Monday, September 21, 2015

Annette/Benjamin: Flipping Burgers & Five-Year Plans

Someone explain to me why I can't just open Google Maps, type in ''now hiring", and get a list of jobs available in my neighborhood, maybe with some sort of standard way to apply. This seems like it would be tremendously useful, but you still have to literally pound pavement. It seems like a huge waste of time.

There are job websites, of course, bat they tend to be aimed at folks looking for substantially more impressive jobs than I appear to be qualified for.  I've answered some want-ads for things that I might be able to do but which look pretty miserable (anything that involves cold-calling people), and grimaced when looking at the work history that Benny and Ronan left me with. As much as I didn't bring Benny back to my room at the Inn because he seemed clever and ambitious, his CV since high school is a lot of seasonal jobs and work on construction projects; if he sticks with it, his work as Jordan at that gym will probably the first thing that could potentially be a career, with business cards and everything.

Ronan, meanwhile, spent the year that this was his life working in a hardware store. He was apparently pretty good at it, too: The manager of the place said so when I "returned" to see if that job was still available. It had been filled, which on a certain level could have been for the best (I suspect that even if there isn't that much to know about hammers, I know less). Still, it gave this guy in his mid-thirties a chance to lecture me despite my only appearing about ten years younger, about how I couldn't just make rash decisions and expect someone else to help cleanup after I've changed my mind. No shit, buster. Impart some more wisdom.

Which he did, asking me what my five-year plan was, and looking sadly disappointed when I said that I really didn't have one. "You've got to think about your future, Ben," he said, as if we had this personal connection so that his not rehiring me was his way of making me a stronger, better man.
That said, the five-year plan thing did get to me a bit. Sixteen months ago, my five-year plan was obvious - four of them in college, hopefully including a spot on the Lampoon staff, attending workshops, making connections, and then probably a crappy internship or job at a magazine as I learned the business, whatever that looks like in 2018. It would be tough, but I figured a Harvard degree would be worth something.

Then the Inn happened and I figured it wouldn't be so bad - I kind of tag-teamed with Sandra and figured I was getting really useful new perspectives that would serve me well down the line. But then the whole Ronan/original-Missy/Sandra thing happened, and I'm starting to think I should have chosen differently, maybe tried to learn Cantonese alongside "Missy's" other classes. It looks absurd as I write it, but I really think that, and I feel really envious of Missy when I do. Not for the money, or the vagina, or the amazing clothes, but I want to go to college like I was supposed to and have all the opportunities that you get from it. I can still enroll or take classes as Benjamin, but it won't be the same, either for me or the world at large.

I suppose I could go back to the Inn next year, but there's no way to be sure that the situation would get better short of convincing Sandra to give me my proper life back, and I don't think that's going to happen. I was on a pretty good track, after all. Besides, Benny trusts me with his life, and what if I surrendered it to someone who went and murdered his family or something?


Wow, I thought the self-pity was dark.


ANYWAY, as much as Benny's work history can feel like a big hindrance, it's varied enough to offer some help. For instance, when I applied to restaurants, he's got enough restaurant experience that, instead of just busing tables, I set to be considered for preparing food. It's not a huge difference in salary, but it makes me feel like I'm capable of a little more than manual labor. Cooking is creative, even if it's on a line at a fancy burger place.

Maybe not fancy fancy - we've not spreading foie gas on your Kobe beef most nights - but the place I wound up is as much bar as diner, with cocktails and micro-brew selections to pair with the two dozen or so named combinations.  So far, the folks seem to be pretty cool, and though we haven't been hanging out after work much - in part because I've mostly been working the night shift and the MBTA is not a 24-hour service like its equivalent in NYC, and although the trip home from work is pretty direct on the B line, there's not a lot of time to squeeze something else in between the grill cooling and the subway closing.

On the plus side, working here has cut down on my grocery bill a little bit, and the food is pretty great. Believe it or not, I actually hadn't had much in the way of beef since coming back from the Inn - even with a different identity that doesn't come with cultural dietary restrictions, it takes a bit of conscious effort to change your eating habits - and good Lord, was that first bacon cheeseburger strongly in the running for "best thing ever." My friend Gretchen went vegetarian for a few months in high school, and wound up going back more out of convenience than anything else, and she just said that she had sort of forgotten how good some things can be. Of course, midway through eating my first burger in over a year, I also remembered that putting on weight likely wouldn't be the huge issue it is for girls. I'll still have to exercise, but Benny tells me that his body always responded pretty well to reasonable effort, whereas dropping weight as Jordan took sustained work, so I probably should be okay.

If I'm still at "B&G" (the very minimalist name of this upscale-ish bar and grill) in five years, then something has probably gone wrong. It's serving its purpose right now, though.

-Benjamin / Annette

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Tori: The Long Run

You already know I made a little trip to NYC on Labor Day weekend. I haven't been to NYC all that much since living in Philly - a couple of times a year when I need a nice little day trip. Growing up in Buffalo, I was actually kind of bitter about that place, because it seemed to be both the center of the universe and somewhere just too far away. And Philly has been good to me (even if the Phillies are in the toilet, Missy.) But my brother Dean and his family just bought a new place in North Jersey that I wanted to visit, so when I found out some of our Boston contingent would be in the city for the tournament, I figured I would hop across the river and meet some of the people I've only known in e-mails, texts and blog posts.

I was worried I would feel out of place among them. For Rosie and Erin, this whole thing is brand new. Missy and Benjamin are also at a crossroads. I couldn't get a good read on Benny. It's all in the past for me, and you would think I would be sick of talking about it, and some days I am, but I live in such secrecy that I never shy away from a conversation with someone who's been there too.

I would like to report that Jordan/Missy/whomever she'd like to be exaggerated my flirtatiousness, but what can I say? There's an energy amongst people who are on their second or third body, and with all that testosterone flying around with no real outlet, people get caught up in the energy. Even Rosie, wallflower that she/he is, stole a glance at Missy's figure when he could.

A fellow Inn person, who would prefer to remain anonymous, manages a club in Midtown, so I brought the boys there, and the drinks flowed. I got each of them on the dancefloor - Erin was the most willing, Rosie the least, and made it clear that I didn't mean anything by it. Seriously. All I want is for these folks to find out who they really are, you know? I don't mean to impose my worldview on them, but I don't know where I would be today if I hadn't had people pushing my boundaries from the second I started my new life.

Besides, I already alluded to in my last post, there is a new guy in my life. I call him Cute Hipster Mike, and he is indeed a cute hipster. He's actually my first bearded guy. I mean, every guy is stubbly to some degree, but I've always expressed a preference for clean-shaven boys. I considered it this strange taboo of overt masculinity I simply wasn't ever ready to break. Is that weird? I like my guys thin, less than a head taller than me, and smooth. Hipster Mike is a burly lumberjack-looking fellow, and when I saw him at the wedding, something about him struck me. Like, I want that person to hold me. He reminds me of Chris Pratt. And I do like Chris Pratt.

He texted me a few days after the wedding, saying he hoped I didn't mind if we weren't just a "one off." I said no, I would be quite interested in continuing, and we made arrangements to have a coffee someplace nice the following weekend.

By now I'm very practiced at first dates. I'm very sweet, charming, outgoing, personable... accessible. I share almost anything about my life that the other person cares to know, except things I am unable to mention due to magic curse. It took us a bit to click, though. He asked me about music I liked, and we didn't have much common ground. I asked him about movies, and he said he was "starting to feel fatigued by cinema."  A bit pretentious and I could feel myself losing interest. Then we started to talk about work. He said he was bartending for a couple of years, and I was ready with my "Oh, it's okay if you haven't found your way yet" speech from numerous past boyfriends, when he continued:

"My real passion is for animals. I volunteer three times a week at a no-kill shelter, walking and feeding dogs and cats, helping them find homes. It's really rewarding. I'll probably do it for the rest of my life."

Couldn't you just melt?

I told him about Scruff, my family's old English Sheepdog who looked like he was on his last legs. His eyes got noticeably misty and he talked about his own childhood pets. Sensitive guy! Yes! From then on I could really feel the chemistry brewing.

He walked me home and complimented my "FORWARD" tattoo, saying that if there was a story behind it, he'd like to hear it. I sighed: "It couldn't be more cliche'd... I got it after a breakup, of sorts." I sighed a bit, thinking over the details of my life, "Some days it feels like I've just been living through one long break-up."

"Well, whoever he was, he's an idiot for letting you get away," he said.

"That's sweet to say, but it's a bit more complicated than that," I said. "And if he had his way, I'd still be with him."

There was a pause, and I made myself apologize for derailing such a nice date.

He attempted to joke his way out of it, saying "Hey, what's a first date without a little melodrama?"

"Uh huh, sure," I said. Then I took a deep breath and said, "Mike, I'm really liking you."

He fell quiet, like I'd just smacked him in the face.

"Tori," he said in a weirdly grace tone, "I think you're really great, but..." Oh, God, here it comes,  "...I'm not really looking for anything serious right now. But I was thinking we could be, like..." Don't say it... "Casual."


The word felt like poison in my ears. I felt tricked, honestly. He came across so well, so sweetly, and then this came out of nowhere. And it was such a cliche, too, but at least the other guys had the balls to say it before we ever met, when we were still in the online profile or texting phase, where I could pretend I was OK with it before agreeing to meet, or (more likely,) avoid them altogether. It wasn't fair.

I spent so much of my old life trying to get attention, and now that I had it, it wasn't the right kind. Cosmic joke.

