Note: These were reflections after a year in New York City, just over a year full-time
October 4, 2012: I awoke in a hotel room in Easton,Pennsylvania, got ready and brought things down to the car for the last time in a road trip that began eight days earlier from a small Nebraska town.
It’s a long drive, but not THAT long. Debbie and I spent some of that time in Cleveland with her mom. The trip, with me as driver, Deb as navigator and our combined musical geekery making for an effective musical playlist (along with a random classic rock station with a surprisingly deep playlist in Springfield, Ill.)
It was a trip that featured good food,including stops at a couple places that had been featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” (unlike Guy Fieri’s place, the food there was meant to be taken internally). There were visits to the Rock and Roll and NFL Halls of Fame.There was a bit of near white-knuckling as fog rolled in as we were 15 minutes from a hotel in the Pennsylvania hills.
This was the shortest drive, as the place we were dropping off the rental car was just a couple hours away. From there, a friend of Deb’s was picking us up to go the rest of the way.
In the late afternoon hours of a fall Thursday, we arrived in front of the building I’m sitting in now. We unloaded the pickup of everything we’d taken with us.
It was more than I’d needed. When I left that one-stoplight Nebraska town, I had been on HRT for four months. I had been growing my hair for a while, but I stayed under the radar as far as being out as Kara. I knew I’d be myself here,but I didn’t know exactly when.
I’m reminded of a youth retreat I went on when I was…either 14 or 15. I know my cousin who's like a brother would remember this one. There was a lot of hiking, rappelling and other things. On the way back, for some reason, we stopped at a bridge on the way from our retreat area in the Cascades of central Washington. There was a bridge over a river.
Being young teenage boys (or in my case, wearing an ill-fitting costume of one), the river below was enticing and the decision was made to dive into the clear mountain stream below.
We could tell from where we were that the water was deep enough. I remember looking down at the beautiful water. I could look ahead and see the hills and mountains on the other side of the valley. People were doing some activities or other a little farther downstream where the channel widened and the sedimentary dirt was available.
With that, I looked down again stepped up and off the bridge. This was not exactly leaping off the Royal Gorge, but it was high enough to make a cannonball a really bad idea. I put my arms close to my body and, after what was less time than it felt like, hit the water and plunged down. A splash and I kept going into the water. I didn’t hit the bottom of the stream, but within a couple seconds, I easily kicked my way to the surface of the slow moving river. Most of the others soon followed. It was odd, given that I was usually not the first one to do such things.
Fast forward to many years later and here I was (with the help of the first haircut for my true self) making a trip from Nebraska to New York as Kara. I’m not going to lie and say I had no fear at all. Far from it.
But I had Debbie along. I also had the words of a trans friend from here who’s 6’7”, who I talked to before I went to get my first wig (at that point, my own hair was only a few months removed from an uber-short cut). She said, “Just walk in like you own the place.”
I did that day, which was also my first extended shopping for clothes for myself. Of course, at that point, I had people thinking I was shopping for my girlfriend, apparently.
“Walk in like you own the place.” That’s what I did on the trip here and, what do you know? Nobody pointed and laughed. There was no gathering with pitchforks and torches or people yelling, “The trans! Seize it!” or any such nonsense.
From an actual leap I’d never done before to a metaphoric one decades later, “his” clothes never left the suitcase.
I’ve been myself ever since.
While I’d shed the costume, that was far from the only change. I lived in a town that was overwhelmingly white and now I live in a neighborhood that has the most languages spoken in it of any in the country. The quiet nights aren’t quite as quiet, as the rural soundscapes aren’t as easy to find in the five boroughs. There are as many people in my block as there were in the town I lived in.
The experiences started quickly. There was the Afghan Whigs show at Terminal 5,seeing a band Deb and I both really like for the second time in less than a week on the night after we arrived.
There was the eventful subway ride home one night that first weekend where Deb tried to keep an extremely drunk, underage girl from slipping between subway cars and I, not being familiar with the trip time, left the subway car.
I realized my mistake, saw the car doors close and Deb reach out to me as if in a slow motion movie scene, saying, “Noooooooooo…..”
There were shows and sporting events. There have been opportunities to meet some of the folks from here, such as a number of comedy shows where Tammy was performing and, of course, a memorably enjoyable Saturday with Lisa E.
As most of you know, of course, last winter, the friendship between Deb and myself evolved into a romantic relationship that continues to this day and,hopefully, for the rest of our lives.
For a while, I could still get very paranoid about being “read.” I remember one especially packed subway car ride home where literally not one more person could be packed in. For some reason, in my head, as I could feel the sweat starting to drip down my face, into my eyes, I was thinking, “They’ll know.They’ll know.”
It was all I could do not to bolt out of the car when I had a chance at a later stop, but I didn’t...and I wasn’t ready. Everybody else was just like me, just wanting to get wherever they were going.
I can’t remember when, but that fear subsided as I went out more and more often. Now, I’m focused on what I’m doing and where I’m going.
The changes have kept happening internally and physically with the HRT, of course. That has definitely helped me be more at ease.
For the first time in my life, I have not felt like I’m living an out-of-body experience. For all my dysphoric moments that can still happen, I feel connected at last. I still need to lose more weight, but I’m not carrying that costume around anymore. Thank goodness.
I liked a lot of my old hometown area, including some of the people (hi, Lisa S!),but that feels like “his” place, his life.
While I carry that person’s memories and friends and family, this is my place,my turf.
I traveled 1,300 miles from a place I lived for over 20 years. That was after moving around a lot as a kid. I’m in a city of over 8,000,000 people, far away from family, but for the first time in my life, I have a home.
Even if I’m not as far downstream as I want to be yet, I am safely above the surface and so glad that I took that leap.
That year is over and, to quote Dave Grohl – “Done, done and I’m on to the next one.”
What a difference a year makes. Why did I wait so long again?