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.

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