Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Cliff/Tori: Who does this make me?

First off, I checked my e-mail this morning to find a link sent to me by Mae with the comment, "Hey sis, saw this pic, was reminded of you. Have a great day." I have to admit I got a chuckle out of it since Mae and I have had a number of run-ins since she got out of school, where she comes downstairs in the morning to find me sitting half-dressed eating a bowl of cereal. That said, I've never been that "half-dressed," and I may be a decent-looking girl, but I don't look that good.

It also made me wonder what she was doing looking at that site, especially since the e-mail was sent after 3 AM.

It's funny what a year does to you, because while I would've considered Tori a goddess in my old life, now I just think of myself as "decent looking." Maybe it's because of changing tastes or standards. Then again, I've definitely seen the reaction I get from the other sex when I go out in public, whether I've made an effort or not. Most of those guys just like my boobs, which is forgivable... they're pretty nice, even after a year.

The responses to my last few posts have been overwhelming, and I hope you'll forgive me if I don't exactly address every little matter here, because I tried to tackle every post in an earlier draft of this entry, and it got really messy. I just want to say again how amazed I am by the support some of you have shown me, or event the interest. Coming from a someone who hasn't always been the best at putting things into words, this has all been very comforting.

It was pretty amazing to see the explosion of discussion in the last couple posts. I felt timid about joining in because I've only been a girl for about a year, and I felt awkward about being all "super-feminist," because I still don't know what any of it means.

One commenter asked whether I felt like I was being treated differently by society. Of course. The weird thing is, a lot of the quirks that made me less successful as a guy seem to be working for me as a girl. I don't draw a lot of attention to myself. I don't dress provocatively (my "Torification" period notwithstanding) I don't try too hard to impress members of the opposite sex. My ability to go months on end (aka my entire lifetime) without sex seems to be working for me. As a guy, virginity was a source of shame, as a girl, abstinence is lauded. It's a weird double-standard, and it works in my favour. Even though we apparently live in an age where it's okay for a woman to want sex, Sara and Raine think it's cool that I'm just not into it.

Of course -- and this is where things get weird, what I was talking about last time -- I kind of am into it.

It's probably never going to happen with a girl. I don't feel right about it. I came this close with Buddy, but what stopped me was the knowledge that I'd still have those memories when I went back to being Cliff, and the fact that it would've apparently screwed things up for the "real" Tori.

Now? Now I guess I am the "real" Tori. And I might never be Cliff again. It puts a new spin on the whole situation for me. I certainly get along with guys, like Buddy, and my friends' boyfriends. But the Buddy thing was messed up, and I don't feel like I can be close to an unattached guy, because there will always be the idea in the back of my head that he just wants to get with me. If I ever give in, it will take some serious signal that it's the right time.

There was a lot of talk about "finding my place as a woman" in the comments. I don't think I'll ever have a "normal" woman's life. I think my Cliffness will always be part of me. I'll always have the life of a girl who used to be a guy, albeit not the manliest of guys. As I've gotten more and more comfortable as Tori, I've morphed my presentation of her from helpless young beauty to tomboyish sci-fi loving geek girl. You can't tell it from looking at me, of course, which is a problem for those a-holes that sometimes try to chat me up like I'm some bimbo.

It's up to me now to figure out how I want to live the next year of my life. Thinking about the whole Willie situation, I've made my peace with it, but it doesn't mean he wasn't an asshole. "Karen" has never explained what, if any, contact she's had with the original Karen, which leads me to believe she's either beyond reach, or that the old Tori just flat-out stole some poor woman's life.

Someone in the comments suggested that "Pygmalion" may be responsible for Willie's "opportunity," which kept me up at night. To think someone might be manipulating my life that way is... unsettling.

The way I look at it, this is my life. It's permanent. If Willie offers my old body back to me next year, it's mine to take or leave, but I shouldn't count on it. I don't trust him anymore, and there are a million worse things in the world than being a good-looking 23-year-old girl. As one commenter noted, I just need to figure out my next step. What do I want to do with this life? I'm working on it.

At this point, a lot of other blog writers dropped their former names from their ID's, but personally I'm still attached to mine, so... I don't know.

