Saturday, 31 March 2012

About Me, Part 49: Got To Be There

In mid-2007, my fiancee and I finally hosted a housewarming party for our friends. It was also a going away party for two of my bi friends. It was also a chance to debut my idea for a music trivia game that I had been mulling over for a few months. Our landladies were invited also. We split up into teams of two for the game which lasted for about an hour and a half. After words, our departing friends opened their gifts.

By that time, my fiancee and I were in the middle of repainting our suite. We stripped the brown paint off of our kitchen cupboard doors, the painted them with primer and three coats of periwinkle blue. Our idea was to create a Provence-style kitchen. The room got very little light and needed something to brighten it up. We did the doors and painted some of the adjacent walls an off-white. By the end of the summer, we had not yet gotten around to getting a sunflower yellow. Our dining room, despite being carpeted, had a slightly rustic look with the white and varnished wood combination in the table, chairs and hutch. Our bedroom was a white and lavender combination as it was our favourite colour. Our bed was a lush queen-size with a floral duvet and pillow cases. In short, it was starting to feel a lot like home: a home that we both were creating, together.

But, at the same time, things were beginning to unravel. The dynamic between us had sometimes been strained. Sometimes, seemingly out of nowhere, I would find myself in a discussion about whether or not we were going to continue with the relationship. Then, suddenly, everything would be good again and we would go out to a movie or to get things for the wedding. With my fiancee working full-time hours at the clothing store, I thought that soon we would be able to contribute equally to the wedding fund. In the meantime, I was handling that, along with payments for the diamond ring. There was also rent, food and transit expenses for both of us. My fiancee had quit smoking months earlier which helped us in more ways than just financially.

My fiancee's health had improved a lot since she had stopped smoking, but she had a tendency to blame me for pressuring her to stop. Our only rule, mutually agreed upon, had been that she smoke outdoors. This was a requirement in our new place as it was a non-smoking unit.

I had begun to withdraw for a number of reasons: feeling over-burdened with responsibility in the relationship, the same old fear that was inbred in me of intimacy, and my dysphoria was surfacing again after about a year and half on hiatus. On the surface, it seemed like my fiancee accepted me, but in reality, my gender variance scared her. Why couldn't I be more of a "man"? Men often feel this pressure regardless. In my case, as a closeted transwoman, the "man" posture was just that, a posture and it was starting to wear thin. The more I became exposed in the relationship, the more my femininity surfaced and the more I felt the dislocation between it and my body. In the bedroom, things became tense and problematic. Many times, I was caught drifting away mentally, my eyes wandering away from my fiancee. On many occasions, I tried hard to imagine my self in her position instead of mine. She would get quite upset and, not knowing what was happening, would ask me if there was someone else. Soon, my spacing out happened outside of the bedroom as well. I would apologize, trying to bring myself back. I also was raised by parents who thought and worried a lot, and often drifted away in the middle of a conversation or would get drawn in to whatever was on television. I had those tendencies as well, though meditation had reduced them somewhat. But, this was much deeper.

My fiancees true feelings about my latent identity were very clear when we went clothes shopping in late August. Most of what I bought for myself was for guys, including a fedora. I had been steadily getting rid of my old ``drag`` clothing. In came the argyle sweaters and sweater vests and buttoned down shirts. We began to resemble a ``normal`` couple with all the subterranean anxities to go with it.


For my thirty-seventh birthday, we decided to have a 50s food theme. Corn dogs, ice cream floats, marshmallows and a lemon meringue pie for dessert. It was another rare sunny day that summer. My fiancee and I set up the umbrella and patio table in the backyard. The vegetable garden that we were tending and picking tomatoes and lettuce from grew nearby. Music, obviously, was no problem. While saxophone R&B, surf and cool jazz drifted from a portable CD player near us, we welcomed the handful of party guests that showed up. My fiancee looked adorable in a ponytail, red-and-white striped shirt and denim capris. I had my new fedora, a white t-shirt and a blue sweater vest and a pair of black jeans. My fiancee`s mother took a few pictures of us, one of me standing arms folded outside the entrance to our suite. The following Thursday, on my actual birthday (and the day Luciano Pavarotti died), my fiancee took me out to dinner at a local Tunisian restaurant. The mood, unlike the patio party, was subdued. 



My show had been on for nearly a year and I thought that a social media presence would help promote it as well as build a community of soul music listeners online. I started the group not long after my fiancee and I got Facebook accounts. There were those, even then, who were suspicious of what Facebook was all about, but the opportunity to touch base with friends and promote creative interests seemed too difficult to pass up.

