Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Jordan/Yuan-wei: Taking the Long Way from Boston to L.A.

I bitch enough about no longer being officially American any more that you guys are probably stick of hearing about it, but the last few months have been kind of crazy, trying to figure out how to transition from a student visa to a foreign worker one, while at the same time trying to make it to India for Benny and Kareena getting married.  It doesn't sound like so much, but back in my old life, I had a coworker from India who had a hell of a time getting back into the country after visiting family back home, and that was before Trump was elected and ICE officially adopted "fuck you, foreigner!" as its guiding principle.

Fortunately, I've been able to work it out with my new job so that I can go "home" to Hong Kong when my student visa expires, travel from there to India for a couple of weeks, and then return to California on my new work visa.  It is not necessarily the most possible travel over the next month - I'm not being routed through Cape Town or anything - but even flying first class, I'm kind of dreading it.  It's a lot of being in the air for a move that seems like it should be less trouble and to watch Benny get married.

That's, like, really weird.  Part of it is that after nearly two years of Benny doing his own thing, he's suddenly asking for my opinion on a while bunch of shit, and I don't want to look at someone with a thinner version of my original face and think he looks kind of sexy in that tux.  It's fucking disturbing.  But I've kind of got to fill him in on some stuff, because a few second and third cousins from Hong Kong that I meet as a kid have RSVPed, and Max can't really fill him in on what he might be expected to remember.  I'm also the only person he feels he can practice his Cantonese with aside from Max and "Bingbing", and I guess I should help there.  He's not very good, having started learning with good intentions but let other things take priority, and now he's trying to cram what I learned since I was a kid into one summer.

Oh, shit - I just realized that practically Chinese person at this wedding will be some sort of relative, and they'll have no idea that's the case, but because I'm single, hot, and rich, practically every auntie there is going to be encouraging them to get close to me.  That's...  Ugh.  I mean, okay, we're taking about distant cousins that I'm not biologically related to anymore, but still, I'll know, and who knows how avoiding them might look.

It's weird enough to want me too just give the whole thing a pass, but Annette says she'll never forgive me if I do, because "Indian wedding" is some sort of bucket list thing, and, besides, when will Benny and I ever get a better chance to tell my parents who we really are?  Would we have to wait for someone to die?  And is their son getting married even a big enough event in their lives for this to work?

No time to back out, though - lots of flights and hotels booked, and it might be my last time to hang with Annette for a while (and she's also reminded me that if I'm not there to help her not be overwhelmed among a bunch of people speaking Cantonese, the whole basis of me becoming Yuan-wei falls apart).  She's already in New York, trying to find something in the publishing industry, which she says is some weird déjà vu considering that she's already moved there once and watched Marybeth look for this sort of job.

She's cleaned my apartment here in Boston out, too, taking everything she could fit in a U-Haul that I wasn't going to cart to California, much less Hong Kong.  It's not everything, though, so take this as a heads-up:  There's going to be some good Allston Christmas stuff outside my place this weekend.


Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Jonah/Krystle: New Do

Parenting tip:  At eighteen months, babies don't really care that mommy is also doing the thing that makes them cry.  They just cry.

Today it was a trip to the hairdresser.  I've been really casual about what I do with my hair ever since I first became Krystle - the original got it straightened every few weeks, but I really only did that once, when Joseph was released from serving out the end of Lamont's jail term, and you can't really say that went well.  I'd been shaving my head for a couple years before going to the Inn, and then mostly just got a trim every couple weeks to keep myself from looking like I've decided to be someone from a 1970s movie for Halloween.  It's comfortable and easier than a lot of options, but it's not exciting.  And, for the most part, I'm cool with that, but...

Well, I am trying to date right now, uncomfortable as that is, so I should probably at least try to look attractive.  But there's more; if I'm going to be Little Moira's mother, then there's a bunch of lady-stuff I should be good at before I've got to pass it down, and if I'm just going to be Krystle, I should know what to do with my appearance.  I guess I spent a long time treating my appearance like something I didn't need to worry about, because I didn't want to be noticed and I figured I'd be giving this life back and Krystle could worry about how people had been looking at her.  But now it's in my lap for good.

Anyway, that's why I went to the hair salon to get Moira's hair braided, which would get her baby afro under control and would be relatively easy on me - she can go swimming, we don't have to brush it after her bath, and she'll be ready to go first thing in the morning.  But, oh, did she not like it.  She didn't like having to sit still, she didn't like a stranger's hands pulling at her hair, she didn't like the smells and noise around her, and she let everyone know.  My daughter is cute and funny most of the time, but she can cry when she doesn't like something, and every time she does, I feel like I am not cut out for any of this.

