Pet Shop Trans – and another out of the mouths

It’s “non-binary awareness week”! In fact, Happy International Non-Binary People’s Day! Who knew there even was such a thing? Cool, right? One thing I’ve recently begun to notice as I learn more about who I am is that while great swaths of humanity seem to, and may, fit into the generalized gender binary, there are also many of us who do not. I always felt so alone. Everywhere I looked I saw the beautiful people, the boys and the girls, men and women who were, by the very simple fact of their existence, “right”. In Hebrew one might say, “kosher”. Right. Fitting. Legitimate. But not me. I was always the consummate polygon attempting to fit into a pin-point circle or a mailbox-shaped rectangle. One of these things is not like the other, that one thing always being me. I don’t often see other people like me; either or, neither nor. As I get older it bothers me less. Though that doesn’t mean I notice it less or yearn for it less.


Cleo recently went through a period of refusing to eat her food. While her behavior was fine – she was acting like herself, happy and playful – she would not even approach her bowls. She would take treats from me when she visited someone or responded to a command at work, but otherwise she was not eating. Her energy and peeing and pooping were normal as well. By the 4th day I was nervous. At dinner the children looked worriedly at me, “DO something” their pleading eyes begged. I decided to go to a pet store and get a new food. Maybe she was just being a picky eater and needed a new flavor? Hey, I’m not a veterinarian, it was the best I could come up with in the moment. The only pet store open after 8pm was in a nearby town I am not familiar with, a store itself I don’t know well even though it is a fairly well-known pet store. The dread of having to be out in public and having to go somewhere new crept over me. This is something people like Emily simply do not understand, think about or ever experience. She is cis-gendered, clearly female, attractive, and white. Normal. Regular. Kosher. People don’t stare at her, wrinkle their noses or brows at her, treat her suspectly or with distaste, disdain or contempt. She is not an oddity, a curiosity, a freak of nature to be befuddled by and judged. I have long stopped trying to convince “regular” people that I am not paranoid and that this experience is real. I have long stopped trying to explain to “regular” people that I am viewed and therefore treated differently, usually less kindly. I don’t look forward to visiting new places or being in the company of people I don’t know. When I have to go outside my familiar zone, I am nervous, cautious, on edge. I am fearful and my emotional armor is heavy. It is both frightening and draining, not to be too dramatic about it.

The store was in a little strip-mall between a GNC (not as in gender non-conforming, but as in the nutrition and wellness vitamin store) and a sub shop. I was on high alert. The burly bearded man who joyfully greeted me as I entered the store was lovely, not that it lowered my anxiety any. He listened to my telling of Cleo’s recent hunger-strike with interest as he moved us to the dog food aisle. Another store employee walked by us and past the aisle we entered no fewer than 6 times. I could see in my peripheral vision that it was also someone stocky and with a beard. But this guy was barely 5 feet tall. By the fifth pass by I wondered if that employee might be a trans-man. Might his radar have alerted him and might he be trying to get a read on me? I admit I was completely distracted from the poor guy trying to explain canine palates to me. The thought that I might not “be alone”, “be the only one”, bumped up against my fear and made me curious.

When I walked out into the main section of the store carrying my new venison delight, a cashier was waving cheerfully at me. She was a tall plump woman with large brightly colored glasses and her energy was simply exuberant. As I got closer, adding my selection to the conveyor belt and she began to make small talk with me I noticed the distinct appearance of 5-O’clock shadow under a healthy dose of base makeup. She saw me looking. She knew I noticed. Just like I know when others see something in me that they weren’t expecting to see and notice. I made sure to look her straight in the eye and smile with my whole being (under my mask) and without judgment. I literally saw her release her breath in so pointed a way that her shoulders relaxed before my eyes. I purposely made small-talk back (something I am neither good at nor comfortable with), asking her name and thanking her (and through her, her coworkers) for the kind welcome and treatment. She smiled knowingly and my shoulders relaxed too. Indeed I was not alone, nor the only one. It still took some time for the adrenaline to leave my system, but not being singularly odd was comforting.

I arrived at work the other day and was greeted by a very energetic friendly guy who was desperate to pet Cleo. He was there to visit his father, a man I know from my pastoral care. When I said I was familiar with his dad he introduced himself to me as “his very gay son” (said in an exaggerated self-deprecating way). We chatted another few minutes about the pandemic and how hard it was to not have visitors and he said something to the effect of, “well as his very gay son, he probably didn’t mind that I wasn’t able to visit”. After the third or fourth time he told me that he was this guy’s “very gay son”, taking it as a hint that he was looking to connect, I said something like, “well, I’m his very gay chaplain”. To which he responded (without hesitation), “Oh yeah, but you’re transitioning right?” Why oh why can I never be prepared for things like this?! I mean, really, what the actual fuck?

My equilibrium was completely thrown off. Assuming that he was trying to find a sameness and connection with me, I offered what I thought was likeness, connection, using “gay” in its broadest sense. My defenses were lowered and I was unprepared for his response. His response, which took me by surprise and felt too familiar, bordering on intrusive. In the time it took me to catch my breath, and unfold the neat emotional origami I like to believe I have created within myself, the awkward silence had stretched way too long. The space in my head filled with the sound of stormy ocean waves pounding against the shore and I couldn’t think. I could see, while pointedly not making eye contact, that the man kneeling down petting Cleo was staring at me, saying something, awaiting my response. His lips were moving and yet I couldn’t hear a word he was saying. His expression grew puzzled and, knowing I had to say something, I mumbled, “yeah, sort of. something to that effect.” and literally walked away. I could not have been more maladroit. Thankfully, my ever-faithful companion, Cleo, trotted up to walk at my side.

What is wrong with me?! I know, I could, (and maybe should), be asking, “what is wrong with him?” too, for having asked so personal a question to a total stranger. But I can only consider and hope to answer the first question. That’s the only one I have any possibility of learning from or effecting any change over. How is it that my facade of equilibrium can so easily be thrown so far off? That my presentation of a together person can shatter so quickly, so easily, into an inestimable number of tiny shards that inflict death by a million paper cuts? Perhaps the answer lies in that deep well of shame I possess. Though I’ve worked hard to grow and nurture a protective covering, it is still just that. A thin veneer of new skin stretched taut over a bottomless abyss of bubbling, roiling, shame. And as soon as the fragile layers are pierced, the geyser lets loose. At one time I might have said my shame was endless, infinite. I was ashamed of my shame. And though they are teeny tiny baby steps, I do see that I have given it boundaries, a container even if I sometimes find it uncontainable. Like this time. These times getting less and less frequent. In general, I am no longer ashamed of my shame. I am, more and more often, annoyed by it. Which I think is a step in the right direction.

