brotherly space

The latest installment of *The Peter Chronicles*:

I haven’t had contact with my brother for several months now.  As much my doing as his.  Sometimes I just need a break from the insanity.  Sometimes I just can’t tolerate hearing the gory and stupefying details of what passes for his life.  I just need distance.  I can’t listen to him and his nonsense, his excuses and his absurd aspirations, his delusional dreams and pathetic plans.  I can’t.  I just can’t.  I feel like a bad person.  But I can’t.  I’m all about helping those in need, meeting folks where they are, less judgment, journeying with others and all that happy haughtiness.  It pains me that I can’t be there for my own brother.  But I’ve needed this break.

When last I’d heard from him he was waiting for his windfall of cash and his teeth to come in.  That last conversation being the proverbial straw that severed what was left of my longanimity with his absurdity.

Not long after that I heard from his only steadfast friend, a lovely and simple young woman with a clearly compromised intellect, who has been in love with him since forever.  She called to tell me that Peter was in jail again.  {shocking, I know}  He only calls her when he needs something, usually money.  But she doesn’t see it quite the way I do.  She sees his calls as him turning to her in his times of need, the one person he can be vulnerable with, his rock.  Or something like that.  Anyway, this time he called her (collect) from jail asking for her to post bail.  To the tune of several hundred dollars.  She had about one-seventh of it.  She was asking me if I had any money I wanted to chip in.  As if I work two jobs so that I have an extra few hundred dollars to literally throw away.

She tried to persuade me by telling me that Peter had cried on the phone and it broke her heart.  Bless her.  If he didn’t come up with the bail money he was going to have to spend weeks in jail waiting for his court date (because he has a history of not showing up to court dates) and God only knew what that would do to his fragile personage.  It wasn’t his fault.  He didn’t do anything.  He was picked up accidentally, out of the blue, a case of mistaken identity, on a warrant or some such thing, for unpaid parking tickets or the like, from the year 1999.  Really.  Honestly.  He is an oppressed victim of the system.  I cut her off.  Yes yes, I know.  Poor, pitiful, Peter.  Always in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Doing nothing whatsoever.  Just bad luck.  And all that sort of rot.  As for the money, sorry, I don’t have an extra few hundred.  She pushed me, “not even one hundred?”  Sigh.  If I had extra money I wouldn’t have to tell my children we can’t afford the fancy individually-packaged yogurt that changes color when you stir it.  (note: I’d still tell them that, because that shit is gross and loaded with chemicals.  But I wouldn’t have to).

Anyway, Peter spent the two plus weeks doing whatever one does in jail while Jen used what little money she had to make sure he still had a room at the sober house and keeping his*canteen* funded so he could buy himself flip-flops for the shower – those prison showers put the *fun* in fungus.  She ran around, making phone calls, ensuring that his *benefits* would not be interrupted by his unavoidable hiatus from life.  And the time passed.

I heard from mother.  She was, all at once, hysterical, depressed, angry and outraged at the system for so mistreating her child.  As well as outraged and angry that she had a child who merited jail time.  He called her as often as they allowed, through the prison-collect-call system (I believe they charge some outlandish price for those calls, with most of the inmates calling their mommies, who pay the 12 bucks a minute to hear about the poor treatment and the misunderstood misery of good boys falsely accused).  She bought his fictions hook-line-and-sinker, believing that some over-eager clerk trying to move up the career ladder found Peter’s unpaid parking ticket from 1999 and convinced the lieutenant that the interest on those charges could buy the station its own Keurig.  They dispatched a squad car and found Peter sitting home weaving lap blankets for the local nursing home.  They hated to bring him in, but, you know, the siren-call of fresh-brewed coffee.

If I sound irritated, It’s because I am.  It’s very frustrating (at least for me) to care about someone who doesn’t help himself.  Someone who takes no responsibility for his own life.  Someone who cannot seem to stay one hairsbreadth on the right side of non-criminal behavior.  I mean, for the love of God, how difficult is it to simply not get arrested?!  As you can see, I’ve seriously scaled back my expectations.

Peter’s interregnum of incarceration gave me a much-needed break, but clearly not long enough.  He didn’t even try to contact me after he got out.  According to Jen he got off with “time served”, which means supposedly those pesky parking tickets are all paid off by his taxpayer funded furlough.  I hope the cops enjoy their Keurig.

I guess Pete felt as if he’d let enough time pass that he could fairly safely call me without too much threat of a lecture.  He texted a one-liner, “Hey sis” and called a few times.  He left one or two messages, also brief.  When I didn’t answer or call back after a few tries, he left me an angry message.  He didn’t need a house to fall on him to know I was ignoring him.  How dare I ignore him!!?  Well fuck me!  Sigh.


Posted in brother's keeper, feelings | 2 Comments

conundrum: having my cake and eating it too

I got a call recently from the coach/captain of a local hockey team asking me if I’d be interested in playing goal for them.  Now, to be clear, this isn’t just any team.  I have been jonesing to play for this particular team for several years now.  Really, since I started playing hockey.  If I were a skater, I’d like to think I might have been considered before now.  But there is only one goalie spot on each team and their’s was filled with K, an awesome goalie and all-around sweetheart of a person.  K decided to move up a division and the team was asking me to be K’s permanent replacement.  I was positively delirious and intoxicated at the prospect of playing with them.  This team is a well-known, cohesive, strong and solid D level recreational hockey team.  They win games, but more than that, they are a charismatic, tenacious team whose camaraderie is palpable and whose spirit is indomitable.  They have fun, genuinely like one another and love hockey.  It is also a women’s team in a women’s league. {cue screeching tires}

What?!  What the… Shut the front door!  What happened to not identifying as a woman?!  What happened to the whole *trans* thing?!  I’m taking testosterone for crying out loud!  I quit playing in women’s leagues over a year ago.  I’ve only been playing on men’s teams since then.  What am I thinking?!  How could I even consider playing for this, a women’s, team?  What the hell was I thinking?!

Harrison Browne made history in 2016 when he came out as transgender, becoming the first openly transgender person to play in the NWHL (National Women’s Hockey League).  He knew he was trans long before he came out publicly.  His plan was to transition after college.  But then the NWHL was created, and with that, the opportunity for Brownie (as he is referred to by teammates and friends) to play hockey professionally.  An opportunity he couldn’t pass up.  The opportunity of a lifetime.  So he delayed medically transitioning (read that: taking testosterone) so he could be a pro hockey player.  He worked with the league and the league worked with him, helping him socially transition, creating rules and navigating this new terrain with thoughtful open-mindedness, adroitness and respect.  I followed his story closely.  He changed his name, though not legally (more for visa reasons than anything).  And sportscasters and color-commentators referred to him with male pronouns and his preferred name, Harrison, while calling the games.  There were certainly some slip ups, but they were gently corrected and it was, all in all, pretty seamless.  At the ripe age of 25 he retired as a player, so he could move on with his life as the man he knows himself to be.

Several years ago now, as I was coming to my own realizations, I was friendly with a young trans guy who was light years ahead of me in terms of his acceptance and understanding of what it meant to be transgender.  I was twice his age, but he was my role model in many ways.  He was smart and steady and thoughtful (about everything in life, not just trans issues).  And then he was inducted into a private, elite, society of Jewish women.  He not only accepted membership in the group, I learned that he had negotiated his way to the invitation (private, elite and by invite only).  It sort of rocked me and I found myself angry and unable to understand how he could reconcile what to me were clear conflicts of identifying as male and being a member of a specifically and intentionally female-only group.  I sharply confronted him, calling him an opportunist among other things (it being an elite coterie where he would have access to a privileged and exclusive cast of Jewish society).  He didn’t see any problem with his membership, or the fact that joining would give him a leg up in the Jewish world.  His life views were/are simply more expansive and less rigidly binary than mine.  It was not the first time I have been accused of rigidity.  We grew apart after that and I’m not sure if this issue wasn’t partly the reason.  I heard his arguments and tried to understand his more fluid world-view, but I’m not sure I ever really came around.

