Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
October 10, 1998
"Needless to say, Cheryl had a friend to hold her hand the rest of the way through the process from that instant on," Eve said, then added with a smirk. "Or at least, once our heart rates got back to normal, which took a while."
There was a little laughter around the table in the back of the Brass Lantern, and Eve went on. "Iíd just like to say that I had the most profound admiration and awe for Cheryl, and for that matter, still do. As you heard me explain earlier, I had many things going in my favor, including a supporting pair of parents, and Shae. Until this incredible coincidence occurred, she had no one. In fact, she faced only hostility from most of the people she knew, so had to do most everything in nearly total secrecy. In fact, the closest confidant she had to help her through the process was Phyllis, the electrologist we had both used. On top of that, money was really not an issue for me. It most certainly was for her. I was to find out that sheíd actually come to the decision to pursue transgendering even before I did. She spent close to six years scrimping and saving every cent she could, working multiple jobs while doing a very difficult college course of study, taking a year off between undergraduate and graduate school to support herself and salt away more money while she was going through her RLT, and still had to plan on completing the process by maxing out some credit cards. And she had to do it all by herself, and totally in secret. I still donít know all the things she did to build up her fund, and I know some of them were of doubtful legality. The one thing she had in her favor is that she was able to get through college largely on grants and otherwise live frugally."
"Eve, I donít want to break in," Andy said. "But a couple times youíve gotten near the subject of the cost of this. Just how much was it, anyway?"
Eve shook her head. "Thatís not an easy question to answer. Some parts are easier than others. The surgery for example, was a flat ten thousand dollars. There were other expenses, including things like the electrolysis, the counseling, the facial plastic surgery, and such items. Then there are the intangibles, like the cost of gas and road meals for the many trips to Chicago. Not the least are other things involved, like the cost of a new wardrobe for a teenage girl, and we all probably know how fast a teenage girl in a clothing store can wreck a credit card. All in all, the gross cost for me was probably around thirty to forty thousand dollars. In my case, we made the decision early on to not cut corners and get the best there was available, but as I said, in my case, money was not an issue. Though I could have dipped into my grandfatherís trust fund if Iíd needed to, as it was, my father fronted most of the cost. At that, he got a good deal of it back through insurance. Scott and Hannah, youíre in insurance, so maybe youíd better cover your ears. To our great surprise, even the SRS was covered by insurance. My father doubted it would be, but after the surgery he decided to file the paperwork on the odd chance that it might slip through, which it did on an 80-20 reimbursement. The only thing we can think is that someone in the insurance company must have needed new glasses."
There was some laughter Ė nervous laughter from Scott, and especially Hannah, who commented, "At least Iím in auto insurance, not medical."
"Iím sure we used up a great deal of insurance company luck on that," Eve grinned. "I doubt if my father even knows, but I suspect the out-of-pocket cost of the whole thing for me had to have been under fifteen thousand dollars, perhaps under ten thousand. But, the point I was making was that Cheryl had none of those advantages. She was forced to cut more than a few corners, but had a couple of things going in her favor: for example, not needing as much electrolysis as I did. And, at that time she hadnít even considered facial surgery; it was too expensive. Iím just guessing and she may not know, but she had to be out of pocket close to twenty thousand. I still think that itís a miracle that she managed to accumulate as much as she did, especially attending college, with all those expenses as well. If nothing else, that shows the depth of her motivation, and how long sheíd held it."
"So, how did it go in grad school with people knowing about her?" Dayna asked.
"It went," Eve sighed. "Not without difficulties, but the people around graduate schools donít tend to all be ignorant hellions like we had so much experience with in high school, either. There was at least some genuine curiosity, but many people still treated her as an outcast, and me right along with her because I was not only her roommate, but her friend. I might add that I did not come out myself, except to her. That may have helped, since I could set the example of being a perceptibly normal woman who could be friends with a transsexual. Still, in many ways it was a replay of the situation as it had been with Shae and me, except with the roles reversed. I had to be the strong one with the helping hand, but I had the advantage that even Shae didnít have of knowing exactly what was happening.
