Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Annette/Ravi: Diwali

God, I've been wanting to finish this for months now! Not leaving for New Year's Eve festivities until it's up!

I've been trying not to freak out about how native Ravi seems to have gone as Gary, telling Jordan that most people try to fit in a lot more than he does after visiting the Inn, but I've got to admit, him not giving me any sort of advice about Diwali is weird. I mean, sure, go right ahead and give a white girl born and raised in one of the most homogeneous parts of the country all the well-deserved crap you want about being ignorant of other cultures, but I'd like to think I'd let someone of a different culture in my body know that Christmas is kind of a big deal, and that I always get my mom fancy chocolates, which is the sort of oversight we're talking about here!

I found out about this whole thing when Kareena calledme up about fifteen minutes after I made that blog entry about her (which had me thinking it was about that and wouldn't that be a thing for a second!), saying my family had called to ask why I wasn't at the house - and we'd get into why I was screening my mother later - because it was Dhanteras and shit needed to be done. I quickly apologized, made some lame excuse, dug out my "how to get to Ravi's folks' house" cheat sheet, and headed in the general direction of Long Island, sending Ravi "hey, what the heck am I supposed to be doing?" emails and texts as well as also trying to swap shifts at work.

It turns out that I should have been helping finish a back deck attached to the Kapoors' house, as a big part of Dhanteras (the first day of Diwali) is finishing up home renovation projects, which is actually a great idea - I suspect a lot of places in the town where I grew up would be a lot nicer if finishing home improvement projects before the family arrives for Thanksgiving was not just a good idea but a cultural imperative! I arrived late enough to just wind up painting, which is good; although I sort of get the idea that Ravi is not necessarily much of a handyman and the curse makes it all but impossible to blow my cover, why deal with a bunch of "you hammer like a little girl?"

Hangin the diyas (lamps) was neat, though, and I loved the rangoli that kareen, Ravi's mother, and his older sister Rekha decorated the front walkway with. Being the only Hindu family in the neighborhood, the Kapoors get a lot of curious neighbors stopping by, but I missed the bulk of that. Which was good, because I had to spend the bulk of the night doing research.

That meant I was really dragging the next morning when they woke me up early for Naraka Chaturdashi, which involves scented oils applied to your head before a bath and a big, early breakfast. And then...

Well, you know how sometimes holidays or other get-togethers become this thing where you have more time than traditions to fill them? It was like that, exacerbated by how Kareena was the only person there I sort of knew. I think that there was some distancet here anyway - Ravi's parents are Hindu people living in America, while Ravi was an American of Hindu ancestry even before I had his skin. Rekha and her mother were talking pregnancy stuff all day, her hsuband Abhishek is not really comfortable in English, and I have not picked up a whole lot of Hindi. It was really a huge relief when Kareena set up the volleyball net - she kicked the butts of all comers, but sports trash-talk is something I can understand, even if I'm the one on the receiving end.

It did sort of force me to get to know Ravi's family a bit; I had been sort of avoiding them for the previous three months. It was weird in more ways than one - I never really knew my father, so I really had no idea what to do with Ravi's, even though I figure that as the two guys in the house they'd be kind of close. But, like I said, he's more of India than America, so he talks about cricket and Bollywood movies and the politics back home, while Ravi appeares to be a baseball and Game of Thrones guy. He's nice, and seems to have plenty of good advice, and Ravi should probably make more of an effort to listen to him when he gets back.

On the other hand, I've always been close to my mom - we weren't quite Gilmore Girls-type friends, but she gave me a lot of latitude, joked with me, invited me along to most anything she did. Maybe Ravi's mother has that sort of relationship with Rekha, but it's not like that with her son. In fact, I felt downright weird, as she would look at Kareena and talk about her like she just saw her as something to be added to her son's life, and that I really should do that faster, despite her being busy at school and Ravi not really being ready to support a family. That's not how my mom would talk about boys with me, and as traditional as she may be, it's not how I expect women to talk about each other. Rekha would intervene on my behalf, but that would turn into pregnancy talk within minutes.

Still, there was a nice meal and fireworks at the end of the day.

