I can't truly start with the old-as-time opening, "Once upon a time," even though I really want to. It is one of my favorite ways to open a writing adventure. Heavens to Betsy I have been on a slew of writing adventures. This particular one is going to evolve into something that maybe should never have been, but damn it if it doesn't have some legs and needs to learn to crawl and walk around somewhere.
Let me explain. Last year I wrote a little something that got accepted into the first volume of Taco Bell Quarterly. It was a lit mag that came out of nowhere. I could not help but love the concept, I know I'm not the only one. When it came time to submit for the second volume, I truly found myself stumped. I wanted to submit something really great, yet I was not sure what I should write about.
In a whirl I threw a little something together. Honey, when I say I threw a little something, I basically tossed a box of Nachos BellGrande at the wall and observed the splattered gooey fallout. I knew I had something there, but it was a damn mess. My essay was rushed, feeling more like a rough, rough, very rough draft. I submitted it anyway. Mostly because I was already past the deadline and right in the middle of that weird 48 hour breathing room where you could unbutton the top of your jeans but not fully remove the clothing. The editor supreme was granting a little bit of mercy for us stragglers.
A few weeks went by and I received the email that my essay would not be accepted into volume 2, that I was indeed being rejected. And that was beyond understandable. I knew it was not my best work. I also knew that there was a story in that busted box of nachos, dripping down the wall. A story I still wanted to share, in part due to the connection I have enjoying bad food with my dad. I have to share this and what better place than my neglected diary? It makes total sense! This gives me the chance to really make an even bigger mess of things, to lunge all kinds of Taco Bell delicacies at the wall and paint a scrumptious picture, with photos! So, my dear reader, enjoy these little tales as they connect to make something I hope will be enjoyable.
Toys for Taco Bell
There's no other way to say this, than to say that I was a peculiar and odd child. I was girly. Shy but a ham when I needed to be. Picky. Hell I'd say I was a prissy little thing. Always walking with a slight swish of my tush. Popping a hip to the left with a side of sass. I practically came into this world with a perfected eye roll that I would use on anyone I saw fit. I loved my Barbie dolls as much as I loved my strong super women. I wanted to grow up to be just like them, hell, I had every fiber of my being telling me I would. There's just one minor detail that was getting in the way of such things, I was born male even though I behaved and thought of myself very much as a girl.
All of this behavior naturally concerned my parents. They were fashionable and fun, the total party parents who loved everyone, but this was the 80's and they had limits. Especially my dad. You must understand, my dad has always marinated in this Italian macho mafioso way of being. He looked like he'd order a hit on ya and not even break a sweat. He was a hustler with his own business. He found ways to provide for us. He enjoyed mob movies, wrestling, and old westerns. He was the man that everyone wanted to be around. So best believe we clashed a great deal in our differences.
"I just don't feel like I have anything in common with M," My dad would lament to my mom. "Well just show M the way, go out and play catch. Maybe that is what M needs." It's not what I needed. I was horrible at catch. I was also bored to tears. My dad knew it. He tried tossing me a baseball to catch once, bless his heart, and the bonding just fell apart. Be were both at an impasse. He had an idea though, "Are you hungry? Maybe we could get something to eat?"
"But mom's cooking dinner." I didn't understand what was happening. With the whole father/child playing catch session behind us, my dad was insisting we sneak away to get food before dinner. We were breaking rules! My mom was going to kill us! We ended up going to Taco Bell.
Once we got back, both stuffed from one too many tacos, and possibly an Enchirito, my dad and I faced a wrath unlike any other from my mom. "What is this! I'm cooking dinner!" My dad spoke calmly and evenly, explaining that we had enjoyed ourselves with a pre-dinner snack. We would eat again, my mother's cooking this time, and I would go to bed feeling like the happiest fullest kid with acid reflux on the planet.
This is how my dad and I found our groove. Food was our common denominator. We love food. Home cooked meals. Fancy meals. Drive-thru meals. Enjoying food has long been our way of understanding each other. As a kid on Saturday mornings my dad would say, "Forget making sandwiches, you want something from Taco Bell?" I'd crinkle my nose because if we were going to get fast food, I much preferred a Happy Meal so I'd also get a toy.
"M, Taco Bell has toys too." Suddenly I was listening, and while my dad was a little unsure how to think or feel about my femininity, I was still his child, it never stopped him from wanting to connect with me. His goal was to get Taco Bell, and he knew just what to do to make that happen. Dangle the possibility of a toy in front of me. I have always been a rather simple human being.
Now here's where we go off on a little bunny trail. Don't worry, I've crumpled up some CinnaMon Twists so that we may find our way back. There have been a few toy premiums from Taco Bell that have really stayed with me throughout the decades.
