Tag Archives: memoir

Not really an excerpt

There are two kinds of writers in the world, those who overwrite and those who work for test laboratories.

I often write more than will end up in a story or piece of nonfiction, and I see this as a blessing rather than a curse, since trying to pack things on a skeleton of prose is for me, difficult and prone to introducing everything from a non sequitur to a blatant inconsistency—I’m much more orderly when I stick to my process, which is:

Write down initial idea—this can be anything from a character I keep thinking about to a rare astrophysical condition to some circumstance that would explain a mystery

Expand on initial idea—Aliens on Parade grew out of a question I had about how traveling by wormhole could go wrong once in the hands of a lazy or in-over-their-heads government. I started thinking about technology: if we “discovered” how to open wormholes in space, would we also inadvertently be inviting people in? If answer = yes, then what happens?

Identify the actors—my bio sketches start out very simple and I grow them from there. Age, race/ethnicity, gender, orientation all help me figure out their positions, power, and privilege in society, whether it’s a society I’m trying to reflect or invent. Because I see these things at play in the actual world, I feel responsible to bringing them to bear in my writing. But their back stories are more complex. I’ll put in things like “was mugged two weeks ago,” “has unmanaged bipolar disorder and self-medicates with alcohol,” “won’t let anyone meet her mom because she’s on welfare.” I don’t feel the need to write out absolutely everything about them if I’m writing a shorter story, and I try to come up with circumstances for them that let me see greater depth of character when I need to.

Visualize the scenes—this gets harder for longer work, so I keep it flexible, and I will add and subtract to this list over time. I think of this like one would map out a scene shoot for a film. What do we have, where do we have it? I deeply appreciate any writer who can create scene description and keep it interesting, and not just because it’s a magical street in a magical city, which is supposed to be magically interesting all on its own. Once I’ve got a sense of my characters, I try to come up with places where they will be best expressed and then make sure it will work with the plot. If I can find a perfect setting to enhance the tone, then great. In my short story, Underwater, I tried to paint a minimal picture to ask the user to fill in with their starkest memories, while keeping the places in the story bereft of emotion other than tired and empty. I think it works for a story that’s under 2,000 words like this one. My novel-length sci fi piece, Superqueers, spends a lot more time showing different neighborhoods in Washington, DC, because I wanted to work against the every-city feel of other comic book hero stories. Incidentally that story grew out of an image I knew I needed to write 20 years ago, of a small greasy spoon diner and a very large man who drinks coffee there, spilling a lot of it and using many, many packets of sugar in the process.

Do the first draft and don’t stop—At this point, I can’t not write any longer; I have to type words out through my fingers now now now. I will take a few pages to get up to speed, although I don’t like seeing it this way. I’d love to think my work was perfect out of the gate, but in reality I’m in last place until the final turn, to drag the metaphor through the mud, mix it and beat it like a dead horse. I and most everyone I know need to do an awful lot of rewriting before I will say the words have been crafted. No blacksmith made a nail with the first strike. But this rewriting process will come later. I don’t worry about it because I’m writing, I’m progressing, I’m telling the story. I may not use the section or piece of dialogue later, but I will save whatever I write in the first draft. Everything lives in the first draft. If I sit down at the computer on Day 2 and I hate everything I wrote, I can start anew if I can’t write anything else, but I will not delete the crap from Day 1. Draft Number 1 holds onto everything. While I’m getting through this first draft I will return to the character bios and the scene list and the original idea, and update them. Matilda is allergic to strawberries. I need the boat out at sea, not at the dock. Those two characters are too similar so I’ll merge them into one and make a note to rewrite the dialogue in chapters 1–3.

Rewrite until it doesn’t suck—other people may have higher expectations for their writing, but I’m shooting for not laughable. Perhaps I’m being too modest; I think I’m a good writer, but I don’t want to get stuck on myself, and I know by now that things can always be improved. I have no love for self-absorbed writers, no matter their level of talent, so I strive not to become one myself. I can’t say when I think a story is done, but when I go through on say, the 20th pass and only have tiny changes to my language, it starts to occur to me to work on something else. I’m either blind to the quality of prose or I’m deadened to making changes and now’s the time to go revise something else or start something new. All the while pitching my best stuff to agents and journals. But that’s another post for another day. This rewriting phase starts out intense and mellows out, kind of like March. I’ll cut whole scenes, chapters, characters, change the ending, put in or take out subplots. Thank goodness I’m writing and not building houses, because I’d destroy every budget I saw.

