Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Arthur/Penny: Good grief!

Don't tell anyone around here, but I am positively thrilled that the Patriots didn't make the playoffs. As a writer, I've always understood the sports columnists who said they rooted for the story, even though as a fan I think it sounds like a soul-deadening outlook. For the last couple months, though, I've just been rooting for a reduced workload. Carefully, of course - print is in all sorts of trouble and it would be no surprise if Boston Today were to fold or decide that maybe I could be replaced by someone who would work even cheaper and longer than the woman with no prior experience and a degree in broadcast engineering!

And yes, I have pondered the irony that even in a down economy, I could probably get a pretty good job in television with Nell's resume and looks. I've been there, though, and I just enjoy writing too much.

When Tom Brady went down, I sort of knew that the Pats reporting would be kind of intense. I knew that there wouldn't be much relief when the Red Sox' championship run ended, because the Celtics would just take their place. I didn't see the Bruins coming, though! The last time I was in Boston, when I was living as Liz, no-one talked about them, it was with a mix of indifference and disgust. I dutifully read the scores on CalSports as they made a little run at the Stanley Cup, but the hockey guys there implied that it was mostly about the NHL letting a lot of teams into the playoffs. And yet, this year, they seem almost as dominant as the Celtics, who are so good that there's got to be Celtics material every day even when there's three days between games and not much to say.

It's been crazy enough that I've had precious few chances to get off sports, although election night was all hands on deck. I did a spot about sports bars tuning to CNN that was cut to something like two sentences for the print edition but ran in full online. I guess that's the future.

At least Boston doesn't really care about college sports even when they've had teams doing well. If I had to pay rapt attention to a bunch of bowl games rather than head out to Ashlyn's party tonight, I'd probably be pretty annoyed!

- Art/"Penny"

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Todd/Anne-Marie: Cocktails anyone?

It's been an extremely busy holiday season. I'm sure you're all dying to know how pleased I was that Hayley and Conner loved the CD's and video games Anne-Marie and I picked out for them, but, well, it's not all that interesting. Stressful, but not interesting. The worst part was having to feign interest in the variety of perfumes, pyjamas, linens and garments I had to unwrap. It was not a Merry Christmas for this guy.

As you might imagine, I don't care much for family gatherings in this body. I find that a lot of the in-laws on Hal's side, particularly Trudy, still judge her pretty harshly for whatever reason, so they've been taking it out on me. "Julia" wasn't there this time, but Bryan was. It was weird, even perversely amusing to see Bry get all thankful for Ellie's gifts, which were mostly clothes and accessories, and of course, cash. I mainly kept to myself and drank wine all day until it was time to go home.

The Sunday after Christmas, Hal had an office/client holiday party at our place, so I had to prepare hors d'ouerves and serve drinks most of the night. It was a pretty dull affair. Bry was there, but had to hang out with the kids in the basement eating party mix and drinking Pepsi (I did sneak her some booze every now and again, because it's the holidays and she's been good.) Since she's a receptionist, Julia was also there providing moral support to me, even as Hal repeatedly came up and politely reminded her she was a guest and didn't have to do anything. She just smiled her pretty little 23-year-old smile and said it was her pleasure.

I had some important matters to ask her about anyway, and as soon as we were alone, we started talking. And no, it wasn't "Are you sleeping with Hal?" because I'm still putting that one off. No, this was slightly more about me.

I told her I had had a cold a few weeks ago but got over it, but now I was starting to feel... groggy, I guess. Foggy-headed. I wasn't getting much sleep, getting up in the middle of the night and feeling tense. Certain biological parts were feeling... abnormal. And it wasn't a cycle thing either, at least not as far as I could tell. But something felt really off.

She got this wicked but modest smirk, her face blushed red, and her eyes darted around the room. "Jeez Todd... you'd think you would notice it sooner." I just stared and asked her what exactly was going on. She gave a quick laugh and looked me in the eyes saying, and this is a direct quote, "Well, the thing about that is... women have needs too."

