Stranger, when you look at me
Eyes strong as steel
Light as day
Born a mystery
You're the in between
Boy or girl
a Tales of Us story...
Reset…. At the Rowan home, Essex Fells, New Jersey…
The last of the embers glowed in the fireplace. Carol looked over at her sleeping husband and shook her head; wondering just what she had gotten herself into. Only six months past their first anniversary and a soul-baring conversation that threatened at first to destroy their marriage. She had been impressed somehow that John was quiet and reserved, from what she remembered about their first meeting. He wasn’t quite the man her mother had hoped for, but he was dependable and kind. Wasn’t that enough? So much of what she recalled seemed to be blurred by the present confusion. And that was just the beginning. She sighed and recalled the talk to end all talks....
”Carol?” He had said softly; too softly, she thought since it sounded just like one of those collection of kind words that usually lead up to a letdown. He didn’t disappoint with the first few words.
“I’m….I’ve….” He started with a stammer. She walked into the living room and found a nervous looking woman sitting by the hearth; her legs easing the wooden rocking chair into a slight sway.
“Excuse me?” Carol said with a soft laugh. What the woman anticipated would be a shocking surprise was neither shocking nor surprising. Carol placed her hands at the sides of her face, feigning both.
“John? Is that you? OH MY GOD, she exclaimed even as she shook her head; her grin growing wider as she walked up to her husband. He was wearing her white robe and a pair of black pajamas she didn’t recognize. His longish hair was pulled back into a very unfamiliar bun.
“John?” she said softer; a welcome which did little to put him at ease. She touched his arm; evoking a wince. He pulled back and covered his face with his left hand; his right balled into a fist that slammed repeatedly against his hip in punishment. She had only seen that gesture once before; once had indeed been enough as he hit himself repeatedly when he talked about his relationship with his father. Words like ‘stupid’ and even ‘waste of time.’ Whatever was going to follow now wasn’t good.
“John…shhhhh…..it’s okay,” she said quietly with absolutely no conviction that it was okay. She could only hope, but whatever he was going to share was bound to be bad. He shook his head and spoke haltingly.
“I’m so sorry. I have to….you need ….we….” The preamble to the letdown was already going to be hard; what was left had to be…. She couldn’t put a word to it for fear that it would come true. She just kept her eyes intently on him as he struggled to speak.
“We should never have….I’m so sorry.” He repeated. Should never have what? What did they do that they needed to walk back or abandon? Only one. Her eyes widened in fear and even shame over something yet to be revealed about a lack or even a presence that she held. He bit his lip and began to cry, but not so much that he didn’t notice her fear.
“No, Carol. Me. Not you.” That mantra that was the worst thing anyone could tell someone they said they had loved. But he continued; clarifying and confusing at the same time.
“I am so…. You never deserved this. It’s not your fault.” He continued to cry; words escaping slowly between gasps and sobs.
“I’m ….I…” He looked down at himself and shook his head. She stepped closer and held him tight; a gesture that proved only briefly futile as he continued to weep. But with the hug came assurance.
“Nothing you can tell me can change a thing between us.” She was wrong, but in a good way. Things were about to change forever.
“I’m…. you’re not….I should have said something….I thought things would change,” he continued to stammer.
“What would change….what had to change?”
He pulled his shirt up, revealing a dark blue satin bra. She pulled back in feigned shock, but quickly recovered. As if the lingerie somehow was more of a surprise than the outfit he wore.
“Things have changed, John.” She stepped close and kissed his cheek and then pulled him into an awkward hug.
“I knew you were different when I married you, honey. I don’t understand this, but I said nothing can change a thing between us. Okay?”
At home with the Rowans, back in the present….
“You knew I was different when you married me, too!“ Carol laughed as she ran the rattail comb through John’s hair. She tilted her head a little and scrunched her face in concentration.
“Yep…. wavy definitely works for you, dear,” she said with a soft laugh. She grabbed his head and gently ran her hands under his collar, pulling out what was now approximating tresses. He went to turn around.
“I’ll go move in with my brother, “ he said as he cast his gaze downward once again.
”No. You can’t just bring someone new into the home and then expect me to wave goodbye to you both. I told you. Things are going to change.” She reached around and tugged at his shirt; pulling it out from his body enough to peek at the latest addition to his wardrobe; a Claret padded satin bra.
“See?” she said, pulling open her blouse to reveal the same garment in Jade.”
“We match,” she continued as she returned her attention to John’s hair. His face began the slow and painful process of turning the same colors as their lingerie. He wasn’t embarrassed, but ashamed.
“If we are going to learn how to cope with two women in the home, it’s probably a good idea if one of them isn’t still hiding in the closet, sweetie.” She walked around again and stood in front of him. He put his head down, but a moment later felt her hand lift his chin gently.
“I don’t know what you are, John, but I know who you are.”
“If……you know….” His face grew darker.
“I know how my mother feels about stuff like this,” she said as she patted his chest softly.
“But I’m the one who loves you. And we’re in this together no matter how screwy it may feel.” She shook her head as he lowered his once more.
“No….you know what I mean? It’s not every day a barely-married wife learns that she’s not the only bride in the household. I haven’t stopped loving you. That will never happen. And I still like you.”
“I don’t understand..”
“Unconditional love, babe. It’s what makes the world go round. But two people in love should like each other as well. You know? Like… I find your taste in clothes… appealing. Not quite what I would have expected, but then I get all my info from TMZ and US Weekly, you know. I didn’t know …Oh hell, I don’t much like wearing a dress around the house, so why the hell would I think you would except for what I see on television.” She stepped back and surveyed his clothing.
