16 August 2008

40 Turns 50

Forty days and forty nights...

Of course nearly everyone in the western (and much of the non-western) world thinks of the Bible and the Flood when you mention "forty days and forty nights."

Me, I think of that exquisitely sad song by Muddy Waters.

Forty days and forty nights
Since my baby left this town
Sunshinin' all day long
But the rain keep comin' down

I used to have a recording of that song. If someone from another planet were to ask me what "the blues" are (is?), I'd probably start with it. Between the piano work and Muddy Waters' voice, you can practically see the sky opening and hear a primal wail in the wind :

Keep rainin' all the time
But the river is runnin' dry
Lord help me it just ain't right
I love that girl with all-a my might

Ooh, baby. Rainin' all the time and the river runnin' dry: How much more despair can someone express? In "Forty Days," I believe Muddy Waters gave us a musical version of a concrete poem about loss and despair.

Fortunately for me, I'm not feeling that kind of despair. So maybe it means I won't be a great artist or original thinker. C'est la vie. I'm happy to be right now. And, oddly enough, I can better appreciate stuff like Muddy Waters' song when I'm the way I am now than when I'm in my own sadness or grief.

What is it about forty days, anyway? For me, today is the 40th day since I started this blog and my one-year countdown to my surgery. So the 40th day means I have 325 days to go. All of this occured to me just as I was about to start writing. Now I've forgotten what I had planned, or whether I had anything, to write about.

Forty days and forty nights turn into...forty years. Mom and I were talking about our recent milestone birthdays. She said that when she turned fifty--as I did last month--she didn't mind it, but all through that year she thought about Uncle Sonny, who died a few months after turning fifty. Other than that, she said, turning fifty was actually better than turning forty.

I would agree with her on that last point. When I turned forty, I was--paradoxically enough--much more anxious about my future than I am now. It's not that I've gotten rich or anything like that. And I didn't see a pretty picture in a crystal ball. In fact, I'd say that, if anything, it may be even more difficult for me to predict what the coming years will bring. There is the surgery, of course, if all goes according to plan. But other than that, I really don't know what else to expect.

At forty, on the other hand, I expected more or less the same as what had come before. I was probably in the best physical condition of my entire life; I had that sense of invincibility the young so often have. I did not imagine myself becoming older or less firm; if anything, I didn't expect to live long enough to see that. I was going to die, at whatever age, while pedalling up or barreling down a mountain on my bike, or in a current that was more powerful than my ability to swim it.

However, just before I turned forty, something else happened: I met Tammy. That would lead me, however unintentionally, to the journey I am now undertaking.

Not long ago, I told my mother that just about everything I did before making my transition was an act of desperation. Getting involved with Tammy may have been the most desperate act of all; near the end of our relationship, I committed the single most desperate action of my life. Somehow I knew, but would never admit, that there would be great changes in my life, and that there would be at least a period of pain and loss.

My relationship with Tammy was my very last attempt to hold on to the image I had of myself--which I conflated with my life--as a heterosexual man. Ironically enough, the first two years I spent with Tammy were the happiest--or at least the easiest--of my life before my transition.

I think it was Ortega y Gasset who said that there are three stages of a person's life. Up to the age of fifteen or so, one is essentially a child. From about fifteen until about forty or forty-five, one tries to construct a life according to the expectations of family, society and one's self. But, at forty or forty-five, one realizes that it's no longer possible to live in fantasies or fictions. At that point, of course, many people--especially men--have their mid-life crises. Some go downhill and die (or kill themselves) not long after; others redirect themselves.

So...I met Tammy at forty and started to live full-time as a woman at forty-five. Maybe it's not what Ortega y Gasset had in mind, but it does square pretty well with his timetable. At forty-three I saw that woman in Savoie who made me realize I couldn't take another step in this world as a man; at forty-four I started to take steps toward my current life. Those two years were, if not the most difficult, the most intense of my adult life.

The day I got back from that trip in which I saw that Savoyard woman, Tammy met me at JFK. I wasn't expecting it; she didn't expect to meet me but at the last moment found out she could take the day off after all. She really wanted to see me, she said.

We locked our arms around each other, my elbows jutting out at the most acute angles my body could create. Neither of us, it seemed, wanted to let go, not even as uniformed attendants tried to move us out of the lobby. I could not let go, not at that moment, not for as long as I could hold on...to her; to our apartment with four cats, seven bikes, dozens of kitchen utensils and appliances and I-couldn't-even-count-how-many books and very full closets; to the dinners we hosted and the nights out with friends--hers, mostly. Holding on...to a life that nobody, not even us, knew very much about. One in which she indulged, then tolerated my "cross dressing" and I said that I wanted no more--though no less--than that. No, I said, I will not move to Chelsea or get the surgery. Yes, I want to spend my life with you, whatever that means.

So what, exactly, happened at around the time I turned forty? You might say that I cranked up the level of mendacity precisely because I was beginning to realize just how mendacious I had been simply to live as I was from one day to the next. You might even say that it was that mendacity that led me, finally, to my realizations: I was on that bike trip in the Alps--the one in which I met the woman I mentioned--because Tammy had given it to me as a birthday present. Why, I asked her? She was working and attending law school, and that was my reward for "taking care" of her. It was all part of the life we were building together: That's what I said about being, in essence, her wife and that's what she said about her work.

Forty days, forty nights, forty years. We thought it would progress somewhat like that. Or so I led her to believe, or so she believed. Forty months...That's about how much time passed from our first meeting until that day at JFK. For the next forty weeks (I'm not making this up!), the illusion, fantasy or whatever you want to call it, came apart, piece by piece.

Tomorrow will mark the sixth anniversary of my moving out. The forty days that followed included getting a job, finding places to shop and eat and meeting people, some of whom would become friends or at least allies. Some met me as Nick, others as Justine. I was still working in my boy-drag with my boy-name. I would do that for--you guessed it!--another forty weeks.

After all that, turning fifty is a cinch. Am I right, Muddy Waters?

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