It takes a moment to wash over me. I lean back against the kitchen counter, bracing myself. "You're joking with me, right?" She just shakes her head. "I'm 33 years old. My body... or your body... our... that body is at its peak. Hal and I have been married for a long time, and sure we're not at the same place we were when we were first married, but... we never went that long without being together. You mean you two haven't--"

"No!" I whisper-scream, "Are you kidding me? That's the last thing I want."

"I guess it's not surprising he hasn't even asked..." she smiled to herself, "I used to turn him down so often it got to where I'd always have to initiate it."

"Can't I just... take care of this myself?" I asked. Not that I haven't before, but this feeling has been driving me crazy.

Again she gives a quick laugh, "Honey, I'm a married woman. I haven't done that in years. And it's just not as much fun. But you're the one in the body, so you're free to give it a shot... I guess."

I began to feel really sick. I dropped the subject all together and got on with my night feeling just off. In the family room, there was Donna, trying to work the HD TV, but the picture was all stretched out. I snatched the remote away from her and quickly fixed it. Her husband was just trying to check the score on the Pats-Bills game.

I handed her the remote back and she just looked at me, "I had no idea you were so good with electronics, Anne-Marie."

I just sighed. "One of my many secrets."

I sleepwalked through the rest of the evening and went to bed early. When Hal came up, he asked if I was still awake. I rolled over and said yeah.

"I've been thinking. I know we haven't talked about it in a while, but if you still want me to... I think I'm ready to go through with it."

I wince. "Go through with what?"

"With the surgery. I'll do it."

I'm confused and tired, "What surgery? What are you talking about?"

"The... vasectomy."

I roll back over the other direction. "We'll talk about this later."

It had been a long, stressful day. Quite frankly, the last thing I wanted to discuss was Hal's penis. And needless to say, I did not sleep well... again.

I'd go take a cold shower, but being naked isn't a lot of fun right now.


Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Todd/Anne-Marie: One at a time.

This is a really bad time of year to be someone's mom.

It's fallen to me to buy a whole bunch of Christmas gifts, for the kids and all the relatives I've barely met and to that extent don't really like. Getting over my recent cold, I was still so exasperated that I finally broke down and called up "Julia."

We went to Wal-Mart and she picked out all the clothes and stocking-stuffers she'd normally get the kids in addition to whatever toys and junk they put on their lists (damn these brats are spoiled!) Around me, she was notably less guarded than the previous times I'd seen her in person... which was only the two times I previously mentioned. The first, it was such a shock for her to see her own body in person. The second, she was avoiding direct contact with me, and we couldn't talk as ourselves. This time it was all out there.

I pulled up to her apartment in her SUV, which I still don't like driving but have gotten used to. I buzzed her, and she came down to the lobby with "Kalli," also known as her niece Ellie. I was surprised - I don't know why, but I'm used to seeing "Ellie" as a little blonde girl, and here's this very mature-looking young black woman standing next to Julia.

She smiles at me, "So you're... Todd?" I nod, red with embarrassment, and she just giggles. "Omigod, aren't you, like, dying?" Julia smacks her on the arm and shoots her a look that says "be polite." I just shrugged and sighed, "Yeah, some days."

So Julia and I go. I asked her what she wanted to be called and she said I might as well call her Julia, if I'm okay with being called Anne-Marie. I said if it was at all possible, I'd like her to call me Todd when we're alone. "Todd it is," she said.

On the drive over, we made what might be considered polite chit chat in other circumstances, "How are the kids, how is Hal?" but are really probing questions between the two of us. I told her that the kids are doing fine, and that they don't seem to notice anything's wrong. She seemed to grow depressed at hearing that, and I reminded her about the "Magic of the Inn" theory. Then I added, "Plus, you know kids... they never listen anyway." That got a laugh. She started to brighten up. It made me want to hold off on the really heavy stuff.

"I'm so sorry, Todd," she sighed, staring out the window, "It can't be easy for you."

"It could be worse," I said. It's something I tell myself every morning. "No, I wouldn't have chosen your body, or to have kids, but... well you're a healthy woman with a good family, and a good life. If it weren't for that one little problem, I might be really tempted to keep your life and just freeload forever." It was intended as a joke, but didn't land as one.