That I was also getting my hair braided at the same time, so it wasn't just something I was doing to her?  She did not care.  At all.  Probably made no connection in her little baby brain whatsoever that Mommy was doing the same thing and not crying.  Nope, she just saw that now I had little beads in my hair that she wanted to grab, which now has me worried how the ones in her hair will go over the next time she's playing with other babies.

And not that she's got a point, but...  I kind of don't know if this is the hairstyle for me.  I look okay, I guess, but I kind of freak out about looking too girly even if I do kind of want to look feminine enough to be attractive.  I'm a mom, and I guess I should look a little more serious than I feel like I do with these.

It's dumb.  I'm worrying about my hair.  But I've got to make the right impression on people, and for all that I thought girls were silly for spending so much time and energy on it in high school, I guess it was good practice for them, getting it all down before landing a guy was really important.


Friday, August 17, 2018

Daryl/Magda: One Hot Mama

I'm a relatively new Inn Person, so I haven't talked with many in the community, but it feels like what I am trying to do right now - changing and then immediately trying to start my own new life on my own terms - it's pretty rare.  That's natural - most people, upon having their identity torn from them, aren't going to say "what would I do with a clean slate?" even if their new face didn't come with a letter asking them not to mess things up.  But a life's got inertia to it, too, and just picking up and starting over isn't easy even when you can.

And I didn't know if that was going to be the case when I got back to the Inn.  The room hadn't changed since I left it but I was acutely aware that there was no leftover bag in the room to tell me what I had in store.  I tried to be chill about it - like, okay, if these are going to be my last days as a woman, try a few things, like having a spa day or putting on a kind of sexy dress and doing some light flirting at a bar, not looking to get picked up, but just to see what it's like to be on the other end of some guy's game, maybe be more empathetic later.  Don't get me wrong, I brought along pepper spray, but thankfully didn't need it.

Still, it was a nerve-wracking week or so, knowing that I was going to come out of it as neither myself nor Elaine, but I could be pretty much anyone else.  It was a relief when I finally felt the tingle other folks talked about, although I couldn't stay up for the change; it had been a long day that ended with a few drinks.

I didn't really feel different when I woke up until I saw that my arm was white.  And not just Caucasian-white, but "Eastern European girl who hasn't been out of the house all winter" white.  I knew that was the way to bet - Jonah becoming Krystle probably used up all the odds of one black person becoming another by random chance in this place, given how white Maine is - but, man, that is a hell of a thing to be confronted with.  I felt like I'd lost something profound in that moment, even more so than when I watched Elaine's breasts grow out of my chest.

And speaking of breasts, yeah, as soon as I'd examined my hand enough to think about how weird it was that the designs on my nails were now kind of off-center, I sat up in bed and let the sheet drop away from my chest.  I could already feel just from sitting up that I was still a woman, but sometimes you need to see it.  My breasts had grown a bit and sagged a bit overnight, and the darker space around my nipples was a bit bigger.  They're not bad at all, and when I copied them in my hands they felt pretty solid, but not as close to perky as is been as Elaine.

The rest of my body was like that too - a bit softer around the waist, a bit more spread to my butt, more in the thighs.  I did feel weirdly guilty about the shape I'd left my bush in for Elaine when I saw how nearly trimmed I was down there (I was kind of skittish with the razor). After I'd seen all I could from that angle, I went to the mirror.

Not a bad new face.  Some lines around the eyes and dimples that tried to make up for the fact that it didn't seem to smile quite as wide, brown hair that was thinner than Elaine's but not really thin, decent lips.  I pegged myself at about forty or so, which was disappointing, but doable.

There was noise outside the room, so I figured it was time to find out how things had shaken out.  Elaine's clothes mostly fit, although I wouldn't recommend going up a bra size or two overnight (the amazing cleavage doesn't really make up for the straps digging into your skin), so I want like the guy in a way-too-small bathrobe trying to figure out what had happened.  It was a weird scene, 'cause by the time July rolls around most of the "reversal chains" have broken and it's just people who don't know what they're in for.  I explained what little I knew about the situation five times while asking if anybody had a suitcase that looked like it belonged to a middle-aged white woman in their room. 

