It’s been five years since I’ve been with a man. No, I take that back, it’s been five years since my husband died. I can’t remember the last time I’ve been intimate with a man. What can I say, after forty years of marriage, somewhere along the way, we lost the spark. He lost interest in me, an aging, overweight, woman, with sagging breasts, more gray hair than not, and a complete disregard for my appearance.
Truth be told, I haven’t given a damn about him in ages before he got sick. He had less gray hair than bald scalp, he was morbidly overweight, and he stopped caring about his appearance as well. We had become the old farts we mocked in our youths. We didn’t love each other anymore, we just stayed because change was harder than staying miserable.
And I was miserable. I was beautiful once. I catch glimpses of that girl in the mirror every now and again, fleeting, like the ghosts of a memory haunting the sleepless hours of the approaching dawn. Then I’d come face to face with the whale I had become, the depression would set in, and I’d cry, clutching the pint of Ben & Jerry’s that had comforted me past my waistband’s endurance.
That’s not exactly right. I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I was miserable because I was fat. The opposite is true. I became fat because I was miserable. I was in a loveless marriage with a man that controlled me. He was never abusive, at least not in a physical sense, but if we were splitting hairs – which I guess is what I’m here doing – his controlling manner was through intimidation, and emotional and psychological abuse.
That’s what lead me to this place, sitting in the chair of a tattoo artist, getting my very first tattoo. Hank never let me get a tattoo. He never let me go skydiving. I never got to ride on a Harley or watch the sunset at the Grand Canyon. I never got to do what I wanted because I was to busy being what he wanted me to be, the perfect 1950’s housewife.
So I raised my boys, joined the PTA, and joined the book club. I was a member of the quilting club with other women like me, trapped in every feminist’s nightmare. The women’s group at the church was little comfort. Too many there believed that a woman’s place was to serve her husband.
Now, I have no husband, and most of the women in town don’t want to have anything to do with me. Or rather, if I were being honest, their husbands don’t want me to be a bad influence on them. I might give them improper ideas.
Todd, my youngest, is watching as the tattoo artist defiles my pale, unblemished arm. He smiles at me, in quiet awe and respect. My other two don’t approve, chips off the old block. Todd, however is different. He’s introspective and studious, not as physically formidable as my other two. I’ve always wondered if he was….
No matter. That’s not any of my business, at least until he decided to open up.
“I have something to say,” he began uncomfortably as we walked back to the Escalade, my little oasis of luxury in an otherwise pedestrian life. My arm in wrapped in plastic, but I can’t admire the hurricane symbol of my favorite band, Halestorm. It isn’t much, nothing as elaborate as some others I have seen and envied, but I liked it. I felt as though I was joining a small, but vocal tribe of fans.
“What is it?” I asked absently, my eyes on my arm. I glanced up and I could see that my son looked troubled. I had to stop being Liana for the moment and become Mom for my troubled youngest boy.
“I don’t know where to begin,” he said with a humorless laugh. He was stalling. He needed me to cajole it out of him. I recognized his need. Unlike his brothers, who were loud and bombastic, and would say whatever crossed their minds, regardless of who might be offended, Todd was careful with his words. He recognized the kind of power words could have.
“I’ll tell you what,” I said, “why don’t we wait until we get to Dale’s. We’ll get a celebratory beer to make the occasion.”
He nodded. “Sounds good. I could use a drink.
We drove in silence for a few blocks before Todd turned on the radio and put on my favorite song, “Dear Daughter.” I listened wistfully, having always wanted a daughter to raise, girl to guide into womanhood. That’s a bond I’ll never have. I love my sons, but wanted the same bond with a daughter that I have with my mother.
Dale’s was only a few miles away, but the drive seemed to drag on. But soon enough, we found ourselves a quite table in the corner. The pub was the kind of neighborhood watering hole that never attracted the in crowd. The patrons were mostly older, more interested in watching the television behind the bar than socializing. It was where I sought refuge after my husband’s death. It’s where I still come to get away.
We drank a couple of beers in silence, hoping the alcohol would ease his nerves. Instead, he seemed more tense. Whatever he had to say was weighing in on him. It looked like it would crush him before he had a chance to tell me. I pulled out my vape pen and took drag, then I fixed a look on my son and nodded. “Okay, you wanted to talk. I’m listening.”
