Tag Archives: Divorce

Exile

TransitionCrop

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.

 

Identity

Haleiwa_Barrl

The waves are perfect today. Head-high, clean, glassy right-handers peeling down the point. This spot only breaks in the Winter and then only rarely. This and the difficult access keeps the crowds down. Usually I see the same people in the water over and over. Mostly more mature surfers, lots of women and local kids just getting started. Today there are only 6 of us out and more than enough waves for everyone. The rides are a quarter mile long so every paddle back up the point is a long effort returning to the take-off spot. My adult daughter is smiling broadly as I arrive from another such journey. “Beautiful wave.” she says as I approach. “Yeah, phew!” I say sitting back up on my yellow and white Harbour 9’6″ longboard. “Yours was really nice too.” I return. She is riding a much shorter board so has to work harder for every wave. The short surface of the smaller board fighting her as she paddles the less buoyant craft. “You got a few good pumps down the line.” I add. She smiles her beautiful smile. Large white teeth, white blonde hair and fair complexion, she is like a Winter Goddess I think to myself. Always so comfortable in the cold water she lounges easily next to me in the 60 degree ocean. “Wow” look at that set!” she says excitedly pointing to the West as another perfect group of waves come marching in. We both begin paddling again up the point in the direction of the oncoming lines. Further out a single male surfer turns to catch the first of the over-head swells as it feels the bottom and begins to break. He paddles into it hops up smoothly and slides down the face angling in our direction. He races towards us as we take the whole scene in. There are 3 more waves behind this one and the lush green trees that line the point silhouette against a luminous stormy sky. An image we both feel burning into our memories. We clear the wave just as he wooshes by. My daughter gives him a hoot, feeling the contact high from the beauty we have all just shared. The next wave turns towards us and begins to stand up. My daughter is just in front if me and spins to catch it. I am filled with joy seeing how expertly she judges the wave’s position and her own, adjusting her paddling speed and direction to be in just the right place to catch it but not be caught by it. “Woo-hoo!” I shout as the wave rises up under her, her board suddenly lifting like a bucking horse its tail coming up and its nose down. She lets the nose drop and pops her legs under her as it falls away landing her feet on the deck of the board just before it careens end over end. She redirects the energy across the wave and slides away down the point another big smile spreading across her face. My eyes follow her like they have so many times before as she learned the skills necessary to be here now. Everything so much the same but then again so different. She is an adult, I can speak to her as a peer now in the water whereas before I was her parent and instructor, lifeguard and father. I am still her father however no longer in that male body. Today I sit in the surf line-up as a woman with my grown daughter after so many years as her male parent. The experience a completion of a long journey finally realized on my own part and hers.

As my children approached adulthood it became clear it was time for me to begin considering my own identity. I had spent all my energy safe-guarding them and nurturing their selves even as my own slowly drained from me. The more realized and conscious they became the more apparent my own stunted self was revealed. I had been living a half-life, always knowing there was someone inside whom no one could see. Every experience done as a voyeur, knowing I should feel more but always looking at it through a veil that separated me from the direct emotion. Having children broke through that initially. The profound moment of watching your child arrive still gives me chills and woke me from my sleep. They became the most precious things in my universe and my all consuming meaning. At the time they arrived I was married to their Mom and began to imagine a traditional family life. Perhaps this visceral connection to someone other than myself would be enough for me to let go of the constant awareness that I was not whole. Painfully and perhaps mercifully their mother could not live that broken reality and we parted ways as intimate partners but not as parents. I fought to be near them at times feeling short changed as their father but understood the deep need young children have for their birth mother. I became a weekend-warrior. I spent very Saturday and Sunday with my children for 5 years never taking one off. I worked the other 5 days but felt such a strong bond that I needed it as much as they did.

All was well or so I thought. I attempted other traditional male-female relationships but I could never get past the veil and my incomplete self. I dated multiple women, some met my children and some didn’t. Some I told of my incomplete self and others never knew. Some bitterly condemned me when I shared and others empathized but left anyway. None could live with someone who was only half present. As my children became teenagers I saw them less. I attempted to bridge the widening distance from my children by teaching them to surf and sharing my joy of the ocean. When my son turned thirteen I realized he needed a father to show him how to be a man. He wanted to feel special as a boy who could have his own unique time with his male role-model. My daughter had her Mother already. They shared experiences my son was not privy to nor interested in. He was all boy and wanted to feel that we had our own things and activities. He needed to bang his shield and spear together and I had to show him how. I began taking him surfing. We started with the easy spots and the smaller days. He devoured the experiences eagerly. Often we would get up before dawn and school to arrive at the ocean just as it was getting light. After dozens and dozens of surf sessions he slowly improved. I watched as his self confidence blossomed his body grew and began to display the lean muscles of a young man. This confidence spread into school and other areas as he started wrestling and playing football. He embraced the toughest male sports loving and reveling in activities I used to cringe at. By the time he was 18 he was a supremely confident Alpha male. It seemed whatever we had done had gone right.

My daughter I picked up again, perhaps a bit late after realizing she needed that same male influence. We suffered through a more difficult adolescence together. She trying to figure herself out in a world significantly more hostile to young women than men and I struggling with my own growing pains. I pushed hard trying to keep her near hoping she’d feel the love of the ocean as a grounding force in her life. Her strong intuition seemed to know I was hiding something. Her Mother worried I was harming her in some unconscious way. I felt my day of reckoning approach even as the waves come relentlessly across the water. I finally shared my struggle and split identity to my daughter in a therapy session when she was few weeks shy of her 18th birthday. I had always hoped to wait until she arrived at the that magic adult number to somehow preserve her childhood from my own complications and had nearly got there. Her struggles made it seem more imperative to finally be honest and let her in on who her father actually was.

Initially there was disbelief. This grizzled, athletic very male father was in fact a woman? I can’t even imagine how strange that must have been for her to wrap her mind around. My heart broke to disappoint another woman, but this time the single most important one of my life. I felt myself fall from her esteem. I, like every parent had the sudden descent from the Olympian pedestal to the shattered reality of a common flawed mortal. I pondered her mother’s need to help in the crash even as I knew of its inevitability. I shared with my 21 year old son, now a 6-foot-six heavily muscled man a few weeks later. He embraced me now towering over me and said, “I love you no matter what Dad.” Tears rolled down my cheeks at those words. The fear I had held so long at this moment dissolving on the shoulder of my beautiful child.

