Wednesday, November 27, 2013


I was sitting on what seemed like a paper plane, with my seat belt securely fastened, drifting through space, 30,000 feet above Indiana or Ohio.  Actually I didn’t really know where I was, but it was very dark on the other side of the thick oval window and I imagined my hand would instantaneously freeze off if stuck my arm into cold air flying past at 500 miles an hour. 
I was returning from a conference on the west coast and visiting a few friends.  Sitting in row 25, seat C, I started writing this reflection about my journey and events from the previous few weeks.  I was reminiscing about visiting with a friend in Portland, Oregon who just had her bottom surgery in Thailand in September, and despite some pain and obvious discomfort sitting at Pastini Pastaria during dinner, I was envious of her glowing happiness. I also was thinking about my 800-mile drive though the Redwood National Forest in Northern California and visiting with my former mother-in-law, in Santa Rosa.  While her mobility has been limited from a debilitating stroke, she's kept her wry sense of humor. Her turbo charged wheelchair made me laugh and gasp for air, and her boyfriend's comments about my breasts made me blush like Molly Ringwald in 16 Candles.

I also starting writing about organizing this year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance that was held in Portland, Maine, and how it felt listening to the names of 250 trans people read aloud, who were killed this year, as I attended a mass of healing in Portland, Oregon. I thought about trying to connect these events with my embarrassing physical and his awkward breast exam, but got distracted thinking about my first mammogram, and the results I almost threw away with the junk mail, and having to leave the procedure because of a fire alarm wearing only my faded floral exam gown. 

I thought about writing about attending a ceremony on the campus of Lewis and Clark College to celebrate two-spirit and LGBT native peoples. And how impressed I was with the speakers, the first of which introduced himself, and carefully made the distinction that he was from the Lakota Nation, hundreds of miles away and was honored to stand on the land of the local tribe in Oregon.  A young family also took the stage area and as they were making short thankful comments, a young girl, no more than 10, took the microphone and expressed her love and support for her two-spirit mother and her partner. Witnessing such tenderness and reverence from her community took my breath away, especially in the light of Transgender Day of Remembrance and the Thanksgiving holiday.

But I decided not to elaborate further, because on the propeller plane from Newark, New Jersey to Portland, Maine, I sat next a wonderful person. The night before the flight, I changed my seat online for an one on the isle instead, and this is where I found myself. After I stowing my carry-on bag, I sat in my multi-colored seat next to a frail, gray haired older woman, who was wearing a pink sweatshirt. She looked to be in her late 70’s, and reminded me a little of my mother. I wondered if she was French Canadian as well. In preparation for our 45-minute flight, I put my used book in the seatback pocket and tried to make myself comfortable, taking off my sweater, as the cabin was sweltering and the vents were only blowing warm air. After exchanging brief greetings, she asked me about the book I was reading. The title is “Stiff”; it’s a darkly humorous view into what happens to our bodies after we’re dead.  I had read the first few chapters, and immediately new it was the right book for me. The cover image depicts two feet, with the rest of the body covered with a sheet, and a tag dangling from one of the cadaver’s toes.  I handed the book to my curious traveling partner for her to look over.  As she read a little, I noticed her demeanor change dramatically.  She looked over to me and as I looked into her sad blood shot eyes as she said; “my husband just passed away.” 

She began to cry, and instinctively I placed my hand gently on her hers, and tried with utter embarrassment to express my condolences as she talked fondly about the man she loved so much, "it hurts thinking he’s gone."  She was traveling back from her granddaughter’s wedding in Texas with some of her family.  They tried to reassure her that his spirit was with them during the celebration, but depsite being a faithful Catholic her whole life, she wasn’t so sure.  Apparently, I was sitting in the seat that should have been occupied by her husband Duke, who at 76, was taken from her only 30 days earlier. Cancer came without warning in March and the torturous chemotherapy did nothing but rob them of their precious time together.  I have attached a link to his obituary from the Portland Press Herald that highlights Duke’s life and 54 year marriage to Bertha Boulet of Sanford, Maine. 

This weekend I plan to travel home to celebrate my dad’s 80th birthday along with my mother, who just turned 79, and the rest of my family.  His 80th year has certainly been a challenge. In January my dad had a silent heart attack. In April he had triple bypass surgery at Tufts Medical Center right before the Boston bombings, and in June he was in a car crash, totaling his Nissan Maxima after blacking-out driving on Interstate 495 near Lowell, Massachusetts during rush hour. It’s miraculous he's still alive.  I guess I do have a lot to be thankful for, how about you? 

Click to read Duke's Obituary

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