Saturday, December 31, 2005
Endings & Beginnings
I was going to meet Telly & Shelley at the station last night, but the guys from the warehouse wanted to throw me a going-away party. Well, buy me going-away drinks at least. Hey, might as well, after being there a year-plus. I called Telly's mobile to let him know I'd be busy, but that my friend Jen and her husband would be throwing a New Year's Eve party, and everyone is, as you might expect, eager to meet Shelley. Most exciting thing in our lives, as you might imagine.
I liked it, though. I haven't talked much about this job, because as much as I have been able to do some skilled work, it's time filler; stuff I do for eight hours a day to pay for food, shelter, movies, clothes, and the like. As much as the work is repetitive and unexciting, it's been a fun environment. Very much a working-class guys' place, and I admit, someone like Kate would probably file a sexual harassment claim if she worked there. To me, though, it was just locker-room stuff, and most of them are decent enough folks. They'd've resented me if I made them have to censor themselves, so I tried to make them feel comfortable. Besides, I soon discovered that a lot of guys actually back down if you're as up-front as they are. Like, girls aren't supposed to be foul-mouthed and exaggerate their sexual exploits as much as guys do, so it intimidates them a little.
Bunch of drinking, and I'm going to miss them. As much as I like being honest about who I am, I never brought my history up at this job. It's been the one place in my life where I can just be what I appear to be without feeling dishonest.
I got hammered enough to sleep in pretty late this morning. Paying bills with a hangover is not my favorite way to spend a Saturday morning, but by the time I was ready to go out and do some shopping, my head was pretty clear. At least, I hope it was - otherwise the money I spent on a dress with not a lot of material is going to look pretty stupid. But, I wanted something new for tonight, and I admit, I kind of want to be part of the center of attention with Shelley. He was in this body, and though he's got the Greek God thing going now, it can't hurt to show the contrast.
Thursday, December 29, 2005
Weird and exciting and exhausting, Part II
So, where was I? Falling alseeps sometime between three and four, when it's not quite "last night" and not quite "this morning". I slept better than I usually do in a strange bed. I didn't wake up until almost noon, and the house was oddly quiet. I wandered a round a little to find the bathroom (didn't take long; it's not a very large house), took a shower and was heading back to "my" room wrapped in a towel when I bumped into Mrs. Garber. She looked at me and grumbled something about my certainly making myself at home; I stammered something about having left my clean underwear in the bedroom. She grunted and said that Shelley hadn't been a morning person, either, but I must really not be her because there might still be hot water left. Well, I said, that's how it works sometimes: I get her sleep-cycle and Martin's, uh, whatever makes one shower quickly. She grunted again and walked off, saying there was coffee on in the kitchen.
I got dressed, came out, and there was; Shelley handed me a mug. "My second favorite", he said, drinking his out of one for a radio station that has changed call signs since it was made. The three of us are sitting in the kitchen, not talking, and I say "Telly?"; Mrs. G says "fetching your grandmother". I'm like, oh, I didn't realize I had one. "You do." I say "Merry Christmas", which is just stupid, because that's something you say at the end of a conversation, and we're all just sitting there afterward.
Eventually, Telly arrives in the truck with a little old lady who needs a little ladder to climb down. She hobbles up to the front porch, where we're waiting. She hugs me around the waist, with her head on my left breast, which is weird - totally nonsexual, but familiar in a way I'm not really comfortable with. Then she shakes her head and says "I thought you'd gotten out of here." Then she grunts (I am really glad the new generation hasn't yet inherited that mannerism) and says that at least I've found a strapping young man. Telly says, no, Nana, remember what I told you about Shelley being in another body and someone else being in hers? She looks at him, then us. I kind of wave and smile nervously. "Nonsense", she says, and walks in the house. Telly shoots me a look, and I'm like, hey, it took you long enough to come around.
