Since they don't allow cell phones in the ICU, I was climbing the stairs to go back into the Hospital after calling my brother and his wife to give them an update on my mother.
She was there, on the steps, with a recovery daily meditations book opened down on the cement next to a pack of Marlboros, which she was chain smoking down to the fliter just before using them to light another. Her hair was big, frizzy and wild, once black, but now mostly gray. In her expansive face, teeth are missing, and under her hospital gown the gray athletic t-shirt was worn inside out.
It was a perfect spring day, tulips painting the park, trees in boom, warm sun competing with crisp clear air. "Beautiful day, isn't it?" I offered her in pleasntry as I climb the stairs.
"I'm caught in 'coulda, would, shoulda,'" she replied as I smiled and moved past her.
I continued walking but she wanted to talk.
"Are you staff or visitor?" she asked.
"Visitor," I said as I continued to walk. "My mother is upstairs."
"I'm really stuck in the coulda, shoulda wouldas. Do you know what they are?"
"Yes, I do," I replied. still wondering if I wanted to engage this plump bundle of rags sitting on the steps. Was she really accessible?
"Please, please talk to me," she implored.
I went back to her and stood on the steps.
"I am 54 years old and I have screwed up my life with bad choices, and now it's too late," she told me. I understood this. I'm 52, and I wasted the vigor, resilance, beauty, enthusiasm and liscence of my youth because I understood the lessons of stigma very well.
"It's a beautiful spring day," I told her. "There are new choices to be made. Isn't that pink tree over by the VA hospital magnificent?"
We talked of her life, of how bleak she felt, of how she had wasted her life, of how she felt she had no more chances left.
I understood very well her feelings, and talked about the truth that she wasn't her choices, that she did what she did then, but she wasn't that thing. She could choose again, find something new.
"Are you in the program?" she asked me
"No, but I know a lot about it," I told her.
"Are you a counselor or something? You do know it well, and are good at being here."
"Nope, I just write," I told her, though she continued to want to know about me, my age, my work, and so on.
"So what is your problem?" she asked. "Gambling, Eating?" She wanted to known what desire l used to fill my empty spaces, because that's what she understood.
I looked across to the big portico, where I spied a tall & pretty blonde person in a wheelchair sharing a smoke with a friend on this fine afternoon. Was she someone like me, was he a gay boy? I didn't know, any more than I knew when I heard a deep voice and looked up to see a black woman with a developed chest and no hips checking into the doctors office with her boyfriend. I looked, and she caught me looking, but did we know about her history or was I just projecting.
This woman wanted to know how I got my scars, why I had to go to hell and learn the essential lessons so well and so completely that I could be there in a way that challenged her sickness in a healing way.
But I knew she wouldn't understand that this big, balding, bearded guy in a bright orange polo and faded HRC cap, here to take care of aging parents like a dutiiful daughter, wasn't quite what he seemed. I couldn't imagine how I could make her understand my challenges and my journey in a few words. Look at all the words I share here, and still I get no reflection that people understand.
She asked again, and I looked across, so I said it.
"I'm transgender," I said.
"So you want to be a be a girl?"
"I already self-identify as a woman," I replied.
"So you are gay and like to dress up?"
"No, I don't identify as gay, and while often present as a woman, I don't consider it dressing up any more than you do," I said, thinking my unisex polo and jeans weren't much different than what she was wearing now.
"Not gay? So who do you sleep with?"
"I haven't slept with anyone for a long time," I replied.
"You haven't?" she replied, stunned.
By this point, I knew that she was looking for someone new to sleep with who could help fix her up. The right person could make her feel better, and avoid having to do the work she needed to do. The right person could be her new drug.
But me? She didn't know what to make of me.
She was using her "What about you?" to identify if she could get a fix off of me, but she couldn't really even get a fix on me. I wondered if there was something I could get from this woman that I needed, but I knew that the best I could get was a moment of shared projection. In my years of longing that might have been enough she could tell me I was pretty and I could tell her she was beautiful, but I knew that wasn't enough.
Could I ever become someone who is happy living in the addictions of another, the things they use to stuff their pain?
I don't exist there, and I can't even find the language to make myself visible.
I can help, yes, and that is of value, but what value to me?
Well, my father has turned on the TV and the noise from his treadmill is squeaky and repeditive so I can't even hear myself think. And in less than an hour, I have to accompany him to his church, the one where they claim they are being "Biblical" by denying gays & lesbians any role in leadership, branding them sinners. And it's the beginning of their stewardship campaign, too. Even though he prefers and uses company, he made it clear I "don't have to go," because he demands my complicity in my facing these abusers, wants to not have any responsiblity for my discomfort. He can't say "Thank you for supporting me, even when that makes you uncomfortable," because he can't yet simply support me in things that make him uncomfortable.
And so, even though it's another beautiful spring morning, that's where I have to end.