It takes a move to find these things. Keepsakes you had no room for but that you weren’t quite prepared to chuck in the donation pile. In one of my cardboard boxes I came across a small plywood box containing a lock of hair from my former self, a bracelet, and a small ornamental pipe with a turtle on top.
Each of these items has its own story really. The pipe was from my days living in a house full of theatre students with a ready supply of weed. I was never much of a smoker and the pipe wasn’t terribly effective. But still. The memories, man. You don’t throw that sh*t away.
The lock of hair I don’t remember cutting, but it would have been when I was starting to transition, back in 2003/4. Wow, that’s coming on 10 years ago already. It contains within it the ghost of someone very unhappy, attempting to live as a woman when that simply didn’t feel true to who I was. It’s also a time capsule of my youth. The hair still looks a shiny brown, thick and healthy.
The bracelet is silver, a chain with a pendant attached and a short loose chain with a tiny heart hanging from its tip. The pendant is round like the moon and thin like a nickel, but smooth to the touch, with soft edges. Etched into it so you can only see it in a certain light is a picture of a man’s face. The man looks lean, almost skeletal. He is my father. I know the photo it’s taken from; he was already sick by that point, with non-hodgkin’s lymphoma. His frame is slight, his smile honest, his eyes weary and wise and vulnerable.
I want to wear the pendant but not on a bracelet. It’s too feminine for my taste. So M brings me back a waxed cord necklace and we ply the pendant off the bracelet onto the cord necklace. I slide it over my head and peer at myself in the mirror. It looks good, masculine, tight around my neck. It feels meaningful, to wear my father’s image over my heart, to remind me. That I loved this broken, flawed man. That I caused him a lot of pain in his final days, as he figured out that I was becoming a man and that he would not see me again, ever.
My fingers linger over the surface of the pendant, as I stare at myself in the mirror. Who I am today my father deeply shaped – the good stuff as well as the bad. I think about my father pretty much every day. I wonder if he would be proud of the progress I’ve made and of the job I now have. I wonder if he knows how happy I am in my relationship with M – and that I am finally feeling some semblance of acceptance for my body, my self.
It’s been hard to let go of the self-hatred that accompanied my journey. To accept that even though my father could not really tolerate who I was becoming, that I am allowed to make my choices, and to keep on loving myself and him despite our disagreements.
The trouble with letting go of the past is that you have to choose somewhere else to direct your energy. When you no longer are trying to run away from your fears, how do you choose something to run towards? And what if I’m not strong enough?
Life is like most things worth having – it requires practice. Every day, every moment. I’m learning, slowly. And I am getting stronger. One step, one aching muscle at a time.