"Is that what you think?" she asked. "That I'm some kind of freeloader? That I just live off my husband and make babies?" I wanted to say "No," but she continued, "You've been running that house for almost half a year. You know how hard it is. And I wanted to work, too. I'm happy now, for the first time in years, because I have my own job and my own life, and I'm not just a good housewife, but I'm a good woman. And that's all I ever wanted to be. And you don't need a job to be that, but I... I had a habit of forgetting that."

She seemed really on the brink of some emotional moment, the kind that, as a psychological male, I'm still uncomfortable with. I kept my eyes on the road as her eyes started to water a bit. "I'm sorry, I just... I had some issues last year. Before the inn."

"...marital issues?" I asked, like slowly, painfully peeling a band-aid.

"You could say that..." she sighed and trailed off. I got the sense she still wasn't going to talk about them, and went quiet for a while. I pulled into the parking lot and did a bad, angular parking job.

We sat there for a while, but as she put her hand on the door handle, I took a deep breath and broke the tension. "When I said freeloader, I... I didn't mean you were one. I mean... that's what I am. I'm a university dropout. I worked a string of bad jobs, mooched off a rich girlfriend. I took her for granted, and after she and I broke up, I decided to run off to another country, where I could find new strangers with roofs to sleep under and food to eat. And you know what? If I hadn't been such a goddamn freeloader, I wouldn't be here. We wouldn't be having this problem. I'd be back in my own country living my own life."

She leaned over from the passenger's seat and wrapped her arms around me. She said softly, "It's... nice to be needed, isn't it?"

I blinked back some tears (what can I say, it was an emotional moment) and said, "Yeah. But I guess right now, we need to put some presents under the tree for your kids. So let's go."

If it weren't for the fact that I'm in her shoes (among other garments) Anne-Marie's issues with her husband would fall for me under the umbrella of "None of my business." But knowing some of the stuff she later told me - which I'm not ready to share, sorry - really puts my current situation in a new perspective.

Besides, we ended up having a lot of fun. From pictures and everything, I got the sense that Anne-Marie, only in her early/mid-thirties, was locked into that "Mom" phase, serious and responsible - but she showed herself to be a very fun, very intelligent woman. She really seems to be the woman she looks like.

But having said that... not much has happened to allay my fears that she doesn't really want to switch back. But I guess it's better just to deal with these problems one at a time.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Todd/Anne-Marie: Sick of it all...

I got up this morning around 10:30. The windows were frosted over, Hal's side of the bed was made as usual. I sat up, and immediately felt dizzy. I had a headache that felt like I'd been hit by a Buick. My joints were aching. My nose was stuffed up. In another place, in another life, I could've just laid back and said "screw the world." But here and now, I had to get up out of that warm, comfy bed, strip off my pyjamas, shower, put on a fresh set of bra and panties and some sweats, and go grocery shopping. Hurray life.

Maybe I'm just cocky from all those years of being a healthy Canadian male. Not that I never got sick in Canada, but I was able to withstand the cold better than this. I feel like death. And I had a lot of stuff on my DayQuil-addled mind, stumbling down the grocery aisle.

I haven't talked to "Julia" in days, since our little blow-up about her kids and our return plans. She was seeming just a little too reluctant to go along with the plan, whereas I will get out of this body no matter the cost. Who cares if she was being logical? If logic existed in this universe, none of this shit would've happened in the first place!

So yeah, I'm pushing the cart down the aisles, checking off items on the list... cereal, milk, ham, roast, taco fixins... whatever. I remember that first week when I had to look through the garbage to figure out what they needed. It felt humiliating. Now it's all become so damn routine. I look around at the other sad-looking midday shoppers - mostly moms like Anne-Marie - and I think, but for a little fate, I could've been any one of them, or they me. The teenage boy stocking the shelves, the girl at the checkout aisle chewing gum, looking like she'd rather be anyplace else. You and me both, sister.