Nobody did, but someone was able to get into one connected by an adjoining bathroom, and I found my new identity.  My eyes went kind of wide at the driver's license I pulled from the purse, because on the one hand, damn, Magda Polawski, you're doing pretty darn all right for almost 48, but on the other, that's almost two full decades lost on my part.  Then I got to the letter which Lindsey had left me, which spent a lot of time filling me in on Harmon but kind of soft-sold that Magda's life was mine, free and clear, should I want it.

None of the people at the Inn, looking at a year of trying to live someone else's life, really wanted to hear me talk about how that's some monkey's paw shit, but Cary and Elaine at least put on a good show of being sympathetic.  I mean, yeah, I want to make things work with J.T., but 47-year-old white woman isn't exactly easy mode.

But you've gotta try, right?  Lucky for me, Lindsey left me notes about how to "deadhead" on a flight, so I got to fly to New York for free.  I watched a bunch of YouTube videos about making yourself look younger via makeup before flying out and then got my hair done as soon as I landed.  Lindsey, not knowing who was going to become Magda, had traveled to Maine with a bunch of different clothing options, but probably didn't figure on someone like me being grateful for a little black dress and matching four-inch heels.

Heck, it was surreal to me as I changed in a food court restroom and then did what I could with the makeup, texting with J.T. about dinner reservations and how, no, I wasn't going to send a selfie so he could recognize me.  But I was kind of riding high on the idea that somehow the universe was arranging things so that two people who would never have been paired two years ago could be together, kind of excited about Act III.  I must have spent a half hour on the makeup, staying completely over twice and just being real timid, but eventually I decided I didn't look too bad.

J.T. had reserved us a table at a nice restaurant, and I managed to get in and sit across from him quietly enough to make him jump.  The dress showed plenty of cleavage, so his eyes were drawn there before my face.  "Wow.  You're, uh--"


"I was thinking 'not Elaine', but I guess that's part of it.  You look good, though.  Really good..."  I briefly felt ashamed for how easily we guys let boobs distract us.

We spent the meal making small talk, about sports and how cute real-Elaine being excited about getting her life back was.  He mentioned that he'd had an audition the other day, well off Broadway, because he was getting excited about digging into and creating character histories again after the Inn.

It was delicious, and we took a can back to his place, as I mentioned I had no place of my own in New York, and it was too late to spring all this on Pete.  We drank some wine, and then made hilariously flimsy excuses for heading toward the bed.  It felt really good for him to unzip my dress and then undo my bra, supporting my breasts with his hands while kissing my neck.  It felt good being a little softer in his hands, and we played around a lot before I was on my back his face right above mine, him entering me, both of us excited but kind of terrified about what might come next.

About that, let's just say that the over-sharing ladies at a previous job were maybe onto something when they told us embarrassed millennials that a woman's body doesn't really figure out how to princely orgasm right away.  I was like, well, shit, that part works when we got done.

Of course, I couldn't just stay there right away - Magda had a job, a lease, and a biological daughter on the other side of the country, and I couldn't just abandon them without causing trouble.  So, just a day later, I was flying "back" there to figure out how I could easily get myself back in that bed on a permanent basis.

Naturally, Harmon and I met when I was going through Magda's closet, trying to figure out which clothes to keep and which to give away.  As much as I had fun pushing my boobs into J.T.'s face that first night, there was some stuff theft which had either been there a long time or which probably was the result of Magda still seeing a younger woman in the mirror.  I may look somewhere halfway between my real age and what my new passport says, but I kind of think Magda was still stuck in an even younger mindset, not quite competing with Alicia but thinking she was still that girl.

And I can see how she thinks that - there's a box of Polaroids in her closet, and young Magda had a lot of what her daughter does.  And Alicia is hot as fuck, just everything I am now but tighter and smoother.  I don't feel desire when I look at her, but I probably feel a little more appreciation than someone who currently shares half my DNA with her probably should.  On top of that, she's got this attitude to her where she knows exactly what she's got and she won't barter access to it, or even her attention, cheaply.  I've dated enough girls like that to know it gets exhausting fairly quickly, but even though I know how insanely inappropriate the thought is and how uninterested Harmon is in being someone's girlfriend, I notice.  And, yes, I couldn't help but think of the roughly twenty-five extra years I might have gained if Harmon had come to the Inn.

