Friday, May 16, 2014

We Used to Have Nicknames

Under a remarkably brilliant blue sky, I drove from Raleigh to Pinehurst, in an off-white Fiat that I had just rented from a young and uncomfortably happy Enterprise employee.  I was on my way to visit my parents who were enjoying an early spring at their condo in North Carolina.  I felt slightly nervous and a little sad as I was about to spend three days with them at a very conservative golf resort for the first time openly as a transgender woman, and teary-eyed, as I recalled one of my first visits to the Tar Heel State in 1992, with my then girl friend, future partner, and now ex. 

While I was apprehensive about the visit, I desperately needed some of my mom’s nurturing optimism and my dad’s predictability.  It hadn’t occurred to me when planning this trip that what I really needed was to get away.  Not just get away from my job and commitments, but also to get away from the sadness I was feeling.  My ex partner and I had separated nearly four years ago, and were divorced in two years later after being married for seventeen, yet we continued to live together until last month.  So after twenty-two years, we were no longer roommates. 


Virtually alone at two in the afternoon on a Friday, I sped from the airport to Sanford and US Route 1 South on highway 510.  As I flipped between radio stations, I thought about a camping trip my ex and I took to Ashville and the Smokey Mountains that straddle Tennessee and North Carolina during our first spring break as graduate students at Savannah College of Art and Design.  We hadn’t planned accordingly for the weather.  In coastal Georgia in March, the temperatures range from 50-80 degrees, but in the mountains the temperatures were still dropping below freezing.  We huddled by the fire eating beans from a can with kielbasa, and drank Rolling Rock beer interspersed with shots of Ezra Williams Bourbon to keep us warm.  We called it our anti-freeze.

A year later I proposed to her on Tybee Island Beach, just a few miles East of Savannah, and she said YES!  We were married the next summer on a hillside in Vermont.  That’s another story.  In our many years together, we rented, owed, or resided in ten different apartments or homes, and lived in six different states.  Separated by three years in Maryland, we’ve lived in Maine for thirteen years.  For eight of those years we lived here, in a gray ranch built in 1969, nestled against the woods and close enough to the ocean you can hear waves crashing on the rocks off Goose Rocks Beach and the occasional fog horn from Goat Island.

After a brief, yet rejuvenating visit with parents in North Carolina and a surprise round of golf, I returned to Maine so late on a Sunday, it was actually Monday morning.  I did manage to steal a few hours of sleep before being rudely awaken by my alarm. While I was tempted to extent my weekend another day, I realized I taken Friday off, and thought it was best go to work, at least for part of the day.  Over the previous few weeks my ex had been slowly moving out. Each day a few things from around the house disappeared, as if there was a thief who had their own key.  While there was no ill will, it was strange and slightly painful to have things vanish with nothing to replace them, but empty space. 

So that Monday, feeling slightly hazy and tired, I walked to the kitchen like a zombie and made coffee. On my way back to my room I noticed her bedroom was now empty. The bed, Ikea dresser and mirror, and white rug were all gone. I walked into the hollow space and looked around.  For years this room had been our room, now it was no one’s.  An abandoned crooked halogen lamp stood alone above a dirt stain left on the wall from our dog, who used to sleep in the corner.   As I turned to leave, I noticed a stuffed animal sitting on the wire closet shelf. It was the monkey she had sent me from California during our first summer apart in graduate school, twenty-two years ago.  We used to have nicknames for each other.