Friday, October 23, 2020

Harmon Keller/Alicia Polawski: Next Steps

I had a decision to make over the course of the "off-season" as to whether I would return to the Inn or continue developing this life I am leading into something with a bit more value then when I found it, perhaps as a means to finance the next phase of my life.  Apparently, for many that the Inn has cut off from the lives they were born into, a curvy woman in her mid-twenties with a thriving social media presence would be ideal, and work as an air hostess only more appealing, apparently not realizing that the vast number of people who think that way leads to a rather low rate of pay.

Instead, there was a pandemic, which not only made a return to the Trading Post Inn unlikely, but disrupted my sources of income - far fewer people were opting to fly, which meant that some flights were cancelled and others needed less staffing.  Given that most flight attendants are not salaried but paid by the hour, we started to feel the pinch almost immediately.  The union makes laying people off difficult, so that means very few of us get enough work to live on.  In some ways, it is a fascinating study of resources thrown out of equilibrium - fewer people are traveling, so there are fewer flights, and since there are fewer people allowed on the flights, there need to be fewer people assigned to each, but the lower capacities also mean that the number can't be scaled back quite as far back as one might expect.  Demand is highly variable as well, and even the people who book a flight often change their minds, sometimes bringing the passenger count below the point where it makes more sense to cancel the flight, especially earlier on.  Given that attendants on this airline are not paid for cancelled flights, even if they show up and are helping to prepare for boarding, it was often frustrating.

It would, logically, have been a good time for "Alicia" to make a career change, but as mentioned, her job likely lends a certain value to her identity as a commodity well beyond what it brings in directly, and that is before considering that this job is also no small part of the appeal of the YouTube channel, both in its travel theme and the idea that there's something ineffably sexier about my making these recommendations because of this job, even if I've been advised to not actually wear my employer's uniform, instead dressing in a dress that suggests it, while also wearing one of those silly scarves and putting my hair up.

Options for that have been slimmer, what with so many potential subjects of new episodes are closed, and I have had to learn to do more of the production myself since Barbara took a leave of absence to look after her ailing father some months ago.  It has been especially frustrating since we had just started to get some meager advertising revenue for our trouble, and even been contacted by certain locations interested in being featured.  The first one or two of those we shot were actually quite enjoyable - no security or police saying we could not film somewhere, people willing to talk rather than finding us a nuisance - although some of the negotiations have been peculiar:  No cash changing hands, but a fair amount of discussion of exchanging links, specifying their website in the video and making it clickable.  There have also been overtures about product placement and endorsements, or an online storefront, but research seems to indicate that many would-be "influencers" find themselves with more inventory and debt than profit as a result.

This apparently tends to be treated as a dirty little secret; I attended a meet-up of various online personalities in the area a few weeks ago and the mostly-young people there had very little to say about monetization or cash flow other than to comment that some "change in the algorithm" had hurt them.  I doubt many of them will last, as the bulk seem to have found a hobby briefly turning into a profitable business but have little idea of how to approach it as one, though they at least have the advantage of being born into this era and having some amount of unthinking instinct into what will work.

On top of that, the landscape can be rather treacherous.  Some fellow who is apparently paid money so that people can watch him play video games suggested that, if travel became too much of an obstacle, I at least have the sort of appearance that would allow me to do well on "Only Fans".  I nodded, said that was an option that one had to consider, and then looked up the name when I had a spare moment alone in the ladies' room.

Suffice it to say, I do not see myself using that platform, although I also wonder if this young man was propositioning me as much as suggesting a future plan of action.  The idea did make me start to think a bit more about how I use my sexuality and even sexual availability in this area, somewhat - while Jordan put me in a tight costume and directed me to speak in a certain way, I haven't necessarily been doing this as well as I could on "_______ with Alicia", especially since Barbara left.  I can walk in heels and stuff my bosom into an elevating brassiere, or undo a button or two in nice weather, but I have not spent much time on learning how to create certain effects with cosmetics, or given much thought to personal fashion choices beyond what generally complements a woman with this body type.  These things, from what I can tell, tend to enhance a woman's appeal to other women, which I have perhaps been ignoring.  Moreover, I tend to rely on the generally-valid assumption that not only will men simply be attracted to this body, but that a woman's lack of reciprocal interest will only make her more enticing.  Two years of Alicia's job have shown that many men are not that complex, and simply want to see a woman eager to be with them sexually, rather than believe that they might be the one to melt the ice queen if only she had a chance.

Integrating this into Alicia's online presence is, I suspect, the sort of thing that will make Alicia's life a more valuable asset at the point when I decide to leave it, though the building of it will likely not be as pleasant as it must appear.

