28 September 2008

Giving Birth to the Present

Today I got to talk to Millie in passing. I mentioned that I have purchased a ticket to spend Christmas with Mom and Dad. I think I saw a tear well up at the corner of her eye.

I think the only time she was happier for me was when she found out that I'd scheduled my surgery and Mom and Dad said they would accompany me.

That encounter with Millie magnified, for me, a feeling I've had lately. I was further reminded of it when John, her husband, drove me to pick up a few things from the storage cubicle I rent. We were coming back through an industrial area that's was deserted, as it normally is on a Sunday. One of us mentioned that prostitutes frequented the area, which is not surprising. I recalled that during the first year I was living in the neighborhood--as Nick--I was approached on a couple of occasions.

When I said that, I felt as if I were looking at an old, fading photograph of that time, and those occasions. I could tell the most basic facts of the story: that I was approached by the streetwalkers. But I felt as if I were reciting some capsule summary, or an abstract of the narrative.

I recall now one of my professors at Rutgers who described his earliest teaching experience: in a military prep school. He said he taught some young men who would become some of the highest-ranking officers in the Navy. They would write summaries of various literary works, he said, and those summaries are probably all they remember of those works.

In other words, they didn't retain the poetry of the poems they read, or the human beings who are the characters of the novels and plays they were assigned. And the rhythms of the language were long lost, revivable only with a re-reading: something they would probably never do.

That is about as good an analogy I can come up with to describe how much of my previous life seems to me now. I can recall the facts, and I can even recollect some of what I felt. But--please indulge me this cliche--it seems almost as if another person lived through those experiences.

In some sense, it was a different person who lived my life--large parts of it, anyway-- until five years ago. I'm not the only one who thinks that, and I'm sure I'm not the first trans person to say something like that. But it's a disconcerting feeling. I sometimes feel as if Nick was a character I had to create for the sake of the story I was inserted into, and after he served his purpose, I dissolved him.

There came a time about three years into my new life when I mourned him. It didn't seem fair that he had to live parts of my life for me, and he couldn't partake of the happiness I'd found in living by my spirit.

Around the same time, something else began to make sense for me. I understood why I never really had any place to return to--no Garden, if you will. I have never been good about staying in touch with classmates, former co-workers or people I've known from one situation or another. Of course, some people I knew didn't want to remain in touch, or they or I said we would but didn't, for whatever reasons. And quite a few are dead now.

But even when I leave on good terms with supervisors, colleagues or anyone else, I never sustained the relationship. Somehow I always felt that nobody ever knew me, only Yeats' "tattered cloak upon a stick."

Even when I was with Mom and Dad last month, I didn't make any great effort to recall our pasts. It wasn't that being raised by them was so bad: In fact, given our circumstances (e.g., poverty, at least when I was a young child), they were very, very good. I think the fact that Mom and I have talked every week ever since I moved out, more than 30 years ago, says something.

Of course, there is much I wish I didn't have to recall, such as the molestations and other cruelties and violence I experienced--and inflicted. But neither Mom nor Dad was a cause or reason for any of that.

But even some of the more pleasant and recent memories are distant to me now. And, oddly enough, some of the experiences I had during my last couple of years before the transition. They all seem like part of some sort of fever-dream of which one can see only the shadow upon waking.

I haven't completely forgotten all of those episodes of my life. It's just that, at times, when I do talk about any but a few of them, I feel as if I'm relating someone else's experience, or a video of it.

In one way, this has all been good for me: When I'm around anyone who's known me for a long time, I don't try to settle into the past. Bruce and Millie are not simply people who've been in my life for a long time; they're good and kind people who enrich my life now. I say the same thing for Mom and Dad; there were memories in their house in Florida, though not of the kind that I'd have if, say, they'd remained in New Jersey or Brooklyn. But what matters is that they are caring and generous people, and are with me as I am giving birth to my self.

Of course! No one who has ever given birth, by whatever means or in whatever sense, is the same person he or she was before his or her progeny entered the world. Of course Mom would understand something like that; I think even Dad has an inkling of it.

And it also makes sense that my two ex-friends are, well, ex: For them, there is only the past, or at the part of my past which they've expereinced. Same for my brother who's not speaking for me.

The past is what they think they have. All I have, all anyone has, is the moment. It's the only point in time in which anyone can live. For me, that's a relief, really: It makes things easier for me.