For one of the fall issues of Discorder magazine (put out by the station) I wrote for their new ``Hey DJ!`` column, talking about how I started the show, my year on air and the new classic soul renaissance with artists like Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings and Amy Winehouse. Sharon Jones had just come out with a new CD called 100 Days, 100 Nights which I had been giving a lot of airplay to. I also contributed two CD reviews, one of which got published.

I was also developing a rapport with other show hosts. I had been friends with the host of Queer FM for sometime through the bi community. There was the host of the long running Jazz Show, the host of a psychedelic music program called Stereoscopic Redoubt, Folk Oasis and a show that had been, over the summer, temporarily scheduled right before mine: a 20s-30s-40s jazz and popular music program called Sweet & Hot. When I first heard it, I fell in love with the format: second to soul music, that earlier era ranked high on my favourites list. It had a novelty that soul music did not as I did not grow up with hot jazz and swing: it was new to me. The host of Sweet & Hot and I co-hosted a few episodes, concentrating on 40s and 50s R&B. My musical horizons were expanding.


I took vacation in October, ultimately my days added up to a whole month. I took at as time to spend with fiancee and to get reconnected. She had just quit her clothing store job, having suddenly had a falling out with her boss. Suddenly, we were even more strapped for money. Nonetheless, we went away to Victoria for a few days. Compared to our first time there together, it was much more melancholy. Part of it was the grey fall weather. The other part, as we stayed at the same bed and breakfast we had stayed in the last time, was that something, the light, the humour, the fun was gone. We spent a lot of time walking around the city and through Beacon Hill Park. Also in some of the used book shops. We also headed north of downtown on Douglas Street to the Value Village for costume ideas for Halloween. By the time we got back, our sadness was deeper.

During the week leading up to Thanksgiving, my fiancee asked we could adopt a kitten. We had had her adult cat up until that point. I was a bit leery of bringing in a kitten, the extra expense, the responsibility, the shock to our adult cat whose health was becoming more fragile. A year earlier, we had brought him to the vet for a urinary tract blockage. He had been weaker since then. Nonetheless, I went against my better judgement and we took on the new resident after clearing it with the landladies who had three cats of there own upstairs. Almost immediately, there was a conflict between our two cats and the kitten turned out to be a domineering handful.

We had my fiancee`s mother, sister and sister`s boyfriend over for Thanksgiving dinner. My fiancee`s mother showed me how to make a very light flaky pastry for the pumpkin pies. Her relationship with them was good. With her eldest sister, it was unstable. During that same month, she had another falling out with eldest sister and told her to keep the money that she was going to put into the wedding; I literally found out one afternoon that this fight had taken place. Suddenly we were short a few thousand for the wedding. I began to panic. I tried to think of a solution to this and could not. The wedding was now at risk. I began to feel resentment to my fiancee for being so volatile.

I also felt that there was no space for my own issues. Earlier that year, I had tried to convey how stressed I was about my career, how I felt like I was an automaton at work. Seeming ill at ease, she told me that I sounded ``melodramatic``.

By the fall, she was on anti-depressants. She often said that she was concerned that I was burdened with her recovery issues. I often disagreed. Perhaps it was true. We began to look around for a couples therapist. The therapist that I had been seeing a couple of years earlier was available but, I was wanting to have therapy covered under my work health insurance; he was not a clinical psychologist, hence he was not covered. We looked around for others, then, suddenly, we had forgotten about it.


My fiancee`s NA group was hosting another Halloween party at the Elk`s Club Hall across from Mountain View Cemetery on Fraser Street. We had eventually gotten our costumes at Bazaar and Novelty; my fiancee was dressed as geisha (using one of my wigs) armed with a sword while I was dressed as a crusades era knight, also with a sword. We were at the party for a few hours before heading home. On Halloween night, the following Wednesday, and dressed in costume, we handed out candy upstairs at our landladies`front door. We had also carved out a few jack o`lanterns for the front steps of our house. Afterwards, we all went out for a walk through the trick-or-treaters in the neigbourhood. When my fiancee and I got home, we made love and fell asleep. I hoped that things were on the mend.

But they were not. In November, after I had my fiancee included on my health insurance group plan at work, we found out that she was no longer eligible for debt relief for her student loans. She asked me if I could pay the next installment. I agreed, feeling my stomach drop. Out of work chronically now, my fiancee began to stay home, curtains drawn under comforters on the futon in the living room. I usually found her watching television when I came home often drowsy and melancholy. Soon I began to feel the same.


