Patrick will be here in ten minutes and I’m shaking.
I know he’ll be on time. We’ve been seeing each other for nearly three months now, and he’s never, not once, been late. What a contrast to last few men I dated. Ten, fifteen, twenty minutes, even a half-hour late, with nary an apology. And when he shows up to one of our dates, he doesn’t just want to talk about himself. He likes to hear what’s going on with me. Can you believe it? I’ve never been with someone who is on my wavelength like he is. He seems to know exactly when I need a backrub, when I need a pep-talk, even when I need some space. He regularly tells me he loves me and shows it in his smiles, kisses, and warm glances whether he knows I’m looking or not.
And the biggest thing? Get this. Not only is he okay that I’m trans, that I spent my first 20 years as a male, but he doesn’t shy away from the topic. Occasionally he’ll ask me a question about how things were back then. So many other men said they were OK with it, but they really meant only if the subject doesn’t come up and they never heard about it or thought of it. In so many ways, this is my dream relationship.
Or it was, until Saturday.
After we’d been together long enough that we both knew the other wasn’t about to disappear from lack of interest or cold feet, we decided it was time to meet the people in our lives. He had dinner with my parents last week. It was nice. They’re still a little iffy about my dating men. They let go of the dream of having a grown son, but somehow still expect me to bring home girls instead of boys. However, they got along great with Patrick and my dad even invited him to try his bowling league.
Next it was my turn. Patrick sees his 12-year-old daughter Luca every other weekend and a couple nights each week. Luca is the most important person in his life, a fact that attracts me to him even more. I felt very honored that he was inviting me with them on a harbor cruise.
Things went badly from the start. Luca was sullen and dour, a far cry from the enthusiastic, clever girl he’d always described. Several times he asked if she was feeling well, to which she said she was fine in a clipped voice that sounded anything but sincere. Still, we went on the cruise and were on deck watching the skyscrapers at the waterfront go by when Patrick went indoors to get us some snacks.
Luca picked that moment to come alive.
“He’s going to drop you,” she told me. Her tone was trying to be matter-of-fact, but I could tell there was tension in her voice. These were not words spoken lightly.
I wasn’t sure how to respond. Honesty seemed the best choice. “That would make me unhappy,” I told her. “I love your father very much.”
“He never stays with girls I don’t like,” she said. “You’re going to be gone soon.”
This was going downhill fast. I wasn’t sure how to respond. She made it easier by continuing to talk.
“I know you’re not even a woman. You’re a man. If you stay with my dad, everyone is going to know you’re a man.”
This stung. I clenched my jaw to keep from reacting. A 12-year-old child didn’t need to hear what I was thinking.
She glanced at me quickly then away again. “You’ll last another week maybe. Two if you’re lucky. But then you’re gone.”
She looked back over the water toward the city, silent now her ruthless verbal payload had been delivered.
How do you stay cheerful after that? How do you spend the rest of the day being any kind of good company knowing that level of animosity buzzed in the air. How do you keep your mind on conversation, how do you enjoy the moment, while choking on a bitter cocktail of dread, fear, and inadequacy. Dread and fear at the possibility she might be right. Inadequacy at the notion that somehow there was a smooth, suave way to react but I completely lacked the social adeptness to find it. I left them early, inventing some minor ache or pain that needed babying. I didn’t sleep well that night, nor the next, wondering what I should have said, and how I deal with things. Do I tell Patrick? Tell him what? That the person he loved most in life could be conniving and cruel? Would he even believe me? If he did, what would he do about it? If she had that level of hate for me, how could we ever hope to be a family? This relationship, the best romantic fit of my life, was suddenly doomed.
That was two days ago. Today, around 2PM a text came in from Patrick asking whether he could stop by after work. I wasn’t surprised — I’d expected something like this since the cruise — but still, my blood ran cold.
I knew it wasn’t routine. We almost never met at my apartment. It’s barely enough room for my dog and me. What I earn answering a help line for the city Health Department doesn’t buy much. Patrick’s condo, bought with money earned as a manager in a mechanical engineering firm, is spacious and comfortable, so we nearly always go there.
But you don’t break up with someone on your home turf. You do it in their space, to leave quickly if they make a scene.
Will I make a scene? I’d like to believe I won’t, that I’ll remain dry eyed and stoic until the back of his tall frame fades out of earshot before I totally disintegrate into choking sobs. I’m probably fooling myself. It’s only ten till six and already I’m having trouble keeping my composure. I busy myself with chores. Set up dinner. Lay clothes out for tomorrow. Answer email. Anything to keep my mind off what is about to happen. Part of me wants him here now, to get it over with, but another part wants the final few minutes of our relationship to last forever. Until he walks through that door and delivers the news, I can hope I’m about to hear something else. What, though? 12 weeks is far too early for a proposal or even a request to move in. He could easily do anything else over the phone.
