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The Paper Airplane

PaperCopter

I lay in a hospital bed on the fifth floor of Scripps Memorial Hospital in San Diego. The nurse was taking my pulse and checking my blood pressure. She had just drawn a few vials of blood to check my blood oxygen level. Since the accident it had been low but lately it was steadily climbing. That was a good sign. I was healing after coming extremely close to death. I had been saved by an experimental procedure that had drained fluid from my heart sac. Since then I had slowly improved. Fortunately, at 13 years old I had a faster healing rate than most adult patients. I had just gotten out of the ICU on the third floor two days ago but was still being watched very closely.

Four days earlier I had been waiting for my ride home from swim practice along with my brothers and other members of our team. It was about 7:30pm and being early February it was quite dark. The air was cold so I wore a corduroy trench coat handed down from my older brother Pat. He was two years older than me and I looked over to see him talking to Bob. Bob was one of my brother’s best friends and he had driven his parent’s Dodge Dart to swim practice for the first time. I was somewhat in awe seeing Bob so comfortably chatting from behind the wheel to my brother and a few other swimmers. All of them were older than me. My brother would be getting his learner’s permit soon. The two other’s at the window were Chris Micheletti and Dick Powell. I was the youngest swimmer in this advanced level team of about two dozen of the best from our town. I had earned my spot by being faster than pretty much anyone here including my brother. The next youngest was Chris who was only 9 months older. He and I had been best friends for awhile but lately he’d been more interested in girls than in hanging out with me. Chris had begun to mature physically. His voice had deepened and he had body hair and muscles while I was still just a skinny boy. I was just thirteen but could easily be mistaken for a few years younger. Dick Powell was laughing loudly now. He was fourteen but looked like a man already. He and Chris had become much closer recently. I heard they were both smoking Pot. Of course I’d been offered a joint many times  but had abstained because I didn’t want to harm my body. I liked being a fast swimmer and didn’t want anything to impact my ability to breathe as well as possible.

I felt like I was being excluded from the older guys for being a kid. I hated not being noticed. In the pool the coaches often held me up as an example of how to work hard and get faster. My strokes and turns were textbook and sometimes the coach would have me do demonstrations for the other members of the team. I enjoyed the attention but I had noticed the other swimmers didn’t smile at me afterwards. It seemed to annoy them that I worked so hard. Chris, Dick and my brother were all busy talking to Bob as he sat behind the wheel of the car. They were on the driver’s side and leaned casually against the car in a way they would never do if a parent were driving. A dozen or so other swimmers watched from the sidewalk along with me. Lisa Mclaughlin, Gloria Unger and a few other girls were giggling and admiring the guys at the car.

Suddenly I had an impulse to steal the show. I walked up to the front of the Dodge and slammed myself against the hood. Pretending to be hit I rolled onto the ground in front of the car. I thought it would be funny and get everyone’s attention but as I looked up for their anticipated laughter I heard screams instead. The car had begun moving forward and I was already halfway under the front bumper. The screams grew as I felt myself begin to roll like a rolling pin beneath the heavy vehicle. I could feel the breath being pushed out of me as my rotation speed increased. I heard a sound coming out of me I’d never heard before. Like a long deep groan but with the broken rhythm of an object rolling unevenly on a bumpy surface. Just as I began to understand what was happening I felt a very sharp pain and…

I heard voices off in the distance and then saw little spots of light like pinpoints randomly building my complete vision. Slowly I began to be aware of faces above me. I tried to breathe but there was nothing. I tried again more desperately. I felt panic immediately rising as I struggled for air. Just as I thought I would die or pass out an oxygen mask was over my mouth and nose. “Breath normally.” said a soothing voice. I gasped in the oxygen feeling relief spread over me.  I looked up to see a man in a navy button down shirt and navy slacks. I could tell he was a paramedic. There was another paramedic behind him and now I could make out the shadows of a crowd behind them. I recognized one for a second. “Chris?” I tried to speak but the paramedic put a hand on my shoulder and said, “save your air.” “You’ve had an accident and you need to just relax and breathe.”

