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Trapped in a Box

Jen receive’s a box telling her to embrace happiness

By Iris HarrisPublished 2 months ago 15 min read
Trapped in a Box
Photo by Bruno Martins on Unsplash

Jen hated being a girl. She detested dresses and had no interest in typical female toys. Most importantly, she longed to shed the stench of femininity off of her. Unfortunately, she was the daughter her mother dreamed of having. Her mother constantly dressed her according to the female fashion police. She would send Jen to elementary school like a little princess, but Jen would return resembling an orphan from the musical Annie.

“Young ladies don’t play in mud,” her infuriated mother griped, disgust pouring from her face.

Jen retorted, screaming, “but the boys play football and I want to play with them.”

“Young ladies don’t play football!”

“Well, they should. It’s fun!” The eight year old replied.

“I don’t care. You are not allowed to play football.” The argument showed no signs of success for Jen. When Jen had fashion freedom, dresses were out of the question and she felt more like herself in pants and a T-shirt. Additionally, she joined the boys in football.

Years later Jen became a freshman in high school. Her mother continued to harp on behaving lady-like, especially with the dating age creeping slowly into Jen’s social life. Throughout middle school, she rebelled vigorously against her mother’s wishes in terms of clothes and behavior while cursing her anatomy. Every day she prayed to be turned into a boy, only to wake up to disappointment. It was secret she kept from her mother.

Unfortunately, confession night came in the disguise of dinner. The freshman dance was approaching and she was discussing plans with her mother. They were considering potential dating prospects.

“What about Troy? He seems like a nice boy. I like how goal oriented he is. You two would make a beautiful couple,” started her mother.

“Troy? No way. He’s my bro. I’m not going with him,” protested Jen, feeling awkward dancing with a boy she has watched chase other girls who wore the mantle of feminine pride.

Her mother’s face washed over with concern. “Reggie’s not too bright. I hope you’re not considering going with him, are you?”

She was right about Reggie. He was not the brightest bulb in the sea of lights at school. Even Jen would be embarrassed dancing with someone who is unable to determine left from right. Reggie often dropped football passes; provided completely out from left field responses in class; and lived in a world of cluelessness.

“No way,” laughed Jen. A knot clenched deep in her abdomen. “Actually, I have a date already.”

Her mother froze. “Oh?”

“Yeah, I’m going with Stevie,” Jen confessed nervously, knowing the rest of the news may put her mother in cardiac arrest.

Surprisingly, her mother beamed. “Stevie! You mean, Steve? I don’t think I have met this young man. Tell me more about him.” It was wonderful seeing how ecstatic her mother had become. Unlike what she endured during her foundational elementary years.

“Well, he is not really a boy. He’s a she. She’s my girlfriend and we have been together for half a year now.”

Her mother’s smile rapidly dissipated. A heavy cloud of silence dropped over the parent-child duo like an atom bomb. Jen immediately felt the wall of disheartenment emit strongly from her mother.

“Is this some sick joke?” Her mother’s disapproving tone and gaze impaled Jen’s heart. “I have raised you in the eyes of the Lord. Yet you dare to defy God’s will? God did not make women to date women.”

Jen's fears came to fruition. She knew her mother’s faith would create a blind spot for acceptance. Her mother’s adamant attempts for Jen to embrace womanhood made sense. It was to comply with the rules of a religion Jen was unsure she wanted to follow. A religion that had been force fed to Jen since her birth.

“I forbid you to date this Stevie. No child of my is going to be a…” she paused, searching for the right word, half ashamed to utter it. “Lesbian.”

Jen was stricken by her mother’s statement. “Mom, please, don’t…” she started in a desperate plea for validation, but felt her face burn with pain from her mother’s strike.

Her mother quickly stormed out of the kitchen, leaving Jen undeniably lost in sorrow. Was her mother’s faith more important than her daughter’s life? Jen resorted to obedience because she lacked the strength to remain in the unaccepting shadow of her mother. She was unwilling to endure her secondary school years in fear of her mother’s faith. She felt the need to reconcile her relationship with her mom and God.

From that night, Jen vowed to transform into the image she felt would appease her mother. By the end of her freshman year, dresses became her fashion staple. She replaced male friends and football with female friends and pompoms. She worked to understand and embrace the words of the Lord and live as a woman of the Heavenly Father. Months later, the bond with her mother improved and peace was restored between them.

By Thanti Riess on Unsplash

Three years later, Jen continued to maintain the facade she constructed, however deep the depression inside her was swelling. She longed to talk to someone about her feelings, but feared no one would understand the root of her sadness or the secret she kept concealed for the past three years.

While shopping for clothes, Christina, her best friend of three years, began. “OMG, did you hear Matt's coming out! He’s totally into Brad. He says he wants to have a coming out party and everything.”

This made Jen think about Stevie. Though she had been forced to cut ties with her former crush, the feeling never vanished and learning more couples were coming out, she wondered if Stevie would take her back. Jen shook the thought away and smiled. “I’m happy for Matt. I think they would make a great couple. I wish I had someone like that.”

