How can it be twenty years since I sat by your hospital bed, stunned by the calamity of your aneurysm? “It couldn’t be much worse,” the neurologist said bluntly, and the nurse had to keep clearing your breathing tube after you coughed...they said on top of whatever else the flood of blood in your brain was putting you through, you were also giving up smoking. They said if you lived on in the coma your tendons would shorten, so Susie went out and bought a pair of black high-top sneakers to keep your ankles bent.
You did not live. You died without regaining consciousness, though there was that moment when I asked if you could squeeze my hand and you did, just one little twitch. “Oh, yes, I’m here, I love you!” I cried in a rush, squeezing convulsively back. It was our last communication. The memory of it still brings me to tears.
I wish you were still alive. I want to introduce you to your grandchildren. It still rips my heart apart that you died just before Mad was born, though it is a consolation that you at least got to know she was on the way. I still smile when I remember telling you on the phone we were thinking of “Cosmo” for a boy. “No,” you said, and I loved the flat presumption to veto in your voice. For all your tight-lipped silences over the years, or perhaps because of them, when you spoke you could imbue your opinions with the force of moral certainty.
Oh my dear mother, what would you have made of me? It would have been terrifying, telling you I am trans. Would you have denied it outright, the way you did our whimsical baby-name choice? I imagine you might have; but this time, I would have had to insist.
Would you have been angry? Would you have disbelieved me? Would you have shut me out for a time? Perhaps all of these reactions...but I can’t imagine you would have shut me out forever.
And what might you have been able to tell me about other denials long ago? I can’t remember if I stifled myself, or if you stifled me, or a combination of the two, but if it was you, I bet you didn’t realize what you were doing. If I ever asked you timidly if I could, say, try your lipstick, I bet you never guessed I was telling you who I was; nor that when you said no, it was another turn of the key in the lock of my secret gender prison.
I remember you as an emotionally elusive woman, and I feared your anger, but I also remember your sly sauciness and your laugh. I remember how when I was small you used to rub my back to soothe my distresses. I remember your tender acceptance when I was soft, emotional. I remember songs you taught me. I remember cutting your hair for you, one straight slice across with the sewing scissors after you clipped it back. I remember how one Christmas evening when I was sitting by the woodstove absorbed in a gift-book, you brought me a plate of little sandwiches made of leftover turkey with mustard on crusty bread. I remember, after I brought hugging home from college, feeling your bird-bone shoulders under my hands when we hugged.
One thing I can’t remember is your voice. I wonder if the voice I’m searching for sounds something like yours. I do find, as I settle into my natural womanhood, that I look somewhat like you, and that I use words and phrases and gestures you used to use. I take after you, it seems.
I can’t imagine you would have shut me out forever, so I must imagine that at some point you would have accepted me, called me by my name, used “she” and “her”...called me your daughter. What a gift that would have been: a second giving of life. In your absence I have had to birth myself this time, and it has gone fine, but I grieve that I will never get to show you who I really am. I just have to live with that.
Mother dearest, I was a girl the whole time, and I am a woman now, and I miss you, and I love you.