on.
"You have tiny feet," she said.
He looked down, noticing how easily the shoe went on his foot; his feet and hands were small, being both slender and smooth.
"Now let's see you, Mary Alice," said his sister when they were all done.
He stood up, walked daintily about the room, hoping he was walking as a girl would.
"Ohhhhhhh, look at her," Marilyn said. "She's a real girl."
Michael blushed now, not quite sure how he should feel. After all, he was a boy, and boys shouldn't wear dresses and be like girls.
"Go look in the mirror," Maeven said.
He did that, astonished now that what he saw was a lovely girl, one of the prettiest he'd ever seen. His slender, white arms hung down from the puffed up sleeves, and his smooth features, heavy lips and dainty nose complemented his feminine features.
"The pink dress," he said. "Isn't it just about the most beautiful dress in the world?"
"You make it that way, Mary Alice," Marilyn said.
"Maybe you should go to the dance instead of me." Maeven added. "You're far prettier."
Michael was under the spell of the pink dress, now. His dreams were answered. He now felt he was about the loveliest little girl in town, lucky to be prancing about in the pink dress. He did a pirouette across the room, giggling as he pranced about. He felt like he was Peter Pan, almost flying about the room; never had he felt so marvelous.
Suddenly, he stopped prancing about, as a reality returned. "I'm not a girl, but oh it feels so good," he thought.
"You better get out of that before mom gets home," Maeven said.
"I will, Maeven, but let me wear just a few minutes longer."
"OK, but I think you'll have to confess this now to Father Pete, since you're enjoying it so much."
"You think so?"
"Yes," Marilyn interjected. "Remember we said if we forced you it would not be a sin. We didn't have to force you much."
"I know. I guess I better change."
He made one last twirl about the room, the dress flaying out, exposing his slender, pretty legs, before going into the bedroom to change.
As he changed, he overheard Maeven say to Marilyn: "What a sissy! My mom would be mad if she knew I let him wear a dress. And my dad would crucify us all. Mickey seems to be more like a girl every day."
"Oh, he's nice, Maeven. So smart and so much fun."
"But he's hardly a boy. I bet half the girls in school could beat him up. And my Dad thinks he's such a sissy."
Marilyn smiled. 'Yes, he is. I can beat him up, I know, but I won't. In fact, I'll protect him from the bullies."
As Michael carefully took off the dress, and hung it up carefully, he grew sad. Now that the dress was back on its hanger, he could no longer be a lovely young girl. Now, again, the reality set in that he was a boy, a pathetic sissy of a boy, so weak that a girl would have to defend him. And, in his joy to wear the Pink Dress, he knew he was committing a sin and that Jesus would be ashamed of him. What would Father Pete say when he confessed it?
The following Saturday, Michael trembled as he stood in line in the church, made dark and moody by the cloudy autumn afternoon, awaiting his turn to enter the confessional.
He was second in line now, having stood there for about 20 minutes, and the current occupant of the confessional must have had lots of sins, he thought, since there had been no movement in the line. He was shivering in the cold church, but the tremors more likely came from his fear of confessing to God that he liked wearing dresses, certainly a terrible sin.
Finally his time came, and he almost turned and ran out of the church, stopping himself soon, realizing he had to face the music sometime.
He tentatively brushed aside the curtain, entering and kneeling before the meshed window, in which only the priest's profiled face appeared, hidden by the thin cloth that separated the two of them. Michael could smell the priest's wool clothing.
"Bless me father for I have sinned," he began, his voice registering in a high, tremulous pitch. "It has been two weeks since my last confession."
"Go ahead, my child," the priest said. It was Father Pete, and his voice was gentle and kind.
Michael began a familiar litany of sins:
"I fought with my sisters three times. I disobeyed my mother and father twice. I said bad words five times, and I didn't same my prayers two nights before bed. I was so tired."
"And anything else, my child?"
"Ummm. There's one time. Ah, ah. I wore my sister's dress. That's it father."
"Your sister's dress? Did she know you did it?"
"Yes father, she said I could."
"Well, what's the sin, my girl?"
Michael was dumbfounded. Father Pete thought he was a girl; he realized how high his voice still was; he was a soprano in the school choir, one of two boys whose voices were still so high.
"Ummm, father. I'm not a girl," he said quickly.
"Oh," Father Pete said. "Your voice is high yet. It'll change soon, my son."
"Did you enjoy wearing the dress?"
"Ummm, I think so."
"Well, my son," the priest began kindly. "You know God created man first, and out of man he created woman. We're two different creatures."
"I don't think God will care if you put on a dress, as long as you don't do it to commit a sin. God doesn't care what you wear, just as long as you don't do anything sinful. Do you know what I mean?"
"I think so father. I shouldn't do anything that's dirty."
"Yes, my son. Now for your penance say five Our Fathers and five Hail Marys and make a good Act of Contrition."
"Is it Michael who's confessing to me now?"
"I thought so. You know, my boy, that what you say in the confessional only God and you and I will ever know. So you should be honest. You're right to tell me everything. You're a good lad."
"Thank you father."
Oh, and my son, if you need any more advice on this, please ask me any time. You know how to find me at the rectory."
Michael felt relieved as he left the confessional, hurrying through the Penance prayers, and bounding out of the church, running for home.
Father Pete was so nice to Michael, acting as if a little boy wearing a dress was just the most natural act in the world. "Just don't commit a sin in the dress," was Father Pete's advice.
Michael wasn't quite sure what kind of a sin he could commit; his acquaintance with sexual adventures was still vague. He didn't know how babies were made and since he didn't hang out with many of the roughneck boys, he learned none of the information from the playground. He knew his own dad would never tell him, and his mother was too pious to even discuss such matters.
He skipped home that afternoon, looking very much like a little girl, his long hair flowing. He was so excited. Maybe, just maybe, he thought, Maeven would let him wear the Pink Dress for Halloween, and I could go out with Marilyn, she dressed as a boy and me as a girl. What a lovely dream!
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