Paying It Forward
The banker reached into the folds of his gown, pulled out a single credit note. "But eat first - a full belly steadies the judgment. Do me the honor of accepting this as our welcome to the newcomer."
His pride said no; his stomach said YES! Don took it and said, "Uh, thanks! That's awfully kind of you. I'll pay it back, first chance."
"Instead, pay it forward to some other brother who needs it."
-Robert A Heinlein, Between Planets
Chapter 7 - Tamar Is Here To Stay
The final day of classes came at last and Tamar and Karen ceremoniously bagged up Timothy's clothing to be donated to the Goodwill. The following morning Karen took her to the hairdresser where her own hair, now long enough to be styled, was washed, shaped and highlighted into a style that no boy would ever choose. Her fingers and toes became a glorious passionate pink that matched the colors of her sundress and Tamar made her formal debut to the world, a confident and stylish young woman with the bright future ahead of her.
Well, for a few days. It was with great irony that Kayla and Tamar, having boasted of their experience in Karen's garden, got summer jobs with Kayla's uncle in the lawn care business. Tamar had set her sights on a pair of real breast forms, not a small purchase for a teenager; and the only practical path to her goal was to put on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt to trim lawns and plant flowers. The T-shirts had kittens or flowers on them and many of the jeans had embroidery, but even Tamar wasn't foolish enough to wear a skirt for such activities.
As strange as it seems, the experience taught Tamar that femininity is more than clothes and makeup. Without the usual props of femininity to rely on, she had to learn how to convincingly project being a woman by her actions and demeanor alone. A scary process, but one that stood her in good stead.
Dr Villanova was rather surprised when Tamar came to her July appointment in jeans and T-shirt, which sparked a wide ranging discussion about just what Tamar wanted in herself as a woman. The doctor was quite impressed by her maturity and understanding of where she wanted to go in her life.
The pay was good for a summer job; even the sweat dripping down her improvised bust didn't deter Tamar from working hard. There were times when she was weeding on autopilot that she dreamed of the day she could have real breasts, it somehow made the time go faster. By midsummer her paychecks accumulated until she had the funds for her purchase. With the help of her friends at the support group she had found what she wanted on line and used her brand new debit card (the one reading T. Phillips) to make the purchase.
The wait was agony. She had ordered Friday evening as soon as her pay was deposited in her new checking account. Every day she logged on to Karen's computer and checked the tracking on her purchase. What with the weekend, it took three whole days for the e-mail to come announcing your order has shipped! The next day the package was in California. The next day the package was in transit,, a most unsatisfying location. Still annoyingly in transit on the following day. Thursday the transit log told her the order was in New Jersey. A quick check on Friday morning (she just couldn't wait until after work!) revealed 5:42 AM: Received at Buffalo, NY and 6:43: Out for delivery.
An angelic choir failed to perform at that news, but there was a cheerful tune running through her head. It took a while for Tamar to settle down at work that day, but eventually she calmed down as she rode the big mower around in circles while the rest of the crew fanned out with weedwackers to finish the smaller spots the 52" blade couldn't reach.
Arriving home, she found the package on the coffee table in the living room. Karen watched benevolently as Tamar raced down the hall to her bedroom and smiled when she heard the water running in the shower. Half an hour later Tamar emerged, fresh scrubbed and wearing a sundress over her new breast forms."
"They look real, don't they Grams?"
"Child, a proper woman does not comment on another woman's breasts. It isn't seemly."
With that they both broke up and had a good laugh.
"They feel so much better than bags of sand, but someday I'll grow my own."
"That you will, my dear. There is no doubt that you'll grow into a proper woman, none at all."
"A helicopter, Grams?"
"Yes, a real helicopter. My friend Bruce can take us for a little ride if you're interested, Tamar, you and Kayla as well."
"Way noisy! It's been years since I rode in one, but the thing I remember most is how loud they are. Not like flying in my little Cessna. Of course, being a teenager you're used to loud sounds, like some of the stuff you call music. "
"So tomorrow morning, if you can pry yourself out of bed, we can start the weekend in the air. Sound good?"
"Sounds great! I have to call Kayla."
The girls having stayed over, they were up at dawn for their adventure. Karen drove south of town to an industrial site with several large, non-descript buildings with tall chimneys and massive cooling fans lined up along their sides. This was the gas compressor plant for the pipeline that brought natural gas from the Gulf Of Mexico and other places down south to be sold to the local gas companies.
