To Be a Different Someone: Chapter 2 "From This Moment On"

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We left without a word to my dad or to each other. The car trip was silent for the first hour of our journey.
“I’m sorry that this is happening, James.”
“Why did we have to leave?”
She stammered for a moment before sighing. “Some things are best left unsaid for now.”
Her answer kind of took me aback. Sure, if I was six years old then she could tell me that and then say I should go back to my coloring books, but I was fourteen and deserved some answers. I didn’t argue with her at the time; she had her reasons, and things she didn’t want to say right did I.
“We’re going to spend some time with Grandma for a while.”

I only nodded in reply. Grans lived on a ranch outside of Missoula, Montana...out in literally nowhere. As I stared out the window, I looked at the space between myself and my reflection on the glass...I thought more of the future.
This would be my chance to do things the way I wanted to. I could actually be in charge of my life—as Mom would try to look for some form of work...or she would travel back and forth to Spokane so much to discuss my welfare I would be left to fend for myself.
We arrived in Missoula at three-something in the morning. I had slept most of the way—and by the look of it, perhaps Mom did too. She didn’t even bother to grab her purse as she got out of the car. I grabbed my backpack and a few of my bagged clothes but left the box of material.
We walked up the front porch and Mom pounded on the
door. Several lights came on, and a voice came through a speaker
“Who is it?” Gran’s voice wasn’t tired or irritated, but it did sound far away.
“It’s Rachel, Mom.”
“Rachel, it’s three thirty-seven in the morning, dear.”
“I know. Things have become...complicated.”

Mom buried her head in her hands and then looked up to the rafters above the porch as the speaker clicked off.

The locks creaked and the door opened. Grans stood before us, wearing a long nightgown under her robe.
“I suppose coffee is in order?”
“No, Mom, can I just explain it all in the morning?”
“Of course dear.” She noticed me standing there as well. “James.”
She reached out to hug me, which required a bit of effort to maneuver with the bags I was carrying.
“Are you okay?”
Mom walked into the house, almost zombie-like, and shuffled down the hall.
“Does this have to do with your father?”
I nodded, and she shook her head.
“Let me get your bed ready,” Grans said as she patted my back.
“You don’t have to.”
“And you didn’t ask to have that man as your father, either,” she replied and lead the way.
I walked inside and she closed the door.

Gran’s house was huge, palatial one could say—at least that’s how I described it to people who asked. It was able to accommodate several guests, so imagine how Christmas was. The only problem was even I could only imagine how a family Christmas would be…because Grans and
Dad never saw eye-to-eye. Dad may have towered over her, but she had a piss-and-vinegar attitude—If you hurt any member of my family...and not caring about anyone’s emotions was like second nature to my Dad—so the dream of a family gathering was all I had.

We climbed the staircase to the second floor and then up a half step to the loft. Krystal and I dubbed it the guest cottage, as it was a section of the second floor divided into two bedrooms, a small den, and a full bath We spent a lot of time there in the past. It was in immaculate shape—and our old toys were still on the shelves. Grans once mentioned she held onto them for her great grand ones. The entire floor smelled of cedar; it felt like a safe haven.
Grans walked into the one of the rooms and turned on the light. I followed behind her and set my backpack down on the floor, against the bed.
“Did you bring any clothes to change into for the night?”
“I have a few things.”
“Good lord, dear. Did he make you leave at gunpoint?” She turned to look at me and I just shook my head. “Get some sleep. We can go to the store tomorrow and get you some new clothes.”
“Thank you,” I replied as I hung the bags in the closet, freeing my hands.
“Good night, dear,” she said as she gave me a quick hug.

Grans walked out of the room and closed the door. I sat down on the bed and, in an attempt to get comfortable, took off my worn out shoes... I was wide-awake—not going through denial or sadness at my situation, just sitting with a calmness I had never felt before. I grabbed my bag and took out one of my sketchbooks.

The book contained my dress designs, including the Japanese-style school uniform, which took up several sheets. I went over the materials in my mind. I would have to make several adjustments to the neckline and shoulders.