That he didn't pay me much mind is kind of useful,  though - if he doesn't want to play family, that's a load off me.  I can decide some stuff is going to go and just email the original Magda and Alicia about it rather than finding time to schedule talks with him.  I can ask the airline about a transfer to New York and feel confident that the option to quit is in my back pocket, because he's not attached to working with "Mom".  I can get all the way to "hey, either sign this or don't" and only feel a little bad about how losing the apartment is going to mess with his life.

That got him upset, although he really had no right; was he sure that every future Magda was going to look after him like Lindsey?  Quite honestly, I kind of think she should have put her foot down earlier, but then again, I'm not exactly the posted child for letting pay relationships go after visiting the Inn.

Still, I'm looking forward to really making a new start in New York next week.  It's crazy how much I miss J.T. already.


Monday, August 13, 2018

Cary: They Grow Up So Fast

You aren't necessarily tremendously comfortable showing your emotions when you're a man my age.  Is just not how you were brought up, and when you've spent most of your life working on conduction or on boats or just otherwise with other men raised the same way, you don't so much keep everything bottled up as you try not to do anything that throws you off the even keel, or at least that was my experience.  You might think that spending a year as a woman would disabuse me of that, but it sometimes pushed me the other way, like most emotions were fake things you did to fit in, with the only ones that were real the unease of sharing an apartment with the person who should be in your place or the fear that you would screw everything up.

I don't know that it hurt me any, in general, most of the time, but it left me utterly unprepared for the roller coaster that was Elaine getting on her bike as Mckenzie every night to ride to the Inn, staying up until three in the morning to get the test message that she was still eleven years old, and both feeling sad for her and grateful to have another day with her.  I think it was somewhat the same for her, because she would bike back to my apartment in the morning, get changed into one of the business's t-shirts we had made in her size, and set off with me for wherever the truck was to set up that day.

Folks would look at us and talk about how the little girl helping her dad was cute, and she'd smile in a way that was maybe a little knowing but maybe not, and she didn't roll her eyes the way either her 11-year-old classmates or a young woman amused by the irony would be.  She just said thank you, collected their money, and commented on how this racket was pretty good for the tip jar when everyone was gone.  Then she'd get out the laptop, search for places we'd been mentioned on social media, and drill me on liking, re-tweeting, updating the location, and how to update the truck's website like it was two years ago and she was going to make sure I didn't stumble in her high heels during a job interview.

It's been a weird couple years for both of us.  Her, mostly, over the past year, especially once school started.  She'd spent the previous year pretending she wasn't a kid, no matter how many times she fell asleep on the couch or got a look as she looked at the menu in a restaurant, but once the state said I was looking after her, and she had a schedule to keep, she fell into it.  Oh, teachers praised how incredibly organized she was for a fifth-grader, and what a quick reader she was, but at first they said she seemed antisocial.  Only to be expected, given that she was abandoned by her parents and forced to start over in a new town, but it was something they were watching.

Then she stopped just short of giving a bloody nose to some boy who didn't expect the quiet redhead to take such umbrage to him taunting the class's one black kid about him not being able to swim or some such.  She was horrified when she got home, because it didn't matter whether he was bigger or that he thought she was ten, she'd almost hit a kid.  But the next day, for all the kids who have "psycho girl" a hard time, there were a few who admired her, and soon they were sitting with her at lunch, asking to hang out after school (jealous that I almost always said yes and not knowing we had a code word for when she needed me to say no), wondering where she'd learned hip-hop dance and starting to do it together.  It was weird having ten- and eleven-year-olds as friends, she said, but she also kind of enjoyed knowing where she stood all the time.

And while you might think having a kid who is basically a small adult makes for easy parenting, you still have to change your life, and not just because social workers are looking over your shoulder every once in a while.  There's got to be food in the house, so the grocery store becomes a routine rather than a place you stop when something runs out.  When plans fall apart, you've got to be there to pick her up.  You've got to make a show of doing things she can do herself.  Heck, you don't just bring her the doctor and dentist, but you figure out how to have better insurance because she'll be in trouble if you get sick.  It sounds like a hassle, but it feels pretty good, believe it or not.

So when the phone's runtime jolted me awake at 2:48am, I felt an initial bit of sadness when I got the text saying "ME AGAIN! !!", but smiled when I saw the selfie of her with a big grin, her child's t-shirt held in front of her in a full-size version.  Then she said she was going to get some sleep and met me at the truck later.

She wasn't wearing the t-shirt when she did, but a nice blue sundress.  "Looks like Daryl left you something nice to wear."

