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Thursday, March 24, 2005

How pleased I was

Couple of days ago, I was out grocery shopping, and the checker lady says "how are we doing today, honey?" Wow. I would buy the whole store just to hear that.


I saw Beloved off for a long day's journey, through icy rain alternating with blinding sunlight, to take our granddaughter to the Coast Aquarium for the day. This is the place that was the home of Willy, the Orca, for a while. They haven't been as famous since, but they're quietly building a solid reputation in care, education, and science. The plexiglass tunnel is everyone's favorite, and sometimes entire school classes or Scout troops spend the night there, bedding down in sleeping bags in the eerie glow as dozens of Leopard Sharks swim around, underneath, and over them.

I had my own appointments, unfortunately -- besides not being fond of crowds. I drove through the lovely countryside south of here, to the small town hospital where our doctor works; daffodils everywhere, almost done with their season already, and the rivers up and muddy but only a little. It's so strange, knowing we're in a devastating drought, watching the irrigation systems already going in the orchards through the windshield with the wipers going, listening to the rain on the roof of the car.

At the counter the three intake ladies know me well by now, and cluck over my my bad luck at still having the same insurance card.

"But the lawyer says the judge had no problem with my new name, and I can go get the papers on the seventh of April!"

They all beam at me. "About time, too. Congratulations!"

It has only recently dawned on me that waiting rooms are the time and place to write letters, which is almost a lost art. I've brought along a poignant notecard, by my artist friend whom I visited a few weeks ago after her husband died. It shows him sitting, resting, facing the window, as she sketched behind him, in the Community Center across the road from their house.

I use it to write my oldest son a letter. He is, or will be soon, 37, a man in the prime of life with a stunning and brilliant wife, two outrageously beautiful daughters, and responsibilities that span the globe. We've tried talking on the phone, but we don't know each other as well as we should. I've been known to look up the box scores on his alma mater's team just to get an idea of something to chat about. (The men's basketball team made the NCAAs this year). He is three thousand miles away, when he's home. I have not yet met my youngest grandchild, and she's already talking. I'm aware that these lacks have been my doing. That shouldn't embarrass me into not writing, however. One cannot repair the past, only the future.

My first stop is the blood lady, who is grumpy again this time. I can't tell if it's about me; perhaps not, as last time she made a comment to me about the snow on the hills when she was taking a little break in the waiting room, and I know she knew who I was. I want to tell her, life is short, you can lighten up -- but I might make matters worse. Her hands are very gentle, even so. I tell her she is the best. She hesitates.

"Thanks." Like biting through a bitter pill. But at least she said it.

I finish the letter in the waiting room, and am called in to Mammography by a short woman, sternly dressed, who does look as though she disapproves of me. She calls me "Rissa," unsure of the pronunciation. I don't correct her.

Last week, when I made the appointment, I could almost hear her eyebrows arching, across the phone wires. And why do you need this kind of appointment?

I had explained that my name would change soon, and that I had been on estrogen since August 7, 2003, and my doctor was ordering the exam as a baseline and initial screening. Her manner had softened -- a little.

She looks like a bulldog on wheels.

I'm shown into a small room with a strange-looking apparatus dominating the middle of the floor. It's about seven feet tall, and has two rails on either hand, from floor to top, and a large leaded glass plate, vertical, down one side. In the front part there's a bellows, a horizontal glass plate, a camera system, a plateholder, and two sets of foot switches. It looks like a phone booth for a segmented alien.

I'm left alone for a bit to chuck aside my turtletneck and bra-cami and put on a little white cape that opens in the front. While she's gone, I check out a colorful poster on the wall.

It's lilies, photographed with some kind of x-ray process. You can see, in effect, cutaways of the interiors, with stamens, pistils, the glistening inner wall of the tubelike stalks.

She's back. Still a little wierded out.

"This is spectacular." I indicate the artwork.

I seem to have said the right thing. She brightens up; almost smiles.

"That's my next machine. That's what it can do. It's time to replace this one -- " looking at the cream-yellow phone booth in repugnance " -- but it's taking awhile to get it in, it costs four hundred thousand."

"And I'm sure, worth every penny." I think I may have made a friend.

She explains the procedure. We'll do four shots, two on each side, the first two using a frighteningly thorough flattening process.

"Raise your shoulder a little. Put your head back. Kind of a Cleopatra pose. Good!"

She manages the bellows with the foot switch, and it seems as though it's up to her skills to avoid maiming me for life. Just as I'm realizing just how flat this is going to be, I begin to remember that I'm still growing -- as in sore.

I grip the rail and try to look at some other place in the universe -- perhaps there's an alien placing a call to me.

"Hoooold your breath!" Click. BZZZZZZZZZZT. Click.

It's all I can do not to faint. But it's over soon enough.

"So, is your left bigger than the one on the right?" She's the second person ever to have seen them, besides me. Eye of a pro; she's seen hundreds, if not thousands of breasts. I don't feel at all shy with her. A little tongue-tied, due to the newness of the situation, but not shy. In fact, I'm getting happier by the minute.

"Uh ... umm, I'm taller on the left, so that would make sense."

"How are you, did that hurt a lot?" Now she is smiling, perhaps a little smugly? Surely not. She's crusty, but there's a good heart here.

"Uhh, aahhh, well, those first two were the real deal, but, you know, I'm going to electrolysis from here."

"Oh, well, that's worse. I think we get a little undeserved reputation in here from people who aren't used to a little discomfort. You can get dressed now, and just leave the little cape behind. Exit is on the left."

"Thank you." I say it slowly enough for her to get that this means a lot to me, and add the ASL sign as well, waving my hand from my chin toward her, palm up. She smiles again, but she's not going to stay and chat. She darts off like a hummingbird.

I dress, smoothe down my sweater, check around to make sure I'm not leaving anything, and out of the corner of my eye I spot the cape. I've tossed it aside, rumpled, like any man would do. This is a women's inner sanctum. I have to do better than that. She's honored me with her patience and respect, after all, and I might be the first transwoman she's had to do.

I pick up the little square of muslin, shake it out, fold it four times, and leave it on the chair. Then, for good measure, I straighten up all the jostled magazines on the side table.

There, I tell her in my mind. Just so you'll know how pleased I was to be able to come here.

-- risa


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