election reflection

I grew up in the early days of “women’s lib”, but I was nowhere near it’s epicenter or even anywhere close to the front.  The trickle down of that movement came to me in the form of slapstick ridiculous comedy via shows like the Brady Bunch, the Dick Van Dyke show (as well as the Mary Tyler Moore show) and I Love Lucy.  Words like “suffragette” were used, intentionally but not obviously as a diminutive rather than the real word, “suffragist”, depriving it of any influence or powerful meaning, and making it instead a subtle joke.  The 1975 Random House Dictionary defined *manly* using 21 adjectives including: strong, virile, resolute, brave and honest.  Where that same dictionary defined *womanly* as “like or befitting a woman; not manly”.  I didn’t know I was transgender, but it isn’t surprising either that I wasn’t proud of being female given the times and the mockery of even a suggestion of women’s equality that bordered on absurd.

I was heartened, albeit briefly, by Geraldine Ferraro and the Susan B. Anthony dollar coin.  But those fizzled out like flashes in the proverbial pan.  Given just enough ostensible attention to appear a serious attempt at progress toward equality while lacking any real substance.  The old bait and switch empty gesture.  Reality was that women were not taken seriously or given any real opportunities in politics, sports, medicine, science or religion (just to name a few areas).

I cried, as an adult, the first time I looked around an arena at so many little girls wearing Mia Hamm jerseys and t-shirts, gathered with their families in a relatively crowded football stadium to watch professional women’s soccer.  Those jerseys, seem so small a gesture and yet the power of little girls having women sports heroes was so powerful I was reduced to tears.  I didn’t have that growing up.  Unless you count Billie Jean King.  And there was no jersey for her.

Anyway, thanks for tripping with me down debby-downer-nostalgia-lane.  My point was actually that I didn’t have any truly powerful, smart, confident, serious women role models even if I had identified as female.  And since I didn’t have any of those, you can be assured I didn’t have any transgender role models.  The name “Renee Richards” was whispered disparagingly at some point in my childhood and though I have that vague recollection, I’m quite sure I didn’t have any connection or identification with her at all.  It amazes me how much things have changed since my childhood.

Though one year ago last week was a very bad day in the history of America (a colossal understatement), we did have a serious, smart, powerful woman candidate representing.  Even though the outcome seemed to validate all of my parents’ conspiracy theories of everything politic being corrupt and fixed.  My mother, in particular, has always been quite sure that votes get sucked into the dark vortex of nihility, the winner already decided by some mastermind politician with chimerical power.  Lots of things, not the least of which is the fact that women and others fought so long and so hard to make sure that everyone has the right to vote, keeps me voting every time there is an opportunity to do so.  Though I admit that I vote with the uncertainty that my vote really counts.  So last week when I went to vote for a woman for mayor of our city, I reminded myself not to be too disappointed if the straight, white, Christian, cis-man running against her beat her.  I mean, he had the backing of the police and firefighters’ unions, loudly proclaiming that everywhere in and around the city.  He was born and raised, something like fifth generation in this very same city, he boasted.  Which to me had the underlying current of “outsiders not welcome”, but perhaps that’s just my jaded experience in the world in which we currently live.  I noted each and every yard sign, poster, banner, flyer with his name on it as I drove through town daily, seemingly so many more than I saw representing her and I didn’t expect the woman to win.  But she did.  I stayed up way too late refreshing my phone screen as results came in and were counted.  The race was exceptionally close.  Decided in the end by only a few hundred votes.  One of which was mine.  I felt heartened and even a bit proud.  Not just because my choice of candidate won, but that hope that our democracy might still actually exist was kindled in me.

The following morning over coffee I perused the national election results.  On Tuesday November 7, 2017, in elections throughout the United States, there were 7 trans people elected into political offices.  I was stupefied, rendered speechless, overcome with emotion.  I had to read the articles several times each.  Where there have, in the history of America, not ever been even one openly or known transgender person elected to serve in a public office, in one election there were suddenly SEVEN.

The 7 transgender Americans who won in their elections were detailed in a blog post on the Human Rights Campaign website….

Andrea Jenkins, Minnesota (Minneapolis City Council)
Voters elected Jenkins to the Minneapolis City Council as the first openly transgender woman of color elected to public office in the U.S.

Danica Roem, Virginia (Virginia House of Delegates)
Roem unseated anti-LGBTQ Delegate Bob Marshall, and her electoral victory will make her Virginia’s first out transgender public official and the nation’s only out transgender state representative.

Gerri Cannon, New Hampshire (Somersworth School Board)
Cannon joined the Somersworth School Board yesterday. According to her LinkedIn page, she is planning on running for New Hampshire State Representative.

Lisa Middleton, California (Palm Springs City Council)
Middleton’s victory in the Palm Springs City Council election made her the first openly transgender person elected to a non-judicial office in the state of California.

Stephe Koontz, Georgia (Doraville City Council)
Koontz won a spot on her hometown city council, becoming her city’s first openly transgender elected official.

Tyler Titus, Pennsylvania (Erie School Board)
Titus’s win makes him the first out transgender person elected to office in Pennsylvania after a successful write-in campaign to join the ballot.

Phillipe Cunningham, Minnesota (Minneapolis City Council)
Cunningham earned a spot on the Minneapolis City Council. He is the first transgender man elected to a major city’s council in the U.S.

And I could not say it any better than HRC, “These candidates represent not only regional voters, but the 1.4 million transgender Americans across the country.”

“For trans youth across the country, Danica Roem’s election isn’t just a headline or even history,” HRC National Press Secretary Sarah McBride told The New York Times. “It’s hope. Hope for a better tomorrow.”

Advertisements
Posted in everyday stuff, no man's land | Leave a comment

all changes great and small

I guess now is as good a time as any to do a quick check-in and update.  While I’m still on the lowest possible dose of testosterone, and while it has only been a few short months, and while the changes are teeny-tiny-eensy-weensy, there are some changes beginning to emerge.

That is, of course, in addition to the cerebral congruence and overall eudaemonia (that one is just for you Kris!) I have been experiencing since the first dose.  I really do wish I could adequately describe the inner changes.  It isn’t that I was an emotional disaster before or that I’m ecstatic or blissful now.  The inner changes have been both subtle as a warm breeze and simultaneously shocking as a bucket of ice water.  I feel an inner peace and calm I have not been able to sustain before.  Yes, of course I have felt glimmers of it.  But those feelings have been flashes, glimpses, shadows.  Now I feel *right* inside, grounded in an imprecise, but definitely positive way.  It isn’t exactly happiness or even confidence and certainly not euphoria.  It is more ethereal, harmonious and placid, a contentment and overall tranquility.  And the feeling is panoptic, prevailing.  More the underlying lens of how I am and how I experience things.  It isn’t that I don’t still have reactions to things in my life that are difficult, painful or frustrating.  Or even joyful or effervescent.  It’s as if I’ve always experienced living using only one lung or one eye or even had grey-lensed glasses on and now, *poof* I can see with both eyes, breathe with both lungs, see without the film of grey.  It isn’t that the air is always sweet or the view always beautiful.  But I can experience all of it with a sense of rightness and tranquility that has always been elusive to me before now.  I know I’ve said similar things in other posts trying to explain.  And I’m sorry for the repetition.  But I also feel committed to trying to describe this most indescribable metamorphosis as I’m experiencing it.

