By Andrea Lena DiMaggio
Thus far: Three women, practitioners of Draoidheil, the old arts, have joined with a young man to help his sister in time of need. The three women have assumed the form of mortals to influence one person each who will in turn provide the girl with hope. The brother has undergone a change of heart, and will also gain a change of form, of sorts, to help his brother .....his sister gain the understanding and acceptance needed to make a vital change in her life.
Orla took a deep breath and walked into the classroom. She was wearing black jeans and a black tee-shirt with the words "Too Sad" written on the front. She had lost her accent for the day, assuming an amalgam of New York-New Jersey and a slight lisp. Her hair was jet black save for a white streak back to front and just a little off center. Her ears featured three studs each plus a loop, and her nose was decorated with a faux diamond stud as well. Not a bad approximation of a teenage girl, considering her birth pre-dated the American Revolution.
"Hey," she said quietly as she sat down. The desks were all pushed aside and about fourteen or fifteen chairs were arrayed in a circle. There were only about seven or eight teens, all girls sitting around talking. She noted that at least five of the girls were in fact, boys, if biologically. The Teen TG group (it would hardly do to call a support group a club) met every Wednesday during lunch period, more owing to transportation and consideration for privacy. Never the less, the usual parade of traffic promised at least one or two taunts and a bang on the door during their meeting. Orla sat down next to another girl clad similarly as her, sans the dyed hair.
"My name is Fay," I just transferred from Trenton..." She paused and blinked out some tears. They were real; they always were. Orla was passionate at what she did, not because of the task at hand, but because of the needs of the mortals she was assigned to. She continued.
"I just broke up with my boyfriend." She started to cry, imagining every girl like her and the one next to her and the sadness and helplessness they felt.
"I'm Chelsea....I'm sorry, but are you sure you're in the right place? This is the TG Support group."
"Oh...yeah, I'm sure. My boyfriend is transitioning and he...well she's not..." She started to sob, provoking Chelsea to lean over and hug her while patting her back in support.
"I know it's what's best. My mom always said (Orla's own mother was over seven hundred years old, but would have likely said the same thing) if you love somebody… really love them…then you have to be able to let them go."
Chelsea continued to rub Fay's back even as she thought of what her own mother said that morning"
"Chelsea, sweetie, can you make sure the last load gets into the dryer when you come home. I've got a quick meeting to run out to, and I'll try to have it done before I leave, but be a dear and take care of that if they're not done?" Her mother walked over and kissed her as she got up to grab her books off the counter.
"Honey, I know this is hard, but Paddy has to do what....she's got to do."
"Mom...I...he...she's been my best friend since kindergarten...we..." Chelsea started to cry, her disappointment overwhelming her. She had dreamed of marrying and having lots of children. It was like The Jungle book; she was like Kitty and Paddy was like Mowgli; she'd loved him since they were little, and now all her dreams were slipping away as Paddy was finding his...her true self. And it hurt, too much almost to bear, like someone you love had just died. And in a sense, there were two deaths, both with promise and hope, if only Chelsea could see them. Paddy was gone, almost a ghost of Chelsea's past, replaced by a girl who still remained her best friend. And her dreams and hopes for the life they would lead had died as well, but the resurrection had yet to take place.
"Honey, I know this hurts so bad, like it will never end. I still cry when I think of all the wonderful times your Daddy and I had before he died and I miss him so. Paddy still is your friend, and you know that will never change, no matter what happens. But Paddy needs to know you support her. This is such a difficult time for her and she needs to know her best friend is still her best friend." Her mother pulled her into a hug, kissing her cheeks and eyes.
"If you truly love someone, really love them...then you must love them enough to let go when the time comes. I'm sorry, baby, but that's the way it works. If you won't let go...if you must have them at all costs...it's more like you loving that they love you than you really loving them. I know this feels like it will never end, but it will.
A horn honked, telling Chelsea her ride was outside. She kissed her mom once before grabbing her books again. She paused before walking out the door.
"Mom," she said, wiping her tears with her sleeve, "when does the crying stop...when will I stop hurting...when will I stop loving ...her?"
