Sprout. My brother had no idea the impact the nickname he derisively gave me would have. Neither of us knew how unwittingly appropriate it would become. Was it destiny or self-fulfilling prophecy? I don’t know. Memories and dreams and possibilities like to mix together. As far as my past is concerned and the makeup of who I am and what shaped me, I can make no distinction between memory and reality and dream. I usually don’t try.
While I certainly don’t remember all of my childhood, and many aspects are densely foggy, I remember with clarity the day my life changed. I was preparing for school in the basement bathroom—the small, cramped bathroom that seemed more like a large porta-potty with a shower than an actual bathroom. Wet towels covered the floor and almost all available surfaces. Countless toiletries jumbled themselves wherever space allowed them to balance or stack. Most of these did not belong to me. They belonged to my collection of brothers and sisters. I had a toothbrush. I knew that. Usually, I found toothpaste. If I absolutely needed a less common toiletry, I picked through a baffling array of products, many of which I had no understanding, until I found something useful.
The bathroom door could have been used in a magic show, presenting only an illusion of a door. The useless expandable accordion door secured itself with a weak set of magnets. No locking mechanism whatsoever. Talk about a constant childhood fear. Forever filled with anxiety a sibling would barge in on me as I did my business. Brothers would barge in like some bad slapstick comedy knowing, like we all knew, if the door was closed, the bathroom was in use. If the boys heard the shower, they wouldn’t hesitate to sneak in and use the toilet. The girls exhibited more restraint. They at least would knock before they told you to hurry up, which would never sped up your business. Of course, just because the door was closed didn’t always mean someone was on the toilet. The girls fondly engaged in hours of preening before the mirror. So, privacy—that wasn’t a thing growing up.
The day my life changed I don’t recall anything out of the ordinary going on, neither in the bathroom nor the world at large. Spring had ushered in milder weather and the near ending of the school year. My freshman year of high school. And have I mentioned I was an average 15-year-old boy? I was short and lean, a sprout. My hair buzzed close to my head. My face was angular, all the fat sapped away from constant running. I didn’t spend much time worrying about my body image. It just was.
When puberty enters the scene, the body has a few topics it wants to talk about. You should probably pay attention or ask for guidance. I did not. Deep down I knew I needed guidance, but since my parents and family hadn’t provided any in the first 15 years of life, I suspected any request for guidance would have ended in terrible awkwardness. Of course, when adulthood and puberty started to barge their way into the picture, I felt I had no recourse. I don’t think puberty existed for my parents, except for the girls because you couldn’t ignore it. Or maybe they didn’t have time to explain it. Too many children and too many other worries. They treated us like the eggs turtles laid on the beach, left to fend for ourselves, on our own once we hatched.
Mom knew about becoming pregnant, her primary concern was for her girls to not become pregnant before marriage, somehow believing zeal, abstinence and ignorance would achieve that. Dad travelled for work, and when not travelling, drank often, which didn’t leave much time to teach the boys much of anything. He managed to shave every day and create a dozen kids, so he must have known a few things about life. I never learned what he knew. No wonder I had Peter Pan Syndrome. Growing up in our house wasn’t even a thing, a topic. God forbid you talk about that thing called life.
I stepped out of the shower to towel myself off in front of the mirror where I could see my lean body from my head down to my belly button if I stood on my tip toes. I bent over to dry my legs and feet, not bothering with my feet too much since they waded in a pool of water from the leaky shower. I popped back up and looked in the mirror again.
And there they were. The breasts of a young teenage girl looking back at me. Small and perky and undoubtedly, breasts. What the hell? I looked down. They were actually there. I raised my hands to them. Shit! Those are real. I slapped myself in the face and looked back in the mirror. The owner of the breasts stared back. Her face, her breasts, her everything reflecting back. She resembled me but she was not me. Her face was rounder with fuller cheeks, a softer nose and wider eyes. And, of course, the breasts. I know I didn’t have breasts. She certainly did.
I felt my face. Looked at my hands. They didn’t look any different. Looked at the breasts again. I looked back in the mirror. She looked back and popped her eyes a bit wider, as if to say, “what?”
“Who the hell are you?” I didn’t know what else to say.
She smiled and said, “Well, hello to you too. I’m you. Who else would I be?”
“I don’t think so,” I said. “I’m pretty sure I don’t have breasts.” I stared at the breasts. I felt paralyzed. I looked back at her face. She smiled. I looked down again at the breasts. What was I going to do with breasts? “This has to be a dream.”
“Does it feel like a dream?” She raised her hands to her breasts. “These feel pretty real.” She raised her hands to her cheeks. “And these. You are way cuter with these.” She tugged at her round cheeks.
“Knock it off. I don’t want to be cute. I don’t have time for this.”
“The moment you saw our breasts this stopped being about having time, now didn’t it?” She flashed me an impertinent smile.
