IN THE AUTUMN, we flew back to Wyoming to visit Fred’s family, and none of them knew our secret. Fred’s brother had been killed in a logging accident two years before, and his sister DeeDee now lived in a care facility after weathering a car accident that left her a quadriplegic with the mental faculties of a very sweet six-year-old. I wasn’t excited for Fred’s parents to learn that the third of their four children was not who they thought he was.
This was our first vacation as a family in years, and I felt uncomfortable leaving the home we had just barely settled into after months of living like nomads. I felt like a doll on display, two cherubic children clinging to my skirt. I smiled and nodded, hugged and exclaimed, while inside I felt hollow and confused. Was this my family? If Fred changed on the outside, would I even be a part of this world anymore? Would he?
His mother held each one of us in turn with tears in her eyes. She had been waiting for this moment to have us both in the flesh, to see our children, to discover how Fred and I had actualized ourselves as a family. She looked so proud. “If only you knew,” I thought. “If only you knew.”
Fred followed me like a puppy through the bed and breakfast inn, happily exploring the realm of womanhood vicariously through my every move. He perched on the edge of the bathroom counter to watch me apply mascara. I looked at him sideways. This was not in our contract.
“Is that how you keep it from gumming up?” he marveled. My stomach turned. I did not look away from the mirror.
Was I somehow encouraging his fantasy of being a woman by performing my feminine rituals in his presence? I shoved the black wand back into its silver tube and dropped it with a clank into my toiletries bag.
Fred backed up quickly to let me through the bathroom door then bounced along behind me as I dug through my duffel bag for something to wear.
“Ooh. I love that color!” he said when I pulled out a burgundy cowl-neck sweater. “And it’s so soft. Has that got angora in it?”
“No,” I said curtly. “It’s an alpaca-wool blend.”
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw my eldest son standing beside an end table, drawing. I crossed the room in three strides, snatched the pencil out of Trinidad’s hand, and replaced it with his wooden car. “Pencils are for paper,” I said, quickly erasing the mark he had made. Fred brushed a finger across my carnelian bracelet as I moved to set the pencil down.
“Would you just stop?” I snapped. He stood up straight and suddenly understood that I didn’t share his excitement. I did not want to be a part of this change with him. I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to be with him anymore. And here we were with a new baby and a toddler visiting his family in the little town where he grew up. I wanted to bolt.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m just . . . I have so much to learn.” I sat down heavily on a loveseat printed with autumn colors, feeling nauseated. Little Sam, propped beside me on pillows, began to cry. I reached for him. “Well. Would you like to know how to nurse the baby?” I asked, feeling suddenly mean and liking it. “That’s not fair,” he said. “I will probably never get to do that.” He pouted.
“Oh. Probably not, huh? Ya think? You’re a man. You have a man’s body, and it can’t do this. Nor do you consider whether your baby is hungry, right? Because that’s a woman thing. And I can tell you that woman things are not all fun. It’s not all dress up and blissful motherhood, lovey-dovey eye-gazing. It’s spit up and poopy diapers and making dinner while you fill orders for your business because your husband is at work doing ONE job. It’s packing your bags as fast as your toddler unpacks them and making enough food for the trip while your husband is answering emails and researching what? Breast implants?” He blanched.
“I’m sorry, but that kind of focus on yourself is not allowed once a woman becomes a parent. You failed the test.” I looked down at my watch, remembering that Fred’s mother was due to pick us up in fifteen minutes. It was not a good time to have this conversation. But, when was it ever?
“Kristin,” he said, looking down.
I hated myself. I was not being kind.
“You know, I remember when you used to look at the curve of my wrist with longing. Not for the wrist to be yours. You wanted me. I was your woman. You admired me when I put on a unitard or a skirt. You liked the shape of me. Right? Wasn’t that the case? You didn’t size up my clothes so you could wear them later. Or is that just what I’m telling myself? Is it?” My face contorted as I began to cry.
“Don’t, honey,” he said. “Don’t do this.”
I bowed my head sobbing over the nursing child, and Sam slid his mouth off my breast with a smacking sound. His eyes squeezed shut, then he opened his mouth wide and began to cry with me, his face turning purple.
“Oh Jesus,” said Fred. “Stop it, Kristin. I love you. I have always loved you. I can’t help this. I don’t want it to hurt you. I just can’t pretend this isn’t a part of me. Well, okay, maybe I can try. I don’t know for how long, though. Honey, please.”
He put his arm around me and the crying baby and began to rock with us. Trinidad came down the hall, wooden car in hand, stepping heavily, his weight swinging from side to side. He stood by my knee and reached up with both chubby arms.
“Up, Mama,” he said. He pushed Sam’s leg off mine to make room for himself.
I moaned softly, tears continuing to fall as I stroked Trinidad’s soft, blonde hair. He ran his car up and down my arm.
“We don’t know what any of this means,” Fred reminded me. “It may be just a part of myself that I’m really seeing for the first time. And I’m letting it in. I’m not saying that I actually want to change my body to be a woman physically. I don’t want to let you go. Not ever. I would never do anything to make that happen.”
“I know,” I said, relaxing into him, my tears still falling. “You saved me, you know? I don’t know what I would have done without you. I was lonely and depressed and had no direction. You came along and all that changed. I’ve never felt so connected to anyone in my whole life as I do to you. You’re everything to me.”
“You are to me, too,” I said. “I don’t know how we did this for each other, but we did. We saved each other. And now we have a family. I didn’t get this far to watch it all fall apart, Fred. We’ve done a good job as parents, but they’re still so little. I want them to have a family, a home, both parents, something normal. Something I didn’t have.” He squeezed me hard.
“I want that, too,” he said. I nodded. “I’m so afraid,” I said.
“I know,” he said. “This is totally terrifying! You think I’m not scared? I don’t understand it, and you don’t understand it, but we shouldn’t make ourselves crazy by thinking up what could happen. We just don’t know. We really have no idea.”