He has held onto that position even though I know there has been struggle for him to comprehend it. We surf less since he has graduated college and lives in another town with his fiancé but my daughter has recently returned. In the interim she has found her understanding of her world and herself and how I fit in it as a woman. In some ways she has become my mentor. After all ironically she has lived as a woman longer than I. She arrives from her long paddle back after her last wave with a huge bright smile. “Gorgeous wave!” I say as she sits up next to me. “Yeah, thanks Dad.” she grins. Just then the man who caught the wave right before hers paddles up. “You ladies still killing it over here?” “Oh yeah!” I respond. “You know it!” He gives me a big smile stopping for a moment to chat. “Girl Power!” I hear him say as he paddles off. My daughter and I look at each other and laugh out loud. “You have no idea!”

 

 

Travis

Aaaaahhhhh! Inga moaned. “PUSH!” The nurse kept saying. “I AM! ” Inga said crying. “I can’t do this anymore.” she sobbed. Exhausted, tears, sweat and saliva all mixing and flowing down her face. Shannon dabbed her forehead with a cool wet cloth. “You’re doing great” She said now wiping the rest of Inga’s strained brow, cheeks and neck. “Hang in there honey.” She said looking up at me. Her look said “not okay” and I’m sure so did mine. Inga had already been pushing for hours and was nearing complete exhaustion after almost 21 hours in labor. I was exhausted myself, I could only imagine how she felt.
I was still on crutches having broken my femur about 6 months prior just as Inga was entering her second trimester. Unbelievably bad timing and a very bad break. I had shattered my thigh bone into 5 pieces while riding my bike home from work. The surgeon thought I must have been hit by a car, but it had been just bad luck my wheels slipping sideways while my feet were clipped in. The spiral fracture ran all the way into my hip socket. I hadn’t walked without crutches since. I knew pain. I had hardly slept, seeing sunrise for what seemed like months only catching a few hours of rest usually around dawn.
“Aaaahhhh.” Inga moaned again. The doctor walked in. She was fifty something about 6 feet with short gray hair.” “How are we doing?” She asked the room warmly. “Shitty!” Inga blurted out crying. Never one to mince words she added laying back on the pillow “This sucks!” “Okay.” the doctor said calmly, “let’s have a look.” She stepped forward towards Inga’s open knees as the nurse stepped back. “Hmmmm. ” She said as she leaned down examining Inga with a gloved hand. “She’s still only 3 maybe 4 centimeters.” “This baby isn’t going to come out vaginally.” “What?” I asked now really concerned. “What do you mean?!” “Her pelvis is just too narrow. There’s not enough room and this is not a small child.” She continued. ” We’re going to have to do a C-section.” “The baby’s beginning to show signs of stress too.” She said pointing to the baby heart monitor. It’s pulse has gone up.” “Don’t worry, this isn’t uncommon, but the child needs to come out soon.” I looked at Inga and then Shannon. Both faces showed fear and disappointment. “Okay, let’s do it.’ I said leaning over my crutch to kiss Inga’s forehead. “Don’t worry honey. you’re going to be fine.” Inga’s eyes welled up with tears. “I’m sorry.” she said the tears running down her cheeks. ” Oh my God sweetheart.” I said holding her face. “You are wonderful. You did Nothing wrong. ” Her sad hazel eyes settled looking into mine. I knew she trusted me in moments like this.
We’d had some pretty intense ones in the last 5 years and we’d been on many adventures together. A 2 month trip to Alaska, up the Al-Can highway in a 25 year old Volkswagen Westfalia with only 700 dollars between us as we crossed into Canada. We’d driven over 10,000 miles on that one through mosquito infested pine barrels, torrential rain storms, bears, and strange humans. A 500 mile bike tour in Idaho camping under the stars every night in the middle of it had been a spontaneous inspiration from Inga when the bus broke down stranding us in Idaho Falls for a week. Perhaps most tellingly was on another trip where we’d been separated from our trekking group by a sudden blizzard among the snowy peaks of Nepal. We had hunkered down overnight in a gap-walled shack, snow blowing in the cracks between boards all night. I’d broken trail the next morning in snow drifts as deep as 5 feet for hours and then navigated us to rendezvous with our trekking group nearly a week later. Never really lovers we were game traveling companions. She was my best friend and she knew I would look out for her.

“Okay.” She said her face relaxing. I pet her wet hair back. “Alright, prep the O. R.” the doctor said turning to the nurse. “We’ll have that baby out in 20 minutes.” She said smiling at Inga. “I’m going to give you another epidural.” Inga brightened noticeably. The last epidural had her sitting up talking with family about 6 hours into labor. “Oh Good.” Shannon said grabbing Inga’s hand. “It will be over soon honey and you’ll get to see your baby.” Tears now ran again for both women. Shannon had a child of her own, so knew something about labor even though hers had been far easier. Sarah had arrived after only 6 hours and been delivered naturally. This was an epic marathon by comparison.
Shannon was Inga’s best friend and had been our neighbor back on 28th street here in Santa Monica. That was only blocks away from Santa Monica hospital where we were. We both loved Shannon, her Mom, Sharon and sister Shawn. All 3 lived in a 2 bedroom apartment for awhile next to our own single bedroom place. Their presence had turned the urban complex into a home for Inga when she’d first moved in 6 years before. I’d joined Inga a year later and now we were all very close.
“Okay, we’re ready.” The nurse said returning. “You’ll have to wait in the waiting room the nurse said addressing Shannon. “Of course.” Shannon said kissing Inga on the cheek. “I’ll see you soon.” She said walking out the door. The nurse had walked around Inga unplugging things and securing others for the move. Another nurse came in and assisted in the process. In a few minutes we were in the O.R. I had been given a gown, booties, hat and mask all in the same blue paper material. Inga lay on the operating table. She had been moved from the bed she’d spent the last 21.5 hours on struggling to give birth to our first child.
I was secretly terrified. I knew I shouldn’t be a father. I thought my gender confusion would ultimately make me unfit. “How could I be a father when I wanted to be a woman?” Inga had said we would address that after I’d given her a child. She had cried telling me it was her deepest wish. My dream of becoming a woman seemed impossible anyway so I had agreed. At least someone’s life would be fulfilled. We had also agreed to not know the gender of the child. I felt strongly we should wait and see. I didn’t want the whole process to be without that traditional mystery. Sometimes I thought, science invaded places it shouldn’t. We knew we would love it either way, so what did it matter?