Sitting in the middle of an open field was a big, blue helicopter. Karen parked and they entered a building with a prominent sign reading OFFICE, where Bruce was waiting. After greetings and a few safety instructions they walked out to the chopper.
"OK ladies, fasten your seatbelts and put your headphones on. Once I start the engine you won't be able to hear a thing without them - except the engine, that is." Bruce glanced back at the girls before continuing. "What we're going to do is fly along the pipeline route and see what's there. The pipeline is mostly underground, so if everything is OK we won't see much.
"The kind of thing I'm looking for is trees that have started to grow too big, washouts where a stream might have exposed the pipeline, or signs of a leak. This instrument up here, called a LIDAR, uses lasers to detect a gas leak, but sometimes you can tell there's a leak because all the vegetation around it is dead. They also have people walking the pipeline with leak detectors in case there is a leak too small for me to see while flying.
"Very rarely, someone trying to mess with the pipeline. That doesn't happen much, but every once in a while some fool tries to steal some gas, not realizing that the pressure in there would cut his head off if he managed to drill a hole in it. It doesn't happen so much here, but Mexico has some real problems."
"Are people really that dumb, Bruce?" asked Karen.
"At your age you should know how dumb people can be, old girl."
"Ask a silly question…"
"Anyway, I fully expect to have a boring flight in which nothing happens and then turn around and fly back. Actually, the most exciting thing I've found doing this is a herd of deer running like hell as I flew over. Hunters love the pipeline during deer season with all that open grass, they just wait for one to poke its head out of the woods and bang! It's illegal to do it that way, but some people don't care."
With that Bruce pressed buttons and turned knobs and suddenly there was so much noise it stopped all conversation. The big blades above started to swing and soon were a blur and dust flew everywhere. With a surge the copter was airborne.
"That big building ahead of us is the compressors," Bruce's voice was clear in the headphones despite the noise. "There is one of these compressor stations every hundred miles of so to keep the pressure up as the gas flows along. The engines that pump the gas were made in the forties, but are still running. The pistons are as big as I am, so you can imagine the size of the engines. These days they use jet engines in modern plants, but the principle is the same, increase the pressure in the pipe as the gas flows out to wherever its used.
"Those big fans outside the building are cooling the radiators for the engines, just like in your car. The rest of the buildings are offices, shops, storage and such. It takes a lot of work to get gas to your home, but it doesn't show when you see the little blue flame on your stove.
They were high enough now to see the entire complex of buildings and pipes. While most of the plant was green grass, there was a cornfield inside the fence, too.
"What's the corn for?" asked Tamar.
"They rent the land to a farmer. Less grass to cut and a bit more income. Waste not, want not. See that clear strip over there - that's the pipeline route and we're going to fly over it for quite a ways. The plant is on the edge of the suburbs these days, but when they built it in the forties it was in the middle of nowhere. They even have their own electric generators powered by the natural gas because back then the power grid didn't go this far."
The view was amazing, the land spread before them with miniature cars and trucks along miniature roads - at least that's what it seemed like. They could see the farmer's fields starting to show the crops above the bare soil and the trees spread before them as they got farther from the city.
"If you look up ahead at that field you can see the discoloration in it. That was a pipeline break a few decades ago, you can still see the color difference where the soil was burned. They try hard to prevent any accidents, but like anything else man has made, you're going to have failures. You just try your damndest to find them before they get too big.
"It costs tens of thousands of dollars a year to keep this bird flying, but it's cheaper than one accident. There are over five thousand miles of pipeline in New York alone, it's a big job to keep it running safely."
After that there wasn't much talking, flying over the beautiful landscape was enough to keep them distracted. Eventually they reached the next compressor station and landed. Bruce gave them a short tour of the place - the noisy compressor room was almost a relief after the sound of the copter - and they returned home.
By the end of the summer Tamar had mastered feminine body language even in blue jeans. With half of her paycheck each week she filled out her feminine wardrobe for school, haunting the second hand stores with Kayla and her friends. When she went for full out femininity she was indistinguishable from the pack of girls that Kayla ran with, even if they twitted her about wearing skirts too much.
Taking half a day off from work with the uncle's blessing, Karen ferried Kayla and Tamar to the motor vehicle bureau and waited as the two girls took their tests and received their learner's permits. There was a bit of concerned conferencing when Tamar presented her birth certificate along with a letter from Dr. Villanova, but the staff handled the matter discretely. Karen squelched an incipient riot by flipping a coin to decide which girl got to drive first, albeit only a few laps around the parking lot before turning control over to her cousin.