I was loaded into an ambulance and in a few minutes I was in the ER of Scripps Memorial Hospital. The paramedic who had administered the oxygen had stayed with me during the trip, He asked me questions and smiled. He made me feel like everything was OK. At the hospital he helped roll me into the ER and then lift me onto another bed. “You’re going to be just fine” he said looking down at me with a broad forehead and soothing brown eyes. Short cropped strawberry blond hair framed his smiling face. “Your in good hands.” “I’ll come check on you later.” I hadn’t known this man at all but I felt closer to him now than almost anyone I’d ever met.  He saved me from drowning.

During the next few minutes there were many people working on or around me. My clothes were cut off and I remember feeling embarrassed at my lack of pubic hair when they cut off my underwear. Lots of tubes. needles, clip boards, nurses and doctors seemed to work feverishly on me for about 30 minutes. I was taken into an x-ray room and the big lead apron lain over me as the technician took the photos. I drifted in and out of consciousness until I finally woke in a hospital room with a heart monitor beeping  and an oxygen mask on. Every time I exhaled it made a funny sound. “Hi Bear-bear” I heard next to me. “Mom!” I tried to say. “You’re going to be alright.” she said looking down at me. Even from my position she looked frail. She had breast cancer and was gravely ill herself. She rarely left our house at all anymore. Most of the time she lay in her own hospital bed breathing out of her own oxygen tanks behind her bed. “Mom!” I tried to speak again but the sound was muffled by the mask. She smiled. “Don’t talk honey.” You need to save your breath. “I brought Father Jacobs to speak with you. He’s right here.” A priest with salt and pepper hair and sad eyes stepped into my field of vision and looked down at me. “Hello Jerry” he said. “I’m Father Jacobs.” “I’m going to say the Lord’s prayer for you.” You can say it along with me in your mind but please don’t try to speak.” I nodded. “Our Lord who art in Heaven…” he began. I followed along. At the end he dipped his hand in something cool and touched my forehead in the sign of the cross. I realized I had just received my last rights.

I heard my mother sobbing quietly and speaking in hushed tones to the priest as he left. My mother came back. “You are going to have an operation bear-bear.” “I’ll see you when you’re done.” “Everything is going to be ok.” She kissed my forehead where the priest had touched me and left the room. A nurse walked in and said, “Hello Jerry.” I nodded at her. She smiled back. “I know you can’t talk so don’t try.” “We’re going to take good care of you.” I could feel the bed being moved and watched as the acoustic ceiling tiles moved  in front of my eyes. After a few minutes and going in and out of an elevator we rolled into a darkened room. “Hello Jerry” said a man’s voice and a doctor wearing green surgical scrubs and glasses came into view. “We’re going to do a procedure to help out your heart Jerry.”  “Can you understand me okay?” he asked. ” I nodded yes. “Good” he said. “You look like a smart young man so I’m going to explain what’s going on.” I nodded. “When the car rolled over you it crushed the left side of your chest.” He went on. “Unfortunately that caused a couple of problems.” “Besides breaking some ribs, it collapsed your left lung and bruised your heart.” “The problem we’re having is that the fluid in your heart sac is making it hard for your heart to beat.” I nodded. Now I understood the last rights. “The way we’re going to fix that is to first inject you with some dye that we can see on a  video x-ray monitor.” He said pointing to the monitor above my bed. He motioned to a surgical nurse that was setting up an I.V. in my right arm. “It will feel very warm and you will want to cough but I want you to try not to, Ok?” I nodded. “Good boy.” he said. He nodded again to the nurse. I could feel a very warm sensation begin around the I.V. and quickly begin running up my arm and across my chest. It was almost burning. Suddenly I really wanted to cough but I fought it. Tears welled up in my eyes as I held back the urge. “That’s it” said the doctor.” “That’s the worst of it.” “Good job!”

The doctor had gone on to show me the entire procedure on the X-ray video monitor above our heads. It was a brand new device and I learned later the whole procedure was experimental. They ran a catheter through the same I.V. in my right arm all the way into my heart sac. I watched as the tube snaked up my arm, across my chest and into my laboring heart’s surrounding pericardial sac. After a few minutes the sac was drained and everyone seemed relieved. “Very well done!” the doctor said to me and the nurses. Smiles all around. I felt as if we had all accomplished something.

