Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Ellie: Venting

Sometimes I'm a bad friend. I guess, knowing what you people know about me, it shouldn't be surprising that I get caught up in my own shit from time to time. In the last decade or so, I went from being a preteen girl, to a grown woman, to a man, to a teenage girl who likes girls. I don't even know how to be "me" sometimes. The only person I can really talk to about it is my "father," who is sympathetic... but I hate relying on him, because besides being in this together, we don't get along all that well. I don't get along so great with my "mother," either, who was putting a lot of pressure on me to finally graduate this year and get "my life" on track. Well, it is going to be my life for a long time, so I guess I should.

I was bottling all this angst about everything and I just needed to let it out... if I was a better writer I'd do it here more, but there's only so much satisfaction I get from that because it doesn't change anything. So I was studying for finals with my friend Iris, and I just suddenly started crying, and she asked what was wrong, I told her it was nothing to worry about, nothing she could really help me with, and she said that didn't matter. She was still my friend and I had to tell her.

I told her I was upset because I just realized I can't be anything "they" want me to be, the good, smart daughter who becomes a success. I don't have it in me, I'm crumbling. I'm living a whole bunch of lies.

And she said I was smart enough, smarter than most, and that I had probably more life experience than most people in this town, which is true. And she said she knew it wasn't about school, as stressful as it is. And I said she was right.

So then I told her it's because I'm gay. And I took a huge breath and there was this long silence, like I couldn't even believe I actually said it out loud. I never use that word to refer to myself. I always get around it by thinking to myself, "I'm interested in women," or "I'm really open minded" or "I'm not about gender," but I don't think that's quite it. I am, at least here and now... a gay person, a lesbian, a girl who really only wants to date girls and have guys as friends.

And I told her all about my stupid online dating experience from earlier this yea rand how disgusted I felt with myself for being so secretive and shady about it, stooping that low just to have someone that I had all that in common with, how pathetic I felt when I didn't enjoy it because even though I like women, I didn't like that woman. I just felt like no matter what I do with my life I was never going to get anywhere and never going to be happy.

And she hugged me, and she started to cry, and she said, "I know, I know, I know... I've known for so long but I didn't want to tell you I knew. I wanted you to tell me. I just want you to know I'm here for you. I'm still your friend."

And then I bawled, and we just laughed, it felt so amazing to get all that off my chest. And then we went back to studying and I thought about really moving forward... graduating, moving away, finding people who might really understand me, growing up after all that.

And then after she left, something kinda ate away at me for a while. "What did that mean, she knew? She knew for so long?" How does she see me... how bad was I at passing, even when I had a boyfriend?

Why does this bother me?

What else does she "know" about me?

What if Iris... isn't really Iris?

I went to bed that night just trying to recapture that amazing cathartic feeling of letting that all out, and keeping my secret fears and suspicions at bay. I don't want to end up in a situation like Tori had. I don't know. Maybe it's stupid, but you can never be too careful, right?

My stomach's back to turning itself into knots. Ugh.

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Friday, June 21, 2013

Tori: Reunions and Partings

Things completely changed the moment I found out that Sara and Thom were living as Cliff and Randi. I thought I was going to have to explain myself from scratch but it suddenly got a lot more complicated. Two people who knew me - or thought they did - were going to learn my deepest secret. Maybe they already had. I took a moment to compose myself, and the wheels started turning in Sara's head.

"A few years ago, I remember," he said, "You went to Buffalo for Thanksgiving... which I thought was weird, because like, who does Tori know in Buffalo? But this isn't a coincidence, is it?"

"I don't know what this is," I said, although I was starting to get an idea. "But there's a lot going on here, so maybe I should do my best to explain what's going on here." I took a deep, cleansing breath, and tried to compose myself, but it was still a struggle to push the words out. "I wasn't always Tori. I went to the Inn, just like you."

"You're not the real Tori? Then how do you know who I am?"

"It's been a few years... Sara, I've been Tori for almost four years now. Remember when you and Raine went to Europe for the summer, and when you came back I was acting really spacey and confused all the time? That was me."

The man's jaw hung low. With a steady, suppressed rage, s/he said "You stole my friend's life?"