With that in mind, here is the very original dream from my memoir that drove me, eventually, to transition. It’s no longer in the memoir itself, but it’s referred to and is the backstory for the main character—uh, namely me—and I revised it something like 10 times before I struck it entirely, so it’s rougher than the rest of the writing at this point.

Trees, everywhere, mostly evergreens. He looked around at them, some clumped up closely, branches looped together with their neighbors, some isolated from the rest, the lot of them with varying heights and apparent ages, climbing up the side of the mountain. Far below the side of the mountain the trees were reflected back almost perfectly from the surface of a very still, large lake. He wondered how he’d gotten here, patting himself down absentmindedly, as if identifying the things in his pockets would reveal a useful memory. Looking down at his clothes, he recognized an icon of sorts. Is that what they’re called? Icons? Stereotypes? He was struck by the idea of lumberjacks. This was probably because he was wearing a red flannel jacket, or shirt, he wasn’t sure. It was something in between, and it would later occur to him that there is in fact, a hybrid jacket-shirt-thingy for sale on the men’s fashion market, if one used a very loose definition of the term, “fashion.” But he did notice, after taking in the color and texture of it, that it wasn’t quite warm enough for the brisk morning air. Wait, was it morning?

He squinted at the sky, a pearly blue with a few wisps of cirrus clouds high, high away. Well, he knew what the hell a cirrus cloud was, that was a start. When had he learned about cirrus clouds? He had a clear memory of Mrs. Warms’ 8th grade science class at that crappy Catholic school on the main drag in Princeton. The one with the scary nuns. And then on graduation day with their caps and robes on, they all looked like nuns and none of their parents were clued in to the trauma that their children were experiencing.

So okay, he’s made it past elementary school. Good to know.

He took a few steps, only then realizing he had on light brown worker’s boots, with his jeans pulled down neatly over the tops. It occurred to him to touch his head, and to his shock he realized he had on a knit cap. He took it off and inspected it. Navy blue, maybe, or black. Size 7. Carhart brand.

Holy shit, he really was a lumberjack. That couldn’t be right, could it? He looked around for an ax and a large blue beast of burden.

Before he could continue on trying to figure out who the hell he was, he heard a voice behind him.

“Daniel! Daniel! What are you doing over here?”

He turned around and saw a woman running up a trail he hadn’t noticed, what with the sky looking gorgeous and the trail looking blah. She was wearing her own knit cap, plaid jacket, jeans, and work boots. There apparently was some kind of outdoorsy uniform going on here. Her cheeks were bright red from the cold and her spontaneous bout of jogging. Brown curly hair stuck out in gravity-defying directions as soon as it cleared the tight hat. She left the impression of looking like a balding Troll doll that had spent some good quality time under a diffuser.

He had no idea why he knew what a diffuser was.

“Hi, Kathryn,” he mumbled. He knew her name. Another surprise. Who was Kathryn?

“Daniel, we need you at the mess. Why are you all the way up here? We’re running out of pancakes and French toast, and Jackie doesn’t know how to make the dishwasher run.” She put her hands on her knees as she bent over, panting.

“Daniel?” He looked at her. He knew her name, but he didn’t know why she was calling him this.

“Yes?”

“Who’s Daniel,” he asked.

“You, silly.” She stopped a moment. “What’s wrong with you?”

“Nothing. I just didn’t think that was my name.”

“Uh, what did you think your name was?”

He started to say and then stopped. It wasn’t right. Under this brightening sky, in the cold air, dressed like an extra from a Monty Python movie, something wasn’t right.

“Nothing, I’m kidding. I just wanted to catch the last of the sunrise.”

“Well, we need you, Dan. Come on, before the President runs out of breakfast.”

“The PRESIDENT is here,” he asked, following her, feeling his footsteps crunch as he made them on the frosty ground.

