happy day mother-f*&%#$@

I remember learning the concept of catch-22 in junior high school when I half-read the novel of the same name, by Joseph Heller.  I remember being surprised by how much it bothered me, though I couldn’t quite figure out why.  Nobody in their right mind likes no-win situations.  But for some reason, catch-22 resonated uncomfortably with me, striking a nerve.

Take my mother (please) for example.  Of course I now know that everything that involves her is a catch-22.  But specifically and most frustratingly, things that should have been so simple.  Low hanging fruit like Chanukah, should have been so easy.  Everyone in the spirit of giving and receiving.  Such easy pure simple joy.  But not in our house.  When I was young enough to think “obligatory” was a big word, I once told her that I hated *obligatory holidays*.  She laughed in my face.  While most people enjoyed holidays and special days, I found them to be koans I could never solve, filled with esoteric rules I could not understand or follow.  The pressure to be and do and give just the right thing in the right manner in the right time.  I felt like my planets never aligned and disappointment was the only outcome.  I dreaded obligatory holidays.  And she has ridiculed me, taking any and every opportunity to mock me with those words, throwing them back in my face, ever since.  I no longer think “obligatory” is a big word.  But I still hate obligatory holidays.  She ruined them for me.

Take mother’s day for example.  There are so many ethereal rules, ephemeral in nature, about the fucking day, a veritable minefield for missteps, how does anyone get it right?!  First, you must (obviously) adore your mother, worship her, love her, extol and hallow her name.  She must be *the best ever*, announced and proclaimed loudly on this day.  You must purchase a large, colorful, gaudy card (which gets pricier every year) with this sentiment embossed and or emblazoned on it.  But you must add your own heartfelt affections as well.  In my family a gift is also in order.  And not just any old gift.  And definitely not something gag-home-made-gag.  This would be bordering on insult and would elicit only scorn and ridicule.  The meaning drawn from a home-made gift is that the recipient mother was not worthy of having money spent on her.  Or that you simply didn’t care enough to do so.  And lastly, the mother must be feted lavishly.  But most importantly this all must be done in grand fashion so that all may know (and be jealous of) the love, honor, adoration this mother is worthy of.  Because, at the end of the day, it is all just a big show anyway.

While I understood all these lessons well enough, I still stepped in something (read that: fucked up) every time.  The card would not be big enough, bright enough, say the right things in it.  My own writing too sloppy, too rushed (looking), not reverential enough.  The gifts of course were never right.  Like the time I tracked down mugs she saw once in a restaurant that she coveted and said she wanted.  This was pre-internet people, and she couldn’t remember the restaurant (of course).  After some excellent detective work (if I do say so myself), I found them though, and purchased 4 of them from the restaurant.  I was bursting with pride and excitement for her to open them thinking, “this is the time I make her happy”.  But apparently any idiot knows you don’t get FOUR mugs.  Six is standard.  Clearly.  So this became another derisory stupidity of mine she *teased* me about forever.  Little mishaps like that always ruined the day for her.  Completely.

I tried harder and harder every year to get it all just right.  And then at some point I simply stopped trying at all.  I got the same response either way really.  Why knock myself out?  Even though the poor reflection (of being a non-caring (dare I say mean) person) was on me.  That part, I admit, did bother me.  But the end result of her being angry and disappointed and it being my fault was a simple regularity for us.

For the last 12 Mother’s Days I was basically off the hook.  We weren’t in contact, so I didn’t have to think about it.  Although I knew on some level, in some universe, that I was being portrayed as a horrible daughter, I at least didn’t have to hear it or deal with it firsthand.  That changed this year because we have had some contact.  Though it had only been a gossamer thread of connection and even that had been severed in recent weeks, the connection had been made.

No one really understands the chaos that goes on in the head of anyone who has to deal with a Borderline.  Not unless you have dealt with one can you truly fathom or appreciate  it.  Every action and interaction must be examined and re-examined, scrutinized, analyzed and dissected to make sure there can be no misinterpretation, distortion, misunderstanding or faux pas.  You must be aware of all the ways a kind word can be misconstrued and twisted into vulgar vituperation.  And any kind gesture contorted into a grotesque perversion.  They are always the victim.  Even of your kindness.

And so it was with this burdensome trepidation whirling around my head, that I approached Mother’s Day.  No small wonder I had a headache all weekend.  I was already too late to send one of the bland non-committal-type cards I used to send.  I wasn’t up for the can of worms a phone call might oxygenate.  And after much agonizing and considering the possible ire, hurt feelings and sarcastic retorts, I sent a simple text mid-day that said, “Happy Mother’s Day”.  I breathed a sigh of relief.  Not because I thought it would make her happy.  Indeed, I knew it would not.  And even from 3 simple words she could find infinite offense:  Everything from the wrong font to the wrong sentiment to claiming intentional insult, disrespect and scorn.  What did she have to be happy about being a mother for anyway?!  With her son being a homeless drug addict and her daughter now being her son who still doesn’t want anything to do with her, what possible pleasure could she find in such an onerous title?!  I envisioned her reading my text from inside the oven*.   I didn’t have to wait long for her rejoinder.  A simple, “And to you and Emily too.”  I haven’t heard from her since.

Now I feel completely crazy.  Why all the self-imposed angst and distress when her response was so simply perfectly reasonable?!  I swear I feel like I make all this shit up.  Which is exactly the joy(sic) of interacting with a Borderline.  Happy Mother’s Day indeed.


*Back in the days when ovens were powered by gas with no chemicals to make it smell bad, a method of suicide was to stick one’s head in the oven and turn on the gas without lighting it.  The reference to “I’ll just go stick my head in the oven” was a somewhat familiar “joke”.

Posted in family of origin, feelings | 2 Comments

winner winner chicken dinner

I’ve written and rewritten this particular post about a million times.  Mostly I’ve gotten stuck on the opening paragraph.  I’ve been trying to write an introduction that captures my actual feelings.  I want to convey the level of delirious rapture, along with the abject terror and everything in between.  But it doesn’t seem possible.  Even with a thesaurus.

Friday afternoons I lead religious services at work.  I actually lead two different services back to back in fairly quick succession.  In between those services I generally have just enough time to put away my guitar, glance at my phone and have a sip of water (with which I always remind the members of the congregation that there is no drinking allowed in the synagogue – which always gets a big laugh…. every time).  I shouldn’t have looked at my phone and tried to drink water at the same time this particular Friday.  Because there was a text message from CVS simply stating Your prescription is ready for pick up.  I gasped, choked, spluttered and wheezed, breathing in my mouthful of water and quickly coughing it out inelegantly.  The only prescription I was aware of waiting to be filled was the testosterone.  I couldn’t be 100% sure from the vague text, but I was reasonably confident that the only prescription the text message could have been about was the testosterone.  Liquid exhilaration and ice cold apprehension coursed through me.