As for physical changes, those are still nearly non-existent.  I see no significant outer changes.  I look closely at specific things that I know can change with testosterone, like the shape of my body or my jawline.  And so far, I see no change at all.  I’m also closely watching, with suppressed breath, my hair.  No change so far as far as I can tell.  The hair on my legs has evened out.  Though I wouldn’t call it “thick”, nor would I consider myself hairy.  But I don’t think hairiness runs in my family either.  It’s been almost 20 years since my dad died, and I never really noticed whether or not the hair on his arms or legs was more or less than other men.  He could grow a good beard and mustache though.  And that’s as far as I care to go in considering my male relatives and their hairiness, because I keep coming back to the fact that most are bald.

Aaanywaaaaay…. on other hair fronts… As I said above, the hair on my legs is evening out.  Whereas before starting testosterone the hair on my calves was patchy and scraggly and in general ridiculous looking.  I still have no hair evident on my thighs or upper legs.  There is no hair (except the singular wiry one that grows from the mole) on my face.  When I am driving and I look at my arms stretched before me toward the steering wheel, with the sun shining on them through both the window and windshield, I sometimes notice faint, translucent peach fuzz.  Was it there before?  I never looked.  I never noticed.  And in the time it takes me to ponder, either my attention is drawn back to driving or the sunshine changes ever so slightly and the noticing changes and I’m left wondering if my eyes were playing tricks on me or if it was my imagination.  Also in the arena of “am I making this shit up” is that I’m beginning to feel a bit stronger physically.  Nothing major, but I noticed last week that I was much more easily able to carry 5 bags of groceries up the stairs without straining. (heaven forbid I should have to make more than one trip)  Again, I don’t know if I AM any stronger or if it is a mind-over-matter or wishful thinking.  Just that things don’t seem quite as heavy to me as they used to.

The side effects of testosterone that are definitely real begin with the area close to where I rub the gel (my shoulders and upper arms) as well as the hairline at the back of my head, both festering with blotches of acne.  And it seems to be getting worse.  It’s gross.  Perhaps along the lines of TMI (too much information), I’ve always been a *picker*.  I’ve always liked popping zits (when I’ve had them), picking scabs and peeling dried sunburnt skin.  This acne is different than any pimple I have previously had experience with though.  There is no *popping* the small red dots with white middles.  Pressing, squeezing or dragging a thumbnail across them only makes them angry and red as well as painful and sore.  So I’m washing more.  While we have not had to buy soap since I started making it about 7 years ago, I’ve taken to using more astringent drying store-bought soaps because mine is too moisturizing.  Whenever I have the opportunity I’m also wiping those areas and my face with rubbing alcohol.  I guess it’s pretty well-managed, and probably not-so-noticeable to the casual observer, but I am very much aware of it.  It feels revolting to me and regardless of whether others notice it, I can see and feel it.

There is also now the issue of my voice.  Changes there are definitely beginning.  At first I thought I was getting run-down, coming down with a cold.  My throat felt strange and scratchy and my voice was a bit hoarse.  I’d been singing hours and hours a day and speaking more than usual because of the month-long Jewish holiday services I lead.  So I chalked it up to that.  I noticed that my voice has been much much lower first thing in the morning, but by afternoon it gets mostly back in my regular range.  So again, I chalked the changes up to overuse.  And then my good friend Joyce told me, with her usual frankness, that I was getting that *helium voice* that trans-guys get and told me to “knock it off”.  Nothing like breaking it to me gently – LMAO!  But I knew she was right.  And I totally love her for that honesty.  Especially since I clearly can’t tell.  I’d also sworn Joyce and a few others who know to promise to tell me if/when changes became apparent.  The problem with my new helium voice is that I have no idea how to *knock it off*.  My voice is like a ship on a roiling sea, swaying, lurching, pitching.  I don’t have control over it.  I can feel the inner urge to speak lower, from deeper in my throat, down towards my belly.  But I don’t know if that is psychological or physical.  I can feel the connection between the base of my throat/top of my chest and my nasal passages as I speak.  And I’m noticing that it is taking more breath to get sound out than I am used to.  So in addition to the helium effect, I also feel as though I’m not modulating my volume well at all.  This works well for the hard-of-hearing elderly with whom I work.  Not so much for lunch with peers who are wondering why I’m shouting intermittently during casual conversation.  So, not so surprising, I’m very self-conscious.  I find myself wondering if my voice and other changes are obvious, if others are noticing and commenting to one another.  I don’t like feeling like I’m being talked about, but I also understand why people might not ask me directly.  Luckily it is, as I’ve already said, immediately after a month of working overtime and using my voice more, and hopefully most folks (those who do not know and with whom I do not care to discuss) are also assuming changes have to do with that.  In the meantime I remain contentedly somewhere in the middle, at peace with the uncertainty and enjoying the beauty of becoming.

Posted in blessings, everyday stuff, no man's land | 1 Comment

your neighbor’s ass

We are told, more than once, in the Torah that if you see your neighbor’s ass gone astray you must do something to help.  Even if you don’t particularly like your neighbor.  Exodus goes as far as to say even if it is your enemy’s ass, you can’t just stand by and do nothing.  Loosely translated: “If the one who hates you’s beast is struggling under a burden, you must help.”

I had just wrapped up a 12 hour day at work.  It was Yom Kippur and I was completely spent, exhausted and slightly fried, having been standing, singing, leading services for more than 6 of those hours.  I literally stumbled to my car and slithered in.  I had driven no more than 3 blocks when some neighborly guy driving by rolled down his window, gesticulating to me that my front passenger-side tire was flat (I was so tired I hadn’t even noticed the uneven lurching of the car).  I limped dispiritedly straight to the nearest gas station (which was just closing and therefore unable slash unwilling to help) where I called AAA.  

On the verge of becoming a complete and total hot mess, I was engaging every contemplative practice I’d ever learned in a rather feeble attempt to not fall apart.  I was tired and hungry and felt like I’d just done a graceless faceplant over the threshold into a new year.  A rather un-auspicious beginning.  The lovely folks at AAA told me I’d have about an hour’s wait.  Good thing I had smarties in my car to stave off starvation.

As the gas station attendant closed doors and turned off lights around me, I sat in the parking lot trying not to feel too bad for myself, making valiant attempts to convince myself that this was not a portent of the way this year was going to be.

As I focused on my deep breathing, meditating and envisioning calming waterfalls, a pickup truck pulled into the parking lot behind me and flashed it’s high beams on the back of my car.  It hadn’t been an hour, but I was hopfully sure it was AAA.  As I got out of my car, the truck screeched into reverse and shrieked into drive, pulling aggressively around my car, skidding to a dusty, fume-ridden, dare-I-say irritated stop in front of me.