“The President of the Bucks County PTA. It’s their group that picked the campground for their stupid conference this weekend.” She looked at him like he’d lost all sense. She wasn’t far off the mark.

“Right, right.”

“Jesus, what did you do last night?” Her hair bounced around as she shook her head. He had the distinct impression that her cap was about to shoot off of her head from the pressure of her curls.

They walked into the mess and half a dozen children were upon him, tugging at his shirt/jacket and looking for more flapjakcs as if they might be hidden in his pockets. He hoped he could remember how to make a pancake, if he didn’t even know this name she was calling him.

He passed by a mirror, and got a look at himself just before entering the kitchen. Tallish, with a big, thick beard, hairy wrists and hands, twinkling brown eyes, wrinkles that implied he had smiled more often than frowned in his life. He was a mini Paul Bunyan, in fact. He realized precisely then that he had always wanted to be Paul Bunyan and only Paul Bunyan. He loved who he was now more than ever, and it had taken a long time for him to become the man these people needed and cheered. And that was really odd, for some reason.

And then I woke up.

Block’s writer

Gutenberg BibleI’m sure we’ve all heard the narrative a hundred times over: I’ve been a writer since I first held writing implement to fingers. And my Mom loves my stories, and all my friends say my book is a bestseller. And then we’re supposed to laugh condescendingly, because this little intrepid person is so clueless, clearly, about the publishing industry. Oh, if they knew about the publishing industry, we think smugly to ourselves, they’d know that Mom’s opinion doesn’t matter, and all their friends are wrong.

Just to give this some dimension, the US published 172,000 books in 2005, according to the geeks who count such things. Of these, let’s be generous and say that 200 of them counted as “best seller” status. (Anyone remember French Women Don’t Get Fat?) That’s one tenth of one percent of everything published that year. Of course, most of these books don’t even dream of topping any list: Unsolved Problems of Noise and Fluctuations, a fantastic tome on physics, probably didn’t make it to people’s holiday wish lists. But even taking just the fiction, memoir, poetry, and narrative nonfiction into account, the likelihood is very, very low, trust me.

This isn’t to say people shouldn’t write down their stories, or whatever things they have cavorting around in their heads. It just means that most stuff goes nowhere, but on a page, in a notebook, or onto the hard drive of a computer. And that’s really okay, because the vast majority of our human endeavor to create the amazing is actually quite awful. Total drivel. Buzzard crap, or that Canada geese shit that turns everything green and stinks of high heaven—hey, it was a life experience I won’t ever forget.

So why write, even? If it all sucks, why bother?

My answer is my answer alone. I write because it gets better when I rewrite it. The third time around, it starts to sound nuanced. The fourth revision I’m making specific language choices, listening to the rhythm of the words, the believability of the dialogue. The fifth time through I may do something drastic, like change the tense, cut the first 7 pages and have the narrative begin at a new point. Actually, I usually chop out my beginnings, trusting that the quotation I heard a long time ago is true: One should start a story like one would pick up a puppy, a little behind the front. I have no idea anymore who said it, maybe St. Vincent Millay or Doris Lessing or Eudora Welty. Now that woman wrote a lot.

By the time I get around to the tenth revision, I’m just nitpicking words and it’s more like talking about nothing at the end of a coffee date than actual editing. I just need to declare it’s over, we’ll meet again someday. At this point I’ve cleaned it up, swept out excessive prepositional phrases, changed sentence structure, evaluated my tone, simplified, simplified, simplified, and attempted to really cast a light on my characters without overwriting them. I like it when readers pick up different aspects of my protagonists, when they almost like the foils to those protagonists, but for the fact that they’re really despicable.

If enough time goes by, my relation to my stories changes. I used to think of this as watching the story fall behind me as I charged ahead, a steam engine train of a person. I now see that we’re both moving, in some kind of random, and certainly unpredictable direction from each other. Sometimes we swing back around, like a comet passing through a solar system every 76.2 years, and old ideas make a new kind of sense to us. But sometimes we never occupy the same space again. Maybe that was the story best understood by my 17-year-old self, and my 39-year-old brain simply doesn’t want to hang onto it anymore. Or maybe I’ll enjoy seeing where I once was in capability, craft, and idea, even as I acknowledge that I’m in a new place.