"You will stop crying…as hard and eventually the tears will be more out of sweetness than sadness, but the love will never end, if it's the kind I know you have inside of you. Let's forget about my meeting; I'll ask Trish to fill in for me; let's have dinner out, and we can talk some more when you get home, okay?"
Chelsea ran out the door. Her mother stood there for a moment, blinked out her own tears and said a silent prayer before tackling the morning dishes.
"Jimmy and I had been together (Orla had gotten down tri-state-speak, and it sounded more like tageddah) for three years. So he comes to me and sez I gotta secret I need to tell you.' She was half-smiling through the tears...the story was real, she had helped another girl just like "Fay" a few years ago.
"Anyway, he tells me he thinks he's a girl...can you believe that? Well, I couldn't at foist, but I sorta knew somethin' was up...but imagine how fucking surprised I was. I just didn't want to believe it.
I had plans an' everything...A big wedding at St. Margaret's...the big reception...I had a dress picked out and everything, and we was only eighteen!" She started to tear up again, mimicking the same response she had from the other girl years before.
"And me thinkin' we was gonna get married, but now it's Fay and Tiffany...well, that ain't workin' for me no how. But you know, after it all, I still love…her...oh not like that, not that there's anything wrong with that. She's still my best friend and we do stuff tageddah...did stuff until my dad got a job here and she and her mom moved to Chicago to take care of her grandma." Orla's tears began to slowly subside, replaced with a faint smile. Much as the girl she helped years ago had been able to let go, Orla wanted to help Chelsea do the same.
"How about you, you don't look anything like a guy or a girl who wants to be a guy?" She wasn't trying to be crude, just be realistic enough to evoke a real answer from Chelsea.
"My boyfriend...my friend is transitioning, and I wanted to support her..." She paused and blinked out a few tears of her own and blurted out,
"Was it hard? Did it hurt so bad you wanted to puke sometimes? I haven't stopped crying since he said he wanted to be a girl."
"Honey...I still love her to death like a sister, but I haven't stopped crying myself. But now, sometimes, maybe a lot of the time, I cry for happy, like my grandma used to say, cause the one person I love more than any other besides my mom and dad is happy...I guess that makes me happy too."
Dan sat at his desk, feeling more uncomfortable than he ever had in his entire life. He wondered, even as he looked across his desk at Fiona, who was smiling with that kind of smile that says, "You're not fooling me, so don't bother to try." How could he...she have known. He hadn't dressed in years, and the only one who knew about his femme self was his counselor, and she surely would never have said anything.
"So I suppose you want to know how I knew that?" Again, her brogue deepened, both in timber and intensity, and it sounded more like "Oy knew dat?"
"I don't know what you're talking about...." He tried...he really tried, but he felt defeated even as the words left his mouth.
"You are transgender, my dear man, and there's no point in denying it. How much good has it caused you for you to keep this secret. Do you feel any better about it? Do you feel any more secure or safe holding it in?" Fiona smiled a half-smile and her eyes indicated she wanted him to know, more than for him to answer her.
"I...I..." Here in his office, sitting in front of a stranger, Dan felt his anxiety diminish somewhat, eased by the accepting smile and the presence of tears in Fiona's eyes. He had become so settled and safe that he completely lost sight of the fact that Fiona never told him how she knew.
He almost felt as understood as if he were sitting in his counselor's office. He tried to speak, but the words wouldn't come. He began to cry, prompting Fiona to get up and close the office door, thankful that no one was in earshot of their conversation. She meant to encourage him, not embarrass or shame him.
"Listen, lad, just for a moment." Fiona reached over and held his hand, an odd scene for anyone else to behold, but a touching and tender moment rarely shared between two men (Of course, Fiona had gone all the way, so to speak in her disguise, not just for appearance sake, but to understand his pain and insecurity)
"I've been married for sixteen years to the same woman...the one I would trust with my very life. We've been through everything you could imagine” Like her sister Orla had with Chelsea earlier, Fiona had drawn on emotions and memories of a mortal she had helped in 1986, who had at that point held in the very same secret as Dan. And Fiona had been successful in helping that young man realize the same thing she was about to tell Dan.
