I've been piecing this entry together over the past few days, so if it seems disjointed, I apologize... but that laundry isn't going to fold itself.
Once Hal insisted the New York trip not be a girls-only trip, he got very excited about it and started making a ton of calls. It turns out there are a number of ways to entertain yourself in New York that kids are able to participate in.
Friday afternoon, we picked the kids up from school and drove straight to New York, depositing our stuff at the hotel in New Jersey. I had a little moment of Inn-magic when the kids got in the car, and my iPod was still plugged into the sound system, so very suddenly and very uncharacteristically, the family was treated to "Wrong 'Em Boyo" by the Clash. Hayley asked what it was, and when I said it was a punk band from the 70's, she just shrugged and said "Oh, I knew it was something old." Kids today.
At the hotel, we were all to change into our finest duds, as our first stop was a nice restaurant whose name was something Italian I cannot remember. I don't typically dress like a slob, but as I was picking out a set of earrings to bring on the trip I wondered if maybe I was overdoing it. How deeply entrenched in Anne-Marie's place I sometimes feel. But as I slipped on the very tasteful dress I'd brought along, I put on my brave face, and turned to see Hal fiddling with his tie. Envy. I straightened it for him, although I never much liked ties, only had one job where I had to wear one, and haven't been to that many weddings/funerals.
Sidenote: this was the first hotel I'd stayed at since Maine, and part of me expected to wake up one morning totally changed again. I used to have nightmares about it.
Saturday was the busy day, because I had gone behind Hal's back and made plans that didn't involve the family. Under the pretense that I was going to shop for something sexy and intimate to wear, I palmed the kids off on Hal, who took them to the Museum of Modern Art for a few hours. Turns out Hal's into art. Who knew?
(*To cover my tracks I did pick up a little something. It's uncomfortable as hell but it's not like I have to walk around in it... I feel like it's time to try spicing up my sex life a bit, as I'm starting to get bored with the routine.)
The real plan was to head to a little out-of-the-way coffee place in Tribeca, to meet some fellow Inn visitors. I had no idea what to expect or what I hoped to get out of the experience. I have thus far only met the ones directly involved in my life, most of whom are keen to get back to their old arrangements asap (the enigmatic Donna being the exception.) Here we have people whose last trip to the inn was years ago, some of whom don't ever intend on going back.
As I was fumbling through my purse for the proper currency to pay for my latte (have I ever mentioned how much I hate American money? It's all green!) I heard a voice behind me. "Anne-Marie?" A shock ran through my system, the way it does whenever I am unexpectedly called by that name, although being called "Todd" has had the same effect lately. I turned to see a gorgeous Latina woman in a beige turtleneck, scarf, jeans that rose just above her hips, and a light coat. I looked into her eyes and asked, tentatively, "...Ginessa?"
She smiled and nodded. "That's me." After ordering her drink, she pointed to some seats in the corner. She turned and smiled,
"Sorry, Darren likes sitting where no one can see her."
"No problem. I guess I expected as much from the blog. Have you been following it lately?"
"Not really," she replied a little nonchalantly, "only what Darren tells me. To be honest it’s really Darren’s thing. She thinks it’s a good way to cope with being a girl; where as that ceased to be an 'issue' for me a while ago."
"Really, so you don’t know much about me?"
"I know you’re married too, right? How do you like it?" she smiled.
I didn't really know how to answer, so I just tried to be honest. "It's... tough. I've been really good friends with Anne-Marie, and kind of doing her a favor by keeping things good with her husband. The trouble is that usually I compromise in his favor because I don't want to rock the boat. I don't think this is anything like a real marriage, not that that's a subject I know anything about." I looked at her expectantly.
She said nothing for a while, before asking, "Should I call you Todd? This is always awkward and I don't want anyone to feel more uncomfortable than they already are."
"Todd is good, please."
"Todd, it sounds like you’re doing a very noble thing. I often feel the same way about my marriage. Women have to put up with a lot of crap from men. Just remember there’s such a thing as girl power," she smiled at me at wryly. I smiled too, which kind of broke the awkward tension. It made it easier to open up.
From there the conversation really took off. She asked me if I found it hard to just pick up in the middle of a relationship. I told her it was like wearing someone else's old shoes - they don't fit right, but they're not rigid, either. The Adkissons had reached a comfortable zone, although before I came into it, there had been some marital difficulties, suspicions, arguments that in some ways haven't been resolved. I underlined it was probably very different for her, thinking about her newlywed situation.
