Release, Vol. I

Thursday, December 15, 2011


"Are you sure you want me to do this?"

We were standing in the corridor that ran behind the hospital cafeteria where both K and I worked. It was Easter Sunday, barely a week before my 19th birthday.

Staring at the floor, I looked up after a few moments and nodded once.

"Thank you for doing this, K. I owe you."

A pained expression crossed her face.

"You're welcome. And no, you don't owe me anything." She paused. "I'll let you know what she says."

"OK. Thanks again, K."

She opened the door and walked back into the cafeteria.

I took a deep breath and shrugged my shoulders, trying in vain to loosen the knots that had taken up residency there. Bending forward, I strained until I was touching my toes. I resolved to hold the stretch until I reached a count of sixty this time, nausea be damned.

You can take it, I thought. It won't kill you. There are people deal with *real* problems, and they don't feel sorry for themselves. So suck it up and deal with it. You survived this before. You can do it again.



***

The door opened, and my friend B stuck his head in.

I straightened up, a touch dizzy from the blood rushing to my head. My public mask slipped into place seamlessly.

"Hey, B. How many surrealists does it take to change a light bulb?"

"No idea."

"A fish."

He laughed.

"You have the weirdest f***-ing sense of humor, you know that? I was wondering if you were hiding back here, but I can see now that you were just honing your monologue."

"My public demands fresh material at all times. It's a curse, really."

"Well, J has arranged an audience of 300 or so pots and pans over by the sink; you can use them as guinea pigs before you share it with the rest of us."

"Thanks, B. Be right out."

He exited. I shook my head to clear any remaining cobwebs. A moment later, I opened the door and stepped back into the kitchen.

***

One week earlier. I sat on my bed, staring at the phone and trying to will myself into action. The definition of insanity is repeating the same action over and over and expecting a different result. Accordingly, I'd decided it was time to try something different.

My track record in romance was perfect - I'd been turned down by every single girl I'd ever asked out. (The sole exception was my prom, but only if your definition of a successful date encompasses you and your date getting your picture taken before she ditches you to score mescaline and weed, never to return.)

I probably should have considered giving up at least temporarily after that fiasco, but I was fighting conflicting impulses.

On one hand, I was desperate - and that isn't too strong a word - to be in a relationship. I couldn't - wouldn't - admit it to myself, but it was an attempt to refute what I already knew was true: I was a girl. The events of the previous Halloween had confirmed it, even though I was in deep denial. If I could just convince someone to love me, then those feelings would go away, and I could be like everyone else.

On the other hand, I also had a perfectly understandable aversion to what I'd come to view as the emotional equivalent of repeatedly bashing my head against a wall. As the old joke goes, you do it because it feels so good when you stop.

Except I'd realized it didn't feel better at all, because then I was forced to think about the unthinkable. And that had to be avoided at all costs. So the internal battle raged on, with my desire to not be alone winning out, the toll on my self-esteem be damned.

The pattern was always the same. I'd realize I was attracted to someone, and would berate myself for, yet again, not being strong enough to be alone. I would spend weeks trying to work up the nerve to ask her out, mentally comparing our respective schedules to find the opportune time. There was a lot to consider.

The key was finding a time when we would be alone, but also on a day when our schedules meant we wouldn't see each other for several days afterward. That covered my bases regardless of which of the two pre-ordained outcomes came to pass.

If she said no immediately (usually after being taken completely by surprise; I clearly kept my emotional cards pretty close to the vest, in retrospect), then there was a grace period of sorts, after which we could simply pretend it never happened.

If, however, she said yes, I'd learned that it was to avoid saying no immediately. While I wasn't someone they necessarily wanted to date, I think it came across to them on some level that I wasn't a jerk, and that simply asking someone out took a lot out of me. And they found it hard to tell me no in person. (Even the girls who turned me down immediately were almost unfailingly kind when they did so.)

So they would say yes, and then a day or two later I would get the phone call saying they just got back with their old  boyfriend/just broke up with their boyfriend/had a big test coming up, and so on. Since I was still living at home with my parents and siblings, I made an effort to avoid letting them know what these calls were about. I quickly learned to my answers short and my tone conversational; all the better to preserve the fiction to everyone, including myself, that everything was fine.

