For just a moment, as I continued along my riverside path, I let my eyes turn inland.
There wasn't much reason to: ahead of me lie the trail I needed to concentrate on, and to my left was the gorgeous expanse of river. In fact, impending cold weather was the point of the ride. I took the scenic route to get to my destination expressly because I wasn't sure when I'd be able to enjoy perhaps my favorite feature of my new home next.
The massive columns of the Beaux-arts building across the road were perhaps the most obvious feature, but I let my eyes fall on the inscription on the colonnade. Reading the name, I remembered a moment probably 18 years earlier where I'd climbed into a car parked on the opposite side of the quaint green parkway that separated me from the structure.
On that day, my destination was home. Pittsburgh was 11 hours away, on average, and I would arrive at my door after midnight. As I closed the door, I looked out at the same building and wondered: "What if I lived here?"
It wasn't a unique or even uncommon question. Any city I'd figured out my way around and felt any real affinity for would typically prompt the reaction. But at the time I felt I would never leave Pittsburgh.
Considering it at that moment, I found it almost funny. Unanticipated events had pushed me away from my old home and allowed me to finally answer the question, if only for this one place where a day could now end with a short bike ride home instead of a flight or a multi-hour drive.
As we stood at the curb, we talked about the city, the place I now called home. Until moments before, it had been business as we walked around an apartment. I carried my phone about while on a video call to be eyes and ears for my sweetie, 2000 miles away. Now, though, ey had hung up, and it was just the two of us.
As he looked up the hill, his eyes settled on my bike. "How do you like riding that?", he asked, his eyes shifting to me. "Funny story," I replied.
I knew exactly what he was asking. My bike wasn't the sort most people were used it. A few months ago, I picked up a recumbent bike. To the uninitiated, a recumbent bike looks like a chair on a long wheeled frame, and so people assume it will be ungainly to operate. Indeed, it definitely requires adapting if you're only used to riding an upright bike, but I've taken to it rather well. The only issue I have is my need to build a new set of muscles to climb hills.
I laughed lightly before continuing to reply, "It was actually Savanni who convinced me to get it. I'm having surgery in 5 weeks, and ...". And then I stopped. I'd just met this person. Quickly, though, I finished the sentence. "I'm having a vagina installed. Needless to say, it'll be far easier to sit on a seat like this than on a normal bike. And that's what ey pointed out, so I got this one a few months ago."
For just a moment, I worried whether explaining this to someone who was a stranger but a few minutes ago was proper. His words and his expression indicated he understood, and I quickly relaxed as we finished our discussion.
While it's not reasonable to ask someone about their body, this felt different. I have no qualms explaining my impending surgery. I've been forthright even when the questioner had unreasonable expectations of my obligation to answer. It's important that people understand this is a normal, usual thing that folks may need to do to fully be themselves, to be able to own their own bodies. Talking about the path that led me here and what I expect ahead causes me no burden, and hopefully relieves that weight on others. And so, I will keep sharing.
As the rest of the band stepped away, just one remained. He delivered just a single verse, acoustic, before the others returned for the final song of the evening. I knew what words I was about to hear, but it stung just the same when he delivered it.
And I can tell just what you want. You don't want to be alone. You don't want to be alone.
The morning had begun on a plane, with the last open seat taking but a single line off the standby list: mine. I was supposed to be stuck, most of the way across the country another day. Each day I'd found my face plastered to a laptop working, and each night an empty bed awaited me. I couldn't imagine much I wanted less.
The four hours of flying time left but a modicum of sleep, and the short nap I got when I finally arrived in the apartment was little better. There was more work, some at home, some while waiting for the RMV to give me a new license and registration.
But my unexpected early arrival lent me the ability to see a show I'd long assumed I'd miss, and after dinner with a friend I biked to the venue, a university ice hockey arena.
One song, in particular, was one I'd taken loosely as an anthem. It came and went as did several others that held deep meanings to me. Now, we were at the last song of the encore.
The dichotomy was hard: the return home was welcome. I was in a place where I was safe, where I could meet up with friends, where I could on a random night walk up to see a long-missed band.
But at the same time, the return home was no different than the place I'd left.
He finished the verse:
And I can't say it's what you know But you've known it the whole time Yeah, you've known it the whole time
Only 90 minutes more, I mused, as I peered down upon the capital of the Buckeye State. Places familiar and comfortable fell briefly under my gaze as I scanned the terrain 38000 feet below. How close I'd come to moving there eleven years earlier.
Today, I found myself en route home for just a few nights, a home I hadn't foreseen then. Work would soon draw me most of the way back across the continent, but a moment's rest as I frantically worked through my backlog of tasks lay ahead to my northeast.