I almost wanted to cry, just as in impulse, but I kept it together. Instead I just groaned and pulled away from him. I got my bearings, and I unloaded.

"What does that even mean? Can you explain that to me? I hear that from so many guys, as if I'm supposed to be okay with it, like I won't end up feeling used. Yes, I want something physical, but I want something emotional, too. I wanted to be romanced. Cared for. Like I'll just go along for the ride hoping you'll change your mind. Fuck, Mike. Someone's got to want the same thing as I do. And I won't settle for less. Not again. So if you don't see this going anywhere... if you want to just string someone along and have a little fling, find someone else. I'm sorry."

I regretted saying sorry as soon as it had left my lips. If I wasn't entitled to my opinions here and now, who was?

I was on the verge of a serious breakdown. He kept his distance. I wanted to storm off but I stayed put to hear his response. It was underwhelming, but promising.

"Can I think about it?"

"Whatever," I sighed. "We'll see."

The next day he texted me. He gave this spiel about how he just had his guard up, how he's been hurt before, yadda yadda. He isn't sure he's in "the right place." I let him go on for a while, then answered minimally a few hours later. "Uh huh. Ok."

A couple of days later he texts again. "Still thinking about what you said. I was being pretty unfair. Some of my female friends pointed out that's a dick move." Not technically an apology, or even admission of wrongdoing. My response: "Yeah, kind of was."

A week passes. I think about him a bit. What a shame, there seemed to be potential. Then I hear from him. Not booty call messages at 2 AM, but mid-afternoon: "So, I really liked talking to you. Would it be weird for me to at least text you sometimes?"

Guys can be so awkward when you've got them under your thumb. I was feeling forgiving - empowered, even - so I answered. "Give it a try and we'll see."

He starts telling me about his days on a regular basis, and I tell him about mine. His charm doesn't quite come across as well over text, but I'm sensing that spark again.

Those texts become more frequent. He makes tentative attempts to get me to come out and see him. I find myself more and more drawn back to him. But I still resist. I keep it light and friendly and as time goes by - days, weeks - I pepper my conversation with more flirtations and come-ons, to let him know what he's missing out on. But I do find myself looking forward to his responses.

"I'm out with some friends," he says on Friday night in August. "Come say hey?"

"I can do that from here ;) See? Hey."

But I do go, and we have a drink and I meet his friends, and they're all as goofy and pretentious as he is, if not moreso to make him seem down to Earth. (They all talk about how they've traveled Europe and Asia and all I've got is this story about a quaint little Inn I once visited in Maine.)

Eventually, we steal a moment together. "Listen," I admit. "I want a boyfriend. I want something solid. And I know you can't force it. I know that isn't instantaneous. But I want someone willing to give it a shot. Someone who won't run as soon as things get serious, who won't throw fits about how they aren't ready to commit. I can't waste my time, I owe that to myself."

He digested this. "You're right. I really think we'd be good together."

"Mike," I smiled at him and put my hands on his cheeks. "We are good together."

He smiled warmly at me. "Let's give it a shot."

We kissed, and I went home that night walking taller than I have in a long time. Sometimes I don't apply myself towards getting what I really want, and bend to the whims of others, and in the past I might have said "Causal, sure, if that's what's best." But today, I'm a new woman. I'm done floating, because this is my life and it isn't a game. I won't settle. I'm worth it. And I deserve someone who sees it.

We've been pretty happy so far...

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Lane/Kari: Getting out of the House

This title of the post does not reference me, in fact I get out of the house on a daily basis and would love to be able to spend more time at home wearing sweatpants and not have to think about all the men watching me as I walk in front of them. No, this post is about Ashley. It turns out little miss "Stay at home on Facebook all the time" wasn't as introverted as I had thought.

Thursday night around 1 AM I had gotten out of bed unable to sleep due to...ahem...cramps, when I heard the front door open. I did, what was in retropect a stupid move and grabbed a hammer out of the kitchen drawer and went to inspect and/or confront an intruder. This was a case of my brain still having the fight or flight response but not realizing that my body is much more fit for flight than it is for fight. A tiny woman like me would get killed or worse confronting a dangerous intruder, but there I was holding a hammer like some sort of action movie.

Luckily there wasn't some kid in a ski mask trying to take my tv, but rather Ashley. She was wearing leggings that were way too tight for a girl her age and a top that showed way too much cleavage. How do I know what was too much? Again, I have a man's brain and and it wanted to react to things, but I knew that those body parts were attached to a 16 year old and that was a no-go, even if that 16 year old wasn't biologically related to me. She gave me a look of partial surprise. Not surprised that I had caught her coming in late on a school night, but surprised that I had been up that late.

I've always believed that you don't discipline someone else's kid. If a 9 year old is throwing a temper tantrum in the middle of a grocery store you don't intervene or even say something despite the fact that he's 4 years too old to be doing that. You don't even make eye contact. That's how I had been treating Ashley, like someone else's kid. I just didn't want to get involved with what was really none of my business and unless Kari had given specific instructions I wasn't going to stir the pot. But in recent weeks I realized that while I'm not her mother, nobody else knows or would even believe that. If Ashely got in some serious trouble she's still a minor and I'm legally responsible, and a major screw-up could lead to a visit from child services and some very awkward questions asked. Like or not I was going to at least keep her out of jail.

"Where have you been?" I asked in an annoyed tone

She gave me a look that was half irritated have incredulous "Just at Haley's, no big deal"

"In those heels?" I'm still not an expert on female footwear, but a few weeks in business shoes has taught me that any heel higher than two inches is to be avoided unless there are other motives.

"I wanted to feel tall" she said, rolling her eyes.

"You can't be staying out this late" I said firmly "Not on a school night and never without me knowing"

She outright laughed at that one "You aren't MY secretary" saying the last word with an air of unappreciative derision, either not knowing or not caring that I was a receptionist and not a secretary. So much for pro-active parenting.

Whether that kind of attitude is a result of being 16 or not having ever been given a rule like that before I don't know, but it's pretty clear I can't just tell this teenager what to do, because I would have no way to enforce it. I thought about taking her phone away, but in this day and age its a necessity for kid to have one, at the very least as an emergency tether. No, instead of a stick I was going to have to use a carrot.

Kids need an activity to stay out of trouble. When I was in high school I was on the Debate Team, Model UN, and did JV Baseball. Ashley needed to find something to keep her busy which was relevant to her interests, which would be hard to find because I think her biggest interest is Snapchat and I don't think there is a Snapchat team. Saturday morning after she woke up I ambushed her over her cereal.

I explained that I thought she needed and outlet and she should find use for her time and she ignored me until I got to the good part. Ashley doesn't have her Driver's License, she doesn't have a car but like all 16 year olds she wants one. She's passed all her driver's ed courses but she needs hours of drive time with an adult relative and I guess Kari never got around to doing it. I told her that if she joined a club or team and stuck with it, I'd help her get her license and let her use the car two weekends a month. I was especially proud of this deal, since it would also get her out of the house during the daytime where I could let the mask down and not have to be all the Kari I can be.

So we set off trying to find a club or a sport that would interest her. She didn't really play an instrument or sing, or have any acting ability or any desire to work behind the scenes on a play. She also didn't want to do anything too geeky like debate or Model UN (I held my tongue) and by high school most of the kids on the sports teams had been doing it their entire childhoods and it wasn't really beginner friendly. Except for one. Cross Country season had already started, but the girls team didn't have cuts for JV and allowed latecomers to participate, so yay Title IX.

After convincing Ashley that running wouldn't be too awful, and it would help her get in great shape, she agreed to sign up and as of yesterday she is at practice three nights a week and I have my apartment to myself, even if it did require indirectly implying that Ashley needed to get in shape, especially considering the stamina I now possess. However I don't think there's adult Cross Country and I already have enough structure in my life.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Jordan/"Missy" Yuan-wei: Early Homecoming

I'd figured on my next post being about the strangeness of being back in college again, but it's been both strange and familiar enough that I'm still not sure I've got anything to say about it yet.  Similarly, I didn't expect to make a trip back to New York for a few weeks or even months, because it really wouldn't do to get homesick this early, and, hey, if I were in Benny's shoes, I don't know if I'd want to have me or Annette around.  But he's not me.

He emailed Benjamin while I was in Hong Kong, asking if there was anything else he needed to know, also mentioning that this year's big North American Chinese Invitational Volleyball Tournament (NACIVT 71) was being held in New York and the team that he and Max were on had registered.  It's not a big deal, he said - they would be a low seed - but maybe, if he had some folks like us in town for the weekend, it would help him feel less like an impostor in the middle of this very Chinese-American event.

We hemmed and hawed about it - even if Benny didn't think it was going to be weird, it was going to be weird, Benjamin had pavement to pound to find a job, and I had no idea how busy school stuff was going to keep me.  But it was a hard invitation to refuse, especially since I knew Mom, Dad, and Max would be there, and even if I hadn't seen them much over the past year or so, I didn't like the feeling that they'd been cut out of my life just like that.  Even if I didn't talk to them, just to see them might be a big thing.

Once we decided we were doing it, Benjamin asked if we were going to be flying first class, but I don't exactly know what sort of charges on this credit card will make Chen-ai freak out and cut me off.  You hear stories about Chinese kids coming to America and just spending stupid money without bothering to go to classes at all, but that's mostly mainlanders, and while I didn't see anything in Hong Kong to imply that the Lee family put a particular value on thrift, I'd hate to blow it on the first week.  I did spring for the Acela train, since I have done the Chinatown bus before and... No.