“Jen, you get plenty of options. Nearly every guy at school wants to date you.”

Jen’s tribe of women often expressed jealousy over Jen’s popularity with the boys. “Yeah, but I’m not interested in them,” Jen confided thoughtlessly, slightly regretting the subtle confession the second it left her lips.

Christina paused with a confused facial expression. “Wait, are you…?” Her cheeks flushed red and her voiced lowered, “lesbian?”

Jen froze. Would there be repercussions if she spoke truthfully to Christina? What if the news made its way back to her mom? Could she afford a rematch battle for her identity at the expense of being disowned?

“What do you think your mom would say if she found out?” The question thrusted Jen into reality and confirmed it was not time to become her true self. There was too much at stake socially, religiously, and emotionally..

Jen forced a smile on her face. “No, I mean, I want someone I like as much as Matt likes Brad,” She lied. “In fact, I’m considering asking Andre from Central High out.”

“Central High? Seriously? Are the guys at our school not worthy of Princess Jen?” Christina quipped, fully taking the bait.

This was not the conversation Jen wanted. She wanted to express what she truly felt. How she loathed being a visible feminine participant of girl-world and succumbing to patriarchal ideology of looking for a male to complete her. She maintained her act as the best “girl” friend until she and Christina had completed shopping.

When Jen returned home later that day, there was a small box placed on her doorstep of her mother’s house. It was a small dark blue box, fifteen centimeters in length and half that in width. There were no indications it was delivered by UPS, Amazon, or any other delivery service. Jen, looking around to see if she could spot the mysterious delivery carrier, reluctantly picked up the box and was surprised how light it felt, almost as if it were an empty box. She noticed the card attached with her name written on top. It read:

Open this box to embrace true happiness.

Jen thought about the cryptic message. True happiness? What did that mean? It was not like there was a boy who would make her and her mom happy hidden away in the box (or Stevie for that matter). Was there some magic dust when poured, her mother would suddenly be more liberal and accepting of the true Jen? She decided against opening it on her own and wanted to have the company of her friends, hoping they could make a better decision on what to do.

She brought the box out at lunch the next day. Each of their gazes became transfixed on the box for at least a minute before Marcia broke silence.

“Who’s it from?”

“There’s no other name, just Jen’s,” Christina added. Silence crept back around the group.

“Do you think I should open it?” Jen finally asked.

Leslie quickly grabbed the box and shook it. It was soundless. “I think it’s empty. Someone’s idea of a joke. You should just throw it away.”

“But what if there's something expensive in there? After all, a Tiffany’s necklace would definitely make me happy.” Christina added selfishly. “The box is about the size of a Tiffany’s box. I think you should open it.”

“But that would have made a sound,” Leslie reminded.

“Unless it’s wrapped.” All the girls agreed.

Marcia was the last to share her thoughts. “The card says ‘embrace your true happiness.’ I’m guessing someone knows what makes you really happy and somehow found a way to send it to you. What makes you happy, Jen?”

The happiness question. For the past three years, she has worked out a perfectly suitable response for her mother. She wanted to be the perfect little princess; find the boy of her dreams and land a career that allowed her the freedom to work and take care of her family simultaneously. She wanted to continue to build her faith in the Lord and live the brazen Christian life her mother always wanted for her. She has rehearsed the speech repeatedly to the point she almost believed it herself. However, it was not what would truly make her happy and deep in her conscience, she knew what would make her happy.

I don’t want to be a girl. The true thought she carried for so many years. Suddenly, gasps from her friends snapped life back into her. What she thought was to herself was clearly overheard by the others.

“What do you mean, you don’t want to be a girl?” Christina proclaimed, clearly taken aback by the bold statement. “Girl, we were just shopping together the other day. What about Andre?”

“Andre? Who’s Andre?” Chimed in Marcia. “Is he new to our school or something? Why am I hearing about this now?”

“You’re missing the point, Marcia,” Leslie interrupted. “Jen, how can you be against womanhood? Seriously, think about all that women have fought to be allowed the privileges of today?”

“Yeah, that’s true,” Jen replied, “but we have to put on a show for practically everyone. We spend so much time on our appearance. And, no matter how we dress, we are still judged on our appearance. It’s not like that for boys. There are also so many expectations for women, but not as much for men. For example, women are expected to take care of the family, while men just work.” Jen asserted.

“Well, I love being a woman. You all know how much I enjoy shopping. I love trying on new outfits and heels. Most of all, I love boys.” Christina sat beaming at her own statement.

Leslie agreed, “yeah, boys.”

“Well, we’re the better species, clearly,” Marcia stated confidently. “But that’s the way it’s been for centuries. Things are slowly changing though, especially with the LGBTQ movement.”

“Yes and no,” Jen argued. “Even Trans-women are discriminated against. Trans-women, Marcia. What does that say about the value of being a woman?”

“Please, a trans-woman is no woman. You know that. God created only man and woman. If a man decides to become a woman, he can never be one. That’s not in God’s plan.” Leslie claimed.

