by Kristine Roland
It had been 30 years since she had been home. A lot of life had happened in the interim. A marriage – children – grandchildren. These were the most important to her. When she left the small southern town, she knew it was to a new life. A life she could not have had here.
It had taken years for her parents to come around; grandchildren had that effect. But they had insisted they visit at her home, they did not want to deal with the controversy her return would have generated.
It hurt that they were ashamed of her, or at least not able to be proud of her accomplishments.
But, they did try, and they dearly loved their grandchildren. They were both gone now, with her Mom passing a few months ago. Mom had lived long enough to hold her great granddaughter in her arms. The picture of her smile, holding the child that bore her name, a cherished family portrait.
She had been pleasantly surprised when she found her mother had left her most prized possession – a beautiful turquoise set, which included a necklace, earrings, bracelet, broach and ring. That had been a gift from her Mom’s grandfather, to her grandmother. It had passed down first to her Mom’s mother, and then to her mother. She had expected her Mom to leave it to her granddaughter, or to one of her cousins.
But it had been explicitly left to “my beautiful daughter, Helen.” She had cried for hours when she had been informed of this.
Tomorrow was her 35th high school reunion. She had not attended any of the previous reunions, and had not kept in touch with anyone from her class. The invitation had been a bit of a surprise. It had been addressed simply to H. Baker. She did not know where the committee had found her correct address.
It took some soul searching to decide to attend. She had promised her parents years ago to stay away from the town. She talked it over with her family and they all told her it was time. Her parents were gone and the promise was no longer needed.
So here she was, in a hotel room, in the town she had grown up in. When she was known as Henry Baker. Henry Baker who had lettered in baseball, had been in the honor society, and had been the class treasurer.
Henry Baker who went off to college, graduating with a degree in Computer Science. Who came back from school, and left within a year, to never return.
She looked to the sleeping form lying next to her, feeling lucky to have found the love of her life. As nervous as she was about the reunion the next day, she held onto the simple fact that nothing could ever shake their love.
They had met in college, so many years ago. They hit it off quickly; and were soon inseparable. Although she was still Henry at the time, she did not mislead her new love. She knew where her future was, though it had to wait until after graduation. She knew that someday, she would transition to Helen.
Gillian was a bit taken back when she first learned that the person she was falling for would eventually be a woman. But she did not run away. Nor did she fall in the trap of thinking she could change her and persuade her to continue to live as Henry.
Instead, after some thought she had decided to see where things went. Either they would end up as best friends, or possibly they would be more. To her never-ending surprise, Gillian had eventually determined that she was just as physically attracted to her as Helen as she had been to Henry.
She chuckled slightly as she remembered the day that Gillian had realized her world view had opened up. They had been walking in a mall and she gasped. Helen was concerned and had asked if she was alright. Gillian had just laughed and told her that she had just realized she had been looking at an attractive woman, and that her first thought was erotic in nature, not her normal thought process about another woman. It had been completely unexpected, but she said that it answered the question about her interest in Helen. She had never wavered since.
She had only one request. Before Helen began her transition, she wanted Henry to bank his sperm. She wanted to be a mother. They married soon after Helen left home. Henry made several deposits to a sperm bank, as well as attempting the more traditional approach. Once Gillian tested positive for pregnancy, Helen began the process of transition.
Timing had been with her as she went thru the process in the relatively short years before the backlash time in 2017. The company that Helen worked for after graduating, was a big company and their insurance plan covered her transition.
The subsequent years were difficult, and were quite a scary time for their family, an out transgender woman, with a wife and family. The backlash of 2017 and 2018 were a time when bigotry and violence was on the rise. She worried, not only for herself, but for Gillian and their new child.
Oddly enough, though she was never quite sure about this, between the birth of their daughter, and everything going on in the country at the time, it brought her parents around to accept her, or at least to want to be in their lives. They saw the hate behind the politics, and they worried about her and her family, and they rejected that, at least enough to come visit, and to shower love on their granddaughter.