In 1983, Taco Bell came out with some Rainbow Brite Happy Talk Sprites. Simply shake them up and they make "talking" sounds. I was very young when these came out, but I remember being dazzled by the primary colors as well as the overall cuteness. I only had Twink, the white Sprite, but I was able to snag Romeo, the red Sprite recently.
A year later Taco Bell would release another lovely line of plush toys. Hugga Bunch hugglets in their metallic diapers were just the cutest thing and my dad surprised me one day with the Hugga Bunch hugglet in the gold diaper named Fluffer. They had a grip that could attach to other items as if they were hugging. Below is a photo of a more recent Hugga Bunch hugglet added to my collection.
These toys bring up a lot of memories for me. Obviously I can't help but recall Taco Bell in all its deliciousness. Who doesn't love that? I am also reminded of the bonding I have had the good fortune of experiencing with my dad. Even though both of my parents were uncertain what to think about my interest and preoccupation with being a girl, they never policed what toys I played with. I was just as sassy and melodramatic with my dolls as I was with my ThunderCats. None of that changed anything, so my parents learned to go with the flow. And I knew, as long as my dad and I could enjoy the foods we were craving, I knew our relationship would be ok.
Fairy Tale Tacos
Once upon a time, in 1986, yours truly was becoming more and more certain that something was just not quite right with myself. I was pushing boundaries. I was also stepping on my parent's last nerves. They had explained to me quite often that I was a boy. They expressed what made me a boy and why I would never be a girl. On the one hand I understood. Body parts being what they were, how could anyone argue against that? Of course I kept thinking, if I am a boy, why am I not happy being a boy? Why do I see myself as a girl? Why am I going through my prayers at night begging God to magically switch my body parts so I can be normal? Nothing was making sense.
What made sense was She-Ra and her friends in the Great Rebellion. I was drawn to them. I saw myself in them. I wasn't interested in being like He-Man. I wanted to be She-Ra. And maybe sometimes Catra. Meow! Now what does this all mean? Many children show interest in all kinds of characters from cartoons and film, it does not mean that they stay wide awake at night asking God why they can't have a normal body. I was young, I didn't understand what it all really meant.
Looking back, some of the answers were there all along, in the form of magical books filled with fairy tales. Most who have followed this blog know of my love for the Little Mermaid. It's one of my most favorite stories. I'm not referring to the Disney version, but the original with its devastating ending. I felt a strong connection to that tale, but there were others.
On yet another excursion to eat Taco Bell with my dad, I was pleasantly surprised to find a book with my tacos. The cover illustration seemed interesting, as did the title: Jack and the Beanstalk and The Princess and the Pea. "What is that all about?" I wondered as I crunched into my taco. My dad put the book away, explaining I needed to wait until after I was done eating. He was impressed that Taco Bell was giving out a nice book with their kid's meals. Not one for reading much, my dad was still aware of the importance of books. He also did not want me to mess it up with taco grease.
The book contained two stories. A longer main fairy tale and a smaller one to follow up. I have written about this book before when I used to write for RetroDaze.org. The pictures I am using are from that piece and I could not help but share them here.
Jack and the Beanstalk was full of fantasy and action.
|I don't know what I was doing with these stickers, but there they are!|
The Princess and the Pea had a different look and feel.
I felt a connection to her story. This idea of going through something painful to prove who you are would be a lesson I'd learn greatly later in life, but at four years old I studied the illustrations by Darcy May of the princess because we shared similar features. We both had fair skin and dark hair. I'd thumb through this book and imagine, "Will I look like her when I am a grown up?" I had no idea how I'd grow up to be my very own kick ass warrior princess who was a mermaid and could sleep on mattresses with a painful pea hidden below. I just knew thinking about this possible future was a source of comfort, and that if my dad ever knew this detail it would frighten him to his very core. The notion that who I was could do that to him, it made my heart ache. So I'd just continue eating my tacos with him, holding onto the things that brought us close instead of apart.
Hot Sass Packets
Now comes the part where we fast forward through time and space! I was about 13 or so. Right in the midst of a male puberty that made me feel disgusted and frightened with myself. There was no way I was going to escape this change. I was depressed. There was this anger, anger that was directed at the world, at my parents, and myself. After all my brain and body were in conflict, both claiming betrayal by the other. Thoughts of ending my life danced around my brain on a regular basis. I found myself wondering what it would be like to just end it all. But then I'd stop myself because such thoughts would eventually turn to plans, and I was always scared of the plans. I didn't want to take pills. I had no idea how I'd hang myself. Guns and knives scared me.
So I ate. I became my own Mrs. Pac-Man, ready to gobble up anything in my path. "M, we're going out to dinner, can we bring you back something?"