We have a ham for Christmas dinner, then go to the living room to unwrap presents. Telly has been cool enough to go out and buy me a sweater and Shelley the last two Harry Potter novels, and I feel bad that I gave him his present almost a week earlier; he must have bought these the night before. His grandmother gives us sugar cookies, apologizing that there's not many, but she had to split them among more people than she was expecting. It's homey but awkward. She calls me Shelley a lot, and after a while I stop correcting her. Telly brings her back to her assisted-living community.
That evening, we're sitting in the living room watching football because Telly wants to and that's all there is, and Mrs. Garber says that Telly says I'm a receptionist. I say, yes, for another week, but I'm starting a new job with the new year. I make a joke about it certainly simplifying taxes that way, and Telly says that's great to hear, and what was it again? Now, I know I told him already, but Mrs. G's put some rum in the eggnog and I'm feeling kind of mellow. I tell him I'm writing queries against the back end of a database that tracks call-center usage, which sounds cryptic enough to be impressive. Mrs. G says that at it's funny to hear stuff like that come out of my mouth, since she couldn't imagine Michelle doing that. I say she certainly could have, since even if the skills were learned in a different body, I have to use her brain to put them to use. So she suddenly gets all so, what are you saying, that something was holding her back beforehand? That she had messed Shelley up so badly that it took me with my college education and no memory of her being put in her body to get her life on track? I can't even follow the pronouns, but I say, no, to the contrary, our lives had just gone in different directions, and I considered myself lucky that I had landed in Michelle rather than someone else. And she says I shouldn't, that I'll get in as much trouble as she ever did (whether Mrs. G was referring to herself or her daughter, I'm not sure), and I shouldn't go thinking I was better than her, because I'm not.
At that point Shelley walked off, and I followed him back to my/his/her/our room, and try to spin it well. She's just taking it hard, I say. My mother at least got news of a grandchild on the way to soften the blow. He's like, don't you see, this is why I had to get out; and now that I got out, halfway around the world and literally becoming someone else, why did I have to come back here? Well, I said, you must have at least missed Telly; he's a pretty good kid. Yeah, he says, that must be it.
He waits until Mrs. G has gone to bed before reclaiming his spot on the couch. We spend the next couple days catching up with his old friends from growing up. It's... weird. It's a small town, pretty rural, so the ones who are still around ten years later aren't the cream of the crop (she said condescendingly). It's tough to explain what's gone on in a way that's not confusing. I think we're trying to stay out of the house as much as possible, since we wind up in the middle of the same argument every night.
I take two days (the warehouse was closed Monday), and announce that I'm heading back to Boston. Telly takes us two towns over to visit with Nana. She still calls me Michelle a lot, saying you can't teach an old dog new tricks. But I think she gets it; she says she's proud of us, and this proves that her Shelley always had potential, and she just wishes there'd been money for college.
As we leave, and Telly's about to drop me back off at the bus station, I ask Shelley what he intends to do. He says he'll probably come back with Telly on Friday after he checks out a few of the old things a little more anonymously. After all, Boston seemed like a good plan three years ago, and why should three body-switches that put him in a foreign country for a couple years discourage him? I say it's a good plan, since the only other two folks who know what it's like to be living someone else's life are there, and Carter and I will be around for support. Just make sure you check in with Agent Khalil Jones at the local FBI station; he's probably got a million questions.
And then back here, and working eleven hour days to make up for lost time. Still, I must admit, I am looking forward to showing Shelley around my life and support system this weekend.
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
Weird and exciting and exhausting, Part I
I'm still processing this weekend. I mean, wow, it's the kind of thing I'd like to be spread out a little more, you know? Getting confronted with Michelle in her new body and meeting her mother and seeing the place where she grew up should be, like, separate events or something. I feel like my heart skipped a beat sometime Saturday and didn't quite start again until I got back off the bus at South Station this evening. The whole holiday weekend just seems surreal.