Helen did not like to think about those years, too many people died needlessly. Thru the practically blatant government sponsored bigotry, and the cuts to needed services, the death toll was high. The whole world, not just the US, was undergoing a xenophobic period, and was at risk of a new dark age. Science and education were being vilified. She shuttered as she thought how close things had come to becoming one of the dystopian worlds from the speculative fictions of her youth. Exactly how it was avoided is a topic still being debated by historians to date.
The 2018 elections were key, had they gone the other way, it was entirely possible that there would not have been elections in 2020.
Shortly before the election, two key events happened. The first was the murder of a highly visible and beloved transgender celebrity, by a man that had no history of known bigotry, but claimed to do it because transgender advocacy was now anti-American. His rantings were covered heavily on TV, and even the most anti-LGBT congressmen were hard pressed to not condemn him.
The second, and probably even more important event was the discovery of a plot to kill several key justices on the Supreme Court. This fortunately failed, but there was enough evidence that it appeared to be a conspiracy, and the general sentiment believed that it quite possibly went to the highest level of government. There wasn’t enough time for a full investigation, but this October surprise clearly had a big bearing on turnout, and the election. The resistance was galvanized and 2018 was an electoral rout. The tide was turned and the dangerous flirtation with theocracy was averted. A coalition in Congress turned the country back towards the center, avoiding the temptation (for once) to push back too far, too fast.
The country did at least for this generation, learn the risk, and education and science retook an honored role in society.
In any case, Helen had managed to live thru those few years, and now had a family, and her parents were back in her life. Soon after, Gillian gave birth to their second child, a boy.
Over the years, they would come to visit every Christmas, and at least one other time during the year. They would also host their grandchildren at the house for a week or two over the summer. She had worried about that the first couple of years, as she was concerned they would try to teach her children that she was a sinner, or might try to take them away from her somehow. But the children never acted any differently when they would come home, so she stopped worrying about it.
One time her daughter told her she had seen pictures of her as a boy, and that he’d been a handsome young man. But she said that she saw sadness in his eyes, in all those pictures, and that was gone. She had told her, I’m happy that you found your happy place, and gave her a big hug.
Time had passed, and now lying awake in the hotel room waiting for her big day, coming home, she couldn’t think of anything she could or would have done differently.
At long last the alarm went off, and it was time to get up. Gillian stirred and told her “Good morning,” and asked “Did you sleep at all last night?”
She told her that she had a little, but woke up a couple of hours ago. Gillian gave her a hug and told her not to worry it would be okay.
After breakfast, they stopped past her parent’s house. It was up for sale, as part of the estate, and they had arranged with the realtor to be let in to see it. It was still furnished, the job of packing up and sorting out her parent’s things was going to be handled by her son and daughter. As she walked in the front hallway she felt like she was walking back in time. The last time she had been there, she was Henry. At first, she thought that it had not changed at all.
But then she looked closely at the pictures on the walls and the side cabinets. Some she recognized. Pictures of her grandparents, and her parents. Pictures from her childhood. But in the place of honor she was shocked to see her wedding picture. She and Gillian holding each other, in their white gowns.
All around were pictures that been taken of her and her family, during the visits over the years. Not hidden in books where visitors would not notice, but right in the front hall. As she made her way thru the house in room after room, souvenirs of time spent with her children, as well as with Gillian and her were on display.
Far from the fear she had of going thru her boyhood home, she found she had truly come home. Gillian held her hand tightly as she let the positive energy of the house flow into her.
When they got to her room she still steeled herself for what they would find. Even with all of the positives so far, she expected it to be a shrine to her boyhood. But when she opened the door, the room had been painted pink. The bedspread was decidedly feminine. The only picture of her from her childhood was from the one Halloween she had been allowed to dress as a girl. It had been one of her friend’s idea, and she had gone with her two best friends, as Helen. Her Mom had suspected, but couldn’t make a big deal without causing a problem. So, Mom had gone along with it.