In any case, I’m glad I’ve written down as much as I have. And while I would be thrilled, say, with an appearance on Ellen, I’m not presuming anything I write would be a bestseller. It’s true that after years of messing around with fiction, with literary analysis, and the reading of thousands of books, I really needed to write a memoir about my transition.

I really haven’t talked about why with anyone except my writing coach, Lea, who has more than one hand on the pulse of the universe and who I see as a really friendly, astute guide through this whole publishing rigamarole. First, I had some demons to exorcise, and writing was the best way to do that. A lot of that writing was just for me, not for any book, and most certainly not for anyone else’s retinas. But it did let some of the experience percolate and then steep, and gave me a blueprint for organizing the past 6 years into a sturdy narrative. There was some motivation stemming from my “mentoring” of a young female-to-male transsexual who was asking many of the same questions I’d pondered at the start of my experience. I’ve spent copious hours online, asking and later, answering the strangely narrow-banded litany of inquiries people have about transitioning: will my family hate me forever? Will my partner desert me? Am I just disfiguring myself? These are really all smaller branch questions that have popped out from one solid root question:

Am I crazy?

The answer none of us wants to admit is, maybe. Maybe we/you/they are crazy. But we’re probably not crazy, because crazy people don’t formulate questions on the Internet, research their options in a rational way, get opinions, sift through information, try different methods of managing what turns out to be an illness—crazy people behave less from a place of information gathering, and more from a place of irrational. Crazy people respond differently to the therapies around gender identity dysphoria. Transsexual people see their happiness and sense of well being increase dramatically after even the most mundane or simple changes to their sex and gender identity.

Could a memoir bring these points across? I thought so. Could I tell a story in which a fairly ordinary person realizes something extraordinary? And has the daring to see it through? Could I make getting a sex change seem like the right notion for a protagonist? I thought about it and decided yes. I don’t think I’m the trans Messiah; this isn’t an especially rare narrative, even as it’s certainly a twist on the boy meets girl tale.

And heck, in this memoir, there is boy-meets-girl, if readers are okay with boy-who-used-to-be-girl-meets-girl-who-usually-likes-other-girls.

Perhaps agents think the concept is too out there, and that’s why I’ve had trouble selling this. But I believe in this story and this project. I know that there are thousands of people who would guffaw at the hilarity I’ve lived through, and fret through the hard parts, and have questions like I’ve had, about medical services and people’s judgment and how strange it is to see the world through completely new lenses. I have faith in this book, and I just have to keep pitching it, even as I work on other stories that want their 15 minutes of fame on my keyboard.

I used to spend a lot of time getting stuck as a writer, but then I pushed through on the memoir project and now everything I bottled up wants to come out to play. And that’s how I know the memoir is a story that needs telling. And though we may cross each other in space at some point, hurtling in new directions, it will retain at least a core of interest for me, and hopefully for some agent and publisher out there.

And hey, my sister thinks it’s great.

Excerpt from Bumbling into Body Hair

This is an excerpt from the memoir I’m shopping around. I’m not going to provide any context because there’s no point in extra yammering.

Bumbling into Body Hair: Tales of a Klutz’s Sex Change

Lying on the couch after my surgery, time stopped having meaning. I went off the Gregorian calendar and started one of my own. On Day 12 of the Drains from Breasts of Yore they started accumulating a cloudy brown fluid. However one defined “good,” this wasn’t it. I called the doctor’s office twice in two days, but both times they said to be patient, slow down, stop being so active, wait until they’re putting out less fluid. Two nights later I checked the right drain. I had obviously transitioned to Kermit the Frog, looking at the green fluid in the floppy drain cup. The tube itself was clear yellowish. After thinking about how few things in the human body made it to that part of the color spectrum, I called the doctor’s answering service, saying simply who I was, my phone number, and what was happening. Nobody called me back.

When I’d called on Friday, otherwise known as the Day Before My Bodily Fluid Celebrated St. Patty’s Day, I told them that my partner was heading out of town this weekend and if I’d need a person with me to get the drains out, could we please do it now? She said not until the drains were producing less on both sides.