That had been four days ago. I spent two more days in the ER as they monitored me and periodically drained my heart sac again. During that time I’d had no visitors except my Mom. She had been there quite a bit and I couldn’t help but worry about her exertion level. I knew it must have taken a tremendous toll on her physically to come at all. Other than these visits and constant checking by the nurses I had drifted in and out of sleep for two days. Yesterday I had been moved to this room. My brothers had come to visit along with my older sister, Kerry who had come down from Sacramento, seven hours North of here by car. I was surprised to see her but realized she would have come down not only to see me but to make sure that my Mom was OK and take some of the pressure off of her having to visit me and drive to the hospital. My brothers all looked at me oddly. We were all used to seeing my mother in a hospital bed but this was the first time the tables had been turned. We were a robust, healthy group and were rarely ill. Besides Pat there was Kelly who was a year older and Brendan my only younger sibling. “What’s wrong with your eyes?” Brendan asked. I had been shocked when I first saw myself in the bathroom mirror too. The nurse had warned me ahead of time that the pressure from being crushed had caused all the blood vessels in my eyes to burst. This made the whites of my eyes turn completely red. I looked like a monster. “It’s gonna clear up.” I said. “That’s kinda cool!” he replied. “You could scare anyone with eyes like that!” We all laughed a bit. It still hurt but my breathing had improved so I could talk and be without oxygen for up to an hour at a time. They left me some comic books and some things to draw with. I loved to draw and that was their way of taking care of me.

Today I’d only seen my sister in the morning. She had come by to visit to make sure I was doing OK.  Other than that I had just been sitting in bed watching daytime television. I was beginning to feel much better. I heard a tap at my door. “You’ve got visitors” said the nurse who walked in first. “Are you Ok seeing them?” “Sure!” I answered. I guessed it might be my sister again or my brothers. “Hey Jerry!” I heard a familiar voice say.  It was Chris Micheletti and he walked in with his Mom. “Chris!” I said recognizing my former best friend. “How’s it going?” he said as they walked over. “I been better.” I said smiling. His eyes widened as he looked at my eyes for the first time. “Woah.” he gasped. “I know, it’s gonna heal.” I offered “I kinda look like a monster now though.” “Yeah.” he laughed uncomfortably. “Show him what you brought him.” his mother suggested. Mrs. Micheletti was a slight middle-aged woman with short thick dark hair. She had a somewhat straight forward business like way about her.  She had 5 sons a daughter and a husband. She ran things in the Micheletti household like a military camp. The five boys were each 2 years apart and the daughter was the youngest. The boys all slept in one large room set up like a dorm. I’d spent many nights over there with Chris coming up with fun and mischievous things to do when his parents weren’t watching. That was most of the time since both parents worked. Chris looked a lot like his mother. Dark thick hair but stockier build and the same olive skin. He had a slight speech impediment which I’d always found charming. “Here” he said. He handed me a white large paper-back book. The title read, The Paper Airplane Book. “Wow! I said. “It’s a book on how to make paper airplanes.” “It’s pretty cool.” Chris continued. “I tried a couple.” “Chris thought you might like to make them up here while you are recovering.” offered Mrs. Micheletti. “Yea.” Chris added. “You wanna try one?” He walked over to my bed. He opened the book and thumbed through a few pages. He stopped and opened the book to a page and set it down in front of me. “This one is rad.” Chris said pointing at the page. I looked and it read at the top, “Paper Helicopter.” Below were instructions on how to fold a paper helicopter. “I brought you some paper if you want to try it.” said Mrs. Micheletti. “Sure, yeah.” I said.

For the next 10 minutes Chris and I worked on our paper helicopters. “I think I’m done.” said Chris holding up his paper copter. “Me too.” I said holding up mine. “Let’s try’em.” Chris suggested eagerly. “Ok.” I answered. I held mine out over the edge of the bed. He stood up and held his next to it. “Ready…GO.” he said. We let the copters drop. They fell and the blades’ shape made them twirl a few times before hitting the floor. “COOL!” Chris and I both said in unison. We tried it a few more times. Just then the nurse walked in. She was young, blonde and had a big toothy smile. “What have you boys got there?” she asked. “Paper airplanes” Chris responded for the moment still more of the 13 year old boy interested in toys than this attractive nurse. “Really?” “Let’s see them!” she said smiling broadly. We dropped them for her. “Wow!” she exclaimed. “really neat!” “You boys want to try them out the window? We looked at each other and Mrs. Michletti. “It’s OK with me if the nurse thinks it is.” “It’s fine.” said the nurse. You can open the top part of the window there.” She walked over to the edge of the room and pulled the curtain back. There was a big metal framed window which had a bar running across at about chest level. Above that she grabbed the frame and slid the window open. I could smell the warm dry air of San Diego waft in. It smelled of cars and eucalyptus. “You can drop them from here.” she said pointing out the window. We were on the fifth floor and the side of the building dropped straight off from the window to a metal grating surrounded by eucalyptus trees below. Next to the grating was a fence and then the hospital parking lot.