There are ways to sign-in to MYCVS app to get details from a text.  But I had 75 people staring at me waiting for me to start services.  And I had to clean up my H2O detonation before beginning.  I could not focus.  The welcoming the Sabbath service that I have led every Friday for 20 years, usually so gentle, smooth and easy with familiarity became  muddled in my brain.  Words and phrases and songs clustered in my mouth, crusting on my tongue.  I choked out one choppy tuneless melody after another.  I lost my place mid-reading, distracted by inner dialogues, worries and celebratory whoops of delight in my mind.  I found myself absent, disoriented, quietly staring at confused faces looking back at me in puzzlement.  What the fuck did I say out loud?!  How long had I been sitting staring blankly not saying anything?!  I could not finish the service fast enough.  I skipped large sections, reading and singing quickly through.  After services more than one colleague asked if everything was all right as I raced past them to the privacy of my office so I could check MYCVS app.

Indeed, the text was about the testosterone prescription.  Indeed, the prescription had been filled and was waiting for me at my CVS.  The single syllable “GAHK” escaped my lips as I tried to wrap my head around days and weeks and even years of yearning, possibility and hope answered.  I was pretty sure it all might end in a flaming crash as I drove like a mental case to CVS.

I couldn’t seem to meet the eye of the pharmacist waiting on me, but I did watch out of the corner of my eye as she looked in bin after bin for my prescription.  Emily texted me (nice timing) asking where I was.  Our Shabbat dinner guests had arrived early and she was trying to wrangle the kids (mostly Ruby) and appetizers while finishing dinner prep and appearing totally prepared.  It’s the kind of thing you want your spouse present for.  I responded that I was on my way.  The pharmacist was having a hard time locating my prescription and I was breaking out in a cold sweat, trying not to shit myself.

Not the size of a normal prescription, the pharmacist finally found it in an apparently unlikely place.  I still could not make eye contact with her.  It was a box 2 inches by 2 inches by 3 inches, which she placed in a bag along with the cotton balls and gum I had also purchased.  She wished me a good evening and I scurried out to my car.  My heart was pounding.  I was desperate to open the package in my car and check it out.  But I also knew that Emily was anxiously awaiting my arrival.

I was extremely jittery as I raced into the house and up the stairs, clumsily smuggling in my contraband under my jacket, trying to appear cool as the proverbial cucumber.  With an almost imperceptible greeting to our guests I skittishly made my way to our bedroom on the third floor.  I think I mumbled something about needing to change and or use the bathroom.  Note to self: I would make a horrible thief or spy.

I neither went to the bathroom nor changed my clothes.  I locked myself in the upstairs bathroom and tried to quietly open the package.  Inside the box there were 15 metallic double packets, joined together by perforation, about the size and shape of “wet-naps”.  The majority of the box was filled with several sheets of irregularly and poorly folded instructions.  The information in the instructions was quite similar to what I’d already been told by my doctor:  Use only as directed.  Use daily at approximately the same time each day.  Do not use more or less than prescribed.  Do not get the gel on anyone or anything other than the person it was prescribed for.  The surprising piece was where I was directed to rub the gel.  Specifically, my shoulders.  And, if need be, my belly.  But shoulders were the preferred application site.  I don’t know what I was expecting.  Someplace a bit more exotic perhaps.

It made me remember one time a very long time ago at a family gathering.  My grandmother was telling us about a Jackie Collins novel she was reading and was explaining to us, with hilarity, the outrageous, ludicrous and absurd ridiculousness of the imagination of the author.  “Where does she come up with these ideas!?” she laughed.  In regard to a particular story describing oral sex, my grandmother exuberantly proclaimed that she would “no sooner lick someone’s shoulder”!!  To which my uncle patted my grandfather lovingly on the back and solemnly said, “sorry dad”.

But I digress.  At any rate, I didn’t have too much time to further consider the instructions, nor did I really need to.  As I have already said, my spouse and our dinner guests were downstairs waiting for me.  And there was nothing more that I could do with the testosterone in that moment.  There was much I had to consider before starting it.  Not the least of which was that Emily had no idea.  I put that and other thoughts of starting testosterone away and mentally prepared myself for dinner.  I hugged the box lovingly and hid it in a safe and very secret place (my underwear drawer) and went downstairs.  Shabbat Shalom!


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

restless equanimity

I wish I could say I spent the time between being prescribed testosterone and actually getting the testosterone in some kind of humble, mindful, contemplative, equanimity.  I didn’t.  I was a walking bag of anxious irritation.  Hey, I’m nothing if not consistent.  I spent those weeks cantankerous and dyspeptic, feeling more than a wee bit sorry for myself.  I tried meditating, chanting and praying.  All to no avail.  The disquiet in my mind only pullulating (how’s that for a good word Kris?).  My friend Sharon labeled that inner turmoil *the committee*.  I think I’ve written about *the committee* before.  Whenever the angst in her mind became bedlam Sharon would stop herself and say out loud, “Hold on, the committee is meeting and making it very difficult for me to focus.”  That brief interruption and acknowledgement allowed her to breathe, giving her the opportunity to grab hold of the reigns of her emotional state.  I have used Sharon’s method for decades.  Stopping to breathe and labeling the discomposure in my heart and soul has helped me immensely.

Ram Dass has similarly acknowledged this phenomenon of inner turmoil.  It’s funny, I remember my initial introduction to Ram Dass.  I wanted to hate him.  He seemed like so many other entitled wealthy white guys, flippant about rules and casual about co-opting anything he so desired.  He was born a Jew, but became a self-appointed, unapologetic Buddhist-HindJew-Christian.  He didn’t seem to care that there were conflicting ideals within each of the faith doctrines he was subsuming.  He felt free to take what he pleased and discard the rest without the slightest hesitation or interest in confirmation from anyone else.  Fascinating.  I sometimes wish for that kind of authority of self.

Even with those initial feelings about Ram Dass, I eventually became a devotee.  One of the things I learned from him was to not become a connoisseur of clay feet – focusing only on the foibles of another.  Everyone has shortcomings.  And everyone, even with those shortcomings, has a message, is a teacher.  While I still feel that in some ways he will always be a wealthy, white, cis-male, his deepest desires come from a place of love.  His intentions are simply to embody love and live as love.  No easy feat if you’ve ever tried it.

I actually loved how Ram Dass talked about what he calls his *neurosis* (what Sharon and I might call *the committee*).  He described them as big awful overpowering thoughts that prevented him, in various ways, from living a contented life.  He tried drugs and meditation, gurus and therapists, ashrams and academia to try and rid himself of these demons.  When an interviewer asked how he had conquered them he simply laughed and said that he hadn’t.  He proceeded (laughing) to explain that he still possessed each and every one of the neurosis he began with.  He went on to say that while at once they were big huge scary monsters, he now experienced them as “little shmoos who came for tea”.

little shmoos coming for tea

As I wallowed through my irritation and burgeoning anger at the height of the testosterone debacle, I decided to try the Ram Dass method.  I was sitting in my office literally stewing in the juices of despair, mired in misery, head in hands, a veritable hot mess.  I looked up and said to the fetid air around me, “Oh hello little shmoo of suffering.  What can I do for you?”  The wave of embarrassment was at first unsettling.  Nevertheless, I persisted (wink).  Suffering didn’t answer, but gave way to a spark of sadness.  I took a deep breath and tried again.  “Hey, what’s up sorrow?”  I felt sort of, well, stupid.  But I have to admit, I noticed a slight shift, a subtle difference.  Acknowledging and naming my feelings has generally given me pause to reflect, offering the possibly to manage those feelings.  But talking to my feelings as if they were separate from me, actually gave me something else.  Distance.

