Paul doesn’t remember when he stopped crying.
He remembers Japanese silk inside his grandmother’s closet. The smell of new leather and old lace. Moth balls. The urine stench of Alpaca wool.
Then there is the red face of Bart Bettlehorn shouting, “Paul is gi-irl, Paul is a gir-irl!” and Ms. Sawdust’s entire third grade staring at Paul’s flesh-colored satin skirt, fingers pointed, dismay, abomination on the faces of the Baptist crowd.
Paul isn’t a girl. Paul is a boy. He loves Star Wars and Transformers, and his favorite color is cerulean blue, and he runs the shower without getting in it because he doesn’t want to smell like Dove, or apple, or rain. He runs wet fingers through his hair so his mom will think he washed it, but he doesn’t, and while the shower crackles in the empty bathtub, Paul likes to try on his mother’s pink kimono, which she leaves hanging on the door. He stands in front of the mirror in his big boy boxer shorts, the ones that say Calvin Klein instead of Sponge Bob, and he flexes his muscles and tracks down hair on his underarms—he’s found five so far: two on the left and three on the right.
Paul is not a girl. Paul is a boy. Paul has underarm hair and girls don’t. Only Carmen, who makes the best empenadas and knows how to kill a chicken with her bare hands, has underarm hair. But Carmen isn’t a girl. Carmen is from Mexico so it’s not the same.
Paul is not a girl. Paul has built an entire Lunar base in Lego and he wants to be an engineer when he grows up.
And he stands in front of the mirror in his mother’s pink kimono, digs in her toiletry bag, and finds lipstick that matches the kimono. He dabs a little on his cheeks, spreads it with trembling fingers. Paul thinks his pink cheeks look great with his dark eyelashes. Carmen always calls Paul muñeca when she hugs him tight against her broad soft chest. Paul looked it up on his mother’s tablet, and it means “doll”. He looks like a doll with his dark dark eyelashes and pink cheeks and pink kimono, and Paul likes being Carmen’s doll.
But Paul is not a girl. Paul is a boy. And Bart Bettelhorn is wrong. Paul punched Bart in the nose once, to shut him up. But then Paul was threatened with reform school, and Bart Bettelhorn was promoted to quarterback, and Liesl Dufflebag told Bart his broken nose made him look even more handsome. She snap-chatted a selfie of her kissing Bart on his bruise.
Paul is not a girl. Paul is a boy. Paul likes Liesl Dufflebag, but Liesl Dufflebag doesn’t like Paul. “Boys don’t cry,” says Liesl.
So Paul doesn’t cry. Never. Ever. Cries.