The nurse helped me out of bed and I teetered for a second still weak from so much time in bed laying down. “Are you OK?” she asked. I nodded. Chris and I carried our copters over to the open window. We were just tall enough to get our arms over the edge of the sill. We both looked at each other. “Ready?” he asked. “Ready.” I answered. “One… two… THREE!” We dropped them at the same time. Both fell against the outside of the window almost immediately as we dropped them and were pinned there. They were too far to reach from where we were. “Shoot.” Chris said with some disappointment. “Too bad.” said Mrs. Micheletti. “Wait, they’re moving!” I said pointing at the window. They began bouncing almost fluttering against the window and then suddenly unexpectedly they lifted off the window and began to twirl upwards! “Wow!” Chris and I both blurted simultaneously. The two copters began rising away from the window as now Mrs. Micheletti and the nurse both stood beside us. “Incredible.” said the nurse. “That’s amazing!” said Mrs, Micheletti. The helicopters continued to spin and rise and drifted further away from the window. “It’s an air conditioning vent” said the nurse pointing to the grate beneath the eucalyptus trees. That’s where they vent the exhaust from the air conditioning for the hospital.” “No wonder they’re rising.” said Mrs. Micheletti. “The exhaust is all warm air.” We all smiled at each other realizing we had really discovered something. We watched as our little copters spun all the way up to the eighth floor and then went around the corner of the building and disappeared. Everyone laughed at the unexpected surprise. Something about watching those paper copters fly so much higher and further than we expected had raised all of our spirits.

Chris and I made a few more planes and tested them out the window for about another 30 minutes and then they had to leave. The nurse had already left to go back to her duties but that paper airplane book stayed and kept me company for the next two weeks as I recovered there in the hospital. I made some amazing flying craft during that time and some soared on miraculously long flights while others crashed in disappointing spirals to the ground. By the end of my hospital stay I had worked my way through the entire book. I eventually recovered completely from my injuries and have had many other difficult times including the loss of my mother, a divorce and failed businesses. But now when I have those difficulties I think of that moment when something small and unassuming flew higher and farther than seemed possible and it buoys my spirits every time.

 

The Blank Book

evolution-of-womanWe sat down to a sober Christmas dinner. I was 13 years old and my four brothers and I were trying to make the best of our situation. We had a turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, stuffing, pumpkin pie but our Mother wasn’t with us this year. She was in the hospital again. This was a more and more common occurrence. Over the last 8 years since she was diagnosed with breast cancer she had been in and out of the hospital for various reasons. Initially it was for a double mastectomy and then later to have her adrenal glands removed. Chemotherapy and radiation therapy followed. Both of these treatments experimental at best and done with a heavy hand. My mother’s illness was aggressive and nothing had been able to stop its persistent take over of her poor failing body. As the years went by the treatments and the cancer took an ever higher toll leaving her more and more frail. It was not uncommon for us to find her unconscious and have to call an ambulance in the middle of the night that would take her away leaving us alone in the large house for an indefinite period of time.

It was during these hospital stays that we had different visitors come to watch over the youngest four of us. Sometimes it was our elderly Aunt who lived nearby or a family friend but usually it was either my older sister or my older brother. They were part of the first group of three children separated from the younger four by a gap of eight years. In that group there was the oldest, Jack who had left around the time of my mother’s initial illness, Kerry, the only girl and Mike who lived six hours North of us and worked in construction.

This Christmas Mike had changed whatever plans he had for Christmas as a young 23 year old guy to watch over his four younger brothers. He had purchased and cooked the turkey and was doing his best to create a holiday for us. We honestly thought he was doing a great job because as young teen and pre-teen boys we thought everything our older brother did was the coolest thing ever. He was 6’2″, handsome, charming, blonde with long hair and a beard. People said he looked like Grizzly Adams, a rock star or Jesus pretty regularly. Women loved him and so did we.

