Stepping Stones

The nearest town to where I live is only 619 people big. It’s the type of place that somehow has four bars, six automotive service stations, three gas stations, and not a single fast food restaurant in sight. It is also home to the high school I attended, where my graduating class of 60 was one of the largest to go through the system in nearly a decade. You would think that being from such a small school would mean we had a tight-knit bond with each other―and maybe we did―but I haven’t seen or so much as thought about most of my classmates since the day I graduated.

There is, of course, one exception.

Yesterday I went by that school, with its empty parking lot and halls. I thought about how much has changed and yet how the building and playground look remarkably the same. It reminded me of a line from a short story I wrote last year about feeling stuck: “an endless cycle of both progress and decay. The two processes were perhaps the same.” I wondered how many times you think about the first time we met there. I hope that they are few and far between. You were the new girl in our 5th grade class and I volunteered to be your partner for our soccer unit in gym, knowing how tough it could be as a new student since I had moved to the area just a year earlier. We began dating as freshmen and made things work through our college years apart. Everyone around us was certain we would marry each other, and I think both of us assumed so as well.

January 20th will be one year since our story came to an end. Yesterday I ventured to the place where it all began to bury your memory and salt the earth so I could finally put my mind to rest. I went not as the person you loved. I came as Claire: the person you would never accept.

This also marked a milestone for me in my transition: the first time I was out in public fully presenting. Now, granted, I was cheating a little by wearing a hoodie but I considered it a milestone nonetheless. After I passed by my high school I went to the store for a few groceries; if there’s any statements to be made about the fashion of face masks, they at least make it easier to pass. I think I was emboldened by another milestone that happened last week where I was correctly mistaken for a women for the first time. I have been told by friends that was my first “male fail” since I was not trying to present as female, and to be honest I’m still rather shocked. I found out while I was fetching mail and bumped into one of my neighbors. I moved into my current home in September and this was the first time I have spoken with them, and they asked if I was married. I replied that I was not, and they remarked that they had seen “a gal” outside my place the other day. I was a bit slow to piece everything together, and it wasn’t until I was back in the house that I realized I was the girl they had seen. At least, I hope so and there isn’t some unknown woman hanging around my place.

It’s enormously euphoric to know that after over a year since coming out, I’m finally at a place where people correctly assume my gender without me trying to pass with all my glitz and glamour. Lately I have been so happy with how I look when I dress up and it’s great to have this reassurance that it’s not just me, and that I really, truly am getting closer to that dream that seemed like an impossibility when I first began. Looking back at my pre-transition pics and comparing them to how I look now, it really does look like two different people. They both are me, though one is much happier with herself. And I see her in the older picture, a bit buried but still there, waiting to spread her wings like a dormant cicada. I can’t wait for another year to go by and look at how much progress has passed between then and now. I wonder what you would think if you could see me now. I think you’d probably be speechless, just as unable to understand as you were when I first came out to you. I think you’d be revolted and see my progress as the death of the person you knew.

The two processes are perhaps the same.

Through the Window Glass and how Tracy Got There

Alice went through the looking glass.

Tracy went through the front window of her car.

The average person doesn’t often ponder the physics at work during a head-on collision. In a split second before Tracy’s face smashed against the pavement—crumpling her nose and sending scattered shards of bone into her cerebral cortex—some six trillion neural signals fired in her brain, giving her more than enough time to contemplate the violent forces acting on her. She recalled from a driver’s education class some ten years ago that the bumper of a car is designed to bump the object being impacted without causing damage. This was considered an elastic collision.

At higher speeds, however, the collision was an inelastic one. In these situations, the bumper will crumple in order to release some of the energy from the collision. In many ways, Tracy concluded just before her skull split open, the last few months at her workplace had been like watching an inelastic car-crash in slow motion—and she, in many ways, was a bumper.

Tracy Schmidt worked at a company called the Deepwater Corporation.

The company was a massive thing; a global conglomerate that had a monopoly producing, refining, and transporting dreams—not in the metaphorical sense either; literal, physical dreams that you could take home and plug into your brain to live out as you fell asleep. Tracy and the rest of the world once touted the idea of selling dreams an impossibility and a laughable business proposition even, but the Deepwater Corporation had turned the impossible into a profitable industry in less than a year. The company sold big dreams, small dreams, sweet dreams, erotic dreams—anything you could think up could be done.

Tracy applied to the corporation at her first opportunity and was certain that working in such a blossoming field would bring her great success. She was fresh out of college and full of drive. The man who interviewed her liked that about her. He liked her mahogany red lipstick even more.

“Well Miss Schmidt,” he grinned. His face was like a knife, his smile a glint of light across the blade. “I don’t think that there’s need to peruse any more interviews. You’re more than what we’re looking for here at Deepwater.”

“Really?” the corners of her lips cautiously rose to mimic his smile. “Thank you so much sir! This means so much to me.”