Her friends were clearly boys in a dress, but Helen looked like she had always belonged. It bothered her mother at the time. She told him that night that she had clearly enjoyed it too much, and it would not be repeated. The other pictures were of her post-transition, and of her daughter. Later her daughter confirmed this was the room she had always stayed in during her visits. Her son stayed in the guest bedroom down the hall. That is the room she found a few mementos, like her baseball trophies and her high school letter. It was not the shrine she had feared, simply an acknowledgement of her accomplishments. She found it touching, rather than the attack she had feared.
It was hard to leave the house, she held Gillian tightly, and cried, as if she had lost her parents again.
After a stop in town to have lunch, they returned to the hotel to get ready for the reunion dinner. As she dressed, she put on her Mom’s jewelry set. The gown was specifically purchased to show off the full set. Gillian offered to drive, knowing that she was all nerves.
The reunion was set to take place at the high school auditorium. As they pulled in the lot, they were surprised to find it packed, but they were still able to find a spot.
As they walked into the front doors of the school they were greeted by several current students, manning a sign-in desk. They were given their name badges, H. Baker, Class of 2010. G. Baker – Spouse.
Gillian took her arm and led her into the auditorium. As they entered a hush fell over the room. The room was set up for dinner. Tables around the auditorium, buffet tables along the sides of the room. At the front of the auditorium was the stage, which was set up for an awards presentation. There was a podium and a projection screen.
A banner above the screen read, “Welcome Home, Helen Baker!”
Helen almost turned around to run away. Gillian caught her and pulled her in, as the crowd shouted, “Welcome Home!”
She was led to a table at the front of the room, and to add to her shock, her son, his wife and granddaughter, and his daughter and her husband were waiting for them. As she was taking her seat, the projector was turned on and the introduction slide was displayed.
10th Annual Helen Baker
Scholarship Awards Ceremony
Shortly a man in a suit took to the podium, “Welcome everyone! Please take your seats.”
He continued, “Thank you, thank you --- It’s my honor to welcome you all to the 10th annual Helen Baker Scholarship Award Ceremony! And it is my special privilege to welcome my old friend, and tonight’s Guest of Honor, Helen Baker home after a very long absence. Helen, I know that we have all changed quite a bit over the 30 years since you were left our sleepy little town, and no-one nearly as much as you have! But I do hope you remember your old friend Kevin. I’m now the mayor of the town, but I remember the fun we had growing up together.”
Helen nodded, “Yes, Kevin, of course I remember.”
“Well, I’m sure you are a bit surprised by our little subterfuge. We promised your Mom that we would get you here for the first ceremony after she passed away. While technically this is not the official class of 2010 reunion, most of the class is here this year, so it might as well be! As you can see your parents established this scholarship 10 years ago. Your Mom always presented the award in the past, and began with a speech explaining the purpose for this scholarship, and what prompted them to endow it. As most of you know she is unable to attend this year, as she passed away earlier in the year.
She did, however, record a message for us to view tonight.
Please give your attention to the screen.”
On the screen, her mother showed, dressed to the nines, and of course wearing the same jewelry set that Helen was wearing now.
“Welcome – If you are watching this video, that means that I am unable to attend to present the award this year. I hope you all know that it has been an honor and a privilege for me to present this award each year, in honor of my beautiful daughter, Helen. While I am sad that I will no longer be able to be here among you in person, it brings me great pleasure to know that if this is being played, it means that my daughter Helen, has finally returned home. So please bear with me as this first message is for her.
Helen, many years ago, you left home. Your father and I did not understand, at that time. We knew you were going to get married, and that you were going to begin your transition. We were ignorant of the issues, and we said things we have long since regretted. We should have listened, we should have wanted to know what you were going thru, and we should have been there for you.
As a result, we missed your wedding to Gillian. We have seen the video, and it was OUR loss.
Gillian, our daughter was so very lucky to find you, and we have tried to tell you over the years how sorry we were that we missed that opportunity to welcome you into our family. The birth of our first grandchild gave us another chance, and this time we did not blow it… at least not completely.
