Saturday, January 2, 2016

Part Four

     The next day dawned with a pair of frosty sapphire eyes looking into mine. They were amazingly beautiful blue eyes. There are dark blue eyes that reflect depth and emotion and pale blue eyes that radiate the kind of coldness found in certain souls who have resigned from the human race. There are blue eyes that seem to reflect the sky and the limitless vistas the human condition is heir to and blue eyes that shimmer eerily with a transcendental kind of un-Earthliness; eyes that seem to peer into your soul and leave no stone unturned. There are blue eyes warm and inviting and blue eyes repellent with deliberate indifference. There are blue eyes that flash and blue eyes that glow, effulgent, as if some weird kind of bio-luminescence was at work. The owner of eyes like that would be handy to have around because they can help you find your keys in the dark.
      Jeremy’s eyes are the nice kind, the kind you’d like to have around, just because they’re pretty. Some people don’t like that word: pretty, at least as it defines eyes in a man. But Jeremy only smiled, months later, when I told him that I thought he had pretty eyes. He smiled because he’s one of those people who smiles when you say something nice, even if it’s kind of strange.
     We talked. He told me gently that my EKG readings over the past two or three days were significantly altered from the median, the norm. He told me, in a soft, warm voice that contrasted nicely with the silver highlights glinting in his frosty blue eyes, that the levels of a certain enzyme present in my blood indicated some serious fatigue damage to my entire cardiac muscle. My whole damn heart, in other words, had been pushed well past acceptable limits, beyond even what an Olympic sprinter’s heart might experience.
     My heart, put simply, had been irrevocably altered. The damage would always be there; perhaps eventually somewhat less if the operation was completely successful. But I could never again (he said) be the athletically-inclined person I had once been.
     “Never” is an awfully definite word. It’s like a door slamming. I’ve never liked it when doors slam in my face. I usually try another way in, including the bathroom window and sure, I don’t mind if that song comes to mind as I finish this part of the journey to the island, gentle reader. There’s a kind of cognitive dissonance between who I am now and who I once was and that song, an echo of my teen years, seems to force a nod of recognition from me:
      She said she’d always been a dancer
     She worked at sixteen clubs a day
     And though she thought I knew the answer
     Well I knew, but I could not say.
     I thought I knew about that “sixteen clubs a day.” I confess: I’m a workaholic. I can spend ten hours a day pounding on this keyboard. I did, in school and writing Sunlight, over a dozen short stories, and touching up novels I’d written and put aside. I stayed up until three or four am and never gave a thought to what it was doing to my body. I drank coffee, strong, hot and black, and smoked little cigars and ate junk food. I beat the hell out of my body and it had finally had enough.
     I was fifty-five years old, transitioning from male to female, abusing the only reliable transportation and observation/integration device I owned, and it finally caught up with me.
      It caught up with me as my cardiologist Jeremy explained the facts of my new life to me; caught up with me, overwhelmed me, and left me with tears in my own faded blue eyes. He held my hand, consoled me, and asked me if I wanted to proceed with the operation. Limp, weak, wrung out like a tattered dishrag, I could only nod and croak, “Yes.”
     The next day, Cici took me home for a few days so I could literally “put my affairs in order.” They really said that to me, those nice nurses and the social worker at Providence, as if I’d been granted a weekend pass from death row: “But you be sure to come back in a few days, missy, ‘cause you got a date with the hangman!”
     I haven’t mentioned her yet, have I? Good reason: she deserves her own chapter. So, without any further ado, ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, let me present the one and only Celia Camille Eberle!
     She’s not particularly impressive and certainly not imposing, like Jenn or me, with our height and bulk. Nope, she’s small, about five eight, sweetly plump—sorry, hon, it’s not a slur and I apologize profusely. You can beat me with your Strat, later—with long, wavy auburn hair, an oval, cheerfully pleasant face, a ton of freckles and a smile that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. Her voice is soft, gentle, pitched higher than I can achieve—she’s a singer/songwriter—and her demeanor is a lot like Jenn’s: an almost Buddha-like quality that makes me breathe slower and somehow relax into myself without noticing that I’m doing it. I suppose being a Buddhist helps in that regard. Namasté, sistah!
     I love her. Whoops, hold it right there! I can hear the grumbles and chairs sliding back. Stay where you are! Not that way. That would be like having the hots for my sister, which might appeal to some of you, in which case, you can leave now and please use the back door so the neighbors don’t see you, ‘kay?