The seconds between buzzing him in and the inevitable knock pass in an instant. My hand hovers above the brass doorknob, not wanting to open it, but knowing it must be done, like swallowing truly bad tasting medicine. In a quick motion I pull the door open.
He gives me an obligatory kiss and sits on the sofa. He touches the space next to him, inviting me to join him, a tender gesture that will make the end all that more painful. I’m reluctant to place myself next to him. Perhaps I have the misguided notion that if I don’t sit down, he can’t deliver his news, and we’ll stay together. But he wears such an expectant look that before I’m aware of my own actions, I find myself beside him.
At first, his words flow past my clenched mind, bouncing off the rock hard tightness of my feelings. When I finally open it for input I find myself looking over a picture of a boat on a glossy sheet of paper he’s put before me. In the background, a forested mountainside slopes into clear blue water.
“… they’re giving us a group rate,” he is saying, “but we’d need to book soon. There are only a few cabins left. Some others from my department are going, so there’ll be people we know.”
I struggle to take in his words.
“Are you okay?” He asks. “You seem distant. You were saying you always wanted to see Alaska. I heard there was space left on this cruise. I thought we might go together.”
I’m still struggling to connect with reality. “You want us to go to Alaska? On a boat?”
“I wanted to show you the brochure, so you could see for yourself, before I commit ourselves and put a deposit down. Do you want to go? Can you get time off?”
I lose it, bursting into noisy tears so violent and intense, that no communication is possible. Not knowing what else to do, he wraps his arms around me and waits for my gasps and sobs to subside. He gently strokes my hair until my ability to talk through my tears is restored.
“What’s the matter, Hon? Has something happened? Talk to me, please?”
“I thought you were about to tell me we were through.”
“Break up? Why ever would you think that?”
“Luca? On the boat, Saturday?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Those words bring a seismic shift in my reality. I assumed Luca had done her dirty work and had hastened the inevitable end toward which our relationship was headed. Now the puzzle pieces have shift. Clearly Patrick has no idea what was said. Whatever plot Luca was hatching (if indeed there even was one), has yet to reach his ears and he is blissfully ignorant.
Unfortunately, Patrick is not satisfied with multiple varieties of never mind, and insists I tell him the whole story, including word for word the conversation with Luca. Afterward, he leans away from me, considering the situation thoughtfully, as I wipe my tears on my sleeve.
“You should have told me.”.
“No. I didn’t mean that you should apologize. I meant that I need to know what’s going on with Luca. She’s got a friend Darlene whom I’m not terribly fond of, whose parents were divorced a number of years ago. It may be that Darlene put her up to it, or maybe she decided what to tell you all on her own. Wherever she’s gotten this notion that it’s okay to talk to my girlfriend that way, or anyone for that matter, it’s got to stop.”
“What are you going to do? You can’t make her like me.”
“No, I can’t. But requiring you to win her over just to get civil treatment isn’t fair to you, and I won’t have it. She doesn’t have to like you, but she does need to speak to you kindly and to welcome you into our family. She needs to know that’s what decent people do.”
“How are you going to get her to do that? I don’t want you to punish her. That’s not the foot I want to start out on.”
“Don’t worry, I won’t punish her. I understand what it’s like to have to get used to a new reality after her parents split up.”
“What happens if we can never get along?”
He looks into my face. “Aw, Honey, you’re really worried about this, aren’t you.”
“Are you scared it wouldn’t work out between us because of her?”
Reluctantly, I nod again.
He shakes his head. “Won’t happen. I won’t let it. I love you. I won’t let anything get between us. Ever.”
“What are you going to do about Luca?”
He leans back against the couch. “You know what I do for a living, don’t you?”
“You design fuel efficient buses, right?”
He nods. “Does you think every engine we build does what it’s supposed to the first time?”
“I imagine not.”
“You’re right. So what do we do? We change something. If it still doesn’t work, we change something else. We’re never going to make it worse, because we know how we got this far. If we keep trying things, something will work. It always has. We’ve never failed to solve a technical problem.
“That’s what we’re going to do with Luca. We’ll figure it out. Somewhere, somehow there is an arrangement that will make all of us happy, and we need to find it. We will find it, as long as we keep trying. But there are two things you need to do. Can you do two things for me?”
“First, if Luca gives you trouble, you need to tell me right away. No matter how minor, even if it seems like nothing. I can’t teach her the right way to be unless I know she needs to be taught. Will you do that?”
“Sure. What’s the second thing?”
“You need to be patient and trust me. Trust that I love you and I will keep working at it until I find a way we can all get along. Can you do that? Can you stick with me and trust me?”
I consider this for a minute. “I think I can do that.”