The Booty Patrol
The Booty Patrol
A PRIDE MONTH Essay by Jay Dinh
A couple months ago, my parents decided to buy a new house after finding out my brother and his wife were expecting a child. Cardboard boxes stood scattered against the walls of my bedroom. The last of what I needed remained stowed away behind the metaphor of my life: the closet. I examined the plight of my closet, overflowing with colorful shirts and ripped jeans that were two sizes too small for me. A bombardment of clothes fell over when I slid my closet door open. I sighed in disbelief and began digging. I threw my clothes onto the floor until I noticed a blight stench of childhood remanence lingering behind me. I stared at the pile, ruminating over how small the shirts were.
Out of curiosity, I picked up a tattered, grey shirt. A bright, orange lifeguard cross was printed right below the large words “BOOTY PATROL.” It belonged to my older brother when he started high school. He always wore it to tailgating events before his football games. I was only in elementary school during this time, following the shadow of him. Naturally, I looked up to him—trailing behind around the neighborhood as he played with his older friends, picking up the guitar just as he did, trying on his shirts in secrecy until my mom caught me.
“Girls wear girl clothes and boys wear boy clothes,” she held a stern posture and snatched the shirt out of my hand. “You can’t wear this!”
“Why?” I asked, shaking in disrepair.
“Because it’s not right,” she said.
How was I supposed to argue with that? I sighed in defeat, nodded, and went back to playing with my action figures.
Growing up, everybody always assumed that I was just a tomboy and that the phase would pass after puberty. Constantly, my mom would express her excitement to see me in a white wedding dress, walking down the aisle towards my future husband. Frankly, I envisioned myself in a black suit, watching my wife walk toward me down the aisle.
One day in the 2nd grade, I devised a plan to wear the "BOOTY PATROL" shirt to school. I tied my long hair back into a pony tail, laced my scuffed-white sneakers, and slipped on my purple book bag. Right before I boarded my school bus, I stuffed my brother’s shirt underneath my neon-pink SpongeBob shirt. My stomach bulged with large crinkles as I walked to my classroom. With no knowledge of what the shirt meant, I smiled at the thought of wearing boys’ clothes.
I plopped myself into the navy plastic seat, next to my best friend. Gautam was tall and lanky for his age. His hair was buzzed, but his body hair compensated. The cuffs of his light blue button down reached only to his forearms. And his khaki shorts fell to his mid-thighs, revealing his dark, curly leg hair. His choice of fashion wasn’t my style, but we always appreciated each other's stylistic differences.
I managed to pull a chunk of my brother’s shirt out from underneath my tight shirt and whispered, “Dude, isn’t it awesome?”
His eyes widened in excitement, “Dude, it’s awesome.”
I grinned, “Dude, I know.”
Before the bell called for breakfast, I scanned over my shoulders to make sure that only Gautam was watching. I pulled my brother’s shirt over the Spongebob one and watched the shirt droop down to my knees. Gautam smiled and stuck up his thumbs in approval. The shirt was soft. I burrowed my nose into the collar of it and It smelled like fresh laundry detergent with a hint of grass and sweat.
Ah, finally I can be a boy today.
With the words “BOOTY PATROL” spread across the center of my torso, I pulled my shoulders back, held my head high, puffed my chest, and stood in the back of the line to the cafeteria with Gautam. The room reeked of mustard and three-day old chicken nuggets. Gautam followed me as I walked past the fruit and strutted to the chocolate milk. The other students didn’t see the difference in clothes, but my teacher had a different reaction. Mrs. Sullen’s light brown, wavy hair fell above her shoulders. Her skin was bronze from tanning during summer break. She squinted her ice blue eyes at me. I thought she was just admiring my shirt, because she wouldn’t take her eyes off me. I paid no mind, dunked my pepperoni pizza in ranch, and took a big bite. Gautam sat in front of me and unpackaged his peanut butter and jelly sandwich that his mom made for him.
“I think Mrs. Sullen is looking at you,” Gautam whispered as a whiff of peanut butter leaked from his mouth.
“It’s the magic shirt,” I said before I took another bite and wiped grease from the corner of my lips.
Mrs. Sullen got up. Her heels clinked against the dingy cafeteria tiles and the sound continuously got louder until it stopped. I glanced at Gautam and saw that his eyes veered up.
“Jennifer?” she tapped my shoulder.
I turned around.
“Can I speak with you for a moment?”
I glimpsed back at Gautam. With his mouth still stuffed, his eyes gawked at me. After swallowing my last bite of pizza, I nodded.
We walked outside of the cafeteria, to a vacant hallway. We stood beside the white brick wall underneath cloudy fluorescent lights. It was so silent that I could hear the hand dryers turn on from bathrooms down the hall.
“Where did you get that shirt?” she bent down to my eye level. I could smell the tuna sandwich that she ate from earlier.
I hesitated and then muttered, “I- I- I took it from my brother.”
A student peered out of the girl’s restroom down the hall. Mrs. Sullen motioned her to walk back into the cafeteria. The girl’s pony tails swayed back and forth as she went past us. She slammed the door behind her, emitting a series of echoes down the hallway.
“Why?” Mrs. Sullen continued.
I looked at her, fearing the consequences, and didn’t say anything.
“Jennifer, why did you take your brother’s shirt?” Her voice was calm.
I could hear students in the cafeteria talking about the latest Naruto episode. My mind wandered endlessly.
What would happen if my mom found out? What my brother would do if he knew I took his shirt? What would my dad would lecture me about?
“Jennifer, why did you take your brother’s shirt?” she repeated again.
I opened my mouth and inhaled, “Because I wanna be like him…” here it comes, “….like a boy.”
She stepped back and didn’t say anything. Her shoulders dropped. She wore a baffled expression.
We shared a brief moment of silence. That was the first time I ever told anyone about the way I felt. My hands were clammy, and my knees started to shake. I felt a lump swelling in the back of my throat. My face felt sweltering hot. I could tell that she knew I was going to start crying.
She pulled me into a hug. I could still smell the tuna sandwich even more.
“Are you mad me?” I sniffled.
“No, I’m not mad at you. Just—” she let go of me and pondered, “Just save that shirt for later. It’s a little too big on you right now.”
“Really?” excitement grew in my voice, “I’m not in trouble?”
“No, you’re not in trouble,” she smiled, “Remember to save that shirt for later. Don’t wear it now. Be patient, okay?”
“Yes, ma’am,” I slid off my brother’s shirt off and tucked it right back under my own.
“Good, let’s head back to the cafeteria,” Mrs. Sullen chuckled .
I grinned, nodded, and raced back to sit with Gautam.
That night, I didn’t give my brother back his shirt. Technically, I was told to wait save it for later.
After thirteen years, the shirt finally resurfaced. I lifted it up to my nose, just like I had done in the 2nd grade—it still smelled like fresh laundry detergent with a hint of grass and sweat. In my tank top, I slid my arms through the opening of the sleeves and slipped into the shirt. The shoulder hems directly aligned with my own shoulders and the end of the shirt fell below my stomach. It was a perfect fit.
I heard a knock on the door.
“Can I come in?” It was my older brother.
He walked in and stopped to look at me.
“You know, I tried to find that shirt for months,” he laughed. “You had it this entire time?”
I laughed in embarrassment, “Yeah, I did.”
“Man, my kid is gonna hear about all the stories of how his Uncle used to steal from me,” he teased.
I smiled, nodded, and looked at myself in the mirror, in awe.