by Michelle Wilder
A brave man once requested me
to answer questions that are key
'is it to be or not to be'
and I replied 'oh why ask me?'
(Suicide is Painless by Johnny Mandel)
I posed and looked in the hall mirror, after hours of planning, fretting and work: finally ready.
Staring back at me, her... no: ~his~ expression gradually darkening, was a travesty, a freak, a man in an ugly dress. A fool.
It was a stylish dress, from a stylish catalogue, but it looked wrong. On the hangar, on the printed page, it had been beautiful. On me, it looked like a joke. Ugly. I made it ugly.
The club was having a social evening at a member's house, come en femme, all safe, all supportive, and I couldn't go... like this. I'd be a laughingstock.
It hurt to pull the wig off... it pulled at the pins with which I'd carefully secured it, and it stabbed at my heart, sharp, cutting pain. The figure in my vanity mirror turned clownish, tragic, like the crying clown in the opera, all the makeup jarringly out of place.
What a stupid, cruel name for that ugly mirror... vanity....
I couldn't answer the phone and lie to Shelly. I knew it would be her, worried that I was late, then, an hour later, not going... but I couldn't lie, and I couldn't tell her the truth.
The cycle of four rings, answering service pickup, short ring.... four times. Five. Six. An hour of her worry, two hours... but she had guests, and they would have fun- were, and I would survive, even if I... I'd promised, no matter what, but I could remember the shaking in my voice at the thought of doing it.
She'd almost begged, and I had finally said I would go. I knew she worried about me.
I couldn't take off the beautiful lingerie, after all. The dress was carefully re-hung under it's plastic dust cover, still in a place of care, though I'd never wear it again. After brushing out my stupid, short hair, I chose my peach wrap to make myself decent and curled up with a romance novel I'd already read three times, the fire turned low. Soft rock whispered from the stereo.
The book was... wasn't what I wanted. I put it on the arm of the chair and stared at the flames instead.
An hour later, they hadn't changed. Neither had I. The book had fallen to the carpet and I hadn't even heard it, the wine softening my senses, making it easier.
I was a 35 year-old transgendered recluse. A transsexual without any... any change. So, a cross-dresser, wearing panties and camisoles each day under my suits, but afraid to step out the door in anything anyone could see. Flouncing around the house in dresses and skirts, but not even daring to go to a cross-dressers' club meeting in anything but menswear.
I was a coward. I lived out my bravery in imagined trysts with men I saw and liked, but never spoke to, or in the twice-removed lives of the heroines in my books. The bravest thing I had ever done in my whole, invisible life was to go to the Charade meeting a year ago. Since then, I had gone seven times and made some of the best friends of my life there, but I was too afraid to show my true self, my ~girl~ self to them. My ugly self.
If only I had started twenty years ago! If only I had had the courage then... to go to a support group, to tell ~anyone~! To change, before those damn hormones destroyed my face, my hands, my body... before all this hair, the balding....
The fire was warm, the only warm thing in my whole, damn, ugly, hateful house and life....
The hammering turned into a pounding roar and I jerked out of a deep, drunken sleep, knocking my empty wine glass off the side table to bounce on the rug.
The sound stopped. I looked around... the dark, the flickering fire.... Suddenly there was a horrible, sharp bang, and broken glass, and the front hallway exploded in noise, voices....
I screamed... or thought I did, struggling to get up, out of the recliner, to see... to get away, horrors of rape and beating and....
Two firemen, and a policeman, and a... a paramedic? All of them crowded into my living room, a blast of cold, cold air following them, my robe billowing, no protection....
"Ma'am, are you alright? We rang and knocked... we had to break in...."
One of the firemen clomped over and clicked the fireplace off, while the other leaned down and turned on the corner table lamp. The ceiling light suddenly made the room bright. All of them looked at me. It was the paramedic, the ambulance man, who stepped forward, close, looking into my eyes, like there was something there.
"Are you, Ms Simms? Laura Simms? We got a call from your friend, John Kelso. He said he was worried about you and couldn't reach you. We tried calling and your phone has been off the hook all night, did you know that? How much have you had to drink? Have you had anything other than wine?"
I looked over to my phone, as the policeman lifted it back into it's place.... I couldn't stand the calls, or maybe not answering them. How late was it? He picked up my wine glass, too... the bottle was there....
"Have you taken any drugs tonight, Ma'am? Are you on any prescriptions?"
I looked at him, the paramedic, he was close... I shook my head, no... no again.
"Mr. Kelso said that you've been depressed lately, is that so? Do you need to sit down, ma'am?" He was too close, but I... he took my elbow and steered me over to the couch, out of the draft, I guess....