Todd looked panicked, but he nodded and gulped down a fortifying drink. He trembled slightly but began to look resolute, steeling himself against whatever reaction he feared I would have. This was unlike him. He was quiet, but not quite timid or fearful. More cautious.
He sighed. “You know I’ve always been different, right Mom?”
“If by different, you mean not oafish and obnoxious like your older brothers, then yes, I’ve know this for some time. Let me stop you for a second, whatever you have to tell me won’t change the fact that you are my son, that I love you. I will always love you.”
“I doubt that,” he shook his head sadly before giving a sigh of resignation. “Okay, he goes nothing. I don’t feel like I’m supposed to be a man.”
“I think I’m transgender.”
I brinked at my son stupidly for a moment before muttering, “well, fuck!” I caught the attention of Judy and ordered a couple of tequias and another round of beers. I needed something to help process the news.
Judy returned promptly and I toasted Todd and took my shot in on go, chasing it down with my Dos Equis. I shook my head and looked at my son. He didn’t look at me, his eyes focused on the shot glass of tequila in his hands. He was avoiding my gaze.
“You’re transgender,” I repeated after a few more minutes.
“Yeah,” he said quietly, his voice trembling noticeably now. He shivered, though the bar was hot, then he down his tequila and took a swig of his beer. Still, he avoided looking my way, probably fearing the look of condemnation that was creeping across my face. I had to pull it together. I’d have to grapple with the news another time. At the moment, I had to reassure my son – or maybe my daughter – that I still loved him/her.
“How long have you known?” I inquired, wracking my brain for any clues of his gender crisis. Nothing obvious stuck out.
“Known? I’ve always sort of known, but I only came to terms with it in the past year.”
“After your father died?”
He nodded. “I knew Dad wouldn’t approve. He always forced me to do manly things like sports and woodworking when I wanted to be in band and theater. I never understood what was manly about sports and woodworking and feminine about the arts.”
“Your father had a very outdated way of looking of things.”
“An outlook Phil and Mike share.”
“They’re not the brightest of bulbs, if you know what I’m saying.” He chuckled.
“No, guess not,” he brightened slightly. “I guess this is something I’ve always struggled with. I started seeing a therapist a few months ago. I don’t know what’ll come of it, but I think I might want to see where it leads me.”
“That’s a big step.”
“I never said I was going to do anything.”
“But I think you’re weighing it in you mind.”
“I suppose I am.”
“Do you have a name in mind?”
“Tonya?” I whispered, the name taking my breath away. “That was the name I wanted to give you when we thought you were going to be a girl.”
“I know. Nana told me.”
“Does she know?”
“She figured it out,” he shrugged. “She said I had a wistful look whenever I saw women on tv, like I envied them or something. Then she told me about the name and it felt right, like the name belonged to me.”
“I guess it kind of did, or does. Your Nana always seemed to have psychic powers. And I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised she figured it out. She always seemed to be less straight than she appears?”
Todd smiled knowingly at this. “That’s a conversation you need to have with her.”
“So what now?”
“For now, nothing I guess. I’ll need to tell Phil and Mike at some point, but that can wait.”
“Do,” I paused, not knowing how to phrase the question. “Do you dress up?”
“At my apartment? Not really. I don’t know where to start. I’m too scared of being found out. It’s a small town.”
“Tell you what,” I said, relieved that he seemed to be relaxing, “why don’t we go shopping, just the two of us. We’ll go into Dallas next weekend. I’ll get us a couple of rooms and have a girls weekend. I have a friend that may be able to help us. She’s a whiz with clothes, and I know she’s not one to judge. We’ll start small, but I think we can get you a wardrobe built up.”
“Wow,” Todd looked thunderstruck. “I don’t know what to say. Thank you for understanding.”
“You’re welcome. I told you you’d always be my son. I guess I was wrong. I guess you’re my daughter now.”
“I guess so,” she laughed. The small bit of bravado that she carried melted away, and I caught a glimpse at her true self. A felt a pang of loss at the thought that I was losing my youngest son, but it was mingled with a sense of joy at gaining the daughter I had always wanted.
“Let’s get out of here, Tonya,” I said, and she beamed at me. “I think we can do a bit of shopping online at home.”