* for those of you wondering/worried about Cleo: I gave her the venison and I gave her salmon flavors. She simply would not go near any of it. She does follow me, like a shadow, around the house and one day while I was getting into the shower, I decided to bring her bowls into the bathroom with us. That way I could be close by but not watching and she could have time to relax and eat without commotion or monitoring. She ate like, well, like a dog who hadn’t eaten in a week! The thought of anyone eating in a bathroom made me gag. So I moved her bowls to my bedroom the following day. And she ate there too. Seems she needed a new venue for eating. Not the same old food, but the same old restaurant she had a problem with.

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the wolves are at the door

I’ve been considering lately some of my less charming qualities. Though there are many, the one bothering me at this moment is my enjoyment of schadenfreude. It shouldn’t be all that surprising that I have a proclivity toward it, having grown up watching the slapstick sarcasm of Archie Bunker and the Three Stooges for entertainment and having a mother who has always taken great pleasure in the misfortunes of others (especially the unhappiness she had a hand in creating). I am ashamed that people like Trump, his supporters and my mother elicit joy in me when they flub up and fail (especially on a public or grand scale) and a sadistic cruelty from me that I would rather believe I do not possess. I feel dirty and broken and tainted when I feel mirthful or even remotely smug watching mean people (especially those who have been mean to me or those who wish me ill) get what I see as their comeuppance, a taste of their own medicine so to speak. I feel positively exhilarated listening to the song, “Before he cheats” by Carrie Underwood even while I feel I shouldn’t be.

It isn’t that I act in any certain way or actually do anything (I’m not exactly slashing tires and smashing the headlights of those who have wronged me). Or that anyone else even knows I’m gloating and snickering to myself. Though I’m not above sharing memes with like-minded friends. It is enough that I know. And I am ashamed. I should be better than this. I should be more evolved, refined, enlightened. I should automatically veer toward and take the high road, strive toward and achieve a higher standard. Two wrongs don’t make a right and all that rot. I put an inordinate amount of pressure on myself to be good, be kind, be generous. Some of those things I simply am not. I suck at sharing. Some of those things are really hard for me. I suck at sharing. And some of those things I can achieve some of the time but not all of the time. And because of this, I feel bad about my flawed, not-good-enough self.

I’ve been noticing these tendencies recently, watching them in that very Zen way, from the distance of mind and thought and trying to take a step back, looking from a different angle, and considering ways I might learn how to navigate this predilection with a bit more grace, equanimity and kindness toward myself. Clearly, condemning, criticizing and castigating myself isn’t working. It only took me 55 years to realize that. Anyway… As with many things, I can see how I am attempting to rearrange, if not rectify old patterns in myself in the ways I parent my children. Watching Ruby make mistakes or missteps, not sharing with a sister or getting caught sneaking candy and then recoiling in shame, I am quick to intervene, to show kindness and empathy, to normalize the fact that everyone makes mistakes, that accidents happen, that sometimes you don’t want to share and that errors, blunders and disappointment are inherently part of being human. I had to laugh the last time I was giving her one of these motivational discourses when I realized I was literally and figuratively talking to myself. She’d actually physically turned away from me and had entered into her imaginary world, playing with her dolls, teacups and legos. But that’s ok, because it was all stuff we both needed to hear even if only one of us was actively listening.

There is the story attributed to the Cherokee. An elder explaining to a youngster that there is a fight taking place inside us. It is a terrible fight and it is between the two wolves who reside inside each of us. One is evil – anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good – joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The youngster listens and after thinking for a moment asks, “Which wolf will win?” And, as the story is often told, the old Cherokee simply replies, “The one you feed.”

It isn’t quite so elementary as that. And truth be told, that isn’t even the point of the story if anyone cared to read further. The point isn’t to get rid of one of the wolves. That isn’t how it works. It is about learning to live with, to navigate, to accept the fact that both wolves exist. The real lesson is that the fight is eternal, ongoing, inexorable. In modern parlance, the struggle is real. One cannot simply starve out that which is not convenient or that which proves difficult. I learned that the hard way. The reality is that both wolves do live in each of us. Shoving down, stuffing, hiding, punching back, ignoring the “bad” one only makes the shame worse, forcing the negativity to come out sideways, insidiously and passive-aggressively. The real task is in learning how to dispel the shame and fear of that second wolf enough for us to show it compassion and kindness. To learn to understand the pain behind the harshness of that second wolf. The real lesson is to accept that second wolf. Not as the “bad” wolf. But as simply another wolf. No judgment. Just acceptance and compassion. I have two wolves living inside me. We are all part of the same pack. We navigate life together, depend on one another’s strengths and help one another overcome that which is hard for any of us. A new kind of belonging? Belonging to self? I’ll have to think on that some more. Until then….

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is it better to have loved and lost

Peter’s friend Jen called me the other day. I could tell the minute I answered the phone that she was crying. Hard. She sobbed out that Peter was in the hospital. She didn’t know where or why. She’d called his number and someone from “the house” answered and said that Peter had been taken by ambulance in the middle of the night. He did not say why. I spoke gently to Jen to help her calm down, gave her a list of questions and told her to call Peter’s number again and get answers. I got off the phone and started calling local hospitals. I should have known better. I work in a hospital. HiPPA prevents hospitals from giving any information (including whether a person is a patient at a facility) to random callers. Luckily, Jen called back quickly.

Peter overdosed and someone at “the house” called 911. It took paramedics 3 doses of Narcan to bring him back. And even then it wasn’t entirely clear to bystanders (and the person reporting to Jen) whether or not they’d actually resuscitated him. Jen told this to me in a wooden monotone. She was as shocked and dismayed telling me as I was hearing it. Yes yes I know dear reader that it sounds absolutely ridiculous, knowing what I know of Peter, that I would be shocked to learn he’d overdosed. But emotions are not always rational. And I was shocked.

After a few calls to hospitals in his area (where I asked to speak with a patient) I found him. On an ICU. I left a message with the floor social worker. Jen called me again. A friend of her cousin’s husband’s sister (or something like that) works at the hospital Peter was in and had access to his record. And even though she was bound by HiPPA, she did confirm what we knew. Peter overdosed. And was resuscitated. With Narcan. He was actually on a cardiac floor, not an ICU.

There is a weird difference between knowing something and KNOWING something. In my mind I have always known and have readily shared here that Peter is a drug addict. But there is something about the absolute confirmation that he had actually come so close to dying as a result of his addiction that cast a profound pall over me. In the course of the 36 hours following Jen’s phone call I fell into a deep depression.