The third day was the big one - Lakshmi Puja. It was my first time dressing up in traditional Indian clothes - Kareena had made sure I had a new one - and a lot of friends of the family visited. Much Hindi was spoken, and I suspect some seventy-five percent was wondering why I wasn't married to Kareena yet. Eventually, though, it was just "the family" (including Kareena), and it was kind of amazing even when I didn't understand it. There were a lot more lamps and floor decorations, a ritual that I stumbled through phonetically, and more fireworks. Then, there was a big family dinner, and for all that I may not feel a great connection to Mrs. Kapoor, she made one hell of a spread. Remind me to find good Indian places when I'm myself again.

Sunday was kind of a respite. Padwa is meant to be celebrate marriage - it's kind of like everyone's anniversary - and while a much of the previous days were spent with people treating Kareena and I like we were already married, things got much more casual once we went off on our own and left Ravi's parents and Rekha & Abhishek to their own devices. I saw my first Bollywood movie that day - Happy New Year - and that was something else. Kareena seemed to really like Shah Rukh Khan, and I must admit that he's not terrible on the eyes (nor is Deepika Padkukone). We had a nice dinner, and then went back home after a pretty chaste kiss.

Monday was the last day, Bhai Duj, and that was kind of weird for me. It involved visiting Rekha and a couple of rituals - she did this "aarti" prayer for me, and put a red mark on my forehead - before she made me a really nice meal made up of Ravi's favorites and... Well, I didn't have to do anything but bring her a present. I probably wouldn't give it a second thought if I'd been born Hindu, or even if I was born a man, but it felt really unbalanced, especially since she was six months pregnant and doing all this stuff to bless "me".

Still, it was nice to have some "brother-sister" time. She's a little more into the traditions than Ravi is, but if she was still raised here, so her accent isn't "foreign" and she sort of gets Ravi's situation with Kareena. Marriages aren't really "arranged" in India any more - what looks that way to outsiders is actually much closer to a dating service - but Ravi's and Kareena's respective families have sort of been keeping them in mind for each other since they were very small children, and I gather it's been comfortable - they were pen pals, she came to New York to go to college - but maybe a little too comfortable in some ways. Rekha said that it's great that we were such good friends with our own things, but a good fuckbuddy is not necessarily a good spouse.

(I was a little bit too surprised by "fuckbuddy" suddenly appearing inside the rest of the talk to correct her.)

She was also worried about how her brother was still working retail despite graduating college a couple years earlier, even in a lousy economy, and I reassured her a bit by truthfully saying that I hadn't found an opportunity that really spoke to me in "my" chosen field. She understood, mostly. I kind of get the impression that having settled into her own grown-up life - professional job, marriage, kid on the way - she sees her brother lagging behind and wants to know what's up with it. Fair, I guess, but I kind of figure that my saying I wasn't quite ready for all that was when I best channeled Ravi over the whole festival.

And speaking of Ravi, I only heard from him sporadically during those five days, which makes me kind of sad. I suspect that I only absorbed some small percentage of what I could have (Hindu folks, please feel free to correct what I've misremembered and misinterpreted), but so much was amazing and beautiful that I couldn't see how he could apparently skip it so nonchalantly. Maybe he's similarly excited by his new experiences in Judaism, but, still, he's got a pretty nice family, even if I needed more than a few highly scheduled days to connect with them. Seems like it should have been a bigger deal, is all.

But speaking of big deal event, I've got one to run to now with Kareena - apparently some of her med school buddies throw one I'm not supposed to miss!


Thursday, December 04, 2014

Meg/Tasha: Black Fridayed

Against all logic, I went out shopping on the weekend of Black Friday. I thought the insanity would be completely over with by Sunday, and sure nobody was exactly getting trampled, but it was still an uncomfortably large crowd of holiday shoppers. Don't people know you can do all your shopping online? Sheesh.