Benjamin came over early to help me pack, asking what our itinerary was.  Leaving Saturday and returning Monday apparently does not mean two changes of clothes if you're a girl like Yuan-wei - it means at least five, as you'll need day stuff, night stuff, and contingency night stuff.  Fortunately, some of that stuff doesn't take up much space, which is kind of nerve-wracking on its own, but it meant bringing an actual suitcase rather than a backpack.

The train ride was pretty uneventful - not that much faster than the bus, or even the regular train, but much more comfortable.  I also booked us a decent hotel - not flashy, but in midtown, and not a place where we'd feel uncomfortable getting in late.

Still...  After we got off the train and walked there, we stopped while still across the street and looked up.  I turned to Benjamin and started the question we were both thinking.  "You don't think...?"

"Cursed?  No way!  This is right in the middle of Manhattan, not some small town on the coast of Maine!  You couldn't hide that, right?"

"Nah, you're right."

"Still...  Ladies first, especially if they're paying for it."

Near as I can tell, there were no ill effects.

After getting our things stowed, we took the subway down to Chinatown, and I kind of enjoyed the trip, telling Benjamin how, although my family would come there to shop, we actually lived at the other end of the "Orient Express" in Queens.  It was kind of fun to walk to Seward Park and point stuff out; we really didn't have the chance to do that much when we were living on the other end of the island.  Okay, maybe we had chances but I was never in any mood.

We got there and asked about the Queens Kings, got a schedule, and found out that they'd be playing in an hour or so.  We walked around, scoping things out, Benjamin texting a bunch.  When we got to the court where Benny & Max would be, we set up a few yards away from where my parents and Kareena were, where we could sort of keep an eye on them without necessarily being with them.  Still, the fact that they were standing together had Benjamin leaning in to comment.  "Must be working out."

"Well, it had better."

"Quiet, rich sexy bilingual girl."

I shushed, although I whooped a little when it was time for Max and Benny to come out.  More, I'll have you note, than Tina Chen, who was there but sort of stood with her arms folded, looking angry.  I'm guessing that "Jordan's" new Hindu girlfriend was not a hit with her.

Anyway, I was never really into 9-man, as I wasn't athletic even as a kid, but it's a pretty good game, and Jordan really seemed to have improved the team.  They won, and as they came off the field, Benjamin grabbed my hand to head in Benny's direction.

(Shit, that looks ridiculous, but I can't call him Jordan yet.  I just fucking can't.)

He staggered a little bit when he realized who we were.  "Benny...  I didn't think you'd come."

"Benjamin, these days."  He smiled.  "And this must be Kareena."

"Uh, hi.  Sorry, I'm just meeting Jordan's friends, and I don't think he's mentioned you."

Benjamin froze, so I jumped in.  "Call of Duty co-op.  Killed a lot of nights together, until he started finding something better to do." I reached out my hand.  "Lee Yuan-wai, although I go by 'Missy' here."

She seemed to like Benjamin more than me, even though I'd tried to look pretty unthreatening, from flip-flops to light make-up.  Maybe on some level she recognized me as either old-Jordan or Deirdre, or that Benjamin had her lover's true face, or that the version of Ravi that really dug her and was eventually honest was underneath.  Or he's good-looking and I'm a pretty girl in her boyfriend's life she didn't know about.

We faked small talk for a little bit, and then Benjamin got a call.  "Hi...  You are?  Cool, we're at the other corner; Missy's in the cute yellow dress.  See you in a few!"  She hung up, and then gave us a look that screamed "teenage girl" to Benny and me.  "So, that was another member of our, uh--"


"Yeah, our 'party'!  She's from Philly and -- oh, there she is!"  Benjamin reached up a hand to signal a woman who stood out, and not just for being white in the middle of a big Chinatown event.  She was hot, in her mid-twenties, wearing tight shorts and a t-shirt with a plunging neckline to show off some pretty nice tits.  "Hey, Tori - don't think I've ever seen you off-line!"

"Well, I stick close to home."  She looked around and started pointing.  "Benjamin, Missy, Jordan, Kareena?  What about, uh...?"

"Chris and Ahmir?  The other members of our, uh, gaming party said they'd meet up later if that was okay."  He turned to Benny and looked apologetic.  "Hey, I didn't mean to derail this, but we so seldom get to meet in person, so I kind of texted everyone I knew in the area, and when Tori said she'd be in Jersey for the weekend, well, I kind of didn't want to pass up the chance to meet her.  You mad?"

Benny looked about as mad as one could be when a girl who looks like Tori just comes over to talk to you rather than vice versa, which is a pretty small amount.  "I just didn't realize it was going to be a big thing, was all."

"I know, I'm sorry, I just couldn't help myself!"

"Well, I've got to get back with the team; we've got another match, but I'll see you all after."

He didn't quite run away, but he made some haste, and then Kareena turned to us, looking amused and skeptical.  "So.  Gamers."

I don't know how much Tori played, but Benjamin mostly just went for casual off-line stuff, so I stepped in.  "Yeah, we've been playing together for a few years, although the new campaign has been kind of tricky without good old JordoNYC, but I can't blame him for staying offline so much now that I see you."  I felt like I was repeating myself, but I really didn't want Kareena thinking of me as competition when I spent time around Benny.

"You just don't, I don't know, look that part like Jordan used to."

That stung a bit, but I tried not to let it get to me.  "That's what folks told me, but sometimes looks are deceiving."  Needing to improvise, I grabbed Benjamin's hand.  "But it led me to this guy, and we've sort of been together for a year now."

"Really?  You must have just been out of high school!"  I didn't see it going that way, since Benjamin doesn't look that much older than he actually is - I think his driver's license has him born in 1991 - but, hey, if it shifted Kareena's attention from me...

Kareena's phone rang, which was a nice interruption, and we went our separate ways.

Saturday evening

There are a million great restaurants in New York, but somehow we wound up in one of those Times Square places, seated at a table for six, although initially it was just me, Tori, and Benjamin.  She leaned over the table and raised her voice a bit to get heard over the noise.  "So I thought I was cool with being a girl quickly, but look at you, actually choosing it and wearing it so well!  I'm jealous!"

"Well, I didn't entirely choose it--"

"Girl, that dress is choosing it."

"Really?  I wasn't going for sexy."

"There's more to being feminine than being sexy, Missy, and you might not quite be a natural, but you're learning."

"Well, I've got a pretty good teacher."

''Heh, I could have used that at times. Along with everything else - you really hit the jackpot!''

I shrugged - what do you say to that? - and she somehow shifted conversational gears in a way that I was never good at to talk to Benjamin. ''And how are you doing? I remember when I found out that Willy was keeping my life, and even though I didn't have as much to lose as you did, I was devastated. Are you okay?"

"I don't know... I mean, it's been a year since I was that person, and this is exciting.  I miss my mom, but a lot of the other things, like college and stuff, I never really had."

"Good attitude! Hey, here comes Benny!" she stood and waved the guy at the door over. When he got there, she asked if he would rather be called Benny or Jordan in groups like this.

"Well, I'm not in many of them, and I've gotten pretty used to Jordan, but... I guess it would be nice to hear the other one again. Unless it's too confusing?"

I jumped in, saying it wasn't too hard to tell "Benny" from "Benjamin". It made him look at Benjamin weird again, them me. ''How did this not drive you nuts?"

"Hey, you made me pretty fucking hard to recognize.  Usually that tops out at a new hair color, from what I've heard."

''Heh, I suppose that's true. So, about earlier, are you two...?"

Benjamin quickly shook his head no. ''Everyone thinks we are, because they were, but you can't come into a relationship halfway and have it be real, right?"

"No, but sometimes I worry about what I'm not telling Kareena. At least you guys wouldn't have that."

Tori leaned in toward Benjamin and kind of purred. "Don't make assumptions about his plans... maybe Benjamin would like to play the field a bit?"

Benjamin almost choked on his beer, and from the way he squirmed before Tori smiled and turned her attention elsewhere, I'm guessing that Tori grabbed his knee under the table, if not something a bit higher up.

After a few minutes of small talk - Tori had evidently adopted the Phillies enough that I, as a Mets fan, could do a bit of smack-talking - the server brought both our appetizers and the last couple members of our group.

Erin hasn't posted much, and Rosie not at all, but they were a funny looking pair. Whether or not I'm shorter than Erin is as Chris depends on my footwear, while Rosie/Ahmir is almost a foot taller, but Erin gives the impression of being bigger in some ways.  She was the one who reached out her hand to introduce herself, seemed really curious about what it was like for me seeing Benny take things up that I hadn't done before, like 9-man, and then asked the group if any of us had experienced any sort of muscle memory or other skills that seemed to come with the body. She was kind of disappointed to hear that not only did Benny not speak Cantonese, but he had really felt at sea in his first class. Tori mentioned that she hadn't been able to do hair at all when she first entered this life, and quickly stopped trying.

"Well, bummer. No shortcuts, eh?" We all shook our heads. "Okay. I do have one question for 'Benjamin' specifically: Do you spend, like, an hour on your hair before heading out to do stuff? I swear, I'm so used to make-up and trying on different outfits and stuff that I must have brushed this five thousand times because it felt like I wasn't doing enough. And Rosie doesn't even have that!"

We all chuckled - Rosie had come out of the Inn with a shaved head, although a month or two worth of growth had come in. She didn't seem terribly fucking amused, though.