I gritted my teeth defensively, "I didn't steal anything. I was taken from my life and put into this one, same as you. And then some time passed, and Tori... the original Tori..." I made a point not to say 'real,' "She gave up on this body. She moved on. I asked if she wanted it back, and she let me have it, because the person who took my body... HE was the thief."

"Holy crap," Thom-Randi said in the background.

"So if you want to know where I came from," I said, starting to rant a little bit, "It's there. In the mirror. I used to be John Henry Clifford, okay? That's the truth about me. And I'm sorry I lied to you for four years, but you know I couldn't explain it even if I wanted to, so... there."

"Is that why you're here?" he asked, "To make sure we're all right, ready to give you your body back, finally?"

I breathed a heavy sigh. "No, that isn't what this is about. I don't even... this is gonna sound crazy, but I don't want that body back. I decided that a long time ago."

"Why wouldn't you want your body back?" Thom asked impatiently.

"It's been a long time," I said, "I've put a lot of energy and effort into making the best out of this situation. It's my home now. Sara, you're my friend. I'm sorry I lied to you, I'll apologize to you every day if you need me to, but I had no choice."

"But you can go back now," Sara said. "I can give you this body when I get my old one back, and then we can get the real Tori, and..."

"Sara, I don't know how to tell you this," I said, "But I don't know if you are getting your real body back."

"What?"

"There's these people... I don't know what they do, but they con people, they manipulate them. That's why I think you wound up here. Not just at the Inn, but here specifically. Somebody is trying to play with our lives, and our only choice is to not play. I think they took your bodies."

"You're lying," Thom said.

"As soon as they got married, the first thing they did was pack up and move out of state. Do you think that sounds like people who intend to leave their new lives?"

They were stunned into silence. Sara whimpered, "They got married in our bodies?"

"Of course they did," I said, "You had a big wedding planned, and if they called it off, that would've... I don't know, been a big signal. They took your lives."

"Why? Why us?"

"I don't know. They wanted me, too. They just keep collecting people, shuffling them around, getting owed favours and getting paid dues or something, it's all very confusing, I don't even know. But I was warned, and now you are too."

"This can't be true."

"I swear to you, Sara. I've known you for four years, and I only want to help you. You might have gotten mixed up in this because of me, and there's nothing I can do about it now, except... warn you. Don't go back. If they're messing with your lives, then the deeper you go, the more trouble you're in."

"You're a liar," Sara said, "You're trying to scare us to make yourself feel better, or something."

"I'm telling you the absolute truth. There's a blog, there's people... do you remember Alex? He was one of them. My ex boyfriend."

"He gave me the reservation," Thom said. "He said you two were breaking up, so you couldn't use it."

"Well, he went anyway," I said, "And he tricked you into going along, maybe out of spite. I don't know. I'm sorry, again. So sorry."

"I still don't know what to think," Sara said.

I dug into my purse and pulled out my phone. I scrolled through the contacts until I came to K. "Karen Costas. That's Tori. The old Tori. She's living in Louisville, Kentucky. She was on TV for a while, really seemed to love it. You can talk to her right now if you want."

"I just can't handle this," Sara said. "Put the phone away."

"I'm not leaving until you believe me. I'm not the one who did this to you, I'm just trying to help."

"I believe you."

"And I'm not a body thief."

Very reluctantly, he said, "Maybe you're not."

"I've lived, and suffered, and grown so much in four years... you've seen it, Sara, you just didn't know the whole story. You know me, though. This doesn't change anything."

"I don't know," he said.

"I have a flight to catch in the morning... I should go back to my motel. Promise me you won't go back to the Inn. I don't want to lose you guys."

"I can't say that," Sara said. "If there's a chance we can get our real lives back, Tori... Cliff, whoever you are. You have to understand, I have to."

"Just think about it," I said. "And whatever happens... you come find me, okay? I want to know you're okay."

"Sure," he said, "Good bye, Tori."

"Good night."

I thought about it all the way home. I tried to warn them, and I don't even know for sure that I'm right. Maybe I'm just paranoid (I know you'll agree with me, you've seen what these people have gotten up to.) But when I was in their place... three years ago when I was told I couldn't go back to my body, it wrecked me. I moved on, and maybe they will too, but I'll understand if they don't heed my warning.

I just hope they don't regret it.