Am I not doing the same thing considering playing for this women’s hockey team in this women’s league?  The debate in my head grew uncomfortably louder and louder.

I have played on co-ed teams with two of the players on this potential hockey team and we have become more than acquaintances even while we are less than actual friends.  I currently play hockey on a men’s team with the husband of one of them.  Both these women, L and M, texted and reached out to me after the team’s meeting and decision to recruit me.  I decided on a whim to ask them to meet with me.  What I was hoping for or planning I had no idea.

We met at a local pub and before our asses even hit the vinyl-booth-seat they were both reaching for my arm and asking, “So, are you gonna do it?! Are you going to play with us!?!”  And before I could answer, they’d each launched into cogent compelling snippets and stories about how wonderful it is to play on this team, peppering me with inveigling heartwarming stories of individual characters and kindnesses shared and strong connections made.  It took me a minute to realize they were both trying to convince me to join the team, assuming I was having doubts.  I sat back and smiled.  They had their own anxiety.

I interrupted about 15 minutes in (having let myself bask in the warmth of recruitment).  I explained that the desire to play for them was 100% there.  That wasn’t the problem.  “What is the problem then!?” M asked, “So you’ll join, right?”  “Well it isn’t quite so simple”, I said as I took a deep breath.

I realized yet again how difficult it is to simply say, “I’m transgender”.  In addition to the fear of rejection and scorn (which I didn’t actually have so much with these two women), there is always the fear of disbelief.  As if anyone jokes about this kind of thing.  Still, the immediate impulse to laugh, tease or treat the announcement as if it were an ice-breaking witticism seems prevalent.  I didn’t want to have to deal with the possibility of having to elucidate awkwardly in the face of either of them thinking I was joking.

“So, the thing is,” I said calmly and seriously, “I identify as transgender.”  I let that sit in the air, wondering to myself about my choice of phrasing, watching their reactions.  They were both looking at me so earnestly I almost laughed.  Eyebrows went from upraised in anticipation to narrowed in consideration.  They were both like, “Ok, thanks for letting us know.”   “What’s the problem?”  M spoke first, “So you want us to refer to you with different pronouns? Done.  Is that it?”  They both seemed relieved and like, “what-evs, no big deal”  They each mentioned or referenced Harrison Browne as they talked over one another, clearly relieved at the triviality of what I had told them.  I had to explain that yes, the NWHL let Brownie play in the league but he was not taking testosterone.  And I am.

That brought them up a bit short.  And we sat quietly for a minute or so.  M was the first to speak,”Why does anyone need to know?”  L agreed, “Well yeah. It isn’t like either M or I noticed anything different about you.  I had no idea.”  I felt a mild twinge at that.  Of course part of me is glad that on my slow and controlled journey, where I’m not ready to navigate more outness, there is nothing outwardly noticeable.  While simultaneously I felt a sliver of sadness that my inner changes have not manifest in outward ways at all.

After some thoughtful conscientious conversation about it, they agreed and concluded that I should play for the team.  Their reasoning was well-constructed and intentional, considering each aspect of my situation.  They discounted Harrison Browne’s situation almost out of hand, for several reasons, not the least of which being that the NWHL is a professional league and he is a skater not a goalie.  A recreational league has a lot more leeway to bend and expand rules than does a professional league.  There is exactly nothing at stake by my playing in the rec league.  There aren’t even playoffs or trophies, never mind payment for playing.  I could also understand their reasoning about me being a goalie as opposed to a skater.  If the testosterone has any effect on my strength (which is minimal if not completely aspirant at this point), as a skater I would be able to shoot harder and farther.  Testosterone is not going to effect my play as a goaltender.  Even Harrison Browne wrestled with this issue, and said the following:

I believe that if there’s no physical advantage, it shouldn’t matter what your background is, or whether you’re transgender or not. I think people should take a step back when they think about trans athletes in sports. If hormone levels don’t confer an advantage, there’s no reason to bar anyone from participating.

I agree with that as I agreed with much of what M and L were saying.  But still, something wasn’t sitting right with me.  I think the heart of the matter has to do with my own issues around deserving, entitlement and shame.  The tyrannical trifecta that has plagued me all my life.  And the reality here is that I’m probably making a bigger deal out of this than is necessary (no shocker there).  The reality is that I was always told that getting what I wanted was the equivalent of being spoiled.  And the word spoiled was generally associated by hyphenation with the word brat.

I do want to join and play for this team.  Not because I do or don’t deserve to get what I want.  And not because I benefit in any way that I (or anyone) shouldn’t.  I want to play with them because I yearn to belong and because I love hockey.  If I wait to join a team until I find a team that is *just like me*, a team I *fit in*, I am going to be waiting a very long time.  Like, forever.  This team offers me camaraderie and acceptance, a different kind of belonging than other teams I am playing for currently.  This team offers me a level of play that is commensurate with my own ability, with humans approximately my size, which allows for a certain safety.  And even though I may not identify as a woman, that isn’t the point of this team or league.  The point of this team and league is hockey.  And I do identify as a hockey player.

Posted in no man's land | 3 Comments

not a hater

Someone made a comment recently that took me aback.  After reading something in my blog he said, “Wow, sounds like you really hate your mother.”  It bothered me, for a few reasons.  Number one, that simple summary somehow trivializes the years of lived experience down to a singularly defensive emotion.  It isn’t quite that simple my friend.  My feelings, or how I portray them in my writing, didn’t come to be in a proverbial vacuum.  The fact is, I’m not sure how I feel about my mother.  I’m not at all sure I would use the word hate in any event.  Especially now, since she is currently a ghost of the being she once was.  But I’ll get to that.

The fact is, my mother is and has always been mentally ill.  From the time she was an infant who supposedly held her breath until she passed out when she was angry, frustrated or afraid (as the family legend tells) to the teen who defied her parents and left high school just shy of graduation, and married a boy (who was not Jewish) from the wrong side of the tracks, to the woman who had affairs with much younger men and ran away to another state with a guy she met country-western line dancing.  I’m pretty sure she wasn’t actually, technically, medically diagnosed until adulthood.  Even then, I’m not sure what her diagnosis was.  And not to put too fine a point on it, but just because she wasn’t diagnosed by a medical professional until she was an adult doesn’t mean she wasn’t mentally ill her entire life before that.  She was.   At any rate, they treated her and medicated her as if her diagnosis was *hysterical female*.  She took Lithium, Valium and other “mood stabilizers” popular in the 70s like they were candy, self-dispensing when and how much she deemed she needed at any given moment, throughout my entire childhood.  She was labile despite the dosing of prescription medication and would fly off into a rage or sobbing hysteria with very little provocation (at least as far as I could see).  If something didn’t go her way, if something didn’t go as she wanted/expected or if something even remotely displeased her she would scream, hit, throw things, break things, cry and call names.  I believe the technical term is: Tantrum.  These temper hemorrhages were not once in a proverbial blue moon or even once in a while.  They were Every. Single. Day.  Often many times on any given day.  And they were not for the faint of heart I can tell you.

She should never have had children.  She shouldn’t have been entrusted to care for a pet rock, never mind a tiny, helpless, human being.  But again, that is neither here nor there I guess.  What’s done is done.  The bottom line reality is that growing up with her as a mother was no bed of roses.  Or whatever the appropriate saying would be.

As a child I’m not entirely sure how I felt.  Scared and confused for sure.  When I wasn’t entertaining some fantasy of being some kind of changeling from another galaxy,  I sort of  assumed the crazy that took place in my home was taking place in every other home too.  In my teens and certainly early 20s I did hate her.  As I experienced and saw more of the world, specifically how other people and other families functioned, I felt livid at all the ridiculous unnecessary derangement I had had to put up with.  Other mothers didn’t throw things, break things, call their children horrible names or threaten unspeakable acts.

