“I am all girl.”

It’s my own voice I hear as I lie in bed half-awake, half asleep. In my dream, I’m walking barefoot through the woods behind my house. It’s fall, and the flame-colored leaves float softly downward. Out of nowhere, a Ferris wheel appears and I get on without a ticket.

“I am all girl.”

I say it because my body is betraying me. In my dream, the colorful autumn day becomes night. The Ferris wheel speeds up, breaks free of its foundation and rolls through the darkened woods. Shearing tree branches with loud splintery crunches, it rolls toward the black lake at the edge of the tree line.

From deep within me, behind organs, beneath muscles, a jagged pain is born.

“I am all girl!”

I open my eyes to the real night, the thick molasses darkness of it. But it’s only when I spot the red numbers of my clock that I’m sure I’m awake: 4:27 a.m. The pain is building to a sure and steady climax and I don’t know who I am.
Jack or Jill.

“I am all girl!” I squeeze through clenched teeth.

There’s a land mine exploding outward from my stomach and lower spine.
I’m not supposed to wake up in the middle of things. All of this is supposed to happen while I sleep. I shove my hand beneath the sheets, praying, hoping the transformation is nearly complete, but when I reach lower, there it is–limp, smooth and insistent.


He’s supposed to fade in the night and I’m supposed to wake up fully constructed. Instead, I have his thing to contend with and a deep ache that, now that I think of it, is not exploding outward but sucking inward like a vortex.

“I am all girl.”

That’s my mantra. I use it to forget. But it does nothing to ease the pain.
The muscles of my abdomen spasm and I squeeze Jack’s thing in response, as if he were doing this to me–the sadistic jerk. I know that’s not true. Grabbing the pillow with my other hand, I press it to my face.

“I am all girl,” I growl. I don’t want to scream, but I can’t stop myself. “I . . . !”

I’m lost now, a rudderless ship on a wild and cruel ocean. “Mom!” I know she can’t help. No one can.


The bedroom door opens; then the bed sags with Mom’s weight. Her perfect brown bob is sleep-mussed and her pale face bears deep pillow wrinkles.

“Shhh,” she says. “It’s okay, honey. ‘I am all girl.’ Say it.”

“I am all girl.”

I want to absorb relief from these words or from the forced calm of my mother’s face, but relief never comes. Looking past her, I spot Dad hovering in the doorway, disheveled as always and chewing on his thumbnail. No relief there either.

Then the split begins.

At the base of Jack’s thing, the pain gathers to a diamond point. I grab Mom’s cool hand and squeeze. My flesh punctures from within. Then, zipperlike, it tears itself open. I throw my head from side to side.

“I.” Gasp. “Am.” Gasp. “All.” Gasp. “Girl!”

“It’s okay,” Mom says. But I hear the strain in her voice. She’s starting to panic too.
The split now complete beneath Jack’s quivering thing, I try to pull my legs together. I don’t know why. Protective instinct, I guess. But I can’t control my legs or anything else. My body is in control, orchestrating its mal proceedings from the angry vortex at the base of my spine. The vortex sucks harder now, pulling at my bones, my muscles, retracting my thighs, melting the firm stomach until it’s soft and feminine. My body remakes itself with no mercy, sanding
the crisp edges from my jawbone, deflating the gentle biceps, brutally inflating my breasts.

“I am all girl!” I scream, all sense gone.

“Shhh,” Mom says. “Breathe, baby.”

But every breath is a new gut wound. The bones of my ankles rearrange themselves in miniature. Even my toes protest the change. Unthinkingly, I clench Jack’s thing with my sweaty hand and force the breath out in an angry rhythm.

“That’s right,” Mom says. “Breathe.”

With what’s left of my brain, I can still remember, I can still think. Jackthoughts, Jackfears, Jackdesires. He’s angry. At me. At Mom. He doesn’t like chunky peanut butter and she keeps feeding it to him. He wants a new pair of boxer briefs and some Elvis DVDs. He wants us to turn the Internet back on.

“I am all girl!”

I clench Jack’s thing harder now and it slips weakly from my slick palm into the sucking mouth of the vortex.

And then it’s gone.

All of it.

Not just Jack, but the pain too. That’s the merciful afterthought of this wicked hullabaloo. The pain doesn’t fade slowly the way it builds. It evaporates in a euphoric instant. I look up at Mom’s ever-calm face backlit from the hall light spilling through the open door. She whisks a strand of hair from her eyes, then touches my cheek with the backs of her fingers.

“Plan B?” she says.

“Not now,” I say. “Too tired.”

I lift my head to look at Dad. His greasy hair and guru beard connect in a continuous circle of grunge around his frightened face. He’s the same mess he has been for years. But I’m so blissed out on post-agony, I can’t help but love the guy.

“Sorry, Dad,” I say.

“It’s okay, honey.”

But he’s still chewing on his thumbnail because it’s not okay and he knows it. It’s never going to be okay either. Not for him, not for me. Not for any member of the McTeague household.

Within this house is a monster, a freak, a slave to the calendar and my own lunatic hormones. Before every menstrual cycle–every phase of the moon, if you want to be romantic about it–I am savagely transformed from girl to boy for four full days, then wickedly reshaped into girlflesh again. Most of the time, I sleep right through it. Most of the time.

“Good night,” I say. “I’ll do Plan B in the morning.”

Within seconds, I’m out.