A short, burly, kind of dirty-looking guy with a crew-cut and day old stubble on his chin got out of the pickup.  I was taken up short in my advance to introduce myself.  The look he gave me was pure malevolence.  And he took his eyes off me quickly, focusing on the tools in the back of his truck with forced intention.

Now, for full disclosure, the back of my car does say a little bit about me.  I have a Black Lives Matter sticker displayed prominently in the middle of the back of the car.  I also have a bumper sticker with religious symbols and the words “Prays Well With Others”.  These mark me as somewhat “liberal” I suppose, though I would say before this interchange I had not considered the ire those messages might engender in others. Stopping short at his abrupt exclusion, I considered myself for a moment.  In addition to the bumper stickers, I am also more than painfully aware of my appearance and the judgments and/or conclusions others may jump to at first sight of me.  On this particular evening I was wearing all white (my garb for the holiness of the day) and, as always, my large Bukhari-cap-style yarmulke.  Also, as always, I present as of indeterminate gender.  Not that he would have taken in all of that, given the studiousness of his disregard.  Just that had he taken in anything about me, these things might have stood out.  Perhaps I was someone he was not predisposed to like.  Still, I found his brusqueness disquieting.

Having just been engaged in mindfulness techniques and exercises while waiting, I found myself in a relatively calm contemplative place.  So I noted my discomfort at what felt like being shunned.  I noted it, but didn’t feel compelled to act in any certain way as a result.  As I stood watching him work I tried not to let myself jump to conclusions.  Maybe he was just having a bad day.  Perhaps an even worse day than mine.  Or maybe he was a Trump supporter who viewed me with disgust as some crazy progressive bleeding-heart libtard.  I was definitely feeling more of the latter.  So much for not jumping to conclusions.  But you know when you get a vibe from someone.  And I was definitely getting a vibe from this guy.  So I texted Val.  I told her that if I were to disappear, it was likely that I’d been chopped up into tiny pieces and disposed of somewhere in the vicinity of where I currently was.  I described my current circumstances.  I can do that with Val, share my craziness without shame.

In the meantime, I was also keenly aware that typically I revert to a habitual response with men like this in these types of situations.  I tend to default to a rather pitiful, though no less valiant attempt at *damsel in distress*.  Laugh if you must, but it generally has the desired effect of diffusing the aggressive energy of the situation.  Somehow the damsel in distress alleviates any challenge to the authority or, gag, superiority of the person (usually a man) I’m engaging with.  I’m not saying I’m proud of this behavior.  I’m not.  It is a learned response that I think many women regress to in situations like this, whether they admit it or not.

“Not this time”, I thought.  I don’t know whether I was just too tired to play the fair maiden or whether the contemplation of the day and the time meditating in the car while waiting simply grounded me.  Either way, I did not engage in my familiar *womanly*(sic) ways.  I neither asked insipid questions nor chatted away inanely trying to connect.  Nor did I bat a single eyelash.  I simply remained quiet, leaning against the gas station, watching him work with discourteous compendiary efficiency.  He concluded by throwing his heavy tools with unnecessary force into the back of his truck with a loud clang.  As he walked around to his driver’s side door I said, “Thank you”, to which he may or may not have grunted.  And then he was gone.  I breathed a sigh of relief as I got back in my car.

I texted Val.  I told her I was safe and thanked her for being there yet again.  I wasn’t at all sure he hadn’t left the lug nuts intentionally loose and that I wouldn’t still end up skidding unceremoniously off the road into a ditch.  But for the moment, I was safe.  I wondered briefly whether he really was just having a bad day or whether he simply found me so offensive that he refused to engage with me at all.  For some reason, even if it was the latter explanation, I didn’t feel bad.  A new feeling in and of itself.  You know what else I didn’t feel?  Yucky.  And that is exactly how I end up feeling any time I’ve played the damsel in distress.  I feel sullied and stupid, ashamed and pathetic.  I didn’t feel any of that this time.  It was a totally new, positive and uplifting experience.  In more ways than one this total stranger unburdened my ass.

 

 

Posted in everyday stuff, in the spiritual realm, no man's land | 3 Comments

revolutionary – a book report

One of my besties is a public school teacher.  Over the summer she attended a conference and bought me a present.  Hooray for that, right?!  When she called to tell me she had something for me I couldn’t imagine what she could have gotten me at a teacher’s conference.  And I definitely didn’t think it was going to be better than the Daenery’s Targaryen bobblehead she’d already gotten me (thanks Flo!).  Ok, well maybe it isn’t cooler than my Kaleesi statue, but it really is close.

Anyway, my friend went to a session about LGBTQ topics in schools and there was an author there talking about his book.  The book, “Revolutionary”, is an historical fiction, which is one of my go-to favorite genres.  Revolutionary, is about Deborah Samson – a woman who dressed and fought in the Revolutionary War as a man.  It turns out that Deborah Samson is a many generations-past relative of this author, Alex Myer, and it turns out that he was even more interested in her because he is transgender himself.  And one might wonder if Deborah Samson was as well.

I knew nothing of Deborah Samson or her story despite the fact that I grew up in Easton Massachusetts where Deborah Samson spent many years of her life.  I lived and played and traveled in the area where she lived and fought and died and is buried.  In school I learned about the Revolutionary War.  But never once was Deborah Samson (or any other woman) ever mentioned.  After reading Revolutionary, I was motivated to learn more about her life and who she was.  I learned where she is buried and that there is actually a statue of her in a neighboring town (a town my family has owned and operated a store in for close to 50 years!).  The statue is in front of the public library for goodness sake!  Really, given all this, one would think I might have encountered Deborah Samson before now.

In reality, I’m not at all surprised that I had never learned about Deborah Samson.  But I can’t help wondering what it would have been like for me, growing up, feeling so different and isolated, if I had learned about her.  What would it have been like for me as a kid to know I was not alone?  To know that I wasn’t wrong or broken?

The book is excellent.  Exceptionally well-written and with likable relatable characters.  The author does a phenomenal job of walking a very fine line of letting his character be who she was and not imposing modern (read that: trans) intentions onto her, deciding who she should have or even might have been.  There were a few times while reading I wished he had given her more of a trans-identity.  There is one romance the author sets Samson in that doesn’t sit right with me.  But mostly it was a fantastic reading experience.  He masterfully and seamlessly wove pronouns and names (Deborah as a man is Robert).  It is neither confusing nor burdensome to follow.  Unlike the book “Suits Me” (the story of Billy Tipton) where that author insists Billy dressed and presented himself as a man only to make his way in jazz music, utilizing female pronouns throughout the book, Myers leaves things open, using pronouns in varied and interesting ways, allowing readers to wonder, dream and relate, coming to their own conclusions.  The truth is, we don’t know whether Deborah Samson was transgender.  What we do know was that she was adventurous, brave, inspiring and heroic.  Both as Robert and as Deborah.