The shirt was really more like a man’s polo shirt but for the buttons on the left; almost a charcoal grey that was open enough to reveal the top of the bra. She glanced at her own shirt which matched save for the color; mint green. And they both wore khaki slacks and pink sketchers.
“I just want you to feel at home…our home, John.” She smiled and titled her head one last time to review her handiwork; tapping the comb on her cheek while uttering the obligatory ‘hmmmm.’ The blush in his cheeks was softened by the tears that streamed freely. She leaned close and put her lips to his left ear.
“No more shame, John. Okay?” She kissed his cheek and stepped back; pulling him to his feet.
“I’ve got a new recipe for mac and cheese I saw on the Sandra Lee’s web page. And since you’re the cook in the house, I figured you might like to try it out for our first meal together?” She grabbed his right hand and led him into the kitchen.
“Here…. Let’s start this off right?” She pulled open the fridge and grabbed two bottles of Pumpkin Ale.
“To the women of Rowan Place, yes?” She clinked her bottle against his and took a swig. He took a sip and placed the bottle on the counter.
“I can’t” he said, shaking his head. He went to turn but she grabbed both of his hands in hers and pulled him close.
“No running away, John. It’s not good to give up when you’re so close….” She looked at him up and down.
“Nobody needs to know for now, okay? But I know you. And now that everything finally makes sense, you won’t be stopping at this. And that’s okay.”
“This is not real,” she said as she put her hand under his shirt and grabbed his faux breast.
“But it doesn’t have to stay that way. You don’t have to stay this way. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, because whatever you do is just fine with me. I just don’t want to lose you to someone’s stupid ideas of who we should be. And you already knew I liked girls before we married. So now I get to like one girl in particular. Surprise, surprise!” She laughed. And then suddenly she began to cry.
“Do you know how much it hurt that you didn’t trust me? That you kept this secret all this time?” She shook her head as he went to hug her. She put her hand out.
“No…let me finish. I married you. Not someone else. Not something else. I married you. The only thing that’s changed is you’re standing here in our kitchen at 9:18 on a Thursday night and the worst thing I can think of is that I don’t know your fucking name!” She was laughing and crying at the same time.
“So the only condition you’ll ever get out of me from here on in, light of my life, is that I get to pick your new name, since you told me you didn’t even know what it was yourself…. How f….how sad is that? You were so afraid from God only knows when that you didn’t even have the strength…. “ Carol took another swig of ale and continued; cutting him off again.
“I’m almost done. My mother is a pain in the ass even if I love her dearly, but she loves you. And I’m so angry at what your father did to you…. To be so harsh…so fucking cruel. To kill the spirit in you. Well he’s dead and my mother is going to learn to like you just the way you are. So I get to pick the name...
Taken by the crowd a tide
It's there then gone do or die
Stranger, I dream of you and
Stranger, I will never know
“I’m sorry Carol. I never meant to hurt you.”
“Well, I know that!” Her sarcasm was tempered by her tears and the same loving smile she wore every day of their lives.
“NO MORE FUCKING SHAME!” She threw her bottle of ale blindly. It caromed off the cabinet by the stove and thunked against the back door.
Wilder, than I've known before
Fire rushes through
With a smile that sings
You'll be killing me tenderly
“You are mine….I don’t know what to call you. I still haven’t even figured out how that all works, but I know you and who you are. I have never met a kinder, more caring soul. You’ve helped me become more complete just by loving me. Now I get to return the favor. So….”
She stepped back and looked at him; shaking like a leaf. Another time and place would have earned him the title ‘milquetoast,’ but there wasn’t a ‘him’ to label
“Jean or Jeannie… all that makes sense since Johnis a gift… to me…. To my mother? Hell, even to your mom though I don’t think she’s ready for the gift wrapping. But John…Jean? Too predictable. What goes with Rowan…. Something that suits you?”
Carol’s spouse was about to get a name, but it really wasn’t Carol’s idea. She smiled.
“You’re a blessing to me…from heaven, honey. Anna… Anna Rowan. Here and now for sure. And out there?” Carol waved at the back door.
“Someday? It’s all up to us. You to make the decision and I’ll love you no matter what. No more shame. No more fear.” She smiled. Anna’s timidity was only a bit stuck, and the gentle encouragement from who was now one of two brides began to pull her into a tentative if growing self-acceptance. Carol grabbed the hand mirror off the kitchen table and held it up.
“Tonight, it’s mac and cheese and that bottle of merlot on the counter there. After that?” Carol grinned and Anna almost slunk back nervously.
“No, silly. I meant maybe Jupiter Ascending on Demand…. Maybe after that? It’s Thursday and I already called in for tomorrow. We can do all the things you say you read about.”
“Sh….shopping?” Anna blushed.
“No, honey. Talking and grooming the dog and maybe call your therapist for an extra appointment next week where we can talk? And before you say it, yes, I know it’s not about the clothes. Although I’d love to see you in something in an emerald green?” Anna winced again.
“Emerald green cardigan over a nice ecru blouse with that calf length charcoal grey gauze skirt of mine? Maybe matching outfits. We could sit on the porch and drink wine and laugh at everyone and mess with their heads when they walk by?” Carol laughed.
Anna backed away once again and Carol matched her move and upped the ante by stepping even closer; drawing her she-husband into a hug. She kissed the newest member of the Rowan household on the cheek and whispered softly in her ear....
“Welcome home, stranger.”
Every word is soft as fur
I'm drifting deep deeper in
Stranger, will you remember
Stranger, make me remember you
Words and Music by Alison Goldfrapp and Will Gregory.
As performed by Alison Goldfrapp
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