''How can you all joke about this?"

Tori shrugged. "Because it's funny. There's this whole list of things you assume and then they aren't true and you fall on your face, but sometimes it turns out that the bad things aren't true, either. And once you decide that this is your life, the differences become really funny. And that kind of applies to the people I know who have gone back. I know this guy who spent eleven months as a girl, and he laughs so hard whenever he sees some dude get all uncomfortable around feminine health stuff, because to him it's just like toothpaste now. Once you know who you're going to be-"

"But we don't know! You all had people steal your old lives-"

"Benny and I didn't," I interjected. 

"You kind of did! He changed so much that going back seemed wrong! And what if things go wrong? Like, what if it doesn't work out with him and Kareena, or the real Missy decides being a housewife isn't for her? You'd have to give them their old lives back, right?''

"Maybe, but I can't worry about that now, or I'd never fucking do anything!"

Benjamin grabbed my hand to calm me down, and then got us onto another subject: New sexes, ethnicities, and all aside, how was everybody enjoying New York? That got Benny talking about how he had found work at a gym that the team's coach managed, while I talked about some places I really liked and Benjamin did the same.  Erin wasn't quite taking notes, but she was certainly paying attention.

That took us through dinner, at which point ton said "speaking of things to do, I've got a friend of a friend who can get us into a pretty great club. You guys in?"

Benny demurred, saying that he had another match on Sunday and, besides, Kareena would already be wandering what was up. Erin was interested, but even if Rosie was saying she might, I could tell they were going to have to keep convincing her all the way to the door. 

Thinking of the door, I laughed bitterly.  "'Yuan-wei' just turned twenty, and I haven't even thought to look for any sort of fake ID yet.  Goddamn it, this wasn't a problem in Hong Kong!"

Benjamin laughed and hoisted his drink. "Well, at least I'm not underage like this!"

Tori looked more disappointed. ''Aw no, I wanted to party with my new former-guy friend! A girl as cute as you - and I'll bet you've got a killer dress back at your hotel room -should still set in, though! Wanna try?"

I kind of did, but... "Not tonight; you guys have fun.  I'll make sure to be better prepared next time."

Tori said she was holding me to that, and us we went to head our separate ways, Benjamin came over and said that if I'd rather do anything else, she was down for it. I told her to go have fun - Tori obviously wanted him grinding on her, and the new guys clearly needed a bad example to learn from.  I'd catch the new Jackie Chan movie, which wasn't playing Boston, just in case our paths crossed the next time I was in Hong Kong, as apparently happens on occasion. He thanked me for continuing to be a dick.

As expected, the movie wasn't very good, and I sighed a little looking at the dress I had packed for clubbing, not quite sure whether I had missed out or dodged a bullet.


That was an even tougher question when I saw Benjamin the next morning. We were going to hit one of his favorite brunch places, but the way he looked as he opened the door suggested we should hit a place with Bloody Marys instead. "Tori really did a number on you, huh?"

''She's had practice," he groaned. "You should learn from her. That thing where she seems to be matching you drink for drink but somehow winds up the one loading you into a cab despite being a petite little thing is something you should know."

''At least she put you in that cab."

"The lady's a gentleman."

Whatever state she had been in when Benjamin left her, she was also a bit hung over when we met up at Seward Park for the next day of 9-Man.  Oh, she looked good in her plain white T-shirt and knee-length jean shorts, but she was accessorizing with dark sunglasses and a giant iced coffee. She started to say something, then just motioned to a bench.

We kept it pretty quiet for a while, as the sun was feeling pretty merciless. Given that 9-man is generally played in parking lots and other asphalt surfaces - unlike regular volleyball, you can play on a bounce - it was likely to be a rough day.

We hung out like that until it started to get crowded, when we wandered back over to the court and Tori nodded at my/Benny's group. "Check it out; Kareena decided to bring the heat today."

I glanced over and she had, decked out in running shorts and a sleeveless, midriff-baring top to match. The earrings and hair a bit more elaborate than a ponytail contradicted the "just out for a run" look a bit, but she didn't look tarty or anything.

Benjamin rolled his eyes. "You girls give yourselves way too much credit; it's just a hot day where she's trying to keep cool."

I shook my head.  "Anyone else, I'd probably agree, but you forget I knew her for a year before going to the Inn. She was pretty conservative clothes-wise, even in the middle of a heat wave that might actually compare to what she grew up with in India. She's sending a message, and it looks like she's delivering it in person."

Benjamin did a bit of a double-take at that, and before we knew it, Karena was standing next to us; those long legs can cover some ground. ''Hi; can we talk? Maybe over there?'' She dropped her voice a bit. "Jordan's parents."

I wasn't sure what that was about, but we moved over to the bench we'd been on before. ''First, I want to apologize for doubting you yesterday; Jordan says he never would have had the nerve to, well, let things with us happen if not for you guys."

That should have made me feel good, but I couldn't help but think of how it severely understated my contribution.  Benjamin must have seen that on my face, because he jumped in. ''That's us, pep-talk masters! Although I think we just gave him the last push he needed."

Uh-huh. I guess there have been more disheartening Inn-related fictions. though.

"Anyway, thanks for pushing him, although it's still kind of a weird situation - my folks are I not /I pleased with me leaving his roommate, and some of the talk at dinner about how Max should have known his last girlfriend was no good because she'd been seeing someone else when they started going out... well, we're probably going to wait to tell then the whole stay of how we met for some time!"

I snickered a bit. "I imagine so!" Truth be told, though, I was kind of wondering about Mom's & Dad's pickiness. I couldn't remember ever experiencing it. Had it been there all along and I didn't see it because I was the one they might think was too good for some girl, or was it the opposite - that they had higher standards for Benny than me?

Kareena then said something about wishing she had joined us last night, although Tori assured her that it was a night full of boring gaming staff and in-jokes that we barely got. Then Benjamin gave an example that sounded like just any nerdy thing, but which he knew from the past year that Kareena was into - old-school Doctor Who or something - and they started chatting away while Tori and I watched the guys play and I refused to tell her which one was my brother. I like her, but there's weird drama when she sets involved with guys.

The match ended with Max and Benny on the losing team, so Kareena ran off to tell her boyfriend that he was great anyway... with Benjamin awkwardly shaking his hand and then just continuing to sit there. 

It took a minute for the scene to register with me, and then I burst out laughing.  "Tori, I think that Benjamin really likes Kareena!"

"You mean... Aw, our little girl is becoming a man. Or at least, a heterosexual one!"

Benjamin had turned red. "Shut up, guys! what am I supposed to do with this?"  He did a quick nod toward his groin in case someone didn't get it.

We looked around; there was a pretty good crowd. "Just wait it out," I said, "though this can't be your first random boner."

Tori giggled and said she didn't think that there was anything random about it. Benjamin flashed her the stink-eye and and said he'd had morning wood, but you could generally take care of that under the covers. I shrugged and said he was going to have to wait it out.

Tori took our leave of us then, saying she really did want to see the extended family and, besides, it wasn't going to get any better than this.  Benjamin flipped her the bird, and I joked that this is when you know you've made a good friend quickly. He didn't disagree.

I did my best to help, talking about non-sexy things, and when Benjamin was finally feeling ready to stand, we decided to head out.  It seemed Kareena and company weren't done with us for the day, though.  She, Benny, and my parents were watching another match that some of my old neighbors were involved with, and while I was trying to think of a good way to come introduce myself, Benjamin was apparently checking out the horizon a little further out and saw something that made him start running.  I looked up at the path he was following and picked up my pace once I saw why.


By the time I got through the crowd, Benjamin had apparently already introduced himself, and while the argument wasn't heated yet, I could see it was on the way there, with Ravi saying he didn't care that Benny and Kareena hadn't told my parents everything and that Benny should have thought of that before stealing his girlfriend, with Benjamin answering that he didn't seem to be all about maintaining relationships when he was fucking Gary's ex.

Probably not the best time for me to butt it, but I did anyway, pushing them away from each other and saying this was not the time and place, and that my parents didn't need any part of what was...  Well, not even between Ravi and Benny, because the situation was resolved, and it was time to accept things and move the fuck on.

It didn't even take him a second to realize who I was, and he said that was rich coming from me, because if I'd have been so willing to accept things a year ago--

I cut him off.  "Nothing would have changed except that we all would have spent the last year even more miserable.  You wouldn't have had the excuse of Deirdre not being around when you wound up sleeping with Gary's ex - and you would have, because I can't imagine deciding to actually act like your fiancĂ©e - so they would have been left an even bigger mess.  Everything up here would have played out the same, except Benny probably gives me my life back and I'm stuck in a fucking love triangle with you and Kareena while Annette winds up with this life but having no way to navigate the Chinese part of it.  How the hell is that better?"

"I could have gotten Kareena back afterward."

"You're fucking gay!  Seriously, do you realize how much more fucking sense your life makes if you just accept that?  I wasn't exactly in any position to act jealous, but he--" head nod toward Benjamin "-- hooked up with some pretty sexy guys when he was you!  You could probably even be friends with Kareena again, and you must notice how much happier she is with someone who actually wants her rather than seeing her as an obligation or a way to avoid facing what's goddamn obvious!"

That's when I noticed he was clenching his fist.  "What, trying to decide which one of us is the guy you can hit?  Do you think that's going to impress Kareena at all?"

He opened his hand, but didn't look like he was particularly buying what I was selling.  "It's pretty rich to get a lecture on taking what we're given from you.  Guess it's different when the Inn makes you pretty and rich."