-Harmon Keller

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Cary: Shh! It's her birthday

Just saw Jonah's post about celebrating Krys's birthday and wondered if maybe people might be a bit curious about how it was going on the other side.  It was, as you might expect, kind of a low-key event.  I took her into Portland for a nice meal just like last year, but it got a bit uncomfortable; the distanced tables and relatively quiet room has a way of letting you know you're doing something wrong.  Not that it really bothers Krys - as much as she kind of enjoyed the initial harder lockdown because it meant very little time pretending to be 13, she pushes hard against people who tell her what to do almost by reflex, and sometimes I've got to be the dad and remind her that it's not the world trying to make her feel like a powerless kid.  You can imagine how that goes.

That said, she's in a better place right now than she has been in a while.  You've probably never seen a young girl so happy to find her body changing - she whooped when she had her first period, she's grown fairly tall for her age, not quite the girl who's a head-and-a-half taller than every boy in her class but not far off, and she is already wanting to know when she'll outgrow her first training bra, only half-kidding when she says she's been researching which brands of chicken use the most growth hormones and to please buy that.  I tell her that her genes make it unlikely she'll ever get near what she had before, and she grumbles about stupid white-girl genes and how it's bad enough that she needs insane amounts of sunblock to go to the beach, and I generally avoid pointing out that they are also responsible for her red hair, which she kind of loves:  It's straight, long, curls easy, and makes her the center of attention wherever she goes.  I apparently got off very light in terms of black-woman hair care as Elaine, both by having her around and having it be fairly straight.

Aside from that, though, she's also reached a point in school where she's starting to find herself challenged, a bit.  You don't necessarily get amazed that someone who previously graduated high school finds themselves no longer able to coast when returning to junior high some fifteen years later, because the world moves and changes so fast these days, but it's been interesting to watch Krys grapple with it.  She's not really one for regrets, but she's smart enough to know that a lot of things could have gone differently for her.  I don't really know what her high school years were like at all, but I'm thinking she got the idea that she'd be able to get by on sex appeal early, and never really had someone make a case for other things being just as exciting.  You gather she also notices that even now, there aren't that many people like the real her in the books she's assigned to read, although it's getting better.

We're still trying to find something she really loves, though.  She took piano lessons for long enough to learn to play well enough that she can tap something out, and sometimes you'll see her fingers moving when listening to music (not that she listens to a lot of stuff with keyboards, so far as I can tell), but her teacher stopped giving lessons in the spring because of the virus and Krys hasn't been interested in picking them back up.  She doesn't think she'll wind up doing it for a living, so why should she spend so much time practicing?

You don't really have an easy time finding an answer for that.  She doesn't really want me to be her dad beyond making appearances, so I can't really use myself as an example and say that I became a jack of all trades and master of none, because she seems to think I'm doing pretty well.  You try asking if she'd liked dancing or if she just did it for money (not a comfortable conversation with someone who looks 13), and she starts talking about maybe doing cheerleading, which kind of seems like a path back to trying to count on being pretty.

It's hard to know what to do so much of time time.  With Elaine, the job was just to help her do the things people wouldn't let her do for herself, letting her look like a kid and helping her escape when being an adult in a kid's body made her uncomfortable.  That's all Krys says she wants from me, most of the time, but I also know that she doesn't want to make the same decisions as before, which means starting over as a kid, and kids need parents, and I don't know if I can be that for her someone who may be half my age but is still 28.

-Cary

Friday, October 16, 2020

Jonah/Krystle: Surprise! It's Your Birthday!

It's funny to see Jordan write about how the pandemic has made him feel a lot like he was back in his old life, because it's been the opposite for me:  The longer this goes on, the more I feel like my old life is a dream.

I don't mean that as any sort of metaphor or whatever, but because even after five years, I'm still usually a guy in my dreams,  I'm stuck at 16 in those dreams, still in high school, even though the person going by my real name is old enough to drink and I've just turned 28, as far as anybody but a few people is concerned.  I don't remember those dreams very often, just enough to occasionally have a reminder that even though I'll never give up being Moira's mommy and I can get through all the female stuff on autopilot these days, some part of my head won't let go of being a guy.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the fact that we're not really doing anything new means that Momma Kamen is often reaching into the past, especially when Moira does something new, relating it to how the original Krystle was as a toddler, or Karla's kids, and after seven months, the stories have been repeated enough that I recognize some of them, and it's not really awkward bluffing to get her to say more.  Her or Karla - we don't see her in person very often, because she's living with her boyfriend and there's baby-daddies that makes her circle pretty big, but she skypes with her mom a lot, and likes to see her niece, and since it's not a very big apartment and I don't want to cause trouble, it means I get pulled in, and there's more reminiscence.  And I'm not sure how to put the rest of it, because I didn't finish school and all, but if you look at Krystle's life and mine as one story, the way it must look for them, they've kind of filled in the gaps of how "Krystle" went from a rebellious girl who stripped for money to a church-going woman who slipped up one night and got pregnant but has mostly played by the rules otherwise.  Like, there's a path from one to the other that makes sense to them, and even if I'm nothing like the Krystle they knew before, and the more they do that, the more it makes sense to me.  I still know who I am, underneath, but it's also starting to feel like I've always been Krystle.