"The fucked up thing is, like, wanting to get your way, but also wanting what's best for the family. I don't come first in my own life most of the time, and that's... frustrating."
She asked me what I knew about her, I said not much apart from what was written. She was originally a guy called Mark, and as Ginessa, certain green card issues forced her to marry a guy. That raised her eye brows.
She objected by saying "forced" was a strong word. She told me it was a choice she made, and not a very easy one. I said I understood perfectly - that she wanted to stay in her home country, rather than get deported to a place she knew nothing about. She pointed out that there were other options if she wanted them, but realized there was something appealing about the stability her husband Gavin was offering - that after the tumult of her life after the transformation, she needed something to hold on to, and she was tired of feeling like she was doing something wrong.
I told her again I understood - that it's not easy inheriting someone else's crap. I'd never so much as babysat before suddenly finding myself playing house. Ginessa agreed but then said something to illustrate the difference in our situation.
"But you can stand all that, because you tell yourself, 'Its okay, I'm going back.' But I'm not going back, I've been this way for a few years now and I like it! Jaime..." she coughed and did some finger-quotes "Darren... sometimes just doesn't get it. If she wants to keep trying to go back, that's fine for her, but sometimes I feel like she resents me because I never tried. She's been a woman for nearly 2 years and I think she still believes it's less than being male. You don't agree do you?"
I didn't know what to say. She was getting very emotional - not teary-eyed, just kinda caught up in her little speech. And I really don't know what I think, and I'm not in the same place to judge. So I said to her, trying to be sensitive, "I don't really... but I do think of being Anne-Marie as less than Todd, not because being a mom is for losers or anything but because I'm not me and I can't be me like this. I don't look down on you because you never went back, it kinda looks like you're rocking this. I hope you don't think bad of me because I am."
She nodded; "No you’re right, sorry. I think that’s a respectable point of view. I didn't want to sound too self-righteous or anything. It’s just that Darren can be so frustrating."
There was then a lull in the conversation and she asked a very difficult question. "If you had gone to the Inn and woken up more like Jaime, or like me... a woman, but without any baggage or responsibilities... what do you think you'd do? I mean, do you think you could've gotten used to it, if you couldn't go back?"
I didn't know what to tell her. It was a scary thought: made me realize that physically I have gotten as comfortable being a woman as I could ever imagine. Perhaps the only reason I'm not staying is because I want to give Anne-Marie her life back, not so much because I want to get back to my own. And if that was not possible... and if nobody was counting on me... would I be okay to stay? What if I could just coast and never worry about Todd's problems again?
After thinking on all this a while, all I told her was, "Thankfully, I don't really have to think about that. There's someone out there that belongs in this life a lot more than I do."
I thought a moment and added, "Plus sometimes I just get the urge to be a guy... watch hockey, do some boxing, feel a woman's breasts that aren't my own. Like say, Blondie by the counter. I bet she's good for a go." I snickered, eyeing a gorgeous chick getting her coffee. Ginessa turned and got a somewhat embarrassed look on her face.
"Todd - that's Jaime."
My face flushed red, and we both burst out into laughter. Jaime came up to us. "Hey Ginessa, and you must be Todd. What's so funny?" We both quieted the urge to keep laughing. Ginessa just smiled at Jaime and said, "I'll tell you later."
Jaime sat down and shook my hand, very politely. I gave her a once-over trying to re-orient my perception of her, but I couldn't. I know that from the blog Darren was a tough military type guy, but here's this very smartly-dressed young lady, with her hair done back and the top couple buttons on her blouse undone, teetering in a pair of knee high two inch heel boots that didn’t scream "combat." She just looked like... a woman. Maybe she was thinking the same of me, but I have an image to keep up. If I could walk around all day in band t-shirts and cargo shorts I probably would. But no, Jaime is a head-turner, and mine wasn't the only head affected in the place, I can tell you that.
Darren sipped her coffee and asked me what I thought of New York. I told her that I loved it every time I came, and it was way better than the suburbs. I missed that rhythmic, pulsing vibe you get from a busy city. It's not Montreal, which is pretty much my favorite city, or Toronto, which will always be home, but it's a great place to be. We briefly made chit-chat about Darren's life, before Darren asked what we'd been talking about before she came in, and I looked kind of embarrassed saying vaguely that it was mostly about married life.