"Because of the lateness of the hour, Iíll just say that we had a couple of adventures with obnoxious people, which we managed to work out adequately. Oh, and I might add, the girl who had gone hysterical about having to room with a transsexual was hardly less hysterical over the thought of rooming with a hard-case lesbian. I donít know if we won that round or what, but we felt like she got what she deserved. Cherylís classes went well, and since they were in theoretical math, I had hardly any idea of what she was doing, and I wouldnít want to guarantee that she did either, although her instructors must have thought so as she got good grades. Mine also went well. So, all in all, while I wouldnít say that the autumn was totally placid, it was acceptable.
"Unlike some other graduate schools, at Syracuse they lock the dorms over Christmas break. As the term ended, Cheryl and I loaded the Mustang with all that we would need for over a month, and on the last possible day we left Syracuse heading for St. Priscillasville, to consummate the dream that she had held longer than I had. She was excited, and she had every right to be as we headed north through a snow-covered countryside toward what would prove to be bigger changes in both our lives than we could have possibly imagined."
December 21, 1993
There was no point in sitting in the surgical waiting room and staring at the clock, Eve knew very well. This would take hours, and they would be longer hours than it had taken when sheíd been rolled through those same doors four and a half years before Ė longer because back then, she hadnít been aware of them passing, but they had to have been every bit as long and longer for her parents and Shae, who had waited outside for her.
The last time sheíd been here, sheíd been saddened to know that of the several other SRS patients in various stages of recovery at the same time, only one besides her had a friend with them to hold their hand, to be friendly to them, to comfort them. Everyone else Ė everyone Ė was doing this bitterly alone and friendless, a desperate move in the face of hate and hostility to try and save their own lives. Even when they were outpatients, living in a motel up the street and visiting the hospital once or twice a day, there would be no one to drive them, no one to make a quick run to the drug store or the convenience store, no one but themselves, often in severe pain.
Well, almost no one. Though Shae and her parents spent a lot of time with Eve after her surgery, they spread themselves around the other patients as well, just letting them know there was someone there with a friendly word, a bit of understanding, someone who could do a simple kindness that often brought tears from someone in the midst of a lonely ordeal.
Even though Eve felt her primary responsibility was to Cheryl, she could do no less than her parents or Shae had done for the other patients, her new sisters under the skin. Even when Cheryl had been pre-op the day before, she introduced herself around, being friendly. For once, she did not hide the fact that she had been there, done that, and had the T-shirt that said "St. Priscillasville." If nothing else, she could be a walking inspiration that the pain would pass and better days would come. It would be made triply worse in that the patients on the floor this week were in exactly Cherylís shoes Ė students trying to squeeze the surgery and recovery in over the holiday break, and this time, all of them alone. That meant that everybody now on the floor, and a couple of others to come, would be lying painfully in a hospital bed over Christmas Day, but Eve determined that not a one of them would go without a friendly smile, a Christmas present, warm words, and cheer to make the holiday a little less lonely. It seemed little enough that she could do, but it was more than any of those people could have expected.
Good surgeons like to get the cutting done early, before their morning coffee, lest it cause their hands to shake in the slightest degree, so it was only showing a hint of light outside. But, one of the post-op patients, Rachel, was awake, and not unexpectedly in considerable pain Ė pain she was trying to avoid using morphine to quell, much like Eve had done. That meant there was something more important for Eve to do than sit in the surgical waiting room and watch the second hand inch its way around the dial of the clock. She was talking with Rachel, trying to get her mind off her agony, telling her some stories of how well things had worked for her once she was past this stage, trying to keep her looking into the future, rather than the now. Maybe it was helping.
After a while, at least partly to free herself for a few minutes from the pain she knew from her own experience that Rachel was feeling, she said she really ought to check on the others, stop by the waiting room to see if there was any word on Cheryl Ė though none could be expected for a couple of hours, at least Ė and perhaps get a cup of coffee. But she promised sheíd be back later, and Rachel seemed grateful.