And then there's stuff like my birthday.  Or hers.  Momma K put it up on the big calendar in the kitchen, because everything in her datebook goes up on that, and when I was writing that I had a job interview coming up, Moira asks what I'm writing, then has me pick her up so that she can point at things and ask what they are.  When I get to the one that's just my name, I'm like "Krystle - oh!, my birthday", kid of half-surprised.  Her eyes get big, though, asking if there are going to be presents and cake.  I don't know if we can afford presents, I say, but I suppose we can arrange a cake.  That, obviously, becomes the biggest event of the month, as far as she's concerned.

It's fun.  I let her help with frosting and blow out the candles, she has a huge sugar rush all night, and Momma K laughs when she finally goes down, saying that she remembers "me" being kind of a brat about "my" birthday, demanding presents, and it's funny to her that I'd apparently forget it.  I've had a bit of wine, so I'm a little less guarded, saying "well, it's not as important as" and only stop myself because, at least for now, Krystle's birthday has bumped mine out of my head.  I recover with "as important as hers is" while remembering December 28th, but I've kind of got to pause and count on my fingers to figure out how old I actually am.

After that, Krystal calls to wish me a happy birthday, which is nice.  Still, it's got me feeling stressed, so I head out to the fire escape to get a little time alone, outside of that apartment.

I'm not the only one; there's a man on the same level but a couple units over who's also out there, and just looking at him, I feel kind of like we've got something in common.  "Hey," I say, "you look like you wish you smoked too."

He's confused.  "What?"

"You know, how in movies, people will take a break to do that but what they really want is to get away from their family for a moment, or other stuff that they're not supposed to want to get away from?"

"And meanwhile we look stupid doing that, especially since we apparently both forgot our phones?"

"Exactly!"  We both laugh, and I extend a hand despite it being way too far to shake.  "Hi; I'm Krystle."

"I know.  You've, um, grown up, but I recognize you."  He leans over the rail and extends his hand too, and between doing that and the way he says "grown up", he winds up paying some more attention to my chest, making me want to zip my hoodie up without being too obvious about it while also noting that he's actually been staring less than most guys do.

Still, I groan, though it probably sounds more embarrassed to him than me hating that I've walked into this when I was trying to escape people acting like we had history.  "I'm sorry!  I don't remember your name!"

"It's okay; my mom left my father when I was thirteen and we weren't exactly running with the same people at school back then.  I'm Gabe.  Uh, Gabriel."

I give him a good look, hoping he'll think I'm trying to remember him when I'm really just scoping him out for the first time.  He's a bit taller than me, wears glasses, has short natural hair and a beard.  He's wearing short sleeves and from what I can see of his arms, he doesn't spend a whole lot of time in the gym trying to get bulked up.  There's a company name on his t-shirt I don't recognize.  Seems pretty harmless.  "Okay.  Yeah, Gabriel."

He smiles a big toothy grin.  "You don't recognize me at all, do you?"

"No... I'm sorry!"  I hate the way I draw out the "no" and how my voice kind of tends to squeal when I apologize; it started out as me imitating how I thought girls sounded and it stuck.

"That's okay; Mom moved us back to Georgia and I never got closer to here than New York since, but that's as close as anyone else was when the Covid got him, so it wound up being on me to make arrangements and go through his things."

"Oh no!  I--"

"Don't apologize; you didn't have anything to do with it and if you're lucky the most you ever knew him was saying hi in the elevator.  He wasn't exactly a great guy."

"Uh, okay."

"Yeah.  Anyway, don't wanna go back in there, can't really go that many other places, so here I am."

"Here you are."

We stood in silence for a while before he asked about me, and I told him about Moira and how I've been furloughed for six months and was starting to look for other jobs in case The Changeling never came back all the way, but didn't really want to because even though it was just waitressing it was also my best friends.  "But I can't do it forever.  I turned 28 today, have a 3-year-old girl, and still live with, y'know, my mother."