Marcia picked up the box. “Besides, if you are saying you want to be a man, there’s no way that’s going to fit in this little box you know. Do you think this little thing is a portal in the space-time continuum and it’s going to jettison you to another dimension, alter your physical appearance and make you become the male version of yourself as a senior in high school? Girl, I can understand how you feel sometimes. Every woman has days where we want to be tough like men, but like Leslie said, that’s not what God intended.”

They argued over the positives of being a woman and following the will of God until they had to leave for their next class. Jen stashed the box back into her backpack and continued on with her school schedule. When she returned home, she took out the box again and stared at it. True happiness. What did it mean?

She reminisced over all the events of her high school years. The one that stood out the most was her fight with her mother over her date for the freshman dance. She wanted to be with Stevie. The desire never erased from her heart. She didn’t like who she had become and overlooking her clothes that spilled out of her closet, happiness was nowhere to be seen. The bright pastel colors of her bedroom and school accessories were all a show of a person she knew she wasn’t . Eventually, she concluded the fake persona she created was the root of her depression and she would give anything for true happiness. With that deep rationale, she opened the box. Darkness wrapped around her instantly, making the last four years of her life feel like a memory.

By Paulina Milde-Jachowska on Unsplash

“Look who’s up!” The blinding surgical light created an obscure vision.

“I’ll take a chai mocha latte, light cinnamon,” Jason responded in a muffled deep voice.

“Don’t worry, it’s just the anesthesia. Once it wears off he’ll be fine.” A voice Jason did not recognized assured.

Another man who was fully covered in a surgical gown stood over Jason. Jason realized it was Dr. Patterson. “Everything went extremely well. There was very little bleeding and the skin grafts we took earlier came in handy. You should heal well, but make sure you take it easy for the next month or so.”

Jason nodded in confirmation before being wheeled out of the room. He took a short trip down a bleak beige corridor and into an empty room. “Your caregiver should be here shortly,” the nurse comforted prior to exiting the room.

Jason rested in a room of solitude, invaded by both his thoughts and memories. He produced a smile and gradually became overcome with unfamiliar satisfaction.

Minutes later the door opened and voices flooded the room. “He’ll be fine. The surgeon said everything went well. I’m sure he’ll be happy to see you.”

The door closed and the curtain opened. There, standing in front of him, was a vision of an angel he could not wait to see. Stevie, short dark hair and brown loving eyes. She was smiling affectionately for him. She hugged him immediately and he felt her warm love.

“Jason, you did it. You finally have become the man you were meant to be.” Stevie whispered, tears flowing down both their eyes.

A decade had passed since high school. After graduation, Jason discovered Stevie was attending the same college as him. Being miles apart from his mother, he was able to rekindle the forbidden love with her and with their combined activeness in the LGBTQ+ community, he realized the root of his dispirited nature was the fact he identified as a transgender male. With the support of Stevie, he began his transitional journey to authenticity both medically and legally. Finally, Jason acquired a surgical date for mastectomy and phalloplasty.

“I had the craziest dream,” Jason mentioned.

“About what?” Stevie pulled a chair closer to the hospital bed and sat down.

Jason paused slightly. “I dreamt of my high school years. You know, being Jen, resenting being born a woman. There are no words to even begin to describe how at peace with myself I am now.”

“I know how much you suffered. I could sense it the first time I saw you in college. Your stoic expression on your face was not the person I fell in love with when we were freshmen in high school.” Stevie held Jason’s hand and was gently stroking the back.

Jason held his free hand over his eyes. “You know it was the stress my mother piled on me. She wanted me to rigidly follow her view of what a woman was. Her faith hid me from her. I…” He could no longer contain himself. Reminiscing about living a lie and having to choose between his happiness and his mother was too overwhelming.

“It’s ok,” Stevie consoled.

Jason wiped his tears. “I don’t regret being Jen, but my whole body was against it. I could feel something was wrong with it everyday. I had to put on the act to fool my mom, my friends, and everyone else. Seeing her in that dream felt like a farewell.”

“Maybe that’s what the dream was trying to tell you. It was a way for you to move on from the past. Jen, telling you her time is up and Jason needs to take over.”

Maybe Stevie was right. Maybe it was time for Jason to take over and live the life that was trapped in a box and hidden due to religious and social expectations. Jason contemplated. Then a different thought occurred to him.

“Or Jen was thanking me for her time in the spotlight,” he added, with a tepid feeling of joy for what his future holds.


About the Creator

Iris Harris

An American freelance writer who enjoys writing during her freetime and aspiring to make writing more of a career path than a hobby. Tends to write in a varlety of genres, but enjoys writing romance, ghost stories, and occasional horror.

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Comments (3)

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  • Melissa Ingoldsby2 months ago


  • Hannah Moore2 months ago

    I love that framing of the dream, it feels such a positive way for Jason to reconcile his past and his future.

  • Martha Ball2 months ago

    What a powerful, nuanced interpretation of the "mystery box!" The use of the box as story catalyst was fantastic, and well placed in the story. Well done!

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