I was in no mood to go to monthly brunch with the Carey Babes and "Mom" this morning, but it was made very clear after the last time I missed it -- shortly after my transformation when I was still hanging around in Maine getting my bearings -- that it was completely unacceptable. I went to last month's, the week after Father's Day, so you would think my onetime absence would be forgiven. I "had" COVID for crying out loud!
I'll admit, I've never had siblings before but they can be real pests, texting me all week to make sure I would show my face. That's annoying, but I guess it's also kind of sweet to have people who absolutely need my presence for some reason. I try to see the bright side even as it chafes against my usual nature. Without things like that I would be hunkered down in my apartment waiting to be able to go home.
They're good people. Emma is extremely bubbly and a ball of energy, very sarcastic but also kind of spacey. She tells stories where she thinks she's seeing some big wrong and the adults in the room -- me and Chantelle's older sister Amanda -- slyly look at each other and think "Girl, what are you talking about?" Amanda, I relate to because she's older and settled. She pushes the brunches because they're her one time of the week away from motherhood and responsibility. I asked, "In a couple of years, do you think you'll be dragging Keisha to these things?"
"Oh honey, she'll never be ready," Amanda laughs, "Unless she wants to pay her own way in!"
The conversations goes way too fast for me to keep up as Emma and Amanda talk a mile a minute about every minute thing that happens to them, with Mama Carey sipping her mimosa and weighing in when she sees fit (which is often.) The only thing I had to bring to the table was my softball outing, which they actively yawned at even though I thought it was a pretty interesting topic.
"Girl, what about the guy you were seeing, that Damon?"
I was shocked. In all this time I've never even had it confirmed that Chantelle and Damon were a thing, but to have her just shamelessly talk about it with her sisters? These girls really do share everything.
But I'm kind of fuming about it, so I say I don't want to talk about it, or him, and just leave it alone.
Flash back to the night before...
Damon's wife was out of town on business so Laura proposed a clandestine meeting. Honestly I was feeling really abandoned by her. Not that it was her fault, since she's got a "wife" to think about and having too much contact with some random woman he knows, who may be under the microscope as a prospective mistress, is suspicious. She had to lay low. But that doesn't mean it can't hurt, when I'm sitting at home alone with no idea what to do with myself, stewing about the fact that this is not how I wanted this marriage to end, if at all.
So this outing was a little ray of hope. I did myself up real pretty, wore a good bra, a clingy low-cut dress, and hell, sexy underwear just in case. Do I think I'm ready for that? On the one hand, no, but on the other, if that's what it takes to show Laura I'm still in this, I will, because how bad can it be?
My body knows I'm nervous. My chest, neck and cheeks are awash with hives. Damnit, these things.
SHe arrives at 6. Damon's got a shiny black Benz and he's dressed in a sharp suit and I'm thinking, "Okay, okay, female hormones activate." It's weird, but I'm trying to follow my body's lead because I know deep down, under that bald-headed, needle-nosed man's body is my wife and it's probably best for my mental health in the long run if I lean into it rather than fight it, but I was definitely not prepared for some of the effect that seeing Laura like this would have on me.
I ask where we're going, and she says to trust her.
We start driving for a while and I'm not really paying attention but then I realize, we've left Albany. We have to truck all the way out to Schenectady -- a good half-hour out from Albany -- because Laura is worried about running into someone who knows Damon. I should understand but I honestly feel slighted and it gets the night off to a bad start. It's also a little weird for me to be the passenger between the two of us, but that was sort of the theme of the night.
I try to push my feelings down and engage him -- I've written about what things have been like for me, but I've heard little about her experience. She laments that being a man makes the world a little less colorful -- and I actually know what she's talking about because I feel like with Chantelle's eyes colors are a little clearer, so maybe that was true for Laura as well. She talks about it being kind of a trudge, muddling through office work during her days and trying to stay engaged at home at night.
She keeps the conversation focused on me. There's lots of eye-contact and intermittent hand-touching, which I try not to show much reaction to, good or bad, but every touch sets off a maelstrom of contradictory feelings in me: as Marc, the man who was nearly divorced from this person, and as the man-in-woman's-body out on a date with this person who appears male.