"Hey, she was pretty as Deirdre!"

I smiled a bit at that, and smiled at Benjamin by way of thanks before turning back to Ravi.  "Yeah, this does make it a little easier,  But so fucking what?  It's the right thing for me right now, just like staying in New York was the right thing for me a year ago.  I probably got lucky there, but if you think leaving my life behind was an easy decision, before or after Yuan-wei was part of the equation, you're out of your damn mind.  So why don't you spend some time deciding what's best for you rather than bitching about other people who have already done so?"

And then we stood there, Benjamin texting something along the lines of "Ravi's around and starting shit" to Benny.  Eventually, Ravi turned and left, saying we'd be gone tomorrow.

"Man," I said, "dude turned into a fucking creep."

Benjamin's nice, so he tried to make apologies.  "It's got to be weird to come back to a life that's not as you left it.  I mean, you can't expect everything to be the same, and the three of us did sort of leave his the biggest mess."

I grunted, saying I could use some lunch.  So we hit up an authentic Chinese restaurant, which was a little surprising to Benjamin, who still equated "Chinese" with "General Tso's Chicken", and he wasn't sure what he thought of it.  I had to admit, I had found myself with a bit more of a taste for it after spending a week in Hong Kong.

I wish I could say we put all that behind us and had fun for the rest of our stay, but both of us were kind of seeing Ravi out of the corner of our eyes for the rest of the day, so we opted to stay in for the evening and then took the train "home" to Boston fairly early on Labor Day.  And I guess I am going to have to think of this city and Hong Kong as home now - there just doesn't seem to be as much of a place for me in New York any more.


Friday, September 11, 2015

Tyler/Alan: Tyler vs. Gene

Meg and I have been dating for a few weeks. Before I became Lauren, it had been a while since I had been in any kind of committed relationship. I never got comfortable anywhere long enough to have anything but casual relationships, sometimes a few at once. (I'm making it sound a lot more glamorous than it was - imagine the stress of a relationship, except without the stability, so it could collapse at the slightest whiff of trouble and it still hurt.) I'm committed to this, though, to making it work.

It's not easy, though. I had to fight her perception of me as her "sister," and convince her to get back to seeing me as a potential partner. Although I never stopped seeing myself as a man, I have definitely had to adjust to the world seeing me that way again. I also had to wait for her to get over spending a year with Wade, and all the baggage left over from that. It will probably still haunt her, but we all have baggage, I'm definitely no exception, but the trick is lightening it so that you can be with someone else. It wasn't an immediate transition, but as my recent post indicates, it did end up happening.

What makes it harder than it should be is just the day-to-day stuff: actually being in the relationship. Right now I'm working the dinner shift at a diner 6 nights a week, and she's working at the University as a TA and working on her thesis. Our schedules don't really line up that much. I remember her noticing that about her time with Wade, and I guess at the time that helped her avoid having to spend too much time with him, which probably kept their "relationship" together for that year. But when you actually want to spend time with someone, it's different. I can feel myself missing her.

I got home around 3 the other night. I wasn't ready for bed yet, so I opened a beer and watched TV for a few hours before slipping in beside Meg. She sensed my presence, rolling over and draping her arm over me.

I can't tell you how amazing that feeling was.

I nuzzled in close to her. She murmured, "What time is it?" I said it was after 5.

"Just getting in?" she asked in her half-awake state.

"I've been home for a while," I said, "Didn't want to wake you."

"Hm, so nice," she said. She pulled me in close and started kissing me. "I should be getting up soon anyway."

"Stay here with me," I said, half-seriously.

She kissed me some more, "I'm considering it..."

We cuddled for a while. I felt a feeling inside pulling me toward her, but I fought it. As much as I want to get to that part of our relationship, this was not the moment. I drifted off to sleep with her in my arms, though, and it was, as always, amazing.

(Actually, sharing a bed with someone after years of sleeping alone has its discomforts and problems, but I'd rather romanticize it.)

I did wake up when she got up to shower. When she returned, I watched her from the bed, as she dressed herself for the day. There's a poetry to watching someone else's routine, watching them in their most intimite moments, that feels so strangely beautiful and intimate. She kissed me goodbye and went to her first tutorial, around 8.

When I woke up around 11, I found a note on the kitchen table written in Gene's handwriting:








I was livid. Gene knew very well that I was "the person who was awake." And that if he suspected it was Meg, he would never have used such a snide, condescending tone.

It isn't that I thought he was being unreasonable - maybe I had the TV up a bit loud, and it's closer to Gene's room than Meg's. Maybe I was going back and forth from the kitchen to the couch a few many times. I can admit fault. But it just stirred something up in me.

I spent a year as Lauren feeling cramped and confined into little space - a space that shrunk midway through when I had to share it with Kylie. I was really looking forward to having a chance to stretch my (now exceptionally long) legs. I was pissed at this guy for cramping my style.

So, there's something you need to know about me, something I do a good job of keeping hidden from the blog. Meg thinks I'm this zen master, but that's only when it comes to mystical Inn things. I can surrender to the universe when needed, but deep down I'm an easily-angered person, when someone brushes me the wrong way. As Lauren, when I would feel some guy leaning in too close to me or leering too long, trying to force me to pay attention to him, I would get hot under the collar and look around for something sharp, or blunt. I would entertain fantasies of using my combat training to teach him a lesson. But usually I was capable of suppressing that.

But there was this one time in gym class. It was in the middle of winter and we were running laps around the gymnasium. I was kind of dogging it because I had my period* and Lauren's body wasn't the most well-conditioned anyway. So this heavier girl comes up behind me and, instead of just passing harmlessly, shoulders me out of the way, and I go flying. I hit the gym floor hard, skinning my knee and bruising my chin.

Immediately, I felt tears rush to my eyes. And I got mad because I never cried, but it was a mix of the pain, shame at my reaction to it, embarrassment at being taken out, outrage that she had the gall to do so, and just general frustration that day at my situation - my flimsy body, my confined life.

So I caught up to her and tackled her from behind. She hit the ground like a bag of flour. She looked pretty tough, and she weighed probably twice what I did, I even saw her lifting weights when the rest of us gravitated toward the cycles and rowing machines. I got on top of her and held my fist up, ready to punch her right in the face - I felt few qualms about hitting a girl in that moment, especially such a burly one - but I managed to get a grip on myself. That wasn't me. I gave her a quick rap to the boob instead and told her "Never do that again."

I got sent to the principal's office and got a stern talking to, and a warning that next time my parents would be called. I wasn't so sure I cared, but I acted very apologetic. "She started it" doesn't work any better in 2015 than it did in 2005, and schools have only gotten more sensitive about violence, but they looked at her and at me and decided that a 105 lb girl attacking a 190-pounder probably didn't just happen.

For a while after that, everyone called me "psycho bitch." It hurt, and led to me gravitating more toward the theater people, who either didn't know or care what I was making out of Lauren's life.

So when I saw this Gene note, it stirred some shit up inside me, and I punched the wall outside his bedroom door. It as pretty satisfying, actually. But the more I looked at the hole, the more embarrassed I was, not to mention I didn't really want to go to all-out war with the guy. So I went to Home Depot and got some Spackle and did a quick fix.

When he got home, he passed his room and did a double take. I told him I had noticed a crack there and taken the liberty. He said "Oh, you should probably let the super take care of that. I don't want to lose my deposit."

That night I came clean to Meg about it. She wasn't amused. As much as she doesn't like Gene either, she didn't like this side of me. She told me she needed me to get my attitude under control because she didn't want to stick with some loose cannon. "You can't be like that. If this is going to work, I have to know you won't lose control over stupid small things."

That hurt, but it was right. And drawing attention to how breakable this relationship could potentially be - even after a year of waiting - really hit home.

I spent that night on the couch. She told me I didn't have to, but I felt too guilty to face her. I also wanted to prove to Gene that I could do so without making a sound.

*I originally wrote that as "Lauren's body was on its period" but it was mine, I experienced it, I should own it. I had periods. Big deal.

Friday, September 04, 2015

Lane/Kari: Back to...Things

So its been a long time...almost 2 months...since I posted here and I didn't want to become one of the many lost souls who post to this blog a few times and then for whatever reason stop doing so, leaving the readers to think something awful happened to them. I've actually read this whole blog by now and there are literally dozens of those people, but rest assured I'm doing as well as could be expected.

There are a few reasons for my absence, first was that there has been a flurry of activity on this board, close to 10 other active posters, and I didn't want to bump something important down where fewer people would see it. I didn't want anybody to miss a post about Jordan and Annette having to switch destinations or Meg and Tyler's "will they or wont they" thing because I was saying how unfair it is to have to wear pantyhose at work when you're bloated. (And it totally is).

Second, I've only got one computer in this house, a three year old laptop that I have to share with a teenager. Ashely is online a LOT, despite having a smartphone. She gets home from school before I get home from work and most nights she's got headphones on, skyping with friends while texting. I can't just say "Sweetie, I need to use the laptop so that I can write a blog post to the people who know I'm not really your mother". Not only would she not believe me thanks to the curse, but because "Sweetie" isn't something that Kari would call her. I'm able to write now because Ashley is at the lake with a friend's family for the Labor Day weekend.