I felt like my world was rocked. My little brother had almost died. My brother overdosed on drugs. He was back to using. How had it been that over these last several months I’d had such an amazing sibling connection with him? How had it been that he had sounded so clear and so clean for so long? Was he using drugs all along? Was I that naive? Yet still I dared to hope. Hope that this was a freak accident in the middle of a solid recovery. Hope that this was one slip up and that’s why his body reacted so strongly. Hope that I might still have that amazing connection that I believed we were growing.

I got in touch with Peter on his second day in the hospital. He sounded groggy and petulant. He kept repeating that he’d had some kind of a seizure and that he was fine now and didn’t need to be in the hospital. He was clearly frustrated and I could hear him wrestling and wrangling with bedclothes and sheets as he talked. I was taken aback by his vociferous and adamant deflections of his circumstances. When I pressed with pointed questions he grew louder and more agitated. Almost yelling, “I tripped on the leg of a coffee table and fell! I had some sort of seizure. I don’t know if the seizure caused the fall or if the fall caused the seizure. I fell on my face and broke my nose and other bones in my face. Otherwise I am fine. I just need to get out of here!”

The broken facial bones was news to me. That and a dislocated shoulder. I tried to focus on those facts. Trying to make sense of anything else was too disconcerting to me. I received a call from the social worker after 6PM the following day. Peter had signed himself out of the hospital against medical advice. She was sorry to have to report that she said. She also tried to explain that Peter is a very sick man and that I shouldn’t be angry with him, because addiction is a sickness. I thanked her for her kindness. I asked her what she was still doing at work at 6:47PM. She sighed and said, “Hell if I know! I was supposed to be gone hours ago.” So I gave her permission to leave. She laughed. I think it made both of us feel a little better.

The fact was though, that I was angry at Peter. While I understand addiction is an illness, I can’t help but feel angry. I am angry about the impact drug addiction has had on my life (both mother’s and Peter’s). I am angry that I have ended up being the one to clean up other people’s messes again and again because “they are sick” and can’t get out of their own fucking way. I am angry that drug addiction around me has made my type-A personality a force, making me a veritable diabolical machine that cannot ever rest, that always has to be taking care of someone or something, cleaning up after and fixing other people’s messes. I didn’t deserve a mother like this or a brother like this. Damn right I am angry. I am even angry that I don’t let myself have a fucking glass of wine because I’m so terrified of becoming like them.

I’m also hurting. Once again I opened my heart, I held out hope. Only to have those hopes dashed unceremoniously, smashed to bits, trampled, without a scintilla of caring or a backward glance. I had dared to hope that Peter had changed, that I could trust him, that I was not alone. What’s that saying, fool me once? I have no one to blame but myself.

The next few calls from Peter I ignored. When I finally answered I was cantankerous. He tried to tell me his shoulder kept popping out of place and it hurt. I said, “well maybe you should have stayed in the hospital.” His response floored me. He said, “Hali, I couldn’t. The food was so terrible I just couldn’t stay another day there.” That’s a quote folks. Hard to argue with that logic(sic). I went back to ignoring his calls.

When I finally answered I was determined to confront him. I started out by telling him to cut the crap. I told him I’d “seen the report” and I knew exactly what happened. I didn’t want to get Jen’s cousin’s brother’s wife’s sister in any trouble for breaking HiPPA. Peter challengingly asked what I was talking about and I told him I knew he had overdosed. He vehemently denied any such thing, gasping indignantly, clutching his pearls, and sputtering one absurd story after another (which I will spare you). I asked him about the Narcan. He hesitated before spewing more implausible, waste-of-my-time lies. I don’t know what I expected. Or even wanted. I guess I’d hoped that he would tell me the truth. How on earth am I this stupid?!

Hope may be inexorable, but I am a fucking moron. Was it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all? I’m not so sure right now. If I’d kept up my armor and not let Peter in, I wouldn’t be this hurt right now. Was it worth it? Those few months of sharing and belonging and softening? In this moment I’d have to say no.

*While I may still be protecting my heart where Peter is concerned, I did make a few phone calls on his behalf to at least get him out of the crack house, getting him a room at the YMCA for the time being. At least my sense of decency and kindness has not been totally eradicated.

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hard to reconcile

Even in the strangest year anyone can remember, some things do not change. I guess I can always count on my family to stay toxically carcinogenic. I always do hold out hope though don’t I?

In the last year or so since I’ve written about my brother, he has found himself in a variety of living situations, including (but not limited to): shelters, rooming houses, stranger’s couches and even cardboard boxes in public-park-non-housing. In the last many months he has been living with another in his long line of “great guys” he has met in his travels through the underbelly of humanity. This particular great guy, like several from his past, is cognitively impaired. Peter has been living with Darren, fairly symbiotically, for the last 7 months. Which is as long a period of time in one place he has been in quite a while. During this time Peter has had the same cell phone and number and has been in practically punctilious contact with me. I was beginning to think Darren was a good influence on him.

Phone conversations with Peter over these months have actually been very deep, meaningful, helpful, positive and cathartic in addition to frequent. We have reminisced about and compared and contrasted our versions of our growing up stories. We’ve laughed. We’ve cried. We’ve gotten angry together for one another over the endless hurts and insanity that we each endured. We were able to share our individual reality with one another without shame or fear of judgement, against a backdrop of the honesty of shared experience. And we came to the tender possibility that maybe we were not, in fact, the crazy ones. We wondered about who we each might have been if our upbringing had been different, if we didn’t still suffer the repurcusions of having been raised by someone with unchecked mental illness and malignant personality disorders. We shared the very same sentiments over the unfairness of the parent lottery (extended to step parents in our case) we both clearly lost so badly. We marveled at the families whose parents were loving, doting, encouraging, educated and basically not crazy. We amused one another with anecdotes, metaphors and imitations of some of the “regulars” we heard and experienced throughout our childhoods. Shit, as the saying goes, you cannot make up. And it was healing and powerful. Peter was more coherent and sounded better (cleaner) than he has in years, maybe decades.