Dr Villanova gave her OK and Tamar started her junior year at the new Arts and Sciences school as the girl she had always wanted to be. Fortunately, Tamar was not the first transgender student there, it was relatively simple to make the necessary accommodations. That first day returning on the bus, Tamar was glowing with pride and satisfaction.
Tamar had begun to find her passion in plants. After gardening with Karen and spending the summer landscaping, she began to think of a career in botany, taking courses at school leading to a science degree.
When Kayla campaigned for student council Karen found her house filled with five excited teenage girls and one nervous teenage boy. The kids put out an amazing amount of energy dreaming up slogans and making posters, but it was Karen who was exhausted at the end of the session just listening to them. That evening she put her swollen legs up and watched the TV until she had the strength to go to bed. She heard Tamar chatting happily as she passed the door to her bedroom. That girl never gave up!
They lost the election, but by the time it was over Tamar was very well known in the school, her enthusiasm and spirit leading her to joining several organized activities after school. If she wasn't at some activity she was playing chauffeur to Karen to practice her driving. Actually, having a driver at her beck and call was rather nice, she was starting to wonder how much longer she would be able to drive, her eyes weren't what the used to be.
The day before Thanksgiving Karen and Tamar followed Kayla and her mother Noreen to the DMV. The two adults commiserated as the children drove away with a tester in each passenger seat.
"I never thought I'd be doing this again, not in a million years," Karen spoke.
"I suppose it's pretty rare to have your great-grandmother being your licensed driver for the road test."
"I guess it's pretty rare to have someone as old as me being a licensed driver."
"I'll have to get you one of those little yellow diamonds that reads Old Bag On Board."
"Just you try it! I can't help but remember when your father and uncle got their licenses. They both took their tests on the same day, too. Back then you had to wait for the answer in the mail, I guess they were afraid those rowdy young boys would punch out the tester if they failed."
"I suppose driving someone crazy could be taken too literally."
"Too right! The answers came the same day and both kids begged to use the cars, so George and I watched them both drive off to tell their buddies. George hid it well, but he loved his old Studebaker and letting a wild-assed teenage boy drive off alone with it near broke his heart."
"I take it both cars and drivers returned in one piece?"
"Of course! It was a school night so they had to be back before sunset."
"And here you are reliving the past while raising a great-granddaughter. How do you do it, Grams?"
"I'll tolerate that uncouth appellation from my great-granddaughters, but not from a young woman who should show some respect."
"Only an old bag like you could get away with calling me a young woman, Grams."
"And who taught me how? What happened to What happened at grandma's house stayed at grandma's house?"
"We are not at my house, young woman!"
"Details, details. I love you, grandma, and I think you are a saint to take Tamar in and give her a loving home."
"Sometimes I think the devil made me do it! Having someone so young around is invigorating, but Lord sometimes I get so tired I can't think."
"Comes with being a parent. I don't know how you manage at eighty-seven."
"The same way I managed when a young WASP set those self-righteous military types straight when they told me a woman couldn't fly the big birds. You draw on your inner strength and keep going despite the opposition. There's still a well of something in me even if my body is getting crotchety."
"Well, start pumping on that well, here comes Tamar."
Tamar emerged with a huge grin on her face, obviously she had passed the test. Nice that you didn't have to wait for the answer any more. A few minutes later Kayla showed the same grin.
"Clear the highways and evacuate the sidewalks! The Bobbsey Twins are on the road!" Karen cried.
"Characters from my misspent youth. Twins that raised havoc wherever they went."
"Sounds good to me, Cuz!" Kayla opined.
"We can get matching dresses and try to fool everyone into thinking I'm you."
"Kayla, your mother would know," Noreen replied. "Besides, Tamar is only about six inches shorter and has dark hair, that might be a pretty good clue if anyone gets confused."
Thanksgiving came and the family gathered at Karen's son William's home. Tamar was just one of a gaggle of great-grandchildren present while Karen enjoyed her role as Matriarch of the family.
Large family gatherings were something new to Tamar, having grown up an only child in a family with no cousins or other relatives near enough to see more than once in a blue moon. Finding herself in the kitchen helping prepare the feast gave Tamar great satisfaction; but there was a thread of sadness as well. Even with her acceptance in this vast and boisterous family, Tamar found herself missing her parents despite their inability to understand her needs.