My heart ached for what was behind me, though. I knew I'd see em again soon, as ey'd soon be moving Boston-ward emself. The day, and indeed the trip, had been punctuated with moments of joy, passion and love. But there were other moments, too.
The previous evening under other circumstances might have been a moment to cherish, but instead our bodies were curled together from fear. My existence and eirs were both fragile, and we knew it. More troubling, though, were the many friends who had it worse.
With the clarity afforded by sleep, though, I began taking inventory of my life. I understand what I have to lose and how I might lose it: Family. Friends. Employment. Housing. Health. Life itself. Unlike others in similar positions, though, I would relatively not be missed. No one would go homeless or hungry for my absence. No one would be orphaned.
If you are scared for me, for my future, well, you should be. But I am far from the only one you should be scared for, and I am not the one you should be scared for the most.
The morning had been unrushed, allowing me to catch up again with a friend before packing up and lobbing myself across the Bay for brunch. I'd timed it out rather aggressively, though, so as we finished eating I exchanged hugs (and one kiss) amongst the group before dropping my rental car and making my way back for my plane.
I'd spent most of the week working. There'd been opportunities to reconnect with old colleagues, both inside the conference and out. The conference, though, was not the sole reason for my visit.
But all of those moments had passed, and I finally found myself taxiing toward the runway for departure. The next stop would be rather shorter: 32 hours in the city which had so long been home.
As we arrived at the start of runway 1R, another plane lined up and stopped parallel on the adjacent runway. They throttled up as we did, the svelte fuselage of the other craft peeling away from the ground first. As we jetted forward, they banked left and away. I was left to ponder the other path.
New England hadn't been the only option. While I felt reasonably secure in the decision as the summer dawned, the previous trip to the very airport I was now leaving had given occasion to view the city by the bay through someone else's eyes.
The city she held in her gaze was softer than the one I'd scoped in my own. Just as I'd been sure that moving to my now-current home would afford me the opportunity to be more consistently respected as the person I am, so she'd conveyed of her journey to the place I was watching drop away beneath me.
The mental calculus I'd performed led to the solid conclusion I'd acted upon, and I had no doubt that rerunning the computation would yield the same result. But as I watched the other plane slowly become a speck in the sky, I couldn't help but wonder what might have been if the answer had been different.
After making my drop, I slipped quickly from surface streets near the largest train station in the area and headed rapidly toward home. Shortly I emerged from the subterranean world for a brief overwater trip just upstream of the city's eponymous harbor. The wishbone-shaped center pier supporting the massive cable-stayed bridge offered a modernist view that didn't betray the 13-plus year age of the bridge. Afterward, I found myself on somewhat a more aged freeway for the bulk of the remaining trip.
I threaded a path down the ramp whose sign on the gantry called out the name of my new-found home, pausing in traffic at the end as we waited for a light. When green appeared, we started moving before the driver of the vehicle directly in front of me decided to attempt a right turn from the lane where we were otherwise waiting to head west. Upon passing them, I stopped again for some folks crossing the street. As I waited, there was a sudden jolt: I'd been hit, I realized. But there was something else that felt off, and it took me a moment longer to realize what it was.
I'd lost my hair.
There's nothing like that moment of panic when you realize you'll need to interact with someone in a situation that is likely stressful on its own without a very key part of yourself. My gender isn't an issue the vast majority of the time. Would it be here, especially if I lacked the contextual cue that helped compensate for the voice I so despised? I cringed, and groped behind me.
Fumbling to shevel my bangs, I collected my license and went out to exchange information. On this day, all would be okay. No one was injured, neither vehicle made unusable, and calm heads ruled. I bade my elder counterpart a pleasant and less eventful trip for his ride further across the city we shared, and headed off to attempt to extract my bike from its newfound tomb in the back of the vehicle for a late-afternoon ride along the river.
As the dawn broke, I didn't even stir. I slept in. Well, it's what passes for sleeping in for me. I couldn't tell you which of us awakened first, but shortly we had started our day. I returned to my laptop to see where the compile I'd left running had gotten, doing some work before eventually making myself presentable.
We left, grabbing a quick bite before I deposited her for her appointment and returned home. As I arrived, I noted the street sweeper, and hurried inside to alert my housemate lest she get ticketed. We passed in the hallway, and she moved her car in time. A few minutes later, I heard the sweeper pass.
Having swapped the car for the bike, I recrossed the city for the third time of the morning. The traffic light at the historic Northern Artery changed just as I arrived, ensuring I didn't need to stare at that particular ugly gash across my otherwise attractive neighborhood for long.
The light of the day had replaced the gloom of the weekend, and I basked in the brief ride. Shortly, I dodged off to a side street, crossed another, and then descended to the multiuse path that replaced a long-disused railroad.