From this perspective I was able to see and feel the feelings with a bit more space, more breathing room as it might be.  It also provided me with options.  Instead of having to manage my emotions in the moment, head on, I found I had choices.  The shmoos were coming for tea, but that didn’t mean I needed to let them in right then and there.  Or I could let them in, but I did not have to brew the tea.  Or I could let them in and brew the tea, but put it in a to-go cup.  And even if I let them in and brewed the tea and served it at my table, I need not sit down with them.  It was very empowering really.  And rather than raging against the shmoos, I was able to feel some compassion for them.

The shmoos didn’t actually stay for tea that day.  Instead of spending my time blockading the door against them, I busied myself setting the table to welcome them.  Perhaps they weren’t so very big after all.

Breathing deeply.

another rich white cis-guy with a message

Posted in feelings, in the spiritual realm, Uncategorized | 5 Comments

simplicity itself

I finally had my *follow up* appointment with the doctor.  It went pretty much as I expected.  She patiently (and slowly) went over the pros, cons, potential side-effects and whatever else of testosterone with me (again).  I sat literally on the edge of my seat, shaking with anticipation, itching to interrupt her.  I don’t know how I did it, but I sat quietly and let her finish.  I tried to think of new questions to ask, but truthfully, I didn’t have any.  I already knew everything she was saying (I could practically recite it verbatim myself) and I knew that this time I was going to say yes.

I felt giddy, like a kid who just reached 48″, big enough to ride the new, scary, fun, fast carnival ride.  Having clicked slowly to the top, experiencing that brief pause ripe with anticipation, excitement and a hint of fear.  There is no going back.  My insides felt like the inside of a blender on high speed.  With clammy hands and an bemused brain, I signed every piece of paper and initialed every paragraph required.  It reminded me a bit of signing a mortgage and I wondered what the payment plan would be like.

Throughout the paperwork signing, there were puffs of awareness of Emily that jolted me with anxious guilt.   We hadn’t actually had a discussion about this beyond her conceding that it might not be the worst thing in the world.  I felt felonious and ashamed when I thought of her.  But my overwhelming sensation was excitement as I watched the physician click her way through the prescription process, sending a virtual prescription to my CVS.

She turned from her computer screen, smiled at me and stood up as she said, “That’s that.  You should be able to pick it up on your way home from work.  Anything else?”  My entire being was smiling stupidly as I shook my head and thanked her.

I was on cloud nine, tingling with sanguineness, as I floated through my day at work.  Some time in the afternoon I heard the familiar *ding* from my phone that I’d gotten a text message.  It was from CVS.  As they don’t typically stock that prescription, I would have to wait 2-3 days for them to get it in stock.  They apologized for any inconvenience.  I sagged, but did not sink.  I knew it had sounded too good to be true, too easy, anyway.  And, to put things into perspective, this was not a life or death emergency situation.  I breathed and tried to relax.

When 3 days and then 4 and 5 had gone by, I called CVS to ask what was going on.  Apparently, they had gotten the testosterone gel in stock, but insurance was denying coverage.  CVS was looking into why and would update me when they had more information.

Another few days of obsessively checking my *MYCVS* app.  I called again.  It had been over a week.  This time I was told that my insurance was requiring an authorization (actually a pre-authorization) from my doctor before approving this *controlled substance*.  CVS hadn’t contacted me, because they were working on getting that pre-authorization from my doctor.  The pharmacist I spoke with suggested I also contact my doctor with the hopes of speeding up the process.

Back and forth between Fenway, CVS and insurance I went.  Days passed and my patience was waning.  Fenway sent the authorization.  Insurance said it was the wrong authorization, explaining that there was a specific form they required.  Insurance faxed that specific form to Fenway.  Fenway said they filled it out and faxed it back.  In the meantime, I still didn’t have my testosterone.

Another week went by.  I was a bear.  My patience was non-existent and my temper was fraying and escaping my control intermittently on innocent bystanders throughout my days.  I tried not to be a pest (something I am very sensitive to – God forbid I burden others with my insignificant desires), and even though I wanted to pepper CVS, my insurance and my doctor repeatedly with phone calls and emails, I didn’t.  I had only confided in one person (and that person wasn’t Emily), which left me feeling guilty, wrong and alone in my despair.  Perhaps the process was so difficult because the Universe was not-so-subtly telling me this was not a good idea?

When I’d nearly given up hope of getting anything resolved, I heard from one of the parties involved (I forget which one) that the pre-authorization form had been filled out and signed and faxed and received.  I was buoyed by hope, confident that things were starting to move.

But another few days passed with no new information.  After quite a bit of mental misery I forced myself to call again.  Apparently, there was still a glitch, one more small required hoop to jump through.  My insurance was requesting more recent blood work before they will sign off.  The Fenway blood lab opens at 8:00AM.  I will be there tomorrow at 7:59.


Posted in no man's land | 2 Comments

response and responsibility

I often know when something is not going to end well, when an idea, even in it’s germinating state, is not a good one.   We all do.  Those are the moments when my inner voice urgently entreats, “no good can come of this“.  Why I don’t heed this voice immediately I will never know.  I must be some kind of special idiot.  After more than a decade of absolutely no contact with my mother, I let her convince me that a teeny tiny bit of contact would be fine because she had seen the error of her ways and had changed.

I have always felt overly responsible.  Whether it was last year’s drought in Somalia or the starving children in Burundi (who somehow were supposed to benefit from me finishing my dinner), things were either my fault or up to me to fix.   That is as much in my genetics as my upbringing.  I am a type-A personality and a Virgo through and through.  But there is certainly more to my obsessive responsibility than nature.

Specifically and in general, I saw my mother’s state of un-well-being as my responsibility, if not my fault.  My mother’s emotional instability ruled our house.  Which meant we all lived in constant readiness (fear), waiting for that ever-present other shoe to drop.  Just about anything could send mother over the proverbial edge.  It was my role in the family to keep her from going over.  If she couldn’t find something she needed, if she stubbed a toe, cut herself, or got a scrape; if there was a spill, unexplained rip, tear or stain; if something didn’t go according to (her) plan, I had better find it, fix it, set it to rights.  Any of life’s little mishaps could set her off into paroxysms of explosive hysteria.  The reality was that my mother was (and is) mentally and emotionally unstable and there was/is no such thing as setting her or anything in her world to rights.  But for some reason I didn’t realize that.  I thought other mothers behaved this way too.  I honestly believed it was both my responsibility and within my power to calibrate her, regulate her, keep mother happy and calm and sane.  Which I only learned in adulthood was a futile, hopeless, impossibility.  Not to mention thankless.

