17 May 2009


Today I talked with Mom, as I usually do on Sunday mornings. And I talked with Dad--I mean, really talked--as I've begun to do only recently.

I wish only that the circumstances were better. Mom sounded exhausted and unhappy when I called. My father is spiralling deeper into his depression, which is exacerbating the other illnesses he's suffering. He has no interest in anything--not in eating, not in reading, not in watching TV, or even my mother--or other women.

Talk about a cosmic bad joke: We should be worried that my father's eye isn't roving!

He berates himself for having been a "lousy" son, husband and father. I remind him that the past is exactly that. He can't do anything about what kind of son he might have been (which, I suspect, is better than he says, especially considering the father he had) and, frankly, I no longer care about what he did and didn't do for and with me thirty or forty years ago. I also remind him that he treated me well when I visited back in August and at Christmastime. And that we talk now. That's what matters to me.

However, today I gave him my sternest warning yet: He could kill my mother. Not with a gun or knife, of course. He is exhausting her in every way a person can; he could cause her emotional or physical collapse. Of the two, the latter is more likely. But, I said, if either happens, he's responsible. The one thing for which I would never forgive him is taking Mom away from me--and my brothers, nieces, nephews and other relatives.

I tried to assure Mom I am happy that she wants to go with me when I have my surgery, and that I would understand if she couldn't go. She was talking about that today. She said she told my brother not to expect her at my nephew's high school graduation in California next month. She didn't say the same thing about accompanying me to my surgery. I would love that she came with me, I said, but I care more about her well-being. I'd rather that she live a few more years than to destroy what she has left in trying to support me. I feel her support already; her physical presence would be the proverbial icing on the cake.

She gave birth to me. Whether or not she takes that trip to Trinidad with me, she'll be present as I give birth to my self. I hope she understands that.

At least she understands why I'm doing what I'm doing. A few other people do, too. And I'd like for more to understand: not for myself, but for others who are following or will follow a path like mine.

Sometimes the ones who understand are the ones you expected to. An example is one of my colleagues at work, who's a playwright. He was in the Tet Offensive and wears his love of sports and women on his sleeve. A regular guy, in other words.

But he spent a year talking to me about my transition before I brought in some old photos of myself. "All I have to do is look at these," he exclaimed, "to know why." I didn't even pick any extroadinary ones of me; just a few that were handy. "All I can see is sadness and anger in them, " he explained.

He also gave me an idea: An essay accompanied with those photographs, and some recent ones of me. I think I'll do it. The thing is, there's one photo I'd really like to use. In it, I have a long, thick, almost unruly beard, and I'm standing in front of a stone wall in the late autumn twilight. Actually, if I recall correctly, it was a rather mild day in winter, and part of the photo's autumnal quality comes from the way the earth tones of my flannel shirt echo and accentuate the hues of stone and shades of setting sun--as well as my reddish hair and beard.

I was about twenty-five years old; if I recall correctly, that photo was taken just a few weeks after Cori, a friend of mine, committed suicide. I spent the last night of her life with her: She'd called me, and hearing the distress in her voice, I dropped whatever I was doing and went to her place. I think she felt that I could help her with some resource I didn't even know I had--or, more precisely, was doing everything I can to realize I had.

You may have guessed what she told me: That her conflict was the same as mine. Of course, she didn't say that it was the same as mine; she expressed her feeling that she should have been born female. For most of that night she was holding on to me, literally--for her life, it seemed.

And I did not keep her from drowning. Or, more precisely, hanging herself, which is what she did the next day: three days before Christmas.

A week before that, my uncle Sonny died suddenly of a heart attack. And a little more than a year before that, my maternal grandmother, with whom I was closer than I was to any human being besides my mother, succumbed to one of the many ailments her diabetes and high blood pressure bred in her.

Anyway, the photo captures not only the pain, rage and sadness I was feeling. It also, I think, captured my status as an "outsider." It was almost as if the photographer were showing the hostility to the world that underlies the life of an Amish person, a Hasidic Jew, a Luddite or anyone else who isn't one of the "cool kids." And, of course, there is an echo of the world's hostility to which the outsider reacts, consciously or not.

I want to use that photo in the project my colleague suggested. However, the print I have of it is faded and otherwise not in very good condition. So I decided to get in touch with the man who took the photo. I hadn't talked to him in more than twenty years; I recall that we had a falling-out, but I don't recall why.

Although I'd guessed that some photofinisher could restore that photo or make a new copy of it, I thought it would be better if I could have a new print from the negative. That is, of course, if the photographer still had the negative. That is, of course, if he were still alive: When he took that photo, he was about the same age that I am now.

Turns out, Tom is alive and living in Florida. When I called him, he was entertaining guests. But he took the time to tell me that he probably didn't have the original negative, but that someone who's skilled with Photoshop could restore the photo for me.

I apologized for being out of touch and that we'd parted on such bad terms. "I don't remember why; it was so long ago. But I really want to hear more about you. Why don't you write me an e-mail. "

"I'll do that."

"If you'd like to tell me more about why you want the photo, please tell me."


This could be interesting, to say the least!