At the same time, my irregular bi-weekly phone calls with mother continued. Only with a twist. I started calling her using FaceTime. I got to actually SEE her as we talked. No matter the time of day I called, I found her lying limply on a couch, recliner or bed, often sideways and literally hanging off, twisted in blankets or sheets, staring hauntedly at the ceiling in what could only be a drug-induced state of hopeless, confused, paranoia. Not every single time, no. But 9 times out of 10 this was her state. She would go through all the ridiculousness rantings (crying, wailing, snarling) that I have described here to a sickening degree and which I will spare you all from in this post. At one point she was complaining about what a loser Peter is and how disappointed in her children she has always been and comparing us (in that horrible negative way she has) with other people’s children (the ones who make their parents proud). She moaned sadly, “Woe is me! How did I get so unlucky in life?” Since she was asking a question that seemed to beg a response, I simply stated, “You’re a drug addict. Prescription drugs to be sure. But an addict nonetheless. And you seem to have made this bed in which you now lie.” I said it quite matter-of-factly and calmly. I did my best to erase any tone of petty maliciousness that I may have been feeling. She sat up quickly, dropping her phone and fumbling with it as she screamed, “NO I AM NOT!”, as she promptly fell over. The toppling over did not strengthen her argument at all. She raised herself on her elbow and fixed her hair before grabbing her phone. As if she’d meant the slapstick performance. She stammered a few half-hearted denials, then opted for, “Oh, so you’re saying it’s all my fault?!” I was still kind of stunned by my own awesome audacity and it took me a minute to respond. I said, “Well, it is YOUR life after all. Who else would be responsible for it?” She responded, as I could have predicted, by wailing like a small child, running her hands through her hair (making it stand on end so that she really looked like the picture of insanity) and crying out, “It’s my fault! It’s all my fault! Everything. Everything is all my fault.” My phone was propped up on the counter and I was kneading bread dough as she carried on in her lament. Several minutes went by in this fashion. Me kneading dough and her rocking and sobbing, muttering that everything was always her fault, clutching at her head. When she finally seemed to realize that her antics were not eliciting a response from me, she straightened herself up on the couch and tamed her hair. With elbows on knees she brought her face very close to her phone and menacingly said, “So you think I’m a druggie, huh Hali? Tell me how? What proof do you have?” Still kneading, I looked back at her and recited the indisputable facts I have gleaned over the years. She has been on prescription medication of one sort or another my entire life. She goes to multiple medical practitioners in search of more and more medication, which she consumes regularly daily without direction, regulation or sense. She has been blacklisted by many physicians and labeled a “drug seeker” by some – which I know because she told me in one of her angry ravings. She interrupted me to ask, “What drugs?” So I started with Librium from the late 60s and went through the list of medications I knew she’d been prescribed, concluding with the most recent opioids (Percocet and Oxycodone) she consumes like candy. She smiled a dangerous feral smile, one that could have frozen my blood at other points in my life, and said, “You forgot a few.” She sat back with an arm crossed over her stomach looking like something between a mafia don and satan. “I am in constant pain. Those medications are prescribed by doctors to help alleviate the pain. I just hope you never have to experience the pain I feel every day of my life”, was how she ended our call.

I called Peter. He whooped and hooted. He couldn’t believe I’d confronted her and lived to tell the tale. He wished he could have been a fly on the wall. He called me his hero.

Several days later in a subsequent phone call Peter shared that things weren’t going so well with Darren anymore. He said that Darren had found a girlfriend at the day program he went to and she was going to move in. According to the rules of the apartment (some kind of assistive housing) Darren could only have 1 person living with him. Peter was the odd man out. He had to move.

I didn’t hear from Peter for more than a week. I tried not to inundate him with anxious texts. And when one week stretched to three I knew things weren’t good. His friend Jen called me hysterical on the fourth week. She’d been to visit Peter at his new place. She was shocked and horrified by the squalor as well as the people living there. She found Peter huddled in a corner passed out and it took several people to rouse him (I believe the description she used was “slap him awake”). He was incoherent and unable to manage movement of any kind. She ran out and got him a Dunkin Donuts coffee and a few sandwiches which she plied into him on the floor. He stirred somewhat, at least coming to consciousness. He began to mumble that all his belongings were stolen and the thousand dollars he had in his pocket(?) gone.

Jen was beside herself, sinking into despair. As she described Peter’s surroundings I felt quite sure it was the crack house that I’d described in a post from July 4, 2017. When I asked her the address she confirmed my suspicion. I joined her in despair.

I did pepper his phone with texts, not knowing if he was getting them, able to read them or make sense of them. A few days later he called me trying to sound upbeat. He hacked and coughed a deep phlegmy nastiness repeatedly. I asked him if he thought he might have the Coronavirus. He said he was pretty sure he didn’t and that he just sounds like this for 20 minutes or so when he first wakes up. I looked at the clock. It was 3:30PM. He dismissed my worries and Jen’s even while telling me that he was held at gunpoint and robbed on his first night there. It was mighty hard to discern fact from fiction in that call. He repeatedly told me he was fine and completely safe. Guns notwithstanding.

The following week Jen called and told me to look up the address of the house where Peter was living. Before I completed typing, Google showed me several articles about a police drug raid from the day before. Guns and other artillery, heroin, fentanyl, cocaine and other drugs, several arrested. As I read with mounting horror Jen told me that Peter was not among those arrested. How reassuring.

I heard from Peter a day or so later. He treated me to his colorful commentary on the raid. Apparently he slept (on the floor in a side room) through the police battering ram and the front door splintering open in the wee hours of the night. He was awakened by the rough handling of a police officer in riot gear handcuffing his hands behind his back. He was thrown into a police wagon and brought to the station where somehow miraculously someone determined there was no cause to keep him. With the same morbid curiosity that compels one to look at a crash, I listened to him. He and the one other guy not detained walked back to the house, duct-taped the door mostly together and cleaned up a bit before going back to sleep. His voice dripped with righteous indignation as he told me that the police had left quite a mess behind (how he could tell I do not know) and that it took him and the other guy a few days to clean up. He giddily told me that he was looking forward to living on easy street for a while because the woman who owned the house was among those arrested. He was sleeping in her room on her king-sized bed and not having to pay that bitch any rent.

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plagues and pandemonium

What a wild trip around the sun this year has been (and continues to be).  I know I have not posted here in many many months.  But I have written in my head and in my heart, in my mind and memory, thoughts, feelings and experiences seared into my psyche by unapologetic trauma.

But before I get to that… in addition to the months-long and on-going pandemic, my cycle around the sun this year has brought me squarely, though not at all sure-footedly, to the age of 55.  The age my father was when he died.  For those of you who have not had to confront this plot line development in your own story, you may wish to pause here and offer up a brief prayer of gratitude for this particular bullet dodged.  And I don’t think it’s “just me” on this, in all my quirky mental peculiarities.  I’ve spoken with several people and this really is a thing.  And I can tell you that I approached this birthday with no small amount of trepidation bordering on dread.  How could I possibly live longer in years than my father?  My father, that bastion of strength, stalwart of safety and bulwark of experience and expertise?!  There whenever I needed him to proffer a tool or trick or share with me (endlessly) his opinions and advice on just about anything, including many things I didn’t even ask for.  I knew my father wasn’t old when he died.  But I had no real idea (do we ever?) of just how young he was.  I thought, at the veteran age of 55, there was very little my father did not know, having learned from the experience of a life well lived.  How idiotic was I?!  And so here I am, in my insubstantial 55 years on this earth, knowing I don’t know shit.  And wondering if he felt that way too.  And wondering how I could not have know that.