Her adopted family didn't seem to recognize the traditional gender roles for the holiday: women in the kitchen and men in the living room watching football. Tamar learned an Asian-inspired vegetable dish from Uncle Greer (all the older men were Uncle, the older women Aunt; it was just too much trouble to figure the exact, multi-generational relationship) and Uncle Tonio showed her how to peel garlic quickly by vigorously shaking the cloves between two steel bowls. Being included in the casual banter and joking as the food was prepared made Tamar feel a real part of the family.
After the meal, when everyone was gathered around the TV watching some sappy movie, Tamar sat quietly in the kitchen while William's wife Lillian finished her cleanup. Quietly hanging up the dishtowel, Lillian sat next to the young woman her mother-in-law had brought into the family.
"You're rather quiet tonight, Tamar. A penny for your thoughts?"
"Have you ever felt overwhelmed with life? Even when things are better than you ever thought they could be?"
"I suppose that happens to all of us at one time or another. Am I right that your birth family isn't so large as our brood?"
"Yeah, there was just me and my parents."
"Yes…" Lillian encouraged.
"It's just… I… I'm missing them even though we didn't get along. Tonight with your family I wish my family could have been like this."
"You can't help but love the people who gave you birth, even if you don't like them. That's a hard thing to realize. I can remember the fights I had with my parents when I was your age and the fights I had with my children when they were your age. We all made choices that the others couldn't understand, but somehow we eventually found a way to work the problems out. I can't say I understand your choices, but it's clear to all of us that you have made the right choice. Maybe someday your parents will be able to understand."
"I just don't know…"
"Stranger things have happened. It may take months or even years, or it may never happen. When you feel ready, offer up an olive branch and see what happens. Sure you could be hurt again, but that's how life works."
Wrapping her arms around this strange and troubled granddaughter was the most natural thing in the world for Lillian, and they both felt a little better when they rejoined the family.
After months of sporadically attending Catholic services with Karen, Tamar was starting to feel more at ease with them. Having grown up in the Pentecostal tradition of exuberant participation in the service, the staid Catholic service took some getting used to. So did the idea of Midnight Mass, but it sure beat having to get up at the crack of dawn to go to church.
As Christmas eve became Christmas day, Karen and Tamar helped fill out two rows of pews with the rest of the family. The joy of the celebration and the warmth of her new family surrounded her and left her feeling deeply loved and cherished.
Once again alone in her room, Tamar gathered her courage and texted 'Merry Christmas' to her parents before dropping off to sleep. When she awoke there was a message from her father: 'May the peace of Christ be with you' waiting for her.
Not quite a Christmas miracle, but a hopeful sign, nonetheless.
Chapter 8 - The New Year
How do you make the routine life of a mostly normal teenage girl interesting? Sure, there's plenty of teenage angst, but Tamar's periods of confusion and anxiety were not so different than that to be found in any other high school girl. Well, if you don't consider the subject of teenage boys, that is.
Understandably, most teenage boys were reluctant to date a transgendered girl, and as transgendered girl Tamar was reluctant to get too deeply involved with a teenaged boy. Not that she was above discussing a nice ass or some particularly packed pecs with her girlfriends, but she wasn't ready to do more than spend time with a group at the local teen hangout. Her social life was enhanced by Karen's willingness to let her use the car whenever needed, so her position as the one with the wheels came in handy.
Tamar's seventeenth birthday was celebrated with friends of both sexes, with Karen only poking her head into the living room occasionally to satisfy the requirements of propriety. These occasions brought forth a wistful smile; she could imagine the reaction if her own parents had poked their heads into a room littered with teenagers exchanging backrubs. Times had certainly changed.
Dr Villanova had decided that Tamar was well adjusted enough that monthly visits were unnecessary; until she reached her majority and could start hormone therapy, every three months was sufficient. By this time neither the doctor or Tamar had any doubts as to her commitment to SRS.
With Easter break came something Karen hadn't expected.
"Grams, can I talk to you for a minute?"
"Of course, dear."
"It's just… Well, with Easter coming I've been thinking of my parents."
"I suppose with the rising of the Lord such thoughts would come to mind. Not that I end up in a pew much more than Christmas and Easter myself, but they say you can take a Catholic out of the church but you can't take the church out of the Catholic. I guess it applies to your parent's faith as well.
"Yeah. I don't really buy the stuff that the Pentecostals teach, but Easter is a time of renewal. Dad did text me at Christmas, but I haven't seen them since I left. I still love them, but what do they think of me?"
"People can change, Tamar. They rejected you for being transsexual but after all this time maybe they are missing you like you're missing them."