If you have any more questions, please don't hesitate to ask, and I'll try to cover them in my next post!

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Cliff/Tori: If they only knew...

I've been spending the last couple of weeks getting over the shock of knowing I'll be this way for a while longer, while the word "forever" echoes in my head.

Nothing's changed. Being a girl isn't any worse or better for me than it was before. I don't feel depressed, I don't feel relieved, I'm just... going on. Is this good? I don't know. But it is what it is.

But I got a good boost of reassurance on Sunday, which was Father's day. I don't spend a ton of time with the family... keeping myself a bit independent while under their roof has helped keep me sane. I get up after my parents have gone to work, I get home when they're going off to bed, mostly because I hang out after work with the girls/guys. On the weekends I usually do my own thing, with the occasional exception.

Father's Day was a big deal to me, though, because even if they don't know who I really am, I wanted to prove how important they've become to me, both parents. So I made special arrangements to show off my cooking skills, which was the one thing my real dad and I really had in common. So I did a whole steak dinner for the family, and put Mae in charge of the side dishes (which didn't go so well in the end, but good for her for trying.)

It felt good, just to hang out in our backyard, the four of us, later joined by Ken and his fiancee, who was quick to point out how surprising it was that I was suddenly such an avid chef. We sat around after dinner and everyone told stories, although I was still silent... most of what I know about Tori's life is from her diaries, so there's not a lot of material that's worth sharing. Still, it was great to hear these sweet candid moments of family togetherness.

It wasn't until the next morning that I really started thinking about my own dad. I got up that morning and couldn't get the guy out of my head, and suddenly I was filled with this deep, intense shame. What would he think, if he knew the truth about his youngest son? That instead of getting his life together and moving to England for his career, he was living as a girl in Philadelphia? That at that moment on Monday morning, he was slipping on a pair of panties and clasping a bra... brushing his long dark hair, putting on a pair of tight shorts and a top that revealed his cleavage, his middrift... that his son was now somebody's daughter, and didn't mind it so much?

I don't think he'd understand that I didn't want this, but that I don't hate it either. Maybe he'd think less of me for giving in, for enjoying it at all, but I don't care anymore. I'm through with that attitude. It's something I could never explain to him, but finally, I like where I am.

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Saturday, June 19, 2010

Alia/Rob: Freedom of a sort

With the semester over, my last responsibility as a teacher is to grade the final exams of 60 or so students. I did some grading as a TA back at University, so this is the part of the job I've always warmed to. The part that struck me as the hardest was the teacher-student rapport I've been expected to maintain all year. Now that it's all more or less over with, I'm glad to just be able to relax, spend some time grading tests, and start planning my return to Maine.

Spending a year as someone else is tough. I tried to really guide the kids, and in some cases I may have been successful but a lot of the time this year I've just felt so overwhelmed and exhausted. It's gotten better -- I let my temper get the better of me quite a bit early in the year, which is definitely a no-no, but in the last few months my frustration has only manifested itself in quiet resignation. Teaching, as I thought when this whole thing began, isn't really my area.

I spent some time today with Cliff. After her last post, I got in touch with her, and we arranged a meet-up, our first in a while. It's a shame we've had to go so long between visits, but it simply hasn't been convenient for either of us. As nice as it is to be able to hash things out with the only person around who knows your secret, sometimes the various threads of life get in the way.

We had drinks out on a patio, and I asked her how she was taking the whole turn of events. She took a deep sip and mulled it over. She told me it was one of those "expected surprises," and that part of her has always suspected it was possible she wouldn't go back. I agree with her there. Paranoia is one of those nagging feelings you have to live with in our situation. But, she said, she was beyond crying about it. Another year or a whole lifetime as Tori couldn't be any harder than that first year. Now that she's in it, it's not the worst thing in the world to stay. I understand that, but I know that if it were me, I'd still be in the "freakout phase."

I have to admit, she's taking it well, a week later. After this whole year, Cliff-Tori has changed, at least from my perspective. When I first met her, she was quiet and afraid of everything about this little curse of ours. I remember the long, fearful drive to Philly from Maine where she droned on and on about the horrors of her new body... maybe just a little oblivious to the fact that she was riding with a woman who happened to like being one, but I forgave her. She was tightly wound and needed to get it off her chest. I get it.