Fortunately, he picked up on the "today" bit.  "It's your birthday?  Congratulations!  What's the best place to get some nice baked goods and sit six feet apart?"

"Whoa!  That's, uh--"

"Krystle, I buried my father two days ago, there's a pandemic, and this is the closest thing I've had to fun since I got here.  Let me buy you a cupcake."

I started trying to come up with some sort of polite reply, but was saved when he heard his phone ring inside.  "Gotta get that.  But it was nice to see you again."

"You too."

I went inside to see that Momma Kamen was still on the couch, watching some CBS crime show.  "I hear that Gabriel boy has a nice job in Manhattan."

"How would you--  It's not like that!  His father just died and he clearly just wanted someone to talk to."

"Uh-huh.  Still, happy birthday to you!"

Just what I need - Krystle's mom trying to fix me up with someone from so far back in Krystle's life that she's probably forgotten him herself.

-Jonah/Krystle

Monday, October 12, 2020

Jordan/Yuan-Wei: Different sorts of weird

Hey, it's been a minute, and I can't even really say that the last year of my life has been screwy in ways that don't involve the Inn, because I've still been in contact with Chen-Ai/Bingbing about stuff, and she still acts like she wants to be friends. Like, the sort of friend who charges you ten thousand American dollars to sign documents so that nobody goes looking for Chen-Ai because she didn't file her taxes on multiple continents, but still a friendly sort of mercenary.  We're helping each other out, so I should be happy to kick some cash her way!  Really, she says, I should just let her hire herself as her own business manager.  I'm actually not sure why she hasn't just gone and done that anyway, beyond maybe not wanting to have an ugly confrontation when the Inn spits out a new Chen-ai.  I half-suspect that she had someone lined up, but she's gotten cagier since the pandemic, because who knows when there will be enough people at the Inn to trigger the curse?  It didn't happen at all this year, from what I can tell, and I have moments when I think we won't be out of the woods by next May.

I never thought I'd be thankful for travel restrictions, but she absolutely would have come to visit "friends in California" this summer if that had been a thing.  Of course, on the other side, it's been a tricky thing with my visa.  VFX work is still going on, so I've got a job in California, even if CGI is not as easy to do from home as you might think - the 3D scanners and powerful render farms are at the office, so I'm a bit limited in what I can do at home and there's lag.  Plus, the amount of work has tapered off as studios push movies out and thus need less overtime to hit a date, and a lot of film and TV just hasn't been shooting, which means less work is coming in.  Ironically, a lot of what is coming in is from China, which raises the question of maybe me working from "home" in Hong Kong.  There's been talk, but the lag would really suck unless we opened an actual office there, which the guys up top aren't quite ready to do.  Plus, if I leave here for Hong Kong, who knows when or if I'll be able to come back.  My passport as Yuan-Wei may be Chinese, but in my head and heart I'm still Chinese-American, and not being able to see my family or anything would just suck.

Not that I don't occasionally think of picking up stakes and settling in Hong Kong for good.  It's not like I didn't notice racism for the first twenty-five years of my life, but when you're a big guy who has lived in Queens all his life, your voice says you belong there, you've got places you can go to escape it because everyone's Asian there, and I was kind of tough to beat up.  I didn't know much kung fu, but I was fucking difficult to knock over at my size.  Being fat isn't much fun, and makes you another sort of target, but I didn't get kicked in the face like the skinny guys did.  It's something I didn't have to deal with a whole lot after becoming Yuan-Wei - I spent my time in good environments and the creeps just thought I was exotic and might be excited to fuck any white guy - but ever since people started in with that "China virus" shit, there have been a whole fucking lot more people yelling at my ass, and some of the worst are in the nice neighborhood where I live.  Like, Wuhan is as far from Hong Kong as L.A. is from Texas or something, but they don't even need to see me pull out some sort of ID that shows me as legally an immigrant to figure that I personally brought the virus here and my having a house is stage one of some communist conspiracy to kill all the white people and take over their country, but I guess these guys have always been rich white assholes and they are not handling the first time they've ever felt unsafe or restricted very fucking well at all.

They need a trip to the Inn, every fucking one of them.

I don't know if that would really change them, though.  Like, I always used to think that the last few years have really changed me, but seven months of mostly staying in has me wondering how much the stuff I thought was different really was.  Sure, I've got a clitoris which has a direct line of communication with my pleasure center, and I'm kind of at the point when whatever chemistry happens in your brain when you're around a guy with the right pheromones is starting to train me to find them attractive even from a photograph, but, shit, that's just chemistry.  I'm back to hanging around the house, working on a computer all day and then either shifting it to gaming mode or finding something on Netflix after that, pretty much like before I went to the Inn the first time.