I hope that we are raising our children to question the boxes others draw around them.  Not necessarily to always chafe or rebel, but to at least be aware of the lines and question the fit.  Nina became interested in Revolutionary as my enthusiasm became more palpable the more I read.  But it is an adult book and, bright as she is, she couldn’t have read it with any real comprehension.  So as I read I summarized for her.  Nightly she would come up to our room and snuggle on the bed next to me and ask, “What’s going on with Robert now?”  I told her about Deborah’s yearnings, Robert’s adventures, and the inner secret fears that nearly everyone carries with them for any number of reasons.  We talked about the strict rules and roles for women in those times; the things they were expected to do as well as the things they were not allowed to do.  Nina was fascinated.  So fascinated, that for her birthday I ended up buying her a book about Deborah Samson for young readers.  She devoured it and we talked about the differences.  The young reader’s book didn’t question why Deborah would want to dress or live as a man.  Overall though, it wasn’t a bad book.

Also for her birthday, Nina requested a set of tools.  She’s very interested in building and dismantling and getting a real look at how things work.  We have a workbench in our basement and I helped her clear it off and set a space for her.  But what would we actually build down there?  I don’t have any substantive experience building anything but our yearly sukkah.  I may have mentioned one or a dozen times that my dad wasn’t exactly handy.  And even if he had been a guy who built things with wood, he probably wouldn’t have shared those skills with his daughter.  I took Nina to the library to look for woodworking books for children.  I figured I could learn alongside her.  Perhaps we’d build a birdhouse.  There were several books of either beginning woodworking or children’s woodshop books.  We found one that had several good but simple projects in it.  Pretty much all the books looked like this.  Nina was both incensed and amused.

 

 

 

 

Posted in blessings, everyday stuff, no man's land | 3 Comments

i scream you scream

I taught Joita “I scream. You scream. We all scream for cake.” when she was little.  For years she thought that was the saying.  She even laughed and corrected someone once.  She’s still a bit miffed at me for doing that to her.  Nina, on the other hand, likes to say, “I scream. You scream. We all scream for sushi.”  Kids are funny.  Even without adult humor intervention.

Sibling humor intervention is often somewhat less amusing.  Sometimes I was a jerky older sibling.  Not usually or even often.  But sometimes.  There was one time, I couldn’t have been more than 10.  I was probably older than 5 or 6 though.  Which meant Peter had to have been around 4 or 5.  I was thinking about this particular incident because at dinner one night last week Nina and Joita were at each other’s throats, irritating not only one another, but me as well with their constant bickering.  They asked if Peter and I ever fought.

I told them about the time we’d gone out for ice cream as a family.  Mom wasn’t a fan of the local ice cream parlors (she was a Baskin Robbins gal).  So we had to drive farther than was pleasant to be in the car with one another.  Cruising in the Red Bomber – dad’s spirited little red Chevy Chevelle – with the cracked black fake leather seats that got hot as blazes in the summer.  No A.C., crank windows and the smell of stale cigarette smoke – the overflowing ashtray and yellow stained windows added to the ambiance.  Dad would be smoking away with all the windows closed except those little triangular *vent-windows* that did nothing to dispel the gagging fug of second-hand smoke.  And I’m quite sure our sibling squabbling did nothing to enhance the pleasure of the drive for dad either.

We got ice cream cones and before we pulled out of the parking lot I decided to amaze (or antagonize) Peter.  I pressed my ice cream down firmly with my tongue into the cone.  Then I held it upside down and said, “Look, I’m magic.”  Peter, younger, stupider, more gullible and less worldly, looked on in awe.  Then he turned his ice cream upside down.  And in the time it took him to say, “I’m magic too” the chocolate scoop fell out of the cone, onto his leg, rolled off onto the seat and liquescently came to rest where the seat and its back came together.  I laughed.  I’m laughing now recalling it.  Peter was even more stunned (though less awed).  My father practically swerved off the road screaming, “Jesus Christ!” Following this heartfelt prayer he mumbled, “That fucking kid could fuck up a free lunch”.

Dad pulled over, still muttering about Peter’s stupidity.  He twisted himself around, grabbed the ice cream from the seat with his bare hands, dragging his fingertips deep into the crack in some vain attempt to *get it all* and, wiping it up all together jammed it back on Peter’s cone.  “There!” he said disgustedly, turning back and wiping his hand on paper towels, still muttering to himself.   Without another backward glance, he thrust back a wad of napkins, instructing one of us to clean up the rest of the seat.  Peter looked heartbrokenly at his filthy blob of melting ice cream.  Dust and dirt coated it as it dripped down the cone onto his hand.

I wish I could say I stopped laughing to help him.  I wish I could say I offered him some of my ice cream (hey, I felt  bad but not that bad).  I honestly don’t remember what happened next.  Whether he threw his ice cream out the window or whether one of my parents did.  I don’t remember him eating that ice cream.  It was a long painfully silent ride home.

So I told that story at dinner and Nina and Joita were horrified even as they snickered.  Joita, always one for social justice, put down her fork and challengingly proclaimed, “So, it seems you owe uncle Peter an ice cream.”  Nina chimed right in, “Yeah mommie! You owe him ice cream!”  I had to laugh.  I texted Peter and told him that I’d told the girls *the ice cream story* and that they felt I owed him an ice cream.  He wrote immediately back, “I know exactly what ice cream story you told them and damn right you do!”  I responded by telling him he was welcome to come and claim his recompense any time.

Shockingly, he called a few days later and asked if he could come the following weekend.

While I didn’t believe he’d actually have the wherewithal to follow through on this plan, I did have a few discussions with the kids about the potential for his visit.  I had to explain the distinct probability that he would not get it together enough to actually show up.  There was also the possibility that he wouldn’t be *presentable* enough to be with them.  And by that I meant that if he showed up not in his right mind or appeared to be *under the influence* I would not spend time with him, or allow him to be around them.  Nina let the message of my apprehension go over her head.  She chose to focus on where we would take Uncle Peter for his long-overdue ice cream.  We have several good ice cream shops close to us, at least 7 perfectly good options.  Joita got quiet and withdrawn.  She didn’t participate in the discussion at all.  I could see her zoning out, clearly uncomfortable.

Later that evening, sitting side by side on the couch reading, Joita quietly closed her book and said, “Can we not bring your brother to Cabot’s?” {Cabot’s is an ice cream shop close to us that is our family favorite} I said, “Sure.  How come?”  Joita squirmed in discomfort and averted her eyes, looking down at the closed book in her lap.  She explained that Cabot’s employees are mostly high school students.  And while many of them are not necessarily her friends, they all go to the same high school she does.  And then looking as if she would burst into tears of hot shame, she said she would be embarrassed to be seen with Peter.  We had a long discussion about that kind of shame and being ashamed of being ashamed.

Jo felt she was not being a *good person* by feeling embarrassed by Peter.  But she was and is embarrassed by him and I told her that feelings are not right or wrong.  They simply are.  I wondered with a flash of pain and panic if she ever felt ashamed of me.  Joita, my expression mirrored on her face, shared that she would feel terrible if I were ever ashamed of her.  Quickly adding that she was never ashamed of me.  {Pause}  Except for that one time in the airport when I starting dancing the Cupid Shuffle and got everyone in line dancing with me.  I smiled, remembering.  And then assured her that Peter’s situation was different.  And that I could never be ashamed of her.

