05 Dec 2012
There’s that half-conscious moment, when you wake on the heels of a crisis or a loss or some life-changing event, and you don’t yet remember that thing which weighed heavily upon you the night before. This little gift of blissful calm has been noted many times before and not without reason, as it is this half-breath, this brief, but blessed reprieve which we all long for.
The first moments of those first days after Alice's revelation are like that, gloriously shrouded in the fog of sleep. Reality seeps in however between the 6:05 and 6:15 alarms. By Saturday however, I wake knowing what I knew the night before and not feeling some horrific loss. I roll out of bed and our collie Chloe follows me down the hall, always on my heels.
We find Alice sprawled on the couch in the living room, a feather blanket flopped over her and an old movie still queued on the DVD. Chloe nudges Alice with her nose and in response, the child shrugs and rubs her cheek but does not wake.
I cannot help but examine her while she sleeps and the only way I can think to explain it is through this lenticular animation button I got at Disneyland when I was a kid. If you tilted it one way, you saw Mickey Mouse all decked out in his Sorcerer's Apprentice outfit. But if you tilted it in the opposite direction, Mickey disappeared and there was Minnie, with a fist of flowers and a picnic basket.
Seeing Alice rather than Jordan asleep on the couch on the morning of Day Four isn't all that hard. Tilt your head, adjust your expectations a notch or two, and there she is. My Minnie. Tilt it back, and she fades into that familiar boy. I watched Chloe nuzzle her cheek, all intimate and nonchalant and there is a part of me that is momentarily jealous of her lack of confusion.
It's evening of the same day when Alice finally spills the girlie beans to my husband Jay. As it turns out, I'm not even there when it happens, but soaking in the tub with a good book. Jay comes in afterwards and finds me getting dressed in the bedroom.
“Well you weren't kidding when you said it was something BIG.” he says.
“He told you?” I try to judge his reaction by his expression, but mostly he just looks bewildered.
“Well he hemmed and hawed and then finally came out with it.”
“And what did you say?”
“I told him it wasn't what I expected but that it wasn't the worst thing in the world. Then I gave him a cigarette.”
“At least I didn't give him a beer, though it seemed like the moment for something like that. Which reminds me, I need another beer … or six.”
“So you're ok?”
“I'm never ok, but I'm not less ok than usual, if that's what you mean.”
“Have I told you that you're the best dad ever?”
“Nah, I'm probably just still in shock.”
I hug him hard and then give him the whole “We can do this” speech that has been rolling around in my head since Wednesday. Afterward, he heads back out to the porch where Alice is hanging out with the dogs. On the way back down the hall, I decide it's time to tell our nineteen-year-old son Max.
“Hey you,” I poke my head into his bedroom.
“What's up?” He doesn't look up from the computer.
“So in therapy this week, Jory had one of those breakthrough moments, where he told Linda a big secret he's been keeping. Then they told me and Jory just told your dad.”
He glances at me over the top of the computer monitor, clearly waiting for me to get it out and over with.
“So it seems that Jory is a girl … a girl called Alice.”
Oh. Ok.” he says before going back to whatever he was doing when I came in. He is in fact so blasé that I'm not sure he understands what I'm saying.
“Like William Carlos” I continue, “Well the opposite of William Carlos, but like Ari who I worked with back in Santa Cruz.”
“I get it, Mom.”
“I just wanted to make sure you heard me.”
“I did. I do. I'm just in the middle of something here.”
“Ok, well now we're all clear.” I back out of the room and leave him to his own devices.
I find Jay and Alice out on the back porch. I sit on the wooden steps leading up to the old spa and light a cigarette.
“Can I have another?” Alice asks, suddenly brazen and hopeful.
“Hell no.” Jay and I say in unison.
“One cigarette per sex change.” jay says and Alice laughs.
The remainder of the evening is surprisingly low-key. Jay drinks himself into his happy place and the relief of not having to keep a gigantic secret washes over me, obscuring for the moment all the challenges ahead of us.
Sunday morning Alice wakes me with an exaggerated whisper, standing at the edge of the bed.
“Open open the stores are open!”
“What are you babbling about?” I open one eye.
“I cannot stand one more day in boy clothes!” She wrinkles her nose at the horror of it.
“Give me another hour to sleep and then I'll get up and we'll see what we can do.”
“but but” She's literally bouncing beside me, with her hands on the bed so that the whole thing bounces along with her.
“One hour” I grumble and point to the door. Of course even after she leaves the room, I can't get back to sleep. So I untangle myself from Jay and the dogs and get up.
We head to a nearby department store and once I'm finally awake I realize that I'm excited to have her with me this time so I won't have to stumble through the store trying to imagine what she'll like. She seems equally excited until we step through the door. Seriously, her whole body stiffens and the shield comes down. She is vibing angry, seething and shut down. I walk towards the juniors department and turn around to talk to her only to find her gone. I scan the aisles and finally spot her perusing men's shoes. I sidle up beside her.
“Um, what are you doing?”