“Now, you’re in Philadelphia, right?” Good Lord, she’s not pulling a chart, is she?

“No, I’m in DC,” I corrected.

“Well, still, they need to be making less fluid.”

The following Monday, now called the Day of the New Week of Oblivion, Nurse Barbara called me to say, “Your drains have been in a long time. Come in today so we can take them out.” I asked, gently, again, if I need someone to come with me. “That would be advisable, yes.”

Somehow my direct payment of $7,000 didn’t preclude me getting a different answer depending on whom I talked to. No, you can’t come in on Friday and it will be fine if you come alone, and no, you should have come in before and you really should have someone with you. How about I split the difference, I wondered. I’ll agree that I should have been allowed to come in before, and I’ll come by my own self.

I hoped I’d be much happier once the drains were out, if only because cleaning myself wouldn’t continue to consist of a series of soapy and wet washcloths while standing over a sink.

*   *   *

The fluid saga had not ended. I was getting dressed for work, which, 3 weeks post-op, included stuffing my surgical vest with maxi pads, to increase the compression on the hurt parts and help speed healing. Maxi pads, to their credit, have a nebulous outer layer kind of like a black hole that sucks in material at terminal velocity, crushing it into an infinitely small, infinitely dense piece of matter. When connected to wormholes, by the way, they deposit all of this material into a new location. Thus it was possible, I theorized, that our universe had been formed by the big bang of millions of crushed maxi pad deposits.

So I was getting dressed, and I snagged a suture on the left side of my chest in the maxi pad. It hurt beyond description, which I articulated by screaming. Being a maxi pad, I couldn’t get the suture out of it, so I tiptoed to the bathroom, holding up the vest/maxi pad combo, for of course I stuck the adhesive of the pad to the vest. I tried not to jiggle the suture and was fortunate that brand new man boobs weren’t prone to such things as actual jiggling. I cut the suture, still feeling pained, covered the cut end with some paper tape, and proceeded to finish getting dressed. I got in my car, thrilled, somehow, to be commuting again.

Four hours into my workday, I was beyond uncomfortable. It felt like I’d pulled a muscle, or cracked my sternum, or something else awful: a searing, stabbing pain that took the place of whatever else had previously occupied my thoughts. I muddled through the rest of my day—my supervisor had been keeping my workload low, out of sympathy or a seething need to get me off every project—and left a little early. The second I got home I ripped off all my shirts in a “get the leeches off of me,” way, not an exotic dancer way. Nothing looked wrong. The tape was still there. The incisions were clearly healing. But it felt like something was pulling the sutures out. It was a little like when I’d had shingles, years earlier. I took a few ibuprofen and tried to feel better, but the pain just got worse. I called the surgeon, who said that pulling a suture may have damaged some of the scar tissue, and that it was a painful thing to have happen, but should be better in 24 to 48 hours. She thought ibuprofen was a good idea, too, since it’s also an anti-inflammatory. I didn’t sleep well, but I made it to 5:30 a.m. And I woke with a new friend: the return of Bertha, my old right breast! It was the morning of Breast Resurrection Day.

Bertha appeared to be very irate at my choice to excoriate her. She was red, hot to the touch, and something like a B-cup. As the day went on Bertha decided to install an addition under my right armpit. I called the surgeon’s office again, and one of the nurses said, “oh, you can’t have an infection this late. Just rest up and don’t be so active.” Always with the “not so active.” What were they, paid by the junk food lobby? And what was that about a 2-week recovery period again?

In two more days, otherwise known as the Day of the Breastal Revolt, Bertha had turned hard to the touch. She felt like the pectoral muscle of the statue of David. Only this was not what I’d had in mind for rock-hard musculature. I called the doctor’s office again. I got the nurse to agree to call in another antibiotic prescription for me, and she sighed while I said I had to look up the pharmacy number of the CVS near me. She reminded me that it’s “very, very rare to have an infection this far out.” More likely was an allergic reaction to the sutures. But who could know without looking at me?

