In the meantime, I went out to my shift on the reference desk. When we opened at ten o'clock, there was no one lined up outside to come in. The library was empty for the first hour. Then, patrons came in sporadically, some were crying. After a brief conversation with one patron, we were both in tears. The morning shift passed quickly; my supervisor had left information about the Red Cross and how people could find out about and locate missing loved ones if need be. It was such a surreal and apocalyptic day, bright, warm and sunny, much like the weather in New York City, but filled with terror and fear about the future. Like most, my sense of the future holding promise was seriously wounded.
During my afternoon shift, I got a long distance phone call from Philadelphia. My girlfriend and her family were fine. I breathed a sigh of relief. We spoke for a while and then, I hung up and tried to get back to work, but to no avail; I could not focus. On the way home, I got off the westbound Hastings Street bus early to avoid going downtown; its office towers and crowds seeming unbearably eerie to me. Instead, I transferred at Commercial Drive and walked up to Broadway. The sports bars and Italian and Portuguese cafes were crowded with people watching the television screens for the latest updates and the replaying footage. I vaguely remember running into a few friends on the way, but I was too numb to respond much. That night, I felt summoned to the Shambhala Center which I had not been to in two years; I needed to be around others and I needed a contemplative practice. Our practice was quiet, yet tense and our discussion afterwards was very emotional. I decided to return to meditation practice and study at the Centre. I had already been back to practicing t'ai chi for a year. Much like after my mother died, my priorities changed drastically. The carefree times were over.
That fall was the darkest, gloomiest one I had ever lived through to date. That first week after the attacks, Vancouver, like other North American cities, was the scene of countless candlelight vigils and interfaith memorials. With the planes grounded, stranded passengers were put up at hotels and in people's homes. A few friends in the bi community went down to Sunset Beach to have a vigil that Thursday night; while there, we were joined by an American couple who were stranded in Vancouver that week. On Friday morning, I was on the bus to work when suddenly the order came over the radio system to pull over and observe a moment of silence; I wept.
In the aftermath of 9/11, came the war in Afghanistan, the paranoia, the spread of surveillance culture and the rise of bigotry and violence. There was also the glorification of corporate culture and the further cheapening of popular culture. I, like many other I am sure, was in need of respite. I found it in my new relationship, even though it was long-distance and I was a second partner in a polyamorous arrangement. After 9/11, we made plans for me to travel out east to Philadelphia for Christmas. Plane travel now frightened me. I decided that I would take the train and we agreed to split the cost. Not long after that, she told me that she and her husband were expecting their first child. At that point, I felt like we should end the relationship as I did not really want to be in one that was complicated by the specter of a new family on the way. However, she had become very needy of me over the previous while and begged me not to "leave". I swallowed my misgivings and promised that I would not leave. Looking back, that is when I think the relationship became very unhealthy, but, I had become needy as well; I had met someone who seemed to accept me, gender variance and all, and felt that there was no one else for me. As the fall, continued, even as I planned for my holiday trip, my interest continuing to "see" my girlfriend waned.
In the meantime, I had met someone else. New to polyamory, I felt that perhaps this kind of style could work; I could find one guy and one gal. I had found one gal, but could not seem to find a guy. Instead, at the second of two Halloween parties that fall, I met another gal. My second girlfriend was also bi and polyamorous. I told my first girlfriend about my second and vice versa. Everything seemed fine for a while. By the beginning of December, it was becoming hopelessly complicated.
By the time I had finished my Artist's Way course, I had lost interest in all things that I had been wanting to do (acting, etc.) and working towards. I had had no drag performances that year either. But, I was told by some friends who worked at a Main Street vintage clothing store about a regular drag performance night at the Milk Bar (formerly Charlie's) on Abbott. I went to see it one night in December and was blown away by the performances. A couple of the performers had begun to transition. I was drawn to the fact that they were transitioning and felt jealousy rise up in me. If only. I was invited by the organizer to perform on those nights and I made plans to in the new year.
One morning in mid-December, I made my way down to the train station to catch a shuttle bus down to Seattle. I prepared myself for four days and three nights of train travel. After a lineup at the border, we continued down to the Seattle bus terminal. We got there around dusk and I waited for my train to start boarding. Once on, I relaxed into a seat. It was raining that evening on the coast, but it was close to freezing. As the train headed east and up into the mountains, the rain turned to snow. Then, we headed into a nine mile tunnel through the Cascades. By the time we were out the other side, we were in an area coated in fresh white snow drifts. At some point, around Spokane, I fell asleep. When I woke up, around five in the morning, we were in the Montana Rockies. We stopped in the mining town of Libby, the ski town of Whitefish and went through the small town of Essex, where the owner of an inn stood outside of it dressed as Santa Claus, surrounded by his staff, and waved as we went by. The small towns and villages looked like ones in the European Alps. Around lunch, we came out of the Rockies, through the Continental Divide and into the rolling brown expanse of eastern Montana. We passed through a Blackfoot Reservation and saw elk by the side of the tracks. The rest of Montana was non-descript.