I held Inga’s hand and looked in her eyes as they set up a small curtain barrier just below her breasts above her distended naked belly and legs.  She smiled at me, her eyes filled with love, trust and fear. I squeezed a little harder and smiled back as the nurse swabbed yellow betadyne all over the surgical area just below Inga’s bikini line. “How are you feeling?” The doctor asked now wearing her own mask and gown. “All numb?”
Inga nodded. The nurse had injected the epidural before we had left the delivery room.”Good. ” said the doctor walking to the other side of the curtain. “Let’s get a look at this baby.” I looked down again into Inga’s eyes smiling my reassurance. From her vantage point she couldn’t see or feel as the doctor first drew and then cut a line across the lower part of Inga’s belly. Blood seeped along the cut following the scalpel. The nurse deftly mopped it up handing the doctor an instrument to pull the incision open wider. The doctor cut again, this time her hand inside my wife’s abdomen. Inga suddenly began shivering like she was very cold. ” She’s shivering. ” I said slightly alarmed now looking up at the doctor. “That’s normal.” The doctor said her voice muffled by the mask. “Just one more minute she added. She seemed to be rummaging around in Inga’s abdomen like she was searching a duffle bag. I looked down at Inga again her eyes wide clearly gripped with fear. I smiled again, and squeezed her hand tighter but had to look back over the drape now as the doctor seemed to have something she was lifting out of my wife. It clearly had some weight. The first thing I saw was a bloody arm, long and slender, then a large bloody head, the other shoulder, gangly frog-like legs and then there it was. It seemed impossibly huge! “It’s a boy!” The doctor announced as she hoisted my son into the world for the first time. He was covered in gore and still hadn’t taken his first breath. I held mine anxiously as the nurse suctioned his mouth with a small bulb-syringe. “Waa.” he croaked quietly. “He’s beautiful.” I said looking down at my child struck suddenly with awe at this impossible event. I looked over at Inga still shivering but now crying as the nurse brought the cleaned up boy around for her to see for the very first time. “Oh my God!!” She cried now as we both sobbed looking at him together. “Travis” she said. “Travis.” I said looking back at her. “Our boy.”

Mom

46 years. It seemed SO old. Maybe it was the just how much older she seemed. At 46 she had been dying since I could remember. We had all learned the script. “Our Mom has Cancer. “Oh..” people would say grimacing. “You poor children.” Honestly I didn’t know why they said that. I knew that Cancer was a very bad disease and that virtually everyone died from it, but it had always been part of my life and I knew no other.
There were four of us and Mom. It had been this way since we moved from Carmel. That had been a big adjustment. We had left the life we knew in a very large house with family all around to a life with just the 5 of us. That first Christmas had been a shock. Mom laying sick in bed and the four of us sitting up by the barren tree. Pat, the oldest summed it up. “This sucks!” We felt as empty as the lack of presents under the spindly conifer. Disappointed, pretending to be joyful we tried to keep up a happy face for Mom. Even then we felt the burden of her sadness. Her depression was a leaden thing, dark and heavy, her desolation consumed us all.
The four of us got together and put on a play for her. The Wizard of Oz. Poor Brendan getting the lead role as Dorothy because he was the smallest and couldn’t protest. Little did anyone realize I would have loved that role even though he did have the eyelashes for it! I was the Scarecrow, Kelly the Tin Man and Pat the Cowardly Lion. Our own little Broadway karaoke musical done to a record at 78rpm. In Carmel we had performed for friends and family. It was a tradition from our parents upbringing during the Depression in North Dakota. There had been a much larger audience in Carmel more family and a much more festive atmosphere. Santa had always visited in the guise of my father wearing the white beard and red suit. We had also had our three older siblings to help us. They had loved to fool us into believing reindeer were on the roof by stomping around over our heads after we had fallen asleep. They would point to the sky towards a red star and say, “see there’s Rudolph right there!” They were somewhere else now, all of us scattered to the wind buy our parents’ combative and destructive divorce. Tonight our dying Mom was the only person viewing our small production. She feigned joy although I’m sure there must have been some watching four small boys lip sync the Rogers and Hammerstein show tunes. I can’t begin to imagine the depth of her pain and loss nor how she managed to smile at all.
To have been left by her beloved superstar Plastic Surgeon husband for a younger attractive nurse, turned out of her lavish home and expensive lifestyle was bad enough. To then have her breasts, hair and beauty cut away from her by doctors literally experimenting on her body all while she attempted to care for her four small boys must have tested the limits of her sanity. Meanwhile that same beloved father and husband dodged her attorneys for alimony and child support by moving to Canada and having a new family. We were far too young to grasp all of this. She was our elegant but tragic mother. She made clear our Dad was an SOB but to us Moms and Dads were still people far different from ourselves. They were like Gods living out Olympian lives that were far too complicated and vast completely beyond the scope of our petty reality. Like mortals playing to Persephone pulled from the heavens we knew our tiny offerings would pale in comparison to what our Noble Mother had formerly witnessed in her fabulous jet-set life. We went through the motions of a the holiday anyway but in our hearts we knew there was nothing to celebrate for anyone. We did it all understanding this very well might be the last Christmas we would share with her.
The holiday meal was meager compared to our former elaborate celebrations featuring two 25 pound turkeys, gold rimmed serving dishes and settings all presented on a 15 foot long black glass topped table. Our world-reknown surgeon Father had always made a big show of sewing 2 extra legs on each Turkey so there would be enough for all. We weren’t poor or suffering in the classic sense. This wasn’t any Dickens novel, it was just dramatically different from what we had known until then. Complaining to Mom was forbidden. That rule was strictly enforced usually by Kelly who had somehow taken up the role of the vigilant protector of the realm.
To be sure, we did have our fun. So fortunate to have built in play mates with us at all times. We began to explore our new environment. San Diego was much more urban then Carmel had been. People here were more athletic and spent more time outdoors doing sports. Carmel had seemed more introspective, creative and less superficial somehow. We used to wander through trees and  rocky shores of Carmel exploring like a pack of feral pups. In this new world it seemed things were barren and wild like the desert. The only trees grew in rows and had no branches. People played Tennis and surfed, used profanity wore shorts and tennis shoes during the work week. They drank Margaritas and ate strange things called avocados and quesadillas. Boys had long hair, girls wore jeans and some people didn’t go to church on Sundays or believe in God at all.

