Like a Bomb Went Off

We’ve all had defining moments in life. Those moments when clarity rains down around you in a flash; “like a bomb went off”. Usually those moments don’t involve actual bombs…

I was unhappy with my old job at Evil Corporation for a long time. I don’t think I was every truly happy at working as an aerospace engineer, but the realization of my dissatisfaction was, for a long time – years, very unspecific. I had a creeping sense of boredom. I kept taking on new projects in the hope that something would capture my passion. I had to fight against somnolence towards my work; willing myself to accomplish tasks. I had a longing for something real and meaningful and after about 2006 a growing concern about the morality of what we, the defense-industrial, complex were doing. Despite my unhappiness, I hadn’t made any moves towards leaving; my fate had not yet been sealed.

Every Monday morning our group had a meeting to discuss the events of the previous week relevant to our work. You might think it odd, but even cutting edge intelligence can be come mundane after a couple of hundred meetings. It was hard to keep everyone at the meeting engaged week after week. Several years ago one of my colleagues showed us something that had never been presented before. Instead of PowerPoint charts he cued up a video. And there, from the comfort of a climate controlled conference room in Southern California, we watched in graphic detail as a group of people and some sort of terrorist target were blown to smithereens. The location of the target, how it was destroyed, who died, or whether or not they were truly “bad guys” isn’t what is important to this story. What is important is that as the bombs went off, the room erupted in claps, whoops, and cheers. Not everyone cheered; but most did. I know I stayed silent and sickened. Is this what all my and my colleagues lives had come to? To cheer as other human beings died? I liked to believe that I was doing what I did to make the world at least a slightly better place. It was crystal clear to me in that moment that we were doing nothing of the sort. Although I firmly believe that war should always be the last resort, I am not strictly a strident pacifist. I do think that sometimes the best place for certain people is six feet under. But to celebrate death? Never. To treat the lives of others as some sort of game that can be played from afar? Hell no. I do not want any part of that.

I went back to my little windowless office after the meeting and shut the door. I knew then that my career was over. It would take years more, and a lot more shit, before I stopped getting a paycheck from Evil Corporation. But that moment when the bombs went off, was went I went off too.

The Ghost of a Little Boy Past

It’s getting harder and harder to remember Victoria as William.  When I speak of her infancy and toddler hood now, I naturally use the name Victoria rather than the William we called her at the time.  Our walls are filling with pictures that give no clues as to her past.  A few “before” pictures remain but I have it on my to do list to take them down soon; not because Victoria is bothered by them but because they might provoke unwanted questions when people begin to come over that do not know of Victoria’s beginnings.  Overall, I am happy and content with this progression.  Looking at Victoria’s first day of kindergarten pictures from earlier this week I am filled with nothing but happiness; I see my smiling, eager daughter, not my transgender daughter, just simply my daughter.  Sometimes though, late at night, when the house is quiet and all the children are sleeping, I miss William.

I am not exactly sure what I miss.  Before she had any concept of gender; before she was about two and half years old the William/Victoria of the past was very much like the Victoria I see today, albeit a toddler with short hair.  William/Victoria has always been a daredevil, highly coordinated, snugly and physical, sensitive and sweet.  Indeed it was when her personality changed that we knew something was really wrong.  When William/Victoria was three she was as close to suicidal as a three year old could be without even knowing what that meant.   She told me many times that she didn’t want to wake up the morning, that she didn’t want to live anymore.  Eventually she stopped jumping and playing.  She was a traumatized, anxious, shell of a child.  Looking back with the perspective of a child who is now relatively happy, her behavior during that time is even more horrifying than it felt then.  I certainly don’t wish for those days.   So, again, what is it exactly that I miss about William?  Is it the concept of being the mother of two boys?  Is it because the name “William” was one that was special to me, a family name?  Perhaps it is the fact that back then my biggest worry for her then was that she might jump off of something too high and break a bone — as opposed to my biggest worry for her now:  that someone might harm her (or she, herself) for simply being who she is?  I don’t really know.

I do know people with children who are sick or have actually died.   I feel like a bit of an asshole for claiming some sort of loss with respect to William.  William isn’t really lost to me, but changed in form.  Yet I also know from experience that repressed feelings rarely just evaporate.  I haven’t really acknowledged these feelings, even to myself, for fear of appearing less than supportive of Victoria.  I truly am overjoyed that Victoria is happy. I don’t see being transgender as wrong, or abnormal, or a disability.  I am happy she is here as who she is.  And yet sometimes I dream of William and I miss him.  Can I grieve William and yet still rejoice in Victoria?

Miraculously Victoria seems quite well integrated with her past William self.  She happily looks at pictures of her when she was younger and sometimes when we refer to an event long past she will inquire “Is that when I was William?”  I often describe Victoria as fearless and in so many ways she is.  She skipped in to kindergarten this week like she owned the place and she flies through the air in gymnastics with unbridled glee.  But there is one thing she is afraid of; she has one boogeyman.  While she acknowledges her past as William, she is terrified of being called William or a boy now.  She’s afraid, always, that someone will not think she’s a girl.  In that way, my carefree William really is dead.  Victoria will never be carefree.  I know this because she tells me so, a dark cloud will pass over her face and she will look terrified, ready to run as she asks me in a new situation “Will they think I am a boy?”

William is gone. Perhaps he never really was. But his ghost haunts both of us.