"Oh, please!  I've been shopping.  You boys tried your hardest, but none of you really had my taste.  I mean, c'mon--" she lifted a foot clad in a sandal that had obviously fake stones on the leather strap that ran from her toes to her ankle.  "-- none of you ever went for anything this sparkly!"

I laughed.  "I guess we didn't.  Looks good on you, though."

"Thank you."  She did a little half bow and then saw my gaze lingering.  "You aren't gonna come on to me, are you?  Because aside from how it's going to take more than a few hours for me to not be grossed out by guys thinking of me as sexy, or how three of the four men living my life decided that they just HAD to take my vagina out for a spin - assuming you didn't do anything in a supply closet you didn't tell me about--"

"No!  I'm just looking at you all put together for the first time.  I've seen all this in the mirror and on Max, J.T., and Daryl, and I've gotten to know you pretty well, but this is just, you know, right."

She hugged me then, burying her face into my chest.  "You have no idea how good it is to hear you say that.  After a couple years, you wonder if you're just not that person any more, especially when you hear about all the others that don't go back the first chance they get..."  She wiped her nose and pulled back.  "You make a pretty good dad, you know."

"Nah, I just showed up when you needed someone to show up."

"Which puts you ahead of a lot of fathers.  As does telling a girl they can get through something when she really needs to hear that."

I shrugged.  "You got a dad for that."

"I do, and I think I'd really like to see him.  And Mom.  And even Whitney, though she's got a ton to answer for!"

We laughed, and I told her I would be quite happy with just being her friend from then on.  She said she'd like that, kissed me on the cheek, and then offered to get me dinner, but I told her to go see her family and friends and wouldn't take no for an answer.

* * *

Of course, that's not the end, as I got home this evening to find "Mackenzie Mahoney" sitting on the couch, feet up on the coffee table, asking what was for dinner.  I said I wasn't rightly sure, but some introductions were probably in order first.

She shrugged.  "Fine.  I'm Mackenzie.  I used to be Krystle Kamen, but the n---- in my life got knocked up and now he all about bein' a mom.  Ain't gonna live my life as him or any man - don't get me wrong, it's got its perks, but it ain't for me - so I figure this is the freshest start I can get.  We cool?"

"Sure, although your teachers won't be if you show up at school dropping the n-word and using that grammar.  Elaine--"

"Let's get one thing straight - just because we're both black females underneath this skin don't mean we're the same.  You and I, we're both starting over, and I don't care what kind of Mackenzie Elaine was - this is my life now."

You could tell this was going to be different already.  When I showed up in Elaine's life, she took charge, but it made sense.  When she showed up in mine, we knew we were going to be partners.  This seemed different, like Krystle wants my help but certainly doesn't want me to be her father.

"Look, we're going to have to work together on this, and part of that means you've got to trust me on some things.  You show up to middle school talking like that, they're going to wonder what happened over the summer.  Maybe the state figures I was the problem and places you with someone who won't believe who you are and take it into consideration.  Do you want that?"

She stared at me for a second, sizing me up.  "You a bit more ready for me than I thought from how nice Elaine said you were, ain't ya?  Fine, I'll talk like a little white girl, at least around other people.  How's this?  'Can we have pasketti for supper, daddy, pweeeeeease?'"

I can't say I'm sure I agree with being ready for her - it's really just starting to hit me now that this thing I signed up for to help Elaine for a year potentially has another seven until "Mackenzie" graduates high school.  I'll be collecting Social Security by then, and who knows what else could change?

I don't mind helping - Krystle has kind of gotten a raw deal herself, after all - but I'm not sure what a gal like that trying to be pre-teen is going to be like as a roommate compared to Elaine just hiding out.


Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Jordan/Yuan-wei: California, Here I Come!

I haven't exactly been afraid of not being able to find a job in America that would sponsor my visa - if I had to go to Hong Kong full-time, that would be another big change and challenge, and it would be weird to be so isolated from everyone I know, but I've kind of managed everything the lady few years have thrown at me, y'know?  It wouldn't be like suddenly waking up as a chick and having my roommate try and fucking kidnap me.  It's a big enough city that I wouldn't have to worry about running into Chen-ai too often.

And I may still wind up there.  The visual effects company that hired me will probably open an office in China a few years down the road, because having people in a lot of different time zones means that when you've got absurd deadlines to meet - and you're going to have absurd deadlines to meet - the team in Burbank can hand something off to the team in Montreal who can hand it off to the one in Paris to the one in India to the one in New Zealand and back to Burbank, working round the clock without anyone getting paid overtime.  You're apparently eligible for a shit-ton of tax breaks, too, based on all the post-production incentives that get a logo at the end of a big movie's closing credits.  But, anyway, they said in the interview that if they do expand, there might be a promotion to look forward to for someone stepped in the company culture who can also speak the local languages.

