This is the story of Michelle and I, how we met and the long, winding journey to finding a relationship. This story is all decidedly one-sided, by the way. I’m only telling the tale from my perspective. Michelle, Dawn and Pat, they would all have vastly different tales to tell. None of them, showing me as the protagonist. Michelle has her own story and assuredly it’s not one of being in love with me from the start or viewing me as “the one”. Please keep this in mind. I’m not the hero of this film, I’m the foil or the fool depending on who is telling the story. Still, it’s a story of enduring love at its heart.
On August 8th, it will have been five years of marriage to one of my dearest friends. We have been friends for twenty-seven years. Michelle (19) and I (23) met in Atwater, CA where I lived with roommates. One of my roommates, Eve, had met Michelle and invited her over to the apartment. She entered the room and my life became technicolor. Have you ever watched Pleasantville, where they go into an old tv show, it starts out in black and white, but over the course of the movie, it starts gaining colors? It was like that, only it happened fast. I watched, as my world was painted in color, spreading from her and into all the other facets of my life. I hadn’t realized that I was missing color in my life, until that day.
I fell quickly in love with her, or the idea of her. I found out quickly that she had moved here with her boyfriend, Pat, from New Jersey. I admit I wasn’t really turned away by finding this out at the time. I was dating someone at the time as well, it was mostly a sexual relationship and not one with lasting or deep feelings. We ended the relationship a month after my meeting Michelle. I had trouble working up any anger or hurt from the break up, I am sure she also had trouble dredging up any emotions for it. Fizzle.
Michelle was the quintessential manic pixie dream girl, come to life. Imagine that girl, from a movie that is dynamic and brings energy to everyone in a room just by being there. You are picturing Michelle right now. That was her before I got to know her, before we became friends. Over time, we started hanging out a lot. I admit, I wanted to be with her, to be her one and only. Unfortunately, I had met and really liked her boyfriend, Pat. So, I told myself I had to let my want for her go. I had gotten to know her, had grown to actually love her. Not the manic pixie dream but the girl, herself. I was in love with Michelle, having left the imaginary part of her drift away in the wind. Love didn’t drive me to try to seduce her or to have her. It didn’t drive me to put a wedge into her and Pat’s relationship. Love drove me to be her friend, real and true. I wanted her happiness and I wanted her to have it with Pat if possible. Michelle was pregnant with Pat’s child, a son. I let the idea of us being together go, I left it to drift away in the wind.
I was there for her during her pregnancy, the stalwart friend. I took her to doctor appointments, shopping for maternity clothes, finding books on pregnancy. Pat had gone to jail, he was in the “it’s just casual” phase of heroin addiction. So, I was there for her when she needed me, needed someone. I was not ever forward with her, I never tried to make a move on her. She was my closest friend and I didn’t want to ruin that. It didn’t mean I wasn’t dying inside a little. It didn’t mean I had turned off love, just redirected it as positively as I could. It meant that she meant more to me than my feelings or my problems. I was there for her first sonogram, I cried. I got to see the life growing inside of her and the possibilities that were not mine, it broke me.
Pat got out of jail and had decided that moving back to Jersey was the best thing for them. They could live in a house that his parents had on the property. Pat was also running, from himself, from his legal problems? No idea, a bit of both I think. This meant that Michelle was leaving my life. I found that hard to take and I had several nights of crying over this. Michelle took a train to Jersey, Pat left a few weeks I think later. I tried to fill the loss with a girl I had been talking to from Colorado. She came into town a week after Michelle left. But my heart had left with Michelle, so this girl, I can’t remember her name or even picture her face, didn’t have a chance in hell. I felt bad about that, but I couldn’t manage to even fake interest for a bit. I had a lot of emotions going and Pat, the girl and I went to see the fireworks in SF. That night when we got back to Pat’s apartment, I walked in for some reason expecting Michelle to be there. I cried right then. Pat and the girl were confused and I tried to cover it by saying it had something to do with not sleeping and having nightmares about my time in the war. It wasn’t a huge lie as I had nightmares about the war almost nightly, but it wasn’t why I was crying. Anyway, the girl left the next day. I felt bad that she came out just so she could go back. I didn’t have it in me to fake caring. And let’s face it, in the back of my mind was always the issue of my being different from a man, it was always going to spoil any chance at what I thought was a “normal” life or relationships.