He took us surfing after working as a linemen all day. We’d wait for him to get home from work like a pack of eager labrador puppies. Even though I’m sure he was bone tired, he would pack us all in his little Toyota mini pick-up. Two up front and two in the bed with all the surfboards, wetsuits and towels and off we’d go. We’d pile into the water eager to get the best waves and show Mike how good we were. He happily watched us and encouraged our efforts like a good coach. He let us have all the waves and took few for himself. We surfed until dark and then got back in the truck or in the bed for the cold ride home. We took turns being in the bed but Mike would throw an old blanket over us and leave the cab window open so we could feel the heat on our faces and listen to the Doobie brothers playing on his eight-track player from the cab on the way. I still know every word to every song on that tape.

When we finished our Christmas meal and cleaned up it was time for opening gifts. None of us had much money so gifts were not a big thing. The younger four exchanged a surf poster a sticker or a couple of bars of surf-wax. Mike’s presents were the bigger ones. He had owned a leather craft store so gave each of us a home-made hand-tooled leather belt, the height of fashion at the time. We immediately put the wide leather belts on, each one with a subtly unique pattern but the same rough brass buckle. In addition we each received a separate gift. Our minds were blown. The oldest of the younger four was just getting into music so received an Eagles album. He went on to become a exceptionally talented Bluegrass musician. The second oldest received a tool-set. He wanted to be a tradesmen like Mike and indeed went on to become a highly regarded finish carpentry contractor. My younger brother loved surfing more than anything and imagined traveling to exotic places and surfing there. He received a year’s subscription to Surfer magazine. He eventually moved to Hawaii where he had a family and found his way into the upper management of the Marriott Corporation traveling all over Asia and the Pacific Rim.

My gift was wrapped simply like the rest had been. Mike used holiday wrapping paper but no bows or ribbon. It was actually a two in one gift. One smaller package long and narrow had been taped to another slightly larger. Both wrapped in the same red and gold paper. I held my breath as I opened the first. I peeled back the paper and could see it was something shiny and metal in a plastic case. As the paper slid off I recognized it as a very nice fountain pen.  This was the kind you might find it a stationary store displayed behind the glass counter. The kind an executive, banker or attorney might have. It was beautiful, two-tone, silver and gold. Two black ink-cartridges were also included. I looked up to see Mike smiling. He knew I loved to draw and I had never owned a pen before. Certainly nothing like this one. “Open the other” he said. All my brothers watched as I opened the second part of the gift. I could tell it was a book of some kind. Generally we would have considered a book kind of a dud gift so I prepared myself to look happy even if it turned out to be a novel or something equally unwanted. I already felt sort of nerdy and awkward compared to my brothers and didn’t look forward to getting the novel and a pen when the others had received such cool male gifts.

I pulled back the red paper and it was indeed a book but one unlike any I had ever seen. The cover was also red but absolutely plain. There were no words on it at all. I looked up at Mike again. His eyes were twinkling. My other brothers looked at me with sympathy. I got the dud of the night is what their faces said. “Open it!” Mike encouraged. I looked back at the book and opened the cover to the first page. Nothing. It was blank. I turned to the second page. Once again nothing. I began turning more pages. They were ALL blank. It was a blank book. “This is for your drawings.” Mike said now smiling broadly. “You can fill it with your cartoons and stories. The pen is so your drawings will last. You will be able to create your own book!”

I felt a warm glow start in my belly and spread through my body and explode in my head. ‘Wow” I finally said. “This is great!” I began to imagine all the things I would put in it. My imagination was always full of stories and characters but my drawings to this point had been in pencil and on loose pieces of paper that just ended up in a pile or in the trash. I couldn’t wait to get the pen together and get started. Mike and my brothers could see how happy this gift made me and how it was exactly the right gift for me just as the others had been for them.

