I celebrated Christmas with my family last Saturday. While there were many hugs and kisses, and a few tears this year, thanks for the bracelet mom and dad, there were just as may laughs filling my parents’ crowded house. Between the chips and salsa, and sips of vodka, the smiles seemed as bright as the lights on the tree, especially as we cheered on my young nieces and nephews dancing on the small area of gray carpet cleared of discarded green and red wrapping paper and gift boxes.
From across the room, my brother in-law, urged me to join the dance with a song from New Order, but I didn’t have the…whatever it takes anymore, or at least not that night. Looking around the room, with my beautiful aging parents, the center of attention, I realized my own youth is all but a memory or frozen in an embarrassing slide show. And even the awkward, recent revisit to adolescence brought on by a flush of hormones, has abandoned me back to middle age, like the main character, played by John Cusack, in the movie Being John Malkovich, spit out of a parallel universe into a ditch on the side of the New Jersey Turnpike.
I snuck away to the quiet of the dinning room, and sat with two cousins for a short time, now drinking wine. We’re relatively close, not only in age and gender, but for other reasons too; I guess we’re survivors, though we’ve never talked about it that way. They’ve been very supportive of my transgender identity since the day I came out, and I feel they see me for who I am and my potential, rather than my past and who I once was. One of my aunts joined us as well. She seems so curious and I love her for genuine sense compassion for everyone. For some reason, we were discussing loss, and out of the blue she said something that helped me recognize that some of my family had taken my change very hard, and needed to grieve the “loss” of their brother, son, nephew, or uncle, before they could celebrate my new identity. Just as we were getting a little too “real”, I was summoned back into the gift room. In the past this was treacherous territory, full of brightly colored sweaters and cologne that smelled like drugstore sailors. But times have changed and the gifts I received this year from my parents, sisters, brothers, and even my Godson, were special and I felt grateful to share a part of Christmas with them.
As the party continued past midnight, I decided it was time to say goodnight. And after a few quick farewells, I left my parents’ and walked the few blocks to my friends’ house where I was spending the night. That’s another story. While it was cold, the sky was clear and the streets were empty. It was comforting and familiar. In that moment I returned to my youth. As a 12 year-old, who was living as a boy, I would, on occasion, walk the streets of my neighborhood in the middle of the night, dressed as a girl. Sometimes I would curl up under the cover of a hemlock tree in the dead of winter after a snowstorm like a lost fawn and dream about a world that didn’t exist. The darkness became my friend and salvation. It was there, on those very streets and sidewalks, and sometimes backyards; that I felt at home.
The next morning I had brunch with a few friends from high school, one of whom I’ve known since 5th grade. He was brave, as the rest of us were women, who met more than 30 years ago in junior high or high school. We had coffee, and some of us ordered lunch while others ordered breakfast. For the next two hours, with free refills, we shared stories from our past, laughing and cringing as we recalled a time when we were fearless and foolish, living without any sense of responsibility. The Village Café occupies the once famous Midnight Sub Shop in Newtonville, right across a busy street from the Mass Turnpike and the location where Mrs. Walsh was killed crossing the street by a speeding motorist. I didn’t really know her, and I only knew her son briefly. We road dirt bikes together in Cabot Woods on a race course my brother built in the 70’s. The sub shop shared the building with a Laundromat, and served pizza and sandwiches late into the night. The Laundromat is still there, and the intersection now has a blinking yellow light.
After lunch I drove back to Maine in a storm. Racing the temperature gauge the entire way, I was trying to make it home before the winter rain turned to ice. Between wiper blade passes, my view through the windshield quickly distorted and I could barely see the road ahead of me, but raced onward. I thought about all the places I’ve visited this past year, the people I’ve met, and what I’ve learned about myself. Then I considered my future and was terrified thinking of the unknown. I can barely outrun the shadows of my past and their meddling reach, how am I going to move forward. From one year to the next, between day and night, boy and girl, child and adult, loved and unloved, I’ve often felt lost and alone, like a fallen pine cone drifting weightless on the snow. Goodbyes are difficult, but I think its time we parted ways old sport. I’m going to try this on my own. Thank you for carrying me; now let me go. Please. Let me go.