I posted my symptoms online and asked if anyone knew what I was experiencing. I did research on mastectomy outcomes and incidences. I told my friends I didn’t feel well, and I started to feel crazy for having such a hard time. Not to mention guilty for not going to work.

Susanne flew back in Friday from her interview in California after getting bumped off of her original, earlier flight. I felt like death in a frying pan. That night I woke up several times with the chills. I was sick of something being wrong. I sat around a lot all weekend, although I did go to a “Friend’s Thanksgiving” dinner, assuming I could deal with sitting up for a few hours. When two of the dining attendees broke out guitars and amps and started messing around like stinky 13-year-old boys, I turned in for the evening, Susanne nipping on my heels. I noted quietly to myself that if I were ever in a band, I would only do my music with friends who also liked to do that with me, or ask them in advance if they’ve brought their ear plugs.

Regular names of the week came back to me as I renewed my full work schedule. Monday and Tuesday I’d been signed up at work to go to an annual recap of the literature in my field, so I figured if I could sit at home, I could do it in an office building, too. I went home early the first day and kept cursing myself for not feeling well. I couldn’t make it past six hours of sitting. Why am I such a baby?

Wednesday morning I had my quarterly visit with my endocrinologist, who was also an internist. Susanne and I were happy that some medical professional was going to actually see my face. Ace looked at me with my shirt off.

“Holy shit, Everett!” This, the man with no sense of humor or intense expression. He ordered me to call the surgeon, and I told him I couldn’t seem to get past the nursing staff. I’d only managed to get to the doctor once on the phone.

“Look,” he said, actually expecting I would then look directly at him, “she took you to the dance, she can take you home. No other doctor is going to go near this.”

“Hey, you watch how you talk about Bertha there.” He grinned.

“Just go up there and insist that she see you.”

Oh my God. It must really be bad.

I left his office and called the surgeon’s office once more, getting one of the nursing staff.

“I’ve got a 100-degree fever now,” I said.

“Well, a 100-degree fever isn’t that high a fever,” she replied.

What, I was going to need to cough up a kidney before they said yes to me?  Was there a magic word I was missing here? Open sesame!

“My internist told me I had to come see you.”

She suddenly got interested. “Oh, is that an option? Where do you live? Are you local?” Had I not told them I lived in DC in each and every conversation?

Of course, I thought, people fly in for this from everywhere. They probably don’t do a lot of follow up on FTMs.

She told me to come in the next two hours. She didn’t realize I was still in my car, illegally on my cell phone. I saw that snow was starting to fall. I had to get out of the city, fast, before people started walking around with A-frame boards pronouncing that the end of days were nigh. The first winter snow in DC always brought out the hysterics.

I spent the next 90 minutes driving in the left lane behind nervous drivers going 30 miles an hour. My chest throbbed, my pulse, which was already too high, was pounding, I still felt terrible, and I walked into the surgeon’s office. They took me to an exam room and I undressed and showed the nurse my chest.

“Those are stretch marks,” she said, looking at the red lines streaming across my torso from the incision line.

“I don’t have stretch marks,” I muttered. Wow, I feel like crap.

“Sure you have lots of stretch marks,” she said, arguing with me, apparently concerned for my general health, if not the acute problem that had gone unchecked for more than a week.

“I don’t have stretch marks in the middle of my chest!”

Yelling did the trick, and Nurse Barbara left the room, dismissing me with her departure. Another more daring nurse came in and saw me.

“You have cellulitis.”

“Itis,” I knew, was a suffix that means, to us laypeople, infection. Cellulitis is an infection under the innermost layer of skin, and it is bad news, because it quickly becomes septic, meaning that it can travel to one’s bloodstream, and then one is in for a bad ride. It was like Dr. G, Medical Examiner bad. The surgeon came in, scrubs on from just finishing up someone else’s top surgery. Her smile disappeared as she took one look at me, and she immediately started ordering all kinds of supplies to the room, things with names I didn’t understand. They took off my opened-up shirts, and the doctor gave me a local and then opened up a few of my stitches. This is when I peed out of my rib cage—at least it felt like peeing, as I had a sense of relief, and warm liquid streaming over my skin. Well, I don’t exactly pee down my legs, but it was the closest life experience my brain could register, and it’s what occurred to me as I was being aspirated. I felt a big dose of happy as the disgusting ooze left my body. And it was a strange experience to watch my chest deflate. I could almost hear Bertha screaming like the Wicked Witch of the West, “Nooooooo, water, nooooooo, I’m mellllllllllllting!”

