Coming Out for Christmas

On Christmas Eve, I had my handbell playing debut. It was only my 4th time holding them. They’re heavy percussion instruments, like a disassembled marimba or something. They’re exactly what the name implies: bells you ring by hand. I had some big ones, F4 and D#4. I feel like I’m ahead of the curve for only my 4th attempt. So far ahead, I finished the piece several bars ahead of everybody else. (It’s hard to come up with page turns that work when everybody reads the same score.)
My third time playing them was the day before, the 23rd. Since the bells were in Palo Alto, I stayed over the whole holiday in the South Bay. I came down for rehearsal and then had lunch with my dad. The rehearsal foreshadowed the performance for me. My mind wasn’t on the bells, but on coming out to dad.
I met my dad at a chinese restaurant. Sarah gave me a lift and my dad invited her to lunch also, much to my relief. After we started eating, I said that I had been thinking about things a long time and I was very happy to say that I was taking T.
My dad chewed on his noodles.
Finally he said something about how it might change my attitudes.
I said I didn’t think I would become a conservative, and then immediately regretted the way I’d said it.
No, my dad explained, I might start eating like my brother and want to consume vast amounts of meat!
I have been kind of craving protein lately . . .. (This kind of seals it for me in my research of the cultural equation where meat is masculinity. I need no more evidence.)
So he more or less didn’t really react. Sarah said it’s what she had expected. I hadn’t known what to expect. I felt weird about it and stressed for the next few hours.
After lunch, Sarah and I went up to the San Francisco zoo for Daniella’s birthday party. There’s an ice rink there and it was open into the night, even though the rest fo the zoo was closed. Sarah and I were super late, so Daniella’s friends passed the time looking for the lions, until they finally started skating and we joined them. Sarah wanted to look at sleeping animals in violation of zoo rules, but all we saw were gigantic sleeping reindeer and some chilly looking flamingoes.
(About 48 hours later, some zoo visitors got a very close look at one of the lions. Some poor kid was mauled last night by an escaped lion, right next to where we were hanging out two days previous. Sarah was perturbed to learn this on the news, but I don’t feel like we just had a brush with danger.)
The next day, Christmas eve, I was sitting in Sarah’s living room, trying to get a p5 glove to work with SuperCollider when my dad called with a question. He said I sounded terribly depressed. I said I wasn’t. He said he had a question for me. I said ok. He decided he shouldn’t ask me over the phone. I said ok. He hung up.
I spent the rest of the day worrying about what he might have wanted to ask. So when I played handbells, my mind wasn’t totally on it.
After services, Sarah, Daniella and I went to the house of Sarah’s mother and grandmother. They made Swedish pancakes for dinner. It was fantastically tasty, but extremely sugary. I got into a punchy, post-sugar mood and then we went to another xmas party and then another with a glass of wine or so for me at each.
I woke up on Christmas at the crack of noon. Oh crap, I was supposed to go to Brother Bob’s early to help with cooking. Instead my holiday threesome (Sarah, Daniella and I) rolled into Bob’s house at the same time as my dad. My brother and his wife showed up shortly thereafter. We all chatted and then Bob put me to work cooking. My dad came into the kitchen and asked to talk to me. We went out into Bob’s garage.
My dad looked me seriously in the eyes. I have a question, he said. “Are you suicidal?”
“What?” This was not what I was expecting.
“I spent some time on the internet reading about what you’re doing. I want to make sure you’re not suicidal.”
Oh!! He read statistics about unhappy closetted, non-transitioning people. My dad was worried about me. My heart felt slightly warmed and relieved. No, no, no, don’t worry about that, I said.
Ok, he said, In that case . . . “have you ever contemplated a cue ball?”
“What?” I asked. He repeated himself. I had no idea where he was going with this. “No, I can’t say I have.”
“You should ask your uncle about his grandfather.”
“He was a pool shark?!” One of them was a dentist in San Francisco about a hundred years ago. Maybe he played pool on the side? Here was some new family history.
“No” my dad said and paused in the way he does when he’s about to make a clever point. All this setup is the clearest part of the day in my mind. But the punchline? I can’t remember how he delivered it. My great grandfather was apparently very bald. That could happen to me. I can’t say I haven’t worried about going bald, but um. at least we were in familiar territory. My dad was trying to talk me out of something. He does that a lot. This had become just another mundane scheme to be discouraged. I felt great relief and my heart warmed even further. I might have smiled.
He turned serious again, bringing up health risks. He repeated a few times that he didn’t want to bury me. I assured him that we were in agreement there as I don’t especially want to be buried. He told me that no surgery was without risks, which is true. Then he told me that he thought my mom got her brain tumor from her last surgery, which was for a stomach problem. I expressed doubt on this, but he started talking about how her brain tumor was so agressive it could have dated from a time so recent to it’s discovery. He said that 90 percent of all brain tumors come from the lung getting punctured.
I was losing the thread again. Mom’s stomach thing didn’t go near her lungs . . .. Maybe he’s confused about top surgery? I told him that I didn’t think my lungs were going to get punctured. He just wanted me to be careful, he didn’t want me to die before him.
I told him that I was moving into male risk categories and that I would possibly live shorter, but not that much. I looked at the corner of the garage. “I’d rather live shorter and be happier.” I said. Then I smiled and put my hand on his shoulder. “Dad, you told me something really smart a few years ago. You said that if I put off dealing with my troubles now, they would just be worse later. And I didn’t want to hear it because of this. But now I’m doing it and I feel really good about it.”
He awkwardly turned to leave the garage. I felt profound relief at the termination of the conversation. And then I drank moderate amounts of alcohol for the rest of the evening.
While waiting for the train back to Berkeley this afternoon, I noticed that I was feeling kind of anxious and wondered if maybe I should have not decreased my zoloft. But man, if all I have from that is mild anxiousness the next day, well, I think I can manage.
I am so tired right now. Daniella asked me today how my mom would have reacted to my transitioning. She would have been extremely upset. But the brain tumor changed everything, didn’t it? I want to think that if she could possibly think anything now, that she would think that I did the best I could when she was sick. I think that makes up for a lot of things that happened before. And precludes any afterwards. So what’s there to think about what my mom might think other than that I did my best and if it wasn’t good enough, well, it was my best. She sent me an email months and months before she got really sick, before the surgery my dad blames, about how she was having memory problems. And I didn’t write back for some reason, I don’t know. (It wasn’t good enough, but it was my best.) And my dad struggles with that too. How could a quarter of somebody’s brain go bad without me noticing? It must have been sudden. It must not have been noticeable. It’s not my fault. Of course it’s not. She followed a very typical trajectory for people with brain cancer. Nobody notices until it’s really bad and then she lives for maybe six more months. What causes it? Well, what causes a tiger to escape from the zoo one day but another? Our very existence is so improbable, what’s a few near misses along the way? What’s a fluke when our whole existence is a fluke? I might have been anyone, prior to the moment of conception.
I imagine my parents, my dad in grad school, my mom no longer working, holding their baby. This impossible thing they just made, in their arms. And them, with money tight, dreaming dreams. Of what I would be. Their little girl. Only god could know what lay ahead. No mortal would ever do anything if they knew. And so I didn’t go according to plan, but what did?
Happy Holidays.

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Charles Céleste Hutchins

Supercolliding since 2003

One thought on “Coming Out for Christmas”

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