She notes when I just order some pasta, that things have changed from the days when I'd go right for the 12 oz steak. I kind of shrug at that. A few weeks in I've definitely learned my limits -- as tasty as a nice juicy steak sounds, half the thing would end up in a doggy bag and I just don't feel like it tonight.
We keep the conversation light. She muses that if I had to spend some time transformed into a woman, I sure picked an interesting one. That leads to some talk of politics, but then we pivot to what's different in a positive way for women day to day than in years past. Things that used to be compulsory for women -- pantyhose, make-up, jewelry -- are less strictly adhered in workplaces, making me less of an outlier if I want to do away with it. The last few years have seen a huge surge in woman-led businesses dealing in comfortable, non-underwire bras, comfortable shoes that are still in some way fashionable, and absorbent period-panties as an alternative for the traditional more invasive methods. So at least I'm getting the benefit of that -- or at least I could, if I wanted to drop hundreds of bucks on new Knix bras to replace the conventional underwires that Chantelle already owned. If this arrangement is not permanent I wonder if I should bother, or if I should treat myself.
I take the opportunity to ask Laura is period pain is supposed to be as bad as I've experienced. She kind of smirks, saying it's different for everyone and notes that nobody ever knows what's supposed to be normal.
She says somewhat affectionately yet also a little condescendingly, "Part of me suspects you're just being a baby about it but I think you deserve a little more credit than that so if you think it's especially bad, you should absolutely go to a doctor and get checked out. Not that Doctors' visits as a woman are a fun, stress-free experience..."
I mention that it's not always a picnic for men, and she snickers again. "All that and more," she says. I gulp. The idea of maybe seeking medical advice falls to the back of my mind. I'd rather not worry about it...
I try to lighten up the conversation. One thing we have to tapdance around is her life as Damon with Damon's wife. That is something I absolutely do not want to hear about and would have the potential to completely ruin my night if we had to talk about it at length. I want to pretend that I'm just having a night out with my spouse, and I make that clear. Instead we talked about more comfortable things, like getting the hang of urinal conduct.
When the check comes I start to dig into my purse but she insists she's got it, flashing me this wry grin. I have to admit, it made me feel kind of good, even if she had to pay in cash to prevent a paper trail. Part of me wants to be The Man and take care of these things, and part of me feels like I've earned my shot at this kind of treat and I should enjoy it.
We drive home and the conversation gets more comfortable as we fall into our old rhythm, which includes criticizing every single other driver on the road. We get back to my building and she unfastens her belt, "Let me walk you to the front door."
"How gentlemanly," I say with a bit of a blush.
We walk up the walkway from the visitor parking to my building's front door.
"I had a good time tonight," she says. "I've missed this."
"Me too," I admit.
"It felt strangely natural, didn't it? You and me... like this?"
"At times," I say, shifting on my heels a little. Is that a compliment to 'us,' or a way of saying I make a good woman?
She leans down for a kiss and I let her. It's good, no matter what body we're in. I've been starved for attention these past weeks, alone and desperate. I feel at times I would do anything to get us put back together, so the staticky parts of the night fade from my mind as I grab his bicep and try to appreciate how rough and firm it is (not that Damon is muscular, it's just... a man's arm.)
I can feel my heart fluttering a little bit as I get caught up in the moment and when our lips part I ask, "Do you... want to come up?"
Her eyes flash between the door and the ground. "Um, I probably shouldn't. I want to keep things as far above board as I can for now, you know, there's a woman out there who thinks she's my wife."
Logically, I understand it, but it leaves me very cold, and it stings like hell. I thought we were making progress, getting to a good spot despite our disconnect, but now it just feels like we're on hold. What am I supposed to make of any of this? I feel unimportant.
I know in the grand scheme of things there are bigger things than "my feelings" but that completely discounts what was going on between us before all this happened. Am I wrong to still want to be in my wife's life when things haven't ended with us?
Is this her way of ending things without having to do the hard part?
I flopped into bed and, I will admit, shed a few tears over it. I let them come, I don't care, I'll be a big enough man to cry. So I was not feeling great in the morning when it was time to head out for Brunch. I had like... a feelings hangover.
And finding out that Chantelle's sisters even knew that she was having some kind of fling with Damon -- what she said exactly I don't know for sure yet, but of course she's an open book to them -- really bit my ass. It feels unfair that the real Damon and Chantelle are off doing who knows what while Laura tries to be a better husband than he was, while her own husband suffers.