So, where to begin? I got off the bus in Montpelier Saturday night at about ten-thirty, and I don't know where to look for Telly, since I'm in a new city. It turns out he's ten minutes late, and he's driving a pickup truck, which makes me think, oh, god, are Michelle's family truck people? Telly didn't seem like a truck guy. I'm just thinking random stuff like that, and that in order to get to the bus on time I barely had time to throw stuff in a suitcase, let alone change, so when Telly gets there I tell him to wait while I head to the lady's room so I don't have to meet Michelle for the first time since two years ago (almost to they day) with no makeup and my hair a mess and wearing kind of ratty jeans and a sweatshirt. It just wouldn't seem right to look like I've been letting things slide, but at the same time, I was kind of worried about not flaunting that I had Shelley's rightful body and, damn, I made it work.
So I changed, getting into some nicer slacks, and a sweater, washing my face and pinning my hair back. Then it was into the truck, and for the first fifteen minutes, Telly and I didn't say anything. We were stopped at a traffic light when I finally asked, so, how is she?
"He," he says. "My big sister's a guy now. Because, you know, the mind-switching thing--"
"--apparently only works between members of the opposite sex."
"Yeah. Anyway, he's... It's weird. I've only spent a few hours with him, and it's like talking to the brother I never had most of the time, and then something in the room will catch his eye, and he'll be all gushy about playing field hockey in high school or some girly shit like that."
"So, he's not mad at me or anything?"
"No, he was excited when I said we should call you, because he said as far as he knows, you two are the only people who have been like this for so long and you should compare notes. He seems really excited to meet you again."
And he was. We got to the door just before midnight, and I'm no sooner inside than this guy picks me up and hugs me, kisses both my cheeks and then sets me down. I admit, I maybe stumble just a little bit - it's unexpected and he is, like, really hot. I'm not usually one to judge guys physically, but, damn - he's six foot two, close-cropped blond hair, all muscle, and quite handsome. Almost Nordic, really. Anyway, he has his hands on my shoulders for a second and says, damn, I was hot. You forget, seeing a different face in the mirror for two years and remembering all the self-doubt anhd worry.
See, Telly says, not mad.
Oh, I was for a while, he said, don't get me wrong. At first I was mad at how quickly you'd acclimated, and it was crazy because they just left me in this small village in Ukraine where almost nobody spoke English. This girl whose ambition was to be a mail-order bride wound up befriending me so she could learn the language. It was a good deal; I taught her my language, she taught me hers, and I wound up learning that being a man wasn't so bad, either.
And I'm like, yeah, it's amazing how fast that starts to come naturally, and she's like "I know", and we realize that we're going to get along just in time for her mother to come out.
About Mrs. Garber... You can sort of tell that when she was younger, she might have been fighting guys off with a stick if she'd been inclined to fight them off. She keeps herself in decent shape for a woman of about fifty; there's exercise equipment scattered around the little house, and even if it's not used enthusiastically, I can still see hints of where my figure comes from. But you look her in the eyes, and it's pretty clear that this is not a woman who engaged in much restraint in her youth. She drank, and smoked, and probably other things, and her skin and her voice reflect it. Geena Davis, she ain't.
So, she says, I see you two are getting along. I guess you might as well. Then she stumbles off to bed, her obligation to look at us met.
It's left to us to figure out sleeping arrangements. Shelley's and Telly's old rooms are still pretty much as they left them when they moved out, so I say I'll sleep on the couch, at which point Shelley says that he may have only been a man a couple of years but he knows better than that. He's already gotten some blankets from the closet, so it was apparently decided beforehand.
I don't sleep much. Shelley says moving out hadn't been something planned - she had just reached a point where she couldn't stand her mother and left. Which means there are still posters on the wall and a photocollage from Shelley's high school days and a little field hockey trophy and some other mementos. It's almost impossible to get to sleep with all these little pictures of this younger me whose life was lived by someone else, and the room... I feel like such a total interloper, in the house, in the room, in the body. It must be four o'clock before I get to sleep.
Which I can't do tonight, unfortunately - I've really got to show up early to finish up my last week of work in two days, so I'll try to finish this up tomorrow.