"I know that counselors are helpful and all, but they can only go so far. It's wonderful that someone with flesh and blood understands you the way she does. But don't you owe it to yourself and your wife to trust that love between you? You've been married, I'd guess, maybe fourteen or fifteen years, judging by how old you look." Fiona knew that Dan was exactly thirty-eight and had been married fourteen years, making him and Trudy twenty-four when they got married.
"I bet if you really looked past your own fear for a moment, you could close your eyes and see her smile through her tears...the same expression she had when you first married, yes?"
Dan hadn't meant to do it, but he reflexively closed his eyes, envisioning the same expression Fiona had just described. Trudy didn't worship the ground he walked on, thankfully, but at the end of the day, when it was time for bed, they both put aside the few problems they might have had, or remembered the good times of the day, and then fell asleep in each other's arms...every day, without fail for fourteen years, save for the occasional day or two for his business trip or her woman's retreat. His heart was filled with sadness mixed with joy as he remembered what Trudy had said on their wedding night,
"I love you, no matter what. I know you love me the same way...I was damaged goods when we met, and you waited until I got over my pain. You let me walk through my healing after the divorce without asking, without questioning my past, but I knew if I told you the things I had done you would have loved me just the same. No matter what, you can tell me anything...anything, and none of it will matter because I love you. If you can't tell me or there's nothing to tell, fine. But if you ever need me to listen, I'm your girl. I thank God for second chances, and you are my second chance. So no secrets, okay? I love you."
The precious meaning of that memory overwhelmed Dan with guilt and shame, not over his cross-dressing, but because he had failed to understand and accept and cherish the depth of Trudy's love for him. He had wasted so much energy and time over something he now understood was insignificant when set side by side with his wife's love for him. Fiona was glad that she had thought to shut the door, since even with the hallways empty for the moment; no one would have missed the sounds of the sobs coming from the office. Years of guilt and shame over his deception...yes, his deception, were replaced with a momentary feeling of regret and shame that would be erased with one act...confession.
What Fiona wanted Dan to know, and where the almost condemning deception, had hurt the most was in the lost time he had experienced with his wife. Dressing or not dressing weren't the issues. What was supremely sad was his mistrust of the greatest gift he had ever received; his wife's love. There would be no guarantees that she would accept his cross dressing. What Fiona knew...her faith was strong in relation to the character and integrity of 'her' mortals; was that Trudy would always accept and love Dan, no matter what. There was no reason to focus on being transgender or dressing or the future. The only thing important was what Dan had realized...Trudy loved him, unconditionally. She had proven that time after time throughout the years, and he needed to trust that love one more time, for both their sakes, no matter what happened.
In a gesture that might have seemed odd at another time, Fiona walked around the desk and stood behind Dan as he continued to weep. She leaned over and kissed his cheek softly, not like the centuries old woman she actually was, but the gentle man she pretended to be. And in a deep but soft brogue, she said.
"She loves you, Daniel Lambert...go tell her what she needs to hear and let her love do the rest, okay?"
The doorbell rang and Neddie ran to greet whoever stood on the other side of the door. Breena heard the barking from the back step, where she had just hung out some laundry. She put down the bag of clothes pins and walked slowly to the door, wondering who would be visiting on a Thursday afternoon. She opened the door and got the shock of her life. Standing in front of her, “plain as day,” was her sister Sinead, although she had gone by Janey since their teens.
“Well don’t just stand there, come in.” Breena said abruptly. She had lost almost all of her love for her sister, mostly due to the lack of care Janey had demonstrated for her sons. She gave Janey a quick hug, more like what you might do in church with a stranger than her own sister. The love that was lost had been replaced by intense anger and even a feeling of superiority. While she never told the boys, her description of her care for Janey’s sons always included, “you don’t know what I’ve had to deal with,” or “If you only knew, me bein’ single and all and tryin’ to raise two boys on my own.”