If I'd planned well, I had midterms, finals, or some other time-consuming ritual to keep me busy in the aftermath. It was around this time that I became serious about exercising and cartooning, to the point of obsession at times. (I've suffered multiple stress fractures in my feet, in part as a result of over-exercise.) Beyond keeping me occupied, both provided an outlet that made me feel better physically and emotionally, even if I didn't realize it at the time.

In any event, after years of repeating the same old pattern of rejection, I decided to change things up. In spite of my shyness, I had always forced myself to ask girls out face-to-face. It was terrifying - not a word I use lightly - but I preferred being able to gauge their expression at the moment of truth. But now, I'd decided, something had to change.

***

A was the latest object of my affection. We'd worked together for nearly a year by this point. However, she hadn't really appeared on my radar screen until the evening I picked up my younger brother at a basketball game. I kid him now that he hoarded all of the charisma to himself when we were kids (in reply, he ruefully rubs his now-bald pate and asks if I'd consider loaning some of the crazy curls I've somehow retained), but he really did have an effortless way with girls that baffled me.

He was chatting with a cute girl when I pulled up, and he looked surprised when I joked that I would tell his girlfriend he was stepping out on her.

"It's A," he said. "Did you really not recognize her?"

I hadn't, which wasn't all that surprising, since I typically saw her at 6:00 AM when our shift started in the kitchen.

"Wow. No kidding," I told him.

"Yeah. She cleans up well, huh?" he replied. "Which is more than some of us can say."

"Well, not all of us relax by putting on a starched shirt and cufflinks after school, you know."

"What can I say? One of us has to have standards. Although you rock the hairnet/five o'clock shadow/spaghetti-stained pants look."

"Thank you. I'm sure GQ will be calling."

"Only if you haven't paid for your subscription yet."

"You know, A isn't seeing anyone right now."

"So?"

"So I’m just saying. You spend way too much time by yourself in your room."

"No, I don't."

"Uh-huh. Which is why you’re always available to pick me up every Friday and Saturday night."

I had nothing to say to that. It had been nearly a year since the prom; maybe it was time to try again. How bad could it be?

***

As it turned out, the phone call went surprisingly well once I worked up the courage to dial her number. As was the norm, she was clearly surprised when I asked if she'd like to go out sometime.

"Really?"

"Uh-huh. I'm harmless. And I know all sorts of terrible jokes in case we run out of things to talk about. Why, one just popped into my head right now about a priest, a rabbi, and a kosher chicken in a lifeboat - "

She laughed uncertainly.

"Uh… your brother told me you have a really weird sense of humor."

She paused, considering.

"Um…"

I realized I was holding my breath. I held the phone away so she didn't hear me exhale.

"…Sure. Why not?"

"No problem, I understa - wait. Really?"

Another small laugh.

"Yes, really. I mean, it's no big deal, is it? It's just one date, right?"

I couldn't tell if she was charmed, appalled, stunned, or something else. Maybe using the phone wasn't such a bright idea after all, I mused. But while her reply wouldn't merit inclusion in the annals of ringing endorsements, I'd take what I could get at this point.

"Okay. Well, uh, why don't I give you a lift home after work next Saturday so I know where to pick you up? I was thinking then we could go out the following Friday?"

"Yeah… okay."

"Okay. Cool. I'll see you next Saturday."

***

I knew immediately that something had changed the following Saturday morning. By coincidence, A's father was dropping her off as I arrived. She picked up her pace as I called out.

"Hey."

She half-turned, avoiding eye contact.

"Hey," she said in a small voice.

My stomach began to clench - an all-too-familiar sensation. I held the door open for her.

"I brought my car today."

"Uh-huh."

"Yeah… so I can give you a lift home today. Remember?"

Silence. Still no eye contact.

"Okay. So… I'll catch up with you later before we go."

She nodded resignedly and headed off to the women's locker room.

"Fighting off the ladies again, I see?"

It was B.

"You know it, my friend. It's why I refuse to wash my uniform from one week to the next. Who knows what sort of carnal mayhem would ensue if my pants weren't capable of standing on their own?"

He nodded gravely.

"It would look bad to have the entire female population of the hospital spontaneously strip, wouldn't it?"

"It would. But such are the sacrifices a sex god must make."

"Right… wait - we're talking about me right now, aren't we?"

"Damned if I know, B. It's 6:00 AM, for Chrissakes."

"A true sex god is ready at all times to fulfill his subject's desires. That's why I subcontract early mornings. Even we need our sleep."