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Tori: The Wake

It was an incredibly heavy weekend for me, which I should have expected. I haven't seen a lot of death in my life, although I guess I've seen my fair share of goodbyes. Not only have I not seen much death, the idea of someone my age (well, my old age) dying is absolutely shocking. The backstory here is that this guy, Dean Wells, is someone that I knew in high school, maybe not overly well... he was the kind of person who knew a lot of people a little bit, but wasn't exactly best of friends with everyone. Still, when I got word that he was killed in a drunk driving incident (the other driver, not him,) I was saddened. I was glad, in a way, that I heard about it with enough time to pack and go to Buffalo for the weekend.

When I went, I felt instantly uncomfortable. Dean's parents were there, holding themselves together while relatives and old friends of Dean's offered condolences. The Wells are not an old couple, probably in their mid 50's, the same as my natural-born parents. They don't deserve this. And then there I was, trying to explain that I was an old friend of Dean's without properly explaining from where... since nobody from our high school would know who I am and I didn't know enough about Dean's life to pick somewhere else.
I didn't even know where he was working or what he did.

I stayed for the service, but ducked out before the committal... I had really just hoped that "Cliff" would be there so that I could kill two birds with one stone, so to speak. But I knew he probably didn't have any contact with Dean, and no reason to go.

So I asked around, found his address, and considered paying him a visit. But I couldn't quite convince myself to do it. So I went to my old favourite bar to psych myself into it. And who should I find there but my old best friend, Justin... who also conveniently was not at the funeral.

Immediately, I sensed an urge to go over and talk to him. He was alone, not with his longtime girlfriend Randi. I took this to mean that maybe things had ended with them. I wondered if he remembered the one time we met, on Thanksgiving three and a half years ago. I wondered what I would say to him, if I did approach. Could I forget about our old times? Could I get away acting like we were always friends? Could we... be more?

I thought about it. I had had a drink or two, but I don't think that's why I thought about it. You guys probably understand that the way I look at guys now is different from it used to be. I know Justin is a good guy, and I definitely know he's handsome. Maybe it was depression from the funeral, maybe it was loneliness from recent dating failures. I gave serious consideration to going over, checking him out, letting him know I was interested.

He'd never have to know that this girl was one of his best friends from back in the day.

But I'd know. Even though I have nothing to be ashamed of for what I am now, the past is the past and it would benefit me to leave it there.

So I went to the apartment building where Cliff lives, and I thought, this is really risky. I don't know these people. They might think I want something from them, that I want to complicate their lives, when really I just want to make sure they're all right. As my finger hovered over the buzzer, my body shook. I turned to walk away.

And that's when I saw her.

Randi. Justin's girlfriend. Well, ex-girlfriend, now. She was walking up to the building with some groceries and beer.

I recognized her before she recognized me. Maybe too excitedly, I called out, "Randi!" She stopped in her tracks.

Realizing I probably seemed like a lunatic, I softened my tone, "Do you remember me? My name's Tori, I'm an old friend of Cliff's."

"Tori...? Sure..."

I began to put the pieces together. "Do you two live together? Are you... with Cliff?"

"Yeah..."

"I don't... I mean, that's great, I'm really happy for you two. That isn't what this is about." I was tripping over my words, trying to get invited up to the apartment without explaining exactly who I was to Cliff. Inside, I was actually busting, because I always carried a bit of a torch for Randi and was both gleeful and jealous that the current Cliff was in this situation. "I was just in town, thought I'd pop by... hope this isn't inconvenient or..."

"No, no, it should be fine..." she said, understandably weirded out by the entire prospect. She led me up, and there was a palpable awkwardness on the elevator ride. "So... you're from Philadelphia, right?"

"Yeah."

Gulp.

She led me to her apartment. Soon as the door was open, she called out, "Honey, um... someone's here to see you."

He leaned his head out from the kitchen. When I saw his face, a shock went through me. Like seeing a picture of yourself that you don't remember being in. Even being ready for it, my eyes bulged out. After all these years, that still feels like it should be my body.

But his face... it went totally colorless, jaw open, the whole thing.

Sheepishly, I asked, quietly, hoping Randi might not hear, "Do you know who I am?"

"Yeah..." he muttered. "Do you know who I am?"

"I... I know who you're not."

