Chapter Five: Binary Relationships?
by Jeffrey M. Mahr
©2000 Jeffrey M. Mahr -- all rights reserved
Halfway through the second scream, I changed from terror to joy. It was Paul. I did not even think about it. The baseball bat was again on the floor, the car door was open and I was hugging him like a long lost son. I was out of the car so fast, he barely missed being hit by the door and I guess he was still off balance when I lunged at him. We ended up rolling on the ground, still hugging each other.
I am not certain who started it, but he ended up on top, smiling down at me while I smiled back up at him. That is when he kissed me.
Now, everyone knows that men, real men, do not kiss each other. The thing about quiche is wrong. I know that some of them occasionally do eat quiche. Heck, I even eat it once in a blue moon or two. The kissing thing, however, was still a problem and I froze in shock.
Paul felt me go stiff and immediately stopped. He was close enough that he could see the panic in my eyes. With a muttered, "Oh, shit." He got up and helped me up. Without a word, he stalked into the cabin, leaving me standing alone and confused, by the car. Given that the keys were still in the cabin, I really did not have a choice, admittedly hesitantly, I followed him back into the cabin.
He was in the kitchen unpacking one of my bags of groceries. Still without saying a word, he opened two beers, handed me one and marched into the great room. My purse, with the car keys in it, was staring at me from the counter. It was a tough choice, but I followed him into the other room.
We sat silently drinking our beers and wondering what to say, where to start, if we even should start. I can only guess what Paul was thinking, but I know I was trying to figure out if there was any chance to recover the friendship we had had, at least that is what I was telling myself at the time.
I knew we were in trouble when he went for a second round of beers. At this rate, I would pass out drunk before he got ready to talk. It looked like it was time for me to shake him out of another major introspective spell. The only problem was that I was not sure I wanted to this time. This conversation was bound to be the weirdest we had ever had.
"Paul?" He jerked like he had been struck. Still he said nothing, but at least he was looking at me now.
"Paul, listen to me. We need to talk. I will not try to tell you this is anything less than the weirdest situation I have ever been in. It is. However, we have been best friends way to long to lose that. So, how about it, are we going to talk or are you going to try to drink me under the table?
A soap opera moves the plot along faster than it took him to decide whether he was going to answer or not and I was getting ready to explode from the tension when he finally made up his mind.
"You're right. First, I need you to understand that I am sorry. I never meant for this to happen."
There he went again, being a lawyer and confusing rather than clarifying things. Was he talking about the kiss, surprising me, disappearing for more than a day, coming here, or something else? This was NOT the time for pranks or verbal sparing. I vowed, probably for the first time in our long relationship, to keep quiet and just listen.
"We've been best friends for more than thirty years. I have cherished and valued our friendship. There are times when I do not know what I would have done, how I would have survived, without it. I don't know how I will continue now if I have lost it."
Thank the heavens for that. Now can we keep it? That kiss was definitely weird -- better than I would have expected -- but still weird.
"When I found out I was adopted, the world nearly collapsed around me. That may not be what happens to most people, I do not know, but it did to me. Not that my adopted parents were bad people, you know that they were not, but I was no longer who I thought I was. I was now someone I did not know any more. My whole world turned upside down -- at least for a while.
"You and your family saved me. You gave me an anchor to grasp onto until I could regain my equilibrium and realize that my adoptive parents were still there for me, still loved me, until I could "wake up and smell the coffee" as they say.
"In other words, I owe you more than you can probably imagine. The bottom line is that I will be there for you, period. No questions asked. Guaranteed."
Why did the phrase "one thousand percent" suddenly come to mind? No reason, just an errant thought. This was Paul, not some stranger.
"And I will be there for you. It's just that something's changed, something basic and it's making it extremely difficult to keep the promise you just heard me make."
Great. I knew the other shoe was going to fall. I felt the need to become small and unobtrusive, but the best I could do was bring my legs up onto the beat up old stuffed chair I was sitting on and hug them tightly to me.
"I've been lying to you and I don't want to any more."
"Please," he did not move, but his eyes pleaded with me. He had beautiful, deep, innocent, trusting eyes, "let me finish before you say or do anything.
"I've been lying to you. I was not recently on a difficult case. I have been here, in this cabin, with all the wonderful memories. I needed to think, really think about us."