Now? The girl across from me was serene, relaxed, at peace. The adjustment period is long over, being a girl seems to work for her as much as anything else. She says she's done freaking out about it and ready to just move on -- and if she never goes back, so be it, I guess.

It's out of our hands, like so much of ours lives. And now here I am, looking forward to my return to Maine, getting to be myself again, returning to Toronto and putting Philadelphia/Rob Garcia in my past. I can't help but feel a certain level of guilt about that.

I have confidence in her, though. She's smart enough by now to know how to make this work for her, I think.

-Alia

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Monday, June 14, 2010

Cliff/Tori: Hit Reset

I cried myself to sleep last night.

It began a few days ago when I started playing a game of phone-tag with Willy. You remember Willy, right? The British guy who found himself in my body last year after staying at the inn, the guy who has been keeping my life warm for me in Buffalo while I've been here living as Tori Pearce in Philadelphia. After meeting him at Thanksgiving, I put a lot of trust in him, because he showed himself to be a genuinely nice, considerate, good-natured person. He was quick enough on his feet that he adapted to my life, my family and friends, and even managed to stay ahead of the curve with my job... for a while anyway.

I was an IT guy. It's not a fancy or glamorous job, of course, but it was what I've always liked. Willy did his best to study up and learn as he went, and proved a quick study, but in the long term, couldn't outrun the inevitable. The company I was working for was downsizing anyway, and he hadn't proven himself as adept as I would've been. This was a few months ago, and I didn't mention it, because I didn't want to think about it.

I guess I should have. I mean, it's my life, I should care what's going on in it. But having to take care of my existence as Tori has left me with little energy to guide Willy through his problems. "You can figure something out, you're smart," I told him, not meaning to sound bitchy, "This is only temporary anyway."

I guess it all came back to bite me when we finally did end up talking over the weekend. I thought we were just going to confirm our plans to visit the Inn next month, which is why I was putting it off, but the truth is a lot more complicated than that, and a lot more... unfortunate.

"Listen," he says in that fake American accent of his, "I got an opportunity, and in this job market I haven't got a lot of options. There's a job that you can get with your resume, and I can do with my own experience, and after a lot of thought, I'm going to take it."

"Sure," I say, "Whatever you want to do, but, is this really a good time? You're not going to have it for long."

"Well, that's what I need to talk to you about. It's a great job, supervising a team of software developers, excellent pay, it's a once in a lifetime opportunity. But it's in England."

I feel myself clog up with emotion; with confusion and fear. "England? What are you-- why would you even..."

"It's a job I would've wanted to have in my own life, but I had to act now. I was lucky enough that they'd interview me, let alone offer me the job. I want to go do that, and try to get myself -- I mean Willy -- a job there. Just give me a year, Cliff. Please."

I can barely manage to ask, "Are you asking my permission...? Or did you already..."

"Yeah, I already did. I just want to you know you're okay with it." There's a long silence. He goes on, "I mean, I don't want... I don't want to leave you stranded, but you're not in any trouble or anything, right? You're... another year won't hurt, will it?"

All I can say is, "A year?... another year?" He doesn't say anything back, it sounds like he's trying to gauge the exact meaning of my reaction. On my end, I look down at myself, sitting on my bed in my pajama pants, looking down at my cleavage poking through my sleeping top. I should be mad. I should be livid. and part of me is. Part of me feels betrayed and disappointed and everything.

But I suppress it all. I push it all down, maybe because deep down inside I still feel like Willy's a good guy and he has my best interests at heart -- not some asshole stealing my life. Maybe I'm wrong about that, but I can't bring myself to express my anger.

So all I do is meekly mutter, "Yeah, sure. A year. No problem... another year... you promise, right? Only a year?"

"I promise, Cliff, trust me, I want to get out of this life, but one more year this way could really help the both of us. I don't want you to be mad."

"I'm not mad," I lie. I reason it out for myself, out loud for him, "I've spent a lot of time trying to think of this body as something... something I can live with, not a prison or a punishment. It's not so bad..."

"That's good," he said, sounding unsure. "Look, I promise to check in as often as I can, I'll do everything I can, I just... I just wanted to do what's right."

"Yeah," I said, "Okay. I've gotta... I should go now."

"Okay. Good. I'll keep you updated..."

I hang up. With the phone still in my hand I dial down to Louisville to call the real Rob and Tori. I got an upbeat phone message, her voice saying "You've reached Karen and Gary, we're not in right now, please leave a message!" It must've been recorded before they ever changed.

I left a hurried, emotional message saying just to call me back, I have some important stuff to talk about. Then I lay back on the bed staring up at the ceiling, trying not to look at myself or at my surroundings, but not to close my eyes. Just the light fixture.

And I just... blanked. I wasn't feeling anger or despair or anything. Not at that point. I was feeling proud of myself for adapting, believe it or not. I was shocked at not getting my own body back, no question, and as much as there are little things about being Tori that irk me, I've come a long way from the girl who woke up in the Inn, or even the one who had to start wearing thongs and make-up on a dare to herself. For a while, my only fear was for the future. I had a deal with Tori that I still planned to honor. I worried about what might become of me, should I just go back to the Inn blind. As a nauseating pit of uncertainty formed in my stomach, the phone rang. I immediately picked it up.

"Hello?"

"Hi, Cliff?" said the woman on the other end. "It's Karen. Tori. It's me."

"Tori," I sighed, "Listen, something really major has happened and screwed things up." I briefly summarized the situation.

"Wait," she said, "You mean we're stuck here? We can't go back?" There seemed to be some real anger in her voice, which I'd feared, and I tried to correct her--

"No, I mean, you can still have your body back, I just... I don't know what I'm gonna do."

"I can have my body back?"

"Yeah, of course."

Pause. "...What about Rob?"

"Rob? Of course he can have his body back," I say, "his has nothing to do with him."

"But you don't know what you're going to do."

"Exactly. With Willy taking my body to England, and you... coming back, I'm kind of... left out."

Immediately, she piped up, "But what if I didn't?"

"What?"

"What if I don't go back?" she said, "I mean, I don't have to, do I? It still works, right? There's nothing saying I have to go back, or you have to go back."

"No, I... I guess not."

"So there. I mean, as long as I don't have to stay with Rob, I'm fine either way."

I was a bit confused by her energy. "You... you want to stay?"

"Well sure. god, Cliff, one change was enough. You've been in my life for a year, I bet a lot's changed, right, what with your job and friends and everything."

"Well not really," I said, "I mean the job's just a temporary... and I've kept up everything the way you left it... shit, I didn't even unpack your boxes!"

Her response was, "Well... that was dumb! I mean, it was nice and all, but you didn't have to. You shouldn't, like, try to live my life like it's on pause or anything. I don't have a reason to go back. This life is good. I'd like you to keep that one as long as you need."

I started to feel my face get hot. "You don't want to go back? Were you planning on telling me?!"

"Well no, I was gonna go back and just get over it, but since you called, since all this... I think it's all worked out."

And that's when I lost it. "Worked out? Worked out?!! This whole time, I've been living like a ghost just to keep from upsetting your life, and you would rather I just took your life and ran? Jesus, lady! You could've saved us all a lot of time and energy by telling me that to start with!"

"Calm down," she said condescendingly, "I can't talk anymore. I'll explain it to Rob, hopefully he won't be too disappointed that I'm staying. We're not getting along that well right now. Bye Tori." Click.

And that was it. I felt like I could've crushed the phone in my hand with the amount of anger. It wasn't being left behind as Tori that made me mad. It was learning she didn't really want to go back to begin with. I don't even know how many things I would've done differently if I hadn't constantly thought, "How will Tori feel about this when she's back?" And now all my problems are mine to deal with and I just... I felt it all overload me, and I fell on my face crying.

A moment later Tori's... or my Mom appeared in the doorway, asking "Are you okay?"

I needed some comfort, but all I could explain was "It's just your daughter... being stupid."

She wrapped her arms around me. I was literally shaking with rage at this point. She pressed her cheek to mine, "It's okay, honey, everyone can be sometimes. The world's unfair like that. But it'll be fine."