One of the things my mother always prided herself on was her ability to be mean.  She always relished and reveled in the role of bully.  In her young adulthood she would describe herself as “a force to be reckoned with”.  Small of stature, she was always quick to remind people that “dynamite comes in small packages” too.  She loved to regale us with (no doubt embellished versions of) stories of how she had insulted, threatened, intimidated or upset someone she didn’t like.

One of my mother’s favorite stories to tell was about when she bumped into an old friend of my grandmother’s in the supermarket.  This friend and my grandmother had had a falling out, and so were not *friends* when my grandmother died unexpectedly.  To start off with, my mother forbade this particular friend of my grandmother’s from attending her funeral.  We all disagreed with that decision, but as usual there was no reasoning with her.  In her state of heightened grief, she was even less reasonable.  The singular meanness of this demand was profound.  This poor woman, no youngster herself, was not allowed to attend the funeral of one of her decades-long dear friends.  If that wasn’t bad enough, months (maybe even years) later, my mother saw this woman alone in a grocery store.  According to her, she rammed her shopping cart into that woman’s shopping cart, glaring at her maliciously and saying something to the effect of, “I see you’re still alive.  Too bad.”  I remember the first time my mother told that story (when the version was that she’d only crashed the shopping cart once…. in later versions she repeatedly slammed her shopping cart into the other woman’s).  Chills went through me.  I felt abhorrence and disgust envisioning the scene, watching my mother’s gleeful expression as she recounted the incident.

At any rate, my mother, once an evil legend in her own mind, has become a sniveling, slobbering, gibbering, feeble (both in mind and in body) shell of a person.  Her hypochondria has taken on a life of its own.  In addition to her lifelong bouts of dizziness, tinnitus and what she calls her “crying-jags”, she claims to have extensive and incurable skin cancer all over her body (for which she has repeated surgeries) as well as a new and never-before-encountered glaucoma that leaves her completely blind one day and with near 20/20 vision the next (which also requires frequent surgical procedures).  She is frequently, as in all the time, fighting colds, flu, viral infections, stomach inflammation  and other ailments, diseases and indispositions.  The doctors have never seen the likes of her medical maladies before, she tells me over and over.  She is also constantly *injured*.  She either falls, trips, slips, tumbles, bumps into things; closes doors, windows, boxes or lids on herself; gets scratched or bitten by her or someone else’s pets; twists her ankle, the list is endless.  Her infirmities, debilities and general ill-health are her only topics of conversation.  She has not one friend (with a communication repertoire like that one can understand why).  She rarely leaves her home these days, in part because life is so exhausting for her that she needs frequent naps throughout the day.  Fretful unease has become her baseline, afraid of everything from rabid animals to errant meteors (the sky is falling).  And let’s not forget the recent school shooting which took place a mile from her home that she is still recovering from and quite shaken by.  She only leaves the house for her multitudinous medical appointments or to sometimes engage in her only hobby – shopping.  But she can never go far or for too long.  Because all the disquiet in her life and mind is tiring and she needs a nap.

She is constantly contradicting herself, denying whatever she said just moments before (which doesn’t work quite as well as it used to before things like texting, facebook or email).  Sometimes she adamantly denies having said whatever she said.  Other times (like when presented with her own text or email) she bursts into tears literally pleading insanity.  She maintains that she is paralyzed by the fear that she has dementia.  Her husband has hired caregivers to be with her several days a week because of her frequent assertions that contradict reality, her recurrent bouts of hysteria, as well as her more and more delusional behaviors.  More than one of these private-pay aides have quit within days because of her constant drama.  A fact that she has reported to me herself.  I can only imagine the hell she has wreaked upon these poor hapless Florence Nightingales who think they are being hired to care for a  young Sophia from the Golden Girls.  At the same time, she claims to have no idea what they’re talking about, maintaining no knowledge whatsoever of anything that even remotely could be considered drama in her life.  And so it goes.  Her life is a quagmire of insanity.  I work with people in their late 90s who have more energy, ability and definitely more on the ball mentally than she has.  She is 73.  And make  no mistake, my mother has not changed overmuch.  She has simply become more of herself.  She is less able to hide her mental disorders from others.  But trust me, this is who she has always been.

But no, I don’t hate her.  Neither do I like her very much.  There isn’t very much to like or to connect with to be perfectly honest.  The person she once was wasn’t very likable to begin with.  The person she is now is a mere shell of a human being, quite frankly, pathetic.  And one might think that rather than feeling indifferent (which is pretty much how I feel), I’d have some sympathy for who she has become.  The fact is that she spent her lifetime spewing her own anger, pain, hate and meanness on everyone and everything she came into contact with without offering a shred of anything even remotely positive to the Universe.  She did nothing to help herself, or make her life any better.  Never mind the fact that she did nothing to enhance anyone else’s life.  So no, I don’t even pity her.  In many ways, she has made the bed in which she currently lies (double-entendre intended).  Perhaps she had her own demons that drove her.  I shrug.  We all do.  While some of us are driven by our demons to reach out and help others, offer compassion and caring and kindness, others choose to lash out with malicious spite and cruelty, in an attempt to make those around them as unhappy as they are.  I see it as a choice.  And again I could be wrong.  I chose differently is all I’m saying.


Posted in family of origin, feelings | 1 Comment

the cat is out of the bag

Well, well, well.  All the best-laid-plans and well-kept-secrets.  I believe there is a Yiddish expression that sums it up nicely – “man tracht un Gott lacht” – “man plans, and God laughs”-  meaning, “Despite our most careful planning, the road of life is unpredictable”.  It doesn’t get much truer than that.  I have been quite controlled (no surprise there) about with whom, and when, and whether I have or have not shared my trans-journey.  My intended path one of self-selected privacy bordering on secrecy.  I do realize how antithetical it is to maintain a public blog while simultaneously keeping something so monumental secret in real-time daily life.  But that is how I have chosen to do things.  For better or for worse.

Just like I don’t plan on doing a big *gender reveal* at work, I have never spoken with my family (with the exception of telling my mother) about being transgender.  No one in Emily’s family knows and no one in my family of origin knows.  This has been intentional on my part.  Perhaps I’m wrong (I have been known to be on more than one occasion), but I can’t imagine any of them really understanding.  And while I have no doubt they would accept me and continue to love me, I feel like they would simply *humor me*, dealing with me as if I were addled and unscrewed rather than attempting or being able to get it on any real level.  I have no wish to charter that course at any rate.  Nor do I have a wish to attempt to convince them otherwise.  It has seemed easier to me to maintain a *don’t ask don’t tell* sort of policy and keep a low profile.

This has, like any decision, had repercussions.  I see my family in person less than I used to in order to avoid questions about my changing appearance, demeanor and being.  I do sometimes play hockey with one of my cousins and of course we share a locker-room.  Whether she notices changes or not, we don’t engage in conversation about it.  She doesn’t ask.  I don’t tell.  And I have no idea if I am a topic of conversation between her and the rest of the family (though I highly doubt it given that this part of my family is not gossipy at all).  Once in a blue moon my uncle will call me and say, “Hey! Long time no see!” or I will send him or my aunt a text saying hi.  We talk of getting together more, but we all lead busy lives and have a lot on our individual plates, and with one thing or another it never comes to be.  And that is the extent of it.

On a whim, I recently invited my aunt and uncle to one of Joita’s final basketball games.  I realized that one of the last games of the season (and Joita’s senior year in high school) was going to take place in their neck of the woods.  So without thinking too much about it, I sent them a text inviting them.  They were thrilled to have been invited and happily accepted.  I got there early and coincidentally so did my aunt, and we parked side by side.  She motioned for me to join her in her car and I did.  We were both aware we had time to kill and we hadn’t seen one another in ages.

