Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Just Another Day

Overlooking the Mad River Valley from the porch of a home my family had rented for the second year in a row, I sat on a slightly uncomfortable metal chair stealing a few minutes of peace and quiet away from the commotion of young children playing electronic games indoors, oblivious to the green grass, blue skies, and spectacular views that awaited, just a few feet away.  How far could I see from the replica white farmhouse? It was perched on the side of a mountain, encircled by a mote of Hydrangeas and guarded by a solitary blue spruce, which also doubled as an apartment complex for numerous species of birds.  I was unsure, so I did a little research.  The distance to the horizon from an elevated position can be calculated by taking the square root of two times the radius of the earth plus the elevation.  If the elevation from the GPS in my sister’s gray Chevy Suburban that just past 200,000 miles on her trip to Vermont is accurate, the distance to the horizon, including my height, is approximately 105 miles, that’s not taking into consideration atmospheric refraction and other obstacles like trees and mountains.

While my entire family couldn’t be there together, the days were not without moments of excitement, terror, and laughter.  On the first full day, our peaceful morning was interrupted by a terrifying scream.  As my sister, sister in law, and I were getting ready to go for a walk, there was sudden cry from a child coming into the house.  Running into the kitchen was my sister’s six year-old daughter holding her bloody hand and quivering the words, “Ch-ch-arlie bi-bit me.” My sister, who’s a mother of seven, nurse, and former state champion hurdler, was by her side faster the than Lolo Jones.  Along with my sister in law, we went to get the dog and alert the owner, who lived above the garage.  Following her out the storm door towards the yellow lab, she came face to face with his growling white teeth and we quickly retreated back inside.  Within a few minutes the dog went back into an open door attached the garage, fearfully I moved across the walkway and closed the door behind the dog as he continued to snarl but was now safely inside.  With the coast clear, we were able to get my niece to my car and eventually to the closest emergency care facility, 20 miles away.  For most of the ride my sister consoled her wounded daughter in the back seat, but by the time we finally arrived at Urgent Care the crying had ceased along with the bleeding.  Her wound would heal quickly and for the rest of the week she gave us a thumbs-up, showing off her bandaged finger, like a badge of courage.

With Monday’s excitement in the past, I began to relax and soak in the Vermont air.  I even waded in the cool mountain water as a few of my nieces and sister jumped from a rope swing into the aptly named Mad River. The narrow and sometimes turbulent waters wind their way north from Granville to the Winooski River and eventually into Lake Champlain, then the St. Lawrence, and finally to the Atlantic Ocean which is less than a half-mile from my home.  Trying to keep a low profile, I helped with dinner prep, read when I had the chance, went for walks and runs, and wrote in my journal each morning.  For my nieces and nephews, the week was full of activities like movies in the barn, capture the flag, kayaking, and the always popular find the snake in the basement game.  Well it wasn’t exactly a game, but it could’ve been. On another peaceful afternoon, my dad’s electronic cribbage game was interrupted by new shrieks of horror. This time the group of young relatives were screaming and running up from the basement, “there’s a snake, there’s a snake!  All I could do was smile as I thought Woody from the movie Toy Story, exclaiming, “There’s a snake in my boot.” Noticing no adults were running to help, I went to the basement to search for the serpent.  With a few children near my side, I was directed to the last known sighting, slithering between the bunk beds.  Suddenly the dark snake appeared from under a sleeping bag on the musty carpet heading for the door. Before it could get away I grabbed its tail.  Followed by a band of nieces and nephews, I brought the amphibian to the light of day with it dangling from my fingers.  Prior to releasing it in a barn across the street, I asked if anyone wanted to hold it.  It seemed rather docile now, curling around my warm hands.  There were no takers. 

It’s been slightly more than two years since I came out to my family and started hormones as part of my gender transition.  Each time I get to visit with them, it feels like the newness of me fades, and I’m feeling less like an alien on my own planet. I’m learning to appreciate their company in the familiar, yet dysfunctional way my family is, albeit now as the sister and daughter they never knew they had. I had a little time to talk to them as adults and was happy to share some insights of what its like to be a trans woman and share a new revelation with my sisters. They in turn shared the news with my mom and apparently she seemed interested.  I regret I didn’t get the chance to talk to my dad beyond my job search and training for the New York Marathon. Yet he was remarkable most of the week. He turns eighty this year and seemed to struggle the most in my family with my identity, but I don’t think he slipped-up once calling me Gia during my visit. I wonder if it was the air in the Green Mountains or his accelerating age, either way; it was amazing.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, during a follow-up appointment with my endocrinologist to try to figure out why my estrogen levels have not stabilized, I was asked to review my medical history.  He had a medical student as well as an intern with him that day and they were quietly part of the conversation. I mentioned a surgery I had when I was two years old that repaired a birth defect.  I was born with a tracheal esophageal fistula, TEF for short.   While my doctor didn’t seem to make note of my childhood surgery, the intern sitting to his left looked up with an inquisitive expression.  Without sharing why she was suddenly interested, my appointment ended, and I left feeling curious for more answers.

I had a series of meetings right after that appointment and forgot to follow-up with the intern’s look of intrigue.  After a few days passed, the thought returned as I was paying some bills. I started Googling far and wide for more information about TEF and learned more details that I probably should have researched years ago.  The esophagus and trachea should be two separate, unconnected tubes, but with TEF, they're connected.  As a young child my lungs were perpetually infected and my life heaved between pneumonia, fever, and breathlessness.  This birth defect occurs in 1 in 4,000 live births, and can be caused by a wide spectrum of environmental, chromosomal, and genetic factors. 50% of all patients have other forms of physical and/or mental abnormalities, as well as additional chronic systemic issues. While gender identity was not exclusively singled out, there were a several notes about sex, genital formation, and other genetic anomalies that made me wonder about my own body, biology, and morphology.   Well, I thought it was interesting.

On my final full day in Vermont I went for a run along an idyllic country ridge road. I felt great. Breathing clearly for the entire eight miles without using my inhaler was wonderful and I felt a stronger too. Just more than half way into my run, I became mesmerized by the beauty of the landscape and felt free of my personal worries.  Off to the South I noticed a herd of cows on the move and heard voices around them.  There were a few people dressed in brightly colored shirts on horseback driving the black and white Holsteins through the valley below.  Their voices were striking, not only were they loud and clear, but they were female.  Cowgirls!  Wow, that’s hot. In my distracted state I almost missed the animal in the road as well as the car speeding by.  I immediately came to a stop.  There was a small wounded bird; it looked like a young Cedar Waxwing. I couldn’t tell how injured it was but it was still breathing.  I scooped up the grayish-yellow bird and placed its hollow-boned body at the base of an evergreen and continued on my run. 

With only a quarter mile to go, there was still a monumental hill I needed to ascend to make it back to my car.  At the start of my run I went down the incline and thought I’d never have the strength to run back up.  But with a new sense of adventure and some remaining strength, up I ran, yes slowly, but after a few minutes I made it to the top without stopping.  While there were no cheers, and the cars continued to race by late for work, I felt rewarded.  My body and mind seemed to have fused with the beauty of the surrounding landscape.  As I reached to open my car door and retrieve the waiting bottle of water, I noticed a small amount of blood in the palm of my hand.  I guess the fledgling winged creature was more wounded than I noticed.