St. Priscillasville was a small hospital, with only a handful of rooms and half of them reserved for local patients, not the surgical wing, so there wasnít a full-time cafeteria like might be expected in a larger place. Eve knew that there was a coffee pot down in a break room on the other side of the waiting room, so headed there Ė but as she passed the door of the waiting room, she saw it wasnít as empty as it had been when she left it earlier. There was a man sitting on the couch, face in his hands, crying his eyes out, the sobs literally shaking his body. The anguish hit Eve in the pit of her stomach Ė someoneís heart was close to breaking, and the pain could be felt from the hall. Sensitive as always, and now with more than a small degree of professionalism, as she was only a semester away from her masterís in clinical psychology, she had no thought of not trying to comfort this anguish.
She turned into the room, went over to the man, and put a hand on his shoulder. "Whatís the matter?" she asked in a gentle voice.
"Iím too late!" he wailed. "I tried, oh God I tried, but Iím too fucking late!"
"Too late?" she asked quietly.
"My brother," he sobbed. "I drove all night; I wanted to try one last time to talk him out of this."
Oh, shit! Eve thought. This has to be John! "I donít know if this will help," she told him as consolingly as possible, "But my last words to her before she was taken in there were, ĎDonít do it!í"
"I told him that, oh, God! I told him that. I tried to make him understand. I donít want him to ruin his life. I love him too much. He called last night, left a message on my machine that he was going to do it, and he hoped Iíd understand."
Eve shook her head. Cheryl must have done it after sheíd left to go back to the motel; this was the first sheíd heard about it! She must have felt she had to make one last try. "John," she pleaded gently, "She loves you more than you can know, and sheís been very sorry she was never able to get you to understand that she thinks this is something she has to do."
"But why? Christ almighty, why? Why did he have to do it to himself?"
"Because she knew in her heart there was nothing else she could do," Eve said. "John, I know your brother told you over a year ago that he knew there was no other way. The only way he made it this far was that the hope was laying out there for him. You know that. John, how many times did he attempt suicide?"
"How . . . how do you know that?" he said, a question finally penetrating his anguish.
"I know because Iíve been her roommate for the last four months," she replied. "John, weíve talked about it. Not just a little, but a lot. Iím just shy of a masterís in psychology, so youíd better believe that we dragged it out and examined it from every angle. Hardly a day went by that I didnít try to make her examine her decision, to be very sure it was the right thing to do. She loves you, John, she loves you a lot, and the hardest thing sheís had to face is that she had to turn her back on you to accomplish what she felt she had to do. Now, how many times did your brother attempt suicide?"
"Three times," he sighed with a sob, still with his head in his hands; he had yet to look up at her, and Eve realized suddenly that he didnít know who was talking to him. Let him know? Good question, maybe not, at least not now, it might confuse things. "Three that I know about, anyway. One time he almost made it."
"Try five," Eve told him. "Two real near misses, one of them after he turned his back on you because you wouldnít listen to what he was trying to tell you."
"Oh, God, I tried so hard to help him!"
"She knows you did," Eve replied gently, sitting down next to him, and putting her arm around him. "Your help and love is the only reason she made it this far. Thereís a good chance he might not have made it out of high school if you hadnít devoted yourself to him."
"But why did he have to do this, wreck his family, run away from us?" He swung around, and collapsed his head on her chest as her arms drew him to her, to try to comfort him. "I swear to Christ I donít understand. I canít understand why he thinks he has to mutilate himself to be happy. I tried to make him see that, I did what I could, and I failed, oh shit, I failed."
"John, please think. It came down to a simple choice for your brother, and that was whether you would have a live sister or a dead brother. Itís just as simple as that."
"But I canít bear to lose my brother! There had to have been something I could have done, something I could have said . . . " It went on for a long, long time as Eve held him close, trying to comfort him as best she could, his body wracked with sobs, his eyes filled with tears as he tried to deny the truth. Eve kept up her comforting words, and more than once her mind went back to those younger, more innocent days of hanging around the Mishawaka Mall, of the fair and the Ferris Wheel where heíd first kissed her, and the prom, the red gown, and Shae. Sheíd known then the brothers were close indeed, and that they doted on each other, John very protective of Paul, trying to defend him from all the taunts and teases and thoughtless hate that was thrown at him Ė trying, and often not succeeding, but at least trying, which was more than anyone else would do.
Eventually the words had been said over and over again, and he just lay over on the couch, his head on her chest, the tears rolling silently while she held on to him, like a mother trying to comfort an injured child. In time, he pretty well cried himself out, and just sat on the couch, head down, silently, his own depression close to suicide, she thought. In all that time, heíd never once taken a clear look at her face, never once shown any sign of recognizing her as she kept an arm around his shoulders.