"Now there's foresight. B, I am impressed."

He clapped a hand on my shoulder.

"Watch and learn, my friend. Watch and learn."

Our boss, J, walked up.

"I hate to interrupt, B, but one of your acolytes was so overwhelmed by your presence that they just vomited in the cafeteria."

"Just like most of my dates," B said as J chuckled. I headed towards the washroom, but B stopped me.

"I got it." He turned back to J.

"You know, I'm not just a sex god, J. For instance, if you'd just order one serving of fish, I could make it multiply and save you a bundle on your cafeteria budget…"

J shook his head as they walked away. I glanced at the clock. Eight hours to go….

***

A stood by the door. She had avoided eye contact with me the entire day.

The knot that had been in my stomach tightened even further.

"All set?" I asked her with a forced, hollow cheeriness.

She didn't respond.

B bounded up as we headed for the door.

"Starting a livery service in your spare time? The exciting world of food prep not providing enough thrills?"

"Just giving A a lift home."

His eyes flicked quickly between us.

"Sweet. Hey, C is having a get-together to watch the game tonight if you're interested."

He glanced at A.

"You can come too, A. If you want."

She nodded.

He looked back at me.

"Try to make it, okay? It'll be fun."

"Sure."

We headed for my car. B watched us without expression.

I held the door open for A, who sat down wordlessly. I walked around to my side. The door was still locked. A was huddled against the door, her entire body twisted away from the driver's side. She looked ready to crawl through the window at any moment.

I unlocked the door, put on my seatbelt, and turned on the radio.

"My friend T installed this last year. When I changed stations, the windshield wipers would start."

No response.

"And I could turn it on without the key in the ignition. My uncle had to drive down to straighten it all out. And he's an engineer at Raytheon."

Still nothing.

"So, um... what's your address again?"

She whispered it so softly I had to ask her to repeat it. She repeated her answer. Still inaudible.

"A, I'm sorry. I can't hear a word you're saying."

She sighed, then spoke just barely loud enough for me to hear.

I made several attempts at small talk, but her demeanor was unchanged the entire trip. The blood pounded in my ears. Not again.

After a seeming eternity, we finally arrived at her house. She reached for the door.

"A - wait."

She paused.

I took a deep breath. How did I wind up in this position?

"Listen… if you don't feel comfortable with us going out… just say the word. Okay? I promise I won't be upset, and I promise you I'll never mention it again. It'll be like this never happened."

Still nothing.

"A, what do want to - "

"No," she said in a faraway, little-girl-ish voice. "I said I'd go out with you…" She sighed. "So I'll go out with you."

I closed my eyes for a moment and regrouped.

"A, look. I'm not the brightest bulb in the package, but even I can tell you're really uncomfortable. Honest - I won't be upset if you've changed your mind."

She opened the door and got out.

"See you next Friday," she said without emotion.

I watched as she trudged to her house. Death row inmates had more spring in their step. The house door closed behind her. I blinked once, then drove off.

***

The next morning, I arrived at work at 5:45 AM. While I'm not a morning person, getting up that morning wasn't difficult, as I hadn't slept a wink the entire night.

I did wind up attending the party. At least, my body was there. My thoughts were anywhere but as the party swirled around me. I hadn't moved from the couch the entire night, running through the car ride over and over and trying to figure out what to do.

A had made it abundantly clear that she approached the prospect of a date with me with the enthusiasm typically associated with root canals and colonoscopies - simultaneous root canals and colonoscopies. A bit exaggerated, perhaps, but the sight of her hunched up against the door, trying to will herself invisible, wouldn't leave my head.

And yet when I offered her an out… she refused to take it. I was flummoxed. The cumulative effect of several dozen rejections weighed on one side, balanced by the thought of spending an entire evening essentially repeating that car ride.

After a night of tossing and turning, I finally concluded there was only one possible solution to this mess, one I dreaded almost as much as the situation itself: I had to ask someone else for help.

Growing up with a secret like mine, I had learned early on to keep my feelings to myself. On top of that, I grew up in a blue-collar, Irish-American family - not a group known for its tolerance or its embrace of otherness in any form. And I also lived in what was/is, in retrospect, a very conservative, repressive part of the country, both socially and culturally. You did what you were told, you kept your mouth shut, and God help you if you strayed one iota from what was "normal." Whatever "normal" meant.

