I walk into Nate Bishop Memorial hospital, my nerves twisted in knots. The receptionist knows me well; I greet her and carry on towards the waiting room where I am called within ten minutes of my arrival. I am ushered towards a small dressing room where I am expected to disrobe and put on those white hospital garments I despise so much. Why does it have to be white? Surely in a place that sees more of the inside of the body than the outside, white wouldn’t be such a clever choice.
“Miss Thomas, Dr Cantrel is ready for you now”
I take one last look in the mirror. Here it comes.
The nurse leads me through the corridor towards the plastic surgery wing. A swarm of kids exit a room to the left of me I step back and almost tumble over , luckily the nurse catches hold of me. I look down at the startled little girl in front of me
“You guys should be more careful!” says the nurse
“Sorry mam… we will, we promise.”
Children, so unaware of complexity. To little kids life is as simple as running through corridors screaming laughing and having a good time, until some adult ruins the fun. Kids can also be mean , scathingly mean.
I remember as a kid insisting that my mom buy me boys clothing. If she didn’t I would throw my entire body into a crying fit and my mom, being the sensitive soul that she was, gave in almost every time. I remember the kids on the playground laughing at me, asking me why I wore boys’ clothing or why my hair was so short for a girl. I couldn’t understand at first what the whole big fuss was about, it was me. Images of dresses, skirts and long hair were pieces to another jigsaw puzzle but not mine.
We walk onward passing ward after ward. Sick person after person.
“ Don’t you think that it is such a normal occurrence for our bodies to fail us. A normalcy for our biology to mutate in ways unexpected, even in ways that work against our goals and dreams. “ I say this to the nurse but I’m saying it more to myself.
I look to the side of me and the nurse is giving me the blankest stare I’ve possibly ever received in my life. She doesn’t care and why should she?
I smile and say “Never mind, it doesn’t matter.”
I turn my gaze from the awkward energy between the nurse and me towards an open ward door and for a brief passing moment I see an old lady, shriveled and wrinkled, hugging what I assume to be her husband in his hospital bed. They remind me of my parents , or at least what my parents would have looked like, still alive, still together.
“You feel like a what inside?”
“ Dad, please don’t make me repeat it.”
“No I want to hear you say it!”
“Martin, calm down…please” my mother, always pacifying the volcanic temperament of my dad.
“I feel like a…u know…and I have for as long as I can remember.”
My dad stood there, visibly biting his lips. His face contorting in all sorts of disfigured shapes. What was I to do then, a teenager bordering on adulthood, standing in front of my elders , bare and naked in truth.
I quickly snap out of myself. I had walked to the plastic surgery wing almost every week for the past month and now this walk today seemed to be taking longer than usual. The nurse guides me though double doors that lead to a staircase which I would have to climb about two flights of stairs to get to the plastic surgery wing.
“Mam, this is where I leave you. Do you know your way? “
“Yes thank you, I do.”
“Well, just to make sure, you take two flights of stairs and then walk through the doubles doors and you’ll be in another small waiting room.”
“Yes, just as I remembered, thank you. “
The nurse gives me a ceremonial nod and leaves. I am relieved to see her go. These last few steps seem to be the hardest. I don’t quite feel present, as if I’m floating above myself , watching this frame of a woman stagger hesitantly to her own destruction. But things must be destroyed in order to be rebuilt. I keep saying this to myself.
I walk through the double doors and start climbing the stairs. All of a sudden I feel a shortness of breath take over me. I cannot seem to catch it so to stop myself from totally falling over I stop and hold onto the banister, attempting at all costs to regain my composure. A memory, from somewhere inside my guts, resurges into my brain and explodes onto my cornea.
I’m on a date, first date, his name was Jacob. I didn’t quite know what Jacob saw in a tomboy like me but he had told me that he enjoyed the fact that I was so boyish and that actually attracted him to me in the first place. I found that odd at first but then again who was I to judge. So I attempted my first shot at normalcy with him. My parents were so excited to see that some boy had taken an interest in me. I really couldn’t disappoint them seeing how excited and nervous, probably hoping that this boy would turn their tomboy daughter into a real girl.
There we were, two nervous teenagers in a Chinese restaurant with bowls of steaming fried rice and chicken stir-fry between us. He was a gentleman that night and I tried to be as lady-like as possible. The skimpy black skirt my mom had picked out for me was sand paper on my skin, along with the eye-liner that seared my eyes and the blush that was making me feel like a baked doll. I tried, despite these things, to look engaged and interested, but try as I may I couldn’t help but see him as a good old pal, nothing more ,nothing less. The evening drew to a close, I had stuffed myself with stir-fry and smelt of soy-sauce and garlic but that didn’t seem to deter Jacob from wanting to kiss me in his rusty grey Honda Civic car.