After brief pleasantries and check ins, my aunt said, “Guess who your uncle and I had dinner with the other night?”  I swear, time stopped.  In one part of my brain I had no idea (nor did I particularly care), unable to even guess who they had dinner with.  But in another part of my brain (clearly the part where guilt and anxiety resides) I felt the whoosh and pounding of my heart, blocking my ears and making my breath catch in my throat.  Red flashing warning lights coupled with the computer voice of the robot from Lost In Space shouting, “Warning! Warning! Danger Will Robinson!”  Her tone of voice said it all.  I’d been caught out at something. When she said their names I knew the jig was up.  They were old family friends.  Friends of my parents actually.  And though our families grew apart and have not had contact in probably 30 years, I know one of them follows this blog.

Before I could respond, my aunt’s body shifted so that she was facing the windshield, away from looking at me, and she launched into, “You wouldn’t believe the things he had to say about you!  Crazy, ridiculous stuff!  Something about you having a blog (said with eye-rolling mockery)?!  And… HORmones (mockery crossing the line between dismay, disbelief or derision)??? And trans-whatever?!  Just crazy talking shit.  And he was very judgmental about it I’ll have you know.  And I told him, I said, ‘I don’t think so. Because I think I know my niece better than that.’  And really I just got very defensive.”

The silent pause that followed as she trailed off and I sat without comment was the sound of a glacial mass shattering, like a canon going off in my face in slow-motion.  Deafeningly the longest 7 seconds I have known.  I found that I, too, was sitting facing forward, avoiding eye-contact without the awareness of having moved.  “I guess he didn’t mention my bread baking?” I offered awkwardly.

I think she was as grateful as I was for the non-sequitur.  “No,” she said, “But he did say how much you hate your mother.  And I told him, ‘You know something, she has every right to hate that woman.  That woman is pure evil’ is what I said.”  Back on less shaky, more common ground, I jumped at the chance to change the subject.  We talked for a minute or two about the latest news on my mother and brother (who was back in jail).  Still, the conversation (if you could call it that) was stilted and awkward.  We both were a bit shaken.  She would have bet her life that not one iota of it was true.  And she expected me to immediately and loudly jump in, interrupt and join her in her derisive persiflage of disbelief.  But how could I?  Every iota of it is true.

I can only imagine the drive home after dinner that night.  My aunt and uncle unnerved and unsettled by the evening’s revelations as they fought to reconcile what they thought they knew of me and what they had heard.  And of course I can all too easily imagine the flood and progression of their emotions.  I felt guilty sitting there in my aunt’s car.  I expect she and my uncle were baffled and confused.  Closely followed by hurt.  It’s isn’t like we haven’t been close or that we don’t have a lot of love between us.  How could they not have been hurt by my refusal to share something so important with them?

Sitting in the car with my aunt, we both stammered, stuttered and stumbled through cotton-filled mouths gone suddenly dry, the windows steaming in the cold evening air by our anxiety-infused breathing.  It was like having a conversation with a time delay.  She would start a sentence and I would interrupt and talk over her and apologize and she would interrupt me and apologize and no real words were spoken.  No complete sentences were formed.  After several fits and stops, there was another uneasy silence. “So…. should we head in?” I said as nonchalantly as I could muster.

My uncle joined us as we entered the school building.  We sat uncomfortably in the bleachers (which everyone knows are uncomfortable to begin with) and attended scrupulously to the game neither my aunt or I actually followed.  After the game we walked back out to our cars, not lingering in the chilly night air.  We said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.

I paused in the parking lot and watched them drive away.  “Well that went well I think” I said to myself.


Posted in family of origin, feelings, no man's land | 1 Comment


I like the word *adulting* as a verb.  I know some people do not.  But unlike the sometimes forced morphing of verb status onto nouns or adjectives, a process called (obviously) *verbing*, the nature of *adulting* just strikes a chord with me.  We spend our childhoods waiting for the opportunity to *adult*.  All the supposed perks adults have, seen through the eyes of children, seem so glamorous and thrilling, or at least filled with self-determination and a side of Dunkin’ Donuts any time you please.  And then, if you’re like me, you spend your adulthood avoiding it.  Why?  Because *adulting* is hard.  It is boring and tedious and irritating and extremely un-fun.  Even with the occasional side of Dunkin. Whenever I do it though, I admit I feel pretty stoked, super pumped, like “where’s my cape?” super-hero status.  That sense of accomplishment after having completed an odious task can be a real rush.  But most days I just fucking hate adulting and avoid it at all costs.  This week I have adulted pretty hard.  I’m exhausted.  And it’s only Tuesday.

Last summer I gave up one of my favorite sitting areas, our second floor porch, because of the swarms of what I believe were wasps gathering around one of the pillars holding up the porch.  I could see where they went in, but I couldn’t reach it without climbing over the rail, standing on a stool and reaching up (in other words, I couldn’t reach it without risking my life).  So I did what I do best.  I went inside, closed the door and ignored it.

Whenever it was that I wrote about how our front doorknob fell off and I took apart the entire door-latch and lock was all well and good.  But the fucker fell off again.  Despite the fact that the locksmith told me it wouldn’t last, and that I should save up for a new lock system, I clearly did not believe him.  I tried taking apart the mechanisms again, but the main spindle’s threading was worn down and stripped, making it non-functional.  After several frustrating and failed attempts to jimmy-rig it, I slapped some duct tape across the latch and drilled a drawer handle onto the door, calling it a day.  Another form of avoidance, if not outright negligent adulting.

I used fancy duct tape at least

This week I called and spoke with a pest control company about the wasps.  I haven’t seen any.  Yet.  But why wait until the weather gets warm enough for them to wake up and swarm the porch again?  I did learn that wasps don’t hibernate, by the way, and that it is likely they will not return to the nest in the column of my porch, never mind waking from their hypothetical slumber to take ownership of my own preferred perch.  I also have dealt with three different plumbing companies in an effort to identify and take care of a plumbing problem that has been literally plaguing our house for several months.  This adulting is exhausting.

For the last few years I have whined here on this blog and with any friends who would listen about our city’s public pool and how the only way to access the pool area is to go through either the men’s locker/changing/shower-rooms or the women’s locker/changing/shower-rooms.  My children are basically part fish and would go daily to the public pool.  And I would love to take them.  It is literally a half mile from our house.  I just can’t deal with the painfully shaming awkwardness of having to navigate the inner sanctums of either gender’s facilities.

So in the midst of my newfound proclivity for adulting this week, I crafted an email to our city’s LGBTQ liaison.  Let me pause here to say how very grateful I am to live in a community that can even conceive of the need for such a position.  Never mind the fact that the person in this role is a trans-woman who has been in public service since graduating from high school in the early 70s.

I outlined the problems, in case she wasn’t aware.  I also shared my understanding for the need to have a check-in place and a way to comply with what I assume is some kind of law requiring swimmers in public pools to “rinse off” before entering the pool.  Not that people do rinse off mind you.  They simply walk the catacombs of the locker-shower-changing tunnels and emerge at the pool anhydrously unmoistened.  But my point was that I do understand that we are navigating more than meets the eye here.

