There are some cliches about women I've never cared for. It isn't that they don't have a grain of truth, but I think the truth is more nuanced than some people (men) assume.
One is that we're obsessed with emotions (romance, commitment, etc.) I think this definitely varies from girl to girl. I never felt passionate desire about another person (romantically) until I met Todd. Seriously. My whole teenage life was spent being shy and not very in touch with my emotions. There was a boy who liked me a lot, and I didn't feel the same way, and I humoured him a little bit before realizing how our perceptions of each other didn't match up, and when I finally had to be honest with him, he didn't take it well. I've seen boys, and men, break down emotionally. Don't tell me men aren't ruled by their emotions.
My first Valentine's day with Todd, we had just gotten together, and our relationship was very new and very passionate. I was definitely expecting something other than what I got, because he spent the whole night drunk to the point of incapacitation in my dorm room bed, with me handy with a receptacle for his vomit, rambling the entire time about how important I was to him (this was about three and a half months into our relationship) and how grateful he was to be with a girl like me. I began to wonder what I had gotten myself into.
That shouldn't be a pleasant memory for me. It symbolizes seemingly all the problems I had with him later, having to take care of him, having to put up with his immaturity, but the heart is a complicated thing and when I think back to that memory, I think of young love, and I barely remember the smell of alcohol-soaked vomit in a trashbin.
Flash forward 5 years to 2009. Apparently, my Todd was in Connecticut having "relations" (his charming word for it, alternating with "boner time") with Hal Adkisson while the man I believed to be him - in actuality a woman named Deb - was leaving me to my own devices. I've never felt lower than I did during that time, and the painful part of this whole ordeal is that even though I know the truth, that doesn't make the memory hurt any less. I mean, he had acted unfairly to me before, but this was the first time since knowing him he had flat-out ignored my existence. Imagine how hurtful, how baffling, it must've been for me at the time. And that led to certain actions of which I am not proud. But they were my choices.
(That miserable Valentine's Day was roughly on par with the previous year, which I spent observing the crumbling of my relationship with the real Todd. Amazing how things can change... but as much as Todd refers to me as "his girlfriend," the reality, as you can guess, is more complicated.)
So, even alone, far from home, male, paunchy, and frustrated both professionally and sexually, this was not fixing to be my worst Valentine's Day ever. But over the weekend I was feeling the need for some human contact, so I asked Cliff if she had any plans for the night.
She said no. In her group of six, four of them are happily coupled, while Raine was intending to go to a singles event to scam on guys. There was really no place for her. The content of our last posts notwithstanding, I think she's a really cool person, we get along well, and I feel like if we've got to suffer through this together, we may as well make the best of it (not in that way, though.) I offered to take her out to dinner.
She agreed, but pushed the chivalry, the "oh, why don't you let me pay" angle, and we ended up compromising and going Dutch. It wasn't a real date anyway.
I picked her up in a rental car. She was waiting at the door, saying she didn't want the hassle of introducing me to her "parents" inside, which I understand given the circumstances. We went out to the only place we could agree was sufficiently nice and yet still seemingly within our price range, a Sushi restaurant. Cliff was wary, she'd never had Sushi in her previous life, and apparently Tori did not enjoy it, but with a wry smile, she said to me, "I think if there's one thing we know about me nowadays, it's that I'm open to new things." That gave me a bit of a laugh.
We went inside - the place was packed but I had called the night before to squeeze in a reservation (but we still had to wait at the bar.) When she checked her overcoat, I saw a Cliff - make that a Tori - I had not yet met.
She had a very subtle make-up job, mascara and glossy lips. I couldn't tell whether someone had helped her with them or she just winged it (if so, doing a pretty good job.) She wore a silver necklace that didn't look like it matched the outfit and had been chosen at random from the jewelry box. The pendant, a heart, fell just at the top of her cleavage... she was wearing a rather low-cut black dress with a hemline that fell to the knee, and very obviously a push-up bra.
She caught me in my male gaze. She smirked, "See something you like, Rob?"
With a snort of flustered laughter, I replied "You can call me Al. It's a compromise." It's also a Paul Simon reference, a favourite dumb joke of Todd's, a way of keeping him in the conversation, and probably too obscure of a music reference for Cliff (not really shown herself to be a major music freak, but boy does she know computers.)
We took seats at the bar and I said, "You didn't have to do this."
"Well, let me have it," she said, "If I'm lucky, I won't have too many more opportunities to play dress-up."
"A lot of guys wouldn't be comfortable dressing that way."
"A few months in a body like this gives you time to get used to the idea," she replied.
"You pulled it off, except..."
I said, "Your hair's a little wild." It has a tendency toward poofiness. Haircare takes a long time to master. She said she knows, and said she'd hoped she could get away with it. I said, normally, it would be fine, but with a more formal outfit like she had on, it looked odd. "I'd recommend a straightener, just to make mit more manageable."