You both graciously allowed us to come visit you, and to get to know our grandchildren. We did make one further mistake, and that was to get Helen to promise to stay away from our home town.
Oh – How we have regretted that promise over the years. We tried a number of times to broach the subject and to release Helen from her promise. But it was such a painful topic that we realized that Helen was not hearing what we were trying to say, but reliving the pain we had caused her. We never stopped trying to find a way to let her know, but we could not get thru the walls, we had caused her to erect. We know this was our fault, and we know that the pain we felt was our own doing. I’m sorry that we could not find a way, and our dearest hope is that Helen will forgive us for our trespasses.
What we really wanted to tell you, Helen, was that we were so very proud of you. We did research, we did learn, and I hope you will find tonight that we became strong advocates for the LGBTQ community, especially here in your home town. We did our very best to try and help other parents, to not make the mistakes we had made. I expect many of them are here tonight and will want to share their experiences with you later.
The scholarship we endowed in your honor is not exclusively for LGBTQ students. Though there have been several which have been recipients, that are in the community.
Instead it honors the student, or in some year’s students, that have overcome challenges to pursue their personal dreams.
A committee is empowered to accept nominations, and to judge their worthiness. In the past, the committee made its recommendations to your father and I, and we had the final say. Next year, you and Gillian will be the final judges, or if you choose to pass this by, it will move on to the next generation.
Welcome Home, Helen. I wish I could have said this to you in person. Please know, we loved you! Thank you for your love in return. We did not always deserve it. But we have tried to earn it.”
Helen, sat there in shock, tears running down her face. Gillian held her tight. Eventually she walked to the podium, not even hearing the applause.
Taking a deep breath, she began, “Thank you all. I’m not sure I have the words to tell you what this day has meant to me. I have so many things going thru my mind right now…
For many years, I thought my parents were ashamed of me. Today has been one of the most overwhelming days of my life. I wish I had been able to listen and hear that message while they were alive. I guess, I have much to learn myself, about listening.
You all may find it hard to believe, but I did and do love both my parents. It hurt when they asked me to stay away from here, I can’t deny that. But I loved watching how they were with my children, and when Mom got to meet her great granddaughter, shortly before she died, I knew it had made her so very happy. I forgave them years ago, and I knew they loved me, but I put a qualifier on that love in my mind and told myself, ‘in their way.’
I did not allow myself to open up and listen to them, and that was simply fear on my part. Fear of being hurt again. That is my loss, and today I feel like I lost my parents again.
The honor of having this scholarship named for me, means more to me than I can possibly express. I’m sorry to this year’s recipient for taking away from a night that should really be about them. I’m looking forward to hearing about your story, and will ask Kevin to come back up to the stage to carry on with the ceremony.
Thank you all.”
Helen went back to her seat. The rest of the evening went by in a blur. She was in awe of the young woman that won the scholarship this year. She’d been in a horrible accident when she was in middle school, and had been told she would probably never walk again. She’d worked hard, and not only was she walking, but she had just been accepted into a school for dance, her lifelong dream.
She’d spoken with families that her parents had helped, and she listened.
The next morning, she asked Gillian to stop by her parent’s graves, as she laid flowers at the headstones, she knelt and cried, and said, “Mom, Dad. I love you. I have always loved you. Thank you. I’m sorry we let so many years go by with this … pain … between us. I wish I could have listened and heard you. Thank you for trying. Thank you for the work you have done to help so many others. Thank you for the wonderful scholarship you have created in my name.
Kevin and I spoke last night and he reviewed the past recipients and it is such an honor to be associated with all of these people, and I’m so glad you were able to help them. Gillian and I spoke with so many of the families you have worked with in the area, and we all agreed the work needs to be continued. We are going to work to put together a formal support program here, and we are going to name it in your honor.
Your message will be shared by those you shared it with. Your legacy will continue. I love you.”
She sat there just thinking for a bit longer, and then she took Gillian’s hand, and walked out of the cemetery.
“Honey, I’m home.”
Copyright (c) 2017. All Rights Reserved.
If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks.