On Saturday, Karen/Tori proposed taking me on a walking tour of Philly. I said I've lived here for almost three years, I know a bit about Philly, and she said "Yeah, but you never had someone walk you around it who really knew it." I had to admit, there was a point, and I later figured out it was as much for her, so she could reminisce. We walked by some of her old favorite bars, high school hangouts, the hairdresser where she used to work, restaurants she liked. Suddenyl she was putting stories and meanigns behind all these places that I had passed by and never thought about. By the end, she was getting a bit quiet. It was the introduction to "Tori" I never got, a few years too late. Who knows what my life might've been like if I had her holding my hand through those early days. I can only imagine how it would've looked, if I had her to teach me to be Tori, instead of trying to learn to be myself.
That night, Alex and I were going to dinner at my parents -- her parents. Of course I invited her along, and she seemed excited, but at the last minute, she decided to stay in. "I didn't plan on seeing them... I think it would be too much." Okay, I said, but this might be the only chance she has to see the people that raised her. It didn't seem to matter to her.
After dinner, Alex was driving me home. "Maybe you should go back to your place tonight," I said in a moment of remarkable foresight. "Karen and I are probably going to have to talk about stuff."
"Wouldn't you want me there for backup?"
"It's girl stuff sweetie," I said, kissing him. "I'll see you tomorrow."
I went upstairs to find... and empty apartment. I had a text on my phone saying "Hey Cliff, went to the club, join us when ur done bein lame!!!" I resented her using my old name, so I waited up a while. I was stewing in my anger so much I needed to shower to cool down.
Karen came in alone, obviously still drunk. "Hey, why didn't you come? You would've loved it. Guys everywhere."
"I have a boyfriend," I said bitterly.
"She went on a booty call. Same old Raine. Not like everything else around here... what the hell are you doing with my life?"
"I was so hot! I had so much going on, and now look at you... what do you weigh, 160?"
"140, at the most! God! Tori, you're a superficial bitch!"
"Oh really, Cliff? Look who's using my sexy body to bang nerdy boys because she's afraid she can't do better. You fucking... tomboy lesbian slut hag! I bet when you had a cock, you always wanted to trade it in. How do you think your boyfriend would feel if he knew you used to have a dick?"
I felt my fist clench. I've hit a girl before. I nearly did it again. Instead, I just looked her in the eye, and I did something much worse.
I told her, "Your family loves me."
She sneered, "They don't know you."
"Yeah," I said, "They do. I lived with them for a year. At first I was trying to be you, and tiptoed around and never talked to them, but I gave up on that and I just decided to do everything the way I would, if I was... if I was a girl. And you know what they tell me? Tori, you've really grown up. You've become such an amazing person."
I regretted it as soon as it was out of my mouth. It was over the line. I could call her a bitch or a slut and she would shrug it off, but I took it even further. I had a right to be mad. She was talking shit about how I would never be a real girl and how I wasn't a man either, and I... I needed to grab onto one thing I knew I had better than her, something I had done right since being Tori. Instead of explaining to her that it didn't matter I used to be a guy, I fought back, and it didn't feel good.
She sunk down to the couch, bawling with tears. After all these years, I'm still not comfortable around crying women, even though I've been one myself. All I could do was watch for a while, before snapping out of it, "Oh God, oh God I'm so sorry, oh Jesus... I didn't mean that, I didn't mean to say it..." completely forgetting the awful stuff she had just said to me.
As she cried, I continued talking. "Tori, I know for you, being a girl is all about looks and guys, but for me, this is something else. I don't care about my weight or make-up so long as the person I love loves me back. And I know people don't always get along with their parents... my dad practically hated me because I was into computers instead of football. My brother served in Iraq, I couldn't compare. I wanted your parents to like me so much... but more importantly, I wanted to be someone I liked being. And that's why they like... uh, why they think that about me. They can see I'm happy."
She sat up. Tears were still in her eyes, but she wiped them away. "I think I get it. I was a screw up, Cliff. I was an unemployed hairdresser who moved back home and dated older men. They loved me... they were annoying, but they loved me. I just wish I had that back, because I don't even know Karen's parents. There's nobody around to see that I've got my life together now. I wanted to go to dinner with them... but I got the call today. I didn't get the job. I'm still just a fill-in reporter."
I felt a bit more comfortable sitting next to her. I rubbed her back and she rested her head on my shoulder. "Hey," I laughed, "I'm unemployed. I'm still a screw up. I wish I could bring you to your parents and tell them to be proud of you... but you know they would be, okay? You're doing great."
"Uh huh," she sniffled.
I feel like Karen's my sister. We don't really see eye to eye, but we share something personal, something that we can never get rid of, no matter how we feel, no matter how crazy we get. The last thing I said to her that night was "By the way... never call me Cliff again, okay? I'm really not him."
She looked at me, and nodded "I think I understand... You're Tori."
She threw her arms around me and we got cleaned up and went to our respective beds. It was more complicated than that... it was a long, emotional, drunken conversation that didn't happen exactly as I've written it, but I've given you the gist of what we discussed. I think we reached an understanding.
I went to bed trying to grasp what I had actually just said: "I'm not Cliff." As much as I want that to be true, I still have almost 30 years in my head of answering to that name. And they weren't all bad. I think I stay on this blog because if I don't, all my memories of being him will just sit gathering dust. They're not useful to me anymore, but I can't get rid of them. I can't clear out my cache so that only the last 3 years remain. I can't talk to anyone around me about my old life... even when I can, I don't want to, exactly because I worry about trying to connect those old memories with this new life. So I want to thank you, strangers on the internet... for letting me remember, but also keep those memories distant.
Alex and I drove Karen to the airport the next morning. I walked with her through the airport. The last thing she said was "It might be a good thing I'm staying in Louisville. There's a really cute guy who's been trying to get my attention."
"I thought you were dating around?"
"He's special. I stayed away because he's the kind of guy you get serious about. And I was scared to try, because I thought I might be moving back here. But I see you and Alex together... hell, I heard you together... it makes me want that."
I hugged her goodbye and stayed to watch her plane take off. When Alex and I started to drive off, he asked me what I wanted to do for lunch.
I smiled and felt the skin on my midsection. "I wanna find the best cheeseburger in Philly."
Alex grinned a big goofy smile "That's why I love you."
I gave him a good long kiss and said "That's why I love me too."