The last, and most important one, is that I've been tired getting used to this new life. My average weekday routine consists of getting up, making sure Ashley is going to get up, getting ready for work, driving all the way downtown, working for 8 hours, driving all the way home, and then cooking. After doing all of that in very uncomfortable shoes I'm ready to pass out on the couch and can barely think straight, let alone write a coherent blog post. Weekends are spent mostly catching up to the things around the house that I didn't have time for: shopping, running errands, paying bills, cleaning. I've thought about asking Ashley to help out, or even just ordering her too but it doesn't seem like Kari is that kind of parent.

How do I know this? Because I found Kari. Or rather she was found for me, thanks to this blog. A very nice woman named Marta, I don't know if that was her real name or her current name, was at the inn at the same time as her. Marta said it took a couple of weeks to piece the timeline together but when she did she realized that the quiet former single mother who had been on the flight back LA with Marta and her "husband" was in fact the one I had been searching for. Through the very useful email address on the sidebar she gave me the contact info for Erica Jensen, which is who Kari had become.

The real Kari is pretty quiet, and didn't seem to want to talk to me in too much detail. I don't know if it was because it was weird for her to talk to her own body or what, but she was mostly one word answers. The gist of our conversation was basically "Send me an email if you need anything, don't screw up too badly." Which is really any of us can hope for from our temporary selves.

I wasn't so lucky with my new self. My body is currently in possession of a 18 year old recent high school graduate named Jennifer. Her plan had been to take a year off after high school to find herself, and she wound up finding my body. In my line of work, one mistake could cost a client millions of dollars if its bad enough and Jennifer didn't even know calculus, let alone finance and I wasn't willing to let her risk my work history by doing something stupid at my job, so I had her quit. As of right now Lane Von Hoekstra is unemployed, but it will be a lot easier for me to get a job when I get my body back after a temporary absence than it would be after a disastrous error. I had enough money saved up for her to survive on or the year, so as long as she doesn't develop a cocaine habit she'll get to have her year off that she had wanted in New York. Maybe I'll see if some of the other Inn folk who live there can check up on her.

I haven't asked her for money yet, it seems like its a bit of a taboo subject among transformees. As far as I can tell the rule is you make do with what you've been given, which for me isn't enough. Kari's job doesn't pay a lot, just enough to cover rent and food and bills but I had to spend the last of the thousand I brought back with me from Maine on back to school supplies and clothes for Ashley. She hadn't asked me to do it, in fact she hadn't really mentioned to me when school was going to start until I found an announcement in the mail. She was prepared to just show up with a torn up backpack and none of what was on the required materials list. Absent any useful credit cards to give her, I gave her what was left of the cash and told her to get what she would need. She seemed grateful, if not a little bit confused. I think back-to-school shopping isn't an annual tradition in the Cruz household, so I was glad to do something nice for her. I think she even smiled a bit, or at least let up on the scowl.

So that means its back to the frugal life for me, which I seem to be managing pretty well. My money-handling training seems to be applicable to a household budget, even if it means cutting out a lot of the "fun" things that Kari used to buy/do. I'm not entirely sure what they were but I'm guessing a lot of the shoes in the closet and bar bills on past credit card statements had a lot to do with it.

While being poor is no fun, being unemployed would be even worse, which is why I've stuck it out at Kari's job despite her lecherous boss. After a couple encounters that were something out of a sexual harassment video, I made it a point never to be alone in the room with him, even if that meant avoiding him by making pointless small talk with my co-workers. On the plus side, a lot of them think that Kari is all of a sudden much more friendly than before, and have started inviting me to lunch with them. I guess they weren't very social with her before, I don't know if its more Kari being unfriendly or them resenting her for the rumored involvement with the boss. Its not a difficult job but its a bit of an icky situation, and if Kari had any sort of formal higher education or qualifications I'd look for another one, but in this economy in this region, low skilled work isn't exactly in high demand.

So that's about it, as far as major stuff goes. Theres a lot of minor stuff going on, typical "I'm someone else" kind of stuff and I'm going to make an effort to post more on this blog. I need to keep my mind straight and my thoughts organized if I'm gonna find away to wrangle me, Kari, and Jennifer to the Inn next year and in the right order, because if there's one thing I've learned from this blog is that one missed detail can cause a world of chaos.

Erin/Chris: Resumes

I've been trying to look on the bright side since I got here. As Chris, I'm doing the same thing I would have been doing back home: handing out resumes. It just happens that I'm doing so in the greatest city in the world (New York!!) and in the body of a man. It seems Chris' extended stay in Maine had screwed him out of an articling position at a fairly prestigious law firm. Not that I could have handled that anyway. Sorry Chris, your career ambitions are going to have to go on hold indefinitely.

My dad always said I was an incurable optimist. I never liked that because it made me sound dumb. I prefer to think I'm a realist, it's just that in my view, reality is generally pretty ok. At a time like this, it helps. Before "Ahmir" and I set out for Brooklyn, I wrote down a list of pros of the situation. We're still in the same city, so we can look out for each other. Financially, we're not any worse off than we were before. Looking for work will give us a project, to keep our minds busy. We're not upsetting any family dynamics by being here - 25-year-old unmarried guys don't tend to have too many permanent bonds with anyone so if they drop off the grid for a few weeks or months nobody says much. Lastly, what woman has never thought, if just for a day, that she would like to be a man? To be free of all the trappings of womanhood, enter the great unknown of masculinity? To feel the security and self-confidence you can only get in this culture with a penis.

I clicked around the blog at random, favoring summer months when the Inn would be open, and took in the "greatest hits" of, yup, dudes becoming ladies. They're so fearful and panicky it's adorable. Then it almost becomes sweet when they begrudgingly admit it's not the worst thing... but I'll take peeing with an erection over period cramps any day of the week, every week of the year. Ever sneezed while on your period? I guarantee it's happened to 100% of the ex-boys who've written here, and yet they never want to mention it. Hmm.

I kid. I certainly wouldn't expect any man going through the reverse process to be as gung ho about it as I am, at least openly. That even took me a while. For the first few days, I felt overwhelmed and scared: hence the list-making, the self-reassurance. I also ranked the things I was most bothered about: "I'm a guy now" ranked below "Moving to an intimidating new city" and the big one "MAGIC IS REAL??" (Of course, maybe it's science, or maybe magic is science, or... who knows?) The late addition to that list, which I slotted in between 1 and 2, is: "Someone is going to be me."

Like, did you ever pick someone up at a bar, and bring them back to your place, only to realize you've left your dirty laundry in clumps around the bedroom, and a pile of discarded Diet Pepsi cans and Lay's bags on your coffee table? Okay, I'm not that much of a slob, but in my head, it's like that. It dawned on me that someone was about to be privy to all my garbage. I feel so exposed and there's nothing I can do about it.

I only let myself panic about that for half a day, then I decided to be a rock for Rosie, who was quite shaken. She could hardly bring herself to speak those first couple of days, like she was afraid of her new voice. As Meghan and Tyler/Alan/whatever he wants to call himself were debating Kitty on what to do (without letting it slip that they were Inn veterans, a secret I helped conceal) I glanced around the room. The New Jenkins family behind Kitty, and a loose association of women behind me. Before the change, they were catty college girls who I overheard snickering not-quietly when Rosie and I dared to go to the beach in bikinis. Hot Skinny Idiots, I called them in my head, probably being unfair to their intelligence but it helps me to dislike them if I can convince myself they're airheads.

Now a few of them weren't so hot anymore (at least not in the conventionally perfect western ideal way) but one was a gorgeous brown-skinned woman, Saraya, which took her a day or two to get over. Another, Maureen, fretted over her new body's nearsightedness: "My eyes! I can't see anything!" (We helped her find some contact lenses in her luggage but she refused to put them in.) The third was now Lucy, a short, curvy Latina woman and complained about how her newly enlarged boobs had wrecked her favorite nightie.

(Their real names were Lexi, Rebecca and Candice.)

"Saraya" was from Jersey, so she rode down to NYC with us. "Maureen" and "Lucy" went their own ways, reluctantly. As the girls fretted over their situations, I wondered which of us were truly lucky. They couldn't reap the benefits of "a new perspective" that we could. They were just purely stressing. Okay, now I'm hearing that "incurable" part of my optimism.

At the end of that first day, I turned to Rosie and checked in to ask: Are you okay?

She looked at me silently for a few moments. In her new face, she looks like that comedian Hannibal Burress. Then she shrugged and said "I just feel bad for whoever gets my body."

Well, that's the spirit, I guess.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Annette/Benjamin: Moving Days

So here's a fun thing about the Boston area: Because higher education is quite possibly the city's #1 industry, nearly every lease runs from September to August, with September First not actually labeled as "Moving Day" with capital letters on the calendar, but certainly thought of that way.  The week around that date, particularly the preceding weekend, August 31st, and September 1st itself, are traffic nightmares because every U-haul, moving van, and other vehicle that can carry cargo, right down to horse trailers, is sucked into the city as if by some sort of vortex.  And if you happen to be a reasonably fit guy in his mid-twenties, guess what you're going to be doing for that span, especially if you're between jobs?

It could be worse. There's pizza and beer at the end of the day, and scoping out the stuff you're moving from point A to point B is a pretty decent way to get at least a small measure of the friends you've inherited.  And while the "pay" isn't great, it feels better to actually be doing something than just filling out job applications, feeling like you'll get rejected for things that are way below your ambitions.