Unlike most people, who have had to hunker down at home this year, I was deemed “essential” by the powers that be, and so I went to work.  The terrible things about Covid-19 we know: the pain and suffering, the loneliness and death.  I got to see all of that and then some, up close and personal.  Wrapped head to toe in multiple layers of disposable (but not recyclable or breathable) plastic – from which our planet may never heal (plastic straws being very nearly literal spit in the ocean in comparison), I did my best to minister to people who were sick, dying, alone and afraid and their grieving families who were barred from being physically present.  No small feat, in every respect, I assure you.  The excruciating anguish permeated my pores, my heart, my soul.  I could certainly go on and on, writing at length and in gory technicolor detail, about those long Covid months.  It would be relatively easy, the memories pouring out like bile.  But to what end?

I won’t say there was an “up-side” to the pandemic.  That would be bordering on blasphemy (though I think I actually look better with a mask on and that has been an up-side of sorts).  But I will say, that my appreciation grew exponentially for those things that were not horrific in these months.  The camaraderie that greeted me each and every one of those 12 hour days at work, the friendships and support and love and laughter that were shared generously and graciously,  nourished and sustained me.  I have always had a healthy respect for the nurses and aides who do the lion’s share of the work in hospital settings.  In addition to the skyrocketing of my respect for them, I added love and real and deep connection and friendship.  Out of sheer necessity, we each walked many miles in one another’s shoes.  I was humbled by the unselfishness and strength of the people I work with.  And grateful beyond measure.

As someone who struggles (mightily I might add) with anxiety, I have been watching people all over the world come to some understanding of what people like me deal with all the time.  Yes Karen, the world can be a scary place and that shit is totally out of your control.  And as those around me have been brought to their knees in fear, I have been able to stand a little taller in understanding and compassion.  It feels good to be the strong one for a change.  I considered writing up the imaginary game of “anxiety bingo” I play so often in my head to share with others.  Just for shits and giggles.

Not that I would go so far as to say I’m agoraphobic, but I do admit that the “stay at home” orders practically made me dance a jig, I was giddy with relief.  Not being able to go away, travel anywhere, go or be outside my comfort zone, be in large gatherings, felt as freeing to me as not having to choose my clothing each day and instead wear gender-neutral scrubs (as I have been doing throughout the pandemic).  Not having to come up with viable excuses for not wanting to go out or socialize freed up more of my mental time and energy than ever I could have imagined.  Seriously.

I loved having to be at home when not at work.  I loved cozying in and hunkering down.  I baked.  I played with, expanded and honed my baking skills, developing a whole new product line of babka – including a s’mores babka that is out of this world delicious.  I even found a soft spot for the new pandemic bakers joining ranks with the rest of us home bakers (even though I couldn’t find flour so easily).  I read.  Though my attention span was definitely put to the test with work grief and loss, I found myself reading books outside my typical genre.  I went as far as to read some pop-culture novels and didn’t hate them.  I talked, laughed and played games with my children.  And I reveled in yard work done well.  I even watched a Netflix series or two.  I relaxed as much as I am ever able to.  I found that much external pressure in my life was lessened even while there was exponentially more pain and difficulty.  Strange dichotomy that.  But I did deeply appreciate the centering home-focus, the slowing down, the drawing inward.  In all, there have been many reasons for gratitude during this time.

I find I am more like my father every day (though tremulously and thankfully not dead).  Like him, I keep my circle small and close, and I like to keep myself busy taking care of my family and home.  Like my father, I am drawn to offering whatever small gesture or token of kindness to others I can.  For him that was running errands or delivering groceries.  For me that is generally in the form of bread.  I am a simple person with simple needs and desires, as was my dad, and I am better when I remember that.  One thing my dad absolutely knew, gratitude is a powerful thing.

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another out of the mouths – close shave

I’d left the party a bit early.  It was the one where my closest friends asked on behalf of other guests what pronouns I was preferring these days.  And I left without answering.  Apparently there was some discussion after I’d left.  I got a message from a longtime acquaintance/friend the next day.  He’s a cis-male, straight guy who is one of the most kind, lovely, decent human beings I’ve ever met.  He’s a particularly good person and I always enjoy his company, though I rarely spend time with him, life being what it is.

He wrote, “After you left there was some discussion about you transitioning.  I hope I’m not prying, or delving into an area that I shouldn’t. I just hadn’t realized it was something you were working with.  I know nothing of the process, or the challenges that, I’m sure at some level,  go along with it – physically, intellectually, emotionally…  You’ll let me know if there’s anything you need, I hope, not that there’s much I can provide.  But just in case – please feel free to let me know”

I wrote back some about my process and thanked him for his kindness and gentle approach.  We messaged back and forth several more times, catching up and the like.  His genuine caring and curiosity were, as usual, a balm for the soul.  In a sort of concluding message I wrote, “I may just call on you at some point in the future – once I’ve got more than 5 chin hairs.  I have no idea how to shave and I may need a lesson.”

He wrote back, “I shave naked in the shower.”

Well that’s going to be an interesting lesson 🙂

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all aboard and a book report

It’s been quite a while since I last wrote about mother.  Partly because we speak infrequently enough, once a month or so, for as short a time (sometimes only 5 minutes) as I can possibly keep it.  I basically start saying goodbye when I answer her calls.  Sometimes she texts (or texts something indecipherable t0 my email) or leaves a phone note (as my friend Terry calls them).  These are only slightly less burdensome than are our conversations.  She’s been deathly ill (sic) since 1972 or thereabouts, the vast majority of my life.  In the last week she texted me that she has pleurisy and pneumonia in addition to her ongoing osteoarthritis and neuropathy.  Thank God she keeps her ailments and afflictions in alphabetical order or I’d never be able to keep track.  Her calls open with labored breathing and shift into that deliberate fake-hoarse-whisper one uses when calling in sick to work, when trying to sound sicker than one actually is.  At best it is eye-rollingly irksome.  At worst, I realize that her insanity has had and continues to have a cumulative effect on me.