Sounds good, but I'll kind of believe it when I see it.  I've graduated from college and seen promises of advancement turn out to be bullshit to the point where you're trying to do the work of three people from your apartment, so I'm not crazy optimistic about just being a couple years away from being a supervising animator with her own office in a brand new facility.  But I guess I can afford to be optimistic this time around, right?  There's a trust fund that'll fully vest in a few more years, and Chen-ai can't completely cut me off if I quit or get laid off for some reason so long as I don't become some scandal-ridden L.A. party girl.

Which, I've got to admit, is tempting as fuck.  As soon as I got the call that I had a job as soon as the paperwork went through, I started going through my closet, and putting sweaters in boxes, looking at gossip websites, and trying on every outfit in my closet because, man, what gets a college student labeled slutty in Massachusetts is barely cool in Los Angeles.  I kind of regretted not really being cool with being sexy as Deirdre, because New York is a lot closer to L.A. in that regard than Boston, but I was a kind of bitter outsider to that when I was a fat nerd.  But as a hot chick whose family has the sort of money that can get you into movie-star parties?  Man, I kind of want to see how far into that I can get without self-destructing.

And, yes, I did have a bit of a freak-out about weight when I started thinking I needed more bikinis, because it must be kind of tacky to repeat them too often.  I sometimes don't think I get nearly enough credit for keeping the weight off, but the standards for that are different there too, and I kind of still fucking love pizza.

I've also got things other than my weight to freak out about, since it's not like there's a shortage of CGI artists out there that make hiring a foreign worker necessary, and I might not have gotten the interview if it weren't for one Parker Costello, who's been out there since visiting the Inn about twenty years ago.  She also started out as a guy, and she's been working behind the scenes in show business for a while, mostly for this company that makes VOD crap that you might confuse with real movies (they put out something called "Infinite Revengers" this year).  Not as great a business model as it was when people bought DVDs, she says, but if you make 'em cheap enough, you can still make it work.  I guess she was one of the first people in the network Ashlyn has kind of been building for Inn people trying to get a leg up, so she was able to put a good word in for me with the effects company that does those things.

Which, obviously, is not where I want to end up, but it's a start, and a reason to go out there and house-hunt in a few days!


Monday, August 06, 2018

Harmon Keller/Alicia Polawski: Who Does He Think She Is?

As some readers may have gathered from Lindsey's rather one-sided account, I have not returned to the Trading Post Inn.  Though I have no intention of being Alicia for the rest of my life, it would be foolhardy to overlook the short-term benefits of remaining as her for roughly another year.  Shorn of other context, it is far from an unreasonable decision to choose to remain a young woman in good health whose job affords her the chance to travel rather than a person who, while still mentally vital and in fine shape for his age, has recently seen his reputation damaged and who will almost certainly be pushed into retirement.  The choice may not necessarily be obvious, but looking past sentimental concerns, it is certainly reasonable.

Though I will miss Lindsey - she was pleasant, attractive company in our original lives, and her at-times annoying behavior as Magda far more often came from a desire to help than one to belittle - I cannot deny that it was a welcome change to return "home" after a flight and have the apartment to myself.  Luxury, to change out of my work clothes into whatever felt right, whether shapeless sweatpants or counter the insufficient air conditioning with something scant (probably used as "party wear" by the original Alicia) without a lot of questions, or attached significance.  Simply taking a bath was much less stressful - I could spend my time with a book without a knock on the door aking if I was "getting to know myself".

It has also been pleasant to venture out into San Francisco and the Bay Area the same way I do other cities at the other end of a flight, rather than making every excursion some sort of peculiar date disguised as a mother-daughter outing.  As much as I still feel a bit strange putting on feminine attire and cosmetics in the morning, I have come to find it useful, ironically both as camouflage and as a way to gain advantageous attention.  This body, I have found, can be a resource, although I have not, as yet, fully ascertained that resource's value.  Having a man pay for drink or two is obviously far too little return for engaging in sexual intercourse (perish the thought!), but maybe not for a few minutes' conversation, though some do get rather insistent.  A short but tasteful skirt can lead to interesting conversations in a museum while an button or two undone can improve hasten service in a restaurant or café, although, given the area, it is not necessarily male attention that it brings me.