"But how can I know if…"
"Short of knocking on their door and asking, maybe we can get some indirect information. Your cell phone is still working, isn't it?"
"Yeah, I never thought of that!"
"So they're still paying the bill. If they haven't cut you off maybe there's hope."
"I guess they were trying hard to raise me as well as they could, it's just that what they believe is so wrong!"
"That's a choice we all have to make as adults - and only you can decide what is right for you to believe. Problem is, there are far too many people in this world that think they should be able to tell everyone else what to believe. Not to downplay your pain, dear, but you could live somewhere where ISIS is in charge."
"Those poor people, Grams."
"There's not much we can do about it, so we just have to do what we can to make the world around us a better place."
"Like picking me out of a snowstorm in a mini-skirt?"
"Just like that. They call it paying it forward, helping someone else when they need it and hoping they will do the same when someone else needs help. So, you have one indication that your parents haven't cut you off completely. Don't abandon hope, but my advice is to wait until you turn eighteen and they can't throw a legal monkey wrench into your plans. Eventually you'll be cleared to start hormones. You'll have had some time to grow up a bit more and be able to handle a final rejection better if it comes to that. Let's let sleeping dogs lie."
"I guess you're right. Can we go to church together on Easter?"
"Sure you just don't want a new Easter outfit?"
"Well, I've always been jealous of women who could wear Easter bonnets."
"I think the Lord will forgive us if we kill two birds with one stone. We'll knock 'em dead in the aisles!"
When spring planting time came around, Tamar and Karen once again filled the yard with flowers, but Tamar did most of the work. Karen was feeling her age more than usual and watched more than worked. Over the summer Tamar again worked as a landscaper, but this summer she spent more time planning the plantings and designing gardens than riding a mower or raking grass. Her uncle was very pleased at how she had developed an eye for a beautiful garden.
She and Karen found time for a couple of flights with Bruce, this time in a small plane rather than a helicopter. While Tamar enjoyed the flights, she wasn't as completely enamored with flying as Karen. On the other hand, Karen was both frustrated at not being able to pilot the craft but thrilled to be in the air once again.
Tamar started her Senior year in high spirits. This time Kayla won the election as class president and, to her surprise, Tamar found herself the vice president. There was one nasty incident concerning her transgendered status, but the school authorities quickly reacted and the whole thing became a 'teaching moment'. Tamar was distinctly uneasy through the whole thing, but she found overwhelming support from the student body and the harassers were isolated in their hate.
With advanced placement courses in school and her duties as vice president, Tamar was kept quite busy. Her only worry was that Karen seemed to be feeling a bit off, not quite her usual, bubbling self. Tamar gradually took over more of the household chores like cooking, cleaning and laundry. There were a few wry exchanges between the two women over how Tamar had become a stereotypical housewife, a role that neither had ever played well, but life went on as it is wont to do.
Thanksgiving was once again a brawling, boisterous family celebration, but Karen mostly sat and watched the celebration, looking worn out and exhausted. Far earlier than usual Tamar drove the old woman home and helped her into to bed.
"Grams, I'm worried about you. You need to see the doctor."
"Darling, it seems like I spend my life seeing doctors. I know what's wrong with me, but I didn't want to tell you. Seems like that isn't going to work any more, is it?"
"Congestive heart failure, Tamar. Sort of like a heart attack that takes a couple of years to kill you off. Not much they can do, I have some pills and I guess I have to start using oxygen. I've been trying to avoid it, I don't want to drag a bottle around with me and have that stupid hose up my nose."
"Don't fret yourself, I've got to go sometime, but I'll be around a while longer, I have things to do and a great-granddaughter to raise."
"You'd better! You just take it easy and keep up your strength."
"I intend to. I'll call the cardiologist tomorrow and tell him what's happening so he can poke and prod me some more."
"I didn't even know you had a cardiologist."
"Of course not! You spend all day in school so I can gallivant off and see my stable of quacks without letting you know. Well, I could until now."
"So now it's my turn to help you. I know you well enough that you'll try to keep on doing more than you should, just like always. So learn to let me do some of it for you. You saved my life by giving me help when I needed it, now it's your turn to accept some help. We're in this together, Grams."
"So we are, child. So we are. I'll try to behave myself."
The oxygen helped and Karen's energy level returned after a few days. She snarled at the bottle she had to drag around and the big oxygen generator that stood by her bed, but she gave in to the inevitable.
