content warning: sex work, rape, weapons

I wake to the soft sound of horns; the London Philharmonic plays the theme from Chariots of Fire from my phone.  It’s 5:30 Saturday morning.  I’m tired, I’m alone, and I’m sad.  I lay still for a moment, a hand to my heart and a hand to my belly–trying to soothe myself.  The soft glow from my salt lamp illuminates the room as I wipe away my tears, bring my feet to the floor and stand to draw the curtains.  It takes some time to attend to my bitter morning loneliness–and when I’m ready to face the day the sun is rising.

Outside, I stand in my bra and shorts surveying the neighborhood in its morning quiet.  I walk uphill and press buttons on my Garmin.  When I have it set I take off; 16 miles.  My feet swish through un-mowed grass and I fling seeds in my wake running through the neighborhood.  On MLK, a single car proceeds toward downtown.  When I turn onto Dixon Road there is no sidewalk; I run on the gravel at the side of the roadway.

I think about Nikki Myers and how she greeted a room full of people last weekend by rattling off a bio of herself that included her substance abuse recovery and her history in sex work.  This radiant, glowing woman who’s helped so many people led by revealing her own dark nights of the soul, telling us we’re only as sick as our secrets.

The club smells like stale liquor and sweat.  I stand beside a man in the cheap suit.  I wear thigh-high black leather boots and a transparent black metallic babydoll.  He tells me I’ll be good at this, that I’ll make a lot of money.  My heart pounds.  He introduces me to an older girl in a neon dress with a lot of panels missing.  She walks me through the place, shows me the upstairs room where the other girls sit before mirrors applying makeup.  They barely look up.

I snap back to attention as a car comes toward me.  How ashamed I used to be at that choice I’d made in a time of fear and desperation, indoctrinated with a fear of poverty that I still struggle with.  I’d been indoctrinated with fear–and no discernment about what to be afraid of.  I didn’t know how to draw boundaries; I’d grown up taught that I couldn’t have any.

I remember my father angrily removing the doorknob to my bedroom door once–because I dared to lock my door.

I look in a daze at the head of a man I barely know between my thighs.  Paralyzed, wide-eyed, my limbs leaden as he licks me.  I have no idea how I’ve gotten into his bed and no idea how to get him to stop.

I dart around a mailbox and remind myself that I have learned how to protect myself.  I have learned how to set better boundaries.  I run at the side of a roadway with no sidewalk and it strikes me how most people would see this as dangerous, but I don’t.  Even now, thinking about it, my route feels safe.  It’s my memories that feel dangerous.

I told my abuser about the time I’d worked as a stripper.  I told my abuser how I’d gone bankrupt at 22.  I unloaded all my secrets with the person I was marrying–and not even gotten the correct gender identity revealed in return.

Only as sick as our secrets.

I hear a dog barking and glance up.  I know right away he won’t hurt me.  I didn’t know which men might be trusted not to rape me but I know about this dog.  I call out in a reassuring voice;

“I’m sorry little buddy, I’ll be gone in a sec.  It’s all right.”

A woman emerges from a side door calling for the dog and he looks away.  I keep going across University Drive into Lakewood.

I fire Veronica’s XDM round after round into the center mass of a target at the firing range.  Gunfire rings out all around me and I flinch as spent casings bounce back at me from the nearby walls.  She corrects me; something about my trigger pull not being quite smooth enough.  I can’t breathe.  Erica and Stacy appear behind us with a jammed weapon which Veronica clears.  I can’t breathe.  I walk rapidly from the firing range and sit outside, my heart pounding.  What’s wrong with me?

I feel my heartbeat quickened from the memory.  I look around and my eyes settle on a front porch with a swing and flowers.  The yard has stones painted in pastel colors.  The next yard has morning glories in full bloom.  I stop, press the button on my watch and reach my hand out wistful, reverent, to stroke one vivid blue flower.  Tears spring to my eyes as I remember tending my own morning glories on my own front porch.  I’m both anchored and undone by these.  I glance toward the house and hope the gardener loves these plants well, then I keep going.

Erica and Stacy sit at my kitchen table eagerly eating the freshly made sourdough I’ve put in front of them.  Erica is talking about FFS and electrolysis.  How she needs to go in.  How her face is hairy.  I protest that I don’t see any hair at all; what can she be removing?  “You want to feel?” she asks and reaches for my hand.  She brings my fingers to her chin and guides them across the smallest trace of stubble.

Veronica wants electrolysis.  She grows a beard.  She doesn’t want to transition.  Nobody can know she’s trans.  She’s profiled in a local paper about trans activists.  I can’t keep her stories straight.  After I specifically ask and am told no, I find out my spouse is bisexual when she writes about it in her blog.

We’re at a protest.  Erica and Stacy have found their friend Lisa and we’re all standing together.  Veronica is wearing the man disguise.  Veronica has introduced herself to Lisa as Bryan.  I’m the only cis person in this group.  For some reason she lets Lisa think she’s talking to a cis man.  I don’t understand.

I’m at Charlotte Pride.  I’ve made fast friends with Chrissie and Bree and Dyago.  Veronica is surly wearing man clothes and Oakley M frames.  When the trans pride banner is unfurled for us to parade behind, Veronica steps back and refuses.  I have to choose between marching with our friends like we planned and being with my sullen spouse.  I’m the only cis person in this group.  She’s taking me away from our support.  I don’t understand.

(…to be continued)

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