Okay, look who's talking, since I admit to knowing this and still can't resist a chance to hit the mall anyway. But really it's because it provides a nice neutral territory to hang out with Tyler away from our respective home lives. While everyone else was starting to do Christmas shopping, I was mainly after essentials: some beauty products, some cozy sweaters, socks and underwear... a few new bras. Tasha only had a few that I found really comfy and I wore those out but good over the summer. The rest of her supply just hasn't been working for me, and these girls need some support.

So imagine my surprise when, at Victoria's Secret, Tyler starts browsing the racks with what appears to be more than idle curiosity.

"Boy, what do you think you're getting up to?" I ask playfully.

"I'm looking for a Christmas gift for Lauren," he said, studying the selection furtively.

"Right," I rolled my eyes, "Look, if you want to say it's for you, I won't judge."

"No, I'm serious," he insisted, striking this petulant teenage posture, "I've been wearing her body for months now and it's decidedly... fuller than it used to be. I don't want her to feel like I've outgrown all her favourite underthings, because that might trigger some... bad habits, you know?"

"Hm," I said, "There's a certain logic to that."

"Damn right," he said, holding up a red and black skimpy panty set and matching lacy bra. "Should I try this on? Is that... how it works?"

I laughed, "Yes, hon, go try it on over your own underwear."

I walked him over to the change room and called through the door. "Be careful though... I don't mean to sound insensitive, but it might not fit after Lauren gets her--" I caught myself, even though there's not much reason to censor, "After Lauren gets back."

"I've been steady for the last month," he called back, "No major gains or losses... I feel pretty good about this. All it takes now is some discipline."

A moment later, I heard his voice, "Wanna see?"

"What? No, no, that's fine."

"Come on, I need your opinion on this!"

"Fine," I said. He let me in, and there in the little cubicle was this teenage girl dressed in very sexy underwear over her plain white panties. You could see the impression of where she was becoming quite the little bombshell.

I didn't know what to say, so I tried to shift my focus away from how Tyler looked and said "Lauren will probably love it... can you afford it?"

"Sure," he shrugged, slipping the extra layer off, "I've got a fair bit of money squirreled away. The Blanchards won't let me get a job but Sue's not above slipping me a little spending money. I'm just not a spender, is all." He winked.

I tried to look away as he slipped his jeans and top back on: I have already seen just about everything, but I felt I should limit my view as a gesture. "I don't get you, man. Sometimes you're the King of Cool about this, and sometimes you're Little Miss Mopey."

"Hey," he said sharply, "That's Mr. Mopey." Hence, he made sure I kept referring to him by masculine pronouns in this blog.

The stop in at VS was successful for him, not so much for me. So hard to find cute things in this size. Sigh.

We continued as we left the store, "I owe a lot of it to you," he said, "You've been here for me this entire time, and now we're nearing the... well, not the end, but the halfway. Maybe I'm a little prematurely excited. Sue me."

As Tyler gave me the rundown on his Thanksgiving (pretty much the same story as you guys got, with a few extra details,) we went to the food court. Tyler's kidding himself less lately about how much he can eat, but not by much: burgers and fries, but just in smaller sizes. The single burger instead of he triple. He says he gets up at 6 AM and goes running to keep it off. "Beats Lauren's tactic of starving herself."

I tell  him I admire his drive. It took me three months of passing the flyer tacked to the bulletin board at work to decide to sign up for a Yoga class. He scoffed, saying "Yoga's for--" although he stopped himself. I think he was going to say "chicks" but I think he's a little less free with dismissing things in that way lately.

I say he may doubt it, but it's been helpful for me. I don't need to lose much weight, or get stronger, but my back kills me after night after night of standing and walking around that bar, carrying these two huge pieces of luggage in front.

He smiled, "I'm just glad I'm not the one always talking about your boobs."

"These things are so inconvenient," I sighed, "If they were mine, I'd get them reduced, no question." I halfway expected some crude remark about what a loss that would be - Tyler's still a man inside, remember - but he nodded and said he sympathized, that going from a flat pectoral set to even a B-cup overnight changed his perspective: as nice as they look, they're less nice to have attached to you 24/7.

"Well, I'm glad you learned something!" I snickered. He punched my arm. We passed a lotion kiosk and I sampled something.