Mom decided we would be swimmers. She had been with us walking along Stewart’s beach in Carmel when a couple had been swept out into the ocean and drown in the stormy frigid waters right in front of us. It was then she decided we had better know how to swim if we were going to live near the ocean. One day after we had taken a certain number of swimming lessons at the YMCA, Mom informed us that we would be riding our single speed Schwinn bicycles 5 miles to the YMCA for swim team practice. This came as a surprise because it was nearly 5 o’clock and dinner time was approaching.  Normally we would be coming inside soon since it would be dark in a little while. This was the day that everything changed for us. That simple pastoral childhood that we had known in Carmel had just ended. We were to be athletes now. We would be Southern Californians. There was no discussion, she just said “get going!”

Off we went out the door. With our suits rolled into our towels we mounted our bikes. We lived on a very very steep hill. We had to walk our bikes up that first day but later learned how to “paper-boy” back and forth across the road in order to make the ride up without getting off our bikes. It wasn’t long before we began competing to beat each other up, but not that first time. The 5 mile ride seemed like a marathon at first. Then the awkwardness of that first day on the swim team. All four of us were thrown in the slow lane together knowing absolutely nothing about the strokes, distances or timing. No speedo suits for us like the other kids but regular trunks clearly marking us as rookies. The coach seemed to be speaking a foreign language, that we were expected to know. We followed along as best we could in a workout that seemed endless. We really had no idea how long it would last or really how much time had elapsed. Our eyes burned because we didn’t have any goggles and the chlorine was very strong. When the workout was suddenly and mercifully over, we went to the locker room and showered like everyone else. We attempted to blend in but we were clearly and painfully new. We looked at each other in bewilderment at what we had just been subjected to. It seemed like the worst night of our lives. Hopefully we wouldn’t have to do this again. We felt sure if we explained how bad this was to Mom she would understand and not make us return. We were confident she would never have sent us at all if she had any idea of how we suffered. When done in the showers we walked back with wet hair to our 4 little bicycles rolled our towels so that we could carry them and road off into the dark, not a light between us while the other kids waited for their parents to pick them up.

So began 6 years of intense physical training. We were triathletes before there was such a term. It wasn’t long before we were beating everyone in the pool.
Mom attended every swim meet she could always keeping up appearances by wearing her idea of a fashionable wig to hide her hair loss and stylish outfit. We pushed her in her wheelchair to the front row of the bleachers where the other parents would welcome her happily. The four of us became her source of pride. We would bring back our ribbons and medals which she would proudly display by pinning them to her jacket or coat. She would write down our times and what place we got. Other parents would help when they could. Other families drove us to swim meets when Mom was too sick and even brought us along on their family trips. The people of the swim team literally became our family. But even so no one was allowed all the way in. No one could ever be where we were. We appreciated their help, but somehow knew that it would be up to us to survive when Mom died.

She lasted another 6 years after that first day on the swim team. There were many false trips to the ER and ambulance calls to our house during that time. I couldn’t count how many times we’d found her unconscious and called for help. We became inured to the routine of it.  When she finally died it came as no surprise but our swim team days were over. Most of us had quit and begun surfing by that time anyway. Mom had not argued. By the time she passed we were all teenagers and had adjusted to our new home and lifestyle. Mom had juggled the finances as best she could, her attorneys chasing my father around the globe getting money here and there. Her life in and out of the hospital had been extremely difficult and expensive. At the end there was nothing left. Her sister, my Aunt Winnie had helped during the times my mom was hospitalized along with older siblings and family friends. Responsibility for myself and my 3 brothers fell to my sister, Kerry all of 26 years old. At 14 my childhood was over. My sister informed us that we would have to work, that there was not enough money to feed everyone. Swim team and other luxuries were something other people could afford. There was no complaining. We all understood.

Color Blind Artist

What color is this? How about that? What color are my eyes?

Always the same reaction. People want to test you. Suddenly you’re a lab rat for them to quiz about your color perception. “I can see color.” I always tell them. Color blindness does not mean I don’t see color, it just means I can’t see the normal spectrum. It’s a difficult concept for people to wrap their minds around.

“Deuteranopia” or “Red-Green” color blindness is actually split into 2 groups, dichromats and anomalous. The dichromats are lacking the green perceiving cone altogether. In the eye there are 3 cones, red, green and blue sensitive. Each receives or is sensitive to different parts of the color spectrum. The anomalous have a “shifted” perception or weakened perception in one of the cones. This is the category into which I fall. Something like 1% of the male population has this particular deficiency. The bottom line is that I see color, but less of it. In my world there are something like 50,000 different shades of color whereas in most people’s there are up to a million. This causes trouble in distinguishing certain colors that others can see quite easily.

No one ever noticed or told me I was color blind until after High School. I don’t know how it was overlooked, but perhaps growing up in a family of 7 kids made it easier to “miss” the details of what was going on with any particular one of us. I happened to be number 6 out of 7 and smack in the middle of a group of 4 boys born a year apart. We were “Irish Quadruplets” as they used to call them. Children born about as close together as humanly possible from the same mother. 2 of my brothers are 11 months apart. We were viewed as a single unit known as “the boys.” As it turned out, I was not only color-blind but very regular blind too. It was discovered that I needed corrective lenses in the 3rd grade. I realized later why I could never hit anything when I went hunting squab with my siblings. Not only could I not see the birds, even if I could have seen them they probably would have blended into the foliage.

So what better career for me than becoming a professional Artist? Nothing could have been a more challenging career choice than the single one in which I was handicapped. I’d decided this when I was about 5 years old. I found if I stayed inside and did artwork, that was a viable excuse for not running with the pack. It gave me an excuse to be “apart” and not do all the things my brothers seemed to love far more than I. Wrestling, fighting, hunting and generally being boys was easily avoided and sanctioned by my mother if I were being “creative.” I loved the time apart or talking to my Mother about Art, life, feelings. Drawing initially brought me joy and peace.  As I developed as an artist it brought me an identity and self esteem. It was a good excuse for being “different.” I knew I would be an Artist when I grew up.

