There have been a few times in my life when the truth hit me like a ton of bricks. The first was when I woke up in the body of a woman. The second was when I found out I wasn't going back. The third was when I realized I had to break up with Buddy and pursue Alex. And every time, this blog was here for me. I never thought I'd have a moment like that again in my life, but Friday night, I had the worst.
I have never been so mad at someone I care so much about, and until he arrived at my door I considered cutting him out of my life completely. I'm a pretty strong person by now, I should be able to walk away from someone if they treat me like that. But it was the first time he had ever shown that side of himself. The first time I saw any dissatisfaction and anger about our relationship. Even when he told me he didn't want to move in, he was nice about it. I wanted closure on this issue... I wanted to know what was behind that outburst. If it ended with us breaking up, I could accept that, but I needed to give him a chance.
When he arrived, I had him sit down, and I put him at ease by saying I had gotten Raine out of the apartment for the night. He didn't know where to begin. Neither did I. We each opened a beer.
"We can't pretend nothing happened last night," I said.
"I'm not like that, Tori," he said. "You know me."
"Yeah, I thought I did."
"I get frustrated sometimes. Not with you, but with... other stuff in my life. Stuff I can't tell you about, but it’s starting to get in the way."
"That's not gonna cut it," I told him. "You love me. I love you. You shouldn't feel like there's anything you can't tell me. Just respect me enough to talk to me instead of bottling it up."
"If I tell you this, it's going to change your opinion of me. It's going to change everything."
“If you don’t trust me, I don’t know if we can be together,” I told him.
He stalled a while before I finally dragged it out of him. He said it wasn't a problem until he realized we were going to be together a long time, that he cared about me and that I wanted to move in. He admitted he knew all the advantages, and that there was no lack of love or desire to move in but for certain reasons it wasn't "practical."
Then he asked if I trusted him to always be honest, and if I would promise to believe the thing he was about to say, and forgive him if necessary. I got a serious bad feeling in the pit of my stomach, but the answer was, of course, "Yes." There has to be honesty, right?
"I'm not who you think I am," he said. "And I want you to know that even though this makes no sense at all, it's the truth, and I would never do anything to hurt you."
And then he took a deep breath and told me a very familiar story.
A few years ago, before he met me, he took a trip to New England, winding up in Maine.
And wouldn't you know it. One morning, he and everyone else staying at this little Inn woke up to find they had been transformed into different people.
His name isn't really Alex, it's George Mueller. He's only been "Alex" for two years.
I just sat there, trying to keep a blank expression on my face as he told me this story that I lived through, treating me like I would never imagine such a thing... I mean, I never imagined trying to explain my situation to anyone because, well, I guess I was afraid I might sound like Alex did here. He was so worried I thought he was nuts. I just nodded along trying to figure out how to react.
"I never lied to you on purpose," he repeated, "It's just that I never thought I could tell anyone and make them believe me... but I feel so close to you, I thought maybe, just maybe you'd give me the benefit of the doubt."
It took me a while to realize he was telling me this without knowing the truth about me. That this was pure trust on his part, hoping I would be understanding about this strange situation.
I spent a long time just thinking it over in my head. It was a lot to come to terms with. I took a long time figuring out how I was "supposed" to react, as if it was all new to me.
For a second, just a second, I wanted to throw my arms around him and admit my own truth, to show him he wasn't alone. But I stopped myself. I had this intense feeling of self-consciousness. It was selfish of me to want to keep this illusion up, but after my experience with Karen a few months ago, I felt so exposed just talking to someone who knew the truth about me... like I had to be both Cliff and Tori, and I gave up on being Cliff a long time ago. I really don't think I can have someone in my life, someone I care about, knowing who I used to be. I would always worry that they'd look at me and try to see Cliff, judge me because I came to love this life as second nature. I was afraid he just wouldn't be able to handle it.
He leaned in, and asked hopefully, "Do you believe me?"
"Yeah... I think I do," I said, then added, "There's always been this strange aura about you."
He wrapped his arms around me and kissed me.
“I’m sorry I lashed out,” he said. “I was thinking about how much I love you, and how much I feel you love me... and I got scared. For a second, I thought pushing you away was better than telling the truth. Anytime I think about how close we are, I get scared you'll hate me for lying and I... I freaked out. I hope you can forgive me.”
I took a deep breath. “I can.”
When he pulled away, he stood up and said, "It's a lot to expect someone to handle this. I can't prove it. It makes no sense, even to me. You might just be humoring me, but it's out there. You can think whatever you want about it, but I'm glad I said it."
“I’m glad you did, too,” I told him.
And then he left.
And then I went and lay down in bed and thought "God... what am I gonna do now?"