The day everyone hates, because it means the death of the leisurely weekend and the start of the slog.
But this Monday, winter break begins. We’re going to visit my grandfather, my favorite person in the world, and stay at his house the entire week.
But before we go, my sister Layla has somehow gotten the harebrained idea to try to tame my hair. A strong, perfumed scent, the smell of camellia oil, wafts through the air.
“Quit!” I protest, pushing her away. The curly black hair I inherited from my Turkish mother is tangling under her hands. “But you won’t look nice, Nagi! Aren’t there any boys you want to impress?” she says. She calls me Nagi instead of my real name; it’s been her affectionate nickname for me since I was born, since she couldn’t pronounce Nagisa.
“Layla, we’re going to visit Grandpa, not going to a fashion shoot.” I guide her quickly to a subject other than love.
I’m 14 with no boyfriend and no interest in dating, which Layla considers positively sacrilegious. Since the age of 13, she’s had boys practically lining up at our door and tripping over their feet to catch even a glimpse of her.
I don’t want to tell her what gender I truly prefer. I don’t want to see the pity in her dark almond eyes, in all of their eyes, for being different.
The first time I knew I liked girls was in seventh grade. I had a crush on my best friend, Maddie, who was bubbly and lively and pretty as a porcelain doll. I still do.
And I’ve been hiding ever since.
From my perspective, I have only two choices.
Marry a man who I don’t want, have children who I don’t want, and die having lived a life I never wanted.
Or, come out to my family, and have them possibly ostracize me, like I’m afraid Layla will. But I’ll die having lived a life I wanted.
“Girls!” My mother is calling. Our feet patter down the smooth stairs. In my haste, I slip on the third one and grab onto the railing, my heart pumping and breath panting. “Your dad is waiting in the car, and he says he’s freezing!” “We’re coming, we’re coming! And tell Dad it’s not even that cold outside!” I yell in reply, slipping my feet into the sneakers that are still too tight, even after three months of constant wear.
Dad is Japanese, which makes our family somewhat of an oddity.
“For the last time, girls, we’re leaving!” My mother says impatiently.
Our family hops into the car, an old Honda, where my father is waiting. I can practically see the smoke puffing from the engine. “Ready?” he asks, his voice drowning in the loud buckle of seatbelts. We chorus in assent. With a piercing screech, the clunker backs out of the driveway and we’re off to my grandfather’s house.
During the long ride, I start humming my favorite song, “Defying Gravity,” from my favorite musical, Wicked. Layla and my mother scrunch up their faces and plug their ears, but I keep at it. I’m in too good of a mood to let my awful singing voice ruin it.
My grandfather runs a sushi restaurant. “Plenty of delicious food for my granddaughters!” He says as he piles fish on our plates, his wrinkled face splitting in a broad smile. The fish comes fresh from one of his friends.
He lives by the seaside, in a hulking, salt-rotted Victorian. Seawater has faded the walls into a dingy grey. Inside, a multitude of windows let rays of sunlight into the house. As my father says, “It’s more window than wall!” Dust motes can be seen, crystal clear, in the faerie atmosphere. Knickknacks, from polished pebbles to ships in bottles, are strewn on every surface.
It’s a great refreshment from the squat, blocky apartment we live in, walls painted in a drab brown, inside and out. The Finnish furniture is lumpy and “modern.”
Meanwhile, Grandpa’s house gives off a charming, disheveled look, as if we’ve stepped back a century, when women still wore corsets and men had outrageously bushy mustaches.
The wallpaper is also faded, but it’s almost lovelier this way. Coral stripes border thinner ones of misty green, and the thinnest stripes of all, the black ones, are aligned at the edges of each stripe. Every time I ask Grandpa where he got it, his face grows into a dreamy smile. I know he’s thinking about Grandma, who passed away five years ago from breast cancer.
He took it hard, and who wouldn’t, after sixty years of marriage? Her wedding ring is the only piece of jewelry he put in a safety deposit box.
Dad pulls up at a gas station, bellowing, “Anyone who needs to go, go now! We won’t be there for another two hours!” They all troop out of the car, and the silence is eerie.
With a jolt, my phone buzzes and lights up with a text from Maddie, but my eyes are still focused on the leather seat in front of me. I’m not even processing the image because I’m too busy worrying.
I have an assignment due next Monday, after winter break ends, for Algebra, and I haven’t even started.
Before break, the essay I wrote about LGBTQ+ rights made my Language Arts teacher look suspicious, as if she knew what a hypocrite I was. The beginning of the essay started calmly enough, but when I got to the middle, I began typing furiously, my fingers slamming down on the abused keys and a fire burning in my belly. “We’re not animals, so why should they be treated like ones?”
My family comes out of the gas station’s automatic doors, cramming themselves into the car. What seems like miles of road zips by, the trees becoming fuzzy green blurs.
“Think calmly.” I mumble to myself. “Hmm?” “What was that, sweetheart?” “Nothing,” I say, pulling my knees to my face and slouching. My heartbeat slows, and the rhythm of my breath is soothing.
We’re going to spend this break listening to legends, swimming in the ocean, and screaming our throats out from joy. Grandpa’s going to be there, and we can laugh and talk together, just the two of us.
It’ll work out. It always does.