Cliff's not kidding when he says that when something happens to a fellow Inn-person, you take it on yourself. Nearly a year after being myself -- although I haven't felt a whole lot like myself in that time -- I still have nightmares where I'm forced into going back to the Inn or where I never did. Where I'm still Anne-Marie.
I describe them as nightmares because even at the best of times it was a drag (...no pun intended.) Constantly playing wife and mother was not my idea of a holiday, piling on menstrual cramps, physical weakness, the occasional migraine and breast-tenderness for scenery. There was a time when sex was the most important thing in my life (roughly the years between 2000 and 2008) but having a nice female orgasm every now and again -- really inconsistently -- was just not enough to make me look back fondly on my time as Anne-Marie. And those, kids, I loved 'em, but half the time I had no idea what to do about them. This was particularly obvious when I just didn't know what to say when their grandfather died. I was not cut out for motherhood.
I've kept in contact with Anne-Marie, just a little. We exchange the occasional e-mail but for the most part she's technophobic (being Julia helped this just a little, but still) so her information comes out in dribs and drabs. She's also a fairly private person... which is odd considering I've done stuff with her husband. I'm guessing this stems from a desire to put the entire experience behind her, which I can't say I blame her.
But she does vent, every now and again, because she at least knows she can rely on me for support. So when she notices little Ellie, now at 16, has grown into a bit of a troubled teen, she can't help but blame her time as Kalli. Ellie's showing a rebellious streak that definitely wasn't the case before the change, but in a way, Bryan probably acted anyway. I suggested it was possible the whole "lesbian" thing may have somehow gotten out, leading to some bitterness. For context, I asked whether Ellie was seeing anyone, and Anne-Marie said she didn't know. That year as "roommates" did a lot to damage their once-close relationship.
Somewhere, I suspect Ellie's mother is claiming a victory on that one (if a slightly Pyrrhic one.)
And speaking of teenage daughters, Hayley reacted very negatively to Anne-Marie's return. I know I wasn't that stern of an authority figure, but I didn't realize how lax I'd been until Anne-Marie came back and started laying down the law. I always thought of Hayley as a bright, friendly presence, a genuinely sweet girl, but lately I guess she's just following in her cousin's "bitter teen girl" footsteps.
Anyway. These are problems everyone goes through, and as much guilt as I feel about leaving Anne-Marie and Ellie to resolve their own issues, it's just not part of my world anymore. I've left Connecticut behind. But of course that doesn't mean I can forget Maine.
No, what Greg's predicament really reminded me of -- and forgive me for being self-centered here but I can only say "Sorry to hear that, Greg" a couple times before it loses meaning -- was Alia. And Crystal and Bryan. And how, even though I've read enough of this blog to know better, it just seemed unfathomable that someone would just try to abscond with another person's body. It's the old Inn curse at work again I guess. You don't believe it until it happens to you. That never stopped me from eying Crystal suspiciously, but this really illustrated the distinction between the situations.
Suddenly -- and I never thought I'd get to this point -- I'm actually grateful to Bry for what he's done. As perverse as his entire plan was, it seems to be working. No, I don't generally approve of using sex as a weapon (anymore) and I definitely don't approve of him getting busy with my girlfriend's body, it seems to be going well.
I know this because, as a favour to Sean Flaherty and Erica, I agreed to babysit little Katie last night while they had their first date night since the baby's birth. Feeling a bit squeamish about being left alone with an infant, I reached out to the only person I could find: Crystal.
"I'm glad you called me," she said when she arrived, "I love babies. Did I ever tell you that?"
"Yeah, I think you mentioned it once or twice." It was actually all she could talk about when the subject of Erica's pregnancy would come up.
After a while, we got to talking. "I just always regretted certain aspects of my life," she said, "I put off being a mother in favour of a career, and then my career didn't work out well, and then one day I woke up, I was nearly forty, unmarried, childless..."
"Have you thought about what's going to happen after you go back?" I emphasized these last words, as if to say You are going back, right?
"I... am," she said, drawing that one out a bit too long for my liking, "I really do like Bryan. I might even love him. But if he knew the real me, if he saw what I really looked like, he might not be so... enthusiastic."
I told her that seemed unlikely. Bryan is the only person I know to have gotten a chubby from the six-breasted stripper in Jabba's palace in Return of the Jedi. The man has extremely broad tastes. I did not mention this, however, as that comparison is probably not welcome.
We spoke a bit more about her and Bryan's relationship, but out of respect I won't transcribe, since a lot of it was personal. Not just the sex stuff, but certain, shall we say, insecurities that come from being a woman her age.
After she changed the kid and put her down for a nap, she studied my face, "I still don't see it. This man I am sitting next to was once somebody's wife."
"For a while, yeah," I laughed, "But I'm retired from the wifing business." She listened, in rapt attention while I shared some of my fond memories of Conner and Hayley. She told me about her niece and nephew, whom she hadn't seen in years because they live out west in Wyoming of all places.
"So did you learn anything important about women when you were one?"
"Sure," I smirked, "That it's simultaneously very easy and very difficult to turn down sex." She burst out in laughter -- an eerie mutation of the laugh I'm most used to from Alia. A bit throatier. It made me uncomfortable, on some level. But it was a laugh nonetheless.
"You sound like Bryan! He told me about his whole lesbian thing. Jeez, what is it with you guys? It's all about sex. Never mind being in a different social status, being stared at or objectified or marginalized or forced to wear uncomfortable clothes and make-up just to look good, or being small -- all you want to know is where your next lay comes from!" She smiled and shook her head.
I responded, jokingly, "Oh, yeah? What about you? How long were you in Alia's body before you hooked up with Bry?"
"Okay, that's not fair. We started off just as friends, and we seriously just bonded. It was the most natural..." she hesitated, growing visibly uncomfortable with being so open.
I interrupted, "No, it's okay, I get it. I was just kidding about it."
"No, it's fair. I mean, you've been a woman, it's only fair if I level with you. When I found out what I'd become, it definitely didn't take me long to start feeling sexual again. And then when I saw the two of you..." She paused. "Can I be honest? Don't take this the wrong way, because I'm so happy with Bryan I can't even believe it, but when I first saw the two of you, you were the one I was more interested in."
"I don't know. Maybe it was Alia's body pointing me in your direction. Maybe it was the way she described you in her letter, maybe it was your look. I can't explain it, but at first glance, it was you. But you were very quiet, very dark at the time... probably because of Alia, I suppose. You were so closed-off that I never had a chance to get to know you until recently. No offense."
"Yeah, I was pretty bitter at the time," I admitted, "I didn't have much direction in life, I was real confused how this was all going to shake out. It took months before I could start being myself again."
We both pondered, quietly, for a moment. I don't know what she was thinking of, but I was just feeling thankful that my morose outlook had saved me from further complicating things with Alia, and allowed this whole Bryan/Crystal thing to happen.
In an ideal world, none of this would've happened anyway, but here we are.
I learned more about Crystal as a person in that night than I had in all the months she's been here. In a way, it was incredibly eerie talking to her, because I couldn't help but be reminded of all the amazing talks I've had with Alia over the years. But at the same time, it helped me confront some of my own anxieties.
Crystal, I think, is one of the good ones. I trust her. I'm still jittery about things, and you can never tell what's going to happen, but I know she's doing her part, which is enough for me.