It’s hard to describe, or sometimes even remember the tantrums now.  It’s hard to explain to others how terrifying it was.  An example that stands out in my mind:  One time, she bought herself fancy glycerin soap.  One of her many small indulgences.  The first time she used it in the shower it slipped from her soapy wet grasp.  When she bent to pick it up she banged her head on the faucet.  When the soap slipped from her hand a second time and she bumped her ass on the soap holder jutting out of the tile wall all hell broke loose.  She shrieked a blood-curdling howl that could have easily bested Jamie Lee Curtis.  With the ululation still reverberating in the back of her throat, she tore the glass and mirror sliding-shower-doors from their runner, hurling them across the small bathroom, to shatter on the floor in millions and millions of tiny pieces and shards of razor-sharp glittering glass.  More wailing and bellowing ensued, peppered with foul language that would have made a sailor blush, and palpable vitriol filled the house.  I had to find a way to get her safely across the floor and out of the bathroom.  Never mind having to figure out how to clean up that much glass.  That kind of tantrum-induced destruction and carnage was common.

The tantrums were epic and horrible.  But the constant threat of havoc hanging in the air was just as hellish.  While my father and brother each found ways of physically escaping, I was paralyzed.  I stood dumb, rooted in my place, like drivers on the highway unable to look away from the scene of an accident.  The difference between me and the highway gawkers was that I believed the “accident” was my fault and the clean-up my responsibility.

I felt challenged as well as burdened by the task.  I believed I could best my mother’s demons, saving her and us from the constant cloud of calamity that was ever-present.  I just had to do the right thing, devise the right plan.  I tried to predict, outsmart and head off any potential pitfalls and possible catalysts, that might let loose the impending doom.  I followed and created rules by which to live in order to keep that all hell from breaking loose.  I tried to imagine that the rules would keep me safe.  Yeah, Sisyphus was safe too.  But no matter how hard I tried to be good, to follow the rules, the conniptions came.  I was disappointed in myself every time.  Believing that if I just tried harder, if I were just a little bit smarter, better, faster, more well-behaved, funnier, craftier, I could have distracted her if not prevented it.  It became clear to me that the failure and fault were mine.  If only I’d done something differently…

As an adult I see that I was mistaken.  The peregrination of my adult life has been trying to figure out exactly what is and what is not my responsibility.  And that is a very hard thing.  Especially if you’re me.  As a child I felt both powerless and powerful.  It was all my fault, all my responsibility, but nothing I did was right.  It was so confusing.

In the few months I’ve been back in touch with my mother it has been an interesting game(sic) of who is responsible for what.  I must say that I have handily declined responsibility for her not having a relationship with my children (her grandchildren).  I have calmly reinforced the facts that had she been able to control her behavior or her temper she might have had a relationship with them, but unfortunately for her she had not.  I have calmly and repeatedly stated that I am not responsible for HER behavior or HER losses.  I’m definitely getting better at this.

Then her friend E (her only friend) died.  Now, E became my mother’s friend back when I was in high school when my mother had an affair with E’s husband.  No, I am not kidding you.  As I have said many times, you cannot make this shit up.  So my mother had an affair with E’s husband, which broke up their marriage.  And then subsequently, when my mother broke up with E’s then-ex-husband, she called E to commiserate about what an asshole he was.  This, of course, cemented their friendship (go figure).  And E and my mother have been friends ever since.  Regardless of the fact that my mother ruined her marriage, E was friends with my mother.  Regardless of my mother’s antics and drama, E has been her friend.  Despite my mother’s theatrics, and sometimes because of them (for the sheer entertainment value), E stayed friends with my mother.  Over the last several years they haven’t been as close or in touch as often.  But still, they were friends.

E died a few weeks ago.  I’d seen her a number of times over the last several years as she battled cancer and was in and out of hospitals (including the place I work) as both an old family friend and as a chaplain.  When my mother texted me to tell me E had died I had just found out myself.  A brief text interchange took place.  My mother told me in no uncertain terms that she was devastated.  I thought about calling her all that day or texting to see how she was doing, just to check in.  But I didn’t.

The next day I got a text from mother basically telling me I was a piece of shit.  She said I was a horrible person and a mean rotten daughter to have done nothing – not so much as a stinking text inquiring how she was, knowing she’d lost her only friend in the world.  After all the shit I had dumped on her these last few months (I have no idea what she was referring to, though I can only assume it was the the *burden* of telling her than I am trans), the least I could have done was to attempt to console her.

Well well well where do I even begin?  I know I am not responsible for her feelings.  Nor am I responsible for taking care of her or even comforting her.  But I like to think I am at the very least a decent human being.  Had anyone else lost their only friend in the world I most definitely would have (at the very least) checked in with them, sent condolences, blown them a kiss via text.  I feel badly that I didn’t even do that much.  Not that I am beating myself up for it (which is a big step for me in the right direction).  Instead I sent her a response text saying: I’m sorry you’re in pain and that you lost your friend.  For what it’s worth, I’m sorry I didn’t check in on you yesterday to see how you were.  It would have been kind of me to do so.  I am unclear however, why you need to lash out and spew anger or why you think that is an option.  It is neither an option nor a need.  Please choose another target.




Posted in family of origin, feelings, Uncategorized | 2 Comments


We had an interesting discussion with a friend at dinner the other night that sparked some interesting thoughts and feelings for me.  Emily’s friend Annie is a total sweetheart.  She’s a kind and very good-hearted person who has had more than her fair share of tough breaks.  Her partner of many years, with whom she has a child, left their relationship a few years ago.  And then in that same year Annie was diagnosed with breast cancer.  In that time she also lost a job.  Like I said, it hasn’t been easy for Annie.  She seems to be coming out the other side, but the going is still rough for her.  Anyway, she and her daughter (Nina’s age) came for dinner.

Now, as an aside and just to give you some background here, I would classify Emily as a *non-dealer*.  This is, of course, just my own classification system and there is no judgement, good or bad or right or wrong intended.  In my system, being a *non-dealer* means that if something is difficult or painful, Emily (in complete harmony with her family of origin) tends to act as if it simply isn’t happening, going about her daily business as if nothing is amiss, until it either goes away or becomes a crisis.  I saw this most clearly when Emily was diagnosed with breast cancer 5 years ago.  She was positively dispassionate.  She showed little connection to her cancer or the treatment.  I mean, the woman could have slept in once or twice or even whined a tiny bit!  She missed work exactly 2 days in two years of pretty grueling intense treatment.  But that’s just who Emily is.  This example is definitely the pro side of *non-dealers*.  *Over-dealers*, on the other hand (at the opposite end in my system), tend toward owning, living and sometimes wallowing in whatever difficulty they are encountering.  Annie tends more toward *over-dealer*.  She clung to her diagnosis and her cancer like a badge of honor.  She joined cancer groups and then survivor groups, going to cancer conferences and retreats.  Pink ribbons and “survivor” t-shirts abound and cancer defines Annie as much as her career, religion or personality.  It’s interesting, to say the least, to see Annie and Emily together.