"Yeah," I said, hugging her back. "I know. Thanks... mom."

We hugged a long while, before she left me on my own, and I cried myself to sleep.

And I woke up the next morning to a world that's mine to do whatever I want. I just don't know what that's going to be.

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Alia/Rob: Reaching out

God damn is the month of June stressful for high school teachers. Between marking papers and making exams (which I will then have to mark) my mind has been so focused on just making in through this month that I've hardly had any time to think about what happens once I'm done.

It's taking its toll on my personality. I've hardly talked to any of my "friends" at work, I avoid talking to Todd and others on MSN and I sure as hell don't feel like venting here. My mind is cloudy and I can't focus.

I started to notice the irritation about a week and a half ago, not long after the 90's dance, and the truth is it was partly because of what happened, or didn't happen, or almost happened, between me and Cathy at that dance. And what happened next.

An astute commenter asked me, on that entry, whether I thought men or women took rejection worse. Maybe I'm biased, but I really think it's women. I never took it very well, whereas a lot of the guys I've known seem to hide it really well, if they feel anything at all. And all this time, I didn't want to get involved with anyone, because I didn't want to get attached or complicate my relationships with the people in Rob's life, but the truth is, it's already complicated, and if anything I've made it worse.

A week after I declined to pursue a physical relationship with Cathy, I found out she started seeing Dean. I don't know whether it's just a casual fling, or if they have a fling (neither of them seems like the serious type) but it seems pretty much motivated by my actions, because now the two of them are, um, not my biggest fans.

As much as I want to pretend like this isn't my life and I shouldn't care -- what's more, this is probably best -- I'm actually losing sleep over the matter. I don't like the idea that these people, whom I considered my closest friends in this life, are now against me.

So I've had to go it alone. Where can I turn? My schedule doesn't really sync up with Todd's or Cliff/Tori's. I'm often too embarrassed of myself to express myself on this blog. So I went through my stress and my anxiety, feeling frustrated with the kids and the job and everything again, when who should call but an unlikely source of sympathy... Ingrid. The former Mrs. Rob Garcia.

Don't ask how we got to talking -- she'd been in South America for a lot of the winter, only to return last month, and she was checking in on me, I guess. You'd think a divorced couple could just extricate themselves from one another, but here you are. She wasn't even that big a presence in my life, and yet I'd be a liar if I denied that those big blue eyes and curvy hips hadn't popped into my head once or twice in my occasional quiet moments of reflective....... jerking off.

We ended up meeting up, and having a serious talk. Not about "us," but about life and the world and about how the things we do have unforeseen consequences on those around us. I lamented that sometimes the things you don't do can be as hurtful as the things you do. She gave a wicked smirk at that, alluding, I guess, to some unknown event in Rob & Ingrid's past.

She spoke warmly of her new love interest, a guy she met over the internet. I don't know why, but when she mentioned that, I felt like I was missing out on something. Despite my pledge otherwise, I can't help but feel some level of desire for this woman. Despite her hard personality and hot-cold nature, I can't help but be drawn to her. I wonder whether that's just my own confused psyche, or something more primal, ingrained in Rob's bones. Who can say where attraction comes from, or what it really means?

They'd met on a dating site, although he's apparently from out-of-state, which means they haven't physically met yet... which seemed odd for a woman like Ingrid, but I guess after a bad experience, you sometimes go a little nutty. I know from experience. I left the meeting still feeling a bit isolated, but uplifted.

I don't know. I don't know whether, by being in Rob's life, I've improved it or let it stagnate, even making it worse. I get a headache just thinking about it. I want to go home soon.

-Alia

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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Cliff/Tori: Like grownups

After all my drama and second-guessing, I finally got around to talking things out with Buddy, like grownups. Sort of.

Eventually, he started getting the hint and laying off, but whenever I saw him it was clear he still wanted my attention. It's hard when your feelings for someone just don't match up, and I've never been on this end of it before. So we got to talking.

"Look, Tor," he said, "I realize you're not into me the way I... I mean, yeah. I'm over it..." although he didn't really sound like he was, "And I hope we can still be friends. Right?"

I was taken aback, and feeling bad about the whole thing, but I agreed, not really wanting to delve into my own feelings.