It was about the same time or even a bit earlier that I had realized I didn’t feel like a boy. Something didn’t match in how I felt. Initially I began trying on my mother’s things but ran into quite a bit of ridicule and harassment from my brothers for it. After a few humiliating moments I learned to hide it. From the age of about 4 or 5 until I was 18 I didn’t tell a soul. I even had a name for my female self. At around age six I began to self identify as “Jennifer,” not Jerry.  I would imagine magically waking up one day as a girl rather than a boy. I prayed to my Catholic God for deliverance while at the same time fearing his judgement. As an altar boy in a large Irish Catholic family I knew our God was watching for any misbehavior. I felt with some certainty that cross-dressing as I occasionally did would land my soul in purgatory. I did my best to not feel as I felt. I became a very good mimic. I learned through trial and error what was “acceptable” boy behavior and what was not. My life became very complicated requiring constant vigilance. I snuck my Mom’s clothes into my room and back while my family watched the Wonderful World of Disney. They watched Pluto, Donald and Mickey cavort on the television while I sorted out how to put on on bras, girdles and nylons.

I ignored the clues that I was color blind whenever possible. There had been signs, but I guess I just didn’t realize or didn’t want to know what they meant. Denial was a close friend of the family so this was not much of a stretch. “Why are you wearing 2 different color socks?” My siblings or schoolmates would ask. ” I like them that way.” I’d answer. Later, when I began playing with make-up it was “why are your lips pink?” I had wiped the lipstick off or so I thought. The leftover color invisible to me but not to my color aware siblings. I learned to scrub my lips more thoroughly afterwards. In Driver’s Ed I thought the “green” light looked white and wondered why they didn’t make it a brighter more vibrant shade. Sunsets had no pink but tones of peach instead. I was never able to see the green flash at sunset that the others pointed to when the sun dipped below the horizon. Maybe I didn’t want to know because I WAS going to be an Artist no matter what AND a woman. This square peg WAS going to fit in that round hole.

In Art school fortunately my school was more focused on concept than fundamentals. In the 80’s the cutting edge of Art was “performance”. I was busy getting naked and writhing in tire treads rather than studying color theory. I  coincidentally had a friend in college who was involved in color vision research and he tested me as part of his Master’s research. He was particularly interested in me because I was “anomalous” rather than a “dichromat.” Dichromats essentially have the same color vision as a ground squirrel. That is to say they only see about 256 colors. 8% of the male population are color-blind but only 1% are anomalous. In addition I had 2 other siblings that were anomalous too. We were a very interesting study in the inherited trait of color-deficiency. I visited him off and on for months joining his collection of squirrels, mice and even monkeys they were using for color research. I was paid $5.00 an hour for my contributions. That was better then I made waiting tables at the time and easier than nude modeling.  After the tests were done there was no doubt I was color-deficient, but continued to believe I would somehow make a career of Art. I had already done 3 years of Art School by then and didn’t have the time or finances to shift gears and choose another major. Since my major had been declared I would have had to reapply for admission all over again. My drawing skills were among the top of my class and I hoped that would carry me into a paying job somehow. It had to.

I found animation and started in the Graduate Animation program at UCLA. Character Animators drew in pencil. Color was not critical because it was all about motion. If I could draw a character over and over again and make it move, that’s all I needed. Animation positions proved to be highly competitive and it took me years to get a job in the field. In the mean-time I had to survive with the positions I could find. I had taken side jobs and done internships as a graphic designer for an Ad Agency but that direction had been a wake-up call. Selecting colors out of a Pantone book and creating harmonious colored designs was incredibly challenging. I spent many a extra hours stressing over colors I couldn’t even see. Imagine doing a press check on a printed piece trying to advise a printer wether the print is too cyan or too magenta when you can’t see what’s actually going on? Ad Designers argued over exactly which shade of mauve or turquoise went together best. It was pure hell for me. I knew I couldn’t fool them very long. What was I going to do? Fortunately a fellow waiter had a screen print business and he really liked the freelance work I’d been doing for him. He offered me a full-time a job as a screen-print designer and I left 10 years in the service industry behind. I was sick of serving people food and was thrilled to be getting paid to create. Screen printing was technical and required an understanding of color, but it was nowhere near as obsessive about color as advertising had been. I still often had to approve colors that I couldn’t really distinguish but I learned to look for other clues that I could see. Color value, lightness, saturation levels etc. I worked with the color-vision I had and also took subtle cues from the printer or client. I began to realize I was heading down a problematic path. How secure could I feel when I knew that I had a serious handicap in my chosen field. I knew better than to mention it to anyone. I had learned early that when you told someone about a weakness they would use it against you. I felt that if I shared my secret with anyone I would be fired and never be able to work as an Artist again. No one could recommend a color-blind print designer. But no one found out. To be sure there were some very anxious moments trying to explain a weird color choice or why I missed a color match.  After all, I was the master of keeping secrets. My transgender issue had been buried early and I had learned to camouflage it well. Instead of being the feminine boy I had started as, I had transformed along the way into a tough athletic adult. I was tall, strong and quite hairy. I even grew a full beard for a while. I knew how to keep a vulnerability hidden. All seemed okay or at least I had done a good job of fooling myself it was. I was extremely lonely but I had a job and was going to school. My life was ostensibly “heading somewhere.”

Cracks began to show more and more. I had moved into my van to be alone. I feared others getting too close. I thought if anyone “knew” who I really was I would be ostracized, ridiculed and shamed. I began to feel terrible. The isolation of living in my van only accentuated my feelings of being “strange.” “Normal” people who lived in homes would often look at me with thinly veiled distaste. No one wants a man living in his van outside their house! Who could blame them? I had a Dark blue 1967 Chevy van with white spoke rims. I would have been hard-pressed to find a creepier looking car. I rolled up and people hurried their children in the house. My female peers scurried past when I parked near school. I would even hear them say things like “Ewwwww… can you imagine going out in THAT car?” I searched for a place where I could avoid this judgement. I began to park near a large military cemetery on Veteran Blvd. I figured the dead wouldn’t judge me. We became silent neighbors. I spent days off work drawing and painting inside my van or in a chair on the sidewalk adjacent to  forest of white grave stones while my 20 something peers partied and drove around in their  “beemers” or convertible white Volkswagen cabriolets bopping to the “Go-Gos.” I was circling the drain. I began to think it wouldn’t matter to anyone if I existed at all.  began to believe my place was among the dead.