It hand been the waitress who checked on me at least twice as often as the other patrons at my lunch, for example, the day I returned to the apartment and was shocked to hear some sort of "hip-hop" coming from Lindsey's bedroom, more so when I saw her standing there in her bra and panties, hair back in a ponytail, clothes lying on every surface of the room, applying lipstick.  For a moment, I was confused, but then it sunk in that this was not Lindsey, but the new Magda.  I coughed politely.

She turned around, a bit startled, but then smiled.  "You must be Harmon!  Or Alicia.  What do you want me to call you?  I'm Daryl, by the way, although I guess you might as well get used to calling me Magda, or Mom."  She chuckled, sticking out her hand.  "'Mom'!  Can you believe that?"


"Yeah, I know - it's been a weird couple months, but I guess I've got to start acting like this is normal, even though everyone else is going to think it's weird for other reasons."  Without me asking, she stayed telling me about how she'd been a man, met a girl, followed her to Maine and wound up becoming her, confronted the man who had been the girlfriend, fallen into bed with him, and decided to try and make it work but rather than staying as she was gambled in the Inn making her into another woman.  It was exhausting to hear about even without considering how foolhardy leaving that all to chance seemed to be.

"Anyway, I had a quick stop in New York on the way home, and J.T. doesn't just know Elaine's body, so that's good, if you know what I mean.  But now I've gotta sort through and figure out all this.  I don't want to look Magda's age, but some of the stuff I tried on is just too sexy, like she was trying to keep up with her daughter or something.  And then this--" She indicated the lipstick. "--just seems too red, but I kind of never paid much attention to what would make a middle-aged white woman look good, you know?"

She stopped talking but was still looking at me, up and down, in a way that Lindsey had not during the past year.  I tugged at my shirt, which had conformed to my figure a bit die to the heat.   It was a bit silly, since she was the one practically naked.  "You do remember that you are biologically my mother, don't you?"

"What?  No, I'm not thinking that, just that if you had gone to the Inn with Lindsey, it's 50/50 is look like that, which might make things easier."

"Trust me,"  I said, "a person with something to offer has no trouble keeping even a younger partner should he so desire.  You'll be fine."  Then I left for my room to change out of my work clothes.

It was a bit disconcerting for the first few days - "Daryl Magda" spent more time on her computer than Lindsey, which was fine, because it mostly meant she left me alone and I didn't have to spend much time thinking about how she wasn't Lindsey.  Even after a year in this situation, the sudden, though not immediately apparent,  change can be disconcerting.  She doesn't play at being maternal, but I didn't mind that so much initially.

At least, not until last night, when I got in at ten and saw her on the couch, dining a beer and immediately pushing Pause when I entered.  "Hey, we've got to talk."

I asked if it could wait, as I had an early flight.  She said it probably shouldn't.

"My transfer went through; I'll be working at JFK by the end of the month."

I nodded, belatedly realizing something like this was inevitable, and kind of relieved, momentarily.

"So, I talked to the landlord to see about transferring the lease to you, since it was up for renewal anyway, and, well..."  She handed me the document.

I felt a small heart attack.  "That's twice what we've been paying!"

She shrugged.  "Oakland is gentrifying like crazy, and that means the rent goes up.  I think the landlord is just waiting for people to move out, so that they can jack the price up on new leases--"

"I understand the economics very well, thank you!  I wrote a book on them twenty years ago!  But I can't possibly afford this!  And you know that!"

She looked shocked at how upset I was.  "I figured it might be difficult, but maybe with a roommate or--"

She pretended to have no idea how little flight attendants make.  "Ah, here it comes - if we go to the Inn and trade places, you won't have to transfer the lease, it stays affordable for me, and your boyfriend doesn't have to screw someone his mother's age.  Is that the threat?"

"There's no threat, I'm just saying that I've got no reason to stay here, and as you're so fond of telling me and Lindsey, I'm not really your mother, so, like, I'm not really obligated to, you know...  Unless you'd rather..."

"For this place?  I would not!  I may not want these assets, but they're worth more than this!"

"Fine.  In that case, the lease runs through the end of September.  'Magda' will pay the last month, but after that, you're on your own."

With that she resumed watching whatever was playing, leaving me to retreat to my room like a child, knowing no argument about playing our parts would sway her.

Perhaps they shouldn't; but if she truly intends to remain Magda Polawski long-term, she should know that the identity comes with a daughter, and putting me in this situation will do her reputation no good.