“You know I like you Gina ?”
My jaw instantly locked, after a silence I managed to speak
“uuuummm yes Jacob I know but listen…”
“…no buts Gina , I know you feel the same way, I mean we make perfect friends, imagine how good we’ll be together.”
“Together? No Jacob, wait let me speak…” The air seemed to vacate the car as I yearned for it to give my vocal chords the strength they needed to voice how I felt. My mouth became sandy and I swallowed hard, still trying to regain some composure, then he kissed me. That car became an iron lung, breathing for me, deciding for me, assuming and thrusting me forth into the harsh light of a thousand strobe lights.
I manage to settle my lungs into a regular rhythm. I begin climbing the two flights. There is a slight muscle burn in my legs reminding me to hit the gym soon. After the operation I’ll be able to look as buff as I can without it looking weird. It’s a comforting feeling to know that you’ll soon be able to share in experiences of life previously restricted to you by biology. What is this whole “biology” thing anyway?
I reach the door leading to the plastic surgery wing, open it and walk through. Immediately I am greeted by a swathe of women and men all sitting in the beige waiting room. Everything is silent, so silent it produces tension instead of relaxation. A overly sentimental classical song plays in the speakers as the receptionist smacks away on the flimsy white keys of her keyboard. Each person here, I assume, has their own imperfection that they want dealt with: enlarging breaths, reducing breasts, eliminating fat, sharpening noses, creating bigger penises for small egos. Their eyes all watch me as I enter the room. They look at me as if we are fellow conspirators. They look at me as if by being in this room we are immediately sharing in something intimate. I walk over to the desk, announce myself to the receptionist.
“aaahhh yes, good morning Miss Thomas, Dr. Cantrel will be with you shortly”
I take a seat next to a chubby gentleman with a pulpy, pink nose. He shifts in his seat as I take mine. Am I making him uncomfortable? I smile to myself a little.
“So what are you here for ? “I ask , toying with his visible discomfort. He looks at me surprised and says
I nod understandingly, “I’m here for gender reassignment.” I say with a smile and wink. He looks at me perplexed and now the rest of the room begins to hone in on our conversation.
“ You know if God wanted you to be a boy, he’d make you a boy”
I am taken aback by his willingness to continue our conversation. “Well if God wanted there to be peace in the world he would have made that so too. You can use that argument for anything that is lacking or distorted in our world. If God wanted me to be a girl, he should have rewired me in some way so that I would like dresses and the color pink too. But alas, God does not rewire, we get what we get and we work with it.”
Just then Dr. Cantrel walks in.
“Miss Thomas, we ready for you…”
I smile to the gentleman next to me and say “What’s your name sir ? “
“Martin…” I repeat it to myself, playing with each letter between my lips and on my tongue. The universe is surly playing tricks. I tap Martin on the shoulder and say “Nice to have met you Martin.” I walk away from him towards the doctor but then I turn round.
“Oh and don’t worry about the nose, its only biology. God gave you that didn’t he?” I say. I turn on my heels I head through the double doors following Dr. Cantrel in his long, white lab coat. Looking all magician-like.
I am all wrapped up in light blue hospital wear. A drip descends from my wrist. The bag of liquid above me drips deliriously slow, it’s almost hypnotizing if you watch it for long enough. The sound of “beep….” ”beep…” “beep…”echoes throughout the room, containing each time bubble; my last few time bubbles in this mold of mine. A group of masked faces appear in a circle around me. In the middle of the circle is a bright light. Is this what people describe when they walk through mortality into oblivion? I squint in order to keep my eyes open.
“ Okay Miss Thomas… we are about to start the procedure. This is the first step in many forthcoming procedures but it is the most important. We will begin administering the anesthesia.” Says Dr. Cantrel.
A woman sitting to the side of me places what looks like a gas mask over my face. For the strangest reason I get a flash of images of Auschwitz: the camps, gas chambers, the smell of death among the deviants, among the exiles. I am told to breathe normally. Am I nervous? I don’t know. I’m numb.
“10…9 …..8” I suddenly think how similar this is to the countdown of a bomb going off. Before I drift off into the sterile twilight I sigh. I know what lies in destruction.