Then she arrived. Someone who just “liked” me. A cheerful ray of sunshine peeking into my dark corner. Even her name sounded fun. I dodged her at first as I had so many women before. I let no one close but she wouldn’t see the flashing warning signs. The neon sign over me said “troubled” but she thought it said, “interesting.” She began to leave me little treats in the wheel-well of my car with a note on my window showing where to find it. Her persistence was irresistible. When my van broke down and I needed a place to stay over night, she offered her couch. When she came out of her room wearing a see-through nightgown to say goodnight my resistance buckled. I moved from the couch to her bed and never left. Her sunshine lifted me out of my darkness. It’s warmth melted my fear.  I thought maybe I can be what she needed. Maybe I could let go of my strange past and embrace the simple joy I had found. We frolicked, made love and played in the sun. We went to movies on bicycles, traveled to Alaska camping all the way. I learned to embrace the wonder and joy of life. We were like 2 large golden retrievers bounding from one adventure to the next. Her wild reckless abandon a refreshing break from my careful lonely introspection.

I gave her what I thought she wanted, but I was still struggling. I feared sharing my weaknesses. A childhood of having my hands held to the fire had taught me well. Trust no one… but I wanted and needed to reveal my true self. I proposed and we married. I felt happy and more secure than I had in years. Slowly I began occasionally “borrowing” her clothes. I felt guilty for it but couldn’t resist the way I felt when cross dressed. It somehow made me feel whole. Over the next few months I borrowed her things more and more often. Then I began to purchase a few things of my own hiding them carefully. As my female self blossomed I began to imagine she might actually embrace the “whole” me. Maybe she would understand how much i wanted to be a woman. I even hoped maybe I was just the kind of partner she actually wanted. Perhaps we could work something out? She was my best friend my play companion and lover. How could she not get it? Finally I left some of my women’s clothes and a wig in a dresser drawer for her to find. I was too afraid to come out more directly. I felt badly for being such a coward, but my shame was very powerful and I would literally shake with fear at the thought of telling anyone. My survival skills were well honed.

“Whose are these?” she asked holding up the collection of lingerie and feminine things. “Mine.” I said like the 4 year old who had been caught many years before. “Yours?” she said incredulously. “What do you mean?” “You WEAR these?” she asked her eyes widening and jaw dropping open. “Yeah.” I said timidly sensing it wasn’t going well. “You wear women’s clothes??” She said now beginning to cry. “Um… Yeah.” I said now even more quietly.”No!” she said her voice rising. “No!” You would have thought I had told her I was a zombie who ate children. “Sorry.” I apologized. “I’m a cross-dresser.” This during a time when cross-dressers were freaks you might see on a talk show or possibly along some seedy street in San Francisco or New York. Lou Reed sang about them. Andy Warhol put them in his weird movies and hung out with them at degenerate Artist parties. Decent “normal” men didn’t wear women’s clothes. “Why?” she asked now in full hysterics sitting down on our bed near the dresser where my offending clothes had been discovered. “I don’t really know.” I said now shaking my face burning with humiliation and embarrassment. “I’ve always wanted to be a girl, I guess.” Her eyes managed to get even wider as her mouth deformed into a silent scream. Her hand went over her mouth. She fell down on the bed crying. “No, no, no…!” I sat next to her on the bed not sure what to do. Touch her or should I not now that I had been revealed to be a monster? I felt horrible. I wanted to take it all back. “Rewind.” I thought. “Undo.” Thinking the computer command, but I couldn’t of course. My “big” secret was out. I put a hand on her back as she sobbed into the bed. I sat there apologizing. “I’m sorry.” “So sorry honey.” I knew I was a freak and here it had been confirmed once again. I had let her down. Her life was ruined because I wore bras and heels.

We went into counseling and agreed I would try and “control” my need to feel feminine. As long as my wife didn’t ever see my alter ego, it was “out of sight, out of mind.” A few months later as things settled into an uncomfortable peace she broached the subject of wanting children. ” I’m not sure I’d make a good father”  was my reply.  Frankly, I didn’t think someone who wanted to be a woman would make the best father material. She began to cry and after a few days of back and forth discussion I finally conceded. “At least one of us can live their dream.” I said reluctantly. She promised my needs would be addressed sometime after the children were born.

My son came first, my wife getting pregnant a few months after our discussion. At 10 lbs. 13 oz., he came into the world a large, healthy baby. My life and my priorities instantly changed forever. Witnessing his birth and that of my daughter later were the two most profound events of my life. When my son was born I immediately knew I was in love. We stayed in our small 1 bedroom apartment for the first 3 years of his life but I knew I needed to provide more. Santa Monica was no place in my mind to bring up a child. Fortunately and somewhat miraculously I landed a job in nearby Santa Barbara doing skateboard graphics. It was 90 miles North but a world away in lifestyle. It a was small, affluent coastal town with lots of open space, but we did one better. We found the Santa Ynez Valley and moved into a 3 bedroom house with a big yard and fruit trees in the tiny town of Buellton. Our culture shock could not have been more extreme.

Buellton had a population of less than 3,000 and the population was predominantly white and middle class. It’s nearby neighbor, Solvang a well-known kitschy Danish village down the road and slightly more affluent. We went from Santa Monica’s Latino dominated graffiti covered urban parks to Hans Christian Andersen Playground with ducks and turtles swimming in the pond. My Hollywood transgender friends and Artists help us make the big move from 28th street to “Thumbelina Lane.” We arrived in a Semi truck provided by the skateboard company driven by a tatted up Harley biker. The Semi-trailer sported the image of a giant skull ripping through it’s side. The tall vehicle tore at the liquid amber trees lining the street as we pulled up. My new neighbor and coincidentally town Mayor walked up to my Transgender friend and introduced himself. “You must be Mrs. Mahoney” he said greeting her. “No” she replied in a deep male voice pointing to my wife across the drive way.  “She’s over there.” We were the extremely odd new neighbors who had indeed arrived from another world.

My new job entailed creating graphics for skateboards, t-shirts, stickers, embroidery etc. Everything a Skateboard Company and it’s team of pro-skateboarders need to create their image and brand. I hit the ground running. My little family had now let go of all ties in Santa Monica to move to the idyllic little hamlet and I did not want to let them down. I saw my young son making new friends in the beautiful bucolic rural surroundings. My soul rejoiced and I was deeply thankful to the universe for providing this escape from the rough future Santa Monica had promised.  At the same time I feared losing my new position. Not only was the job demanding everything of me creatively it involved some very technical color adjustments for different printed materials. Screen printing on wood was different than screen printing on cotton or vinyl sticker material.  Embroidered items required colored thread to be specified while some decks were done by infusing the wood with dye in a 4 color-process sublimation method. Some things were done in house and some at outside printers. Each item had to be designed, color separated, print colors specified and print order given for each different process. Sometimes I would stare at color swatches willing my eyes to see the varying shades they could not. I attempted to keep all printing and design within my color spectrum or “gamut.” I struggled and stressed every day for 9 hours a day 5 days a week while at home my son and wife were strolling the green hills and tree lined streets of the pretty little town with new friends and my newly born daughter.