The two of them got along for about a month. Tracy was one of the best dream salespeople on the Deepwater team and had increased the month’s sales 12% from last year. She kept her cubicle tidy and had a picture of her fiancé propped up beside her computer monitor along with her vast collection of permanent markers. She brought in doughnuts every Friday and could hold quite lengthy conversations with the other employees, talking in great detail about her last vacation to Europe and pouring over the descriptions of all the castles she had visited.

Her boss had no family portraits in his office, or permanent marker collections, or Friday doughnuts, or conversations with his employees about his vacations. Maybe he once did. Maybe he was a different person before he industrialized dreaming.

Now he took to torturing Tracy.

He would circle her like a shark, any minute mistake blood in the water. He chastised her for every bathroom break, every time she showed up a minute late to work, any single sip she took from her water bottle. He would stroll into her cubicle and give her a friendly reminder on the company policy, dick hard enough to kill somebody with.

“Miss Schmidt,” he said one particularly dreary day. “Somebody just called in wondering why they had a dream about playing Olympic foosball with George Clooney!”

“I sent you a memo,” said Tracy. “Factory recall on a line of vacation dreams.”

“I didn’t get any memo,” her boss said. “You need to keep better track of these things and keep me in the loop. Communication is key wherever you work!”

“Of course, sir,” Tracy said even though she knew that he had received the memo. She handed it to him in person and he even made a comment about it. She watched the rain patter against the window and it reminded her of a dream she had had as a child, before Deepwater had patented them. In the dream she had watched a giant eye cry a gentle storm over the infinite horizon, pierced by the sunbeams of the fiery sunset. It was curious, Tracy thought, that she could recall this dream from over ten years ago with perfect accuracy, but she couldn’t remember the dream she received from Deepwater just last night.

Next week Tracy’s boss held a meeting with Tracy and the rest of the office.

“As some of you know,” he said. “We’ve been working on a new way to experience your Deepwater dreams. Our folks in the lab have started work on a new line that will allow you to learn a new skill while you sleep. So far, they’ve had some success with new language retention, so we’re going to move things ahead and plan for a Q3 product line release. Tracy, can I trust you to take on this project and make that deadline?”

Tracy reluctantly nodded. “Of course.” She didn’t want to do it, but she had been fishing for a promotion so she and her fiancé could put some money down on a new house. She hoped this could finally put her in good enough standings to move up the ladder.

The next day Tracy headed down to the dream lab to introduce herself and get a firsthand look at the project. “So,” she said to the head developer after shaking his hand. “How far along are you?”

He scratched the back of his neck. “Well, we were mostly messing around and taught Derryl the Spanish word for shit while he was napping on break. We’re a year away from having the ability to do any sort of advanced skill retention.”

Later that day, Tracy sent her boss a very long email asking to have the release date pushed back. She was granted an extra week.

Tracy put in sixty hours every week to meet her deadline. She learned REM encoding since the company was short on dream developers following recent layoffs and filled in anywhere she could. In the end, her team was only able to make a three-part dream series of Learning Spanish. It sold below the projected numbers since Tracy wasn’t able to focus as much on marketing like she usually did, but the series made a profit nonetheless.

She didn’t get her promotion. All she got was a note from her boss saying that they were going to have to cut her hours. Tracy started to look for a new job after that.

Tracy also started experiencing abdominal pains after that. At first she thought it was stress related, but after a bout of heavy vaginal bleeding she decided she should go to the emergency room. She asked her boss permission to get time off from work but he was less than convinced of the severity of her condition. After all, he thought, wasn’t that a normal thing to happen to women?

Tracy tiptoed around him to get an okay from his board of directors, and when she arrived in the ER the nurse said she’d never seen that much blood before. Tracy was admitted and given a couple blood transfusion, where she was later diagnosed with endometrial cancer.

Her boss called her once he heard the news from his subordinates, insisting it couldn’t be cancer because his mom had cancer before, and he knew if she really had cancer she would be tired and losing weight. Tracy quit her job after that. She put in her two weeks’ notice and spent her final days at the company doing nothing.

“Why are you playing video games on the work computer?” her boss said.

Tracy shrugged. “If you don’t like it then fucking fire me.”

That really made her boss angry. Suddenly he wasn’t just mad about his company’s diminishing returns because apparently dreams were just “last year’s fad”, or how he had been too busy with work to be with his mother when she passed away, or how he had complimented Tracy’s mahogany red lipstick a year ago and asked her out and she didn’t even consider him worthy of a chance. There were countless other reasons for his anger, less significant, and hardly worthy of mentioning.

In the end, though, it was this culmination of anger, bitterness, and isolation that drove him and his car into Tracy’s own. As Tracy’s brain fired its last signals, her boss felt only disappointment. Not in himself, but in that this moment had always been more satisfying in his dreams.