In the end, Peter made his way to our rather sleepy city on Sunday.  It took him buses, trains and a commuter rail, but he did it.  He texted from a fairly close train stop and I drove to pick him up alone.  I made it clear that I would have to see him and make the determination as to whether he was in any shape to be with my family.

He actually looked fairly clear-headed.  For him.  He was dirty, dressed poorly and smelled somewhat rancid.  But he seemed able to focus and engage.  We spent some time together, sharing stories and catching up before I brought him home.  He was quiet and gentle with the girls and was genuinely happy to meet Ruby for the first time.  Even if she didn’t share his joy and stayed shy the whole time he was with us.  We walked to the closest ice cream place all together with Emily and our next door neighbors.

Sitting in the ice cream shop Joita noticed that Peter was the only one to get his ice cream in a cup and not a cone.  She teased him, “Guess you’re still traumatized about that cone incident huh?”  We all laughed.

It’s hard to spend time with my brother.  For so many reasons.  It takes an act of courage to connect with him.  Even beyond the fact that, like Joita, I am also ashamed of being seen with him in public.  To never know what you’re going to get.  To never know when the other shoe will drop, or when you’ll get that phone call.  To see him so down and out, homeless and filthy and frail and vulnerable in so many ways.  To never know if it’s the last time you will see him.  Spending time with Peter requires near super-human patience.  As much as I understand his limitations, he can be incredibly frustrating, stupid and stubborn.  His brain so damaged from so many years of drugs and trauma that he is practically impossible to relate with.  Conversation needs to be concrete and superficial even though he believes and tries to act as if he were a Rhodes Scholar.  His knowledge of the world is stunted, limited and often backwards.  Yet he is quick to give advice and correction.  The guy is infuriating and pathetic and broken beyond repair.  And he is the only sibling I have.

Posted in brother's keeper, family of origin, parenting | Leave a comment

the nature of mansplaining – take 1

Let me mansplain something to you about mansplaining.  No, that doesn’t sound right.  I’m pretty sure I am not a mansplainer by either nature or nurture.  At least I don’t think I am.  I hope I’m not.  My brother Peter has always been prone to offering unsolicited advice on topics he has (literally) no familiarity with, which I have to say has always fascinated me.  We used to just call it unsolicited advice, but now we call it *mansplaining*.  I like the term  *mansplain* better because number 1, solicited or not, it is never *advice*.  It’s always a condescending patronizing lecture.  Often a painfully slow meander down a narcissistic arrogant boulevard that goes unendingly nowhere.  Also, I find, in my own experience, that a far greater number of men end up engaging in this act of pedanticity (a word I’m pretty sure I made up to mean the irritating habit of being pedantic – assuming you know more about just about everything and feeling the need to explain just about everything to the rest of us dummies who clearly need your expertise and advice on just about everything).  But I digress.

I have long been interested (read that: exasperated) by mansplaining.  Even before there was a name for it.  In part, because I am one of those poor souls who seem to be a magnet for mansplainers.  I don’t know why.  Maybe I have a naturally stupid look on my face (instead of resting bitch face, maybe I have resting stupid face) that compels people to explain things to me.  Or perhaps I am just too unassuming and people misinterpret my openness and curiosity for bewilderment.  Whatever it is, I am often on the receiving end of a mansplanation.  And quite frankly, more often than not, the mansplanations are; (1) boring, (2) something I already know – oftentimes better than the person mainsplaining to me, (3) something that the mansplainer has absolutely no knowledge or experience with, and/or (4)  something I wasn’t interested in to begin with!  And I end up held captive because I’m just too – polite? demure? afraid to anger, offend or shame the mansplainer? much of a wuss? – to interrupt and say dismissively, “yeah buddy, I already know all that”.  Because we all know the mansplainer’s response to that – I end up being the bad guy.

Hoo boy, this is going to require more than one post.  I want to know what the thought process is that leads to and accompanies people who mansplain.  It is definitely an unfortunate tendency, at least in my opinion.  In addition to finding it highly tiresome, I end up feeling trapped, claustrophobic, as if I am about to suffocate, unable to disengage myself from the mansplanation.  I guess what I need more than the knowledge of why people mansplain, is the ability to get the hell away from a mansplanation once I’m stuck having to listen to one!  Or better yet, the understanding of why people tend to mansplain things to me so I can give off different vibes in the first place.

I’ll give you an example:  As you all know, hockey is the love of my life.  I currently play on a few mens’ leagues.  I am generally the only non-cis-male on the ice.  In each game I am one of 2 (out of approximately 25) people who play goal.  I am frequently the recipient of *feedback* or *advice* on how and where to play my position.  Now, I’m not opposed to getting advice.  I am relatively new (only been playing goal for 2 years) to the position.  I have absolutely no problem (and actually welcome it) when the other goalies give me help, suggestions or recommendations on how to play the position.  What I do take issue with is that I am frequently receiving instruction from men who have NEVER PLAYED GOAL!  Some, who are, like me, novices to playing hockey at all.  So you say, well maybe they have WATCHED more hockey than I have.  I thought that too at first.  But then I watched as total beginners have wobbled out onto the ice, careening into the boards, barely able to skate never mind play and no one gives them any help, feedback, lectures, advice, or suggestions.  Defensemen lining up near the forwards.  Forwards lining up on the wrong side of the red line.  There’s one guy I refer to as “crazy-legs”.  The guy is downright hazardous!  Falling down all the time, crashing into members of his own team, losing his stick, skating into the net and even scoring on his own team, perpetually off-sides.  I have never once seen any man on either team approach crazy-legs and *help* him by explaining anything to him.  Even small easily explained things like being “off-sides”.  Not a word.  They just let him have at it.  And sometimes I fantasize about dropping my stick and my gloves mid-mansplanation, taking off my helmet and saying, “Here you go pal.  You wanna show me how it’s done?  Why don’t you take a turn between the pipes while guys fire 100-mile-an-hour slapshots at your face.”  Perhaps something like this?

I’m thinking about this all now for a few reasons.  One, I feel like I’m beginning to take up a little more *man-space* in the world lately and I don’t want to end up a mansplainer.  Two, I feel less tolerant being the recipient of mansplanations since starting on testosterone.  And I don’t know exactly what it is.  As in is it mind over matter.  I just know I have even less patience with unsolicited avuncular advice and rambling than I ever have (and I didn’t have a lot to begin with).  It certainly is something I’m going to have to continue to consider.