It's starting to make me feel like I'm seeing a stranger in the mirror for the first time in a while, too.  Especially since I'm not really using that time to make the girl in the mirror into what I want from her, unless I know I'm going to have a video call with upper management or a client that day.  The rest of the time, there's no point in makeup, and I'll just slip into a t-shirt and either some loose shorts or some leggings, and flip-flops for shoes.  I haven't worn heels in long enough that I went to the closet and made sure I could still walk in them while writing this.  A lot of my female co-workers have said that they're not looking forward to having to wear bras again when this is all over, but I'm not quite with them on that; my tits are just big enough that it stops being fun after a few hours.

I haven't quite eating too much or stopped doing yoga, and I've even started swimming a bit in the little slice of ocean I've got behind my house on occasion because I do like seeing a narrow waist in the mirror, but it's an effort and between that and my period, I'm starting to wonder what the point of being Yuan-Wei is if I don't get to hang out and be with other people.  It seems to be a whole lot more fucking work just to be the person I used to be!

And it makes me wonder how much this Inn stuff really becomes normal.  Annette and I have talked about how we're not like "regular" trans people because we figure that the part of our brain that determines gender identity also gets changed by the spell, and we just have to catch up the same way we do with who we're attracted to, but I'm starting to wonder if I ever really accepted being a woman, or if it just seemed like an okay trade-off to having a chance to go back to college and be popular and have lots of sex this time, even if it was the other kind.  Now, though, I'm starting to wonder if I'm actually comfortable with being a girl, or if I just like being attractive and popular.

-Jordo

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Val: Long stories short

Sorry if these posts have become so few and far between but when the world changes so fast it becomes a mite bit hard to figure out when to stop and talk about it. Over the last two months, talking about my own sorry life has been real low on my list of priorities, but I feel a little calm and comfortable now, and am just a bit in need of distraction, even if we as a city and country ain't nearly out of the woods yet.

After the wedding, Ariel and I both kind of recognized that what had happened between us was a one-off - two women in need grabbing a little piece of excitement from the best possible source. We had a single conversation loaded with nervous laughter where we both agreed to admit we had expected it a little based on all the buildup we had had, but that there wasn't more to it than that.

The idea was, we were going to go back to our normal lives. Ariel would give herself some time to move on from her relationship with Charli, and I would go back to pining over irritating men.

Then COVID happened, and suddenly we were all we had for company.

We both recognized early on the potential for danger here. We were two of each other's closest friends in the world, confidantes and emotional support at a time when everyone needed someone to fill that role. Complicating it could be a disaster.

True, I said, but in my experience, denying yourself something you want is a complication. It's simpler to give in and deal with the fallout later.

She smiled and said that's why I like you, you say stuff like that just when I need to hear it.

I added, it's more fun, too.

So began our sexual odyssey. We gave it a few weeks before confirming to Maddie what we were up to. She took it strangely, like she was disappointed in me, but understood it was my business. Eventually she adjusted, but she always maintained a weirdly conflicted attitude about it. Maybe she didn't like us becoming a faction. Maybe she was insecure about her formerly-supposedly-straight friend falling in with a girl, and her sister's ex at that. Part of me hoped it was because she wished she were in Ariel's place, but I pushed that aside and tried to appreciate the girl I had.

At times I had doubts myself. I had been pursuing men for so long it hadn't occurred to me to be with a woman in this way. I think because I felt such guilt over myself for my past relationships with women that being with men exclusively felt like my... punishment? Realizing I am bisexual as a woman was actually a hard step to take because I had to try to figure out whether I was just faking it to feel like Tyler again, or if I, Valerie, like this girl. And the answer is I do, because there is a lot to like.

I mean, she's beautiful, with tan skin and great hair and a really great fashion sense. And an incredible figure. She's funny, she's smart, she's informed. A joy to be around. She makes me feel good and - and I don't say this lightly - I feel like I can be myself around her.

After a few weeks of casual sex, we began to morph into an actual couple with the closest things you could think of to "dates" in lockdown. Movie nights, special dinners. She would light candles and read me poetry she loved (that would mostly go over my head). I would tell her long stories with no real point and make endless breakfasts. And at the same time we had all the perks of being girlfriends - long talks, fashion advice, gossip.

