I found out last night that my nephew with cancer has a girlfriend. And for some reason, this news, above all else, broke me.
His twin, A, is visiting from our hometown, trying to process what a relapse of cancer means for her life as well as his. I asked if she wanted to stay up longer, but she said she needed to go home to make sure B’s girlfriend had someone to give her updates.
A’s face was so sad as she said it, full of duty and determination. I wanted to wrap my arms around her and encircle her in a protection spell. But no words can cure this pain.
I know. I was twelve too, once.
On the first day of seventh grade, I watch my father and mother drive off to City of Hope cancer center, while my new long-term babysitter took me to school.
As I walked into the vast Junior High, confusing multi-subject schedule in hand, I didn’t know what hurt more, fearing that I may lose my father or knowing that I’d lost one of my best friends that summer.
We’d kissed in his family’s extra bedroom, both sneaking in during hide-and-seek. There hadn’t been an attraction between us before, but something shifted in the dark as our hormone-filled bodies pressed together.
It had been as magical as they promised in the movies, except my power seemed to be the wicked kind, a rotten unsettling monster that turned our close friendship into something different, something volatile.
The boy didn’t talk to me afterward and insisted his friends ignore me as well. Our little multi-gendered bubble of childhood was burst into sides: boys versus girls.
But I didn’t fit in either. My queerness existed outside of the binary, so I found myself existing outside of the pack, moving between, fitting in nowhere.
My father returned home a hollowed-out version of himself, frail and rail-thin, unable to hold a fork and only able to eat boiled food. It was scarier then, seeing the reality of his cancer and its brutal cure.
We didn’t talk about it much as a family. We didn’t have anything we could do but push on and survive. But it sat there, heavy on my heart, festering with everything else left unsaid in my life.
I began to withdraw even more, turning my magic in on myself, taking my wickedness out on my wrist.
It was a ritual I repeated well into adulthood, until one day I learned to embrace the magic within and see it as sacred, not sinful. Until I stopped struggling with who I am and what I was put here on this earth to be.
My nieces and nephews are still in that struggle, still finding out on their own. I don’t wish to save them from it, that would rob them of their childhood, but I do wish I could hold up a mirror to their faces, and show them what I see.
I see magical beings.
I see bright shining unicorns.
I see uniquely special humans who are also just like every other kid trying to make it through puberty.
I see me. I see my brother and grandparents. I see generations of fallen family members intertwined in their genes, holding them up.
But they can’t see it yet. They’re too in the weeds.
So all I can do is hold them, hug them, and be here for them when they get lost, no matter where their journey takes them.