On the rest of the second leg of the trip, I ate in the first class dining car and made friends with the staff. I changed trains in Chicago, with an overlay of a couple of hours, and the new train left around midnight. I arrived in Philadelphia in the afternoon. My girlfriend met me at the train station there. We hugged and kissed and for a moment, I felt like we were rekindling something. Perhaps over the holidays, things would somehow settle. They did not. I found myself alternating between jealousy and revulsion, with moments of lust and neediness. There were times, during the gift exchange with my girlfriends' family, when I felt left out. They had not anticipated that I was coming. I felt as if my girlfriend and her husband were already carving a life out for themselves and that there was no place for me in it. There were some sexual interludes however, in which I usually played the role of "the girl". On New Year's Day, the Tri-State (Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York) bi community organization held a cabaret event in West Philadelphia. I had agreed to perform as Donna Mummer (the New Year's Day Mummers parades are similar to Mardi Gras) and lip-synched to Brenda Holloway's "When I'm Gone". I had bought my wig and make-up on South Street, and had brought my heels with me. I borrowed a little black dress from my girlfriend. The audience liked it; I felt pretty lackluster about it.
Despite my mixed feelings about my relationship, I was in tears on the day when I left. We hugged tightly at the station and I promised to call from Chicago. When I got there, I did and we talked warmly for a few minutes before I left to catch my train back out west. The ride back was unremarkable, passing through the Montana Rockies at night. The layover in Seattle was brief and like when I had arrived back home from California a few years earlier, when I got back to my apartment, I collapsed onto my futon and went to sleep.
2002 brought changes at my workplace with new management. It also brought shifts in my life. I did my first performance at the Milk Bar in February. My relationship with my second girlfriend also seemed to be going very well. We hung out a great deal over the winter and often spent the night at each other's places. We went to see the Vagina Monologues at the Simon Fraser University Theatre on Burnaby Mountain. My interest in acting was rekindled by it. In early March, we went to a fetish party in East Vancouver, held by someone in the polyamory community; I had begun going regularly to the poly social nights. My girlfriend went as the guy and I went as "his" girlfriend. After the party, we went back to her townhouse in Burnaby for the night. The role playing that night was great and I looked forward to more, but that was the last time we would spend the night together.
My first girlfriend came up to Vancouver for a visit during Passover/Easter. By that time, she was eight months pregnant. I had been reluctant to have her travel and had felt like I wanted to end the relationship, but fool that I was, I had not told her that. After a very tense few days, I told her it was over. I felt horrible, but the truth was that I had been in over my head for months. For the last few days of her trip, she stayed at a hotel downtown. I covered half of her expenses. We had lunch that week and tried to talk some of this through, but it was truly over. She flew back to Philadelphia at the end of the week. I payed for half of her air travel and the last time I spoke to her was over the phone verifying that she had received the last of my cheques; she had. It was the only time, to date, that I dumped anyone as it was usually me who got dumped.
Which was the case in June 2002, when my second girlfriend broke up with me; our relationship had run out of gas and that was that. Nonetheless, after meeting to talk down at Kitsilano Beach and getting a lift home for the last time, I felt stunned.
Though I instinctively knew that polyamory was not for me, I continued to go to the social nights and events for another year. But, I felt increasingly out of place at them. I see it now, as me trying to hold on to some continuity. That summer my t'ai chi instructor, who had been my friend since my early days in Vancouver, closed his school and moved back to his hometown in Ontario. Also, a dear friend in the Mastery community passed away from cancer in July. She had been a very playful, childlike spirit and her death, at thirty-eight, was devastating to all of us who knew her. Life became sadder that year.
On the brighter side, I continued to perform as Miss Penny throughout the year and came out to more and more people as I did so. Also, I went to my first political demonstration in years that May, a protest of the new provincial government's economic policies. Some friends and coworkers were in it with me. The pendulum in my life had begun to swing away from personal issues and back in the direction of social engagement and political activism. But as I marched down Georgia and Burrard Streets that day, I began to feel the weight of all of the years I had lived since I was a young person doing this a decade earlier. From now on, my life was going to be about balance. And I looked forward to it like the quiet, wholesome respite I had been needing for so long.
To be continued ...