In addition to my own needs, I also wondered in the email about parents and children of different genders.  Are male parents bringing 5 to 7 year old daughters to the pool expected to bring their little girls through the men’s locker/changing/shower rooms?  Or are the little girls sent off by themselves to navigate the women’s areas while the dad goes his own way and they just hope to meet up at the pool?  Or does the pool staff make an exception and allow the man to bring his girls through the ladies’ area??  My guess is that there are several extenuating circumstances that allow people to circumvent having to navigate the gendered grottos of the unclothed masses.  There must be a more direct route to the pool anyway.  But that would require having a (probably lengthy) conversation slash explanation with the check in desk people in order to explain one’s qualifications for extenuation.  Which poses its own set of problems for me.  Number one, the people staffing that check in area are generally teenagers.  These are summer jobs meant to keep them out of trouble, not career choices they wish to deeply engage their minds with.  And even if these were woke teens with a modicum of maturity, they are not given the authority to make decisions of this nature without having to consult someone else.  Not to mention the fact that these conversations/explanations would inevitably take place at the desk, as in, in public, in front of whomever else is in line and whoever might be milling about.

Don’t get me wrong, I would happily explain myself.  Privately.  Once.  Maybe even twice.  But to have to go through the gauntlet every time I go to the pool is asking too much.  There has to be an easier way.  In my email to the liaison I offered to be part of figuring out a viable solution.

She wrote back quickly, thanking me for reaching out and accepting my offer to join her and the pool folks in a brainstorming session.  It was such an enthusiastic, encouraging and positive response it made me feel like I might just have a handle on this adulting thing.  So I went to Dunkies for my adulting reward and smugly ordered myself a coffee.  Because, you know, I can any time I want to, as an adult.  It wasn’t until I was driving away, self-satisfiedly sipping on my iced coffee that I realized I’d ripped open and upended into my coffee, white packets that were salt, not sugar. {cue sad trombone}.  Adulting is still hard.


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

update on baking for good

It’s a little weird to be writing about bread from within the forced bread abstinence of Passover.  But perhaps it is only in absence where one might find perspective.  When last I wrote about my baking for good it was just an idea forming in my head, a wish to do something positive, to put out some good in the world.  This small effort germinated from my need to combat both within me and around me the negative impact of the shit show that is the current state of our world.

I’ve got pretty thin skin.  I am, sometimes overly, sensitive.  The world feels so hard, so damaged and damaging, so mean right now.  There are so many people suffering.  I want very badly to help, to do something to make things better.  But I get stuck, not knowing what I can do that would make any difference.  And then I get paralyzed by the fact that I can do so precious little.  But recently something shifted.  Right there in the midst of feeling raw and overwhelmed by sadness and despair, I started to bake bread for a few friends in addition to the bread I bake for our family.  It felt good to be doing something (even something so small) for someone other than myself.  And the friends who were getting the bread were so happy.  When they offered to pay me I felt stuck because while the ingredients cost me money, it felt almost petty to charge for the ingredients alone.  Some said I should charge for my time.  But using and focusing my time on something positive and good is what I wanted to (needed to) do, that was my whole point.  Plus, how can you actually put a price on time when you are doing something altruistic, something productive, something that you love to do and that is so much fun?  That’s when I came up with the buy one give one idea.  What if I baked two loaves for every one loaf I sold?  The second loaf I would donate to a shelter. 

Apparently this is not such an innovatory concept to people other than me.  Apparently there are companies doing this regularly, who have been doing so for a while.  Who knew.  Anyway, I asked on Facebook what people would pay for a homemade loaf of bread if they knew another loaf was going to a shelter or other place of need.  Many people responded, and I was shocked that so many suggested 10 dollars.  To me that’s pretty steep for a loaf of bread.  Keeping in mind they are relatively small loaves baked by someone who is learning how to bake bread.  In other words, experimenting on them.  Also, turning a profit was not my intention.

After doing a bit of considering along with some research, I settled on 5 dollars a loaf/pair.  Presupposing that was not a financial burden to the families buying the bread and estimating that it would cover my ingredient costs.  I didn’t have to spend much time looking for a recipient of the bread because when I wrote that blog post I received a quick response from a friend who gave me a suggestion for a likely recipient of such donations.  Her church sponsors a *Friday Cafe* that offers nourishment in several varieties to those in need of a warm, loving, low-key, judgement-free community and space.  It sounded perfect to me.  So, I started with the two families I had already been baking for.  Whole wheat, whole grain bread for one, and sometimes that and sometimes cinnamon swirl for the other.  They seemed super happy to be engaging in my little do-gooder scheme.  I wasn’t certain that two skimpy loaves of bread were going to make any real difference at the Friday Cafe, but then I got a photo from my friend – a beautiful picture of my bread made into healthy nourishing sandwiches.  The following week she wrote:

Your bread was much appreciated today.  We fed 222 hungry guests!

Obviously not just with my bread.  And,

We put your bread out next to the three tureens of soup.  One of the people said, “this the same home-made bread from your friend?”  Both loaves were gobbled up in 10 minutes!

My heart swelled and sang.  I don’t know why I was so overwhelmed, but I really was.  I’m not solving any of the myriad of the world’s problems.  But I’m not doing nothing either.  And the good I was doing felt really really good.  I can’t even describe how happy I was.  I was beyond delighted, bordering on delirious.  And a third family asked about “getting in on the deal”.





I’m having some small distance from the baking this week because of Passover.  And from within this bubble of abstinence, I can perlustrate without the pressure of production.


Baking for others is in some ways glorious.  Baking something delicious and sharing it with others, watching them taste it and enjoy it begets a feeling all its own.  The more I’ve been baking, the more I’ve been experimenting, trying new recipes and stretching my culinary creativity.  I’ve also been bringing delicious trials and treats to my friends at work.  I’ve gotten rave reviews (particularly of the cinnamon bread and my escapade into lavash crackers) and some insightful and helpful feedback on my sandwich loaves.  And I have to mention the chocolate babka!  It has made me happy in the extreme to share the spoils (so to speak) with friends.  On the other hand, there is now a new level of responsibility that accompanies my baking.  Other families are depending on my bread.  I can’t just play in the kitchen, attempting to create fun interesting things.  I have to produce something specific.  And it has to be edible.  There was a week when something went wrong and the dough didn’t rise.  I ended up with small brick-like loaves that would have served better doorstops than sandwiches.  I had to hastily make more loaves.  And anyone even remotely familiar with bread baking knows that it is anything but hasty.  What happens when something like that goes wrong?  What is my backup plan?  I work two jobs, have 3 kids and a dog… and don’t forget hockey several nights a week.  There won’t always be time for a do-over.  In addition to potential dough downfalls, there has also arisen the issue of delivery.

When I was just baking for my family I didn’t worry a lot about timing.  If a loaf didn’t finish baking until early evening I had no compunction about leaving it out on the counter overnight before cutting and bagging it the next morning (it cuts more easily when it is completely cool).  I didn’t think twice about it then being technically day-old bread.  We freeze our sandwich bread anyway to maintain freshness.  But when the bread is for another family, one that may not want to freeze their bread, taking a day of freshness away might be a big deal.  In theory delivering a fresh loaf of bread around the corner is a piece of cake.  But too many times that bread sat, sliced so nicely, in its bag on my counter for more than a day or two before I cajoled my 8-year old into running it down the street.  It wasn’t just that I tend toward sloth-like laze.  I had to make sure the recipients were home, that it was a good time for them as well as me.  I didn’t want to leave a bag of bread sitting outside on the steps exposed to animals and the elements (even in a plastic bag).

There certainly are more *incidentals* to contend with than I had originally considered.  Though nothing daunting enough to stop me.  In the meantime, I have a week to plan, prepare and fantasize.

Also in the meantime, I’ve met a new employee at work.  By day (at work) she is a speech pathologist.  At heart she is a baker, not unlike me, but way more advanced.  She is a very funky, cool, observant Jew and she and I are fantasizing about doing a baking show together some day.  We want to call it, “Challah if you bake!” or “Challah if you’re cooking!”  And incidentally, one of her career interests and goals is to work with the trans community, helping with vocal transitioning.  The Universe is some amazing place.