The next design was a short, blood-red skirt with matching midriff blouse. The final outfit was an elongated gown. It was a simple charcoal sketch; I could never decide what color I wanted it to be, and without Krystal around, I would have to make decisions on my own. Big decisions.
I fell asleep on the floor and woke up the next morning to the sound of chirping birds. No yelling or stomping feet outside the door. It was so peaceful I almost wanted to jump into the bed and go back to sleep, but I got up instead and walked out of the loft room.
It was after nine o’clock and Grans was outside on her swing chair on the back porch area. I opened the sliding glass doors and stepped out in my bare feet.

“Did you sleep well?” she asked as she looked up from a magazine.
“Yes, thank you.”
“Are you hungry?” If I had said yes, Grans would have jumped off the swing and run into the kitchen to make enough for the First Continental Army.
I shook my head no. “Where’s Mom?”
“She went into town to speak with a friend of mine about, well, never mind that for now I suppose.” She put the magazine down and got off the swing. “Let’s go into town ourselves and get you some new clothes.”
“Thank you,” I replied. “Where are we going?”
“How about the mall? You can pick some nice, new things to wear.”

I thought of what had Krys said: You should just go out and do it. Wear what you want. Be who you are. I was 200 miles away from Spokane and no one knew me from Jane in Missoula.
“I’ll get ready.”

The drive was mostly in silence except for some small talk. I didn’t really have much to say and I had my mind on what I was going to buy. What would Grans think if I bought what I liked? Would she turn pale and have a heart attack in the middle of the store if I wanted to buy a short skirt or a camisole?

“James, if it’s all the same to you, can I just give you some cash and allow you go to pick out some things you like?”
“That’s fine,” I replied as she parked the car in a handicapped spot.
“I’m afraid I’m too old to keep up with you.”
“You’re not that old, Grandma.”
“Of course I am, dear. I’m ancient and cranky, but I still do love to shop. We’ll meet for lunch.”
“Thank you,” I said as she handed me a wad of bills I placed in my wallet. I had no idea how much she gave me and I thought it would be rude to ask or count it in front of her. I walked inside and went to one of the directory signs. Where to go? I took out my wallet and flipped through the bills. Grans had given me four hundred dollars. She had given a teenager who was plucked from what he knew as normal to the status of a refugee Four. Hundred. Dollars. That being said, it was time to make use of it.

“Get rid of the unicolor shirts and the pants grandpa was buried in. Get a nice shirt and some denim that hugs you.”

I could make some of my own clothes and not spend a fortune doing it, but I couldn’t make a decent pair of pants so I started there. I walked into a store and searched though the different sizes until I found a pair that looked right.
“Where can I try these on?” I asked a store clerk.
She looked at the jeans and then at me. “You do know these are women’s?”
“Yes,” I replied without hesitation.
“The fitting rooms are around the corner.”
“Thank you."
I walked in the direction she indicated and went into one of the open dressing rooms.
They looked good and they felt so incredible, I wanted to try on a few more.
I left the store with three pairs of jeans, two striped shirts, and the eyes of several clerks staring at me.

“Then let’s pierce your ears.”

I walked through the mall until I found a shop that sold trinkets, necklaces, and earrings. I stepped up to the counter as the clerk, who was a twenty-something person with more metal in her ears, nose, and tongue than I had ever seen, turned to me. Her nose ring alone looked like it weighed a ton.
“How can I help you?” she scratched at a gauge in her ear as she asked.
“What do I need to do to get my ears pierced?”
“You want both of them done?”
“Yes,” I answered as I looked at the earrings behind the glass.
“You need to fill this out. And sign the bottom.”
She handed me a clipboard and I filled out the information as requested. The bottom of the form had a space for a parent to sign. I signed my father’s name and then handed it back to her.
“Looks good to me; come over here.”

She led me to a black leather chair and I sat down. We went over the types of earrings they had and positions. She presented two gold studs.
“They’re starters. You can then move on to other types if you want after a few weeks of healing.”
I nodded and she got to work.
I didn’t feel a lot of discomfort when she punched the posts through my lobes.