"Hey, let me try that," he said, getting a dab of cream on his wrists. He gave it a smell and closed his eyes and for a second he looked like he was in heaven.

"You like that?" I asked.

"It's sexy," he said appreciatively, "Reminds me of someone."

I didn't ask for elaboration.

Anyway, I went on to say, the yoga had become a sticking point between me and Wade, because he's noticed certain aspects of my routine that I've set up to minimize our time together. I had this nice little tapdance worked out so that we only hung out about once or twice a week for more than a passing moment awake. So Wade finds out about my twice-a-week activity (sometimes three times) and he says "Oh, you're going to yoga now? Another thing you can do without me?"

And I say "Well, would you want to go to yoga?"

And he says "It would be nice to be asked."

In the end, of course, he didn't, which is a minor relief, because here's the problem. My yoga instructor, Mykal, is, um... really cute. And fun to be around. And generally the kind of guy I would want to date, if I, you know had my own say in the matter.

And I have this really big problem where I get kind of flirty around him. I've been texting him a lot lately, and it hasn't gone unnoticed. It's probably going to lead to a blow-up somewhere down the line if I don't knock it off.

God, I'm a creep. I want it to work with Wade, and we were going good for a while, but damn we are just not clicking that way. He's not my boyfriend, he's someone else's and I'm just filling in. "But don't say I should dump him," I told Ty, "Because we've been over that and you know it's not that simple."

"Fine, I won't," he sighed, probably exhausted with my problems. By this point we were at a boutique and Ty was distracting himself by combing through sale racks. "I have no idea if any of these are any good. I'm never gonna feel like a real woman."

"Is that a bad thing?" I asked.

"It's a thing," he shrugged. I reminded him that having a uterus doesn't automatically give one an interest in fashion and cosmetics. Hell, it's only recently that I started trying, since my messy grad student look wasn't going to get me tips at the bar.

He abruptly moved the conversation back, "You're not thinking of cheating on Wade though, are you?"

"No, no," I insisted. "But you know how hard it is to just keep a man as a friend."

"I guess I do," he sighed. There was a knowing silence between us and then he added, "Besides, if you do cheat, it should be with me."

I rolled my eyes, "Oh yeah, I'm sure you'd rock my world."

"You bet yer butt," he said, lightly snapping a belt at me. I can't believe how bold he is sometimes.

Is it a front? I wonder. All he ever writes about is the crappy times, when he gets hit on by guys or has to navigate school and family politics, when he's on the verge of a meltdown and wishing he could just punch life in the face. Is that the real Tyler, or is it the funny, outgoing guy-in-a-girl's-body that I know? He could be both, of course. But in any case I'm proud to call him my friend.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Tyler/Lauren: Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving was a long day. I wasn't looking forward to it, because Meg couldn't be there, and she's generally my saving grace at these big family functions: she and Wade decided to spend the holiday with his family, given they tend to spend more time with hers. We tend to cling to each other like live preservers in these situations, but I guess we're still here for a while yet, these situations are bound to come up. Besides, I figured, my life has such a high level of background awkwardness I didn't think it could get that intolerable.

It began the night before when Susan told me to lay out a nice outfit. Now, it's true early on in this gig I "girled up" pretty well, to the point of doing that pageant... I was following this impulse to "be" Lauren as best I could, but it exhausted me by the end of the summer and since the beginning of the semester I have been getting more and more accustomed to just not giving a shit about my appearance, from wearing clothes that clearly weren't meant to go together, looking frumpy and un-made-up, and generally not doing anything noteworthy with my hair besides a bun or a ponytail. It was easy and fine to get by with for the duration of the play, when I was working as a stagehand and functionality was a plus, and it had the side-bonus of acting as a shield against guys who might think, if I paid too much attention to my appearance, that it was for their benefit.

(The exception being Mark, who, bless his soul, was seemingly more attracted to my personality... poor kid.)