*Also incidentally, I received an email from BU’s alumni association telling me about a few different volunteer opportunities for their “days of giving”.  And one of the places BU alum are volunteering turns out to be the *Friday Cafe* at First Church in Cambridge where I’m passing along my bread.  Are there really any coincidences?


Posted in almost off the grid, blessings, everyday stuff, Uncategorized | 7 Comments

of role models and athletics

Both my high school gym teachers died within the last year or so.  Within a year or so of one another.  I was surprised to learn from their obituaries that they were each only in their early to mid 70s.  Which would have made them a whopping early 30s when I was a student in high school.  I’m laughing because they seemed ancient to me then.  They were like the proverbial little old ladies, ancient bordering on decrepit.  They were two peas in a pod.  I’m not sure either of them topped four feet tall, sporting almost identical bowl haircuts.  They both had square, chunky builds and maintained a nun-like quality that instilled fear in the hearts of teenagers who might have been considering wrong-doing.

Their personalities though were different.  Sally (not her real name) always appeared sunburnt and fresh from the outdoors.  She was gregarious and laughed a lot.  She had charisma and taught with her heart.  She bought a house on the corner of the street (more like the driveway of the school) where the high school was the only other building.  Everyone knew it was Miss R’s house.  And many a summer evening one could find her sitting on her porch sipping lemonade.  She lived and breathed for her students.  We were, very clearly, the family of her heart.  She hung sheets painted with congratulations or “we’ll get ’em next time” encouragement from trees in her front yard to greet buses of athletes returning from away games.  Over the years those signs got more elaborate, creative and solid.  And whether teams were returning at 7PM or midnight, her signs embraced them all and letting them know they were home.  Sally was strict, but loving.  She was kind and in her banter and cajoling were many a life lesson.  Her energy and passion helped move her up the ranks through the years, from gym teacher to athletic director, eventually to dean of students and beyond.  She was much beloved.

Gail (also not her real  name) was quiet and reserved.  She was extremely private and lived (no one knew where) far enough away from the school that she could maintain her existence without bumping into students at the grocery store.  Without the charisma that Sally so naturally exuded, Gail was nurturing and kind in her own ways.  She loved her students and had passion for the field to which she devoted her life.  She wasn’t inspirational in a loud way, but had her quiet following who could be found most lunch periods, sitting in her office listening to her stories.


I don’t know if I ever really gave any conscious thought to whether Sally or Gail were lesbians.  They were, like all the other educators, simply teachers to me.  They didn’t have a life outside of the school as far as we knew or were concerned.  What made me even consider whether they were gay was that they were butch-looking gym teachers.  I came out in my freshman year at the tender age of 14.  In some ways I would have killed for a role model.  Though I’m not sure I would have wanted (even if they were out, which they were most certainly not) either of these two old-fogies as role models.  Joan Armatrading would have been my choice as gym teacher slash role model if I could have chosen.  These two pint-sized puritans didn’t have the makings of what it would have taken to be the kind of role model I needed either personally or athletically.  Heck, I never saw either one of them actually engage in physical activity, never mind break a sweat or pick up a ball now that I think of it.  Still, they were lovely human beings to be sure.  As I have said countless times, I didn’t have role models.  I have no idea how having a specific LGBTorQ role model would have affected my life.  It is beyond my fathoming.  I did the best I could with what I had.

As I have lived my life as a moderately out member of the LGBTQ community I have often thought back to my gym teachers, wondering occasionally if they were gay and whether they were happy or content or even very lonely.  I imagine that for them being out and keeping a job in education was not an option.  The cost of that limitation on their lives and the lives of students who were LGBTorQ is unfathomable.  I don’t know that appreciating the sacrifice of their personal lives or hearts would have been recompense enough.  Sometimes I get angry that they weren’t out.  At least to those of us who were obviously struggling and coming out.  Would it have killed either of them to have reached out?  Would it have changed my life exponentially if they had reached out?  Maybe.  I don’t know.  I guess I will never know the cost or benefit ratio.

Joita goes to a high school where not only are two of her gym teachers out lesbians, they are actually married to one another!  And their children attended the daycare at the high school where they both work.  They are both young and energetic and physically fit.  They both not only coach sports teams, but play sports in their own lives, leading by example.  And neither is very butch looking.  They are, like all the other educators at the school, simply teachers, woven into the fabric of high school life.  Joita and her peers seem to have no idea how extraordinary this is.  This is just the norm to them and they understand it as their due.  They expect no less from the educated liberal society into which they have been born.

Joita is planning to go into education as a career path.  I realized the other day that she also doesn’t have a role model.  While she may have teachers who are Indian, or teachers who are people of color and teachers who are Jewish or Muslim, or even adults she looks up to, she doesn’t have any teachers who are differently able like her.  There are no teachers at the school who use crutches or a wheelchair or have any form of physical difference.  Joita, like many of us, has had to forge a path for herself without the aid of those like her who have gone before her.  She will (and is), whether she wants to or not, be a role model for others, for future generations of differently able people.  I hope she is strong enough to be conscious of this role and responsibility without letting it be a burden.  I hope she can own this status and revel in it.  I hope she can withstand the scrutiny without giving up integrity.  I hope for her that the knowledge and understanding that life is not measured by money or status or power, but by the lives we touch and those we inspire leads to a contented heart and meaningful life.

Posted in blessings, everyday stuff, feelings | Leave a comment

jedi training

I write spectacular blog posts nearly every morning in the shower.  Quippy, witty, ingeniously relevant tweets as well.  Too bad my computer isn’t waterproof.  By the time I’m sitting here at the keyboard I am the quintessential tabla rasa.  Just thought you should know.

This morning’s restroom ruminations were spent (once again) taking stock.  It’s been pretty quiet in my head lately.  Quiet in a good way.  I kind of envision the empty meeting chamber of my mind, devoid of my inner critics, echoing only faintly their old familiar taunts and jibes.  It feels good.  It feels better than good.  It feels powerful.

As I’ve said in past testosterone updates, my anxiety has definitely decreased and I continue to function with a lower and lower level of mental malaise.  The hyper-critical voices in my head, are for the most part, silent.  I do wonder over and over, “Is this how men think and feel all the time?”  Or was this just me?  Is it a symptom of estrogen that women question their every thought and motive and emotion and movement, behavior, appearance, interchange, conversation, etc?  Or was that just me too?  Is it only women who are bedeviled by the sense of inadequacy, plagued by imposter syndrome?  Or again, just me?  And if it isn’t just me, are these afflictions nature or nurture?

But I digress.  Suffice it to say that I’m feeling much more congruent and right in the world since beginning to take testosterone.  That’s not to say I’m living some sublime bliss.  I think Emily is a bit disappointed if truth be told.  Though she may not admit it, I think she expected me to start testosterone and be endlessly insouciant.  Or maybe that’s just what she felt was her due, a sort of consolation prize for having to deal with a transgender spouse.  The reality is that I’m too serious, responsible and anxious to be lighthearted all the time.  And even the most happy-go-lucky human being is still a human being, with all the ups and downs that constitute existence as such.  Whenever I am feeling down or grumpy Emily gives me that look that clearly says, “I thought you’d be happier on t”  I am sorry to disappoint.  But that being said, I’m genuinely and consistently happier now than I have ever been.

The physical changes are brewing if not beginning.  Small hairs are sprouting on the backs of my hands and arms where there has not been hair in the past.  They are small (infinitesimal really) fine, tiny hairs.  No one would notice them except someone who was microscopically searching for them.  Which apparently I am.  I’m finding myself fighting the urge to pluck the recalcitrant wiry hairs as they grow sticking straight up from formerly smooth hairless places.  I can’t seem to let go of the mindset notion of *beauty* that was drilled into me all my life.  There’s a new hair growing out of my chin.  One hair.  My fingers twitch for the tweezers.  That’s how you get rid of it.  And getting rid of it was ever the only solution.  Now I’m suddenly supposed to leave that sucker alone?!  You’re going to tell me that the hairs on my knuckles and tops of my feet BELONG there?!  Weird.  Then there is the, some might say adorable, tegument of downy fuzz on my belly.  Too bad Emily did not find it nearly as adorable as I did.  Also kind of too bad, it is jet-black.

