If Only

By Emily Towsley 


Tom looked at his chewed up, bloody fingernails. If only he could stop taking out his frustrations on his fingers. If only he could fit in, if only, if only… Tom sighed. His life was nothing but “If onlys.”

Roaming the halls at school had become just as tiresome as chewing his fingernails. He felt scrutinized, yet invisible. His disease caused people to whisper, hiding their words behind their hands as they passed him in the hall. With such a physical deformity, he felt he would never feel normal.

“Alice!” the principal hollered from down the hall, setting off a series of giggles from students watching by their lockers. Tom barely turned towards the obtrusive sound. “Aren’t you late for class, young lady?”

“Yes sir, I’m on my way now,” he replied, heading toward next period.

The bindings are too tight, Tom thought, as he ignored the kids staring at him. My hips are growing. Why does my body betray me this way? His brain swirled with impossible thoughts. All he wanted was to be the boy he felt he was meant to be. Baggy clothes could only do so much against the estrogen betraying him, flowing through his body and transforming him.

His high voice, smooth cheeks, and delicate fingers and wrists still portrayed him as biologically feminine. No amount of wrappings or body reshaping attempts could mask the womanly curves he was cursed with.

His doctor had given him options, but they were all too expensive. “Could your parents help?” he’d asked. Maybe in another life, if they weren’t conservative Christians who considered Tom’s needs to be a sin.

There were some days when he passed for normal. A casual smile from a bus driver without a questioning look, an old lady accepting his chivalry without a second glance back to double check on the freak now walking behind her. If only they knew what it was like, having to work through your own uncertainty and self‑doubt without being able to hide it from the world.   

Tom was drawn-out of his reverie by a light tap on the shoulder. Fluorescent pink fingernails passed him his pen that he’d dropped without noticing. Tom turned around to look at the girl holding his pen. Her long blonde hair and awkward smile enchanted him almost instantly. “I’m Elizabeth…” she whispered. And then, the teacher disrupted their moment.

That day after class, Elizabeth and Tom had a conversation, she gave him her phone number, and Tom and Elizabeth began seeing each other. 

Tom was Elizabeth’s first boyfriend and Elizabeth was Tom’s first girlfriend, now that he identified as a man. Their courtship dance was an awkward unfolding of a second puberty for the both of them. Elizabeth would proudly hold Tom’s hand, kiss him in public, and lean her head on his shoulder, just like any other couple on the street. They would spend long nights holding hands, switching back and forth between whispering confessions of secret dreams, and laying in silence, just enjoying each other’s company, her hair spilling over his chest, her ear on his heart. 

She could stand up for him, and yet let him stand on his own; he always knew she was there for him. This was more than he had ever dreamed of. Maybe he could be a normal man; maybe he was truly becoming Tom.

Tom didn’t know what he wanted. On one hand, he loved Elizabeth’s tinkling laugh, her love of all things green, and the fact that she loved him. On the other, he was starting to feel overwhelmed. Things were changing so fast in his life that he started to doubt the things he could believe in, like Elizabeth’s love for him.

Later in their relationship Elizabeth told Tom that that she was a lesbian and that made him really uncomfortable. How could someone who had previously declared herself as only attracted to women truly love Tom as the man that he was growing into? She would joke that he was the only kind of man she could be with, but that only made him question whether she really saw him as Tom and not Alice.

 “I date who I want because I like spending time with them,” said Elizabeth. “I love them, and I could see myself spending my life with them! Whether their name is Alice or Tom doesn’t fucking matter to me!”

“But that’s all that fucking matters to me!” yelled Tom, throwing on his jacket and storming out of the room.

Making his way down the street, kicking anything in his path, Tom began to break down. If even Elizabeth doesn’t understand where I’m coming from, he thought, wiping his tears with his jacket. What hope is there that I’ll ever find anyone who does? My outside will never match my inside. I can’t imagine a future in which I’m happy. There’s no point in this anymore. If only there was a way to make these feelings stop forever.  

Tom felt like he was floating above his body as he continued to walk down the street, around buildings, and through parks. He was on autopilot and he didn’t care where he was headed ­— until he found himself on the subway platform. Suddenly the tears were gone, and he found himself with the first sense of purpose he had felt in a long time. There would be no more questions, no more staring, no more living with a mind and body that were permanently disconnected. He would be free. The lights coming from the darkness of the tunnel looked like a pair of cat eyes in the dark. As soon as he heard the whoosh of the train coming closer, he took a deep breath and jumped. The sound of his feet hitting the tracks was the last thing he heard clearly before everything went black.

Tom swam in and out of consciousness as the subway platform became alive with panicked people. The dull roaring in his ears obscured the chatter of the onlookers and the shouts of the workers trying to get to his body out from under the train. It seemed he had been run over, but not quite as efficiently as he’d planned. He chuckled through the blood in his mouth at the sight of his fingernails. In comparison to his broken body, they looked great now. For a second, he regretted his method. If only Elizabeth could have been shielded from this. But, what mattered then was that it would soon be all over. She would also be free — free from the burden that was “Tom.” As the world began to fade, he heard someone say, “Is that man going to be alright?”

“That was all I ever wanted,” were the last words Tom ever spoke.