I just finished reading the book “Educated” by Dr. Tara Westover.  It was a fascinating, and also chillingly accurate description of toxic parenting.  It is a book about whose history is history, and how the author struggled and fought to create and live her own truth despite the challenges, losses and difficulties of having mentally ill family members who tried to define truth for her, parenthetically, through their own crazy lenses.  For me it was part painfully excruciating, part hauntingly familiar and part depressingly lonely.  Sure, Westover’s story and mine are worlds apart and on the surface one would say had little to nothing in common.  But the deeper story: the desperate search for love and belonging; the yearning for (normal, or at least sane) family and parental guidance, love and support; the crazy-making toxicity of being raised by someone with unchecked mental illness; the constant gaslighting and contradicting of reality and what can only be labeled emotional abuse… Those?  Those were the same.  No, my family was not torturesome and physically violent.  Though to be sure there were times mother lost her shit and went on rampages that included hitting, throwing, breaking.  And no, my parents did not deny us medical care.  Sort of the opposite actually.  As a raging hypochondriac my mother was always on the lookout for a symptom or abnormality.  I remember one emergent trip to the pediatrician because the veins in my arm were too dark.  The pediatrician smiled as if he thought she was joking.  But she wasn’t.  She was quite sure my unusually dark veins were a portent of a terminal blood illness.  My mother may not have had the self-awareness to have experienced the pediatrician’s mockery bordering on scorn, but I did.  My parents also allowed me formal education (if only to get me out of their hair every day) and didn’t think the illuminati were taking over the government like Westover’s family.  Though mom had her own conspiracy theories of a faux government being controlled by behind-the-scenes nefariously powerful people, which is why she has never voted in her life in what she claims are “scam elections”.  Not completely outside the Westover realm now I think of it.  Still, I’m not saying I had it as bad as Westover.  I’m simply saying that the underlying toxicity of being gaslighted at every turn, of having a family system where everyone was supposed to buy into the lies and or delusions – that mother was not a drug addict, that she really was incessantly and continuously sick, that the perverse pleasure she took in offending and intimidating people was more a quirky quality than sadistic malevolence and that her way in the world was perfectly sane; that everything in our house was normal – that part was the same.  I related especially at the end when Dr. Westover tries to break free, tries to find the kernel of truth, tries to figure out what went wrong.  The part where no matter how bizarre and crazy and abnormal and abusive her family is, she stupidly clings to the dream that there can be a different, better, outcome.  That there still might be a happily ever after.  Hope is inexorable.

I try, I really do try, to maintain some semblance of connection, of relationship, with my mother.  If only for her sake since I know it pains her deeply when we are not connected (and because I am terrified that she will actually succeed at killing herself and I will feel guilty forever).  I try to be compassionate with her, knowing she is mentally ill.  But sometimes I just can’t.  Last month when she had Lupus I suggested she find a hobby other than diagnosing herself, interrupting her litany of symptoms and complaints.  She got angry with me.  She had her husband text me.  “She’s not making any of this up Hal.  Honest-to-God, she’s sick.  Doctors and tests don’t lie.”  “No, they don’t”, I said, “when one looks hard enough, one will find something for sure.”  He persisted in trying to convince me that she is actually medically really truly honest-to-God, no word of a lie, cross my heart and hope to die, sick.  Peppering me with texts to that effect.  My final text read, “sounds tough.  sorry to hear.  sending healing vibes.” and included the blowing-a-kiss emoji.

One may ask why I even care.  What do I care if she has shingles or leprosy or hepatitis or the common-fucking-cold?  I know this routine all too well.  I know that this is but one stop on the crazy train and that the route is cyclical.  And I know the next stop.  The route rarely diverges.  All aboard.

She begins with being sick unto death, racing crazed, practically careening from doctor to doctor to doctor, acquiring an abundance of prescriptions, ointments, salves, tinctures and advice (in addition to diagnoses).  These she doles out inexpertly to herself; sometimes a handful, sometimes skipping doses, sometimes mixing and matching.  As a result of this cocktail, she takes to bed where she sleeps like the dead for days, arising feeling clear-headed(sic) enough to be angry.  It isn’t clear exactly who or what she is angry with.  Angry that no one will or can help her.  Angry at the futility of medicine to make her feel well.  She demands to feel “better”, whatever better is, and is angry and defiant that everyone lacks either the ability or the willingness to make her happy.  She is angry that both she and her life are empty.  And, she surmises, it must be someone else’s fault.  It is everyone else’s stupidity that makes her unhappy.  So she lashes out at everyone and everything she encounters: her doctors, her husband, her dogs, her children, the clerk at Target or CVS, the mailman, for not making her happy and for keeping her unhappy.  She creates drama, spewing vitriol indiscriminately.  Why should anyone else be happy if she is not?!  If she makes everyone around her feel bad enough, perhaps then she will feel better herself.  Or so I assume her reasoning goes.

Before the internet and texting and email, mother would engage in this behavior of maliciousness, stirring pots all around her and then settle in to watch her handiwork.  Having made everyone else miserable, she would then feel more perky it seemed.  Or at least distracted from her own misery.  And when and if anyone traced their unhappiness back to her, she would simply hit the gaslight button, deny, deny, deny, lie, lie, lie, until she could convince them that they, and not she, were in the wrong.  And that they, and not she, were crazy.  And that they, and not she, were the actual problem.  They completely misunderstood, misinterpreted, miscalculated her words and her motives.  She was just an innocent bystander, the real victim of it all.  And it worked well enough back then.  But now the hastily sent text, email or facebook post is easy enough to obtain.  Her own words come back to confront her.  When she cannot deny the words on screen, she pleads insanity, falls on her sword, cries hysterically, claiming to have been muddled by incorrect medication, claiming not remember or at least not to have meant whatever hurtful words she mistakenly uttered against her will and without her knowledge.  She pleads the fifth.  She spends the next days frantically issuing meaningless apologies for everything and anything she has ever done wrong.  She is wretched.  She is “not a well woman”, she claims.  In fact, she is so unwell that she is “probably even dying right at this very moment”, she whispers.  The only thing that can dispel her despair… is a diagnosis.  And so the cycle begins again.

She is exhausting and draining, the human equivalent of an emotional-meat-grinder.  I daresay just reading the above was exhausting.  A nod.  I know.  I shudder to contemplate the cumulative effect her unchecked mental illness has had on me.  Parts of my emotional landscape are so eviscerated, so blighted, that nothing will ever grow there.  Parts of me are too fragile even for the soft touch of attention.  I spend an inordinate amount of time checking and rechecking myself, my actions, my motives, my reality.  Like Westover, after years of telling my own truth, oftentimes in the face of baldfaced lies and denial in addition to cruel insults and threats, there is now a gossamer thread of reality, holding out the elusive hope of wholeness, that has the potential to weave together a coherence, an integrity.  A wholeness whose scarred and broken tapestry holds out the prospect that perhaps maybe I did not do anything wrong to have deserved this.  And that maybe yet I deserved and deserve better.  Hope is inexorable.