At any rate, after dinner when the girls had gone off to play, Annie was telling us about the most recent conference for cancer survivors she’d attended with a relatively new girlfriend.  She told us about the workshops, the camaraderie, the spirit and the work of the conference and the many attendees.  She also told us about a new-ish category dubbed “co-survivor”.  Annie’s girlfriend adopted and eagerly owned this role of co-survivor even though she didn’t know Annie when Annie was diagnosed or treated for her cancer.  Annie shared with us her discomfort in a sort of “do I have a right to be irritated” kind of way at what felt like her girlfriend’s appropriation, annexation or perhaps hijacking of the survivor role.

Annie was saying how hard it was for her to listen to (never mind offering support or comfort to) her girlfriend’s sharing the burdens  and pain of co-survivorship with her.  Her girlfriend, who we’ll just call Kate from now on (because it is the first name that came to my mind just now), was wanting (or needing) to share throughout the conference week how difficult and painful it was to be a co-survivor.  And she shared her hard feelings with Annie.  Kate kept talking about her fears and her sadness etc with Annie (to the exclusion of Annie’s feelings as an actual survivor).  And Annie was like, “What the fuck?! I’m the one who had cancer?!”  She didn’t begrudge Kate the feelings she was having.  She just didn’t feel that SHE (Annie) could be the person Kate came to for that support.  Was she wrong for that?!

As Annie talked I found myself not only understanding what she was saying, but also feeling a similar thread beginning to take shape in my own life.  Yes, it was hard to be the partner of someone going through cancer and cancer treatment.  For so many reasons.  It was hard and painful and terrifying and exhausting for me.  Emily got all the cards and good wishes, the best of everyone around us.  And forbye, she gave the best of herself to everyone else.  It was only with me she could let herself fall apart.  With everyone else she was a strong superhero able to leap tall buildings and all that.  Watching her be so upbeat and imperturbable with others while saving the pain and heartbreak for me was hard.  Watching someone I desperately loved go through chemo and radiation and operations was agonizing, especially knowing I could do nothing to make it any better or easier.  Fearing that I would lose my soul’s love to this awful disease was excruciating and terrifying.  But I shared not one whit of any of those feelings with Emily either during her treatment or after.  Don’t get me wrong, I got plenty of support from dear friends during that time.  And I unloaded my burdens on Joyce and Sheila plenty and often during those years.  They listened to me cry and rage and whine and complain.  They laughed with me, cried with me and validated my reality as well as cheering me up and on and never faltering by my side.

But even if I didn’t have friends like them, it was never an option (in my mind) to share any of my difficult feelings about Emily’s cancer with Emily herself.  With Emily I was strong and calm, encouraging and supportive.  I wasn’t wonderful or perfect.  But I do have to admit those were some of my finer hours as a partner.  No matter how scared or depleted I was, I put on a brave face for Emily.  I guess I just figured she had enough on her plate, what with having to deal with actually having cancer.

As Annie was sharing how hard it was to hear and navigate Kate’s pain and difficult feelings about her cancer, I was sure and clear that I had done the right thing by not burdening Emily with mine.  And then something else clicked in me.  I realized that I have been having similar feelings being trans with a partner who is struggling with it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am NOT comparing being transgender with having cancer.  What I’m saying is that the emotions and their ramifications have some similarities.  It isn’t like I realized I’m transgender and skipped to my lou like a dog with two tails living the damn dream.  This revelation has been painful, shame-filled and earth-shattering for me for several years now (please note the more than 100 whining, cringing, frightened and pain-filled posts on this blog alone!).  I have been wrecked and elated and everything in between.  This epiphany has bordered on apocalypse and rocked me to my very core.  And as I navigate all these minefield emotions myself, I can’t listen to or be supportive or understanding or comforting of the hard feelings Emily is having as a result of my proclamation.  I cannot shoulder the burden of someone else’s hard feelings because of me in addition to navigating my own emotions.  Does that make sense?

I’m not at all saying Emily isn’t entitled to her painful and difficult responses, reactions, pain and suffering in response to my disclosure.  I can imagine it would be staggering to be a lesbian in a lesbian relationship and then to find out who you thought was your female spouse actually identifies as male.  What a mind fuck!?  Her feelings are completely reasonable.  I get that.  And Emily has every right to her hard feelings (even if those feelings were not reasonable).  What I’m saying, similar to what Annie was saying about Kate, is that while Emily is entitled to her feelings, I am not the person she can or should go to in order to share her feelings and get support and or comfort for them.

I’m sure there are other arenas in life in which this dynamic happens.  Divorce for example?  In the meantime, it felt very ataractic to come to this understanding and to set a mental boundary.  There was something liberating, absolving me of my guilt and shame at not being able (or willing?) to be responsible for sorting out and taking care of such multifarious  and complex emotions that complicate my own.  In the event of an emergency, put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others?  Grist for the mill for sure.


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

enemy mine

Ever since reading Hillbilly Elegy something has been niggling at me.  It isn’t that I related to the poverty, misery or even the daily life situations of the hillbillies in Appalachia.  What I related to and what bothered me was not even 1% of the book and I would venture to say 99% of people who read the book missed it.  What struck me most was his difficulty (which he only mentions a few times and even then briefly) in forming and maintaining his own significant adult relationship.  Because his upbringing was fraught with adversarial and antagonistic primary relationships, he had no foundation on which to understand and then build a solid adult relationship.  And well, I totally related to that.  Being in a relationship with me is not for the faint of heart.  I know that.  It isn’t that I’m high maintenance necessarily.  It’s more like on any given day I am a piece of work.  I am my own exclusive battlefield.  Live my personal life as if on the front lines.  I am always on the defensive.  I am always postured and prepared for insult.

In many ways, I am my father’s son.  My father was gregarious and charismatic outside the house.  He made friends easily, was funny and fun to be with.  Most everyone liked him, considered him a friend.  At home he could be surly and distant.  He was quiet and kept to himself and had exactly zero patience.  He showed my brother and me a lot of affection but little of his feelings, who he really was inside.  Here’s a hug, ruffle your hair and go play outside kiddo.

I am a lot like my father.  I am gregarious and superficially friendly out and about, but prefer to be alone, quiet and keep to myself at home.  I love my family very much.  I am demonstrative with my children, but I do not share my deeper self with them or anyone else.  When I get home from a long day of constant and forced relating to others, the things I want to do most are crawl into a globulous amorphous cocoon of sweats, hunker down, and knit or read.  Preferably without interruption.