 

 

 

Posted in everyday stuff | Leave a comment

plus or minus 30

I know it’s been more than 30 days.  And, as they say, the best laid plans… often go awry.  I had every intention of writing about my feelings and reactions and responses to testosterone on a regular basis, in real time, as changes happen.  But change is slow.  In my case, nearly non-existent.  I could just have you reread my day five post and you’d know pretty much all there is to know.  Five days or thirty days, I’ll say it again, I’m not on enough testosterone to make any real discernible difference.  I mean, outwardly at least.  Inwardly, the initial changes of “feeling like I’m running on the right operating system or with the correct gasoline“, and feeling upbeat and happy continue to prevail.  In addition to the placid waters of my soul, much of my internal critical dialogue remains quiet.  It’s hard to adequately describe or even explain.  It isn’t that I don’t have any inner repartee.  I do. I still think to myself, in my head, and comment or wonder over things, but the judgement and derogatory disparagement has lessened to a great degree.  I can look in a mirror, for example, and wonder if what I’m seeing is what is real or if my dysphoria simply does not allow me to see what my body truly looks like.  And even though I’m pondering this question, I can move on without an answer and, more importantly, without self flagellation.  I wonder if my original primary pundit with all its negativity and scathing critique and now the testosterone tranquility is specific to me, and if not, what this means on a grander scale.  Do most men simply not have that inner running negative commentary about themselves?  How glorious for them!  And are most women subjected to the ever-present litany of antagonism that erodes any sense of self-confidence or appreciation?  How awful.  And , the age-old question, is it nature or nurture?  Or should everyone just take testosterone?!

In my 5-day post I began with the feeling that the writing should have come more easily.  I believe the exact phrase I used was “easy-peasy super-cinchy“.  More than one person pointed that out to me, suggesting that those were not very *manly* descriptors, gently poking fun at me for my frilly, feminized language.  In the same vein, I have also been told that men do not *tinkle* or say they have to tinkle if they need to use the bathroom.  I’m going to have a hard time changing those things I think.  I like playing with language and believe language should be colorful and fun.  Lucky for me I have my handy-dandy thesaurus.  So from now on I’m going to announce my need to micturate any time I need to tinkle.  But back to my update…

One side-effect of testosterone that had me worried was the potential for increased anger.  As I’ve stated many times, my patience is tissue-thin on a good day and I have been anxious about any additional fuel for my already smoldering fire.  Since starting testosterone, I wouldn’t say I have felt an increase in anger or aggression per se, but I would definitely say I feel more… I’m not sure what word adequately describes the feeling… I guess I would say predatory.  I’m not sure how to tease it out or label it other than that.  It’s more a flavor than a feeling, more esoteric than explicit.  It isn’t necessarily a bad thing and feels emotionally quite neutral.  It’s something a hair beyond confidence but just shy of aggression and there is a hint of sexual element in there.  It is definitely something new, something that is on my radar and I find myself noting it as I move through my days.

As I move through my days, I don’t feel that I am so different in the world, as if I present or appear any different to others.  But I do feel inexorably different within myself.  And perhaps that translates into different in the world.  I don’t know.  I’m also not really talking with people about all this, so maybe it’s harder for me to say.  Of the very few folks I’m sharing with, they say I’m just me, they don’t notice a perceptible difference.  Though Joyce swears I smell different (even though I have worn the same cologne (men’s) since my freshman year in high school) so I’m not sure what she’s sniffing.

It isn’t that I’m impatient, eager, yearning or pushing for more outward signs of change.  I’ve said from the beginning that I am comfortable moving slowly and letting things unfold gradually.  It’s more that I do feel so different internally and it’s hard for me to believe that those inner changes are not at all visible outwardly.  Remember the first time you had sex?  Actually, remember the day after the first time you had sex?  Something monumental had happened to you, your inner landscape had confetti flying everywhere.  And yet, no one could see that.  You walked around all that day with a secret smile playing on your lips, a subtle shiver running down your spine, but no one else could detect even a hint of anything.  My experience with testosterone is like that.  It is reminiscent of when I realized gay was a thing and that it might explain me (when I was 14).  It was an epiphany, such a huge revelation, a shattering of worlds, so momentous a reality shift for me.  And the fact that no one could see anything different about me was astonishing.

Actually there is one tiny outward difference having started testosterone.  The only outer physical difference is that I’m beginning to see some acne.  I had ZERO acne when I went through puberty as a girl despite the fact that I wore thick pancake makeup base for quite a while (amazing it didn’t clog all my pores with filth and ruin my skin forever).  This testosterone acne is new and weird to me.  Greasy, red zits that feel gross and yet, I can’t seem to pop them.  They’re just there.  My skin feels (though doesn’t seem to look) more oily and I’m finding myself using straight-up rubbing alcohol a few times daily to keep it at bay.  Mostly the acne is on my shoulders and hairline.  I’ve gotten a few beauties on my face.  But I don’t think the average person in my life would notice it as anything unusual.  Especially if I can restrain myself from picking at them.

All in all I feel quite content, happy, hopeful and grateful.  Amen.

I’m almost the guy on the right 🙂

Posted in no man's land | Leave a comment

another out of the mouths…

Last week we went out for dinner with Emily’s folks who were in town visiting.  Our favorite local pub was closed for renovations, so we ended up at another small Irish pub close by.  Toward the end of the meal Nina had to use the bathroom and Emily asked me to take her (because Emily was helping Ruby).  I took a quick look around.  There were 2 young guys at the bar, us, and a middle aged woman and her mother in the entire restaurant, so I felt relatively safe.  I brought Nina into the women’s bathroom and stood outside her stall holding the stall door slightly ajar (according to her specifications so that neither of us could look at the other but we each could still see that the other was there) while she went.  Wouldn’t you know that that was the exact time the older woman decided she had to use the bathroom?!  She opened the bathroom door, saw me standing facing an open stall and convulsed, apologizing for entering the wrong bathroom.  Talking out loud to herself she walked to the next bathroom and said, “No, that’s not right”, came back to the women’s bathroom and read the sign out loud a few times (as if invoking a magical incantation), then opened the door again.  Saw me.  And squealed.  She closed the door quickly and yelled for all to hear, “There’s a man in the women’s bathroom!”  I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.

Nina, from behind the stall door in front of me said in a panicky voice, “Mommie? There’s a man in here?!”  “No honey” I said.  “Well then what is that lady yelling about?” she asked anxiously.  I sighed again and opened the stall door all the way so she could see the eye-rollingly exasperated look on my face.  “She’s talking about me” I said resignedly.

In the meantime, the woman opened the door again so the waitstaff could see in (from the bar mind you!), pointed at me and said, “See! I’m not going in there while he’s in there!”  I responded as the door closed again, “We’re almost done in here ma’am”.  While Nina nearly laughed herself off the toilet.  I’m never doing that again.

Posted in no man's land, parenting | Leave a comment

playing for the same team

I got a text Thursday night during dinner from one of the hockey leagues I play with asking  if I could play in a game that night at 10:00PM.  These kinds of (usually last minute) requests are common.  Goalies are in demand.  Perhaps because so few people are crazy enough to stand between the pipes and let people fire slapshots at them as a form of leisure enjoyment.  But I can postulate more on that another time.

This request was to play at the new Warrior Arena in Boston.  Home to the National Women’s Hockey League Boston Pride and practice ice for the National Hockey League’s Boston Bruins, this facility is seriously swank!  I got to play there once when it first opened and it was a very cool experience.  Partly because it is brand new and partly because it was built for professional use, this state of the art facility is incredible and has every amenity one could possibly think of.  As it is still quite new, it is also clean and the locker-rooms do not yet emit the graveolent stink of physical exertion, body odor and ass.