I wound up taking a perverse pride in my ability - or maybe that's inability - to open up to anyone. My problems were my problems, not anyone else's. Admitting you needed help was more than a sign of weakness; it was a sign of defeat.

The result was that I learned to keep my own counsel, but at a fearsome cost. What started as self-sufficiency and an unwillingness to burden others with untidy, inconvenient emotions curdled into an unwillingness, then an inability, to burden others with *any* emotions. Distinguishing what constituted "bad" emotions from "good" emotions became too much of a burden. Better to simply not discuss any of them.

So when I realized that morning that I needed help, I knew I was in dire straits. Trusting someone meant risking being hurt. Or rejected. But I had no choice.

After considering my options, K was the logical choice. K wasn't a close friend, but she knew my sister well and was friends with A. (They all attended the same high school.) And since she'd attended my prom and knew my story, I  had a hunch she would understand.

***

I was over by the sink polishing off the last of the pots and pans when K approached.

"Got a minute?"

I followed her to the back corridor where we'd met earlier. She closed the door behind us.

"I spoke to A…"

She paused, her eyes glistening.

"…and… she doesn't want to go out with you/"

I nodded. The numbness had crept in; I was back in familiar territory.

"L, I'm so sorry."

"It's okay. Thank you for doing this, K. I'm sorry I put you in this position. I know it was really unfair to ask you."

I hesitated.

"Can I ask for one more favor?"

"Of course you can."

"Promise me… you won't tell anyone?"

She nodded. "Of course. You have my word."

"Thank you."

I started to leave.

"L, wait."

I turned around.

She walked up, leaned over, and gently kissed me on the cheek.

"You don't deserve this."

I opened my mouth, but couldn't speak. She squeezed my hand and walked back into the kitchen. I followed a moment later.

***

No sooner had the door closed than B appeared, a look of distress on his face.

"B, what's wrong?"

His lower lip trembled.

"N and D were… were… calling me names."

"Really? What kind of names?"

He took a deep breath, looked up at the ceiling, then looked down and exhaled.

"Monster d***."

I nodded solemnly.

"I'm so sorry, B. It's awful when people spread lies about you."

He burst out laughing.

"Touché."

He looked at me for a moment.

"Everything all right? Your eyes look kind of red."

"I just opened your locker by mistake a minute ago."

"Yeah, that could definitely do it."

"You know, I keep *my* chemistry experiments at school where they belong."

He shrugged.

"What better place to grow a master race of bacteria than this place? If it can survive the swill we pass off as food then it can survive anything."

His expression brightened.

"Hey, I was just down in the Emergency Room, and look what one of the EMTs gave me!"

He held out a spray can. I looked at it.

"What is it?"

"It's that freeze spray trainers use when a guy fouls a ball off his foot in baseball."

"Cool."

"You know, in Ball Four Jim Bouton said they once used this stuff to freeze a fly a bunch of times during a game."

"No kidding."

"Mm-hmm. Apparently it doesn't hurt them at all."

"Really? They look pretty fragile."

B pondered that for a moment.

"I guess they're more resilient than you’d think, huh?"

9 comments:

Jessica Lyn on December 16, 2011 at 1:55 AM said...

First I just wanted to say something about your previous post about these two newest posts.. your blog is already helping someone.. me. While I do know who I am now and I knew before I found your blog and am starting my transition too, your blog (along with several others) helps me to see that I am not alone in my thoughts and not crazy because of I need to transition. It helps me to see that there are others out there who have gone through similar situations that I have and/or have the same thoughts, desires, emotions and feelings as I have. My therapist suggested that I start a blog too.. and I had one a while back but I didn't write in it as much as I should have. Maybe I will start another one now. So thanks for posting and sharing your life!

Now, as for this post, I'm not done reading it yet but I felt the need to comment right now because I too was desperate to have a relationship to try to make things normal or go away. I got turned down left and right by every girl I liked too. So far this post is hitting home.. hard. It wasn't until later in my life, after I was married and now divorced, that I realized I didn't actually like all those girls.. it was more that I just felt a connection to them because I saw pieces of my true self in them and I needed to be close to that even though I was actually running away from who I really was. Wow, I hope that makes sense!

Anyway, I'll continue reading your post now...

Jessica Lyn on December 16, 2011 at 2:23 AM said...

