Crumbling Walnuts  

Aiden Brown 

I hadn’t told anyone except my parents that I was doing this. I went all the way to Miami from Maryland to have a masculoplasty with Dr. Gallagher. The rest of my family didn’t know I identified as transgender or went by Aiden. Confessing to murder would’ve been easier than telling them at this point. Maybe I didn’t need to tell them. I’m getting my breasts removed; it’s not like they would have the opportunities to see me naked anyway. I spent that night composing drafts of my coming-out texts that I would send to my family before my surgery although I wouldn’t respond ‘til the next day. This was a move of cowardice on my part.  

Our rented Hyundai Sonata pulled up to Miami Sunset Surgery Center half an hour before the scheduled appointment time. My mother came to sit in the back seat with me. She hugged my waist and put her head on my chest. She nuzzled her head into the soft tissue there. This brought awareness to the part of my physical being that made me the most uncomfortable. The touch made my whole body itch. “I’m losing my daughter.” She sobbed against me. I was put in a helpless position: comfort my crying mother or keep my dignity? Saying “it’s okay” would’ve fed the fire. Sitting behind the wheel, my stepfather could’ve taken my “it’s okay” as a sign of me not wanting to continue. I did not say anything. I pet my mother’s thinning blonde hair.  

Thanks to COVID-19, I had to go alone, which I preferred. The nurses would push me back to the car in a wheelchair when I was done. Despite arriving half an hour early to the center, I walked in ten minutes late. My mother would not let go of me. When I pulled away, I dashed down three hallways and up four horrid flights of stairs in three minutes.   

I had many surgeries as a child: open heart surgery and two tumors removed. For those, I had been put to sleep in a hospital room; I would lay in the bed and watch my surroundings disappear. Unlike my previous surgeries, I walked into the operating room. They didn’t put me to sleep beforehand, only stripped me of my clothes and inserted the butterfly needle that would hook up to the IV machine. I stood in the doorway, naked, pale flesh exposed for the surgeon. Her blue gloved hands were gentle as she touched, prodded, and drew the lines of where she would soon be cutting. The air flowed coldly, yet an overwhelming warmth spread through my body. My years of waiting had dwindled to minutes.   

As Dr. Gallagher drew on my chest, my eyes fixated on the nurse as she set out the scalpel and other tools on a sanitary table. I tried not to think about the scalpel sliding into my flesh, but when my mind conjured up the image… it was nice. The next step: anesthesia. My dad had told me that when I had surgeries as a child, I would fight the anesthesia and try to stay awake as long as possible. Now, I took deep breaths of the gas. That is all I remember.    

Later, I thought about the only walnut tree on our property back home—the only walnut tree in our town. This dying tree continued to drop his fruit for us, littering our backyard with green, fuzzy nut casings. They smelled bitter, especially when the river would flood through the marsh and into our yard. When the casings were opened, the nuts were undesirable and crummy because of the river, but we still thanked the tree for his hard work. As years passed, hurricanes took branches off the old guy, and he stopped dropping walnuts. Despite his discolored limbs and withered trunk, he stood strong. His roots clutched the often damp and unsteady soil of the yard and did not give up in the slightest bit during weathering challenges.   

When I woke up, a deep ache spread throughout my core, and my feet dangled off the ground a few inches. Staring down at my feet, they were moving. My hands rested softly on the wheel handles of the blue chair I was being transported in, my mind trying to grasp how in the hell I came to be moving. The hallway depicted a spinning image; there were more turns than when I ran up here. The wheelchair kept pushing forward, giving my sensitive intestines a thrill ride. The once white walls of the hallway looked speckled now, like a bland easter egg. I pulled my eyes away from the walls and identified my Cookie Monster pajama pants. The pretty nurse with curly black hair must’ve put them on for me before I started waking up.   

The wheelchair seat made my bottom hurt more than the fresh incision on my chest; the incision seared. The trek from the surgery room to the elevator felt five miles long and the walk from the elevator to the car, even longer. Sweat bubbled on my forehead the closer we got to the rental car. The nurses helped me get into the front seat of the car, and I fought them. I never get to sit up front. Even in my state of being barely conscious, I knew kicking my mother to the backseat would only add to the tension that made the air in the car thicken. My mother stayed silent. It must’ve been a week before she spoke again.   

Sitting up straight was uncomfortable, laying down was unpleasant, and twisting in any stretch of the idea was unbearable. Every pothole in Florida congregated on the highway that connected the surgery center to our hotel. The hotel room, actually Miami in general, smelled like a musky mixture of smoke and saltwater from the ocean. The stench, the pain I felt down to my bones, and the anxiety of my mother added to the nausea that the anesthesia had already induced. Vomit rose in my throat, or medicine and bile, but I held it in my mouth and forced it back down.   

With the pain killers given to me after the anesthesia wore off, the week that followed became a blur. Bits and pieces of my memory were vacuum-sealed under the weight of codeine in a far corner of my brain. Except one. I woke up one morning tasting salt from the tears that had fallen down my face overnight. I smelled iron and quickly realized the pain killers tricked my body into moving about while I slept, and I only woke at the recognition of my yellow button-up and white bedsheets being dyed red. My parents just watched me sit there in a puddle of blood, and they probably were thinking, you did this to yourself.  

Do I not remember anything besides that, or do I just not want to remember?   

By the weeks end, the bandages came off, and I could stand up straight. The bandages weighed me down, and I no longer had to hunch over to hide the mountains that genetics strapped to my body. There was a weight off my literal chest. However, with the bandages gone, my mother thought I could immediately go back to normal; we were in Miami and had a lot of fun options just around the corner. I forced myself to try and participate since this happened to be the first time in a week that she showed an interest in talking to me. Neither of us had seen a palm tree before.  

“These trees are really pretty,” my mother said and reached to touch the bark. It looked harder than the trees at home.   

“They’re tropical,” she continued, stating something obvious to merely fill the silence. “I’ve always wanted to see one in person. I’m glad I’m here!”  

“I’m glad I’m here, too,” I said with excitement in my voice, reaching my hands toward the tree. I felt something break. My skin. My grey button-up was turning a gross brown-red.  

  There was silence again, as if seeing me bleeding through my shirt detailed another reminder of how I had disappointed her. I looked like a crazy murderer walking around Miami in a blood-soaked shirt without saying a word. My mother and stepfather trailed me like abused animals, but I became their master. Crazy looks or not, I walked with the confidence they lacked.   

Before I got on the plane to go home, I sat on the sidewalk outside of Miami International Airport. The sun beat down, hot on my face, and for once I did not mind. I did not mind anything. I unbuttoned my shirt, and it stayed that way. I sat, chewing on tapioca pearls that were in my green bubble tea. The pearls were ambrosia, a simple food that was now a delicacy. 

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