A well-dressed group of folks who I guessed might be looking to buy a new place to live stepped aside to let me access the ramp. As they did, I realized the safety orange of my underthings might be showing: the low seat of my recumbent pointed my midsection at the world, far too easily. On the trail, a child mumbled something to their caretaker, and I heard "Yes, she *is* sitting!" as I passed. I smiled.
The ride ended just as quickly as it had started, and I locked the bike outside my usual cafe work spot. One of the other regulars took a moment to chat with me, and we groused about the scaffold over the front that was appearing. Then I went inside, depositing my stuff before collecting a mug of tea. "Hi Daria. Blue crane tea?", I was greeted.
I've found myself right integrating well with my environs, learning the backstory and quirks, meeting the people, and exploring the manifold new options as I go about my life. I've perhaps found myself, inadvertantly, in the midst of a place well-suited for my life, and I hope I can give back and make it the same for others.
Her ears were covered with earphones, stanching the din of the world as though a shield. My left hand loosely held her right. We walked silently in the rain: there was nothing that needed to be said.
I looked down the street through lenses slowly accumulating droplets, my mind quietly mapping away the difference in refraction scattered about my field of vision. As my eyes settled on the flashing white lights around the speed limit sign, a question formed in my brain.
"What am I supposed to want out of life?", it came. I kept walking, not missing a beat. My mind, though, struggled to process the thought.
I'd been married, not once but twice. There'd been the house in the suburbs, the job that was mine as long as I might want it. The wording of what I was asking myself split out in my head: _Supposed To_
I'd worked through the answer to the question of what I did want, again and again. The conclusion was perilously close to the life I have: not an exact match, and with some rather gaping holes, but not so dramatically different as to be unattainable.
We stopped at the end of the line of people waiting for the bus, and she let go of my hand. My blue hair dripped water onto my face, while my unbuttoned raincoat bared the shoulderless top I had on only slightly. Perhaps the queerness that sometimes felt like armor to me was more than that. It was possible I was supposed to want something unusual: maybe, I was supposed to want exactly what I did.
The day had dragged on, my interminable task lasting until I needed to head in the direction of my evening plans. There'd be no trip to the coffee shop in the offing.
I considered as we left the merits of driving: I could offer friends who might have a more difficult time getting home late a ride, but I'd have to park: annoying, costly or both. We took the subway.
The line for the concert venue was long, but moved shortly after we arrived. Among my party were folks who identified as neither man nor woman; neuroatypical folks; and one person who was using a cane and carrying water.
Bag checks, for me, are easy. I once visited the same venue 6 nights out of 7. But I was an irregularity in this group.
While my purse was quickly vetted, several of the others hit snags. A purse with too many straps. A phone larger than some arbitrary size. A water bottle that was full. A medication bottle with several prescriptions commingled. "Can't you leave these in the car?"
I waited to make sure everyone would get in. The staff got increasingly agitated as they had to deal with the issues, all the while pressing harder to get me to walk away.
It wasn't until one of my party, harried past the point of coping, collapsed that the staff stopped worrying about me and began to figure out ways to stop being obstructive. I accompanied two friends up on the elevator and then got their tickets collected, and we tried to all calm down so we could enjoy the show.
We live in a world constructed around the needs of an idealized person. The core audience this night generally misses that theoretical ideal on several axes.
I can't fix it, at least not this today. But we will only stop seeing the denigration of friends, loved ones, and ourselves when we start calling attention to these issues, taking them seriously, and addressing them. And so here I am at step one. I hope you are with me.
The car pointed east, and we sped along the freeway. Neither of us spoke. The sign that flashed past told us that we were on route 71. The airplane graphic attached was no coincidence. It wasn't the first time we glided along the same highway in silence, but the previous times I'd been the driver.
As we'd left the reception, I pointed the car toward the end of our evening, confident of my path despite the darkness. Did I need directions, zie mused... "No, I know where I am," I replied before explaining that I could surely pick a route close to optimal with just what I knew of this place I'd never been before. Shortly zie fell asleep, and I was alone with some quiet music as I zipped back toward the city.
Today, though, we were both awake. I looked around me, my mind replaying the events of the previous 13 days. Ahead of me stood moving. Finally I would have a place of my own, for the first time this year. But something to look forward to didn't negate the sadness I had from my impending departure.
As we continued east, traffic quickly congealed as we reached a merge point, and we slowed to a crawl. There was no fear: I knew I would make my flight, and I could tell zie did too: despite our silence, we still were communicating via other channels. Physically, if only by a light touch. Emotionally, our tender souls laid bare.
A wisecrack about the signage broke the silence, and I chuckled as I replied. As we stopped, I collected my belongings, and we exchanged a touching goodbye. The silence enveloped me again as I walked into the building, turning once to blow a kiss before walking out of sight.