24 June 2009

On Leaving, And An Open Letter to My Brother

My students had their final exam today. After they finished, I went to my office and began to read a few of them. The truth is, I didn't want to leave, at least not right away.

That exam was my last time in a classroom with students until my surgery. As they finished their exams, I watched each of the ones who remained. At one end of the room, to my left, sat Ayesha, a young Bangladeshi woman who has a very interesting outlook. Toward the front and center of the room was Cadnuel, a gentle Haitian man with whom I practice what remains of my French. To his left, Ange--the one whose husband picks her up and who, according to her, would accuse her of being a lesbian if he knew she were hanging out with a female prof. Behind her, at the back of the room, Sharon was finishing her essay. Like Ange, she has a conspiratorial sense of humor and a penetrating intelligence. And, at the right end of the room, by the windows that do not open onto the trucks and the drivers whose skills and cars aren't quite nimble enough to maneuver around them, tall, meticulously-dressed Glenna was getting ready to hand in her paper.

As each one of them left, I felt one step further removed--or, more precisely, one step closer to being on my way from--the past three weeks, the past few months, the past year, the past years, the years that are long past. I was yet another moment beyond that person my brother, Elizabeth, Jay (the male one) and Tammy believe I took away from them. I could not any more bring him back than I could even be the person who, in their minds, took him away or destroyed him. And I was yet another world from that angry young person who could not get rid of his rage, not through religion, through relationships (much less marriage), through abusing alcohol and drugs or foreswearing them, through pushing my body to its limits on the bike or in the gym--and for whom the appreciation of students and others and the love of friends and partners served as more fuel for that inferno of rage that I could just barely keep at bay.

I could feel those people--the ones I've been--leaving, just as my students were, although, of course, the circumstances and outcome were entirely different. Back in the day, I wanted to drive people away as soon as they came, by whatever means, into my life. I even warned people with whom I got in relationship that they were making a mistake: I would turn into an emotional werewolf, and there was nothing I could do about it. Just don't be here when it happens, I'd tell them.

And, now, tonight, I didn't want those students to leave. After they were gone, I didn't want to leave. After spending some time reading exams, I called my mother and father. I wanted to know how they were doing, and how the visit of my brother (the one who isn't speaking to me) is going.

My brother took Dad to his appointment with the doctor. Near the end of the day, they and my mother went to the boardwalk at Flagler Beach as a cool wind was starting to blow off the ocean. I would've liked to be there, because I grew to love that spot during my last two visits to Mom and Dad--and, of course, because I'd like to see my brother again--not to mention his kids.

I have not seen or spoken with him since I "came out." That was almost six years ago, just as I was about to begin my life as Justine. Although I knew it was unlikely to happen, I hoped I'd get a chance to talk with him, however briefly, when I called.

If we were to talk, I'd thank him for what he did for Dad--and Mom. Dad's condition has been wearing on Mom, anything that makes him better even for a moment restores her, even if only a little. I really am happy that he took them out. I know that's who he really is, not the person who cut off contact with me. That, of course, is the reason I want to talk to him again. I really don't care about the others who've tossed me aside. Between Elizabeth and Jay, they threw away more than forty years' worth of friendship with me. I've made other friends; perhaps one or more of them will give me so many years worth of companionship. But, at my age (or, more accurately, my parents' age), I don't think I'll get replacement siblings.

Can I tell you something, brother? I don't mean this disrespectfully to you, but I always wanted a sister who could love me in the way only a sister could. I think you'd like that. Really. I know we're different, but do you remember how, when you were a child, you used to confide to me what you wouldn't tell Mom, Dad or anyone else in the family--or to your teachers? Mom even said as much: that you listened to me, and I to you. Well, now you know why. You felt like a misfit, though for different reasons than I did. You knew I was different--not better, just not like other people--and that I understood.

You didn't want to be that misunderstood kid who couldn't help but to disappoint and get into trouble. So was I. But when you were young, you were more diffident and quieter than I was, so people assumed you weren't smart or that you weren't trying. I knew better, and defended you--not from the blows of other kids, but from the sarcasm and other jabs of adults.

And because you were the kind of brother you were, it was a little easier--though never easy--to be who I was, to become who I'd become. I think that, deep down, you understand that and know that I have always appreciated you for that.

Besides...Do you remember how happy your daughter and I used to be when we spent time together? The very last time we were together--that weekend I "came out" to you--your wife remarked on how much she liked to do things with me. And I know you love your kids--I can hardly think of any other man who loves his kids as much as you love yours!-- and like seeing them happy. I'm sure you give them lots of happiness. But why not allow someone in who can add to it?

To sum it all up: You're a fine brother and a good man. A very, very good man. I really hope that we'll see and talk with each other one day soon.

Soon I will no longer be, in some sense, the person you used to know, or even the one who "came out" to you. Maybe you will never again approve of what I am. That's all right. Think what you will of me. But at least think of me as your sister--or sibling--and your children's aunt, or whatever you want them to call me. Do they ask about me? What do you tell them?

All right. I am one step further from whatever answers you might've given them. Here I am now. You can catch me as I'm leaving or meet me when I return. For now, I've got some papers to read. But you can interrupt that, if you want to.

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