On the other hand, it's an awesomely masculine thing to be doing. Sure, I've been a guy for over a year, but as Ravi, I always thought I was going to get my vagina back, and he wasn't the guy people called on for stuff like this - he helped hook up your new stereo, or did detail-oriented work, but pure hauling-things-around wasn't his thing, and it didn't really occur to me to volunteer. Now, though, I've already been volunteered - Ronan said "sure, I'll help you move if I'm still in town" to one of the guys at "Benny's" job before giving his notice.  So I spent Saturday helping him get a truck all loaded up, driving across the river, and then unpacking it.

Fun times. Did you know that Cambridge wants you to get some sort of permit ahead of time so that you can have "No Parking" signs put up (or defy the ones that are already there)? I didn't, neither did Joe, so he wound up with a ticket.

I felt like I should have been pretty exhausted by the end of the day - and, to be fair, I did come right back "home" after being treated to a pretty decent pizza and just chilled for the night - but my first reaction was to marvel about how feeling sore could actually be kind of pleasant, and also to look at the newly-filled apartment and think, holy shit, look at what we just did! I don't think it's specifically a guy thing to get really excited over having accomplished something practical and physical like that, but you set more opportunities.

Like, Monday and Tuesday, when I got pulled into helping flatmate J.K. (he's the intern) move his girlfriend into her new place. Apparently, she and her roommate had been living in the same place since sophomore year - and would have happily continued doing so if the landlord didn't tell them that they were being kicked out at the end of their lease so that the place could be renovated enough to double the rent - and they have accumulated a lot of crap in that time, way more than would fit into their smaller and less open new one. I guess estimating is something folks tend to learn on their first move without parents, and theirs were on the other side of the country. They hadn't even begun packing when J.K. and I arrived on Monday, and they had rented the smallest U-haul in Massachusetts.

(Not that I will necessarily do much better when I move in a way that doesn't involve leaving one bag behind, grabbing another, and parachuting into a place where things are already set up.)

Not that I defended them at the end of the day when J.K. looked at me and said "chicks, right?" Hauling stuff is satisfying when you feel like you're accomplishing something, but when you're waiting around and trying to get the people you've helping to focus, having things drag into a second day when he had to worry about the impression he was making at work... well, it kind of sucks.

And after that, they wanted to partake in "Allston Christmas", which is apparently what they call students (and others) leaving stuff that they can't be bothered to take with them on the sidewalk for anybody to claim. Not that they wanted to leave thing, noooo... they saw some really nice bookshelves!

Did I mention that they were on the third floor? J.K. and his girlfriend owe me.

And, in between, there was Missy.

(She doesn't really like that name, but she's not exactly fond of me trying to pronounce "Yuan-wei", either, and since Ronan always called his girlfriend "Missy". I'm allowed.)

Her flight arrived Sunday morning, and while it was pretty clear from what she'd seen so far that she could spring for a cab (or limo), she's still a New Yorker at heart, and would rather get familiar with public transportation options, and figured she could use some help.

I got to the airport plenty early and hung out around her terminal, watching for her, but didn't spot her until she walked up behind me and tapped my shoulder. I turned around and did a little girly squeal when I saw her. "Spin around!" I said, with matching finger motion.

Somehow, she managed to both scowl and smile. I'd been expecting to see a lot more "Jordan", not really making an effort to be much more than comfortable. Instead - well, her make-up wasn't flawless, but it wasn't awful by any means. Her hair was pulled back into a simple ponytail, but one of those ones that just looks better on Asian girls with their silky hair than any I've ever had. Her outfit, though, was just super-cute! It looked like a dress at first glance, but if she twisted or bent the right way, you'd see that it was two pieces from the midriff that showed up. The skirt went down to mid-thigh, showing some pretty great leg, and while the top didn't display any cleavage, it stopped just short, and you could see a pretty good hint of her shape.  Cool blue-and-black tartan pattern, too!

Oh, and her shoes!  Chunky platform sandals whose thongs were little silver chains, just loose enough to jingle a little even though there was no danger of them falling off her feet. She even had her toenails painted to match the dress. She had a little trouble turning in place with three inches of shoe under her heel compared to the half-inch under her toes, but she didn't fall over.

I was impressed. "I can't believe you got all dressed up for me!"

She gave me a cute smile. "Typical man, assuming that when a girl chooses to look nice, it's for his benefit."

I laughed, big, and hugged her. "Typical woman, unable to accept a compliment!" We both laughed, and I stepped back a step and made sure I was looking at her face rather than what she was wearing. "This is going to be fun, right? Not sad or scary, but fun."

"That's what I'm hoping.  As to the clothes, it appears that this pretty upper-class Chinese girl has pretty upper-class Chinese girlfriends, and when they had Yuan-wei home for a few days, all they could think of doing was shopping." She pushed a suitcase that was a LOT bigger than the carry-on she had left and returned with at me. "And those girls can shop!"

Sucker was heavy. "You don't seem half-bad at it yourself."

"I am apparently weak when attractive women tell me I'm sexy in an outfit. The urge to sleep with them is fairly weak, but, damn, their praise means something, and it's kind of fun to be in a changing room with them. Is that weird?"

I shrugged and started leading the way to the Silver Line. "What isn't with us? I mean, there were pretty girls in high school I wanted to like me, and I didn't have memories of an urge to screw 'em. Doesn't explain how you're dressed today, though."

"It's pretty comfortable, and these shoes get me a little taller without heels that look like they'll break off. And, hey, I've got to look in the mirror."


Compared to New York, the Boston subway is pretty easy, although wrestling Missy's new wardrobe from the Silver Line to the Red line at South Station, and then to Green-Line-C at Park street, didn't necessarily make it feel that way. Then there was a bit of away to roll it up Beacon until we got to the side street with her building.

Which was gorgeous, and that's just talking about the outside. When we actually found her unit, my jaw dropped. Two bedrooms, high ceilings, tons of space, decorated nicely but still looking like someone my age lived there...

"Ho-leee shit!" Missy just mouthed something that looked like "fuuuuuck!", and we both sort of waked around the living room and poked our heads into other areas in what was a sort of daze. "Man, I should have taken some sort of online Chinese course or something."

"Yeah, although...This is fucking ridiculous. I mean..."

He couldn't say what he meant, but I got it.  You never hear of the Inn just presenting you all this on a platter, or someone walking away from it. As weird as my own situation is, Jordan/Missy is in another world altogether.

We sort of rummaged around, learning where the real Missy had kept all the important stuff and where to put all of her new clothes (not really a problem, as there is plenty of closet space). Sunday was a pretty good day to find the trash room and laundry and such. We started to scope out what the nearest restaurants and convenience stores looked like, but it got crowded in a hurry - a lot of other people, BU students and otherwise, also getting settled. This close to Fenway, we were pretty lucky that it wasn't a game day.

Plus. while I was leading her around, I kind of forgot that she must have been incredibly jet-lagged, at least until she felt her knees start to buckle in Bed Bath & Beyond. I got her back home and into bed. "Now, you set a good night's sleep; it's your first day of school tomorrow."

She smiled at the silliness of that but passed out petty quickly, not really picking up any envy that I felt as she did. She was going to college - again - while I was going to be helping the girlfriend of a guy I just met move.

Exciting new adventures.

-Benjamin (Annette)

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Tori: Love Connections

As we were heading out to the wedding, Cliff and I took a long moment to look at each other.

Suited up, he was a handsome, clean-cut, dashing figure, with a cutely angular face, casually messy short-cropped hair, and pretty, piercing eyes. The fact that that body was once mine made me feel very uneasy about it. Way, way back when I was newly Torified, I had been sufficiently charmed by Willy that I almost let him take me to a place I probably wasn't ready to go. Now, I have experience,  restraint, perspective... I know what to do when I find a guy attractive.


In this case, anyway. I admired his looks, but I can only forget "that was me" for so long before it hits me like a cold splash of water, and then suddenly it becomes gross. I didn't bring him here for that, and I kind of smiled to myself as I realized that he was going to be able to go home with any woman he wanted.

I can only speculate whether the same thought was going through his mind as he let his eyes linger on my body. I can't blame him: I made it my business to look stunning. I don't get many chances to go all-out anymore, and I wanted to send a strong message to every single guy at the wedding. I was wearing a black strapless party dress, which made me look fearless (which you have to be to go dancing in a strapless dress and heels!) as it clung to my body at every curve of my hips, butt and boobs... the girls were looking particularly perfect, shaped into perky teardrops by a lacy bra which one lucky guy might be able to unwrap for himself at the end of the night, along with the matching thong. Add to that a just a subtle amount of mascara to give me an available but mysterious look, and I was playing for keeps.

(This blog has been so beset by fearful new-girls for so long, it's nice to be the one who still really loves it!)

The wedding wasn't too long, but the church wasn't air conditioned and I could see Cliff sweating. I looked down at my attire (I wasn't exactly perspiration-free but I was feeling fine) and thought that's one true benefit of ladies' formal wear.

The night was long. When they tossed the bouquet, I stood in the back and pretended to lunge for it, but didn't because I didn't a) want to make a fool of myself and b) want my dress to wind up on the floor. In order to get the happy couple to kiss, we had to tell stories from their childhoods. Cliff actually told me something about Jenn that I should have known as Tori, about getting her ready for her first "date" in high school, and how we had to figure out how to do her makeup on AskJeeves (remember that?) Raine, who was in the bridal party and hadn't spoken to me yet, came over to me laughing her ass off.

Cliff and I danced for a bit. I scoped out guys around the room, and he assured me that being seen dancing with him - only for him to leave me alone - would stoke interest in me. It worked, and I danced with a few other guys, to varying degrees of closeness.

"What about you, Hotshot?" I asked between dances, "Got your eye on any particular girl tonight?"