I don’t see any muscle growth or change, but boy can I feel it.  I didn’t connect the dots at first.  I didn’t connect the dots until after I diagnosed myself with a rare and terminal illness.  Fortunately, I did make the connection (before I succumbed) that the intense, albeit random, muscle aches, spasms and pains were actually consequentially related to the testosterone.  Episodes of griping discomfort have not been that frequent, but they have been shocking.  Especially in the middle of the night when contractions have awakened me from a sound sleep.  It is easy to understand given the circumstances, that I might think I was dying.  Either that or I’m just your average run-of-the-mill hypochondriac.  Now that I know the muscle pains are from the testosterone, I’m waiting to see some results.  I expect any day now to wake up with six-pack abs.

I can’t tell if I look or appear or *seem* different to anyone other than myself.  I know I feel very different in my self and in my world.  I know I am navigating the space within me and the space around me differently than I ever have.  But I can’t describe exactly how.  I sense that I carry myself differently, feel differently and see the world through different lenses.  I can’t tell if the people with whom I interact on a regular basis see or feel or experience me as any different since I started on testosterone.  Those I have asked directly have said simply, “You’re just you to me”.  Though honestly, I haven’t asked many people and no one has offered any opinions on their own.  Though one dear friend and colleague told me recently that while she experiences me as me, she has found herself unconsciously (or is it subconsciously) changing pronouns for me.  Whoa.

Recently at work I had two strange but very similar experiences.  Both involved people who have not seen or interacted with me in the last 3 to 5 years.  A colleague of mine texted me to let me know a former family member (a family member of a former resident) was in our short term unit and was asking for me.  I remembered him immediately.  A devoted spouse who came to visit his wife every single day for the last years of her life.  He was gentle and kind and a faithful loving spouse who cared for her in so many little ways each and every day.  He was amazing and we all had a soft spot for him.  Of course he has had no reason to come back in the handful of years since his wife’s death.  But I know I’m not the only one who has thought of him with so much fondness often over these years.  Anyway, I was touched that he remembered me and thought to ask after me.  I went over to the unit where he was and found my way to his room.  I presented myself in his doorway and knocked lightly as I said his name.  He was sitting in a chair next to the bed and looked up at me with curiosity if not mild confusion.  “Can I help you?” he asked.  I walked further into his room assuming he wasn’t seeing me well and repeated his name.  Still, he looked at me without recognition and said, “That’s me. How can I help you?”  I said, “It’s me, Hali.  You asked the rabbi about me.” His face lightened and he said, “Oh yes, I asked about her.  She still works here huh?”  Confused myself, I said, “Mr. So-and-so, it’s me. Hali.”  His brow furrowed in utter incomprehension and he began to stammer confusedly, “No, I mean Hali.  She used to…. knew my wife…. she was…”  I may have tried a time or two more to explain who I was, but I could see I was causing this lovely gentleman distress, so I defaulted to a pastoral visit, asking about his convalescence and his spirit.

I chalked that interchange up to an elderly man, already compromised by illness and in a strange setting, being a bit befuddled.  But then a few weeks later that same colleague called to tell me another of her short-term patients was asking for me.  This one, the brother of a woman I worked with a few years ago.  I introduced myself  and as he turned to look at me a distinct look of unfamiliarity graced his countenance.  I said my name a second time and while he looked at me without even a pretense of recognition he responded, “Yes.  I wanted to let her know that my sister passed away.”  I was so taken aback at the news, the entire conversation shifted.  No longer about me or who I was, we talked about his sister and her family, shared stories and laughed with nostalgic sentiment at her eccentricities that endeared her to so many.  He wiped his eyes on a threadbare handkerchief as I said goodbye.  Halfway out the door I heard him say, “Don’t forget to tell Hali.”

Nina’s sense of humor

Looking for that one chin hair

How I see myself

Posted in no man's land | 3 Comments

oh brother

The last time I wrote about my brother was also the last time I saw him.  That was back in August when he came for ice cream.  Since then I have attempted to stay in semi-regular contact with him via text messages or Facebook messenger.  Either of which he is only sporadically connected to.  I knew that the building he was living in had been, according to him, *sold*.  Though I’m pretty sure that *sold* is code for *condemned*.  The *great guy* who rented him that fine abode now resides under a bench in a local park.  Peter worries about him.  The few times we have actually spoken (when he has minutes on whatever phone he is using at the time) he has wondered out loud in a strange sort of self-talking stream of consciousness how he could possibly help him.  I have had to remind him repeatedly that he can barely help himself, never mind helping someone else.  This is one of the things I do appreciate about my brother.  He has a good heart.

I’m not clear what he is doing or where he is living himself.  He has given me varied and sometimes conflicting information.  Conversations with him are fraught with half stories and half sentences of tangential superficiality, fairly devoid of substance and without even a reasonable facsimile of reality.  They are, thankfully, brief.  But they do not help with figuring out where he is or what he’s doing.

My best understanding is that he has been staying at a “sober house” somewhere in a rather unsavory area of Brockton.  Though it sounds like *sober* in this case refers only to alcohol.  Which has never been Peter’s self-medication of choice.  He complained repeatedly about the distance he needed to travel from this sober house to get his dose of methadone daily.  In earlier conversations I questioned his ongoing need for the methadone.  My limited understanding of the utilization of methadone is that it was supposed to be a short term fix, a substitute for opioids that was supposed to be titrated down over a short span of time.  Not the 15 plus years Peter has been getting daily doses of it.  But those questions always got met with anger and lashing out in an accusatory I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I sort of way, and never led anywhere good, never-mind an answer.  So I stopped asking.  The last time I spoke with him I simply listened and suggested he call his case-worker to see if there was perhaps another clinic closer by.  Turns out that he qualified for a free ride to and from the clinic daily.  Our tax dollars at work.

My recent attempts to reach Peter have either been ignored entirely or, in the case of the most recent few, he has simply texted that he is busy and will call when he has a free minute.  I try not to get angry with him.  I try to remind myself who he is and how he has gotten this way.  But for some reason I got aggravated this time.  I sent him a message saying basically, “I have 2 jobs, 3 kids, a dog, a house, etc etc.  And I’m not too busy for you.  What the fuck are you so busy with?!”

He timorously called me, stammering and stuttering excuses about losing track of time and having appointments and needing to take care of business.  Mostly he was apologetic for not being in better touch.  I don’t know why I push for contact with him.  I must be some special kind of stupid.  Because I’m disappointed every time.  The conversation was carbon copy of most of our conversations with the one exception that it was a more convenient time for me than his usual phone calls are.  It’s actually frighteningly similar to listening to Trump speak now that I think of it.  Everyone else is a loser, in his way, tripping him up and not letting him succeed.  He’s doing great, working on great things, if only people understood how great he really is.  His next big break is right around the corner, bound to happen any day, he’s on the verge of greatness.  It’s hard to interrupt with sensible questions like “Where are you living?” because that interposes a reality that doesn’t necessarily work with his gestalt.  In other words, I learned nothing new.

In the meantime, I heard from mother.  We have been in minimal contact, mostly through texts and on Facebook.  She also sent the kids chanukah gifts (which I had them call immediately upon receiving to thank her for).  I had ignored her most recent text messages complaining that I never initiate contact with her (she’s correct. I don’t).  This time she asked if we could talk, saying that she had something very important to ask.  I made the mistake of saying yes.