Standing behind Janey was an attractive middle-aged African-American woman, who was using her hand to guide Janey to a seat on the couch.
“I’m Esther Clarke, ma’am. I been takin’ care of your sistah, and she asked me to cum along wit her to help out,” she said in a decidedly Caribbean accent. Esther offered her hand, which Breena accepted with just a little anxiety and mistrust.
“I’ve come home, Breena…home to you and the boys.” Janey said almost apologetically.
“She still can’t bring herself to say ‘her’ boys.” Breena thought to herself. Janey didn’t say her boys because in the last two years of dealing with her illness, she had come to the wrong conclusion; that she didn’t deserve the blessing her children were.
“Now just remember wot we talked about, Miss Janey…You know how much you love your boys.”
This almost infuriated Breena; it was painful enough seeing her sister here at her home after no visit for years and no contact for months. But to have a stranger validate her sister’s neglect was too much. Breena had no idea that the woman standing by her sister’s side was Calleigh the Wise, helping provide Janey with what she needed to say, and that Breena was about to find out how much her sister actually loved her sons.
“I can fix up the guest room for you,” she said to Janey, “but I don’t have any room for you, Miss Clarke.
“I’m sorry, but I don’t tink you understand, Ma'am. Your sister is very sick, and I’m her nurse…for as long as it takes. I can sleep on da couch, if dat's okay?” Esther said, evoking another abrupt response from Breena.
“Well, no one called, how was I to know...It’s not like you communicate…” Breena had almost begun a tirade when Janey interrupted her.
“Breena…I’m dying.” She didn’t say it sadly, or in a matter-of- fact tone. She spoke of her own end with a smile on her face. “Pretty soon you won’t have to put up with me. Three maybe four weeks tops.” Her eyes were filled with tears, but not over her coming demise. She began to weep for all the lost years between her and Breena. Esther stepped closer and kissed Janey on her forehead and said,
“Dere, dere, Miss Janey, it’s going to be all right…you’ll see.” She in one moment had shown more hospitality to Janey than her own sister, which caused Breena’s cheeks to grow dark. But not out of a shame, but anger.
“She’s my sister, Miss!” She said, with the word Miss almost dismissive.” Calleigh prayed for wisdom and spoke, not harshly, but still as an advocate for Janey
“Den I suppose you should be actin’ like one instead of a stranger. Come over here and hug your sweet sister…come on…she’s not going to be around much longer and you’ll curse yourself for it later, I guarantee.” She grabbed Breena’s arm and literally pulled her over to where Janey sat.
“I’m sorry for everything, Bree…the missed birthdays…the report cards. God knows you’ve done as fine a job raising Mikey and Paddy as any mother ever could, but it wasn’t right for me to leave them here. Look what we’ve all lost. Please forgive me.” Janey began to weep, and buried her face in Esther’s dress.
“I…I don’t know what to say.” Like anyone else in her situation, Breena’s first inclination was to defend her attitude toward Janey, but the look in Esther’s eyes changed all that in an instant. Gone was the self-satisfied “put-out’ woman who acted the martyr most of the time, sadly on occasion in front of the boys. In her place stood a woman feeling so small as to be dwarfed by the two in front of her, both of whom were sitting down. She realized, perhaps supernaturally, or maybe it was a spiritual awakening, and she felt a debt of gratitude for having the privilege and trust of raising Mike and Paddy.
“I tink dat the best thing you could do is say, “I love you, you tink?” Calleigh was abrupt herself, but her soft accent felt more like an invitation than a command.
“Oh…yes….oh…I’m so sorry Janey….I’mm soo sorrrry,” Breena sobbed as she fell at her sister’s feet and placed her head in Janey’s lap, just like when they were younger. “I love you…oh….my God I am so sorry.” Decades of bitterness washed away as the sisters wept and hugged.” Esther/Calleigh cried as well, but filled with joy at the site of a reconciliation no one could have hoped for save for two boys who had prayed each night since they were little for this day to arrive.
Next: Hope Restored
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