I ran into this lady Anne-Marie knows, in the coffee aisle. Donna, or something. She tells me oh, we haven't seen each other in so long, we must catch up, and blah blah. I've been to her place once or twice, particularly back when I was new at being Anne-Marie, but I've been reclusive more and more the past month or so. Not much to catch up on. What would I say? "That person almost won big on the Price is Right the other day, the teacher says I'm an awful parent, and I miss my penis." Models smile soullessly at me from the magazine racks. I wheeze a cough, and think how unappealing I must seem. No wonder Hal cheats.

Is he really? No confirmation yet. Never asked Julia, was too mad already. I've just resigned myself that he probably is, and it's weighing on my mind pretty bad. I don't know if I care for my sake, or for the kids' sake, or for Anne-Marie's own sake, but I do care. Maybe I'd like life more if I was a desirable woman like Ashlyn. As much as any of us hates his situation, it wasn't hard for me, reading her old posts, to see how she became accustomed to it, to hear her tell. I keep telling myself, Hal's problem isn't with me it's with his wife but hell, that is me, for the time being. And infidelity hurts the children because if "Anne-Marie" finds out, can she... I... just deal with it? No. It means divorce. It means this comparatively idyllic house gets chopped in half and I'll probably have to get the kids, live on alimony, or get some BS job.

There I am, thinking long term in Anne-Marie's life. That's why I don't ask, because I don't want it to be my problem. In a very literal sense, Anne-Marie's doing it to herself... (if she's doing anything at all.) Seducing her own husband, where does she get off? (In the office I suppose. Sorry, even miserable I can't resist.) It's not hard to see why she would want to exploit this situation, win her man back and whatnot... I just wish she'd think of the consequences.

I'm sick of thinking about these problems, I'm sick of all the uncertainty about my future, and I'm just plain sick.

I hate to complain too much but I think given the circumstances you'll allow it.

It's just after ten and I'm exhausted. In another place, another life, I'd be ready to go out... now I'm ready for bed.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Todd/ Anne-Marie: The kids are alright

At least, they seem to be. But not according to what I've been hearing.

There was a parent-teach meeting a couple nights ago and Connor (Anne-Marie's 10-year-old son) teacher Mrs. Wilson basically reamed me out for 20 minutes because she thinks the kid has an unstable home environment. No shit he does! His parents hardly speak to each other and his mom doesn't seem too interested in helping to build up fundamentals while dad is off all day earning the money. Well sorry if I'm not around to explain to the Adkisson kids about the birds and bees or help with math homework. I just wanted to grab her by that stupid beaded necklace and choke her. "You think I like this??"

But no. There's nobody who understands. Even Bry, who has become kinda reclusive at school, sinking deeper and more weirdly into Ellie's life... isn't exactly in a place to understand the pressures of having to raise someone else's kids. I do my best, honestly, and I don't like the accusation that there's something I could be doing that I'm not.

I mean maybe there is... the kid isn't getting his homework done, and it's not like I really force him to do it. I would feel hypocritical to nag him about that because I was the same at his age. He's ten for crap's sakes, let him play. I turned out fine.

So I called up Julia... Anne-Marie... whoever she is, which I'm not supposed to do. And I told her what the teacher said. And you know what she does? She starts crying! Yeah, she starts crying because she misses her kids so much, and since Thanksgiving it's really been eating away at her and blah blah blah. I probably shouldn't have been so harsh with her, it's not her fault at all, but... I needed to lash out at someone and I couldn't get on the computer at the time. Plus it's probably a bad idea to write on this thing when you're mad.

So all her crying was giving me a headache, so I just sighed and told her that the time to book a room at the Inn was coming up, and we had to get such-and-such a room at such-and-such a time period... first the person in my body, then me, then her. And she tells me, ugh, she goes on this tangent about "Well I don't know, Julia's not really in good financial shape, and it might look really suspicious if I go on vacation the week after you do because I'm Hal's receptionist now and he knows us both..." and I'm just thinking... "Woman are you making excuses not to get your body back?" I didn't say it, but I had just about reached the end of my rope that day. But I did get a little more aggressive - hell, bitchy - when I told her that like it or not, I'm getting out of her body, and either she can take it back, or have another stranger living with her husband and next time, she might not be so lucky with who it is.

