At night I can hear their chorused croaks, how clean they sound in the air, how much they sound like human cries.
II: A Little Closer
He says that he is jealous of my body, and all that it can do.
He says that I don’t have any clue how to properly use it myself.
He says that we are ungrateful, we humans, because here we are with our two too long legs, and our two too long arms, and look how far we could hop if we really wanted to. But instead, he says, we find so many other things to complain about.
I find him often living in corners, right beside the cracks of the doors that just can’t be closed all the way. When I look at him, his legs a deep dark brown like something that’s been left over the fire for too long, he often looks dead. He never is.
His body is made for slipping through cracks, made for furthering himself away from the outside, all just to get a little bit closer to me each time.
He can go from corners to carpets. To my bed, to my hand. To never quite getting close enough.
Every time, I take him back outside because that’s where he best belongs, and I don’t want him here in my house, around the parents I live with.
My body is made for doing the things he cannot, made for turning the heat on extra high, because he will always come inside no matter how many times I take him back, so the least I can do is make things more comfortable for him, and maybe he will make it a little farther next time.
Tonight, he does.
“Look at your mouth,” and I feel his webbed feet tap away at my bottom lip, prying it open a little as he talks. “Look at your warm little mouth, and how soft it is.” He feels away with his feet. “It is the perfect kind of hot in there. If you really cared for me, you would let me rest in there.”
I giggle because what he is saying is all silly.
“What? You don’t believe that I could sleep well in there? In the soft smelly sack of your stomach? It would make such a fine bed to stretch my legs inside of. I could bounce around plenty in there. And feed off of your bile if I grew a little hungry.”
III: The Season
I know that the season has come when my parents concern themselves with parenting.
In the summers they abandon me to play in the sun, but in autumn and winter, like most parents, they pay more attention to their parenting, to making the family temporarily whole for the holidays.
When I wake up, I am greeted to seasonal smells—pancakes seasoned with sweet potato spice and maple syrup, chicken apple sausages, and freshly pressed apple juice.
I know that the season has come when my parents concern themselves with presenting. They make time to decorate their house. To make all the cool costumes for Halloween. To cook the prettiest turkeys for Thanksgiving. To help chaperone all the middle-school homecoming games, and fall formals, and winter wonderland dances. There are many parades to attend, and advent calendars to open. There are parties, and socials, and office get-togethers to host and enjoy. There are so many things to do, all seemingly without breaking a sweat, so that when it is all over, and when they are asked just how great their holidays have been, they can say, Why, my holidays were wonderful. Just wonderful. And yours?
I know that the season has come when my Main Dad concerns himself with appearances.
Before I can eat, my Main Dad tells me to stop, right there, to not move a single muscle, the fork is close to my mouth, and the syrup oozes down to the plate in the prettiest way,he proclaims.
He takes a picture of me.
Crops it, to center its focus.
He won’t use a filter because he says that filters are for adding beauty, and because I am his son, I am already that and more. He posts it, captioning and collecting all his hard-earned hearts.
Other Dad says, For God sakes, can’t the boy just eat? Can’t he just be without you trying to fit him into your pretty little perfect pictures?
Mr. Frogman is right: humans waste too many of our worries on the wrong things.
IV: Beastly-Bodied Men
Other Dad doesn’t want to be my dad anymore. Said, over a breakfast of cold cereal early in the summer, that the body he was living in wasn’t the body he was supposed to live in. Said he had come out all wrong, and he’d always known it since his birth.
Main Dad sent me away, but I chose to go somewhere where I could still hear, still see, and I watched as my Main Dad pushed against my Other Dad’s chest.
Other Dad: There should be breasts there!
Main Dad shoved against his waist, and Other Dad: There should be hips there! There should be softness!
Main Dad said, Why now? You’re an old man now! Ya’been a man your whole damn life, and I married a man! Main Dad cried. I could hear the cracks in his voice, and this is the terrible lightning that comes. The kind that finds you in bed, startles you, because there’d been nothing about the sky to suggest any storm or such, and it had all been so very quiet, before. You’re an old man now!
Other Dad: I’m an old man now. Old enough to know what I shouldn’t be.
