Sunday, September 9, 2012

Try to Remember

Try to remember the kind of September.  With those musical words, El Gallo opens The Fantasticks, the longest running off-Broadway musical of all time.  I first fell in love with the score of The Fantasticks in the early 1970s, when I would skip gym class at my all-boys high school in midtown Manhattan in favor of the Lincoln Center Library of the Performing Arts.  It wasn't until 1975 that I found myself in the Sullivan Street Playhouse to see the play along with two of my sisters, our tickets a summer gift from our mom.  I've seen it two more times since at other theaters and continue to enjoy the simple story and light, lyrical score.

Those opening words from The Fantasticks come on my mind each September.  Once again that time of year has come.  Do I still remember?  

In August I was in the United States for vacation and a training week.  I found myself one day at Main State, the State Department's headquarters building in Foggy Bottom.  As I walked the hallways, I thought back to my first year at State in 2004-05.  I had just left a career of long standing to start anew, and I walked those hallways in a suit and tie.  Most of the time I had a knot in my stomach as I tried to prove myself in my new profession.  (See Looking for George Kennan -- or -- The Day My Universe Changed (2002-11), Part 2.)  But do I remember what it felt like?  Walking those same hallways in 2012, I found the memory had faded, overwhelmed by a happier present.

Reunion Lunch with CSC/NASA Friends
Another day I had a reunion luncheon with co-workers from my first career.  Over a dozen people came, including several I had not seen since since leaving in 2005.  Although all knew of my transition, none had yet seen me as I am today.  We talked over old times and good memories.  I told the story of what had happened to me after the launch of Hubble in 1990 when I spoke out loud of being transgender for the first time . . . and found myself in a psychiatric ward for my pains.  (See Hubble Goes Up, I Go Down -- or -- So How Far Back Does This Go? (Part 7).)  I recalled for one old friend and colleague how we had walked around the lake at Goddard Space Flight Center one day that hot summer not long before I stepped forward into disaster.  How I had wanted to talk with someone that day, but the fear overpowered the need.  Looking back, I wonder how it would have been different had I had the strength to speak that day.  Try to remember, but mercifully, even the emotional pain of that summer has faded.

With My Marvelous  Son
My marvelous son is now quite the independent young professional man.  We spent two evenings together, and the memories that came were the good ones.  I remember lying on the floor to give crawling lessons when he was just months old.  Then there were bike rides, school projects, scouts, swim meets, and the first high school dance.  I hope it is those same good memories that come effortlessly to my former spouse as they do to me on these September days.

With Kyna, Repaying a Hug
And there was Kyna.  My best friend and helper on the road to transition in the winter of 2010-11 is in Washington now, and  I was finally able to repay the hug I owed her from over a year ago.  (See Kyna.)  The fearful memories of that long winter have faded even as the memories of a good friend to whom I owe so much remain.

My Little Home in the Maine Woods
At Home in Maine
From Washington I made my way north to Maine.  My neighbor Kelli met me at the bus stop; two years ago it would have been her husband Frank.  Kelli left me off at my little cabin just as the sun was setting.  When I went in, I saw the calendar hanging as I had left it nearly two years ago, the page still showing October 2010.  Should I try to remember the fear and outright panic I experienced in August and September of 2010 as my career and my life unexpectedly unraveled?  I remember the pain, but the emotional memories are beginning to fade even as I continue to live in amazement that that somehow, miraculously, this fourth lifetime attempt to transition gender has succeeded.

With My Sisters in Maine
Three of my sisters joined me in Maine two days later.  For a week we lived in delightful isolation from the Internet and even cell phones.  They rented a house not far from me on one of the many lakes in that part of northern Maine.  This time trying to remember required no effort at all.  As we sat outside looking at the water or the clear Maine sky, I remembered many a day with them at mountain lakes in New York in the early 1960s.  I smiled in those old photos, still in the magical thinking that although I knew myself to be different, it would all work out.  I can feel the sand and hear the transistor radio from those years.  Those good memories of childhood remain.

After Maine it was back to Washington for a week of training.  As I sat in a room with two dozen strangers, I thought how wonderful it was that no one knew my life story and that there was no need to tell it.  I was simply RM from Embassy Bucharest.  As I walked the streets near the Courthouse Metro one evening, it dawned on me that I no longer wonder anxiously whether I pass and that if I perversely wanted to attract stares, I would need to put on a suit and tie.

Try to remember the kind of September, When Life was slow and oh, so mellow.  As much as I loved the score of the Fantasticks through the years, those words never seemed to apply to me.  My life was always full of carefully hidden inner turmoil.  As I landed at Bucharest's Otopeni Airport after my four weeks in the US, I knew I had come home to the magical land where, at least for me, dreams are kept beside your pillow.  Oana, Raluca, Nadine, Kyna, and so many others here both in the LGBT community and at the Embassy have made my dreams come true.  If I should look back deep in December in some still-distant future, the ache I will feel will be for the beautiful memories of these friends, these times.  The beauty of my present will be the memories of my future.  May this be true for us all.

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Jerry Orbach sings Try to Remember from the original cast recording of The Fantasticks.

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