She rolled her eyes and said we probably had a lot in common. Ginessa looked embarrassed. And then something kinda bad happened. My obnoxiousness instinct kicked in. It doesn't come up a lot when I'm being Anne-Marie but I can't resist the urge to make other people feel uncomfortable just to test them and amuse myself. I know it's rude and not very nice, but it's so easy to do in a situation like this. So I started riffing.
"Well sure we do," I started in, "But we disagree on a lot of key points. Ginessa here likes the reverse cowgirl position, whereas I've always been a fan of straight-up missionary. She's a very take-charge kind of gal, and I'm just lazy."
"Todd!" she interjected, now both a little embarrassed but somewhat pleasantly surprised (I get the impression Ginessa would like to talk about sex but doesn’t around Jaime). She gave me a playful slap on the arm. Darren was practically squirming at what Ginessa and I thought was a harmless joke.
"No need to get uptight, Ginny.... we're three mature people here. We've all had sex in one body or another." Darren averted her eyes. "And I'm sure that when you guys were guys, you had no problem with locker room talk."
"It's not funny," Darren said.
"Give it time," I sipped my coffee. "Comedy is tragedy plus time. I make these jokes because I'm not serious about it. Ginessa maybe is, but I'm not really into it. So I kid, okay? Look, I didn't mean to hurt your feelings."
Darren gave me a death-glare and muttered, "You didn't 'hurt my feelings.' You just sounded really..."
"Really girly! You’re not at all what I expected." she says, disapprovingly.
"Oh, sorry Rambo," I groaned, "But what color are your panties? You only think I sound girly because of what I look like. Look at me, man." I had trouble calling her that because even if intellectually I know she's Darren, she just looks like chick. "“Maybe I look like Anne-Marie Adkisson, but my name is Todd Casey. No matter what I look like I'm still a 24-year-old guy who can't help but stare when he's sitting next to hot chick such as yourself."
I cringed inside the way you realize you’ve said something you shouldn’t. I love to go on and on and seldom know when to stop. Worse, I had admitted something she'd probably already noticed - her looks really had my attention.
Before the flustered Darren/Jaime could start in, I instantly tried to apologize for being a dick. I explained that laughing about it was one of the ways I get through my days. There's so much stress that goes along with being wife-mother-woman that if I didn't let my Todd-side out every so often I'd go insane. I’m not sure if Darren bought it. She did bring up her thing with routine, how it's helped her get through some tough times. It seemed we were starting to find some common ground. Still, I regret what I said and how I said it.
It wasn’t long before we all finished our coffees. Still sensing a bit of tension I decided to leave and catch a cab back to the hotel.
The remainder of the trip was uneventful. We went to see the Lion King that night, and on Sunday after brunch I took Hayley to a spa. My God I never knew a massage could be so good. I may have seemed a little out-of-sorts that night as we drove home.
I began to think about the two women I'd just met. I've gotten used to thinking of myself as being a woman "for now," but I still wonder what would happen if "for now" became "forever." Knock on wood. I wondered where I fit between the two of them. Ginessa has grown a healthy attachment to her body and life. She seems to love her man, and doesn't have any hang-ups about anything about herself. I wasn't even that confident when I was in my original body. She makes a great girl and yet there's something scary about that if I try to see myself in her shoes. Still, if I had to keep going like this, I'd want her in my corner.
Darren, I related to. No, we didn't get along all that well, but that probably has more to do with our actual personalities. Even as a woman, she seemed a little like the jocky alpha-male type I always hated in high school (and who always hated me back because I had an easy time getting chicks without showering with guys. Guess the joke's on me these days, huh?) But I completely understand her - she made an attempt to get back to her original life, and it didn't work out, and now her future is uncertain. That's not a comfortable situation to be in.
I guess I'm somewhere in between. Like I told Ginessa, it isn't being a woman that bothers me anymore, it's being Anne-Marie Adkisson. And every time I have that thought, I wonder if the real Anne-Marie would also rather be anyone else. And the idea that I might have to pass this body along to a third owner, frankly, bothers the hell out of me.
And the idea that something might go wrong, and I'd have to get my third set of shoes for walking... and the idea that those might be the last...... I don't want to go there either.