Sometime in May, it became a little tricky for me because I recognized I was on the verge of becoming vulnerable. I did some math and realized it had been years since I had really been in a relationship of equals. That would be Meg. At times my relationship with Kitty felt that way but it always had that element of just playing house, occupying time until we moved on to other things. This was the first time in a very, very long time I was with someone, fully and unambiguously.

It scared me. I became a little sensitive to relationship things. Wanted some space. Maybe even snapped at her once or twice.

And then something crazy happened.

We talked it out.

Without revealing that I used to be a man called Tyler who was victim of a magic Inn, I explained my past as best I could and how badly behaved I was in some past relationships, and how I was seeing similar behavior in myself again and I'd understand if she wanted to cut her losses. She told me she wanted to work with me through it, if that was what I wanted, and I broke down crying admitting, I do, I do. We kissed and made up.

I was falling in love.

So in June, when the world erupted in chaos and violence and protests about racial inequality, my Black girlfriend was insistent that I make fighting for what was right part of our relationship. And admittedly, I was a bit stuck in some of my old backward ways thinking this was all a lot, but she brought me up to speed and told me that this was her life, where she came from and what she is, and her need for me to see all of it and make her struggle part of mine.

It was one of those "Wow, I really am not Tyler anymore" things. Not that he was a racist, he just... didn't get things. The person I once was would probably never have put himself in danger even once, but it took me very little convincing.

I do feel guilty about how it all had to come about - relying on the person I am dating to explain the fine details of "systemic racism" to me, but I figure growth is a good thing by any means. And she seemed happy to help me because she wants me to be good.

It has been an overall turbulent few months, which I have summed up as quickly as I can because I don't have as much "alone time" to write in a blog anymore, but this is all to say in this crazy fucking world... I have found love. I am in love, I am loved, in ways I never expected. And yeah it's a little surprising that it's with a woman (which maybe that's still surprising that that's surprising but after everything I really saw myself with a man!) but if you know this woman you would not be surprised at all.

I don't know if this is the end for me at this blog. I know I have had a long-ass journey to get to a place where I feel this good all the time. There is still more to do to make me the Val I want to be. But if you don't hear from me again know that I left off on a good note.

Love and peace

Valerie

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Steven-Shona: Hit hard

Georgia was one of the states hit hardest by the pandemic (51K cases in a state of 11 Mil, aka 5% of everyone who lives here) largely thanks to what I would characterize as insanely poor leadership, but I did not come here to get political. Only to talk about the toll it has taken on on me - as the floor manager of a Big Box store, I have spent the last two months in the trenches as people fought for the last scrap of toilet paper, water, and for some reason flour (you all people know you can buy bread, right?)

We're through the worst of it now, although unfortunately that has led the news cycle to focus on even more harrowing things, but in March and April things got way worse than I ever expected when I took this job. "Lower management at a superstore? I have an MSc from Georgia Tech." Little did I know more lives would seemingly depend on me while I'm wearing a gray polo than when I wore a lab coat.

I saw the worst in people. Frenzy, panic, frustration, abuse heaped on our underpaid and overworked employees, many of whom took this job as an after-school position because they're, you know, teens. Entitlement, ignorance, and outright flouting of the rules as time went on, as if this disease weren't taking more and more people into the hospital for two months, many of whom never came out - and a lot of whom never made it there in the first place.

I don't want to harp because we're past it now and things have moved on, but I saw awful things. I saw 15-year-old girls spat on for trying to enforce the posted limit of certain items per customer. I saw one of my brightest workers, an honors student, shoved down and nearly trampled. I've seen disadvantaged folks and seniors not being able to get things they need because - and there "ain't no rule" - the same wealthy people come back day after day to scoop up what they want. It hurt, and many days I would just go home and hold my head in my freshly-washed hands and hold back tears.

Amidst all of this, three things happened that have changed the trajectory of my life.

One was a chance encounter with an old classmate of mine from high school. Ricky West. Ricky was practically the king of the school, or at least the prince. He was an offensive first-stringer on the football team, was in homecoming and prom court, married a teen pageant queen from our school at 18. All the guys envied him. The worst part is you couldn't even really hate him because he was humble and kind, and not that dumb - no genius but not dumb.

So when I saw him in the liquor aisle of the store, still looking just like an older, more tired and potbellied version of the handsome guy from high school, I momentarily forgot myself and gave him a smile - "Heya Rick!" Oop. The moment it came out of my mouth I remembered - not Steven. And Shona didn't grow up around here.

So as expected, he looked at me sideways. "I know you?"

"Oh uh, not personally, but we have friends in common. I'm Shona. I... used to date Steven Blassie."