Christmas Eve was another family gathering, this time at Karen' son James' place. Karen once again ruled as matriarch over the clan with her shiny silver oxygen tank scepter close at hand. No falling asleep this time, but Karen smiled benevolently as she watched the chaos of her extended family.
Amidst any noisy and chaotic gathering there often comes a moment of silence as some magical force stills the multiple conversations simultaneously. It was in one of these unexpected lulls that Tamar's phone began to whistle that she had a text. Feeling faintly foolish she went over to her purse and took out her cell phone.
May the joy of the season and the peace of our Lord be yours on this blessed night. We may never agree with your choices, but we still love you.
Mother and Father"
Tamar began to weep quietly as she read the message, but was soon surrounded by a cloud of cousins who held her and poured their love over her. With Kayla on one side and Bert on the other, she handed the phone to Karen. There was silence in the room as Karen found her reading glasses and looked at the message.
"Child, I think you and I need to go to church together tomorrow. I doubt that Father Henry will mind us missing his service under the circumstances."
Mom & Dad
May the peace and happiness of the season be yours. 1 Peter:48
Chapter 9 - Reconciliation?
"Grams, you ever been to a Pentecostal service?"
"Can't say I ever have. I did go to a wedding where the bride was Methodist and the groom was a shoutin' Baptist. Lot of Amens! going on there."
"Maybe you get the idea. Father Henry wouldn't be amused where we're going."
"You might be surprised. You weren't around for Father Xavier. The man had a stick up his arse is about the politest way I can put it. You would have never found Father X on the court playing B-Ball with the kids."
"I don't think you'll find Pastor Bryce out there, either, but the man does get to dancing something fierce when the Holy Spirit latches on to him!"
"The things this poor Catholic girl never knew! Are you sure you really want to do this?"
"I think so. I don't like to live hating my parents. That's something that the people in my support group keep saying - hate will eat you up. I couldn't figure it out at first after what my parents had done, but I'm a different person now."
"Grams! You know what I mean!"
"That I do, Tamar. Say, I thought that fundamental types hated dancing."
"Not here. Singin', shoutin', and get happy! I think Heinlein must have been to a Pentecostal service when he created the Fosterites."
"Lord, I haven't read that book since before you were born! You grew up in a church like that?"
"Well, maybe not a clergy quite so crass and cynical, but old Digby rang that bell."
"You don't suppose you showing up in that red velvet dress might cause some more shoutin'?"
"I doubt that anyone will recognize me any longer, and I can't see my folks pointing out who I am in front of the congregation. I think I would rather be your great-granddaughter paying a visit to a new church."
"I have a hard time picturing myself as a Holy Roller. The damn oxygen tank would get in the way."
"Well it would."
"Some guardian angel you are!"
"I'm not going to impersonate an angel so close to people who think they have a personal relationship with Jesus. I might get caught out."
"Tune into Undercover Angel, new on ABC." Tamar quipped in the tones of a perky announcer.
"Angelic Broadcasting Network?" Karen queried.
"We're here, Grams. Let's go in before I lose my nerve."
Not surprisingly, the church was packed on Christmas. They were greeted at the door and welcomed inside, finding seats near the back. Tamar looked around curiously but didn't recognize her parents from the back. There were several others she recognized, but none of them made the connection between the girl in the velvet dress and the troubled boy who had disappeared from the congregation.
The service started quietly enough, with only a few scattered Amens and Hallalujas, but by the time the sermon started Karen wondered if the audience always gave the speaker live color commentary every Sunday. The hymns were completely foreign to Karen, but Tamar knew them cold and sang along in a pleasing contralto. The girl had worked hard on her voice, it had matured but hadn't really broken because of the anti-androgens.
The service drew to a fervent end, but nobody tried to waltz Karen and her oxygen bottle around the sanctuary. Afterwards, their nearest neighbors greeted them and were pleased to have a young person who knew their hymnal so well. Tamar carefully deflected questions about her home church and worked her way toward the community room. Karen and her oxygen bottle were politely given passage and they found themselves in front of an impressive display of Christmas Cookies.
Many people greeted them warmly and they made polite conversation, but it wasn't until the room started to clear that Tamar spotted her parents sitting alone in the back of the room. Gathering her courage and gripping her Gram's hand tightly she approached them and sat down."
"Merry Christmas, Mother, Father." She said quietly.
The effect was electric. Both of the unprepared parents started and stared.
"Yes, it's me and this is my great-grandmother, Karen, who took me in after I left. I've missed you."