I didn’t jump at the chance to play though.  I was already tired and had my mind set on getting into bed and curling up with a good book nice and early.  A game starting at 10:00PM means leaving the house well past my bedtime and getting home around midnight after a solid hour of sweat-drenching, fast-paced, cardio workout that wakes you up and has you wired like nothing else.  It means being wide-awake in a frenetic corybantic state that can last many hours.  If those endorphins were kicking in after an afternoon game I wouldn’t mind.  But knowing you have to get up for work as you watch the hours tick by on the clock and the number of hours of sleep you will get slips lower and lower is agitating and nerve-racking.  It hardly bodes well for a productive day at work the following day I can tell you that.  Also, this game was a division above what my skill level actually is, so I was sure to get an ass-whooping, which for me is hardly ever fun.

It was actually Emily who convinced me to go, reminding me how much I loved playing at Warrior and telling me I’d have a good time.  Plus they were paying me to play.  Yes folks, every so often I get paid to play hockey (20 dollars!).

I got to the rink around 9:15 and while the parking garage was fairly full, I knew it would be near deserted when I left.  I did my best to get a spot as close to the door as possible.  A game was in progress and the locker room level was buzzing, but the upper stories of the building were closed up and dark.  I found the Shamrock’s locker-room and felt a twinge of apprehension as I pushed the door open.  Walking into a locker-room full of half-naked men (who you don’t know) takes a lot more courage than you might think.  Especially if you are me.

I don’t think I’m just being anxious and paranoid here.  Stereotypically, hockey is a tough-guy sport, a man’s game, macho madness.  And that just describes the fans!  But seriously, and again stereotypically, the guys who play hockey as adults tend toward pretty masculine.  On the men’s leagues I’ve played on in the last two years all of the guys have been cis-males, all but one white, all but one straight and interestingly (and having to do with nothing whatsoever) all have had copious amounts of facial and body hair.  Suffice it to say, I’m not describing here a group of people I feel all that comfortable around, never mind safe with.  But I digress.

Several of the guys nodded at me as I entered the locker-room and only one spoke to me as we got geared up before the game.  In the first period I let in 3 goals.  The game was faster and harder than what I’m used to.  And it took me time to get on board with the pace of play.  In the second period I did not let in a single goal.  I did take a slapshot to the mid-section and despite my chest protector and other padding I was pretty sure I had internal bleeding.  The ref skated over to check on me and in defiance of the searing pain I did a “Tommy-boy-esque” shrug and shook him off.  In the third period I also didn’t let in any goals.  As I made saves, my teammates neither cheered nor banged the boards, nor skated over to tap me on the pads with their sticks in recognition.  “Tough crowd,” I thought weakly.  This was not the friendly bunch of goofballs I was used to playing with.  But ok whatever.

It was quiet in the locker-room after the game.  We’d lost 3-2, and while I felt badly about letting in the 3 goals, I didn’t take the loss to heart as my sole responsibility like I sometimes can.  There was no banter between the guys as they changed or headed to the showers.  I am often one of the last ones changed.  I have way more pads and accoutrement gear than the skaters.  But also, I’m aware of being *different* and am more cautious about how I dress and undress.  I worry that someone will notice or question my boxer shorts.  My chest is masculinized surgically, but is not exactly a man’s chest.  I don’t have chest hair and I do have lots of scars.  I not only have scars from my breast reduction and chest masculinization surgeries, I also have a large scar running vertically down my front from collar-bone to solar-plexus from a lung surgery I had in my early 20s when my lung collapsed.  It’s an odd-looking chest I guess and I am shy about it.  In the winter months I generally wear long underwear and a long-sleeve shirt under a sweatshirt and sweatpants.  So I only need to strip down that far to put on or take off my equipment.  But in warm weather I’m not up for wearing layers.  So I keep my head down and my eyes averted and hope no one looks my way.

Various violent scenarios flit through my head when I’m out and about in public.  Especially in men’s locker-rooms.  It isn’t irrational, or paranoid and it has nothing to do with reading creepy stories about bad guys kidnapping, abusing and chopping up their victims into tiny pieces (though I do admit to reading those stories).  Homophobic or transphobic reactions to me are what I fear.  And those reactions lead to violence against transgender people all the time.  I mean often.  As in: All. The. Time.  Far more often than you might be aware.  The Human Rights Campaign tracked more than 40 fatal violent attacks against trans-people in just the last two years.  More than 40 transgender people were attacked and KILLED in the past two years.  Just stop a minute and take that in.  First of all, that is just about one every other week!  And these stats are DEATHS.  These statistics don’t even cover the countless crimes against transgender people that are not fatal.  I shudder to even think about it.  I am neither foolish nor unreasonable to be afraid.

At any rate, I was in the locker-room changing into my street clothes close to midnight at a hockey rink with a group of unfamiliar men as the locker-room emptied.  I turned to face the wall, noting in my peripheral vision that no one was near enough to me to see, and I removed my sweat-soaked long-sleeve shirt and quickly replaced it with a clean dry t-shirt.  When I turned back around 3 good-sized men were coming toward me from across the locker-room.  I figured they were heading out. (incidentally, I also always sit by the door so if I needed to I could get out quickly)  Two of the guys were really tall and big.  Wide shoulders and muscular chests.  The third guy was shorter (still taller than me) and stockier.  And they were definitely heading toward me and not the door. I suddenly became aware that we were the only ones left in the locker-room.   They were smiling, but I still found myself feeling scared.  I stood up and pretended to be tucking in the pockets of my pants as they came close to me.  They formed a semi-circle around me and one guy said, “We noticed the rainbow tape on your stick.”  Simultaneously the other two asked, “Does it mean something?” and “Is it Pride tape?”

 

*As an aside, a few years ago the National Hockey League helped to create a “You Can Play” campaign designed to welcome LGBTQ players, family members and allies to help combat homophobia.  A smart startup jumped on board and made rainbow hockey tape.  And it isn’t just colored tape.  It is rainbow-colored tape designed specifically to create a rainbow as it is wound on a hockey stick.  It’s totally cool!

My heart and my mind were racing.  Before I could answer, the tallest guy asked if I’d heard of Boston Pride Hockey.  I was flustered and confused, “As in the WNHL Boston women’s team?” I asked.  They all said no.  “BostonPrideHockey“, they said in unison.  “No, what’s that?” I asked and one guy said, “It’s a gay hockey league.”  I sat down.  They all continued to talk at once: “We saw your tape before we hit the ice and we were so excited!” – was the basic theme.  Suddenly I noticed that they did all seem a little bit gay.  And I felt a little bit light-headed.

As the adrenaline left my system I was quite sure my skin took on the pallor of chalk.  The men all stopped talking and began looking from one to the other.  An awkward silence followed.  I looked up at them. “You guys really need to work on your approach.”, I said, “I practically just shit myself.”  At first they looked bewildered.  And then they took in the scene: An empty locker room and three big men essentially cornering me.  Then they all got really gay, with a lot of flamboyantly flapping hands and coquettish prim apologies and finally with girlish giggling at the thought that they might be misconstrued as tough guys.