I’m just beginning to understand these behaviors as problematic; that just as much as I hate being interrupted out of my silent swaddle, my family hates my distance.  They genuinely want a piece of me, a real piece of me.  Which, for some reason doesn’t make any sense to me.  I’m hoping that it is through learning and nurture that I developed these poor habits slash defense mechanisms and not via inherent nature that I’m like this.  I understand that I’m not all that pleasant (to put it mildly) to be around at home.  I know this, because that’s how I felt about my own father.  I’d like to do something to change.  But change is hard when behaviors are based in fear and necessity, having developed for good reasons.

I learned to be like this, to protect myself, especially from those closest to me.  My mother is intrusive and without boundaries.  She is competitive, compulsive and critical.  She is also mean.  She is the epitome of a child mid-tantrum – saying or doing whatever they think will hurt others the most.  Her mentality of – anything I could do she could do better – only worked when she could outdo me.  If she couldn’t she would shame me into not wanting to do whatever it was I could actually do better.  I learned very early on that anything I said could and would be used against me.  If I shared a secret or a yearning I could be guaranteed it would be thrown back in my face as a reproach or to belittle me.  Being no dope I learned to keep myself secret.  My inner army always poised against breach.

My father was only slightly better in that at least he wasn’t mean or petty.  But his distance was palpable, painful, and told me in no uncertain terms that I was a bother most of the time.  He came from a home and culture that believed in “toughening kids up” by teasing and irritating and intentionally trying to aggravate them — albeit playfully(sic).  I believe the theory behind this was to learn how to deal with adversity at home from the people who supposedly loved you before having to face it in the harsh cruel world.  Not sure how well that worked.  Really, we didn’t do feelings as a family at all.  As kids if we were happy and joyous we were loud and obnoxious and told to simmer down.  If we were sad, we were told “don’t cry, it makes mommy sad”.  We were diverted from disappointment and distracted from difficulty.  Feelings just weren’t in the curriculum in our house.

My parents’ marriage was like a sparring match for half-desired dominance.  They weren’t a team.  They weren’t friends.  Gibes and digs, snipes and sarcasm made up the bulk of their relating.  Often it was done “in jest” and honestly they could be quite funny sometimes.  But as Shakespeare and others have told us more than once, many a true word is spoken in jest.

That playful bickering was also inherent in certain social strata of the times.  Lucy and Ricky were always going at it in just that same way.  The Brady Bunch was a constant battle of the sexes.  Actually, Nina recently stumbled upon a Brady Bunch episode and rolled with laughter.  I watched next to her horrified.  There was a scene in it where Mike and Carol realize they have to share a closet.  They set a hook in the exact middle of the closet so that each gets half.  They then spend the entire episode sneaking, first one then the other, into the bedroom to move the hook so that they get more room.  Of course it ends with Carol in tears because she needs more room for her *pretties* and when Mike gives in Carol looks duplicitously into the camera to show she’s actually played him like a fiddle.  It made my skin crawl.

The lessons I learned from my parents’ relationship?  Never let down your guard.  Even at home.  Any slight is intentional.  Especially at home.  There’s a weird kind of comfort zone when we experience as adults the environments we grew up in.  Even when they are toxic.  I’d feel more comfortable, confident, know how to respond if Emily would be snarky and mean to me.  When she is nice to me I am just suspicious and feel off balance.  When she goes out of her way for me, instead of “thank you” I respond “why”.

The best things Emily can say to me (and she probably has to say them far too often for her liking) are: I didn’t do it on purpose and It wasn’t intentional.  I’m open to the idea that she is telling the truth.  Or, at least to give her the benefit of the doubt.  Recently she found a soup slash chili recipe that I loved – healthy, delicious, veggie happiness.  I expected her to never make it again once I told her how much I liked it.  But she did make it again.  The third time she made it she used roasted corn (which I hate) and it completely ruined the soup for me.  I was sure she’d done it on purpose.  I know it’s stupid and petty and ridiculous and I’m embarrassed to admit it.  But there it is.  That’s how I expect to be treated.  In addition to Emily telling me that she didn’t do it on purpose or with any intent at all (it was all we had in the house), she went out the following day and bought all new ingredients to make the soup.  Just for me.

It’s going to take a lot of deep breaths and reprogramming, but I’m determined to try.  It is going to take a lot more effort, energy and intentionality than I am used to.  I’m going to have to choose to hear and experience things differently, to not believe the worst, to not let an insult fall into the rut of my brain that says ON PURPOSE.  I am choosing to do this because it is important to me and my family.  And because I believe I can change.



Posted in family of origin, feelings, my own worst enemy, relationship | 3 Comments

fevered writing

Excerpts from a letter to Tracy and thoughts of a fevered mind:

I’m home sick.  Sick again or even sick still.  I’m not sure which.  Nor do I even care at this point.  I do know that I’m quite sick of being sick.  Clearly my immune system has shit the bed, given up the ghost, left the building, without a word or backward glance.  So long sucker.  I need something beyond the gimmick of gummy vitamins that promise to “boost your immune system!”  I ate an orange.  What more must I do?!  Though I will say, in a small (embarrassing) act of rebellion I bought a large bottle of One A Day daily vitamins – FOR MEN, about 8 months ago.  Every time I would take them for a few days in a row (I kept forgetting to take them….not being used to taking daily vitamins, being ashamed that I bought men’s vitamins, who the fuck knows why else) I got strep throat.  I had strep 3-4 times in the last year.  Damn those men’s vitamins!

And it hasn’t been just strep.  Three weeks ago the stomach bug blew through our house like vomit dominoes.  I could have at least lost a little weight for all my misery.  As someone at work likes to quip, “I’m just one bout of the flu away from my goal weight”  The only one not affected was Joita, who was able to escape to M’s house while we all writhed in our own nausea-induced agony.  The baby (thankfully) slept for long periods of time, clearly worn out from the puking (ours? Hers? Who knows!).

So Friday I had a little throat slash chest tickle.  I ignored it and went about my business.  By Saturday afternoon I was coughing like the heavy smoker I used to be.  I couldn’t breathe and my lungs felt like they were on fire.  By Sunday my fever was 102.7.  I took Advil cold and cough but it did nothing.  I took Tylenol.  Nothing.  Delsym cough syrup.  Nothing.  I did call the on call doctor because I was afraid of having a fever so high.  The internet reports, you know, that fevers in adults between 102 and 103 could be dangerous.  No more dangerous than Emily’s concoctions of elderberry syrup, honey lemon hot water, or hot toddies, bless her heart.  But the doctor on call said it sounded viral and I should wait it out, drinking and resting as much as possible, alternating Tylenol and Advil by turns.

So while I’m thankful that I didn’t have to go into the city to see someone,  I’m home unhappily “waiting it out”, trying not to lose my mind, contemplating my demise, and trying not to get involved in the chaos happening downstairs – Emily burning popcorn and Nina having a tantrum or Ruby demanding in a high-pitched whine to listen to Philadelphia Freedom for the millionth time.  I slept so much yesterday I’m not that tired today.  I’m not good at waiting.

