It was a sunny day and surprisingly pleasant for a Philadelphia summer. I was sitting in Washington Square when I saw him, he looked different than I remembered but I knew it was him. He was walking briskly with headphones, keeping just enough awareness of his surroundings as to make sure he didn’t run into anybody or anything. As always, he had the look on his fuzzy face of someone trying to figure out if he was angry, depressed, or actually content with his life. I decided to talk to him so I looked up from my sketch pad and got his attention.
“Hey! Eskow!”, he looked up startled and saw me, perplexed at first but then when he realized who it was he started to smile and walk over. He took off his headphones, sat next to me, and placed his bag between his feet. I could feel the summer heat radiating off of him and could smell a faint whiff of tobacco on him.
“HEY! How long did it take us to quit!?” I said to him, a little half jokingly but he could tell I had an air of disappointment in my voice.
“What? Oh, sorry, no no no, I was meeting with some friends at a smoking bar. Are you kidding me? No way in hell am I going to go through that again.” he said apologetically like some kid who was just chastised by an older sibling. “Enough about that though, how’ve you been!? It’s been a while!” he said excitedly. I could tell it was one of those days where he was allowing himself to be a bit more social, but I knew he’d be sitting at home in the dark and silence come midnight. “You look good!” he continued.
“Good!Thanks!” I replied. I looked him up and down, “You…look like a badger.”
“Oh, yeah, that. It started first because I didn’t feel like shaving anymore but then over time more hair sprouted and turned into fur and my nose elongated and my teeth got sharper. I’m actually okay with this.” he said surprisingly nonchalant for someone who turned into an anthropomorphic honey badger. “Enough about me though, I have to know, how is your transition going?”
“It’s going better than either of us could have expected honestly. Work has been incredibly supportive, but we both knew we had nothing to fear there. Since coming out my productivity vastly improved and they gave me a Diversity Coordinator role!” He looked pleased and a little surprised.
“That’s great news! How’d coming out to the family go?” he asked, I could tell he was getting anxious by the way he said the word family.
“The wife has been taking it in strides and to be honest she’s just happy that I’m happier. She was actually able to learn a bit about herself. Mom and Dad took a while but they have been a great support too!”
He looked pleased, “That’s great I’m glad everyone has been so supportive.” I hung my head and got silent a bit at this last statement, he saw the change in my mood.
“Yeah, everyone…”the weight of the words hit him like a brick because he knew exactly who I was talking about.
“Oh geez, I’m sorry, I…didn’t know…I…I would’ve never expected…” he said, trying to cover.
“I know, I didn’t either. He’s…searching for something…I can’t put my finger on it…and I just can’t be a part of it, it just hurts too much.” I started to choke back a tear remembering the fights, the arguments, and the hurtful things said by both parties.
“I’m sorry, I hope he finds it.” he said, trying to put an air of hope into the situation. It wasn’t his fault, and he knew that, but I knew he couldn’t shake the guilt of bringing it up. He perked up, “but hey, everything else is going great, right? The wife is happy, work is going well, I saw on Facebook you finally graduated, CONGRATS! We worked our fucking asses for that!” The change in tone was jarring at first but it was nice. I know what he was doing but I had to admit that he always had an ability to lift other people’s spirits even if he could never lift his own.
I got excited, “YAAAASSSS! Jesus fuck it took forever. I didn’t think it would ever come.”
“You earned it, I just wish I could’ve been there at the end.” again, the sadness in his voice, I never knew how obvious it was until now.
“Hey, don’t worry buckaroo, you got us most of the way, I just needed to finish it out on my own.” I was hoping the use of buckaroo would remind him of better days and to be honest I was kind of hoping the same for myself.
“You’re right” he perked “you know, you’re right, yeah..” he trailed off a bit and nervously looked at his watch. “Hey Jess, I need to go, but it was great seeing you.”
“You too” I replied, hesitantly.
“There’s something else…isn’t there?” He said, half accusatory. I started to get nervous. “Jess, I know you, you knew I was going to be walking through here at this time, what do you need?” bastard caught me, when he was right, goddammit, he was right.
“Yeah, look, I’m sorry.” He was startled.
“Why?” he said with genuine surprise. I let out a long winded sigh and hung my head.
“For so long, I hated you. I hated being you. I hated everything about you. I never wanted to kill you but I wanted to make you hurt. I wanted to make you feel pain. I wanted you so bad to hate your life so much and all because I was just so afraid. I couldn’t be you anymore but I couldn’t be me either. I should’ve never put you through that, it was unfair.”
He looked down a second then matched my eyes again and gave me a warm smirk, that goddamn smirk that always made someone not know whether to punch him or hug him and tell him everything is going to be alright. We did it so many times to so many people.
He stared into my eyes, “Jessica, it wasn’t all you. I was afraid too. I was afraid of people rejecting us, or not understanding us. I felt like I needed to keep you locked away so no one could see. Look at you now though, Christ I can barely even recognize ya.” He let his accent go and sounded just like our Dad, fucker did that on purpose to make me feel better and damn, it worked. “Look how far you’ve come. Look how much you’ve fought, and cried, and everything. Look at the people in your life now who get to know the real you. We’ve always been hard on ourselves, seriously, but Jess, you’re so brave, and the fury that you’ve been able to focus is uncanny. I’ve been following your blog. Everything on there is way better than anything we wrote together because now you’re finally letting the world see you for who you are. You’re allowing yourself to be…well…you! So stop beating yourself up and stop living in the darkness, we spent thirty fucking years doing it. Go out in the sun in the clothes you want and be perceived how you want to be perceived, you deserve it. You fought hard as fucking nails for this Jessica, stop living in the past and start just living!” I wept, all the things I put us through and all the long nights trying to cry but not being able to. He was right though, I had to put that behind me. I was able to stop crying enough to say “Thanks” and he gave me a bear hug that squished my still growing boobs and knocked the air out of me. I felt his fur on my now hairless face, I felt the breeze as it rolled through. I smiled and said, “You have a tick behind your ear” without breaking a sweat and without breaking the hug he chuckled and replied
“It’s okay, it’s just a dog tick.”