Miraculously the job went on for 5 years before something snapped. During that time I had not only proved myself capable of the job but ironically became the color “expert.” My handicap had caused me to become so paranoid and meticulous that when I encountered colors that I couldn’t see on the computer I learned to identify them by numeric values. My attention to these values allowed me to nail colors more accurately in 4 color-process printing. I had found a laborious work-around but continued feeling vulnerable and insecure.

In the mean time I had let go of all my Transgender friends and support back in LA. My wife didn’t like it and I had my hands full anyway raising small children. I was a doting and devoted nurturing parent and adored my children. I spent all my time when I wasn’t working with them until they went to bed each day. My female life only existed in the hours after my wife and kids had gone to sleep. I still had a collection of clothes and a spare room to keep them and dress. I had grown quite a bit of body hair during my 30’s while the hair on my head had begun to recede. Looking in the mirror the concept of becoming female seemed as distant as it could possibly be. I was a large hairy, balding color blind man who wanted to be a smooth elegant female color capable Artist. I couldn’t have selected a less likely dream had I tried. I was doing my best but my wife could tell I wasn’t happy. As it turned out she wasn’t either.

I found out about the affair the day after Father’s Day. I’d noticed my wife was looking quite a bit more polished recently. She’d gone a few shades lighter with her hair, lost some weight and was dressing nicer. Our kids were 2 and 5 so I assumed she was just feeling better because she had more time. She dropped the bomb by abruptly saying she was “leaving me.” I asked if there was someone else, but she assured me there wasn’t. I couldn’t understand it. I had been so preoccupied with the kids and work I hadn’t noticed how little time we’d been spending together or how distant we’d become. I had left my secure job just recently to start an animation business with another artist. We’d landed a music video right out of the gate and had been busy up to 18 hours a day in production. After she gave me the shocking news she quickly left for a seminar one of her wealthy clients was giving at a local University. As the kids had gotten older she’s begun to work again as a masseuse and fitness trainer. It was great to have some help supporting the family since my new business’s income was going to be hit or miss.

Something didn’t sit right with me the way she’d been so flippant about leaving. As I sat at home I began to reflect on things that I had been feeling but not acknowledging. There had been something eating at me for months but I had just buried it as I had learned so well to do. My life of not acknowledging my needs had enabled me to ignore or disregard my emotions to the point that I hardly knew what I felt or who I was. My body hadn’t forgotten though. I was showing signs of auto immune problems from the stress. My skin was breaking out in purple blotchy Psoriasis and my hair was coming out in clumps. My body ached and I was constantly exhausted. I was 35 years old but felt 70. As I pondered my wife’s actions I recalled how she’d been keeping a diary in the last year or so. I realized that only people with secrets or unexpressed feelings keep diaries. I decided to look for it and went into our room to search for a likely hiding place. My eyes went to her dresser. I don’t know why, but I just knew it was there. I opened the 3rd drawer down in the 5 drawer piece. The diary lay there as if she meant for me to find it. Perhaps this was some kind of cosmic payback for when I left the clothes in my dresser a few years earlier.

The diary was a history of her affair with one of her wealthy clients. He was a famous author who lived in a huge mansion on a large property in the nicest part of Santa Barbara. My wife had first been hired as a masseuse for the man’s wife and then for them both. The job had expanded into massage and fitness training for them both but the wife had slowly quit while the author had continued. About a month before my wife’s announcement she had become a full-time employee of the author’s book franchise, collecting a paycheck and benefits like any other employee. Her job was ostensibly to provide fitness instruction and massage to the other eight or nine employees as well as the author himself. What the diary revealed was that the job was a front for their affair. The author and my wife had been having appointments for sex rather than exercise or massage. Liasons had occurred all around me for the last year sometimes even while I was in the room next door with my children. There was nothing held back, not even her hatred and disgust for me and my “perversion” of cross-dressing. “I wish he were dead.” she wrote.

I saw red. Something snapped inside me and all I could see was violence towards the man who I felt had broken my little family. I dropped the diary on the bed and walked out of the house and got in my car. I hardly remember the drive to the campus and only fragments of the walk from the parking lot to the seminar. My wife ran up to me grabbing me by the arm. “What are you doing here?” she screamed. “Your storm has arrived.” I told her. I shook her off and kept walking now pushing through a crowd saying “Where is he?” “Where’s the SOB author?” People grabbed at me and attempted to stop me but I pushed them harshly away. I kept moving forward as the crowd gathered and more and more hands tried to stop me. Suddenly the author was in front of me. He was the picture of success. White hair with a few grays at the temples. He was  in his mid 50’s about 6 feet and probably 30 lbs. overweight. I knew him from dinner parties and little soirees he had invited us to. My children even played with his son occasionally but now I saw him as an adversary and a villain instead of a friendly benefactor. He was walking towards me with a concerned look.

A few minutes later I was handcuffed in the back of a campus police car. I had apparently chased the author around the area after taking a swing and only landing a glancing blow. I had finally been corralled and cuffed by a few Campus Cops who had been called to the scene after I had arrived looking deranged and calling for the author’s head. I sat feeling ashamed, broken and defeated. My life seemed in ruins. My wife had left me for a wealthy man and my family was permanently broken. I had no idea what the legal ramifications would be, but knew it couldn’t be good. Very likely I would be transferred to the regular police and booked. It all seemed to have been like a set of dominoes that had begun falling the day I met my wife. An irreversible series of events driven by my inability to just own my differences or follow my path without fear. I had known this day of reckoning would arrive and it had. Retribution and ruin, not for what I couldn’t see, but for what I hadn’t allowed others to.