He scratched his chin. "Oh, uh... yeah, him." I could tell he only dimly remembered me, if at all. Saying we had "mutual friends" was a big stretch but not a total lie.

He looked rough, his hair unkempt, unshaved, and like maybe he wasn't sleeping good. "Is there anything I can help you with?"

"Well, I don't really drink, but uh... that whisky is looking real good."

"Tennessee's finest," I said.

"I uh... I just got laid off. Been with that company for eight years. It took them a week into the pandemic to decide I wasn't worth paying."

"I'm sorry to hear that," I said. "You're just gonna drown your sorrows?" He looked rough, like maybe he was on his way to rock bottom.

"Don't have much of a choice. Nobody's hiring."

"Well, we happen to need some help on the loading dock - these are really tough times you know. Why don't I get you an application?"

He backed off. "Hey, I don't want any charity..."

"It's not charity," I said, "We need help. And I can't give you anything except an interview. You have to get yourself the job."

He stepped forward and went to hug me, but I backed off - "Woah, pandemic remember?"

He turned red. "Oh yeah. Sorry about that."

Well, he did get the job. And he was good at it. Nice guy, friendly, hard worker, lively conversation. And I think he always had a lot of gratitude to me for reaching out because he always made sure to talk with me, check in on me if I maybe needed help or someone to vent to. He became somebody I actively looked forward to seeing during my day, probably because it felt so good to be on friendly terms with the prince of high school, even if those days were long past.

And I was the same for him. He was working long hours and it led to a lot of disagreements with his wife, and he felt like, he's out here trying to put food on the table and why can't she just accept that? And I said that being a woman doesn't mean I understand them, and he laughed.

And then one night, after yet another stressful day, it was just him and me finishing up some receiving and paperwork, and we're talking about what we're going to do when we got home - which was not much since it was nearly 11. Then he said we might as well sleep here and I said yeah, let's make a bed out of toilet paper.

And then he kissed me.

And I didn't stop it. I didn't know how to react in the moment. It felt right even though he's married and I'm not who I look like. In that moment it felt good to be wanted by somebody, and extra good for it to be him. As Shona - being as big as I am - a lot of men don't look at me as a sex object, and the ones that do think I should feel lucky that they do, not realizing I don't want their attention or care. But this guy... he has a beautiful wife at home and we struck up a bond that felt real and... well, my head was spinning.

I had a split second to decide what happened next and... I had sex with him, right there on the loading dock floor.

I'm not proud of it, and it has been weighing on my conscience ever since, but in the moment I needed the release badly, both because of how overworked and stressed I was, and because I thought the opportunity would never present itself again, and because of... the second of the other two things I have yet to explain.

In March - not long after the pandemic started and Ricky was hired - I received a letter from Shona. It read in part:

"Dear Steven,

It has come to my attention that for the past several months you have been inhabiting my former body and living as me. Please know that this was in no way my intended or hoped for outcome, even when I learned that the Trading Post Inn had transformed me into a new person. But I'll admit it is not the worst outcome in my eyes. I was so afraid that whoever got that body would hate it, disrespect it, resent it or harm it. and i know you would do none of those things. You had always claimed to love how I was, and I hope you are capable of bringing that same energy to the challenge of being me.

I had made my peace with the physical fact of my body since I was 14, with how it was to me and how the world treated me. But I never made peace with being me.

I felt guilty for accepting your love because I never felt the same way. I did not love you the way you loved me, but i did my best to convince myself to try. You are a good man and treated me well, and it's nobody's fault those feelings aren't there on my side. I stayed with you so long because I felt you were the best I could do, that I could never hoped to be loved more than you loved me, and never hope to find someone I loved that way too.

I am so sorry to tell you this, especially under these circumstances.

My friend Reby, who knew of the Inn's magic, and knew of my inner conflict, took it on herself to arrange the trip for me. I resent that, but I know that if she could have explained it beforehand - if I could imagine it were real - I would have agreed. This is what I want.

I will always remember you fondly.

-Sho"

This was accompanied by pages of directives on how best to live as her and other notes, some of which would have been very helpful months ago.

To learn, this far in, that the woman I devoted my life to, whose legacy I now proudly wore, was lying to me for years about her feelings, felt she was settling for me and never truly loved me, destroyed me. I carried that with me, privately, for weeks, trying to suppress the hurt and confusion as I navigated the high pressures of the pandemic world, until finally it exploded that night with Ricky and we both made a major mistake.

FWIW - It's completely immaterial whether the sex was any good because it was so WRONG to do, but I do have thoughts that I would like to share someday in a more appropriate venue, and maybe when I have more "data." Which may never happen, or it may.

