After a bus ride from hell, I arrived in Colorado from Texas and took refuge at a former schoolmate's house and phoned one of my oldest friends, a former Army brat who I'll call Gee. How about I come over to your place, I asked. Okay, said Gee, in a voice which (I didn't notice at first) seemed more quiet and hesitant than the self-confident tones I'd heard from him in the almost twenty years he'd been in and out of my life.
But there's something I need to tell you. My name's not Gee [male name] any more, it's Ess [female name]. And the story came out.
From earliest childhood (Ess said), I felt like a girl instead of a boy. When my sister was born, they were calling her a girl, and I said What do you mean? I'm a girl! And I resolved at that time to keep it to myself and tough it out, and live my life as a man, like everybody expected. And I managed.And through all this, my friend was a success -- surprising everyone by joining the army, then afterwards marrying, having a son, easily finding jobs, living a good life. There was a certain humor in how accident-prone Gee was: driving off the road, for instance. We joked about it, the way you do with friends who have that kind of luck.
Then, when I was in my teens, I started having this hallucination. In the periphery of my vision. It was the tip of the barrel of a pistol. Over the days and weeks, it was always there. Over a period of months and years, all through high school, it filled in and became complete.
Then the hammer started cocking back.
And then one day I found myself on the porch of my parents' house, with a shotgun in my mouth. Only instead of pulling the trigger, I said, **** this ****, I'd rather live. And to do that, I have to live as the person I really am, not as the person I'm supposed to be.What did you tell your Dad, the Colonel?
He said, he always felt that way too, like he was really a girl, and decided he had to hide it.I was somewhat dazed at this point, from the trip and other things, and I decided to postpone going over there, but I got contact information and put her in touch with my sisters, who are a pretty good de facto support group, and worked to wrap my mind around the fact that the person who used to beat on me a little, and who once shot me point blank with an air rifle just before we both got caught in a blizzard, was undergoing such a profoundly alienating and distressing experience, and had been for years, without being able to tell anyone.
I called my sister who still lived in the area, and after laughing once -- perhaps at me -- she made herself available to Ess and stayed in contact. I saw her after that at my sister's house, and tried to keep in touch as well, though it was my sisters who got actual visits, due to geographical location.
My middle sister asked Ess once about her little son. Do you see him? "Yes." How did you explain to him? "I told him as best I could that this was what I had to do."
What does he call you?
"He calls me Daddy."
Ess's son, an Iraq War veteran, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in November. It might have been some kind of accident.
I heard from Ess a short while back, after one of my LiveJournal posts was picked up by Slashdot. She was pleased at the coincidence of "running into" me that way, and we exchanged a couple of messages. Even as she relished the joke, it was clear even to me that she was under a cloud of sorrow over the loss of her son. It was a short exchange. I don't remember who wrote last. I went and looked at photos of a cheerful, confident young man in uniform on Ess's flickr page. She was so proud of him.
Tonight, after putting Sarah to bed, I received an email from my youngest sister -- who used to hang out and laugh with Gee, and who kept in touch with Ess -- that Ess had shot herself on Tuesday.
Coincidence. I was thinking of some "Gee stories" earlier in the week. I don't think it was on Tuesday. Might have been yesterday. It might be a good time for me to write down as many as I can: the ones I witnessed, and the ones he used to tell. I remember those laughs too. I could sure use one now.