The surgeon looked at me kindly as I side-urinated. She put her hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry, Ev, you’re the one percent outcome.”

“I’ll go buy a lottery ticket,” I said.

They gave me an IV bag to re-hydrate me—for all my liquids had been going to Bertha the Undead—and a strong antibiotic. They put in a new drain on that side, a floppy plastic tube with no collection cup. I stayed in the dark room for a couple of hours, drifting in and out of sleep until the bag was empty. I returned two days later to get my side rechecked. It looked much better, even though I had some more recovery to do now. I saw the surgeon again a few days later, now clearly on her radar screen. She’d even given me her home number so I could call her directly. And I had finally earned my VIP pass with the nurses.

Four years hence

On this anniversary of my first date with Susanne, I thought I’d post an excerpt from my memoir here, of said date, which as you’ll see, I wasn’t sure was a date.

I’d set up the date at my favorite fire-baked pizzeria, a sleepy restaurant until it was featured in a local foodies blog, and then it was always packed to the seams, bursting with young, drunk patrons from the lobbying district, the non-profit set, and Capitol Hill. On the day after New Year’s, however, the place was empty except for one other table.

Susanne met me at the bar, taking off her winter hat and unwrapping a scarf the length of an adult boa constrictor. It took her 30 seconds to remove all of her outerwear. She’d emailed me from her parents’ house in Michigan, saying she was stuck with dialup and had just gotten my message. A quick cheery email exchange, and we’d set up this date.

“Hi there,” she said, smiling.

“Hi, thanks for meeting me,” I said, trying to keep my smile out of the goofy nerdy range.

We got a table and were checked on often by the waitress who both had not much else to do, and who seemed to find us amusing. Our pizzas arrived, hers a sausage and extra cheese, and mine, a mushroom lover’s that I know Michael would have hissed at, given his abhorrence of fungi.

She looked at me and my pizza. “So are you a vegetarian,” she asked casually.

“Oh, no. I just like the mushroom pizza here.” One potential spoiler averted.

“Thank God,” was her response, and I laughed.

We talked about our love of Kitchen Aid mixers, and that we’d each named ours. We’d also both previously bought mixers for other people’s weddings and then wondered, independently of course, why we hadn’t bought one for ourselves.

“I love baking,” I said. “I enjoy it so much I want to retire early and start my own bakery someday.”

“Shut up,” said Susanne, laughing, “that’s what I want to do!”

“No kidding. That’s great.”

Things were going so well I decided to take a risk and just let her know everything about my gender goings on. As soon as I started talking, I wanted to erase the decision and start over with any other topic of conversation. Hummingbirds. The state of the economy in Guam. Bloomsday parties. Monkey rectums.

“So I’ve been transitioning, taking it really slowly,” I said, feeling exposed. “Many of my friends still only know me as Jenifer, but for more and more people I’m Everett now. So you could call me either, really.” Stop talking!

The voice in my head was powerless to stop me.

“Well, that sounds like it can be hard at times,” she said.

I fought to stay on my seat and not fall onto the floor. “Yes, it can be. I’m taking things at my own pace. It’s been interesting, I guess.”

“You’re not the first person I’ve met with complicated gender,” Susanne said, looking at me. She wasn’t backing away. I didn’t know what to make of this. Maybe she was a psychopath, collecting people with gender issues in her basement in little cages so she could have her own private transsexual zoo. Or maybe it was just okay.

The waitress stopped by our table, looking at us with a sly grin, and giving us boxes for the rest of our pizzas.

We stepped outside and saw that it was raining, and each opened our umbrellas. With pizza boxes in one hand and the umbrellas in the other, our departing hug was more like a clumpfest. She thanked me for the good conversation and sprinted across the street to get to the Metro before it rained any harder.

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