“Our breasts? You mean your breasts.”
“What’s mine is yours,” she said touching her breasts softly again.
“Stop doing that. I can’t go to school like this. I can’t go anywhere like this. This has to be a dream.”
“Stops saying that. I’m obviously not a dream. I think we’ll be fine. I mean, we seem fine so far.”
“We won’t be fine! What the hell? Shit, I’m talking to myself.”
“Sort of,” she said. “You’re talking to me, who happens to be you, a cuter version of you.”
The bathroom had turned into a fun house with distorted mirrors but instead of a distorted me I saw her, a young teenage girl. Disoriented and light-headed, I placed my hands on the sink to steady myself. I closed my eyes. Wake up. I slapped myself. This isn’t real. I opened my eyes again. Looked down. Breasts. I touched them. Shit, those are real. I looked in the mirror again. She was looking at the breasts too.
“They’re nice, aren’t they?” She gave me a knowing wink.
“How would I know?”
“Oh, you know.”
I did know but this wasn’t the time to talk about it. How do I escape this dream? The slap didn’t work. Cold water. I splashed my face with cold water, brisk, cold water, four or five handfuls. I looked in the mirror. Still there. “Shit!” At a loss to explain this, I wondered whether I was in a waking dream? A hallucination? If I ignored them and her, maybe they would disappear when I woke.
She chuckled. “I’m not a dream. I think you’re stuck with me.”
Bang, bang. Someone pounded on the wall next to the bathroom door.
“Who the hell are you talking to, Sprout?” BJ yelled. “Get out.” He didn’t wait for me to respond and before I could grab a towel, he crashed in and pushed me hard into the corner. “I have to piss.”
I crumpled naked into the wet towel infested corner. He started to go about his peeing. “Get lost, Sprout, Jesus.” He ignored me crumpled in the corner, focused on his peeing. I grabbed a used towel off the floor, leapt out of the bathroom, ran back to my room and closed the door. My bedroom door didn’t have a lock either, but I could dress before he came back this way.
I looked down. The breasts hadn’t gone anywhere. I needed to hide those until I figured out what to do. I grabbed my underwear and pulled them on quickly. I rummaged through my shirt drawer and looked for a baggy shirt to hide the breasts. I found a patterned button up and pulled it on. The breasts still made themselves known but I could camouflage them a bit, though I had my doubts they wouldn’t be noticed. Once I covered them as well as I could, I sat on my bed, composed myself and decided I needed answers.
“What the hell is going on? What’s happening? Who are you? Why are you here?”
“Those are tough questions. Good questions.” She raised her hand to our face and scratched at our chin. “I’m here because you want me here, you need something from me. So here I am.”
“I’m here because you want me to be here. I’m your Anima.”
“What the hell’s an Anima?”
“You’re internal feminine side.”
“Come to my rescue, I suppose.”
“Well, right now I’m just a seed. We’ll see if you’re fertile ground. You need something from me so here I am.”
“I need a lot of things, but they don’t usually show up because I want them to.” I could feel my heart pounding. I labored to breathe. “I don’t remember wanting this. Why would I want this?” I was talking louder, faster.
“Shh. It’s okay. Take a deep breath.”
“Just do it.” I took a deep breath.
“Now take another one.” I took three more deep breaths. “Let’s be calm.” She spread our arms out and wiggled her finger. “Okay. Better?”
“Okay, so try to think of it as a subconscious need. You might not be aware of it until it shows up.”
“This can’t be real.”
“But it is. Subconscious thoughts often feel unreal. But now you’ve made me real. Don’t know why yet. So here we are.”
“Yes, here we are. What am I supposed to do with you? I can’t become a girl out of the blue and be okay with that. You understand that, right? You think no one will notice?”
“We’ll be fine.”
“You seem to be unrealistically confident about being fine. Gawd. Not only am I hallucinating, I’m hallucinating a delusional person. Go away. Just fuck off.” I swiped at the air in front of me, some imaginary enemy. I needed to find a way to snap out of it. “Go away.”
“Don’t go all apoplectic on me, Jesus. I’m not going to hurt you.” She patted our face.
“I’m not apoplectic. What does that even mean?”
“I’m your spirit guide, not a dictionary.” She laughed.
“And you’re sassy. Great. A sassy hallucination who’s going to guide me.”
“I might be sassy, but I’m not a hallucination. I’m you.”
“So you keep saying.”
I heard my brother coming down the hall. Crap. Don’t let him poke his head in here. I looked down to see how well the shirt hid the breasts but they had vanished. What the hell? Was she gone too? I looked around as if expecting to see her. “Hey,” I said, but she didn’t respond.
I sat down on the bed. What in the hell just happened? My heart continued to beat fast. Was she real? She sure felt real. Why would I dream her up? I put my hands to my flat chest. That was weird.