He is wearing a white lab coat. It’s funny, I think, that doctors really wear those. His name is Doctor Tancretti and he smells like Florida. Or maybe like old people. I can’t tell. Ever since we visited my family in Tampa the two kinda run together. He has short dark hair, and very tan skin like my grandpa, which also makes me think Florida and old people. His eyes seem permanently squinty. His nurse is a tall woman called Vicki who sneaks me extra stickers when the other nurses aren’t looking. She comes in now and gives a folder to the Doctor and then smiles at me. She will remember me every time I come back for the next fifteen years.
Vicki comes over to the exam table and says she is going to do a simple check up while Doctor Tancretti talks with my mom. She takes my temperature and blood pressure, and pokes at my stomach for a while. “I’m going to check your reflexes now, okay?” she tells me, holding up a small metal rod with a rubber tip shaped like a triangle. “You’re going to have to roll up your pants so I can get to your knees.” When I have done so, Vicki swings the rod into my kneecap. I smile as my leg jerks forward and slams back into the side of the exam table with a satisfying “thud.” She does the same thing to my other knee, and then begins to roll my pants back down. “Oh my!” She stops, examining my shins. You’re so bruised!” she asks if I play outside a lot, and tells me to be careful. Mom overhears.
“You’ve notice his legs?” she laughs. “I call them boy legs. Mical’s very active. He’s always running around and bangin into stuff. They’re constantly like that.” She sighs. “Boy legs.” We all have a good laugh at my habit of getting hurt, a habit that will soon put me on crutches six different times in as many years.
Soon Vicki leaves, and Doctor Tancretti rolls over to me on his little wheeled stool which I make a mental note to spin on the next chance I get, a promise I make good on every time I’m here until my mother tells me to stop because it’s a special Doctors’ Stool and its dangerous (eventually, they’ll hang signs warning all children of this). For a second, I’m worried the Doctor is here to do more tests, but he stays on the stool and keeps his hands on the folder. “Do you ever think about your height?” he asks, and his eyes seem even squintier than before.
“Yeah, I’m short.” I tell him. It’s true, too; people never let me forget it. I’m barely three feet and about to go into first grade.
Doctor Trancretti nods. “Well, we’ve been trying to figure out why that is…”
I sit quietly as he explains that I have something called “Growth Hormone Deficiency,” which means that my body isn’t making the chemical it needs to grow normally. He opens the folder and shows me a chart I don’t understand, with a line curving upward and lots of dots across the page. He said the line represents normal height for boys my age, and that my dot should be on the line but isn’t. He says that they’re trying to get me on that line, but the only way to do that is for me to take a shot. Everyday. The Doctor pauses, looking at my mom. I do too. Her face confirms it. I do not react –not yet. When I get home I will sit at the foot of the stairs and cry until my body aches, but not right now. Right now I am angry. Right now the Doctor is wrong. Of course I can take the medicine without shots. I tell Dr. Tancretti I’d rather take a pill. He frowns and repeats that it’s the only way – unless I want to be this short for the rest of my life.
Vicki comes in, and she brings some tiny glass bottles filled with clear liquid. In her other hand there is a small syringe with a vibrant orange cap. Doctor Tancretti tells my mom how to mix the medicine as Vicki demonstrates. When the syringe is ready, she holds the needle upside down, flicks it with her finger, and squirts out a tiny bit of medicine “To get the air out.”
“Too much air is bad for you,” she winks at me, and suddenly I realize her plan for the needle.
“Its okay,” the Doctor lies. He tells me not to worry about it, and that one day I’ll be giving myself the shots. It takes a long time for them to convince me to sit still. When I am finally ready, Vicki rips open a small square package I will soon be all too familiar with – an alcohol swab – and scrubs my arm with the wet pad. The sharp smell of the wipe fills my head and makes me dizzy. I look away as she pinches the skin between her thumb and forefinger and drives the needle into the raised flesh. It stings, and I can feel the cold liquid moving under my skin, forming a lump which stays for a long time after the needle is removed.
Wiping tears from the corners of my eyes, I ask the Doctor, again, if I will always have to do this. He takes a deep breath, and tells me that sometimes the body will suddenly start producing its own growth hormone, and if that happens I could stop. He smiles, but it fades quickly, sinking into a frown that seems to come more from his eyes than his mouth. It is an expression I will come to know well. It will be on his face in five years, when he tells me that I have to stay on the shots because I’m still not as tall as I’m supposed to be, and again when he gives me the same message five years after that. It will still be the same fifteen years later, as he explains the benefits of staying on the shots into adulthood.
But for now, he wears it for the first time, and I can only hope it will be the last.
I have struggled within the confines of male-assigned masculinity since before I can remember, my body itself a transgression. The rules of maleness are strict and numerous. I have already failed the height requirement.
If you can’t be big, they say, make up for it. Be active.
And so I run. I skate. I play. I am hell on wheels. And I get hurt.
Not allowed. Be tough. Have boy legs.
Crutches, slings, casts – these seem tough, but somehow they’re not.
They show you are fragile. Delicate. Feminine. Be active. Be strong. Men don’t break.
I can’t seem to win. How do I join the All Boys Club? Membership qualifications are baffling, but I am trying. Am I playing enough sports?
You will always be too short. And too fragile. Make up for it. Be mean. Be aggressive. Always lead. Demand.
I can demand anything, apparently, but an end to expectation.
Get money. Have women. Not be with, have. Be loud. Be important. Be big.
The more I learn, the further I seem to drift from All Boys. Distance is funny like that; it tends to make things clearer. I begin to see the Club differently – not as some rightful place my male assignment required, but as one option among many.
Have male friends. But don’t be with men. Never be with men.
Do not feel.
And my focus starts to shift. The question becomes less about how to join, and more about whether or not the All Boys Club is something I want to be a part of in the first place.