August Reflections

One of the best gifts Husband ever gave me was a five year journal. I began writing in the plain black journal the first of January 2010 so it is nearing the end of its days. The most interesting aspect of the journal is how it clarifies my thoughts. Each day of the preceding five years is stacked on top of each other such that I can look back and in a quick scan see all of my thoughts for that particular day of the year for the past five years. I only write a few sentences each day but in those glimpses I can see patterns emerge; one of those patterns being that many of the August entires are blank. When I look back at my old blog and this one I see the same; I tend not to write in August. The reasons for my writer’s block are many: the August heat tends to sap me of my energy for much of anything, this time of year follows my birthday and I tend to turn inward full of existential thoughts, and this year I have realized something else. I don’t like to write about my life in the abstract. When I call my husband “Husband” my feelings for him seem distant and removed; my thoughts about him slip though my mind unable to be captured. Calling my beloved children Older, Middle, and Baby just doesn’t encourage my fingers to fly across the keyboard nor is it really accurate now that Baby wears underwear, rides roller coasters at amusement parks, and counts to twenty. Of course, I picked such boring pseudonyms for a reason. I don’t want my thoughts about Middle to be associated with her names (past or present); her privacy and safety are of the utmost importance.

But I long to give my family proper names and so I shall. These names bear no real resemblance to their actual names. They are just names I like and seem to fit their personalities. I asked Husband what he would like to be known as and he chose Matthew. Older shall be known as Max. I will call Middle Victoria. I will also refer to Middle’s former, “boy” name as William. And Baby shall be known Caroline. There: Emily, Matthew, Max, Victoria, and Caroline. Doesn’t that sound like a nice little family?

It Never Ends

I got some bad news today, potentially life-altering bad news, the details of which aren’t relevant for now, and it put me into a serious funk. And between being with one or more children from sunrise to bath time to a bedtime which seemed to stretch to geologic timescales I didn’t get an opportunity to exercise. I didn’t exercise yesterday either. One year ago I was only a semi-regular exerciser who wouldn’t have thought anything of skipping a work out two days a row. But in that time I have realized something very important about myself: exercise, specifically hard-sweat inducing-push myself to my limits exercise, is my anti-depressant. It works better for me than any therapy or any drug ever has. I need a good workout more than I need just about anything else save food. So today when crappy news rained down like shitty little turds around me I really just wanted to go for a run.

It took until 10:30 pm for all three children to finally fall asleep. Husband, probably tired of hearing me rant about my dark mood, suggested that I go for a run. I scoffed, “It’s too late, it wouldn’t be safe.” Husband goes on late night runs occasionally. A few weeks ago during an extremely rare late night rain shower he laced up his shoes and went on a four mile joyful run through the cool rain. Oh how I envied him and his freedom. He worried only about the danger from slipping on some wet leaves. He certainly didn’t look at each hedge as he passed, searching for hidden attackers waiting to leap out and accost him. I am sure he didn’t take note of every car, watching to see if it slowed down or circled back around for him. Husband thought it was perfectly safe to run in our neighborhood and told me as such. I wasn’t so sure. Running around at night, even in our relatively quiet residential neighborhood, goes against every fiber of my hyper vigilant female being. I do, however, tend towards the anxious and I wondered if I was being overly concerned. The night air beckoned me. It was gloriously cool outside. After a summer of running through the heat and humidity, the sun beaming down on me, the idea of a night run was irresistibly appealing. I decided I would run only up and down our street, making a tiny track, out of our short (only nine houses along the road) street. Ours and many of our neighbors front doors were also open and I half jokingly told Husband to listen for any screams.

I stepped out cautiously, with my music turned down in my ears so that I could hear any footfalls behind me. I tucked my phone away so that I wouldn’t be distracted by it and could keep an eye on my surroundings. After a quarter mile or so I relaxed into a nice rhythm and decided to be slightly more bold and run on a short section (less than half a mile) of the street just perpendicular to ours. I ran a couple of miles in loops this way. I felt my stress slip away from me for the first time all day. My eyes had adjusted to the night and I found myself no more unsure of my footing than during the day. I picked up speed. I ran up the hill and down, gleeful for the tiny bit of freedom from my life. Suddenly a young man on a bike turned onto the street and approached me. As he rode by me, he slowed and let out a long whistle. There was no mistaking that it was meant for me. And just like that my sense of freedom evaporated. I turned and watched him ride away up the hill; watching until I could see him no more. I was in full red alert mode, wondering if he was going to circle back around and sneak up on me from behind. I turned down my music to barely a whisper in my ears. I turned back onto our short street where I surmised, no longer joking in the least, that my husband or neighbors would be able to hear me if I screamed. I ran another mile or so, but it was a haunted mile. I just kept thinking, “It never ends”. “It” being the constant harassment of being a woman. From pregnancy discrimination, to a man making nasty noises in response to seeing me breastfeed, to jokes about women’s looks, to being hit on every god damned time I go to the grocery store alone after dark, to being whistled at while I ran down the street, it just never ends. I am so sick and tired of it. I could hashtag #yesallwomen, but what good will that really do? I just want to be able to live my life, to go out in the world and not worry about what a man might be thinking about me. I wish there was something I could do to make the world a safe, fair, free place for myself and all women. But as long as I, a relatively privileged woman in the United States, is scared, legitimately so it seems, to take a run down my own street I can’t see how to even begin to fix this problem. I don’t want to be imprisoned by the actions of a few men but I don’t want to risk myself either . All I know is that this is one problem I can’t run away from.


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