I hung up angrily, leaving her something to think about. Then I just sat there, face hot with rage. I looked around at all the stuff that wasn't mine and I just muttered, "I've gotta get out of here."


PS. Sometime later, Anne-Marie suggested that I should ask Hal to take the lead on the homework project. I'm somewhat dreading that conversation, because our last exchange on "how to raise the kids" came after he found out I basically wasn't enforcing bedtime anymore and letting the kids stay up as late as they wanted, and he was, um, not pleased.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Bryan/Ellie: School days and suburban nights

So... hey. I guess I should introduce myself even though you guys kinda already know me through Todd. He's been good enough to share some of the details of my life with you guys cause he knows writing isnt really my thing, but obviously he can't tell you everything about my life since he's busy being Aunt Anne and really we don't get to see each other often enough. plus alot of the crazy stuff he has yet to actually mention here.

So yeah, as you may remember (I know I haven't forgotten) I've spent the last few months as a 14-year-old girl. It's....... interesting, in the way a really nasty youtube video is interesting. For every good thing there's plenty of bad. The good parts tend to focus on having rich parents, and not being so pretty that boys are paying a lot of attention to me (as far as I can tell.) The bad part involves the usual physical, uh, complaints, and constantly being surrounded by bitchy high school girls and awkward high school boys. Also my chest is rally sore and I've noticed since I've had this body it's starting to fill out a little bit. I really dont think this is something I should be around for.

So Ellie goes to this upscale private school that is a lot nicer than the public school I went to in Canada. The floors are clean and there's a lot of windows, but I have to wear the skirt for the uniform. Yeah, Todd told you about the Mercy Mamas, but it's not like wearing a skirt was something we liked doing for its own sake. It was a show and at the time it was fun. Anyway, Ellie's friends... I try to ignore them, and they've kinda ignored me, so it's hard to tell who started it, me or them.

The exception is Emily Sinclair, who was new to the school. Lucky enough, we met in the first week when she was all shy and stuff (sitting alone is kinda a giveaway) and I decided to be her friend. She's pretty cool for your average teen girl. I'm trying to mould her into someone I would actually want to hang out with, since she's at that impressionable age, so I'm introducing her to some good bands, showing her rock goes a little deeper than Nickelback and the Killers. But there's another reason I've stuck with her... she's friggin' gorgeous.

I dunno if she knows it... she seems nervous a lot of the time when boys pay attention to her. And me, I like her because it makes me feel like people aren't gawking at me. I look normal but I still don't... feel normal. But I like being around her because I know I can just be the, like, average-looking friend.

Anyway, we were supposed to go see that movie Twilight last weekend. It looks kinda dumb but all the other girls were loving it and I had this in-character moment where I agreed to go along. Until the parent-teacher conference.

I dunno how smart Ellie is, but she must be decent because her grades have been slipping a bit since I took the wheel. What can I say? How can I possibly care? I learned most of this stuff, then forgot it when I found out it was all unimportant... why should I bother to study again? I'm not gonna be in this body in six months (fingers crossed) so I don't want to, like... put all this effort into it that I don't need to. But try explaining that to the McClays. "Mom and dad" were really pissed... I dunno if I'm grounded or what, but I used it as an excuse to not see that vampire movie. I was also glad to get out of it because, well, it was supposed to be a double-date. Emily was a lot more upset than I was, because she got so nervous she called the thing off at the last minute, and now there's a big high school-type mess between her and the boy and the guy who was supposed to be my date. Whatever.

I dunno. I guess this didn't really have much of a point, except to get some stuff off my slowly-developing chest. I have a lot of time to go stir crazy in this room and if I wasn't able to write this stuff, maybe I'd forget who I really am. Unlike Todd, I've got a lot of people calling me Ellie all day long. And that really messes with your head.