I went on to go to Art School and then work as an Animator and Illustrator in Hollywood. My brother’s gift had been as profound and portentous as those of my other siblings. I’ve pondered this gift many times over the years and wondered how my brother at the age of only 23 had so much depth, warmth and wisdom. He looked after us many more times over those years with equal selflessness and I learned most of my parenting skills and ideas about being a warm and compassionate person from those days. I eventually filled that blank book with colorful cartoons and stories that chronicled my young life. I used the same pen but refilled it’s cartridges hundreds of times before it finally wore out. That blank book has many more chapters now. Some bright and colorful and some dark and gray. Like life, we all come into this world as a blank book. I’m still writing mine and forever thankful for the small but remarkable gift I received that Christmas.

Exile

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ohhhhhhhhh……aaahhhhhhh…..aaaahhhhhhhhhhh…cough, cough….sob…sob…

it went on and on. I tried to cover my head with my pillow, but I could still hear the moaning and sobbing. I understood what she wanted. Someone, anyone to come comfort her. Cough, cough, cough…. then a bit of silence. Maybe she fell asleep I hoped? Then a minute later, ohhhhhhh….sob…sob…aaahhhhhh. I was so tired. I’d been at school all day then a two hour swim workout after. I was exhausted.

I got out of bed wearing only my pajama bottoms as was our custom. At ten years old I would only wear a PJ bottom. Somehow to my three brothers and I this represented our growing maturity. My room was furthest away from hers and I wondered how come none of my brother’s seemed to have heard the moans. I walked around through her doorway and peaked in. She looked up from her bed. “Jer-bear?” “Is that you?”She asked in the dark. “It’s me.” I said walking over to her bedside. I looked down at her as she lay there holding her chest. She was so frail, thin and sickly. Almost bald, her skin paper-thin and gray with oxygen tubes coming out of her nose. “Sit here” she said patting the bed next to her. I turned slightly and sat with my legs dangling towards the floor. Her bed was the sort you would find in any hospital. It had the bars on the sides that could be raised or lowered and even had wheels in case she needed to be moved. She rested a hand on my arm. “Such a nice swimmer body” she said smiling. “Are you OK Mom?” I asked. “Oh yes sweetheart.” she said as if nothing was wrong. The stacks of pills on her bedside table, the filled ashtrays, empty glasses of bourbon and the twin five foot oxygen tanks told a different story. She was in constant pain and had been the last 6 years or so since she’d had a double-mastectomy followed by radiation and chemotherapy. She’d had her adrenal glands removed too and had a permanent open wound in her chest we changed the dressing on every night. The skin wouldn’t heal anymore and her bones were like swiss cheese from all the radiation, small fragments of which would occasionally appear in the wound and have to be removed. All of this she dulled with a crazy combination of narcotics and Jim Beam. Each of my brothers knew how to mix her drink. A tall water glass with two ice-cubes and a splash of water. “Why aren’t you sleeping?” she asked. I wanted to say, “you know very well why” but I couldn’t. I felt so bad for her lying there all day and all night alone like she did. We were the only break in that monotony when we arrived home from school in the afternoon and then again later when we would each come in to kiss her goodnight. For all of this it didn’t seem strange to me, she had been like this almost as long as I could recall.

There was a time in my dim memory of a different woman. She was tall, blonde and statuesque. She wore mink and smelled of expensive french perfume. I rarely saw this mother though. That one usually left us with our nanny, Gloria. We only saw her as she left for glamorous outings with my famous plastic surgeon father. Later we might hear them drunk and fighting. She screamed for us then as we cowered in our beds. “Help me boys!” she would call as my father beat her but none of us responded. At 3 or 4 years old there wasn’t a lot we could do. I know my older brothers had each finally confronted him but they suffered for years listening before that. The mother of this world was exotic far off and mysterious like a tragic Queen. Sometimes she was”ill” and we wouldn’t see her for weeks. Then just as suddenly she was back joining us on Sundays for church in her pencil skirts, red lipstick and heels. Outside of church she was never without a cigarette held elegantly in long manicured fingers. The only place we went as a family then was Mass. I had six siblings but the older three no longer joined us. They were separated from the younger four of us by a gap of eight years. We rarely saw them anymore. They were off in college or busy with friends. More often than not the other three younger brothers and I were shepherded around by our angry nanny. She resented us for being privileged and white. Two things the young overweight black woman from rural Georgia was not.

