21 March 2009

The Lie of Spring

Yesterday was the first official day of Spring. And it snowed early in the morning. Today was sunny but still chilly. In other years, this date is the first date of Spring.

And so it was in two years in particular I'm thinking of. They were the year I turned eight and the year I turned sixteen. On the 21st of March in 1966--My mother and I were talking about this last week--her father died. He would have turned 72 years old that day.

His is the first death I can recall. A few weeks after that day, I was to make my First Holy Communion, which he wanted so much to see. That's always a big deal in any Catholic family; it's even more so when the child or grandchild is the first in the family, as I was.

I still underwent my intitation to what some consider the most elemental of all of the sacraments. The only difference was that my mother and grandmother didn't have the party they were planning for me. I didn't know they were planning it until much later, so I didn't know what I'd missed. That means, of course, that I didn't miss it.

My grandfather and I spent lots of time together until he became too sick to take me to the park or on train rides to Coney Island and other places. I wonder now if my relationship with him would have been different had I been living as a girl. For that matter, I wonder how my relationship with my grandmother, who died when Iwas 24, would have been. She and I were also very close. Probably the only person who knew me better was my mother. For a long time, they were really the only people who knew me at all.

What would it have been like to be grandpa's granddaughter? He had two others: my cousins Theresa Anne, who turned three the year he died, and Sandra, who turned two. I never saw him with them, but I'm sure that if nothing else, he was very loving. So I guess that's the way he would have been with me, though in a different way. How, I don't know.

All I know is that he died on this date, which was the first day of spring that year. It was also the first day of spring when my other grandfather died in 1974, during my sophomore year of high school. My father did not have siblings, so my brothers and I were the only grandchildren he had. Seeing the way he treated my other grandmother, and other women (including my mother), I'm not so sure I would have wanted to be his granddaughter.

Hmm...Maybe I could've been my maternal grandfather's granddaughter and my paternal grandfather's grandson. What did I just say?

How would things have been different? I can't say. All I know are the things that are different now. As I've mentioned, there are people who were once in my life but who no longer are, for all sorts of reasons, some of which were voluntary. And there are others who are with me now and whom I never could have imagined.

Then there are relationships that have changed in obvious and subtle ways. I think now of Bruce, with whom I have my longest-standing friendship. The only people in my life now who've known me longer than he has are related to me. He's never been a physically demonstrative person, but after we knew each other for a little while we were hugging each other whenever we met. People have told me I hug them like they've never been hugged before; I tell them I learned from the best!

But now I've noticed that he and I kiss whenever we meet. I don't know when this began, but I think it was some time not long after I started to live as Justine. I wouldn't say his kisses are romantic, nor do I expect them to be. But he kisses very tenderly, as one who honors my vulnerability. Is that how we would have been had I been living as a woman for all of those years?

Oh...Why am I asking "What if?" Now it's got me thinking again about Cori, who called me on the last night of her life to talk to me about her gender identity issues. It would be years before I would talk about my own with anyone, so I am still not sure of why she wanted to talk to me. But I did the best I could. She hung herself the following day, three days before Christmas. Remembering her as female is all I can, or will ever be able to, do for her.

The first poem I ever wrote that I can still stand to look at today was inspired by her. It's been published in a few places, under my male name. But, for better or worse, I wrote that poem. Yes, the person I am--much, much younger--wrote it. In case you're interested, here it is:

The Lies Of Spring

Last fall we walked
along the bank of this river.
Somebody warned you
not to come here with me.

We saw our faces, calm and clear
on the surface of the water.
You leaped and disappeared
into the mud below.
I stood, blinded, in the twilight.

I did not jump
because you told me
the water’s very cold.

Today I walk alone
on this weathered shore.
A single lily pokes through
mud that is your bones.

You once told me: This flower
Is the first sign of spring.

--4 September 1985

I know: It's flawed in all sorts of ways. But I cannot change it, of course: I had to write, at that time in my life, the poem as you see it now. Although I, my true self, wrote that poem, I have changed in other ways since I wrote it, so the person I am now could not have written it. And so I cannot edit it. Here it is, and here I am.