But okay. I'm making concessions to this family gathering thing, so I can slip on a pair of tights and a dress. Now granted, I don't really understand dresses where the zipper is in the back and you literally need someone else in the room to zip you up, but Kylie helped me out with that. As I mentioned a while ago, I think, Kylie and I have been sharing a room, because Sue and Paul realized that she and her twin brother were getting to the age where one would be menstruating and one would be masturbating and they had to put space between them. I suggested Paul could renovate the basement to the point where I could use it as a room, and it looks like he's been considering it.

We drove about 40 minutes out to an imposing house where we've had a few Sunday dinners since I've been here. I dunno if Paul comes from money or if it's just my upbringing that makes me think these people had quite a bit in the bank.

So I'm there, looking like a floral-clad loser, at the home of these relatives who not only do I barely know, but I don't think Lauren really knows, because again they're Paul's side of the family, where his parents and siblings were hosting the day. I shook a few hands and listened to a few anecdotes, then quietly slipped away. I found an unused bedroom to sit quietly and read the book I brought, Catch-22, which I'm reading for English class.

After about twenty minutes I see the door open and a familiar face poke in. Phil, the nephew of Paul's that I met back during our trip to Erie. And I should mention that at this point, I was so irritated by my clothes that I had actually stripped down and gotten under the covers, figuring - really stupidly - that I could just stay there for a little bit without anyone noticing, then quickly dress myself when it was time for dinner. You'll remember that this is a stupid plan, because I was wearing a dress I just explained that I needed help getting into.

So imagine a simultaneous high-pitched scream of terror, and a gruff male shout of "holy shit!" upon seeing a relatively pretty blonde girl (who is not biologically related) with the covers just pulled up to her armpits.

I threw my book at him and wrapped myself in blankets: "Get out, get out!"

"What the fuck are you doing?" He said, standing against the door with his eyes covered instead of leaving like I asked.

"Reading!" I said, reaching over for my bra. "What are you doing in here?"

"I left my phone in here," he said, gesturing over to a bag of luggage in the corner. "Jesus, what is seriously wrong with you?"

"I don't know!" I said, slipping my dress on, "I was uncomfortable in my dress, so I thought I'd... damnit, forget it. Okay, I need you to do me a favour right now. Keep your eyes closed, but... ugh... can you zip my dress up?"

He was confused, but he obliged, fumbling around my lower back for the zipper (shudder) for a moment. I could tell he was taking his sweet time, too. And then once I was satisfied that all un-seeable parts of me were covered, I let him open his eyes.

"Okay, I am really embarrassed, please tell nobody what you saw."

"Sure, sure," he said, "But the last time we met you were in a bikini, so I'm not sure how this is any different."

I gritted my teeth: there was a difference, but I wasn't really in any place to complain because the whole embarrassing situation was my own doing, and I was right beside myself. "I dunno what I was thinking," I said, trying to force a laugh about it, "I just wanted to get comfortable, y'know?"

"So that's how you get comfy? Get naked at family Thanksgiving?"

"Not usually," I said, "I kinda just wanted to forget people were out there? Like, I don't do well in these situations lately, and I got carried away. It made sense when I started."

"So you were hiding," he said, "And you figured as long as you were hiding, you'd strip down for a minute."

"Yeah, it's... ironically I was more comfortable, at least for the moment."

"Well, now I want to hide," he said.

"No way, man!" I said, "They're your family."

"Your family too!" he was quick to retort. "Your mom's been married to my uncle for what, ten years?"

"More," I scowled, although I couldn't in the moment remember how much more.

"Dinner's still an hour away, and I just can't have any more conversations about my first year at college," he said, "So we're either hiding together, or I'm telling everyone what I saw."

I stared him down. He didn't seem to be bluffing.

"All right," I said, "But I'm really trying to read here so don't distract me."

"Whatever," he said, putting some headphones on "Can I sit on the bed at least?"

I rolled my eyes. "Fine."

And then we just sat there for an hour, quietly, and it was... kinda nice. The first time I met Phil, I thought he was a loudmouth wannabe player who couldn't stop hitting on me. Here he had the upper hand and decided to play nice.