After a while, the double doors to the operating suite opened, and the surgeon came out, still in scrubs, but mask dangling from his neck. "It went very well," he reported. "In fact, one of the best ever, I think. Weíve got things wrapped up; sheís in recovery. Sheís not real lucid, but you can see her for a couple minutes if you like."
"Thank you, doctor," Eve smiled. "I know you do good work, and your efforts are much appreciated."
"We try to please," he grinned. "Iím going to go get out of these scrubs and have my morning coffee. We can go over the details later, if you like."
"That will be fine," Eve said.
"Oh, God!" John said, still looking at the floor. "I donít know how I can face him now that heís turned himself into a parody of a woman."
Those words yanked Eveís chain just a little. Well, more than a little. She had been trying to be comforting, trying to be constructive, but now she realized she was going to have to take a different tack. And quickly.
She went over and knelt in front of him, and raised his head to look at her. "John," she said in a firm voice. "Those are real breasts youíve been crying on for the past two hours. Those are a womanís arms that have been holding you tight, and a womanís words that have been trying to comfort you. Do I look like a parody of a woman?"
"You . . .?" he said, unbelieving.
"Yes," she said, "Over four years now. John, I may be a parody of a woman to you, but no man Iíve ever been to bed with has been able to tell the difference. Now, John, Iíve been trying to comfort you, but there is one simple fact of life you are going to have to understand. It is this: What is done is done. There is no turning back. Your sister was prepared to go ahead in life without the love of her brother if she had to because she knew it was the only way she could survive and be happy."
"But, my brother . . . "
"Your sister," she said harshly. "Her name is Cheryl, and you know that. Paul is no more, has only been a memory for more than a year. You know that. You just refuse to admit it. John, the time for denial is past, if you love your brother. John, the very best thing you can do for her now is to go in there and tell her that you love her, not that you love her anyway. Because no matter what you wish, what you think might have been, does not matter anymore. You have to accept the reality of what is."
"I . . . I just canít . . . "
"John, repeat after me. ĎHi, Cheryl. Howís my sister?í"
"I . . . I canít . . . make myself."
"You better try, or youíre not going in there."
"You canít stop me."
"Iíve got a can of Mace in my purse thatís saying, ĎYou want to try me, buster?í"
"Youíd do it, wouldnít you?"
"Youíre goddamn right I would. John, I love your sister too much to want to see you hurt her, especially right now. You have the opportunity right now to go a long way toward putting things back together, at least the way theyíre going to have to be. Or you can piss it away and never have a brother or a sister again. Your choice. If you want to deny you have a sister, thereís the front door. Use it. Or else, say it. ĎHi, Cheryl. Howís my sister?í"
"Hi . . . Cheryl. Howís my . . . sister?"
"Good. Try it again, see if you can get it a little smoother."
"God, I can barely . . . Hi, Cheryl. Howís my sister?"
"One more time."
"Hi, Cheryl. Howís my sister?"
"Very good," Eve smiled a little. Just a little. "Now, weíre going to go in there. Youíre going to say that to her. Youíre going to be friendly, youíre going to be supportive, youíre going to speak of her as Cheryl, your sister, who is a woman, and if you step out of line youíre going to have the experience of being Maced in a recovery room, and then weíll see how much you cry. Do you understand?"
"Youíre being a real hard ass about this."
"Yes I am. John, do you remember how you had to protect your brother from the bullies, the teasing, the taunting? You werenít all that big, all you had was bravery and the willingness to be beaten up if you had to be, right? Am I right? Well, someone has to do that for your sister, and if you wonít, then by God I will have to do it. Even if itís her brother I have to protect her from."
"All right," he said. "Letís do it. Iíll try."
"Good," she nodded as she pulled the can of Mace from her purse so she could have it in her hand Ė and so he could see she wasnít joking. "Now, dry those tears and get a smile on your face. At least let her see you smile."
