Now that I have a couple of free minutes though I just want to let you know how I am... tired! Holy smokes y'all, I have had to work extra-hard to pay the rent on my new place, and it ain't even that great. I really appreciate what Ryan was doing for me with the last place even if the environment wasn't so healthy, and, well, all that other shit that went down between us. But I'll always know that the motivation for the breaks he was giving me was, well, what it was, no matter how much he denies it.
November was already busy enough. I moved in with Maddie and her sister Charlie, who I hadn't met or seen prior to moving day. She showed up with just a duffel bag, which made me already like her since she reminds me of me - someone who travels around without much of an agenda and is happy to float through life, and I mean that as a compliment. America's a great country to just drift through, and honestly I wish I was brave enough to get out on the road as a woman the way I was as a man.
Seeing them together, they're definitely two sides of the same coin... the disorganized, chaotic, sarcastic Charlie and the tidy, friendly Maddie. They bicker, but in real sisterly way where they have each other's back if someone else were to step on their toes. And then there's their appearances... they have the same genetic code, the same face, the same body essentially, but they do very different things with it - Maddie with her long ombre hair and makeup, Charlie with her short, boyish shag, piercings and tattoos. One favors dresses and tights, one wears jeans and men's tees with comic book characters on them.
Given all that... I mean, I'm not a total hayseed, I've been around. Based on everything about her, I wasn't all that surprised when my guess was confirmed abd found out Charli is a lesbian. It did make me feel oddly self-conscious about being around her - like, what does she think of me? Just some "straight girl"? I don't style myself as someone who was born a man and spent many years happily dating women... I can't even "come out" to her about that because it's not really part of my backstory as Valerie. Maybe I just want credibility for not being as "vanilla" as I seem, for all the things I've seen, and done... and been.
But there hasn't been a ton of time to dwell on that anyway. It's not like I've been home a lot.
Between 8 hour days at the coffee shop and sometimes 6-hour events with the caterer, I was on my feet for almost the whole month of December, and when I did get a day off the last thing I wanted to do was shop for Christmas presents. Having time to sit and think about the season just made me feel alone and awful because, well... look at where life has taken me. I never, ever felt bad about leaving my "real" family behind (except for Carrie, who I'm so lucky knows where and who I am, but it's not like we visit much, and we go weeks without texting) but the season really underscored some of the negative feels that go along with my situation.
I mean, I have Valerie's family, and they're nice "normal" Upstate New York people. They want me to know they love me and care about me and wish I would come "home" for Christmas, but I really wasn't feeling like intruding. When I started getting Christmas letters - forwarded from my old address because of course I forgot to let Valerie's mom know I moved - I began to feel guilty that I had taken this girl's place and was taking all the love and togetherness she was supposed to be having and flushing it away.
Of course, it's not really like that. I didn't take Valerie's life. I was perfectly willing to give it back, but she felt that Cynthia's suited her better. But I'll always feel like part of that was charity. I look at all the potential she had in her original life, which I'm doing jack-all with, and think, is there anything she could possibly be getting as Cynthia that was worth this arrangement?
That was the theme of a long, drunken, sobbing voicemail that I left her a few weeks before Christmas - I was at the end of my rope, wondering what the fuck is even going on in my life, and thinking about how it's not too late for us to switch back next year if she wants.
When she responded, she was, um... very understanding. She's had some thoughts of her own but somehow feels free of regrets. On the family question, her thinking is, yes, she misses them, and she tries not to feel bad that she will never see them again as herself, but she tries to look at it as if she decided to move to another country for work or something. As long as she can keep in touch with me, she'll never lose them.
From there, we organized a few meet-ups where she helped me do my Christmas shopping and prep me for the holidays. Last Christmas I was freshly jilted at the altar, so any weirdness in my behavior could be explained away. Now, I'm just... me. Me being Valerie. So I'm pretty well expected to give gifts and join in some holiday fun, and hey I've faked it before, as Lauren and Judith. I can do it, I just haven't been in a position where I'm setting up relationships with these people for the rest of my life. I wanted some guidance from her as to how to behave, and yet I know that part of me being Valerie permanently is, however I am, that's how "Val" is now, and everyone around me just has to get used to it. Still, knowing all the backstories helps: which topics to avoid, which relatives have drama with others, and of course being warned about the 15-year-old second-cousin who hasn't gotten the memo that you're not supposed to look at your relatives that way.
"Cyn" is doing well, amazed at how her new life seems to fit her like a glove. Loves being around the kids, has freedom to do as she pleases... and even her "Man" and her have gotten pretty close.
"I mean, we haven't decided what the future holds just yet," she said, delicately choosing her words, "...But we discovered fairly quickly that we each seemed to be what the other was looking for. He's supportive and considerate and funny, and I've always seen myself as an "old soul" so the age difference - whatever it actually is - doesn't bug me. Plus, he's hot! A silver fox!" A man with the heart of a woman... isn't that what every gal wants?
She looked down at her ring - technically just a prop but obviously meaningful to her - "We've toyed with the idea of going all the way and having a kid of our own... is that weird?"
I said, in our world, nothing's weird anymore.
I did pretty well at the family visit, nodded along with the old memories, tried to come up with good excuses why I haven't been around much this year, and made promises (probably idle ones) to be more available in 2019. I tried my best to accept that this love was not for me, but that didn't mean it wasn't nice to receive. And to marvel a bit at the fact that I'm now the kind of person who appreciates a nice makeup kit as a Christmas Gift. (I don't wear a lot of makeup but I do enjoy mascara and eyeliner.)
There was one gift that really gave me pause, and it came from Valerie/Cynthia herself. At the end of our shopping and gabbing, she produced a small white envelope. I was a little dismayed because I hadn't thought to get her anything. She said not to worry about it, and asked me to open it in front of her.
Inside was a check.
I'm not going to tell you how much, but it was sizeable.
I raised an uncomfortable eyebrow. "Um... is this, like, payment for Cynthia's life? Because I really can't accept anything like that..."
"No, it's... well, it's a gift that I'd always wanted. Something I was never able to give myself. After Josh and I were, uh... settled, we had talked about getting me some... surgery."
She pointed at my chest and cleared her throat.
"It was just always in the back of my mind, but there was so much to consider, never a good time, and better uses for the money. And it would have had to be after we started our family. Well, now I have the money, and the family, but not the need, so I thought... this would be a good way to use my good fortune. Take the money. Don't use it for that if you don't want to, but know that it's on the table. The money is yours."
I was dumbstruck. I could hardly bring myself to accept it, but Cyn wouldn't take no for an answer. I'll admit the idea had occurred to me in moments of frustration, that it would be nice to reduce my size a little. Decrease my pains, maybe work out more as a result. Stop dipping my tits in every condiment on a table. I'd have to put myself through the stress of buying a new wardrobe. I don't know. It was a fantasy, and one I didn't indulge in much because I was only borrowing this body and now that I have the opportunity it feels wrong to do anything to reshape this body, even though it's mine. But I have the money and the suggestion that, if I don't want that, I can do as I please... just be aware this is a one time offer.(Believe me I would never dream of asking Val/Cyn for a handout. Not my style.)
Lots to think a out heading into this new year, that's for sure.