Don't get me wrong, I saw him shift his eyes over to me every so often so it wasn't hard to imagine what he was thinking (I'm literally the only person there not related to him, I'm in his age range, I'm technically "available" and he'd seen most of my body.) So there was still this unshakeable feeling of grossness... which kept flashing through my mind over dinner... I think we covered fine but there seemed to be some murmurs of "Oh Lauren and Phil seemed to be getting along." But hey, what's Thanksgiving without some family awkwardness?

I was lucky in the sense that, as an outsider to the family and a teenager, people are keen to give me space as compared to Kylie and Kevin or some of the other extended relations. I got to enjoy a fairly nice Thanksgiving meal in more or less peace, occasionally thinking back to the Thanksgivings of my youth which were nowhere near this done up and certainly didn't have this many in attendance. Besides all the chaos, it's actually kind of nice to be surrounded by people at times. They're not bad, I'm just within my rights to be bitter about it. The food was good, and I ate as much of it as I could (I'm still grappling with the fact that my eyes are bigger than Lauren's stomach, but we're slowly coming into sync on that.)

After dinner, Phil and I kind of rescued each other from having to put up with prying relatives. I had had enough of my book so we ended up having a talk. He mentioned college not being as exciting as he imagined - a lot of work and not much social life. But he was hoping to become a lawyer and maybe even a politician, so hard work was his lot. I didn't peg him as the ambitious type, but it made a certain kinda sense given his occasionally belligerent personality, especially when we first met.

He mentioned I seemed very distant compared to the outgoing girl everyone seemed to think I was. I gave my stock answer that I was "Finding myself," and mentioned doing the backstage work at the play. That made him scoff: "not a lot of money in that." I told him not everything was about money. He put his hand on my knee and told me I was being naive.

I froze.

His fucking hand. Was on. My fucking knee.

I could see him start to lean in. There was a moment where I could have moved, could have said something, but instead I froze and let it happen. He pressed his lips to mine.

I let them linger for a second and just as he started to increase the pressure from a peck to a full-on French or whatever, I moved away.

My heart was beating fast. My face was flushed with embarrassment. It's easy to imagine what it looked like, a 19-or-so year-old boy planting a harmless kiss on a 17-year-old girl, but remember in reality that boy was kissing a grown man of 30.

"No," I said after it was done. His hand was still on my knee. In fact it was moving up the hem of my dress. I wanted to snap that hand off at the wrist. Despite his size and strength advantage I think I might have been able to do it, too.

"Why not?" he asked, somehow offended, "I thought we were--"

"There's a lot of reasons," I said, "And I'm sorry you got the wrong idea."

I stood and made some distance between us. He stood too - I noticed the distinct bulge in his pants, not that I begrudge him that. He was between me and the door.

I shuffled around the bed.

"Phil," I said in the deepest, most intimidating voice I could muster (which was not very much) "What happens in the next 30 seconds is going to determine exactly what kind of guy you are."

I reached for the door knob. He rocked on his heel for a second as if he was seriously unsure if he was going to let me leave. But he did move away. He asked "Is it because of, like, the family?"

"No," I said with a heavy sigh, "There's more to it than that."

He shrugged like he didn't see my point but was letting me have it anyway. "I put my number in your phone," he said. I just said "Okay" in response because I really did not know what to think about that. As soon as I was out of the room, I marched down the hallway and looked myself in the mirror. A light trace of tears could be seen on my cheeks, I dabbed them away. "Don't," I tried to command myself. Don't what exactly, I am not sure.

The rest of the evening didn't last too long. On the car ride home I kept re-playing the scene in my mind. I wondered what part I played in that little moment. Yes, I had been getting along with him, and maybe there was an undertone of (ugh) flirtatiousness to it. Whatever part of me has been transformed, wherever my interests lie, I have the right to excuse myself from those situations. The logical part of my brain tried to settle me down: "I let it happen, then I stopped it as soon as I felt it was wrong." It should be a clean-cut issue. But there's more to it, isn't there... I just felt, and feel, so sick about it.

When I got home, I looked through my contacts and sure enough, there was Phil. I scrolled past that, though, to "Tasha," and typed in "Hey, how was your Turkey Day?" putting on as much of a chipper facade as I could.