I paid for the piercing and walked out of the store with a small bag of cleaner and another set of studs.
I noticed my ears were slightly numb as I walked toward the food court. Then I saw Grans and the blood rushed to my head.

“There you are, James. Did you find something you liked?” She looked at her wrist, probably checking the time before she focused on me again. “Why is your face red?”
“Yes, I found something.” I steeled myself for her next question.
“Let me see.”
“Right here,” I pointed to my ears.
“Earrings?” she asked as she adjusted her glasses.
“Simple gold studs for now.” I touched the orb on my right ear.
“Going for the long, dangly ones, eventually?”
“Yes,” I answered as I sat on the other side of the small table.
“I see,” she had a bit of curiosity in her voice. “You hungry?”
“A bit.”
“Any of these places interest you?”
I looked around the food court and shook my head. “No, not really.”
“You’re not really hungry, are you?” Grans laid her hands on the table and looked at me.
“No, are you?” I asked and started to feel ill at-ease.
“Let’s talk.”

Grans was always one to see a situation before anyone else did. I’m very sure she knew everything that was going on in my parents’ lives without asking a single question. I used to think she was psychic.
“About-about what?” I stuttered in response.
“Your mother tells me you design dresses.”
“Yes. Krystal models them for me,” I replied, still not sure where the conversation was going.
“I understand.”
“I don’t think you really do,” I answered as I avoided looking at her.
“No, no, they’re important to you. You’re going to design and sell them, right?”
“Well, yes, I could do that, but that wasn’t my first idea.”
I had piqued her curiosity. “What are you going to do with them?”
“Make my own clothes,” I said as I felt a little confidence build up.
“Well, I don’t think pants are very proper, so—”

I stopped as Grans looked at me with her mouth agape. I assumed I should hand the rest of the money back to her, walk away, and go live in the mountains as the strange wilderness hermit rumored to lurk around Montana.
“What’s your current style?” Gran asked as she leaned in closer.
“It’s a school uniform. My school doesn’t do uniforms but I think that it looks unique, especially with a corresponding skirt.”
“What do you need to complete it?” she asked as her face lit up in a smile.
“A little flourish like some brass buttons, clips.”

Here I was, talking shop with my grandmother in the food court of a mall. She kept asking me questions about my designs and with each description, I’d move my hands to show how the designs would look on me.
“I’d like to change my hair color, ditch the glasses…I want to be who I am inside.”
“Who are you on the inside, dear?
“I’m a girl. I’ve always been one. A tomboy, maybe, but I’ve always thought of myself as a girl.”
Grans stood up from her chair. “I don’t think we’ve been introduced yet.”
“Grans?” She motioned for me to stand up and I did.
“I’m Aylesea Monroe and who is this lovely young girl I’m meeting for the first time?”
“Jennifer, Jennifer Kane.” Grans took one of my hands and squeezed it.
“It’s very nice to meet you, Jennifer,”

Grans had a spring in her step for the rest of the time we were out as she wanted to go to almost every single store.
“Grans, I’m fine with what I already bought.”
“I know dear, but now you’re shopping with me and— Oh, this is very pretty. So is this one. Do you need new shoes?” She looked at my worn tennis shoes and then waved at a clerk. “Excuse me, Miss?”
The clerk stepped right over to us. “Yes ma’am?
“We need to find a pair of shoes for my granddaughter. Jennifer, what is your shoe size?”

After Grans toted me around from store to store, buying items she thought I needed, we spent the rest of the afternoon talking in the kitchen while preparing dinner.
“I’m happy for you, Jennifer.”
“It’s wonderful to hear someone call me by that name.”
“It should. It’s who you are, dear. Never be ashamed of that.”
“What about Mom and Dad?
Grans threw vegetables into a pot of boiling water. “What I’m about to say may not come as a shock to you, dear, but your parents are idiots.
My mouth was agape “Grans?”
“I’m her mother. I gave birth to her. I can say it. Your father, well, I wouldn’t want to burn your ears off over what I can say about him. As for you, Jen, you need to tell your mother how you want to be treated. Tell her who you are.”
She took a small stack of plates from the cupboard and handed them to me.
“They’ll get mad.”
“Furious, dear. You can count on that. Now don’t you dare say you don’t want to upset them.”
“I don’t,” I said as I walked out of the kitchen and into the dining room.
“You need to do what makes you happy. You need to live your life. Now, after a nice dinner, we’ll tell her together.” Grans stood in the archway with three teacups. “We’ll have a nice and calm after meal chai.”
“Yes, ma’am.”