 

It is, indeed, Pride tape on the handle of my stick.  And I had never thought about it being the reason for drawing added attention (negative or positive) to myself.  I guess it’s something I’m going to have to think about.  In the meantime, they ended up being really nice guys.  We chatted for a while and they asked if I might be interested in playing in the Pride league.  Another thing I will have to consider.  Then they walked me to my car and made sure I got on the road safely.

 

Posted in everyday stuff, no man's land, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

carnival life

It had been several months since I’d last been in touch with my brother Peter.  We go through periods like that.  Especially if he’s *not in a good way* or trying to hide something from me.  Sometimes I just don’t know where he is or how to contact him.  He’s had at least a zillion phone numbers in the last half dozen years.  He steals a phone off some bum (his words not mine), or *finds* a phone.  Calls me on those and asks what his new number is.  Or he gets a pre-paid track phone, each one with a new different number.  He keeps losing those or breaking them or… they get stolen off him by some other bum.

Sometimes we don’t talk for a period of time because one or both of us has reached our saturation point with the other.  We live such completely disparate lives it is nearly impossible to understand one another.  I try not to, but I do judge him.  He has taken a perfectly good mind and healthy body and abused it to a mushy pulp, a complete waste of a life.  And I get angry with him for all the idiotic choices he has made over the 48 years of his existence that have brought him to the nefarious caricature of a human being he has become.  He, on the other hand, cannot understand how I have become such a judgmental hoity-toity douche, having come from the same family, same humble beginnings, cut from the same cloth.

Anyway, I forget what prompted this last sabbatical, but I know I was coming to the end of my patience with the illogical meanderings of his journey.  A few weeks ago I officiated at a funeral and the burial was at a very small very old cemetery in a rough section of Brockton (as if there is any other kind of section of Brockton).  I’d heard via the grapevine that he’d moved out of the rooming house he’d been living in in a nearby town and was living somewhere in Brockton.  So, while waiting in the procession I texted the last few numbers I had for Peter.  He responded quickly and after a brief back and forth he gave me his address and invited me to stop by.

Curiosity killed the cat.  I wish I could have been satisfied to know he was still alive and left it at that.  After I finished my work, I punched the address into my GPS.  I was heartened momentarily as I drove, noting that the neighborhood didn’t feel or look grimy, run-down or unsafe.  Until I came to his address.  The house was leaning awkwardly and could have used a coat of paint or five.  The front door was ajar and seemed to be precariously hanging off one hinge.  Peter popped his head around the door smiling, sliding his way out so as not to disturb the door’s delicate positioning, waving happily at me, and came to meet me at the curb in his stocking feet.  I was dressed for a funeral.  He seemed dressed for a day at the dump.  He didn’t seem to notice our disparities and proudly took me by the arm to show me his abode.  Rickety stairs lined with hypothetical walls of broken plasterboard wound up and up and up.  Gaping holes where discolored diaphanous cobwebs poked through made the stairway look like insulated moldy Swiss cheese, only less appealing.  I followed Peter as he passed hallways and closed doors.  He chatted happily as we went, telling me he rented a suite on the top floor for much less money than he was paying for a single tiny room in that rooming house.  Of course the story went something to the effect that he was in a much better position here thanks to his canniness, street smarts and superior skills of negotiation.  The rooming house, in my humble opinion, seemed like a good place.  It was clean and safe, he had his own room and a landlord who cared about who lived there.  This place screamed “CRACK HOUSE” even to someone as naive and inexpert as me.  We arrived at the top floor, where we were unable to stand upright due to the slanting roof.  This space had never been finished, unlike the rest of the house that had at one time been finished and was now just dilapidated.  Planks and studs and hundreds of sharp ends of nails stuck out perilously everywhere.  This was what he termed his “sitting area”.  A short way across a landing was exposed plumbing.  Or, as Peter nicknamed it, “a future bathroom”.  A moldy, dirty clawfoot tub lay on its side next to a toilet of similar quality.  Pipes and tubes jutted from floor and wall were closed off with dirty rags and rubber bands.  How I kept myself from gagging (never mind outright vomiting) was nothing short of miraculous.

At the center of the house, where we could finally stand up straight, was Peter’s bedroom.  Lined with a soiled, revolting, filthy rug, which was festooned with cigarette butts and burn marks, the room stank of malodorous rankness.  The air was stagnant and I breathed through my mouth as I stared around the room in abject horror.   A naked bed with metal frame and verminous mattress with stains all over it sat at an odd angle in the middle of the room, a dirty sleeping bag lay carelessly atop it.  A broken end table/nightstand lying on its side, bleeding fragments of pressboard was the only other *furniture* in the room.  The detritus of unclean living.

To say my skin crawled would be an astronomical understatement.  It required every bit of control I had to keep from sprinting headlong down the stairs to my car.  Never mind the herculean effort of forcing and maintaining a blank non-judgmental expression on my face.  I left as quickly as possible, shaking with disgust.  How does anyone live like that?!

A few days later I got a text from Peter, “Hey sissy!”  I cringed.  Thankfully, he got right to his point.  He, desperately (according to him) needed a ride on Monday to Chelsea (20-odd miles from his place) to pick up his check, which he assured me he could cash on the spot and out of which, he promised me, he would give me gas money.  In a deja vu kind of fashion, he told me via text (the same story he has told me repeatedly over the years) that he had not eaten in 3 days and that he didn’t have a dime to his name.  He explained in technicolor detail how he would have to spend the remaining days until he got his check and could eat again.  I was thankful this was all taking place via text so he couldn’t either hear or see my eyes rolling.  Monday was July 3rd and I was actually not going to work because of the holiday, so I could, without too much disruption to my life, give him the ride.  He responded with fulsome appreciation.

At some point between that day and Monday Peter texted me again.  Great news!  He wouldn’t need the ride after all.  He’d gotten himself a terrific job, a great gig, that was going to turn his life around (at least financially).  This news was too exciting for him to share over text, so he used his precious last few phone minutes to call.  I really tried to prep myself.  “Get this…” he said, “Remember the Brockton fair?” {Indeed I did.  A carnival of ignominious inferiority catering to the unwashed masses.  Unsafe in the 1970s}  Well the great news was that Pete got himself hired as a carny with the Brockton Fair!  From the exuberance in his voice you would have thought the guy won the lottery.  He was going to be making sausages and running games, calling out prizes (Winner! Winner! Big One!!!) and maybe even operating the rides!  If he was really good at it (which he had every reason to believe he would be), he might even travel with them.  Who knew where this could go?!

I got off the phone a little sick to my stomach.  Not that I had wanted to chauffeur him so badly on Monday, but the thought of him being a traveling carny felt like a new low even for him.  I shouldn’t have worried overmuch though.  Sunday night I got a text from Peter.  He was going to need that ride after all.  The carnival thing wasn’t going to work for him.  Apparently, those carny guys work long hard hours, which isn’t exactly up Peter’s alley.  I mean, they expected him to do actual real manual labor?!  He’d rather just have a ride to get his check thank you.

 

 

Posted in brother's keeper | 2 Comments