He knelt as I sat and kept looking at my eyes, then my whole face. Something in his expression changed. My whole chest went cold.
I suddenly realized that I was... what I was wearing, what my face looked like, what... he- what they all saw.
The firemen turned on the fireplace again. The paramedic turned away, still on one knee.
"I'm calling it a false alarm, guys. What say you head back and I'll do the report and some checks and follow... could you tell Garrick to leave the truck running and come in? Thanks, Len, but no taxi duty tonight."
He sounded so matter-of-fact. So normal. And I know he knew.
Amid "sorry..." and "I'll see what we can do about your door," and "... sure your insurance will cover this, just..." and the noise of three men leaving, the tinkle of glass shuffled on tile, and loud banging at my door, a- a drill... and a called "It's secure, ma'am, but double-lock it from the inside..." they left.
A small woman came in instead. Well, a shorter woman. She was dressed like the paramedic man and had two huge tool boxes, or kits, or something.... But she was busy carrying them, they barely fit through the hall. She barely looked up, just....
"Evening, ma'am, sorry about the mess, but you know, and what's this about, Smith?" She put the cases down on the small area rug and looked at us. "Why'd you send Len and the roller away? You know the poliss... uh...."
She stared at my face. Then darted a look at Smith, the man. Then stared again. Then at what I was wearing. Then at my face again. Then at Smith.
If I hadn't been sitting, cold, and living my nightmare, I would have... I couldn't do anything. The lady, the woman paramedic, stared some more, then looked just at Smith with the ~weirdest~ expression.
"Jesus. That's what she meant...."
"Yes. Now sit down and don't make the lady's furniture dirty." Smith, the man, turned back to me, still on one knee. He looked worried, but not... freaked?
"Ma'am, I can only guess what you're thinking, but I have to ask you a few questions, and I want you to be honest with me, it's important...."
Suicide. I remembered that the policeman had walked around, into my kitchen, into my bathroom, my... closets.... Looking for pills, razors? Looking at the crazy man's house. Look at her dirty things. He'd smelled my wine glass. The policeman had smelled it when he....
I answered, my eyes closed, shivering despite the warm fire.
Shelly thought I was in trouble, going to hurt myself, after the last call. After last night. I'd said it might be better being dead than a freak, like me... so ugly. That anything was better. They said they had to take that seriously... the paramedics. Smith and Garrick said.
And tonight, I'd... I'd more than worried her. My friend. Him. John and Shelly.
And so now there were the two paramedic people, in my house, after the firemen and.... They were both looking at me, still.
"Sure we shouldn't call Tom back?" The lady, Garrick, was looking at me like I was a problem. Like a trip to the psych ward. Like a cross-dressed freak. But she was more like just worried, when I looked more.
"I... no! I'm okay, I was asleep, and I didn't hear-"
"Ma'am. Calm down, please." The man wasn't, whatever... worried or something. Or anything. He was still right there, on his knee, watching. Me.
"We aren't here to make you trouble, we're here because we got a call saying your friend was worried about you, and your phone was off the hook, and the only light we could see was the fire, and you didn't answer the doorbell or our knocking." He rocked sideways and sat back, on both heels.
"Now... nothing bad is gonna happen."
He stopped, like that was... was something that... like them, him and her and the police and... like them ~all~... here... wasn't bad! Like they couldn't see me! Like my life wasn't ruined, like they wouldn't all be telling dirty jokes about me tomorrow... already....
Like my stupid, ugly, cowardly, shitty... life... wasn't over.
"None of them saw a man, you know."
I swung back from a long way away. He was looking at me, right in the eyes.
"The firemen and the police. They're writing up a call-response to a lady's house, false alarm, no emergency. They're just glad you were okay."
I stared at him, and at the woman.
"It's a nice little house. They'll be talking about your fireplace mantle in the truck, and the oak trim. They see a lot of houses."
He was talking like it was just... just normal, but he was looking right in my eyes, when I could get the courage to look at him, for the tiniest seconds.
He wasn't... he wasn't what I'd... what my worst thoughts had always been. Hatred. There wasn't any. I peeked.
The lady was watching, but him, more. She just looked confused.
He turned around, just his shoulders, his hands comfortably on his legs. "Just a sec, okay?" He turned back.
"Miss? Is it okay if we sit down? I promise Garrick isn't as dirty as she looks and you can put any cleaning on the insurance claim for the door." He smiled like that was an old joke.
I guess I nodded, or looked like I might, but he leaned himself back an inch and stood up with a little grunt. Then he sat on the couch, my couch, beside me, almost... half way away.