“You want shoes?”
“Then why… “
“I can't” she whispers angrily.
“Ok well if we're going to get some clothes, we've got to go over to where the clothes are.”
I walk away and over to a rack of jeans and start flipping through them. I peek over my shoulder and see Alice moving closer slowly until she is standing about two feet away, arms crossed, sighing heavily and looking irritated. I can't figure it out. I hold up a pair of cute black jeans with flared bottoms.
“How about these?” I ask.
She shoots me the look of death and stomps away. What the hell? Completely oblivious, I follow her to the Housewares section of the store and grab her arm. She whirls around with a pained expression.
“I can't just go over and pick stuff out!” she hisses, “There are people…”
“Oh for Chri'sake, no one is looking at you!” I hiss back, immediately sorry that I've said it. I'm right, but that's not what matters. Standing here, sandwiched by silverware and tablecloths, she looks terrified.
“That bored and irritated thing you were doing over there, when I held up those jeans? That's perfect. We're going to go back and I want you to do that again, but you gotta help me out with some signals, ok?”
“Thumbs up or down, move right or left, stuff like that. Ok?”
“I liked those hip-huggers” she whispers, “And there's a white hoodie with little flowers.”
“Let's go get 'em.” and with that we head back to the racks.
Posed in baggy jeans, a P. Miller jersey and baseball cap, with her arms crossed and her scowl in place, she looks like any other teenage boy forced to accompany his mother who, by her clothing choices clearly has a skewed perception of both her age and her waistline.
Once we get on the same page and have our system in place, things go quite quickly. I grab a pair of the black hip-huggers and get a thumbs-up on a couple of long-sleeved striped t-shrts. A round of Hot or Cold nets us a white hoodie with a piping of tiny roses and she Charades her way into two camisoles and a pair of pink Converse Hi-Tops. By this point, she's relaxed and the whole thing has become a game. They could read her mock scowls, eye-rolling and feigned boredom in the cheap seats.
When I hold up the black tee, emblazoned with “EVERYBODY NEEDS TO BE LOVED” she's actually laughing while shaking her head. I stick my tongue out, snatch the shirt off the rack and toss it on top of the stack on my other arm. When the running total in my head hits triple digits I give a head signal and make for the check-out. Alice turns on heel and stomps out the front door. I'm not sure if she's pissed that I've ended the spree or staying in character until I get out to the car and she snatches the bag from me.
“Ohmygod I thought you were never going to grab this hoodie!”
Jay is not quite so delighted when I hand him the receipt upon our return.
“Wow. Daughters are expensive.” He says.
“And we didn't even get into haircolor, makeup and nails, all of which came up today.”
“Looks like you're going to need a second job.” he says dryly, and then, “So he plans on going girl at school?”
“I think she's trying to make up for lost time.” It's the first time I've said “she” in reference to Alice in front of Jay and it hangs there in the air, feeling awkward. Feeling silly. Feeling like I'm lying. But I know that I have to get used to it and the only way to get used to it is to say it over and over.
“There are burgers under the foil on the stove,” Jay says.
“I'm starving.” I head on into the kitchen and start digging condiments out of the fridge.
I've thrown together a burger and am standing in the kitchen taking the first bite, when Alice emerges from her room, dressed from head to toe in new clothes. The pink converse, black hip-huggers, pink and white striped thermal shirt and beneath it, the silhouette of the white lace bra.
It takes immense concentration to swallow the bite of food in my mouth casually. She's waiting for me to say something, and for the life of me, all I can think is ok, this is happening. I can't say that. No way am I supposed to say that. Instead, I gesture towards the plate of grilled meat.
“Starvatious.” She slaps together a burger and follows me into the living room, flopping down on to the couch beside her brother who is too plugged into some wrestling game on the Playstation to notice. I follow behind her and exchange panicked glances with Jay.
It's one thing to know intellectually that something is going to happen and yet sometimes another thing entirely to realize that it is happening right here, right now.
“Can I get in?” Alice asks, shoving the last bite of her burger into her mouth and wiping her mouth on her sleeve.
“Ah ah ah!” I say as she does it.
Immediately she pulls back , examines the sleeve and grins.”oops”
Max finally looks up from the television and does a long double-take. Every living thing in the room seems to hold it's breath all at once except for Max, who tosses Alice a controller.
“New character?” he asks.
“Yes” she answers, clearly pleased.
“Ok” and he turns back to the game, backs out of the match he's in the middle of and navigates to the Create A Character screen.
For the next hour they fuss over the details of Alice's new in-game alter-ego. Jay and I tiptoe out of the room and leave them to it. Once we're out of earshot, Jay whispers, “This is all happening at warp speed. At this time yesterday those were two boys in there.”
“And a bra?”
“A training bra.” I say.
“Oh, well that makes it MUCH less awkward.”
Just then, from the other end of the house, we hear Alice shriek, “I didn't ask for torpedo boobs, you dork!” Alice shrieks at one point and then, “Perky, we're going for perky!''