He continued, "I'm going away for a while. I've got a job -- it's just a temporary assignment, but it requires me to relocate to Ohio for a little while." I guess the company that's hired him on wants him on-premises. So I just asked him when we could expect him back. He said he might be gone all summer.

Knowing that I might never see this guy again I got a little sad. As confusing as all this is, and his attraction to me has been particularly hard to deal with, I really do care about all the people in my life right now. So at the end of the night I gave him a big warm hug and told him to keep in touch. He deserves something better than what I can offer him, and maybe if he's lucky the real Tori will take some interest (even though, sadly, he doesn't seem like her type.)

He's gone now. I feel like that's one major loose end sort-of tied up before my trip back to Maine next month. I still feel bad for leaving things that way, but we're not always given a choice in these matters. I know that better than anyone.

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Saturday, June 05, 2010

Todd: In Good Company

I knew a guy who was in a pretty bad car crash years ago. He wasn't badly hurt -- it messed up his back but in time he healed up -- but for a long while afterward he wouldn't get in a car. Even when he did get over that little phobia, I could see his teeth and fingers clenching when as the speedometer would rise. It seems like even when you're done with something, sometimes it lingers on.

I'd be lying if I said my time at the Inn was all in the past. It's true that I don't mope about it anymore, don't get angry or frustrated with the way things happened with Alia or Sean and Erica. But "not moping" and "getting back to normal" aren't the same thing.

There's two ways this affects me. One is the obvious psychological doubts I have about myself. Every so often I wake up in the middle of the night wondering who exactly Todd Casey is supposed to be. My mind wanders while at work, thinking about people back in Connecticut.

I doubt myself, I wonder whether I'm ready to get back with Alia when she comes back, or if she'll want me, or if the last few years have driven some kind of wedge between us. These thoughts are fleeting, though, and usually there's enough going on that it gets pushed out of my mind. But there's something else that bugs me.

Call it a rut. It was a pre-existing condition that led me to the Inn. I've been so into my boring daily routine that whenever I've got some free time I just sit and vegetate and feel bad about myself. It isn't healthy. I'm not the "sit and wait" type, even though the wait is just a little longer.

That's where Shelby comes in. Shelby is a girl who's worked at the store with me since the holidays. At first I wasn't that close to her -- I haven't gotten that close to anybody lately -- but as the months went on, I found myself spending more and more time with her at work. Time goes by and I find myself acting more and more like myself when I'm around her.

We talk a lot, about movies and music, we have a lot of the same tastes. What really worried me was how attached to her I was getting. She's cute and funny and everything, but with everything between me and Alia I know I'm just off-limits.

So that kept me from getting too close to her. Until a couple weeks ago, when she had her 19th birthday party (oh, so young...) and pretty much demanded I appear. I did and by the end of the night, it was just me and her drinking on her couch. In another lifetime, there would've been nothing to stop me. Only a few years ago, an opportunity like that couldn't have come up without me making the most of it, and I was sure she'd go along with it. This includes a certain percentage of the time I was with Alia, back when I was a cheating bastard. But I'm not that anymore.

So we begin to drunkenly converse, and she asks me why, if I'm as great a guy as she thinks I am, am I single and lonely?

I make up a story on the spot -- a half-truth -- about how I have this "long-distance thing" going on, and I'm just waiting for the right time for her and I to be together, and all this semi-romantic BS. It was in that moment, being as honest as I can be with another person, that I finally put into words how much she means to me, and how much it would mean for her to come back to Toronto and for us to get on with our lives.

And I just keep going, and I spill out all my insecurities, my frustrations, my fears that it won't work out between the two of us and I'll be left with nothing. And she just listens and takes it all in, and when I'm done, she thinks about it for a while before saying, "Well, you know what? Even if it all crashes down on you, you can start building it up again, you know? That's what you've gotta do."

and that was that. Suddenly, I felt like I was really connecting to someone completely independent of the Inn and everything else, getting back to being a person. No sex, no drama, just... a good friend.

So anyway, I thought I'd share that. Maybe you'll understand why moments like those are important, or maybe I'm just rambling.

-Todd

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