"Tamar. I'm living as my true self, not the sham I was before. I love you and hope you can understand, but I can't go back to living a lie."
Her father drew a breath and then stopped, letting it out slowly and silently.
"Thank you for that, Father. I don't want to cause a scene. I'm pleased to be able to share the Christmas Service again. 'The peace of the Lord' is not just a meaningless phrase to me right now."
"Tim - Tamar? I…" her father stuttered.
"We…" her mother said firmly, "have some thinking to do. The scriptures say God doesn't make mistakes, he made us man and woman…"
"But," Karen filled in quickly, "we mortals are prone to mistakes. Isn't it hubris to tell God what mistakes were made and where? I am completely sure the young woman I am pleased to call my great-granddaughter is not a mistake. Tamar, I think perhaps we should go home now. Let your parents have some quiet time to reflect. They've had quite a shock."
"I think you're right. You still have my cell number, and thank you for leaving it on. Maybe we can talk sometime. May the peace of Christ be with you."
Tamar almost expected to hear the standard Catholic response, so her parent's wish for a merry Christmas felt a little off, but at least they responded. Tamar rose and smiled, then followed Karen out of the hall.
Christmas can be a time of hope.
The winter was hard on Karen. Her increasing disability made going out in the ice and snow more daunting as time went on. Tamar grew to know Karen's sons James and William better as they found time to visit their mother more often. They were fine men, no surprise since they were Karen's children. Tamar experienced a bit of dissonance as the relationship grew. Despite calling Karen Grams, Tamar felt more like her daughter than her great-granddaughter. Finding two men old enough to be her grandfather seeming more like brothers was vaguely disconcerting.
By this time Tamar was acting as Karen's caretaker more and more. The old woman was still mentally sharp but her slowly failing heart left her unable to do the things she had always done without thought. On New Year's Day Karen handed Tamar her car keys, saying "Tamar, I've decided that it's time to give up driving. I just don't feel up to it any longer and I don't want to be the one to cause an accident. They taught us in pilot's training to never go up if you didn't feel well because you could come down on top of some innocent slob and kill him because you were stupid. I don't intend to let that happen."
"Grams! I'm so sorry!"
"So am I, child, but it has to be done."
"Well, you've got me to get you where you need to go."
"So I do, pretty good thing I picked you out of that snowstorm, eh?"
"You bet! I'm the luckiest girl in the world."
"Nope, I'm the luckiest, you'll have to settle for second place."
Tamar celebrated her all-important 18th birthday in February. There were friends from school, several of her new-found cousins, aunts and uncles and, to her considerable pleasure, her natural parents. They were trying hard to understand, confused at the flock of people who told them they held their daughter in such high regard, unsure how to act in a situation so far out of their comfort zone.
The adults were gathered around Karen's dining room table, watching the poised yet giddy young woman who was seated on the floor, her skirts neatly arranged around her, opening the impressive pile of presents being handed to her. That she was the only female wearing skirts had become a bit of a family joke, but she did look perfectly comfortable dressed so. That two of the boxes contained pantsuits, one in white and the other in blue, caused her to laugh gaily. When the heavy package contained a beautifully bound bible inscribed With love, Mom and Dad she arose and tearfully kissed her parents. That her father stiffened for a second didn't pass unnoticed, but that it passed unremarked as a good omen for the strained relationship.
The best present wasn't among the gaily wrapped boxes, however. That one was in a yellow bottle on her dresser. Dr. Villanova had become convinced that Tamar was truly transsexual and should start hormone therapy. That absolutely nothing had changed in the week she had been taking the pills was vaguely disappointing, one could wish the Estrogen Fairy had waved a magic wand and given her breasts and hips overnight, but Tamar could wait for the changes to occur.
As another way of celebrating, Tamar filed the paperwork for an official name change. The clerks told her it wasn't necessary, but Tamar wanted her name to be official. She was Tamar and wanted that name on anything official, like a license or credit card.
By Easter there were some small signs of progress, the season of rebirth held particular significance for Tamar that year. By the time she walked across the stage, diploma in hand, her bra was starting to feel a bit tight and she was wearing panties a size larger than she wore at Christmas. It would be some time before she could dispense with the breast forms, but that time would come.
The joy of graduation was not unalloyed, Karen was there but in a wheelchair. When the weather broke from the ice of winter a swarm of children and grandchildren had come to the house and installed a wheelchair ramp to allow Karen to come and go more easily.