* * *
Cheryl looked like hell Ė which is to say, she looked like a surgical patient in a recovery room. Eve didnít have much memory of her own experience, just bright lights overhead, Shae and her parents with smiles. She knew they must have said something nice and supportive, and she had warm feelings of a long-sought deed done, but they were all mixed together and mushy in the fog of anesthesia and painkillers. Cheryl was no less delirious than Eve remembered herself being, babbling under the influence of those same drugs and barely there. "Hi, Cheryl!" Eve said in a bubbly voice. "You did it, girl!"
"I did it. Finally!"
"Welcome to the world of womanhood." Eve grinned. "Cheryl, John came to see you."
"Hi sis," he said, sounding fairly sincere. Probably an act, Eve thought, but at least he seems to be trying.
"John!" she babbled. "You came! I hoped youíd come."
"I had to, Cheryl," he said slowly.
"Glad . . . youíre both here," she mumbled. "God, I remember . . . do you, John . . . that beautiful red gown at the prom . . . Eve, you looked so beautiful."
"Oh, yes, I remember . . . Eve?" he glanced up from Cherylís smiling face. "Eve?" he said again, disbelieving. His mind had been so tuned to denial for so long he couldnít make himself believe. "Eve?" he said a little louder, the shock of recognition striking. "My God!" he gasped, "Eve!"
"Itís me," she smiled, tightening her grip on the can in her hand. It looked like John was getting set to lose it big time. "You looked wonderful in your tux."
"Oh . . . my . . . God . . . I get it now," he said, rushing for the door.
"I think I better go," she told Cheryl gently. "Iíll be right outside."
"Thanks . . . for John."
"Youíre welcome. Just rest. I have to go." She turned and rushed for the door herself.
John was standing in the middle of the waiting room, watching the door, and Eve could just about see the steam coming out of his ears. At least Iíve still got the Mace, she thought. I might need it. "You!" he shouted. "Youíre to blame for this, arenít you?"
"John, get hold of yourself," she said quickly. "Youíre just looking for someone to blame, arenít you?"
"You have to be the one to blame for it! You talked him into it! Clear back at the prom that time, didnít you?"
"John, no!" she said. "Now stop and think about how stupid that idea is. Why would I talk her into it? Hell, Iíve spent the last four months trying to talk her out of it."
"You spent the past four months talking him into it, after you put the idea in his head at the prom!"
"John, thatís ridiculous. I never mentioned it at the prom. You never had any reason to think I wasnít a girl then, and neither did he. I was very stealthed back then, only my parents and Shae knew about it, and we didnít tell a soul. Now, listen to me. I told you that I tried to talk her out of it. I spent a lot of time at it.
"John, I can tell you from my own experience that this is not something you do unless youíre very desperate. After what Iíve heard the last four months, Iím sure she was even more desperate than I was. You want to know how desperate I was? I had a revolver in my hand; I had five people I was going to take with me. The only other friend besides Shae I had all through school got the same kind of shit I took. He managed to take two of the bastards with him when he died. The only reason I didnít is that Shae decked me before I could. The only reason Cheryl made it this far was the fact that you carried her so much. It has been very difficult for her to not have your support in what she felt she had to do to keep from trying suicide again and maybe making it. I asked you before: Live sister or dead brother? You could have helped, but you didnít, so she had nothing else to do but take the decision out of your hands. Donít you goddamn blame me for that!"
"Iím sorry, Eve," he said, near tears again. "Itís . . . very . . . and then you . . . " He looked at her for a moment, reaching for words, then finally said, "Iíve been an asshole, huh?"
"No, John," she said gently. "Youíre not an asshole. If you were, you wouldnít have bothered to come at all. John, Cheryl is your sister now. She loves you as much as she ever did, and she needs you even more." She let out a sigh. "John, the prom that you and Paul took Shae and me to is possibly my fondest memory of high school. I owe you for that. I already promised Cheryl Iíd hold her hand through this in thanks for that, and Iíll hold yours. If you need to, you can dump all your anguish and denial on me. All I ask is, donít dump any of it on her. She doesnít need it from the brother she loves, of all people."
"Eve, I donít know where to start to apologize. I mean, to you, or to her."
"You donít need to apologize to me at all, John," she replied, wrapping her arms around him, "And a couple minutes ago you made a real good start at apologizing to Cheryl."