But that fabulous mother was from another mythic time in a fairytale past. The one I sat next to longed for those days but her fabulous King husband had abandoned for a younger princess to adorn. They apparently even had a new set of children to fill their new kingdom although I’d never met them. The mother I sat next to would often regale that man for leaving her exiled and broken. She would cry bitterly calling him a fucking asshole or some other words I had been schooled in church to never use. Sometimes this mother would get up from her bed and dance in a narcotic and alcohol fueled memory of wonderful outings shared in former grand ballrooms with my father. She told me what a great lover he was and how he had swept her off her feet. Like Mrs. Havisham in The Dickens novel, Great Expecations it was as if time had ended when her husband left. The music had stopped and the guests had all left. Now it was just the 5 of us in this echo hall of past grandeur. My mother and my 3 brothers.  I was number three. I had one younger brother who knew even less of the past than I did. The older two each knew more and I think were more injured for its memory.

“Want to watch a movie with me ber-ber?” she asked. Tired as I was, I agreed. “The life of Henry the Eighth is on at ten.” “Masterpiece Theater!” she said with some excitement. “Great Mom.” I answered crawling up next to her in the hospital bed. She lifted the remote and turned on the televison. “You’re going to learn a lot.” she said looking down. “I know Mom.” I answered back. I loved being with her and although I was tired, she was right. I learned a lot on these nights but most of it had nothing to do with the show on TV.

 

The Bitch

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Something is different. At first I wondered if I was imagining it but now I am certain. I’m definitely not the same as I was before I started hormones and transition. To some that would seem patently obvious, but when it’s happening to you, it isn’t so easy to see. I’ve recently had to grapple with what that means and trying to find my footing as this new person.

I don’t think anyone would argue that hormones play a major role in how we behave as humans. After all, much of our life revolves around finding a mate. We are perhaps most aware of the sudden injection of hormones in our early teens as we go through puberty. Things change rapidly as testosterone or estrogen begin flooding our young system for the first time. Boys experience a new interest in girls and vice versa. Often our behavior is erratic or strange. Parents are often left scratching their heads. I would imagine in some cases, my friends and family are doing the same.

As a male I found it an easy task to be calm and collected most of the time. My temperament went from calm to mildly happy and mildly angry. Rarely did I get into the ecstatic or furious ends of the spectrum. In addition, if I did feel these things, people noticed and reacted because it didn’t happen often and I was after all, a man. When men became annoyed or angry, people notice and listen. When women have these emotions the reaction from others is quite different. As a woman, I have to admit I am irritated far more often but also experience a higher level of joy and happiness. The pendulum swings are broader. Life is richer in ways I couldn’t have imagined before. The downside of this is that people take this for granted and depending on which portion of your behavior they experience more regularly you can find yourself categorized. “Bitch” would be one such category I have become newly familiarized with.

Part of the reason I find myself being “the bitch” is that no one seems to listen to what I have to say. In my experience I am universally less regarded when speaking and my status as an authority on almost anything has dropped significantly. When I speak to a man or even a boy about respecting me and things I formerly considered simple regard for others I realize it doesn’t work that way. I often see their eyes roll back in their heads and can tell, all they hear is wa, wa, wa, wa like the teacher in a Charlie Brown show. This in turn annoys me more and I begin to raise my voice in order to be more clearly heard. Now they really aren’t listening and I’ve crossed into the “Bitch” zone.

Once you have entered the bitchdom, it is almost impossible to return to being a normal female. Especially in the eyes of those you have been a “bitch” to. Bake them cupcakes, get them cards, bring a casserole, it won’t matter. They will be looking for signs of the bitch in everything you do from there on in. I may not understand everything about being a woman yet, and maybe there is another way out of being the bitch that I haven’t learned but at present I’m unaware of any.

Not that being a bitch is all bad. If you are a bitch then people will be more careful around you. They will fear re-experiencing the bitch forever after you first unleash her. In addition if you bitch out a man, they generally aren’t going to punch you. This allows a lot of leeway I never experienced as a man. If you confront another man in public as a male you had better be ready to throw down. Men are more careful about going to the anger place for that reason as much as any other. Women however can absolutely go there and are more likely to do so as a result.

All of this is new territory for me and as a mature person going through puberty I imagine a few mistakes are acceptable. Women understand better but to my male friends and family I have entered an unknown land. I suppose along with all the imagined “perks” of being a woman the were bound to be some unexpected turns in the road. Coming around the corner and encountering myself as the bitch has been one.