It’s so hard to focus when you have a fever this high.  I mean, it’s been a little hard to focus on any one thing.  Like right now I can’t really remember what was so pressing that I had to write you.

Oh, right… So I had my yearly physical last week (that one week when I was actually healthy).  Met my new PCP.  Not sure what happened to the old one.  Moved on I guess.  This new one was fine, though hardly compelling.  I mostly end up seeing the NP who I totally love, so I don’t care that I’m not ga ga over this new person.  She asked about gyn exams and whether I would think about having one (have not had one in 7 years).  Also said it was time for a colonoscopy.  My irritation was building.  I was liking her less and less.  What is the compulsion to stick things in me?!  Is this a test?!

Lastly she brought up hormones and asked if testosterone was still “on the table” for discussion.  This perked me up.  We talked about testosterone in general, a conversation I feel like I’ve had many times with various providers over the last 2 years, with no definitive answer.  I told her that Emily isn’t exactly “on board” with the whole idea.  Actually, it isn’t that Emily has forbidden me or that she is dead set against it.  She says, in a most disgusted way, “Do whatever you need to do Hali”.  Hardly a ringing endorsement to be sure, but not a definite no either really.  Anyway, the doctor suggested testosterone gel/cream as opposed to shots as a sort of compromise.  The Compromise part being that the results are much slower and less obvious for a long time with the cream.  And apparently a lot of guys start with cream for this exact reason – partners who are not exactly on board.  The doctor said that the cream is definitely slower to manifest changes and added that there are, in fact, other reasons the cream is a good choice.  Cream is daily, so the levels tend to be more stable and even.  Shots are weekly to bi-weekly and tend to have definite peaks and lows.  Since one of my concerns is my rather short fuse, this was another point for cream.  The down side of the cream is that I have to be extra careful so that no one else in the house comes into contact with it.  The thought of Ruby with a beard understandably freaks me out.  It was a pretty long visit and I got most of my questions answered.  Once again, the ball is in my court.  Has it ever not been?  I’m not sure why, but I made a follow-up appointment for next month.

I’ve already done the paperwork and blood work.  I’m not sure what I expect to happen in a month or what I think I want from this next appointment.  Perhaps a sign from Above is what I’m hoping for?  In the meantime, Emily noticed that I seemed a bit happier and wondered why.  So I told her.  I said it sounded like there might be a happy medium to our dilemma.  And I explained the gel/cream thing.

It’s so hard.  I mean, I want her to be happy about it and she’s just not going to be.  Kind of like I want her to be interested in my hockey and she just isn’t.  Hockey might be a stupid comparison but in some ways it feels similar to me in that it feels like she is just being spiteful and mean.  Would it kill her to even ask about coming to see me play???  Apparently.  I know when I play she is with the kids.  That isn’t really the point.  If she would just ask, even appear to be interested,  it would make me so happy.  But she won’t.  She doesn’t like sports and clearly sees no redeeming value in them.  And because I so highly value sports her lack of regard for them feels like a direct insult to me.  But I digress.

Anyway, Emily did reluctantly shrug her shoulders and agree that pursuing testosterone cream may not be the end of the world.  Mainly I think she agreed because she is sick of me being depressed.  Still no ringing endorsement, but at least she doesn’t see it as apocalyptic, right?  I am sorry my depression has been so hard on her.  And when I think of that it makes me even more depressed.  It’s not like it has been a real picnic for me either though.  It isn’t like I’m choosing to be depressed on purpose.

At any rate, now that I’ve got the green light (sort of) I’m nervous about starting testosterone.  The first thing I’m worried about is that it won’t make me “happy” or take away my irritating depression.  Then what?!  Sideburns and male pattern baldness will most definitely not buoy my mood any.  Which then just leads me to all the other reasons I’m worried about testosterone.  Who will I be if not me?!  How will I change?  In addition to inside changes, what about outward changes?  I don’t want to look like a fool.  Does anyone actually choose to look like a fool?  The reality is that I never want to look like a fool,  but I fear I look like one regardless.  At least if testosterone made me a happy fool maybe I wouldn’t care quite so much.  No?  Part of me is very excited about the changes t might bring.  The possibility of inner alignment!!  The increase in stamina and energy.  The strength.  The muscle development.  The sideburns.  Ok, maybe not the sideburns.  Just thought I’d try to be positive.


I feel I don’t have anyone to share my excitement and my anxieties with.  But that’s not the truth really.  I have plenty of people I could talk to.  The strange thing is that part of me doesn’t want to talk to anyone about this.  Ostensibly I started this blog to write about these issues specifically.  But now it feels too personal, too private.  I feel shy.  Embarrassed?  Ashamed?  It’s been over a week and I’ve literally only told one person.  I’ve had plenty of opportunities to talk to friends, but I purposely have not.  At the same time, while I’m intentionally not talking about it, I can’t stop thinking about it.  Which means my mind has been on forward, reverse and overdrive.  In my fevered state, I’m thinking and imagining all kinds of scenarios, from exciting to strange to downright freaky.  At once I feel defiant and strong – I’m going to do this.  Then I feel ashamed and scared.  But what if it really does help?  What if I can be happy?  Do I deserve to be happy?  And what if it doesn’t make me happy?   And on and on and on.

This gerbil-wheel rumination leaves me utterly exhausted.  And my fever is still 102.5.  I need a nap.  Thanks for listening.

Posted in no man's land, relationship | 2 Comments

out of the mouths of…

It’s been a while since I’ve posted one of these.  And just as I realized that… one presented itself to me.  So… In another installment of “out of the mouths of”, I find that I am not at all alone, nor am I completely crazy.

Last summer I made the acquaintance of someone I’ll call Clark.  Emily had wanted me to meet her as she is online friends with Clark’s wife Dana, and according to Emily, Clark was beginning to identify as trans-ish or perhaps gender-nonconforming, or queer.  I could read between the lines.  I was quite sure I wasn’t going to like this Clark fellow one bit.  I felt the underlying message behind Emily’s desire for us to connect, that Clark was being trans the *right* way and maybe I could be persuaded.  Anyway, I begrudgingly met this guy and of course we were like twins separated at birth and hit it off immediately.  The reality being, Clark identifies very much the same way I do, so either Clark has soft-coated things for the wife or Clark’s wife has heard what she wants to hear about how Clark identifies.

In any case, one of the things Clark and I talked about was clothing.  Clark attends more formal and social events than I do and actually ended up having a suit made to fit.  Clark said it was one of the best things money could buy.  Clark said the suit fits like a glove and feels *right*.  Not to mention the boost in self esteem and curbing the gender dysphoria craziness.  Make no mistake, this is a men’s suit.  It is simply tailored to fit Clark.  Anyway, Clark changes up the shirt and tie and is good to go.  Clark gave me the name of the company and also suggested less expensive ways of going about getting a decent suit for myself.

