Chris McIlhany


Chris McIlhany is a sophomore from Fredericksburg, Va. He is currently pursuing an English major with a concentration in comparative literature, and a minor in film studies at Hollins University. In their free time, they are reading a good book and tweeting about movies.

My Summer of Forbidden Fruit


by: Chris McIlhany

The summer before eighth grade, I cut my hair right above my ears. A reward for finally turning thirteen. I didn’t have to worry about ponytails, braids, or arguments with myself about how to restrain my hair. This also meant that I could stop using the flat iron and just let my curls be. I showed the hairdresser pictures of girls that looked like boys and boys that looked like girls, and she gave me a mix of something in between. My neck was bare and welcomed the warmth the breeze brought. This was early in the summer when it still felt like spring. This was also the summer I first tried a peach.

In the months that followed, I spent most days with my best friend, Anne. Sundays were the excruciating exception because we both attended church. My nondenominational mega church served as a contrast to her quaint Southern Baptist union. In the two and a half years of our
friendship, she never once visited my house, we were always at hers. We had privacy at Anne’s house, something that was hard to come by in mine. She lived about an hour away from me in a house older than my own, with countless miles of fields and trees surrounding it.

All throughout June and July, we spent our time outside. Through the woods, into the fields, and back to her house, we chased each other for hours on end. At times, we’d lay on the road, because there was no one to be seen for miles. After we got tired, we walked barefoot through the grass and confessed what we thought the rest of our lives would look like: Anne would never have braces again, and I would get taller; we’d both be artists and finally feel like we’d belong somewhere. A truism we held dear was that we would always remain friends.

The air conditioning didn’t work well throughout the old house, especially in Anne’s room. To seek shelter from the dog days we’d cool off in the kitchen, and at times, the staircase, where the vents graced us with cool air. On a particular day, we sought our usual shade on the stairs. It
was narrow and some of the planks were in the beginning stages of rot, so you had to choose where you sat wisely. We sat at the top of the stairs, which were even narrower. Our legs were touching—mine were unshaven, prickly, and poked hers. This was the penalty for not packing sleepover materials meticulously. Anne quickly got up, ran to the kitchen for a snack, and returned with a peach.

She held it rough, like a baseball, and asked me, “Would you like the first bite?”

I paused with nervousness before answering. I had never been so humiliated to simply confess that I hadn’t tried the fruit before. There was a hint of disgust in my admittance. “I’ve never had one before—.”

Anne cut me off; the rest of my excuse didn’t matter. “Oh my gosh! Okay, now you have to try it,” she proclaimed.

We both laughed and I accepted my fate. To ease my nerves, she took the first bite. I watched as the juice dripped over her hands and onto the staircase. Anne rotated the fruit to the unbitten side and held it up to my mouth. I took a sparing bite just as she did, and its orange and violet flesh dribbled all over my face and legs. I had never tasted fruit so sweet, and
excitement lit up both of our faces as she took one more bite and handed it to me to finish the rest, and down to the pit, I consumed it greedily.

We climbed the rest of the stairs to wash our sticky selves off in her bathroom, and proceeded with the rest of the day. I don’t remember the details about how we spent the next few hours; there was nothing different or off. Each evening spent together was identical: We’d gorge on sweets, watch a movie, gossip, think about the house getting broken into to scare ourselves, and speculate on what we thought sex was like. We went to bed under sweltering sheets that night, and I went home the following morning. I’d return in a few days; it was a routine we had both religiously fallen too into shape with.

Prior to the chop, my mother asked how I would react if people thought I was a lesbian. I felt indifferent, until I was faced with it. Being fresh into the eighth grade that August, my class of thirty or so thirteen and fourteen-year-olds, were graced with a lecture on sexual purity
during our Bible Studies classes. My Bible teacher routinely turned the classroom lights off to let us know that the day’s discussion was serious, and or the next fifty minutes, proceeded to reprimand a group of numbminded middle schoolers on the importance of abstinence. The word “sex” was never used once during the discussion, leaving me confused about what we were supposed to be remaining “pure” for. Staring at the clock waiting for the bell to ring, I remember the chilling sensation of my arm growing stiff when my Bible teacher relaxed her hand on my shoulder as she announced one of her important “takeaway” statements for the
eighth-grade girls.

“Men like modest and feminine women, women who aren’t different; women who act like women.”

I was snapped back into the moment. This was one of the first instances where it became alarmingly clear that I was separate from the rest of my peers, and that everyone seemed to know about something that I didn’t. Why was I different? How don’t I act like a woman? Anne and I had separate Bible Studies classes since they couldn’t indoctrinate us all at once. Immediately after asking a classmate for clarification at the end of the lecture, I found Anne in the hall and laughed in her face while giving a one-sentence summary of what she should expect later, “Oh my God, they want us to be virgins forever!” A small series of light whispers and giggles rung around us. This perhaps was one of the many subvert moments that contributed to the prejudgments about me then.

Later in the academic year, moments alike only became more frequent and overt. I started wearing flannels and cuffing my pants because I liked them extra baggy. When required to wear skirts for the in-school sermon on Wednesdays, I accepted the demerit for showing up in pants. Outside of school, my friends and family told me that they would love me no matter whom I chose to be, and up until the moment it became untrue, that statement never struck me as odd. All throughout the questions and borderline ridicule, I continued to wish it was summer again, and that Anne and I were sitting in a field sharing fruit. Eighth grade was the
last year of our friendship. During that year, we didn’t have any classes together, but when the bell rang for lunch, I scurried down the hall and was met with the relief and safety of her arms. She provided a burning ardor that no boy or ordinary female acquaintance could provide but, it
wasn’t a crush. I didn’t have feelings for Anne because being gay was a sin, lesbians were weird, and gender nonconformity was even weirder. My Bible teacher told me that all of those were choices, so I prayed and told God that he didn’t have to worry, because those were choices that I was not going to make.


bridge 2024