At this point, smiling and saying "Thanks," she swept her hair behind her ear and I noticed something else.
"I wore them for a little bit, but they were hard to keep putting back in, so I let the holes close up. I keep meaning to get them re-done, but I'm a little nervous about it. I just wanna give tori her body back the same way it was when..."
She trailed off, so I completed her thought, "Yeah, I'm the same way. That's why I'm planning on putting those extra 8 pounds back on while I'm still Rob." She gave a little laugh. "Well anyway,, you look..." I paused and searched my mind for the right word before finally settling on "Nice." Yes, I have a Bachelor's Degree in English.
"You're just saying that."
"Well, think about it," I said "Tori's a very pretty girl. It must be hard walking the balance between her look, and your identity--"
"Yeah," she cut me off a little bit, "After a while, I got sick of thinking about how hard it is. It's all on the blog. I'm a guy, I'm a girl. I mean, have you ever really thought about how amazing this has all been?"
"Of course. Every day."
"I mean, knock on wood, Al, we're going home. I can stop holding my breath. I can really look around at the world around me safe in the knowledge that--"
"Don't jinx it."
She sighed. We ordered drinks - a beer for me and a rum and coke for her. She protested, thinking it would turn me into a drunk driver, but I insisted Rob's ability to handle alcohol was not slight.
We were eventually seated and she continued. "I read some of your posts about your relationship with Todd." I'd told her a bit about it as well, "You said you used to be real shy and introverted and not all that much into relationships."
"Yeah, that was pretty much it."
"That's me, Al. Except I never grew out of it." A waiter approached and I ordered for her, at her request.
She went on, "I've been thinking a lot about our conversation." (I thought, Jeez, this again?) "And you were right. It seems very complicated. I'm not built for that. I only asked you, because you know the truth about me, and I thought-- not that that would make it okay, but, I thought it would be wrong to be with someone who didn't know the truth about me."
I re-affirmed my belief that "It woukd be wrong for us to go after anyone."
She said, "Yeah, but that doesn't mean I can't want it. That's why it's so weird. that feeling I got when I met Willie... the way he seemed to see me, not Tori. That's what I want. And my main goal for when we get back is to find someone I can connect with."
Our food was served and she looked down at it noncommittally: both to the idea that she could find someone when she gets back to her normal self, and to the food.
"Hey," I said, taking the first bite, "You're surviving. That's all you've got to do."
She began to eat. After a few bites, she appraised the flavour and decided "It's not bad."
I raised my glass, "To new experiences!" She clinked a cheers. After we sipped, I added, "As my Mexican ancestors would say, Que Sera Sera."
She smirked, "That's not Spanish, I think it's Latin."
"Well, whatever. I know English, and high school French. That's it."
So then she said, with slight awe and envy, "You know, it's amazing. I'm here rambling about all my breakdowns and my sex-obsession, and you're just... you seem fine. You're like a rock. It's like it doesn't even bother you."
"Well, that's sorta true," I sighed, "It could be it just never hit me as hard as you. There are days when I feel absolutely shitty about this body -- sluggish, cut off from that feeling of... femininity, I guess you could say."
"Yeah, I'd say that," she winced.
"And there's days when I feel like I've got the whole world on my shoulders. The principal at this school is really on my ass, realizing I'm not, well, the most professional teacher ever. I'm trying, Cliff, I really am, but it does overwhelm me sometimes. I just have too much on my mind to stop and think Holy Crap I'm in a weird body. most of the time. When it does hit me, I feel like a total freak, but it's not often. And then there's the other difference... I have Todd to rely on. It helps to be so close with someone who's already been through it, and who's there for you. All you've got is me, and I haven't been so great at being your friend."
"That's not true," she protested, "You're a good friend. We're having dinner."
"Yeah, but sometimes, I mean, I feel guilty for not reaching out to you more."
"Well, you're here now," she said and we kept eating. She seemed to take to the sushi.
I still don't feel like I've excised my guilt over this whole situation. From the moment we sat down and realized how weird it was we had both changed our roles, we've both sort of stayed in our own spots, and she really seems to have had a tougher time of it. If we both make it out of this alive, it's possible I've made a good new friend. Hell, Cliff's family is only just across the border.
For now, though, the tough times seemed like they'd passed. We went upstairs to the Karaoke bar. Tori's voice is very nice, but not the way Cliff uses it to scream "I Want you To Want Me." I fared no better on "Satisfaction." I had no excuse though, because I was definitely sober enough to drive her home.
She wasn't so sober, though: she fell asleep on my shoulder on the drive back to her place. She looked so peaceful, it almost breaks your heart to know what she's been through.