No such luck on the nice and calm part.
“This isn’t who I want to be.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about me. This? This, isn’t me. This is somebody else’s body, not mine.”
“Mother, I know you have something to do with this.” Mom looked like she was ready to have an aneurysm.
“Let her talk, Rachel.”
“Her? His name is James.”
“Jennifer,” Grans replied.
“Her name is Jennifer.”
Mom laid her head on the table. “Oh, this better be some kind of stupid prank, James.”
“Jennifer,” I replied.
“Oh God, he was telling the truth after all. I thought your father was just being a jerk about—”
“Yes, it was a red and white dress.”
“You should have brought it with you, dear,” Grans said and then she took a sip from her cup. “Even better, we can
make a new one.”
“What? Are you going to change your...your…” Mom stammered her words as she stared at me. She had not touched her chai.
“I wasn’t finished.”
“Then spit it out, dear,” Grans stated as she poured another cup.
“You’re not helping with this situation, Mother.”
I stood up and walked around the perimeter of the table. “I wrote a note, years ago. In that note that I never gave you, I wanted to tell you I- I was your daughter. I wanted to let both of you know I was a girl.”
“A girl?”
“Oh dear God! Is there any way I can blame this on your father?”
I ignored Mom’s question as I sat back down. “I got my ears pierced.”
“And we went out and bought some very pretty clothes. We’ll have to make some adjustments, of course.” Grans added as she took another sip.
“Are you trying on bras too?”
“I think it’s a little early for that, dear.”
“Mother! What have you been telling him?” Mom asked as she rubbed her eyes in frustration.
I stood up and looked at my mom. “All my life, I’ve been ignored or beaten up. No one has ever asked me what my feelings were. Then, just when I was about to—”
“So, this is just you wanting to get back at your father?”
I didn’t answer that question either. Then she put her hands down, in a case closed sort of way.
“I think you’re just experiencing some issues with this divorce.” Mom stood up and turned to leave. “Let’s go to bed. Everything will be better in the morning. Goodnight.”
“You don’t get it, do you?”
“No. No, I don’t. What does being a cross-dresser have to do with your father?” Mom asked as her face took on a dark vermillion hue.
“It has nothing to do with him, but since you keep bringing it up—”
Grans took a loud sip as Mom continued her tirade.
“If the long version is too much, Jen will do just fine.”
Mom’s face was puffy, red, and she appeared as if she ready to breathe fire out her nose and mouth.
“I’m mad at your father too, but this is not the time to just go off the deep end.”
“The deep end?” I asked as I slammed my hands on the table.
Grans looked at me with a slight frown.
I shook my head and laughed.
“Just like always, you ignore everything. Remember when he called me his ugly kid in a business presentation?”
“He was joking. He was practicing for a business meeting speech and used it as a joke.”
“I can’t believe you’re defending him!”
“James—” I’d never heard my mother get really angry, but the tension rose a few degrees higher.
“And the time when he was so disappointed in me because I didn’t try out for football? So much so that he ignored me for weeks?”
I was on a roll with fourteen years of pent-up frustration spewing from my mouth.
“You know how he feels about success.”
“What about calling you a dumb bitch?”
Actually, fourteen years, nine months and eighteen days, but who was counting?
“He’s never said anything like that to me.”
“That’s right. The exact quote was dumb, stupid, bitch.”
“I will not tolerate that kind of language from you!”
“I’m not the one who originally said it,” I replied.
Mom turned, and without another word she walked down the hall, into the first room, and slammed the door.

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