"Sure, I want a party pack of tacos from Taco Bell." I'd finish that party pack on my own and never look back. Super sized fries. Large pizzas to myself. I didn't care. As my body got bigger, my butt decided she'd had enough and would start ripping the pockets off of my jeans. Soon my wardrobe was a staple of elastic jeans or those jogging pants with the elastic at the ankles and waist, topped with an over-sized Tweety Bird shirt or something with Betty Boop on it.
Since I had gained so much weight, I had developed these little boobies on my chest. I wasn't paying much attention to this development, but eventually guys would point and laugh, "Hey, look! M has bigger tits than Brittney." And everyone would laugh. I'd be in this weird state of dysphoria where I knew they were making fun of me, but they were also saying I had tits which had me thinking, "Hey. I have breasts. They see that! Maybe they are seeing me the way that I see myself! Maybe, just maybe, my body will develop like the other girls and I can finally feel comfortable in my own skin." But then I'd look at Brittney and feel horrible as the reality would hit. She and I weren't laughing. Those guys were tearing us both down, her for being behind in developing like the other girls in our class and me for being overweight and feminine.
Did I mention that I had anger burning through me? Well at some point anger does the only thing it can, it explodes. My parents knew something was wrong with me. They could see the weight gain. My depression was beyond evident. So one day my dad wanted to bring home Taco Bell for dinner. As usual I wanted my taco party pack. By this point my mom was beginning to question if it was a good idea for me to be eating so much. The look on my face said it all, "Stand in the way of me eating a party pack of tacos, and shit is gonna get real ugly, real quick."
Now I am not really a hot sauce kinda gal. I am old school. I can eat my tacos just as they are and be delighted. My family on the other hand adores hot sauce, the hotter the better. Once my dad came home with our dinner I sat down and observed all of these hot sauce packets. What could be so great about those things? Urging me along, my dad told me to start with mild.
I did and it was magical. The mild hot sauce added this unexpected boost of flavor to my regular tacos. I couldn't get over this experience. I kept eating. Crunching and devouring my taco party pack like I was the only person left in the world. My mom was in shock, "You act like you haven't eaten before. You really need to slow down."
I could only give her a look. "Oh come on, he's a growing boy, let him eat," sighed my dad. Hearing all of this, the critique on my weight and the realization that I was a growing boy which would mean I'd eventually become a man, I just couldn't take much more. I exploded. Memories are fuzzy. I have no problem recalling events surrounding a Hugga Bunch hugglet from a kid's meal, but this particular dinner is a blur of screaming and tears running down my face, of my parents being confused by my outburst, frightened even. "What's wrong with M?" My little sibling was there too, at the table looking fearful as I stomped right into Hulk mode.
Crumpled on my bedroom floor, I could do nothing but cry. Eventually my dad tapped on my bedroom door. "M? You ok?" I dragged myself up from the floor and opened the door. Fighting back tears I offered my apologies, that I would also apologize to mom. I didn't know what to say. I didn't have the words to accurately express what I was going through.
Being ever concerned, my dad hugged me and said, "Hey, there are still some tacos left if you want to finish eating." I was hungry, so I nodded. We both gave each other a look. He knew damn well I was not going to pass on those remaining tacos. Soon our laughter broke into the air. He knew me. Maybe he didn't understand everything about me, but he knew me.
My mom came into the kitchen, there was a bit of stiffness in her demeanor, I think she was nervous I would go off again. I apologized and we hugged. The joyousness was missing from the tacos this time. I didn't want to finish the food. I wanted to go back to being alone in my room.
Even though the words weren't there, we were slowly catching to what was going on. We were all scared. My parents knew I was different. This difference would grow as the years passed. As I went through high school I found more of my voice, more of my independence to live more authentically. It was not easy, nothing rarely is. However that journey must be saved for another time. We're running out of time and there are two more tales to unwrap.
I would like, if I may, to fast forward even further with this strange journey. A great deal occurred as I entered adulthood. I found my path and became the person I had always hoped to be. While not a real life princess, I do fancy myself a bad ass warrior babe in a magical toy land. I got to grow up and live my life on my terms with my rules. It was not easy for everyone else to catch up, but most did. I count myself as a very lucky woman to have a family that loves and sees me for who I am. Naturally my dad and I still bond over our love for food. Especially Taco Bell. Some things never change, even if it seems like everything else does.
My family and I lost a beloved aunt a couple years ago. Her sister (my grandmother) had passed a number of months before. I was not ready for this. Both my grandmother and her sister had been so supportive of me during my transition. My grandmother rejoiced that she got to have a third granddaughter. My aunt was always a fan of my fashions, as she fancied herself a fashion maven. She once described during a Christmas dinner that she would greatly enjoy going under the knife to remove her pinky toes to more easily fit into smaller shoes. I always thought that was such a fabulous statement to make. Both my aunt and grandmother understood me in a way I had never expected an older generation to do. I had so much love for them. Our large Italian family was losing its matriarchs and it did not feel good.