She wanted to tell me that she has reached out to contact a doctor who would assist her in ending her life.  Actually, she was calling to ask if I cared.  I’m surprised she didn’t hear my eyes roll through the phone (or the deeply dramatic sigh of exhaustion that I did nothing to hide).  She went on to explain that she is in constant physical, spiritual, emotional and psychic pain and can no longer tolerate her existence.  Insert awkwardly long uncomfortable pause.  Ok.  Honestly, I have very little to say in response.  What does one say in response to this kind of proclamation anyway?!  As if this was actually a pinnacle of positivity, the conversation spiraled down from there.  She complained that I make no effort to have or maintain a relationship with her.  She complained that she has no relationship with *her grandchildren*.  She complained that (basically) she has been an adoring faithful mother and that I have been nothing but resentful and ungrateful.  She complained that her life is empty, worthless, meaningless.  The awkward silence stretched out.  I said nothing.  What is there to say in response?

Peter called me again a few days later.  Great news(sic).  His free ride to the methadone clinic had an accident with him in the car and now he’s suing them and expecting a big settlement!  I asked if he was hurt.  He told me he’s working with a great lawyer, “like the ones you see advertised on daytime television” he said as if I watch daytime television.  At any rate, he said that the lawyer feels certain there will be a big windfall for him.  I asked again if he was ok.  “Oh, yeah, mostly.  Maybe a little whiplash.  Hurt my neck I think.  Having to go to physical therapy to prove the case.”  He went on to remind me that this is not his first time on this carousel.  He has sued both UPS for a car accident he was in with one of their delivery vans and some big box store for (pretending that) a shelf fell on his head in the past, using the same type of slick (aka: daytime television) lawyer.  He was already counting the money.  Not to mention already spending it.  Typical Peter, he did offer me a loan.

Not being one who is usually at a loss for words, I seem to find myself there whenever I have contact with my family of origin.  Not that it really matters.  While my brother went on and on about suing the car company and living on easy street for the rest of his life I sat on my end of the line wondering how I so badly lost the family lottery.

Once again, unbelievably, the conversation went even further downhill.  In other news in his life, working with his case worker, he was made aware of the fact that included in his state funded disability insurance he has access to dental care.  As I have noted previously, most of his teeth are rotten from either drugs or poor nutrition or both.  I’m sure he has not seen a dentist in his adult life, never mind the fact that he can probably count on one hand the number of times he has brushed his teeth.  So recently, realizing he could get dental care for free, he went to a dentist who apparently deemed his teeth irreparable and pulled most of them with the goal of making a set of dentures.  Peter proudly proclaimed that he has fewer than a handful of teeth in his entire mouth.  Quickly following up by saying he can’t wait to get his new choppers.  Also quickly followed up by inviting me to a steak dinner on him when he gets his teeth and the lawsuit money.  You simply can’t make this shit up.  



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

passing on the past

A person’s past may not define them in any current moment, but it certainly had a hand in shaping them.  The good, the bad and the ugly all began as signposts on the roads not taken, as well as the alleyways we skipped or slithered down.   I can only take credit for the successes once.  After that I need to move on to my next goals.  I can’t change the parts of my past that I am ashamed of or the mistakes I made.  And there are plenty of things that fall into those categories.

I’m not going to bore you with a cartulary almanac of achievements of my earlier days.  And as tempting as it may be, I’m going to fight the urge to spill my guts, air my dirty laundry and regale you with gory details of things that are better left buried in the recesses of my brokenness.  Suffice it to say, in addition to my successes, I was a colorful character in my 20s and I’m grateful beyond measure that there was no social media back then.  By day I was a (semi) respectable teacher.  At night I was a pool-playing musician, a casanova comedian, and every night was a new ride on the party train.  And while my daytime and my nighttime prosopopoeia were kept separate, I exuded a certain amount of clownish charisma such that the two were not exactly mutually exclusive either.  And if you’re a *playa*, people know it.

Most everyone at the school where I taught knew I was mischievous (bordering on sociopathic) and enjoyed hearing the salacious details of my evening exploits.  When my misadventures oozed into my work life, having affairs at work with straight married women, (when I learned the deep meaning of “don’t shit where you eat”), it was time to get the hell out of Dodge.  I left that world altogether (for lots of reasons, not the least of which was to be rid of the taint of the mistakes I’d made and to be able to start fresh), making a clean break.  I’ve grown and learned and changed a lot in these 25 years.  Those changes were fought for and hard won.  A result of finding a spiritual path and good deal of deep soul searching.  And a lot of therapy.

In my current incarnation I rarely think of those days.  They are less than a wisp of smoke of distant memory.  I live an antipodean life now and I’m glad and grateful for that.  But about a year ago, leaving a local restaurant with my family, I bumped into two former colleagues from *those days*.  I was genuinely happy to see them, the joys of youthful carefree times rushing back to me through the rose colored glasses of “the good old days”, and I greeted them with unfeigned enthusiasm and exuberant affection.  They are both deaf, so our conversation was in sign and literally took place in the doorway of the restaurant.  I was aware of how rusty my signing had become as well as the fact that my family was staring dumbly, not following or understanding the conversation at all and we were blocking the door.  The conversation was brief.  Something like this:

me: Hey!  Oh my gosh!  It’s been forever!  How are you?!  What are you up to?  Still teaching?  How are your kids/families?

them:  oh hi.  good.  good.  good.  yeah, we’re good.

me:  do you live around here?

them:  I live here but she (points to other) is in from out of town.

me:  it’s so nice to see you! wow, blast from the past.  we should get together some time.  hang out or something.

them: {pause} yeah.  I live out of town. nice to see you too.

me:  we should exchange phone numbers, right?

I gave them my cell number and the one who lives close by hesitantly gave me hers.  The ten-thousand pounds of awkward slammed into me as we were texting numbers back and forth.  They only know me for the bedlamite lunatic I was, not the respectable human being I have become and they were clearly uninterested in checking to see if I was still a whirlwind of wackiness.  I swallowed my discomfort and shamefacedly said goodbye without making further eye contact.

I spent the next several days wallowing in past-induced shame.  Trying to convince myself that I really have changed and that I am not a sociopath in sheep’s clothing.  Gently prodding the tender brokenness and cracks where {I hoped and prayed} so much healing has taken place.  And finally absolving myself, not for the first time, for my past idiocies and the fact that those who knew me then would be reticent to want to have anything to do with me.

Joita made the school basketball team again this year (hooray!) and the “welcome to basketball” meeting for parents to meet and hear from the coaches was last week.  Joita told me there was a kid on the team with deaf parents and asked if I would interpret the meeting.  Without giving it too much thought I said yes (I’m always happy to help out (even if my signing is rusty) and being a good person in the world in front of my kid is a bonus).  For those of you playing along at home who are quick on the uptake, you guessed it.  The kid’s mother was my old colleague.

It wasn’t nearly as awkward this time.  Last year when I bumped into her I had not yet started taking testosterone.  So I’m sure that factors into my current composure.  Also, not being taken so much by  surprise, I didn’t have the surge of feelings through the glory of yesteryear lens.  But probably more-so the testosterone.  I could feel the calm confidence emanating from me.  I chatted with her briefly enough to say hello, congratulate her on her daughter having made the team and to ask where she preferred I stand.  I interpreted for her (as best as I could) and I said goodbye.  I wasn’t unfriendly, but neither was I *chatty Cathy* and effusive in my engagement.  My own self-assurance and tranquility allowed me the benefit of not needing to seek her approval or prove to her (or myself) that I had changed.  Change is in the being, not in the telling anyway.  I don’t know if I will see her again, nor is it important.  I’m not naive enough to think I’ve completely made peace with my past.  But small steps are still to be celebrated.  And passing on shame (rather than passing it on) is one of those steps.  


Posted in everyday stuff, feelings, my own worst enemy | Leave a comment