There were only whispers after that, some of them rough, and angry, and mean. Some of them soft, and sweet, and kind.
The last thing I heard, because soon I did not want to be there anymore, was, But our son . . .
I really like how things can be at night, in bed.
It’s a different kind of being alone, because I’m not, really. Things are just quieter.
When I listen hard enough, I can hear the hum of the bathroom vents, and the clunky all-at-once sound of ice dropping inside the freezer, and the little creaks and cracks that seem to come out only when everyone else is put away to sleep.
The pattering of his toes against the hardwood floor, though, is very new.
I let my hand fall down beside my bed, let my fingers spread so he can hop his way onto my palm. I lift my hand up gently, and then I place him on my chest where he can rest.
We don’t talk, but I keep my mouth open anyway.
We stay silent, and he stays still.
Never goes in.
Never uses my lips as his pillow, or my tongue as his blanket, or my bowels as his bed.
VI: The Imperfect Happiness
The second-best place is school because it’s where I can pour all the things inside of me into my work. The whispers don’t get to me much, not anymore. And I think that’s because I come from a home that is not so much the same as the others, so there will always be whispers, and I have grown accustomed.
And I think it’s also because, though my home is different from many of the others, I know we all share the commonality of an imperfect kind of happiness.
There are always whispers, whispers that aren’t even about me, and I’ve learned that every one of the others has also been abandoned by their parents to deal with their present and past pains.
Though our sameness is not exactly the same, it is knowing that I am not alone that matters to me the most.
VII: The Pond
The first-best place is the pond behind our house.
It’s not very big, and it’s always in need of a good clearing out, but it’s the best place because that’s where they live—Mr. Frogman and his Frog Friends.
In the wintertime, when the pond begins to freeze over, amazing things happen to the frogs’ bodies to keep them from dying from the cold. Mr. Frogman told me they are able to regulate their bodies to take on the temperature, and in the water they stand still, becoming suspended beneath the ice. Un-aging, and unaffected by all that goes on from outside and around them, and sending themselves into the future.
The pond is the first-best place because it is a time machine.
In the spring, when the pond begins to warm, they become animated once again.
Mr. Frogman tells me that he is a very old frog, and very different from his Frog Friends.
I tell him that I can see that, that I’d already known that because he talks.
I feel that he is about to tell me more, something else, and soon the bad-talk will begin because bad-talk always begins this way, with a statement. And maybe this is why I am already shouting. Maybe this is why I suddenly want to leave.
Mr. Frogman tells me that being who he is allows him to do things that the others cannot. And when he looks down, I look down, and for the first time I see them because their deep-dark brown has blended in so well with the deep-dark brown of the earth, hundreds of his Frog Friends’ bodies. Their tiny heads point in the direction of my house.
“I am tired of being suspended in winter,” he says suddenly now. “I will be frozen again soon, and the time will pass as it always does. And it is a small amount of time that passes, but it is still time. And time is a gift, you know? For any creature. And I have lost so many decades, now.”
A chilled wind hits the air.
It’s not winter yet, but I can feel that it is something.
I believe that badness comes with age. That when you’re truly forced to watch the world, to see it in a whole new way, it’s not safe for you to see those things with soft eyes anymore, so you harden them.
I am twelve years old, nearly a grown man, and soon my time will come to do the same.
I am here at home with Other Dad, helping him with his costume for something that Main Dad has signed us up to do.
Clark Gable was a tall, statuesque kind of man. The kind of man that men want to grow up to be like, to look like. Other Dad resembles him so much, almost dead-on, except that his hair is a vintage-coin silver. Except that his nails are painted with a hot-red polish that catches the light every time he moves his hands.
You don’t have to be Rhett. Not if you don’t want to, I tell him.
I call Other Dad, Other Dad because in a way he has always felt other to Main Dad, and to me. He is never at home as much as we are, and I can count on my hands how often I’ve seen him smile or laugh. I guess that now, looking back on it all, it makes sense. Who would want to come home to be someone’s husband when they should have been a wife? When they should have been someone’s mother instead? How can you smile in a body that does not feel like your own?
