I spend a lot of time at Sugar House Coffee in Salt Lake City. It is a bit large for my taste, but it’s eclectic atmosphere attracts a wonderful mix of business men, artists, musicians, students, people whose lives are unguessable, and of course the “regulars.”
I talked with one of the regulars yesterday. He carries two walking sticks and always sits on one the cushioned lounge chairs where I always sit. He also wears a pretty rocking pair of sunglasses that have leather blinders on the side. It’s pretty obvious he can’t see well. I’ve never talked to him.
But yesterday was a good day and I was feeling especially social so when I ordered my coffee and went to sit in my usual place, there he was, chilling out, quiet, a little grin distorting the beard stubble around his chin and cheeks. I introduced myself. He introduced himself. And he began elaborating on his story. The jobs he’d tried and failed at. His fluency in mathematics and engineering. The skiing accident that tore up his legs and broke his shoulder in seven places (the clavicle I think). Now he can’t do much but come to Sugar House Coffee and have a drink and sit in the peace of other people’s conversations.
Eventually he stood up to leave, but before going he asked if I wouldn’t mind giving him my number. To which I said of course. And he gave me his. I explained I was moving to St. George and wouldn’t see him again. Probably. But it’s good to have friends to call. And with that he left.
On one hand, I appreciate those with poor sight. I tell them my name is Ellee and they don’t question my gender. Even my voice. They say, “you got quite a low voice,” and I simply admit it. Yesterday I told him I’d always had such a low voice, but it’s fun to mess with people on the phone. “You get better service as a man,” I said, not knowing if it was actually true. He grinned again. To the blind, or those with poor sight, it isn’t hard to accept me as a woman. All they need is a name. I wonder how they imagine my body.
On the other hand, as much as I appreciate the seeing impaired, I especially love when I’m addressed and talked to as a woman from people who can see just fine. It’s still unclear to me whether or not people can tell I’m trans. If the voice makes my male qualities suddenly jump into focus for them. I actually used to ask people what they see. I’d tell them I’m trans and ask what their first impression was. It’s not a fair question to ask, and nothing much has ever come of it, so I’ve stopped asking. I am what I am, and they can see whatever they see. It’s really upsetting, trying to “pass” as female, when I am actually female. Cis women (women born in a female body) don’t have this problem. They could dress up male and people would still know. I hate it.
But then something unexpected happened, after the man left, that derailed my usual train of thought. I checked Facebook and found that Peter Sears, a poet from my graduate school, had died. I was never his student, but we talked a few times and I listened to him talk about poetry and read from his own books. A kind, delightful man. Dead.
I don’t take death well. It doesn’t have much to do with death itself necessarily. I don’t know what comes after, but I allow my imagination to soothe my anxieties. My real trouble with death is that it comes with every possible emotion a human can experience. Sadness, of course, but also anger, agitation, hurt, a little fear but also jealousy or at least envy for the dead, to name a few. Lately I’ve felt mostly a kind of sad envy. I think, wherever they have gone, now they know. Whatever hindrances they’d had, are now gone and they are completely free.
It’s impossible to express how much I’ve wanted that freedom. Freedom from my body. I’ve wanted it so bad that I’ve been willing to take all of my pills and anything else I could find, just to sleep and rest and wake up as much a woman on the outside as I am on the inside. I still think about it. Even on my best days I’ve wanted death. But it’s more of a fantasy, not a plan. On my worst days, if I’d had enough pills, or the right kind, I might have done it.
But something was different about Peter’s death. I felt….tired. Tired of death. It seemed to be everywhere. Every day a musician, a poet, someone, millions of someones died. I sat in the chair with my empty coffee cup on the pub table to my side and just stared at the computer screen. I didn’t care what came after. I didn’t care where the dead went. If they went anywhere. I just wanted it to stop. I just wanted to enjoy an hour at the coffee house and not hear another word about murder, suicide, bombings, borders and walls, oil, power, corruption, explosions, mass shootings, fatal force of any kind. But mostly the suicides. I’d heard about too many. It was too much. I could feel everything melt away from me leaving only a tired sadness.
That’s when I gave up. I gave up trying to stay alive, and just lived. I existed. For an hour or two I sat in that chair as patrons came and left and simply existed. Eventually I went home, went to bed, woke up and shaved and got dressed, listened to some music, watched an episode of Sense 8 and now I’m writing this.
I don’t know where to go from here. This makes a lousy ending to a blog entry. But I don’t know where to go from here. I’ll go somewhere I suppose. Does it matter where? Does it matter that I know now where I’ll go? I imagine I’ll just do what the poet Gallway Kinnell suggested: “trust the hours/ haven’t they carried you everywhere, up to now?”