I almost freaked again. He looked like he could see that.
"Ummm... Sue, can I talk to Ms Simms alone for a minute? Miss? Would it be okay if my partner goes in your kitchen? I can't be alone with you, policy, but she won't hear, there, that way?"
He looked something at Sue, his partner. Sue Garrick. She looked serious and then nodded and just stood up and headed that way, through my dining room. She touched my china cabinet as she passed it.
"Miss? Laura? Can I call you that?"
I seemed to be doing everything too slowly, or one at a time. I turned back to the man. He was still there. Smiling, almost.
"I wanted to talk to you alone because I have a pretty good idea about what you might be feeling right now...."
My face must have been expressive. He grinned.
"I know, what could I possibly, ever understand about what you're feeling? Well...." He grinned some more. Wider. "I think I have... a certain ~perspective~." He leaned a little closer, just an inch, and lowered his voice.
"Ms Laura, I'm a transsexual." He switched to a small smile. "In a year, maybe two, I'm planning to be where you are now, and it's still scary now when I go out, I'm still not used to it, to the way people are different, relate differently, and I think my voice is way too low...."
He looked up from where he'd been looking, at my neck, I think.
"But my friends and wife say I look and sound okay, and they're the objective ones, so what can I say...?"
He was a pretty big man, or tall, and had a light beard, the shadow... laser? ... and his voice was nice, a tenor, and soft, but he was talking softly, of course....
"Un hunh." He nodded, grinning. "Like my shrink says, we're everywhere."
It was so close to a joke, and... so impossible. A fireman... a paramedic rescuer who was a transsexual, came through my front door, broke it down or something, or got the bigger firemen to.... And he....
"Everywhere?" I must have sounded drugged. He just smiled more.
"Well, not ~every~where, but more than I used to think. Not all switching, but lots of trans people. It's kind of neat to be on the street and see someone and just ~know~."
I looked back at the movement and it was Sue, Sue Garrick, coming back with a couple of mugs.
"I figured you were gonna be a while and I can't stand to just sit, so I hope it's okay but the mix was right on the counter and... it's just hot chocolate, Smith."
I nodded or something and she put the mugs on the coasters on the coffee table, and then slid them closer to us. Then she walked back to the kitchen. My kitchen.
I watched, to see if she'd come back with her own, but she stayed there, out of sight. Smith, Mr. Smith, leaned forward and took the mug closest to him.
"Mmm...." He took a sip. "Thank you, Sue!" He turned more to me.
"Thank you too, Ms Simms. I never seem to warm up from getting in and out of the van...."
We both sipped and warmed and Dan Smith hummed appreciation every time he did. Sip.
"Mr. Smith...." I didn't know how to talk to a stranger, even one who'd sort of rescued me, from my rescuers, because that's what he'd done, really....
"Please, call me Dan? Sue calls me Smith, but that's just her."
He put the mug back down, after having cuddled it the whole time. He drank as if he liked more than the taste, maybe the feel of it, the mug, the warmth, the aroma. He seemed to appreciate everything about it. He even looked at the empty mug on the coaster on the table like it was something pretty. Then he looked at me and smiled.
"That hit the spot. Thanks again." He settled back a bit and shifted to business again. Me business.
"Ms Simms... your friend, John, he said you'd been very depressed lately, and I can't claim to be an expert, but he said he was worried for your safety." He looked in my eyes. "Are you? Is it something about... gender, issues?"
He wasn't a shrink, that was for sure. Mine, the four I'd gone through, had seemed to be almost afraid of even saying "gender"... except my last one, a month ago, Dr. Carlson, who, during my single appointment, had said whatever she wanted, most of it bigoted and wrong. While she told me I was "just gay, and coping by reversing the equation."
I'd waited five months for a referral to her.
And the group. They were all cross-dressers, but none of them were transsexual, though Shelly said they sometimes got calls.
The counselors had taken two years, and I still hadn't found one. I needed one for a real life test. I needed to... I felt like each month, each year, was like a fuse... burning, wasting my life, as my... God... damn ~testosterone~ made me a monster.
And I'd started too late... so late.... All the damage done.
I would always, even if I... ever could change... I'd be ugly, never have a girlhood, school, a young life, love....
I would never be pretty, not even a single day... in my whole life.
I looked up at... Dan. Tried to smile, make him feel safer about me. About leaving me. Taking Sue and their big cases and leaving through my broken front door.
So I could sit in my pretty living room, in front of my beautiful fireplace, surrounded by furniture I had loved. In my home.
Maybe they ~had~ rescued me....
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