Yup. It was going to be that thousand percent, just like Muskie and McGovern. I am about to lose my best friend and I do not even know why. My eyes became moist and I surreptitiously wiped them against my knees.
"When you changed..."
I just groaned, internally I hoped, but I was not certain. It might have slipped out as Paul was examining me strangely. First, that damn cancer was going to kill me, now it was going to kill the best friendship I had ever had or could ever hope to have.
"...it changed our relationship. I didn't want it to and I tried to ignore it, but I couldn't."
Yup. It is over. I do not know why, but it is. My knees were beginning to feel damp from the frequent efforts to dry my eyes with fabric of my jeans.
"You see. I loved you like a brother until the change... then, I fell in love with you as a woman."
My head jerked up and my face went neutral. No tears, no curl of the lip to show happiness, sorrow, or even anger, no glow of attentiveness in the eyes. I was barely breathing. A mannequin would have seemed more alive. It was a trick I had learned from Paul, who had learned it as a way of surviving as a trial lawyer. Most people interpret this kind of facial expression and body language as a severe rebuke and start talking, sometimes unwisely, in order to repair the damage. It is the closest thing to a "Perry Mason" style trial ending that ever happened in real life as the person on the receiving end blabbers until they realize they might be saying too much. Nevertheless, that is not why I did it, I was so shocked that I shut down in order to backpedal frantically and figure out what Paul's words meant.
Most people would smugly sit there as they read this and say something like "Jeez, what a maroon." The whole story had been leading up to this point and, in hindsight, it is obvious to me also. At the time, however, I was still making that same fatal conceptual mistake. I kept thinking of myself as a male. Sure, it was faulty logic, and sure I had been given multiple reasons to review and revise my thinking in just the last several days, but intellectualizing something and letting it sink into you at a gut level are NOT the same thing. I liken it to the folks in Ireland, the Middle East or any of a dozen other sites around the world, who know that they would be better off without the death and destruction, but who cannot change the way they think so that they can move on and find a path to peace. On the other hand, maybe they can, but the old emotions, the hatreds, the scars, are just too deep and they do not want to change. It was still wrong, but I can justify -- or at least explain -- my behavior either way. Regardless, I was still blinding myself to reality. I was so wrapped up in my own thoughts; I missed some of what he said next.
"...to hurt you so I'll leave, get out of your life. I hope you can forgive me one day. Once I am settled, I will send you a forwarding address. I hope you'll keep it... and maybe, one day... use it."
He stood to leave, shoulders hunched, a broken man. My best friend was walking out of my life, when I needed him most, all because of some stupid gender change. I briefly marveled at how such a seemingly insignificant thing could possibly make such a tremendous difference. Nevertheless, my real emotion was anger. He was making decisions about me, about us, without even giving me the chance to express an opinion -- whatever my opinion was.
I snorted derisively. "That's all you can come up with -- to leave? I thought lawyers were supposed to think outside the box, to be creative, to find the solutions that elude everyone else. For that matter, what kind of fair weather friend are you that you would walk away from thirty years over anything?" I was trying to hurt him; he deserved it for running out and, from the flush that rapidly spread over his face, I had succeeded admirably.
"Damn it! There IS no other solution. I can stay here and agonize over how I need you desperately but cannot have you while second-guessing every interaction, hoping, no praying, for something that is not there or I can leave. If I stay, I will not be able to function and I will destroy something I cherish, will cherish forever.
"Did you ever wonder why I never settled down? It certainly was not for lack of opportunity. It was because I never found the right woman. I was looking for someone who could be a friend first and a lover second. The problem was, I always compared those friendships to ours and none ever came close.
"When you became female, not some ersatz female via hormones and surgery, but a real, genetic female, I was ecstatic that you were alive and I helped you through the legal processes because I could. However, the more time I spent with you, the more I realized that something very basic had changed. I was talking to a female and she was a friend, my best friend -- and she was you.
"Now we've both been straight all our lives, and I knew from talking to you that you still viewed yourself as a male. As such, any relationship beyond friendship was impossible. Yet that's exactly what I began to want, to dream of, to need, more and more.
"As I told you earlier, I lied when I told you I was busy with a case for the last three months. I was here -- thinking.