I spent days afterward feeling completely ashamed, unable to look him in the eye, and he seemed ashamed too since it took days for us to work up the nerve to look at each other again. In his case, he let me know that he was feeling bad about it, and how he was going through so much and I said clearly, it was a mistake we both made - nothing excused it (although he desperately seemed to want to justify it by talking about issues in his marriage, which... get those sorted out yourself.) I said it would be best to just pretend it never happened and he said it would try.

"I just want my friend back," I said. He seemed to agree.

Then he muttered something about asking whether there were any "loose ends" that needed to be tied up. I did a double take at that but realized what he was saying. I had opted to take a morning-after pill the next day because being that it had happened so fast neither of us had any contraceptive handy and didn't exactly stop to ask questions in the moment (if we had, we probably would have come to our senses.)

That brings us to the last thing that happened, in April. I was notified that, due to COVID-19 causing all out-of-state travel to be cancelled, my reservation to the Inn would be refunded and I would have to re-book for a later date.

I was unsure exactly what this meant but I could feel safe in assuming that, since I was relying on going there at a certain time to recoup my body, that whenever I did end up getting there, my body would no longer be available.

Not knowing exactly how the Inn works, only having what I've read on this blog as "evidence" it seems like I have completely lost my chance to become Steven in body again. Perhaps ever. How long will it take for the Inn to find someone to transform into me? Has it already happened? Is there some kind of holding pattern for when there is less than enough people to trigger the change, or can it only stay dormant for so long before it just... randomly starts assigning bodies? I guess we'll have to watch the news out of Old Orchard Beach for that but I doubt the local Bangor CBS Affiliate covers body swapping.

Damn it. Damn it all. Honestly after Shona sent me her letter telling me she would never be herself again, it's not like I thought that was my cue to stay as her - it was still not a life I wanted to lead for myself, even if I wanted to ensure that her body was respected per her wishes. I was too hurt by what she had said about our relationship. Honestly, I hoped I could go back to being myself and abandon this body to fate, out of spite and hurt a little bit. But now... well, if I ever get back to Maine, why should I bother? Why leap into the great unknown when history has shown that I would probably just end up someplace worse, still female, probably not as free as this?

So... am I Shona forever?

I honestly don't know. I feel lost.

-Former Steven

Monday, June 01, 2020

Daryl/Magda: This Goddamn Week

If you're reading this sometime in the future, not really remembering what 2020 was like, here's a reminder:  There's been a pandemic that has shut down and disrupted every facet of our lives, not nearly enough was done to mitigate it, and just as America in general was starting to "open up" too early, video a couple of black men being killed by white people ostensibly enforcing the law was everywhere you went on the internet and the protests became riots, in large part because of police overreaction and, from what I can see, because of people going out of their way to stir shit up because they know that any trouble will come back on black protesters.  It's been fucking insane.

I'd like to tell you that I've been using the fact that I look like a pretty well-preserved white woman to make a difference, putting myself between cops and protesters when I know shit is about to go down, but I haven't, and I hope like hell that it means I haven't lost touch with who I really am.  It's doubly concerning because I've been calling "Junah" and Jenn (and her ersatz family) to make sure that they're staying safe and feeling kind of proud that the conversations with the former feel really authentic.  He's not an older lady playing at being a young black man, or incensed that he's now more of a potential target in a way that he doesn't "deserve" because of how he started out.  He's not totally familiar with the nuances, but he gets it.

And maybe it's a measure of how much I've become this white woman that I'm more scared of the virus right now.  Between people not traveling and the airlines and airport doing what they can to enforce six-foot spaces, it could be a lot worse, but I do get people every day who are mad that I'm wearing a mask and cough or breathe heavy at you when they want to make some sort of point.  I've had several co-workers and friends come down with it - including one person I don't know very well who has died - and have had that swab stuck up my nose a couple of times.  Going out into a crowd, all that stuff going on...  I get that for some people like J.T., who have mostly been staying in for the past couple of months, this seems like not just a welcome but a righteous opportunity to hit the streets, but I can't help but think of the virus as the most dangerous part.

And to twist the knife just a little more...  Pete had found someone I could become.  36, African-American, female, she'd fallen into a good thing over the winter and was willing to say goodbye to her old life.  I haven't talked about it - or anything - on here because I didn't want to jinx it, but it was a chance to become a little more myself, maybe even start a family, except that the Inn being closed messed all that up and a part of me looks at the news and is glad that I don't have that to worry about.

Sorry for dumping all this, but if this blog isn't for the times when we don't know who we are, then what is it for?

-Magdaryl