Oh, I do, son, he mumbles beneath his breath, steaming the wrinkles from his jacket. Trust me. When you grow up, you’ll learn all about what it means to compromise.
I want to tell him that I already do. That I am compromising my time away from the pond to be here with him, while all my jars sit at the mouth of the pond unfilled.
And this is when it happens, this thought, the worst thing I have ever thought, and the worst thing I will ever say to Other Dad, but I say it anyway.
But you’d look so much better in Scarlett’s dress than Dad. You have a better figure than he does.
And when the seed is planted for him to ponder, his hand freezing and the nails no longer blinding me with their fire, I look up to watch his eyes. For a second, maybe less than that, I see a softness in them.
IX: Healthy Homes
Mr. Frogman says, “There are ways to keep you from becoming a hard thing, and to do that you have to change your environment. Environment shapes who you will become.” He says, “For instance, for me, a good home would be a place that I can swim in peacefully. Where the water is clean, and full of food. A place that sustains me. Helps me to live. It would need to be quiet, with not very much noise, and no toxicities.”
And now I am shaking because he’s talking as if I shouldn’t be here at all. I am here with all my glass jars, ready to bring him and his friends to my house where they won’t lose time over the winter, where they won’t die trying to get to me. And I am thinking that now they have changed their minds. After all, my house is not quiet, or peaceful, or free of toxins. It is a very bad place, at times.
I am desperate, so I mention the winter again, and the time they will lose when it comes, planting more seeds in the minds I wish to change.
Mr. Frogman pats my hand, saying, “But even the most toxic homes can become healthy ones again.”
I look around the edges of the pond, the bodies of the dead frogs outlining their edges now. Some are still alive, swimming and sitting, but the water is suddenly so very murky.
X: Made For
When Main Dad and I are frosting the cupcakes he has made for the something he has signed us up for, Other Dad comes downstairs wearing Scarlett’s, Main Dad’s, dress.
I’m surprised to discover that I was right, that the dress does fit him better. The fabric fits his curves, showing off a figure that none of us even knew he possessed. I look into his face, and I know that he knows this. I look into Main Dad’s face, and I know that he knows this as well.
Just what in the hell do you think you’re doing? Just what in the hell do you have on?!
And it is beginning.
Despite all their faults, my dads have always made an effort not to fight in front of me, but I still manage to catch a bit of it before they move on to a different, quieter room—my body was made for this dress. My body was made for great things.
And because I know my Main Dad, and how much appearances mean to him, I know he will talk Other Dad out of wearing his dress.
I know we will still attend the something he has signed us up for.
I know I will have time to finish frosting the cupcakes, and to get the cooler from the basement.
I will fill it with the hundreds of ice cubes I have frozen for the party punch, their contents speckled with a deep-dark brown.
XI: Greater Things
I like to believe that when the humans went home, after the party was over and all the party punch had been sipped, and every single ghost of a guest was no longer around, a perfect kind of happiness soon began to become.
That at night, inside their chests, the coldness began to thaw away, and stomachs began to fill with beautiful things, and all the hard things inside of them gave away to softness once more. Unworthy worries, eroding.
I like to believe that’s what happened—homes becoming healthy once again.
XII: Winter Season
My home is kept hot all the time now, so I walk around with nothing but sweat and skin as a sheath.
In the bathtubs is where the mud is kept, and where the water is left running to rapidly rot the wooden floors.
With all the heat, and with all the water, the home is always so very steamy, allowing the weeds and woods from the forest to overrun the halls wildly.
We make breakfast from bowls of raw meat, moths, and dragon flies.
Sometimes smaller frogs.
Sometimes small snakes to feed their now bigger bodies.
At night we listen from the porch to the many others who are like my family, too. We share a same kind of sameness that was never there before. The many others, croaking loudly with their human mouths, and hopping far with their two too long legs, and their two too long arms.
Some nights, we join them.
Tonight we just listen, and Mr. Frogman holds my hand with what used to be Main Dad’s hand. Tonight, and forever, it is his hand now.
We listen, and Other Dad stands behind us, his body wrapped in Scarlett’s dress, his mouth croaking with his human throat.
Tonight we watch, but especially me.
Watching with my still-soft eyes.