The Proposal

She was acting weird all day. So many probing questions. What do you want your future to look like? Do you ever see us living together? Do you need indoor plumbing to find happiness? Honestly I wondered if her meds were off again. Normally our morning conversations over coffee were lighter. We celebrated just being together and the wonder of actually finding each other in the first place. The view from my place was incredible, a stunning 180 degree view of the canyon and ocean from my deck was often the focus of our evening toasts “The Queendom” as we called it. Well, really She had coined that term, like so many others. There was no end to her nicknames for situations, people or locations. We usually laughed easily over all this joy and goofiness, but tonight was different, more serious. Her eyes were darker green, with that outline of blue, steady and intense like a predator waiting to pounce. I could probably read her moods by the color change in her eyes. I knew a few variations now. Passion was deep green with a bit of firey yellow in the center. Her eyes went a light ice green when her desire was satiated like the color of the local ocean underwater, cool and calming. I hadn’t really seen much anger yet except that one night at the bar in San Francisco when that gross guy wouldn’t leave us alone. Then they had gone like green slate. Dark gray green, ominous like a severe thunderhead. But today, today dark green with that clean blue outline. Were these her serious eyes?

Form. Maybe that was it. We had been “storming” as she put it. All fun and passion, desire and joy, reckless and care free. We’d gone to balls, clubs, parties, and on romantic road trips for the last 6 months somewhat neglecting our “real” lives. Maybe the time had come to ‘form.” Maybe. “Come sit down.” she said pointing to the couch. “Okay.” I said. “What’s up?” I asked as I sat where she pointed on my couch. Maybe we were going to have one of our “difficult” conversations. She liked to confront any issue early and head off misunderstandings before they got up steam. I must say I appreciated the concept as unfamiliar as this practice was for me personally. This didn’t really feel like  one of these “difficult” conversations though. She seemed…nervous. Yeah, she was actually nervous! I hadn’t seen nervous before. She was solid like a rock. Unshakeable as a granite mountain. Were her lips trembling? My mind raced. What could be going on here?

I thought back now. How long had we been dating?  We started last may and now it was March. 11 months. I do remember her saying something strange to me after our second date. ” I’ll be asking you a question in 11 and 1/2 months. I want you to be ready when I do.” Had it been that long? She would occasionally remind me. “I’ll be asking you a question in 10 months, 9 months etc.” She quit doing that about 3 months ago. I had sort of forgotten about that. Maybe this was that moment. She was acting really strange. She sat down on the coach next to me and looked at me with those direct serious eyes. “If I ask you to say “yes” or “no” without a question, what’s your intuitive answer?”  she said with a slight smile. I was a bit confused by the question. “What do you mean?” I asked.” “It’s simple” she replied. “Just answer the universe, yes or no?” “Okay” I replied. “Yes! I like to say yes more than no, so, Yes!” She smiled and stood up from the couch. “‘l’ll be back in 20 minutes.” she said. “What?” I asked. “Where are you going?” “I’ll be right back.” she said as she gathered her purse and car keys. “I say yes and you leave?” I complained as she walked out the open french doors to my small deck. “I’ll be back!’ She said now exiting the gate as I followed onto the deck. The Dark blue Mercedes SUV backed down my steep driveway then made the quick turn downhill and was gone.

I  finished the last few sips of wine watching the sky change from red orange to maroon and dusty purple. It had been a beautiful Winter day in Summerland. Coffee and a hike together in the morning after making love, we had parted ways in the middle of the day and I’d gone for a swim in the local pool 10 minutes away. She had returned with appetizers, a bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and a beautiful bouquet of orange and purple stargazers with green palm fronds. I had arranged the appetizers and flowers and we had brought it all outside to enjoy the sunset. It was something we’d done many many times in the “Queendom.” I loved it. Life was perfect. Better than I could have ever imagined. After my transition last October from male to female I had fulfilled a lifelong dream. My world had become instantly simpler without living the “dual” life as a man and part-time woman.

I never imagined what might happen after I transitioned. It had been the end of my plan, the “zero” moment. I had thought I may have to leave town to transition, even thinking of moving to South America or somewhere remote so I would be able to start over without judgement or embarrassing my children. I can see now that would have been insane even impossible for me.  Very extreme, but then, nothing about my life had been average. She had arrived even as I was setting the date for my transition surgery. She seemed like a gift from the Gods. My perfect mirrored soul in a female “earth suit” as she called her body. So many similarities in our lives I couldn’t imagine life now without her.

I heard the neighbors Golden start barking and then the engine noise of her SUV coming up the road. In a minute she had parked and came walking back onto the deck. “Welcome back!” I said “Thank You” she said  giving me a light kiss on the lips. “Come back inside.” she said grabbing my hand. “Can you sit down again?” She asked pointing to the couch. “Okay…” I said with a little emphasis so she knew I was really beginning to wonder what was going on.  “Do you remember how I told you I’d have a question to ask you when we first started dating?” She asked as she sat down next to me. “Yes.” I responded stating to get a little nervous myself now. “Well.” she said now sliding off the couch and onto one knee on the carpet. My heart began to pound. This was unbelievable I thought to myself. “Is she doing what I think she’s doing?” Realistically I knew it would be coming, but thought I wold have another month or so before it happened.

I had struggled with how to handle this moment should it arrive ever since she first mentioned “the question” 11 months before. At the time I was somewhat fresh out of a 3 year relationship in which I had proposed to someone else. That relationship was seriously flawed from the beginning but she had accepted. Fortunately we had broken it off and gone our separate ways. That along with a failed marriage 18 years ago had definitely soured me on the idea of doing it again, but neither had started as this relationship had. This time I had started as a woman.

And now I was having that quintessential female moment. She pulled the small black jewel box from out of her pocket. “I knew I wanted to ask you this from that first time you came over to my house.” she said looking at me with the most intense eyes I’d seen yet. They were green and gold and blue all at once. I felt like they were boring into me. My hair began to stand on end and I could feel waves of goosebumps sweeping across my skin. “Genivieve” she said, “Will you marry me?” She asked opening the box to reveal a beautiful round cut 1 carat diamond ring. Tears began to run down my cheeks. I was shocked. Was I really feeling like this? It was startling, unexpected and overwhelming. “Yes.” I said leaning forward and holding out my hand. There was no other possible answer. I wanted to always be with her. My eyes began to blur with tears as she slid the ring on my left hand. It fit perfectly. I looked at my hand with the long pink nails and diamond ring and thought, “whose hand IS that?” It seemed so strange to be in this position after having been on the other side before. I looked up and kissed her as the tears came down.  This is what I was always supposed to feel during a proposal I thought as the kiss went on with beautiful intensity. “This is honest unreserved love.” I thought. “This is what I’ve always wanted.” I never felt so sure about anything before. This was right.