"When I arranged that date..."
For some reason that word made it through the haze in my mind. It was a "date." I was surprised to find that I liked the idea more than I expected.
"...I had planned to explain this all to you, but then you changed.
"Now, maybe I should apologize for my hormones, but the change made you into my image of the perfect woman, or at least the sex goddess of my dreams. It threw me for a loop. You had just changed the equation again and what I expected to be difficult became impossible. I had to have you. Even glancing at you made me want you, want to rape you, my best friend, on the spot."
"You mean you didn't think I had become some horrible monster?"
"What would make you think that? Didn't you see my hands in my lap? Can't you guess what I was doing?"
"I thought you were just... No. I guess I didn't." Primarily, I was actually relieved. Secondly, I realized I was also insulted, hurt that he did not love me as I was, but as some image of perfection. Then, I realized how foolish that was. This whole issue arose only because he did love me, regardless of whether I was male or female, average or zaftig. He loved me, the inner me. The exterior was just window dressing. This was information that most people would never know and would be all the sadder for that lack of knowledge.
"Well I was. I got out of there before I did something we would both regret. Something that our friendship could never, ever, in a million years, survive. I came here again, to think, to evaluate my life, to try to figure out how I could be such a sick and perverted person."
We just glared at each other; well, he glared, I was... bemused? It was a strange emotion for what we both knew was a major turning point in our lives, yet I knew what I had to do. No matter how this ended, I could not let him walk out of my life without talking it through. Softly, tenderly, I beckoned, "Come back and sit down. Please."
When he finally sat, on the couch, near the door and looking like a deer ready to bolt if it was spooked, I began. "Paul. You have had your say and I listened to you. Now I hope you will do the same for me, as there are several points I need to make.
"First, I love you dearly and have for many years. You are more important to me than anyone else in my life. You are like... no, you are family, 'secret brothers' together.
"Just two days ago something impossible happened. I do not know how it happened or if it can or will happen again. I do not know if it means I may be able to regain my original body. Until then I would have said it was impossible, but lately it seems that word is highly over-rated. I do not know what the long- or short-term risks are. What's worse, I need to develop a really good justification for stopping or at least delaying further human testing, currently scheduled to start to two weeks, or risk having the same kinds of changes happen to other people.
"I mention this, only to explain that while some might think them important, they are secondary to other changes in my life. Just an hour or so ago, I came to the belated conclusion that I was denying how pervasive and significant gender is in our lives. Regardless of how this turns out, I have promised myself I would embrace life again instead of denying it.
"I can't tell you that I will marry you and have your children. I know I am not ready to even consider sex with another person until I know what I am looking for in another person. Heck, right now I don't even know what gender I'm going to end up, let alone the gender of my sexual or life partners. If you can bear with me long enough to permit me to discover what's happened to me and what it means for me... for us, we'll both be able to move on knowing that whatever happens was meant to be. It's not a lot, but it's the best I have at the moment, and I'd hate to lose what we've had for all these years without even trying to save it."
I was done and maybe we were too. I had not offered much, but I hoped and prayed it was enough. I needed his help and his support desperately. As he sat there considering my words, I bit my lip and wondered if I should offer more, if I should offer myself, to make certain he stayed.
"So you're offering me the chance to continue the pain I've been feeling for the last three months, possibly indefinitely, to torture myself looking at and being near someone who doesn't share, or even understand the meaning of, the love I feel for her. The only carrot you dangle is the possibility that your feelings will change over time, now that you know how I feel."
"What I'm offering you is the chance to keep a lifelong friendship and maybe more." I thought furiously, trying to determine what I could say that would keep our friendship intact. It was not the "guys thing" that was tearing it asunder; it was the "guy-gal thing". I had to change my perspective if I was to succeed. "What do I need to say, that I'd appreciate it and I'll show my appreciation however you'd like?"
His face turned red and he was glaring again, but he did not leave. "I've never forced myself on anyone and I don't plan on starting now."
"Then, like I just said, you choice is to stick around and be patient while I try to work things out and maybe win it all, or walk out and possibly doom us both to unhappiness at the least. What I am telling you is that I need your help to find myself, for I truly am a 'stranger in a stranger land'."