     Nope, we’re just friends, but that’s like saying the Hope diamond is just a piece of glittery carbon. She plays guitar and so do I, sort of, but she would never point out that I have the equivalent skills of a ten year old when it comes to sheer prowess on that most noble of American musical instruments. Bluntly, she’s one of the best blues players I’ve ever had the pleasure and honor to jam with. She has licks in her bag of tricks that I can’t believe and she knows almost every single note ever played by the masters. She has gear to drool for: two vintage American-made Stratocasters, a vintage 50 watt Fender Duosonic amp that sings like an angel, just enough effects pedals and an absolutely egalitarian approach to music: if it’s good, she likes it. If it sucks, she’s diplomatic, sometimes to a fault. You could play the worst piece of trash imaginable and she would merely remark that it’s not her thing.
     We jammed one strange, disconnected night in Denver, also with Lisa Gillinger—who played a crimson Gretch Country Gentleman that made my fingers itch just looking at it—and Susan Collins, who gamely struggled to keep up as we bounced around from Neil Young to Doc Watson, Elmore James and James Taylor, back again to Zeppelin and Bob Marley—Susan caught the spirit there and showed us a thing or two about da funky reggae, mon—finally ending up on Dan Fogelberg and some lovely light originals from yours truly and the subject of this little divertissement. It was magic, it was weird and wonderful and it all took place after hours at a conference for trans women, down in the bowels of the hotel, next to a gigantic black grand piano—that I should have played because I could hear it calling me but didn’t, much to my later regret—while the muggles strolled by, rolling their eyes and trying to look both amused and patronizing. Those who tarried long enough to listen walked away with stars in their eyes and faintly disconcerted expressions. Is the dancing bear supposed to dance that well?
     Oh my dears, it’s not that the bear dances well, it’s that it dances at all.
     She’s my friend, so when the worst of the heart attack slamdance was under control, I called her from my hospital bed and explained the situation to her. We were up for a Lambda Literary award in the Transgender Non-Fiction category, I couldn’t go and she had to go in my place. The airline wouldn’t refund the ticket that Michelle had already purchased for me, there was no way she could give it to anyone else; ergo, she could and must go in my place.
     She was cheerful about it: “Sure, it sounds like fun. I’m going to come down there”—she was visiting her kids in Seattle—“and make sure everything’s okay with you first, alright?”
     Twist my arm, Ginger Kid. (That’s her own nickname for herself. I like it. I’m going to keep using it until she asks me to stop) Two days after the angiogram, CiCi took me home.
     It was the most pleasant three days in my memory of that time. We talked a lot, mostly about music and trans issues. I didn’t want to talk about the upcoming surgery. My mind kept shying away from it like a kitten who’s been burned by a hot stove. (“Squeek! Get away!”) She cleaned up my apartment, noticed that I didn’t have a microwave and asked me about it. I was a little embarrassed and told her that my old one—purchased long ago during my marriage—had given up the ghost and I was unable to afford a new one. She got a faraway look in her eyes and told me to take a nap or something, she’d be right back.
     You can guess, can’t you? You’d be right but a little incomplete. Not only did she come back with a new microwave—really powerful and built like a truck—but she also bought about a hundred bucks worth of groceries. I was dumbfounded.
     “You can’t afford this!”
     She smiled that warm and fuzzy smile over her shoulder at me. “Why not? Hewlett-Packard pays me pretty well as a systems analyst and it’s not like I’m trying to become America’s next millionaire or something. Hey, where do you put your pasta? Over here? You want spaghetti for dinner?”
     Now, what can you say about someone like that except that you love them? Yeah, I love Celia Camille Eberle. She’s my best friend in the whole world and I’d do anything for her. She went to New York in my place with my beloved and they had a great time. Central Park. A Broadway play. Shopping. Strolling and sight-seeing. When I was readmitted to the hospital, right before the day of the Big Slice, Tami loaned me her back-up lap-top and I was able to access the pictures she sent me. New York looks unbelievably crowded and kind of scary, although Central Park looked really inviting. Spring in New York is much like spring everywhere, I suppose, but Central Park looks rather like a Disneyland attraction; a strangely unreal garden in the middle of a human ant-pile. No offense to New Yorkers, but it’s no wonder you folks are a bit crazy. CiCi sent me a picture of a sidewalk in lower Manhattan where they’d stopped for lunch at a little cafe. I counted hundreds of people in the shot. Another picture was taken a few minutes after they came out of the theatre on Broadway. Mob scene: humans shoulder to shoulder for blocks. If I had to live in the middle of that, I’d be kind of crazy, too. On the other hand, I would guess that most folks might think I’m crazy for just being myself.
     CiCi took me back to the hospital a few days later. We didn’t talk much. I remember telling her to take good care of my beloved and watch out for her. Redundant, of course. I was trying not to think about what they were going to do to me the next day. She knew it too, but gentle reassurance radiated from her like warmth from a Franklin stove. We hugged. She told me it was going to be alright.
     It wasn’t, but I lived through it and that’s what matters.

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