-Harmon Keller/Alicia Polawski

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Tyler: Tears of Joy

I've been up night after night waiting for the result. Somehow it wouldn't feel real to me until it happened. Any number of things can go wrong, you know, and I was just waiting for the old Tyler Blake Luck to rear its ugly head.

Last night around 3 AM it happened.

I got the text.

"It's done.

"OMG crying.

"Tears of joy."

I really was going to become Cynthia. I didn't see any other option. I couldn't keep bouncing around year after year. It was a good enough offer... a great offer. Settle down, be part of a family, do some good in this world and enjoy a certain amount of freedom to be... well, somebody, I guess. Not me, though.

I couldn't do it. I couldn't slip into someone else's life. Not that one. So I turned to the only other person I knew who was as broken as me.

Every conversation I'd had with Valerie had gotten more and more grim as time went on. I would talk to her about handing her life back to her and her eyes would dim, she'd look away. We both knew the truth but I didn't want to say it because you're supposed to want your life back, and if you're someone like me, you're supposed to want out of a life you've been stuck with, if it leaves you looking and living like this. Valerie Stewart's life is a good one. She's young, she's healthy, she's pretty, she has the whole world at her feet.

"But I've gotta be honest with you Tyler," she sighed, seemingly on the brink of tears, "I don't recognize the person in front of me. And I think if I went back, I would just walk right into the ocean."

And we weren't talking about any pounds and inches I had gained, or the way I was wearing my hair that day or the clothes I'd picked out for myself. Valerie's life, ever since she was a teenager, had been geared around two two objectives: work with kids, and marry Josh and have kids of her own with him.

One of these things was still technically possible, sure, but I think she had become really disheartened by the way getting a year stolen from you by the Inn put her off her path. She was heartbroken, a wound that would probably never heal, stemming from a breakup she'll probably never really get closure on because she didn't get to have it happen to her face (closure, I've always maintained, is not much of a thing.) If there was ever a lost soul in need of a fresh start, it was her, not me.

It would never have occurred to Cynthia to hand her life over to Val, of course... she had been reading my words, knew my experiences, knew I was in need. Val kept everything private. She didn't even really tell me until the last minutes. Objectively, Val is more equipped to raise kids than I am since she went to school for it. Not that that makes you a "mom" but she also had the desire to be one. I was only ever one out of necessity. Maybe I will be again someday.

It would be foolish to think that becoming Cynthia can help her outrun her heartache. I can tell you from experience that that shit sticks with you for many lives, when someone is missing from your life that you think should be there. But being in a new life, having people look at you a different way, being pointed in a new direction... that helps.

It's not totally selfless, but it's not selfish either. I never coveted Valerie's life, I just think I've done okay with it despite a few fuck-ups. I'd like a chance to spend more than a year as someone, and Valerie's life appeals to me more than Cynthia's. I'm not doing it because I've met someone I love (although sometimes I think I have, it's really not going to happen, I've got to accept.) I'm not doing it because I've got a fabulous career ahead of me. I'm doing it because Valerie's life is something I can probably mold into what I want it to be, in away I could never do with Cynthia. And Val sees that for herself in Cynthia's.

I don't know which of us had the idea first, but it sort of occurred to us in a single look, as she was going over all the great things about Cynthia's life as she saw it - trying to sell me on it when I was having doubts. The way she talked about how good it could be made us both realize what a mismatch it was that I was getting this this opportunity, and she was getting... well, kind of screwed.

Maybe she'll love again. Stranger things have happened, as she's a stepmom and wife on paper but a free woman in practice. The real Cynthia - or whatever her name is - seems reasonable and accommodating. Maybe she'll make a great husband. Or at least a good business partner.

As for me... I'm alone in bed. Lying in my shorts and a very tight tee that Val must have gotten on a trip, or had brought back to her by someone in her family. I haven't asked, there's probably no point. I'm lying here in the small hours of the morning looking at this text, feeling the reflected happiness at this woman for what we've done, and can't help feeling I did the right thing.

Now I've got this to work with. For the first time in a long, long time... it's all up to me, for real. It's scary and exciting. I'm on the verge of my own tears of joy, even though it was more or less official once Val agreed to my proposal. It's real, I'm this... let me try to be happy about it.

And let's see how long it takes me to fuck this up.

- The new Official Valerie Stewart, aka Tyler Blake (deep down, that name will never die.)