Tamar didn't take a job that summer, her role of Karen's caretaker took precedence. Karen insisted Tamar be present when one afternoon she visited the cardiologist. The verdict was, as Karen knew and Tamar tried to ignore, final. The doctor recommended hospice care, Karen's heart would not last much longer.
"Tamar honey, we need to talk."
"You heard the doctor, I'm dying, hon."
"I (sniff) know. It's so unfair!"
"That's life. I got almost ninety years, a passel of children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. I got you as a final reward." Her voice was weak and she paused frequently for breath. "Look at me, a lousy trip to the doctor; I'm wiped out and you did all the work. My time is coming, I don't want to live a half-life. Doc, we need to fill out a MOLST form right now."
"Karen, you make a difficult job easier. This is always a hard subject to bring up." replied the cardiologist.
"What's a MOLST form?" asked Tamar.
"Another lousy piece of paper." Grumbled Karen. You know I put you and the boys on the living will and advanced care directives. MOLST means Medical Orders for Life Sustaining Treatment, it tells the EMTs what to do if I collapse and can't tell them myself. I've been putting it off but the Doc here tells me I can't wait any longer. Let's break out the pencils and start checking boxes."
Of course the doctor didn't use anything as crude as a pencil, but he did click a mouse over the proper boxes, telling the EMTs that Karen didn't want anyone to try to stop her from dying when the time came. "No tubes, wires, resuscitation, just leave me alone and let me get on with it. You tell 'em, Doc." Was how she put it.
The trip home was difficult, Tamar's tears made her pull over twice because she couldn't see the road. She tried to hold back her tears performing the now familiar ritual of transferring Karen and her oxygen to the wheelchair, pushing her up the ramp, getting her settled in a chair and once again hooked up to the oxygen generator. Karen drifted off once she was satisfied the bright pink forms were affixed to the refrigerator door with a strong magnet so they wouldn't fall off.
Tamar called James and William, who by this time were Uncle Jim and Uncle Bill, to pass on the news. Neither were surprised but it was a blow nonetheless. Then she left a message at the Hospice and joined Karen in dreamland.
Dinner was a somber affair, Tamar rustling up breakfast for dinner just like that first night when Karen plucked her out of the snowstorm. Karen's appetite had been off for a while now, she just picked at her food, eating little despite Tamar's urging.
"Tamar, honey, my body is shutting down. I've been reading about it ever since the Doc told me about my heart. The odds are I'll just kind of fade away as my heart gives up. I'll stop eating and pack it in. I'm going to hate it when I have to start wearing a diaper again. I feel stupid asking this, but I don't want to end my days in a nursing home. I'm not going to get better and I don't want have anyone trying to bring me back when the time comes. Is it too much to ask you to be there for me when I go, changing diapers and crap like that?"
"Grams, I'll be there."
"You know, this isn't how I planned to spend the summer, child. I had hopes we could spend a couple of months in Thailand together. George told me the Orient was a beautiful place as long as no one was trying to hold a war around you. That was a long time back. I wanted it to be your graduation present."
"They tell me that's a good place to have your surgery done. I was planning to be your nurse while you recovered. Looks like we'll have to exchange roles. To mangle a phrase, 'Death is what happens when you're making other plans'."
"Oh Grams! No!"
"Oh yes. I wanted to be there but it's not going to happen. Take Kayla with you, I've talked to Noreen and she thinks it's a great idea. When they read the will you'll find you have the money for the trip and the surgery. I've talked to the boys and they agree that you should have the house, too, for as long as you need it. They don't need the place and you do, so it's yours until you get your degree and can go out on your own. I want you to pay it forward , girl. When your parent's time comes I want them to rest easy knowing you'll be there for them. When your time comes I know there will be someone there for you after you've had a full and satisfying life."
Tamar was too choked up for words, perhaps no words were needed, just hugs and tears had to suffice.
There's not much more to tell, although the passing of someone you love is never simple, there were endless details to work out, endless tears to shed. Karen left the world as she wished, in her own bed and surrounded by those that loved her. The hospice nurse lovingly attended to the body, the funeral proceeded as all funerals do and the family cried together. There was no doubt that Tamar was family, blood relations are not what counts, it's the emotional connection that makes family.
Kayla and Tamar postponed college for a semester, instead taking a trip to Thailand. Kayla was at her bedside as she recovered and Karen's picture was on the stand by her hospital bed. Thus it was that two enthusiastic but very fatigued young women stepped off a plane from Thailand and into the loving arms of their family the week before Christmas.
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