Last week I received an email from Clark.  Clark and Dana were invited to a friend’s wedding (two women).  Clark was to be peripherally “in” the wedding and talked to the friend getting married about wearing the suit.  The friend was completely fine with it.  Clark and Dana went and Clark was awkwardly surprised to be one of the only clearly *queer* looking people in attendance.  Clark’s email said, “I felt like I stood out like a sore thumb. All the guys and kids were staring at me not knowing what to make of me.”  Sound familiar??  It got worse for poor Clark though.  After the ceremony, during the passed appetizers, a man approached Clark, complimented the suit and then said, “So, what do they call that? A gender bender or something?”  Clark was stunned and of course completely shamed.  Clark’s email went on to describe a spiral into shame and self-loathing I know only too well.  I almost cried reading the email.

It wasn’t surprising to me.  Actually it quite validated my own feelings and experiences.  I don’t think anyone intends to be mean when questioning us.  At least I really hope the intent is simple curiosity.  But the question always comes out a bit like one asking, “Why is your dog in a baby carriage?”  With the distinct air of curled-nostril condescension and repugnance.  And the truth of the matter is that we are judging those people with their dogs in strollers.  Well, at least I am pretty sure I am (though let’s be perfectly honest… I would never ask).  And I know that if I were to simply respond, “I like how I feel and look dressed like this”, the judgment might be (at least momentarily) dispelled and the questioner, who was probably only curious and not judgmental to begin with, would simply shrug and move on.  Although as I play this through in my head I realize that quite often the person doesn’t let it end there, but pushes presumptuously ahead by explaining (with the thinly veiled irritation of one explaining to a child why they cannot do something clearly stupid) that it is a MENS suit.  The problem is that I rarely have the wherewithal to not care what others think.  The question, even the hint of judgment, rattles me.  I have felt so wrong for so long, perhaps I’m not qualified to judge myself feeling right?  I’m really going to have to work on that.


Posted in no man's land | Leave a comment

reflections of…

I officiated at a funeral the other day.  The mother of a long-time-family-friend died.  The family is close and loving, but not part of a larger spiritual or religious cohort and therefore was feeling stuck about funeral arrangements.  I was happy to help out and genuinely like the role of providing open, welcoming and meaningful religious ritual for unaffiliated folks.  I didn’t know the mom, but knew one of her sons very well (the best friend of my uncle since grade school and someone I idolized when I was a kid) and knew that at least some of the family members were non-practicing Christians (in addition to the non-practicing Jews I’d been called in by).  So I focused mostly on making sure the Judaism in the service was accessible and engaging and that the funeral service itself was meaningful and spoke to people of all faiths, any faith or no faith at all.

I worked on the ceremony most of the weekend, but it wasn’t until the morning of the funeral that I realized, with that too familiar apprehensive dread, that I didn’t know what to wear.  I know it seems small and insignificant, and that I whine about it way too much, but not having official formal-wear sucks!  The greatest eulogy ever can go unheard because of a sloppy, ill-dressed officiant.  At least in my book.  And maybe that’s a bit over-dramatic, but I feel like it’s still true.  I also feel like I already stand out so much, I don’t want to make it worse by dressing outside of convention as well.

I chose a nice pair of dress pants, button-down shirt and my Dr Marten wingtips.  While not a suit, or even a sport coat, it wasn’t chinos or a flannel shirt.  I didn’t wear a white t-shirt underneath.  And I buttoned up the shirt to the next-to-last button.  I looked crisp if not formal.

I shouldn’t have worried overmuch.  The deceased’s sons (including my uncle’s friend) were, quite frankly, abominably dressed in ill-fitting suits, and some with sneakers.  My childhood big-brother-uncle-stand-in, now a middle-aged man, stood with an enormous belly flagrantly manifest through his suit jacket that clearly could not have been buttoned if his life depended on it.  His shirt was so tight the buttons screamed in protest and his pants were baggy, belted just under his “waist”.  The whole suit was extremely wrinkled (not to mention extremely unflattering), as if purloined from the back of his closet where it had pooled on the floor unceremoniously since the last formal occasion he attended.  His sneakers, while black, were not even quasi shoes.  His brother and other male relatives were equally poorly dressed in unshapely, wrinkled burlap bags (or the suit equivalent).  Does no one own an iron?  Live near a dry-cleaner?  Know about ZOOTS?!

The women were, as usual, wearing dresses or dress suits, looking sharp and appropriately attired.  There were a few younger men in attendance who were dressed very nicely in stylish suits and handsome ties.  I looked longingly at those.  Not only do I like the look of a suit and tie, I wish one looked normal on me.   Not dressing nicely enough or formally enough can be distracting, eliciting questions and invoking comments, taking attention away from the reason we are all there.  But so would me wearing a suit.  Instead of people being focused on my inappropriately informal clothing, they would be wondering, “Is that a woman wearing a men’s suit?” or “Why is a woman wearing a men’s suit?”  I don’t like either option.  I calmed myself by reminding myself that the reality is that I stand behind a large podium that covers much of me anyway.  And once I begin, asking everyone to breathe deeply and focus on the sacred task at hand, I’m in my zone.  I want people to concentrate and contemplate the solemnity of the moment, the life that is no longer, the bereaved and the ethereal realm where concepts of death abide, not my clothes.  But still, clearly, the whole dilemma rankles me.

After the service as we milled about in the funeral home waiting to get into cars for the motorcade going to the cemetery I noticed two young men huddled together, crying and comforting one another.  I first noticed them I think because they looked sharp in their stunning suits and fashionable shoes, handsome with their close-cropped hair and beards and goatees.  I think they caught my attention initially because they were very close to what I see when I look at myself through my mind’s eye.  Ok ok, maybe not the young part.

But as I took in the distance between us and really looked at them, I noticed something more about them.  Both men were actually also quite effeminate, clearly gay.  To be clear, it was their maleness that I see in myself, not their gayness.  At any rate, I’m not sure whether they were grandsons of the deceased and either cousins or brothers, or perhaps only one was and the other was a boyfriend or a partner.  They looked back at me with equal significance, and as we got on coats and fished in pockets for car keys they approached me to comment on the service and thank me.

I'll never grow up to be like them

I’ll never grow up to be like them

I'll never grow up to be like them

I’ll never grow up to be like them

In the privacy of my own car in the funeral procession, I thought a lot about those young men.  I wondered what it was like for them to see something of themselves (even if for them it was just the gay thing) mirrored in the person of authority, the officiant, at this poignant moment in their lives.  I realized that I never saw myself modeled in any adults in my life growing up.  No teachers or physicians, no firefighters, police officers, rabbis or bank tellers.  How sad.  And lonely.  And confusing to have no one mirror back to you what you might some day be.  No wonder I’m so confused, or that I don’t even know what to wear.  No one ever modeled for me how to be me in the world!  I never saw another me anywhere.

The realization was startling.  And at the same time, the confirmation of that comprehension also afforded me a modicum of compassion for myself.  Charting new territory can be exciting and liberating.  But it can also be lonely and arduous, a herculean task that is inexorable at times.  The tenderness toward myself has been immensely comforting, opening me up to new awareness I want to keep exploring.



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