Randi tugged my elbow. "You should sit down."

Then I realized... it was her, too. "Oh, of course," I said, "That must be how it started."

"How what started?"

"You two, together... Randi used to be Justin's girl. Is he in on this too? Did he go?"

"I don't know what you're talking about," Randi said. "We woke up like this. Just us. No Justin."

"How did you find us?" Cliff asked.

"It wasn't that hard," I explained, maybe starting to ramble, "Willie gave me your contact info, if I ever needed it. There was a funeral, maybe you heard, I don't know. Anyway, I came up from Philly and I thought while I was here... I don't know, it sounds stupid when I say it out loud. I'm so sorry to bother you. I can go."

"Tori, wait," Cliff said. "I'm confused. What do you think is going on here?"

"Well, I guess, from the beginning, you two went to an Inn in Maine, the Trading Post... and one morning you woke up in a new pair of bodies, right? And maybe there were some letters or instructions to live these new lives, as Cliff and Randi."

"Yeah, that's what happened," Cliff said, "But Tori, do you know who we are?"

I stared at them. "No. Do we know each other?"

They looked back and forth at each other, and at me. It seemed very tense. I was starting to get scared.

Then Cliff said, "Tori... I'm Sara."

My stomach sunk.

He pointed to Randi. "And that's Thom."

"Hi," she said, eyes fixated on the floor.

I stared blankly for a moment or two. My eyes welled up with tears. I threw my arms around them and burst out crying, "Oh my God, oh my God, I can't believe this, I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry this happened to you, oh my God, I wish I knew! I had no idea, you have to believe me!" And he just kept saying, "It's okay, it's okay."

To be continued...

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Thursday, June 13, 2013

Tori: Conclusions

Well, the Nameless Boy experiment has reached its end, I think. If I wasn't sure before I made the decision, I was afterward.

It just wasn't working. We weren't clicking the way I hoped we would, which really bugged me because I saw so much of myself in him: my old self. And I got a really rude awakening when I realized some of the reasons the old me was not the most popular with women.

Against my better judgment, I tried to pursue a casual relationship with him: occasional dates, and some physical stuff, just to tide me over, which I guess isn't fair to him. He quickly became infatuated and clingy, texting nearly constantly and worrying when I didn't respond, spending lots of money on me (which I KNOW he didn't have much of) and offering me very little in the way of pleasant company. He just wasn't a people person.

I liked him as a person though and I wanted it to work, we just did not gel. He was not someone, ultimately, that I wanted to be in a relationship with, probably because I'm used to one thing, and he wasn't it. On our first weekend "together," we went for a walk and ended up at some store, and I remarked that I quite liked a dress and maybe would come back for it. He straight up bought it for me, an $80 dress. Like, dude, I have money. Well-intentioned, but wrong.

Even though it only lasted about a month, it was still hard to put a stop to it, because I didn't want to admit failure in choosing him. I tried to be sympathetic, because I was so much like him once, and I wanted to believe I could have turned out better if someone like Girl-Me gave me a shot, but I ended up having to remind myself that I am a person too, and I deserve a partner, not a project. And to stop projecting myself onto him, wanting to protect him.

The sex actually did get better, slightly. I mean, if you've never done it before, the rhythm is hard to master, not to mention stamina. I don't think I was a very good teacher, but hopefully his next ladyfriend will be more forgiving.

He did not react well to the break-up, practically begging for another shot. I made the mistake of doing it at my house, and it took a while to get him to leave. I've never broken up with anyone myself before!

That brings me back to where I started... on the lookout for eligible men who won't disappoint me. And who aren't, you know... secretly working for a shadowy agency that transforms people, or whatever. No scrubs, I'm basically saying.

On that note, I'm actually going back to Buffalo this weekend. It's kind of a twisted reason why: I found out from Willie that someone I knew from high school had died in a car crash, and after weighing my options I thought I would at least stop by to offer my condolences. Even if they never knew "Tori," it will be an open visitation, so I can manage. I also think it might be nice to touch base with the current Cliff, and see if he (or "he?" I don't know) will be staying put in my old life after Willie vacated it. If there's anything I can do to help him... well, I can't imagine there's much, but it'll be better than nothing. I mean, I did live that life for nearly three decades.

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