A short story:  I remember listening (on cassette tape) to a Ram Dass lecture.  In it he was detailing his homecoming from India the first time after he had met Maharaj Ji (Neem Karoli Baba).  Ram Dass recalled the conversation with his railroad tycoon father, who was wearing a crisp three-piece suit and fedora, standing over Ram Dass who was sitting rapturously on the floor wearing only a sheet, and his father saying, “Richard! Come down to reality!”  And Ram Dass looking up at his father and saying, “Yeah dad, but whose reality?”

 

 

Posted in family of origin | 2 Comments

CYOA

I have been asked, second or third hand mostly but, more and more lately, what pronouns I prefer.  Part of me is fascinated at this growing trend regardless of its personal application.   Unrelated to me, I am aware that in the world in general,  pronouns and the inclusion of “they” (related in a New York Times article that the Merriam-Webster dictionary announced “they” as word of the year) as a singular pronoun reference is more widely considered, known and used.  Related to me, I am wondering if external changes in me are more observable than I acknowledge or am aware of.  I’ve said repeatedly here and other places that the internal changes in me are big but the external changes seem insignificant, infinitesimal.    I look in the mirror daily and see plain old me staring back.  But maybe there are changes and they are more perceptible than I know.  At one dinner party with friends over the winter holidays I was asked 3 times (not directly) what pronoun I wanted used.  Asked three times, in the span of under 3 hours, must be some kind of record.  And the answer is?

In addition to my sentiments of curiosity, I have other feelings that crop up when I’m asked about my pronoun preferences.  Depending on the day, my mood, patience or shame level, I hem, haw, splutter and dodge.  For the most part I avoid engaging in this discussion altogether.

The cynical part of me feels like it’s a setup.  Sure, I’ll play along.  I choose what pronoun I prefer and set that parameter.  Then I have to experience people messing up, forgetting, stumbling and using another pronoun repeatedly.  I’m forced to endure awkward apologies and the discomfort of others which I have seemingly caused by my request.  Sounds like fun.

The shame-filled side of me is, well, not to put too fine a point on it, shame-filled.  By any pronoun to tell the truth.  She has always felt yucky to me.  Always.  It has never felt right.  Now it feels just plain antagonistic.  He has never been mine to have/use, so that feels wrong as well.  I feel fraudulent and dishonest.  Like a sneaky child who might, at any moment, get caught out and exposed.  And they feels so millennial I just can’t even.  I’ve been in conversation with other trans-guys my age who say the same thing.  There is some form of embarrassment in each of the choices.  Nothing feels right, like it fits, like it belongs to me.

The irritated part of me wonders why I have to be the one to decide anyway?!  How hard can it be to simply refer to me as Hali and cut out the pronouns altogether?!  But I know it is not nearly so simple.  I recently edited my brief bio for work and removed all the pronouns and it was a tedious and persnickety project.  It was hard to make it flow smoothly and not sound like a it was written by 12 different people playing mad-libs on several different pages in languages they do not speak.

When I play hockey, and I am standing in net, I often talk to myself.  Don’t judge.  I do this to keep myself focused and my nerves at bay.  I have to say, I keep up a patter of commentary worthy of many a sports commentator.  Sometimes I talk directly to myself; coaching suggestions, feedback, reminders and the like – “come on dude, focus!” or “keep on your edges sister”.  Other times I will do a color commentary of the game being played in front of me.  When commenting on a play coming toward me I will refer to myself in the third person, as just another player on the ice.  “The goalie is in position.  He/She at the front of His/Her crease.”  I play with the pronoun options just to get a feel for each.  No matter which pronoun I use it feels incorrectly applied, weird and silly.  The person I am speaking about is not me.

The sociological dorky, lazy, conflict-avoidant side of me wants to just say, “CYOA” – Choose Your Own Adventure.  Let the speaker choose what pronoun I am gendered with based on their experience of me in that specific moment.  I think, given the work I do and the people I interact with most, I may be able to fathom this slightly more easily than the average person.  Most of my day is spent engaging with people with some level of dementia.  I have had patients gender me he, she and they all in the course of one interchange without so much as batting an eye.  One of the patients a few years ago, talking about a poorly dressed cis-male physician said, “He looks like a rumpled bed!  But you!  Look at you!  You’re a man who knows how to dress.  And you’re a mother and I bet you would never let one of your children out of the house dressed like that.”  People with dementia are not more limited, they are less constrained.

But back to the point… All sarcasm and humor aside, there are other reasons I like the CYOA answer.  One, it takes the onus off both me and the other person with whom I am speaking and lets us simply talk without any weird pressure.  Two, quite frankly, I’m more interested in having a conversation.  The awkward hesitation, pause, focus on my pronoun interrupts the flow of the conversation in a way that is unnecessary and irritating.  I’d rather focus on the topic of conversation than on my pronouns.  Third, If someone uses a pronoun to identify me that doesn’t sound or feel right to them they can simply use another one the next time they are referring to me.  That seems so simple and beautiful.  Not to mention creative.  And it isn’t like there is any single answer that is comfortable for me.

This dilemma seems to be coming up more and more lately.  A combination of social awareness and the changes in me.  I’ve been wondering if people are feeling less comfortable with “she”, which is one of the things making this a dilemma.  So of course it makes sense that I can say, “choose your own adventure” more authentically because more people are on the same page as I am – not entirely sure, not comfortable with either.

So, is it cowardly or a copout to keep avoiding making a decision for myself?  A good friend really pushed me.  Asked me over and over again to really think about it and go deep inside and push away the shame.  If I’m totally truthful, I suppose I prefer he.  “I could get used to he I think”, is how I phrased my response.  But I quickly followed up with a disclaimer.  Except that I don’t want to have to explain myself to anyone listening who might question it because my shame and anxiety would be off the Richter scale every time.  I also don’t want to be the one to set the rule.  She challenged me about letting others set parameters for me, letting others “control” me, define me and make decisions for me.  I hadn’t thought of the pronoun dilemma in quite that way.  That’s something I’m going to have to sit with and contemplate for a while.

For now I’ll just let people choose their (and apparently my) own adventure.