I had used up my vacation by the time the Christmas holidays began. I would have only the actual holidays off. This year, we planned to eat at my fiancee`s mothers and we were going to be contributing some food. Her mother had moved into the same condo complex in south Vancouver that my fiancee`s sister and her boyfriend had been living in. The plan was to start cooking that morning and have everything ready to bring on Christmas Day.

A couple of weeks before Christmas, my fiancee and I decided to do some community work by volunteering to prepare food for an NA holiday breakfast at an east side church. We re-gifted from some things we had, wrapping some very elaborately, including a pair of fairy wings that I used to wear at Illuminares Lantern Festival. It was a fun event and it finally gave us a chance to do some volunteer, something we had been meaning to do for sometime. By lunch time we headed over to my fiancee`s mothers reeking of fried hot dogs. I took a bath immediately while my fiancee and her mother went out to get some holiday shopping done. Having gotten up early, I was exhausted and fell asleep in the bathtub. When I woke up, I dried off, out new clothes on and napped on the couch. When we got home, we put the Christmas decorations up. In an instant, the house became cheerier.


The Monday before Christmas, I came home from work to find my fiancee looking tense. ``Your uncle called,`` she said, ``He said to call him back. It`s urgent.`` When I did, he told me that my grandmother had died. Her heart had gone. I felt numb, my knees trembled. She had been old. She had suffered with Alzheimer`s for years. She had been very frail for most of that. Now her suffering was over, but it was still so sad. When I hung up, I looked at my fiancee. I had not idea how we would get to Montreal with no money for it. But, the weather was making other plans for us anyway. A snowstorm in eastern Canada was shutting down all the airports for the rest of the week. The funeral was set for Friday. The worst thing, I felt the anguish of not being able to go home and say goodbye to my grandmother. I called up my father and told him the situation. I asked if he and my stepmother could go to the service in my stead. He agreed. I felt some relief, but still, regret. As that week passed, I tried to think of some way that I could see my grandmother off. Then, an idea came to me.

My show`s annual Christmas episode usually contained holiday themed soul music. This year, I would do it differently. I did the show the usual way until there was about a half-hour left. Then, I announced that my grandmother had died and played selections from Mahalia Jackson`s Silent Night album: traditional gospel for the remainder of the show. My grandmother had always pointed out the importance of remembering our roots and in playing Silent Night, not only was I remembering the roots of soul music in gospel, but also my own roots courtesy of my grandmother, our matriarch with the photographic memory I inherited.

The night before Christmas I began to cook for the following evening`s meal, making the curried meat filling for the patties that I was going to be making. It occurred to me to try, for a second time ever, to make my grandmother`s coconut bread. That night, coconut water in hand, I did just that. This time the result was sublime. It was warm and crumbly just as she used to make. And it was a gift that I wanted my fiancee and her family to taste. Watching them enjoy Christmas night at my fiancee`s mother`s house while it snowed gently outside filled me with the warm family feeling that I new deep down inside I needed. I had spoken to my cousins and uncles from home earlier in the evening. But, family could be chosen as well. I knew it could be. I was learning how.


On New Year`s Eve, my fiancee and I got dressed nicely and went out to a Greek restaurant for dinner. During dinner I found myself spacing out again much to my fiancee`s annoyance. She seemed very unsettled about something. We went back home and saw the new year in with our landladies and their friends. As we began to mentioned our goals for 2008, mine and my fiancee`s were noticeably vague and unsure.

Partway through January, I finally confessed to my fiancee how much I (we) were in the hole consumer debt wise as a result of all of our expenses. She was stunned. We had to talk about the wedding and what we were going to do about it. We decided to postpone the wedding. We had been preparing to send out invitations. We realized that a wedding this year was just not viable. I called my father and stepmother to tell them and that we had some debt to pay off first. My father called back a short time later, wondering if there was anything that he could do. I told him that we could handle it. Next, my fiancee and I sought debt counselling. We went to see someone at an agency based on Columbia Street in New Westminster. We came away with a debt payment plan involving pay down our debt with our wedding money the core of which had been the last of my inheritance money from my mother. I began to feel some relief.

But, something had finally begun to sink in to both of us: our worlds were separating, we were less and less a couple and more and more two lost individuals.

To be continued ...

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