"That's really not what I came here for," he said, "I'm just happy I get to see one of my best friends get married... especially since I missed my own wedding."

He started getting glum, and he drank a bit, and then I lost track of him. It was 1 AM when I was leaving the place with a handsome hipster guy with a side-shaved haircut, and I texted him to see if he'd be all right taking a cab back to my place alone. He answered that he already was.

I stared at my phone. It was fairly early for him to have come home. I hoped he wasn't feeling bad after that comment, and considered coming after him, but... well, I texted, "Are you OK?" He answered that he was, and... I swear, I'm normally a more caring friend than this, but there was no reason to let it ruin both of our nights.

Cute Hipster was good, and I'll admit I will never get tired of that moment where a man lays eyes on my naked body (and seeing its effect in real time, if the gentleman is already naked, as was the case here... mmm!) but my mind was distracted and I let him rush through the proceedings just to get it over with. I left, promising half-genuinely to text him later.

I gathered my clothes and called a cab, which deposited me at home around 3:15 AM.

And when I opened the door to my apartment, what did I see but Raine bent over my couch, with Cliff standing firmly behind her.

I let out an instinctive: "OH GOD! WHAT THE...?!" before covering my eyes.

"Tori!" they both cried out simultaneously as the scrambled apart. Raine covered herself with a throw blanket, and Cliff found his boxers in a hurry.

All three of us looked embarrassed. I was working my way to "What the hell is happening here?" but I decided it was pretty much self-explanatory. I shook off my shaken nerves and decided to just go right to bed and leave them to pick up where they were interrupted.

In the morning - after a very rocky night of attempted sleep - Raine had left, and Cliff was lying on the couch asleep. She had texted me to say she was sorry for hooking up with my guest, and I told her she had nothing to apologize for. I decided to be a good hostess and make some bacon and eggs. I waited until we were ready to eat before I asked him: "What the hell were you thinking?"

He looked halfway ashamed but defensive. "She... I... I don't know. We hit it off, I guess."

We laughed: "Of course you hit it off," I punched him in the arm, "You've known her since she was 12! Damn, Sara, hasn't she been through enough?"

Cliff recoiled a bit at the sound of his real name. "I swear this wasn't my plan. I mean, the part about maybe meeting someone... sure. I had some hopes. I just really didn't expect it to be her. But you know how weddings are."

Thinking of Cute Hipster, I sighed, "Yeah, I know. But I feel like there's a line. Danny... or whatever his name was... jerked her around for years, in different bodies, and it really messed with her."

"Well, I'm not leaving this body," he huffed. "I am as close as I can possibly be to what she thinks I am, just a regular guy, and if she likes me, she likes me. Let her make her own decisions."

"How can it be her decision if she can't know the full truth about you?" I ran my fingers through my hair, "I can't believe we're having this conversation. Some things should just be off-limits."

We sat quietly for a bit, then he asked standoffishly, "Why are you so against this? Are you jealous?"

I scoffed. "Of her? Being with you? Please."

"What about that whole thing you said about people like us having to stay with our own kind?"

"Don't twist that around. I don't want that to be true. Trust me, that's not a door I'd want to open at this point in my life. I don't want you thinking I asked you here for that."

"Good," he said coldly.

"I just don't want my friend to get hurt."

"Well," Cliff replied, "She's my friend too."

"Sure," I said, "But she doesn't know that."

"I'm not going to hurt her," he insisted. "Look, it's been a strange few years for me. I've changed so much. The love of my life left me because he didn't like being a woman. I got over it. I can move on. I just wanted a connection, with someone I knew I would like, and to see if she would like me too. I'm sorry I have needs, Tori. Sorry I'm human."

"Don't you feel bad for lying to her?"

She answered: "If it was some other girl, would that make it better?"

"That's the question, isn't it?" I said into my eggs. "I've lied to every guy I've been with and I never thought twice about it. And it still went badly. Fine, you have my blessing, but I'm not thrilled, so don't fuck it up."

"I didn't need your blessing, but thanks," he smirked. "Besides, I really didn't mean for it to be her. But that's how it worked out."

"Sure, keep telling yourself that," I teased. "Okay, so... now I'm dying to know. How was it?"

He smiled and tried to play things down. "It was good. A little naughtier than usual given my little secret but... now I just feel like an ass for saying that, after what you said."

"I'll let you have that," I snickered. "Did you know that's the second time I've walked in on you having sex?"
He laughed thoughtfully, "Huh, I forgot about that. Wow, Tor, you're such a creeper."

I got up and hugged him, gave him a little kiss on the cheek and told him it was good to have him as a friend. He agreed, and then we spent the rest of his visit taking walks around the old neighborhood, each of us wondering what our next steps should be.

In my case, it was to text Cute Hipster boy (Mike.) You can't keep a good woman down.

Tori: Keeping "Inn" touch (you may groan now)

Back in July, I invited Cliff down to Philly for the wedding of our friend Jen. I didn't want to go alone and felt that, if he was up for it, he might enjoy the opportunity to see his old friends. Unsecretly, there's a bit of selfishness to wanting to check in on my original body.

That said, having Cliff around was actually quite weird. I didn't realize how far into my life as Tori I was until I sat down with him and started hashing things out. He drove down on Friday and picked me up from work, making some of the office gals wonder who was this tall, dark stranger I had somehow neglected to mention. I blushed at my old body being referred to in such terms: I never thought of myself as an attractive man (I certainly never had many women say so.) And it's not even really my body to be proud of anymore: I lost it six years ago, and declined an opportunity to take it back.

But hey, a compliment is a compliment. And Sara wears that old body of mine very well.

Over dinner, we started to talk about things I hadn't thought of in years: I reflected on how much it had meant to me, in my early days as Tori, to have Sara and Raine as friends, seemingly accepting me, never able to pick out that I wasn't one of them. It made me feel reassured that, if I could "pass" to Tori's friends, then I could stop thinking of myself as a man in a woman's body and just think of myself as a woman.

"I felt so dumb afterward," he said somewhat jokingly, "They say it's the magic of the Inn, but maybe it's just self-absorption. Like I had no idea what was going on with you because I was so busy with my own life, so I never caught on. But looking back it was so obvious."

"Yeah, my sister says the same thing," I said.

"Oh my God, does she know?"

"No, but... I almost feel like she might figure it out someday. She's sharp, and I don't think I'd lie if she asked. But she won't, because... how could you, right?"

"When did you get used to it? Being a woman?"

"Sooner than I wanted to admit," I sighed, "It just suited me better than being a man ever did. But for the first year, it was just keep from tearing your hair out long enough to get home. Then after that didn't happen... I was shocked, but I came around quickly to, I can make this work and finally, this is better in some ways than what I left behind. I was like a new person from day one, but it took me a long time to learn what that really meant."

"Is Raine going to be at the wedding?"

"Of course," I said, "I haven't talked to her much lately. We try to keep up on social media, but people go their separate ways. I felt bad for her, because she was dating this guy who was... well, one of us, for a long time, and she had no idea."

"What happened there?"

"Um, I don't know," I said, trying to search my memory for our last conversation on the topic: she was vague, probably because she didn't know the full story. "Sometimes I think it's hard for people like us to be with people who haven't... been through it."

"I hope that's not true," he sighed. "I don't want my dating pool to be so limited." I shrugged: I've had my fair share of experiences, but clearly nothing's panned out. Looked like he had the same issue.

"Well, you could probably date any of the women in my office," I said, "You should have heard them coo when you picked me up. Half of them are married, though."

He smirked. "I do okay."

"Part of me wants details," I said, putting on as devilish a smile as I could, "Part of me wants you to keep quiet, because that wasn't my experience when I was in your shoes."

"The details would bore you," he said self-effacingly, "It's not like I was, oh, doing any 3-ways or anything."

I felt my face get hot. Of course, I was spilling the beans about it on the blog while it was happening, so it's not like I had any reason to be shocked or embarrassed or ashamed... but I couldn't help but feel a little bit of judgment in his voice. I called him on it, and he corrected himself, "Hey, you can do what you want with your life. I admire your spirit. You're an adventurous person, and I love that about you. The real T-- old Tori, sorry, would be proud."

"Old Tori." Huh. Wonder how long since I thought of her. They gave her a morning show down in Louisville, but it didn't work out, and last I heard she was kicking around Indiana or Illinois or something. I used to wonder a lot whether I should have given her her body back and taken a chance somewhere new, but I wasn't in any place to start over and she seemed to be having fun.

As I got reflective, Cliff hung his head: compared to me, he's even more in the dark. The people who stole his and Thom's bodies ran away to Delaware together, probably for nefarious purposes. Thom left him the next year, for parts unknown. (Literally, we don't know whose parts he now has!) Willy, who left my old body, disappeared to England with Randi (is she still with him? From what we can tell, Thom did not take care to relinquish her body back.) I told Cliff he could join "our" community, but he felt he had nothing to say. Then I started thinking about more people who've come and gone over the years.

I have derived so much love and support from the readers of this blog, and those who have been able to see their way to adding to it after an experience at the Inn, that anytime I feel like I might have outgrown it, I feel myself pulled back here. But you should know I am around. And do you see that e-mail address on the right hand side of the blog? (It used to be a different one, but I used my Admin access to change it.) I'm on the other side of it. And through it, I've found several more people with some Inn stories, who will be granting me permission to share some of their experiences. Anyone out there who tried to get ahold of us at our old address but couldn't, now is your chance.

More to come...