I couldn't believe we've let this place go so bad.
Three graduate students sharing a small campus apartment. Clothes strewn everywhere.
"Please help me pick this place up J.D.!" I shouted as I scrambled to pick things up. "She'll be here in an hour."
J.D., or Jessica Dianne Morgan, had been my friend since grade school. We got our bachelor's degrees from colleges across the country from one another and lost touch. That was until orientation a year ago. She was an up-and-coming law student, everybody's sweetheart. It was her idea to be roommates. It worked out pretty well, except we, and our other roommate, the usually missing Sarah Weisberg, and engineering student, were, to put it bluntly, slobs.
Which didn't bother us. I'm an archeology student. We all study all the time. And when we're not studying, we're usually tutoring. Or spending time with boyfriends, what limited time we had for them.
But now, I really wanted to get this place in some type of order.
"Where do you want this to go Liz?" J.D. said as she carried a load of books down the hall.
"Anywhere, anywhere," I said. "We just need to clean this place up a little before my mother gets here."
"I really can't believe she's coming," J.D. said. "How long has it been since you've seen her?"
"Not since Colleen's funeral," I said.
"Wow, nearly two years!" she said.
It had been a long two years. Taht was the last time I saw mom, well anybody in my family. Things didn't go too well. How would you like to be totally unwelcome at your own sister's funeral? If you hadn't figured things out by now, I am what one would call the black sheep of the family.
"So she called you right out of the blue?" J.D. asked. She was a bit nosy. I couldn't blame her. She knew things with my family hadn't been the same since I proudly announced shortly after my graduation from Ole Miss that their loving son and brother was going to become their loving daughter and sister.
Well that didn't go over too well. You could leave out the loving part. Shunned I was by everyone in my family except my grandmother Elizabeth and my sister Colleen. They were the only ones who visited me throughout my therapy sessions and treatments. My grandmother died before my operation, but Colleen was there to hold my hand at the clinic in Colorado.
It was all the strength I could muster to go to her funeral when she died from cancer, something she never knew she had until it was too late. I was kicked out of the funeral home and stood at a distance at the graveyard. That was the last I'd seen anyone in my family. I wrote letters to mom, but most got returned, except for maybe the last two.
The phone call announcing she was in Tuscaloosa, now that was a shock. Why was she here? She wasn't just in the neighborhood. Clara Staley doesn't just make a journey from Memphis by coincidence.
"Are you going to wear your ring?" J.D. asked.
I looked down at the engagement ring I'd been wearing since February, when Harry proposed. He was a medical student from UAB and a friend of Sarah's. Both of his parents were doctors. And did I mention they were of Indian descent? Oh, I can imagine Clara Staley's blood boiling...as if having a transgendered child wasn't enough.
We'd save that battle for another time.
"Sounds like she's here," J.D. said as we heard a knock on the door.
I looked through the peep hole. There she stood, looking like she'd stepped out of the movie "Steel Magnolias."
"Aren't you going to let your mother in?" she said as I opened the door.
"Come in mom," I said. "I have to admit, I'm a little surprised to see you."
"Does a mother need an excuse to come see her daughter?" she asked.
I looked at J.D. She had an amazed look on her face. She was as shocked as I was to hear the words daughter come out of my mother's mouth. Her folks new what my family thought of me.
"Why Jessica Dianne, what a pleasant surprise," mother said. "I know you're parents are happy to have you a little closer to home."
"Yeah, they weren't too thrilled when I was at Berkley," J.D. replied. "Sorry I can't stay and chat. I'm headed to the rec center to workout. Call me if you need me Liz."
"So they call you Liz now?" mom asked. "I knew you had taken your grandmother's name."
I nodded. I showed her around the small apartment before we found our way to the kitchen table and sat down.
"I must say they did good work," she said, and then explained she meant it as a compliment.
"How's dad?" I asked. I was at least interested in how the family was doing.
"He's still struggling with heart problems," she said. "He won't take his medicine or walk like he's supposed to."
She was right. Dad never really took care of himself.
"And Bob and Mike?" I asked. They were my brothers. Bob was the oldest and had a law practice in Memphis. He married into one of the wealthiest families in Memphis. Mike had just graduated from college.
"Mike's working at a brokerage firm in New York," mom said. "He likes big-city life, but I do worry about him. Mike, Ellie and the kids are doing fine."
I had two nieces and a nephew I'd never seen. They were kept at a distance at the funeral home and the graveyard.
"You know they would probably kill me if they knew I were here," she said.
"Well, why are you here?" I asked.
She at first said she really didn't know.
"You know, at first I blamed myself," she said. "If I didn't let you play with dolls, or if I didn't let you take ballet. Maybe you would have come out different."
"Oh come on mom," I said. "I played football. I played baseball."
I did lots of boys things. I tried to be the man that deep inside I knew I wasn't.
"I know, but a mother has to blame someone," she said. "Then I blamed you, hated you for what you've done to yourself, what you've done to your family."
What I've done to my family? They weren't the ones who'd been ostracized, shunned, spit at, you name.
"You think I wanted to choose this path?" I asked her.
"Elizabeth, I didn't come here to fight," she said.
I admitted I didn't want to fight, either. I actually told her I appreciated her calling me by my name, instead of the one given to me as a boy, Mark.
She admitted she had a hard time with that. She told me she mourned the loss of me as her son almost as much as she mourned Colleen's loss.
I couldn't help but wonder why this big change of heart. Then she pulled out a box with a necklace.
"It was wrapped when I found it in Colleen's apartment," she said. "She intended to give it to you as a birthday present."
She then pulled out a journal. I was stunned by its contents. Colleen chronicled my journey from her view point.
"I never knew the pain you went through," she said as she wept. She read aloud many of Colleen's entries of my frustrations, my triumphs...the times I confided in her. Her last entry came the day she entered the hospital for the last time.
"I hope mom realizes she has another daughter to comfort her, to share things with," were the last words Colleen wrote.
I have to admit, I was stunned, especially when mom admitted Colleen was right.
"I want to make things right, sweetie," she said as we hugged and cried. "You are the only daughter I have left."
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