Pat and I had talked about my coming out to Jersey. The idea appealed to me, as I wanted to be close to Michelle again. But I knew that I was never going to do that. In order for me to move on, I had to let her go. So, after Pat left for Jersey, I left for Tennessee where my Mom lived outside of Memphis. Our lives moved on, Michelle married Pat, I married Dawn. Michelle had Alex, then had Martin. Dawn and I had Charles and then we got a divorce. I think we hoped that having a child would fix us, fix our relationships. I was never honest with Dawn. I lied about a lot of things in my life. I was trying to boost my “manhood”, trying to show her how cool I was etc. I was in overdrive, overcompensating for my loss of Michelle and for my being trans and trying to ignore it. I doomed that marriage, I doomed us. It wasn’t fair to her at all, I was trying to fit her into the space where Michelle should have been and the pieces were different. I was able to fake it for a while, but it was quickly falling apart at the seams.
I was broken, having lost custody of my son. Dawn was rightfully pissed and vindictive. She twisted the knife many times and I took it. I felt I deserved the punishment, perhaps I did. I wanted to die and couldn’t manage the suicide. Cowardice? Likely as I wasn’t able to just tell her that I was in love with Michelle, it was always Michelle. I was still living the lie of me, of who I was. I was living the lie of my love, not honest with the one person I wanted to be honest with.
Michelle and I had started talking on the phone often during the last few months of my marriage to Dawn. Looking back I can see how it was so unfair to Dawn. My heart was never going to be hers when it was always with Michelle. I had started an emotional affair with Michelle. I didn’t realize what it was until years later. But her and I needed each other and were relying on that emotional affair to get us through. Pat and Dawn never had a chance, yes it was unfair and I was wrong.
Michelle left Pat, his drug use had gone into full blown addiction and was entirely out of hand. Dawn had left me before this, she was always smarter than anyone gave her credit for. We were in the last throes of a long divorce and custody battle. I say battle, but I came in broken and without hope, she came in with shiny lawyers and anger. The “battle” was her hitting me and me taking it. I don’t think she got the satisfaction she was looking for. You can’t kill someone who is already dead. And make no mistake, I was dead. I was walking around and smiling, but I was quite dead inside.
Michelle and I tried to get together at the very end of my divorce. But I was dead, so I couldn’t muster enough hope to let love have a chance. I didn’t deserve love, I hated myself. After this, we drifted away from each other. I thought this would end it for me, the final straw that made my heart break and I would die, finally. But for some reason, I was still alive. I don’t know why, I wasn’t trying. I drifted through life, Dawn would figuratively pummel me and I would take it, I deserved it. I went to work, I came home. My soul drifted with the wind, only tethered to my body by the barest of threads.
Years later, I hadn’t tried to have a relationship with anyone. I was dead, remember. A zombie who walked and talked but wasn’t part of the world. When I was at my worst, at my darkest, I had started rooming with my best friend, Joe. Life had thrown me a lifeline then. He saved my life, I was actively ready to die and was looking at ways to manage it. He kept giving me hope. It took a few years of his friendship to slowly bring me back to life. I was still hiding who I was, I wasn’t with Michelle, but I had hope again. That hope buoyed me, dreams of the living beckoned me.
Anyway, I started learning to laugh and to live again. It was slow and painful, but I tried to move on from my mistakes, my vast and varied mistakes. I started talking to Michelle again. It was different than it was before, which was kind of sad, kind of painful, but we were not the same people anymore. She had been through her own journey, her own battles and it had left it’s marks upon her. She had grown and learned and had an entire life that I wasn’t part of or even a background character in. So our talks were tentative, but not without emotion. The love that I had sent drifting into the wind so long ago had come back to me and it flowed within me again.
I was in my 40s now, it felt a lifetime had been missed. I still had this secret that sat on my heart, but I had hope. It wasn’t long before we were planning on me moving to be with her and the children. I started talking with my HR dept on moving to another branch of the company that was near where they lived in South Carolina. I did the transfer, we moved in together and have been together ever since. This isn’t a fairytale, our lives didn’t fade into a “Happily Ever After” after we kissed. It’s real, better than a fairytale, even if it isn’t as idyllic. We’ve gone through good times and hard times. We’ve had love, light and laughter, sure. But we’ve also had sadness, darkness and tears. We’ve gone through them together and we’ve gotten through some alone. We aren’t the same person, we don’t share a brain, we have individual issues and needs and they don’t always coincide. I came out as transgender before we got married, I wanted to start our bonded lives without secrets lurking. There were more tears and sorrow, happiness and laughs to be had. I’m sorry, it’s likely not a fantastic ending for you. But for me (and hopefully Michelle) it’s absolutely fantastic. I get to share all these things, good and bad, with one of my best friends, a woman I love and cherish. We share a life together and it’s so much better, so much deeper than the dream ever could have been.
Happy Anniversary, Michelle, I love you with my eyes wide open and in plain truth.
(she won’t read this, but it’s here anyway)