It was a Catholic funeral, one of those lengthy ones. The kind that seems especially lengthy if you are no longer a practicing Catholic, as I was. After the service there was a three hour window of time to kill before the funeral reception. My dad and I had to drive back to my parent's house for something, I don't recall what, but while we were heading to the house my dad looked at me and said, "You wanna stop and get something to eat? I'm starving."
My eyes did their signature roll, "Dad, there will be food at the reception." There was going to be loads of traditional Italian food. Lasagna, pasta, and heartburn oh my! Shaking his head, my dad grinned, "Come on, a few tacos won't hurt us." His logic did make sense, and I was a bit famished. So we stopped at Taco Bell and ordered some crunchy tacos, a staple in my life if there ever was one. Have I mentioned yet how amazing the crunchy tacos are? No? Really? Well let me just shout from the ceiling: crunchy tacos are a stunning work of art! The combination of meat, lettuce, and shredded cheese makes me weak in the knees, to say nothing of that crunch. Oh that first crunch!
I digest. While my dad and I ate we also talked. About family. About people getting older. He got emotional and worried what would happen to my sibling and me after my mom and him were no longer here. "Who's gonna look after you? How are you gonna spend the holidays? You don't have any children, what will happen to our traditions?"
I reached out and grabbed his arm. Here he was, this big Italian man with a Godfather ringtone on his cell phone, looking like the biggest teddy bear. "Dad, I'm gonna be ok. I'm a tough as nails chick. I'll continue celebrating and honoring our traditions, no matter what." He nodded silently as the glassiness in his eyes eventually went away.
To break the melodrama spilling out over our tacos, one of us brought up some delicious morsel of gossip from the funeral that had us both in stitches. We eventually finished our tacos, which incidentally are always much crunchier in the restaurant than through the drive-thru. Afterwards we headed back to the reception where we ate again, this time with Italian food and no one had a clue about our earlier dash to the border.
Chicken Strips, Ooh, Ahh
My story and experiences are vast as a transgender woman. In the eight years since I started blogging I have only just started to share the details of my life regarding gender and how I experience it. There are more stories to share, more aspects to jump into, and I truly hope that you will all join in on that journey. This particular post was meant to be a glowing look at the bond that has grown with my dad along with our mutual love for food, especially Taco Bell.
This has all lead up to me discussing the topic of chicken strips. No, no, not just any old rinky dink chicken strip, but top secret chicken strips at Taco Bell. A couple months ago my dad called me in a very excited state,"Get to Taco Bell as soon as you can, they have chicken strips and they are out of this world."
I was perplexed. Chicken strips? At Taco Bell? I questioned his sanity. I searched through my Taco Bell app. Nope. No mention of chicken strips. I went to the Taco Bell website. Nothing. "Are you sure dad?" He sighed, "Yes I am sure M. Why would I lie about this?"
More internet searching proved a most enticing surprise. We were living smack in the middle of a test market. Taco Bell was looking to see if people would want chicken strips from the place notorious for thinking outside the bun. I was intrigued and delighted.
I drove so fast to the nearest Taco Bell and gasped when I saw the poster on the menu. Two options stood before me. One: a chicken strip taco. Two: chicken strips with choice of one dipping sauce. I picked both options. My goodness, did they ever taste like heaven! Especially paired with the avocado ranch sauce. I ended up speaking with my dad numerous times throughout the day about those chicken strips. The bonding over food continues. It's quite lovely. As a child my dad was worried and confused by who I was. As I grew up and became my own person, making choices that helped me thrive and find an inner happiness, I could see his worry and confusion disappear. I am forever thankful that I have him in my life and that I have his love and support, that I get to be his daughter.
I know one day this will all catch up to us. One day the food excursions will no longer happen. Ya know, life cycles and such. We can't live forever. This is not meant to be morbid, but more so a reminder that life can be quite wonderful. I am forever grateful that I have had these experiences with my dad, I cherish them. Through all the tacos, and now chicken strips, may these tales inspire and delight.
Also, be sure to visit Taco Bell Quarterly. Volume 2 is supposed to drop in February, and while yours truly might not be in it, I know there will be tons of wonderful things to consume from the amazing artists and writers that have contributed. So enjoy and follow them on Twitter for the latest!
P.S. Never go too far. Diary of a Dorkette is hoppin on Instagram and I have plans for more stories here. As always, thank you all for your support and friendship. Love ya'll!