 

Posted in no man's land | 2 Comments

easy to forget – girl erased

I knew it might happen at some point.  I just didn’t know when.  And what, exactly, I expected, I’m not sure.  But this wasn’t it.  I’ve been at my job, the same job, for 22 years, working in a relatively small community.  I work with the frail elderly and their families.  And having been there so long, I knew the day would come when I would start seeing the children of former patients find their way into my care.  It’s happened a few times in the last few years.  Faces from the past, on slightly different bodies, ambling down the hall in the echoes of familiar step.  So far those few meetings have been homecomings of a sort.  Whispers of the past making their way into new stories.  And no one is at all surprised that I’ve kept their mother’s photo on my bulletin board of beloveds all these years.

So this time the surprise wasn’t in seeing her.  Only the barest traces of her mother, but still I recognized her.  Remembering Esta’s name was easy.  Her daughter’s name, not surprising, nowhere in the recesses of my mind.  It was actually in the context of my second job, helping a colleague with an activity, so I wasn’t leading a religious service or otherwise in my exact work role.  But we were in the building where my full-time job is, where Esta lived the last years of her life.  I approached her daughter and said, “I remember your mom.  She was here.”  She turned, face alight, expectantly, “Yes! Yes she was.”  Her smile faded as she squinted to look at me and I watched her own mind draw a blank.  She asked, “You knew her?”  I said, “Oh yes, who could forget Esta?!  She was quite a dancer.  And her smile was radiant.  She was stunning that woman.”  Her daughter’s face softened, a faraway look in her eyes as she, too, recalled the elegant, regal woman who was her mother.  “But how did YOU know her?” she asked, back from her daydream.  “I’m the chaplain.”  I think I even may have said my name.  Try as she might though, she couldn’t place me, couldn’t  remember.  “There used to be a woman here.” she said.  “I remember her.”  I was happy to see the hint of a smile light her face.  “But I’m sorry,” she said shaking her head and looking at me,  “I don’t remember you.”

There was a story my grandmother used to tell, about my mother when she was a teenager.  My mother begged and begged and begged for the 45 single of the 1950’s classic,  “Am I That Easy To Forget”  My grandmother, ever eager to please her demanding daughter, went to the record store repeating the name of the song over and over so she wouldn’t forget it.  A salesman in the store tapped her on the shoulder and asked if he could help her.  She turned to face him and rather abruptly blurted out, “Am I that easy to forget!”  To which the baffled man said, “I’m sorry ma’am, do I know you?”

cleo remembers me

Posted in blessings, feelings, no man's land | 5 Comments

feeling good in the neighborhood

We had an impromptu family dinner out the other night, which was kind of fun.  While we eat dinner together as a family every night, we rarely go out to restaurants.  Partly because of money, and partly because of instilling certain values in our children and partly because we have a 3 year old with whom dinner at a restaurant is particularly unpleasant.  But the summer was coming to a close and we realized that it would be Joita’s last family dinner at home before heading back to college and, well, we decided to spontaneously splurge.

We went to our favorite local restaurant; a family-friendly authentic Irish pub close to home.  It’s a sweet place with amazing food and decent prices.  Not that I feel overly comfortable there to be honest.  I mean, we all know that I don’t feel particularly comfortable out in public anywhere.  But this is a place frequented by blue-collar workers stopping for a quick drink before heading home after a long day at work (at least at the time we tend to have dinner – remember, 3 year old), so it is more understandable that I feel less comfortable there.  And, not to sound paranoid, but I feel as though I can hear the eye-rolling and sneers when I walk through the bar area to the restaurant.

At any rate, as I said, we don’t go out much and the last time we were at this dining establishment was before their big renovation a year or so ago.  As we walked from home we wondered together about what might be different.  We tried to guess whether they had changed the layout of the dining area and if they had made anything handicap accessible (while Joita can do stairs, the 3 or 4 steps to get in prevented any wheelchair user from eating there and we were aware of that).

When we got to the pub we noticed right away the new signage and the new handicap entrance (even though we went in the front door with the stairs).  The bar, still dimly lit and crowded, didn’t look much different.  The dining area was expanded with better lighting and new posters (mostly for Guinness and Jameson).  They had also gotten new tables and chairs – though still rustic and rather dark.  We took a booth near the kitchen, animatedly discussing the differences in the place, as well as the differences in each of us.  Joita is going into her sophomore year of college.  Nina heading into tweendom.  And Ruby nearly potty trained.

As always, the waitstaff was pleasant and the food was fantastic.  We laughed and shared stories and jokes.  The picture of the perfect family.  As the meals were consumed, Ruby announced she needed to use the potty.  Emily, who’d been parenting her all day already, looked to me with a beleaguered expression and said, “Can you take her?”  My brief hesitation of irritation overtaken by understanding the exhaustion of spending an entire day with a 3 year old.  I get it.  I really do.  3 year old energy is particularly draining.  I know they say “the terrible twos”, but I say fuck that!  Parenting a 3 year old feels a little like being held hostage by a tiny torturer on LSD.  Still, I was irritated.  Even for a moment.  Public bathrooms are so hard for me.  And the place was packed.  I wish Emily would get it even a little, what it’s like to have to use a public bathroom as a trans person.  I tossed my napkin onto the table in defeat.

As I pushed out my chair I internally prepared myself for the awkwardness of people watching me enter the women’s bathroom and absorbing their curious judgments.  There is always a twinge of fear that someone is going to stop me.  Or worse.

So Ruby and I, hand in hand, made our way through the crowded maze of tables.  As we turned the corner into the dimly lit hallway that held the restrooms, I saw that it, too, had been renovated.  Instead of separate “men’s” and “women’s” bathrooms, there was now two “all gender” bathrooms!  The old bathrooms were small and each had a few tiny cubicle-like stalls and a single sink.  The new bathrooms were spacious and lovely and private.  It was not only such a relief as a trans person, but it made dealing with a small child so much easier as there was much more space to move around and be able to help.  I practically skipped back to the table unable to stop smiling.

Ruby didn’t make it much longer at the table.  In fact, she couldn’t even wait for the waitress to bring the check.  So I offered to get a head start walking home with her.  We made our way back through the restaurant through the bar and though there was a line literally out the door, I stopped at the hostess area and asked if I could speak with a manager briefly.

The manager made her way over to me looking nearly as beleaguered as Emily had and asked how she could help me, clearly prepping herself for complaint. “It may not matter to 99% of your customers” I said, “but the fact that you have gender neutral bathrooms means so very much to me.  I just wanted to say thank you.”  Before I finished, her eyes filled with tears and she pulled me into a fierce hug.  She whispered, “I’m so glad.  You made my day.  You are always welcome here.  Thank you.”  I thanked her again and we left.

 

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