Eh.. I was hoping A would've given you one good date night. I must say I love your sense of humor. I wouldn't gone out with you!

I actually have a similar story, only in my story I back out of the date first.

Jessica Lyn on December 21, 2011 at 12:44 AM said...

ALT + LEFT = Back Button.. I hate it when I do that command by accident instead of CTRL + LEFT or RIGHT to navigate through what I'm typing because it makes me lose what I have typed... I say this after I've just done that exact thing 3 times now trying to type this... must not be my day. I'm sure I'm the only person that that happens too!

[CTRL + C]

Anyway, enough nerding out.. I just wanted to say thanks for the inspiration as I will indeed start up another blog again.. besides my shopping/style blog, which I hardly ever post to!

And Jessica or Jess is fine with me.

Hugs

Kelly on December 21, 2011 at 1:23 AM said...

Hi Jess!

Believe me, you're not alone in the creative art of inadvertently deleting your own work by mistake. And yes, it gets worse when you're tired, doesn't it? I'm zonked right now after a somewhat frantic 24 hours.

I had an early morning appoinment with my primary care doctor, whose office is an hour away. That meant I didn't sleep all night because I was paranoid I'd, you know, oversleep. I wound up being late anyway when a pickup truck swerved into my lane and crushed the side of my car. (We were both unhurt, so it could've been worse.) But on the plus side, the doctor said I'm doing well, so he's upping my hormones! (Yea!) And I spent a good chunk of time working on a more light-hearted post in the next few days, which only seems fair after the last two dirges I inflicted on everyone. But, other than that, nothing much happened today (cough cough)... ;c)

Anyway, I can barely type a word without a mistake at this point. When "the" is a challenge, it's high time to call it a night, I'd say. Thank you again for the kind words, Jess, and I'm looking forward to hearing about your adventures!

Yours in nerdiness,
Kelly

Jessica Lyn on December 21, 2011 at 11:57 PM said...

Oh no!.. that is not a good day. Glad you're alright!

I haven't yet started hormones... though I will be starting testosterone blockers soon which I will stay on until I'm ready to fully start hormones. I'm just wanting to take things slow and focus on losing weight and letting my mom digest that fact that I'm a girl.. though she's known for a while now but she still seems to not take it so well. I'm sure she'll come around and I know she'll never disown me or anything.

Well its not late yet but I've been doing a fitness bootcamp to try to get into shape.. I have a long way to go to be where I'd like to be.. maybe in another 6 months I will be at a place when I'm ready to start on my road to me. I think this is probably a good starting point for my blog.. but with bootcamp in the early a.m. and xmas on Sunday, I don't think I'll able to post anything until next week. Let alone trying to come up with a witty blog title!

BIG HUGS!

Jessica Lyn on December 22, 2011 at 12:53 AM said...

Alright, so I lied.. I should have gone to bed, but I didn't.. instead I started my blog. One post and a short on at that, but I figured its a start. Tell me what you think.

prettyforesight.blogspot.com

Kelly on December 22, 2011 at 2:03 AM said...

Congratulations on the new blog, Jess! Just left a comment - I think it's the first. As soon as I finish this I'll start clearing space for my firstie plaque. ;c)

My car is going in the shop tomorrow and, with a little luck, I'll get the prescription for my new increased dosage as well. Cross those fingers! Oh, and I won $50 on a scratch ticket some friends gave me for Christmas tonight. (Well, last night, I guess.) I never buy them on my own, but I've always had a lot of luck when I get them as gifts, as well as with any game of chance. At any rate, things are looking up.

Best of luck with the blog and the bootcamp! And your Mom too. Sounds like you're on the right track on all fronts...

Hugs,
Kelly

Jessica Lyn on December 22, 2011 at 10:08 AM said...

lol... I'll get that plaque right out to you!

$50 scratcher is is a nice surprise.. better than getting some gift that you didnt want and that they would have only paid $10 for.. then again they did only spend $1 and you! (jk) .. though I'm sure you got more than one ticket!

Fingers are crossed!

Kelly on December 22, 2011 at 6:55 PM said...

I've done well so far with gifts; actually. I also got the new Quadrophenia deluxe box set, which has two CDs of Pete Townshend's demos and a 30,000 word essay he wrote about the creation of the album. Great stuff!

I think it was a $5 ticket, but I'd have to check (I haven't cashed it yet). Good to have friends with deep pockets! ;c)

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