July 15 • 10:41 PM

From swingsets to tents in the desert

November 05, 2008
We're in a tiny backyard in Euclid, Ohio. There's an old swingset behind the little brick duplex where my sister lives with her kids Charissa and David.

It's a mild sunny day and I'm outside with David, pushing him back and forth in a swing. His tiny hands wrapped around the rusty chain links, his little skinny legs pumping out and in, out and in.

He's not saying much, nor am I. He's smiling slightly, and lets out a giggle now and then when I tickle his back as I'm pushing him a little higher.

It's sometime in the 1980s—though as cliché as it sounds it seems like it was just yesterday. I have a lot of fun with little Charissa and David, looking forward to the visits where we play and color together. They like it when "the Zizis," (our crazy Italian slang name for "aunts") come to Ohio because we dote on them and pretty much try to do whatever they want to do at the moment. Like all little kids, they have vivid imaginations and making up games is fun and easy.

David and my dad pose for photo ‘just yesterday’ (left). Army Spc. David Adams, on leave from first tour in Iraq and Anna and Frank Minolli in 2006.

I'm in the androgynous phase of my life—that endless struggle with femininity that I attempt to blur and it's a time in our culture when it's okay to do so. Preferable, even, at the moment. As a woman who appreciates the strides of the sisters before me, I want to shed the skin of expected norms. I work in a predominately male field and note the differences when it comes to being judged on appearances alone.

Aside from all of that I find it fun to blur the lines. I get a kick out of it, and it's way easier than fiddling around with this or that girly thing like I used to. I lost the patchwork flowing ankle-length skirts and found denim overalls and Haynes t-shirts. The hair was practically non-existent except for a lengthy shock of bangs that reach to my eyelids.

While he's soaring too and fro David sneaks a glance at me over his bony shoulder. His eyes form a question but his mouth doesn't quite know how to ask it. This goes on for some time. The swing slows. David finally turns to face me full on. There's something he really wants to know:

"Are you a boy or a girl?" David asks.

"Well, David, what do you think I am?" I respond, trying to hide my mirth. He's so cute and earnest and the sincerity of his question and perplexed look on his little face tickles me. I want to hear his answer.

"Well, I don't know. You look kind of like a boy because your hair is so short, but you're wearing a neck-a-lace," he says in that cute little kid pronounciation of the word. "Girls wear neck-a-lace-es so I think you're a girl."

I resist the urge to mess with him a little more. How very observant for a four or five-year-old kid—but also how telling that he's already discovered (consciously or not) the cues for femininity and masculinity. These things we pick up without even knowing it...the innocent curiosity of youth, here but for a moment...

...I pick up the phone and it's my sister, David's mom. She tells me he had a horrible night because it poured like crazy wherever he's at in Iraq and his tent leaked and he and all his gear got soaking wet. Same thing happened the night before—it was so bad he had to move to another location. Then after it pours it gets humid as all get out and it's tough to breathe especially because he's sick right now.

On top of that misery he's more miserable because what's left of his personal life isn't going too well. After all, it's kind of hard to have a personal life when you've been living in the desert in Iraq for the past 14 months.

Fourteen months since he's seen a backyard or a swingset or his sister or mother or crazy aunt who blinked her eyes and the little boy she pushed on a swing long ago turned into a man. A soldier. A veteran of war.

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