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.


I take my place in the dark,

And your memory comes to me, unbidden.

Beckoning me,

To remember long-ago places,

Where memories lie,

Sleeping the sleep of the dead.

Where you offered me, as a man, a promise.

A promise of fates intertwined.  

A promise of stolen kisses.

A promise of comfort in your arms.

A promise to sow seeds and wait for them to grow.

A realization that they never will.

And in the silence,

I realize,

The spaces you leave,

From your empty promises,

Have their own things to say.

And I bury your memory again.

The End: An Introduction

This is the end of our story. I think about it a lot. I also think a lot about how it began, eight years ago, asking you out at the end of our freshman homecoming dance.

I don’t think either of us could have predicted how our ending would come. All of the signs were there from the beginning, incubating like dormant cicada, waiting to emerge in an overwhelming swarm. My nonchalance was perhaps my first mistake. My second, and perhaps largest, was thinking that love would be enough. There were others, less significant, and too numerous to mention.

On August 19th, 2019, I was away on a work-related trip and staying with a relative. That evening, laying on an air-mattress illuminated in the glow of my phone, I told you something that would change our lives forever. If there was a single moment that I could look back on and point to as the beginning of the end, it is this one: a single cicada emerging early. On August 19th, I did the hardest thing I had ever done until that point. I told you that I enjoyed wearing women’s clothing.

Making that admission to you was shining a spotlight on every insecurity, every private thought I buried deep inside myself, everything I was terrified to face. A tremor below as the brood grew restless, knowing their time would soon come. I took a tremendous leap of faith, not knowing what lay ahead or the series of events I had set in motion. I had assumed that our love would be enough.

I think that learning that sometimes love is not enough has been the hardest, and the most essential, thing I ever to learn.

You told me that you did not want to discuss my feelings, that you had nothing to say regarding them. Needless to say, because of this you were not prepared when on November 28th of that same year, I told you I thought I was transgender. I will never forget the feeling of vulnerability and the tightness in my chest when I stepped into the light with that admission. And I will never forget how you reacted, how just a few words could change us.

“I hate you,” you told me three days later on December 1st. “I actually hate you right now.” That should have been our end. I cannot describe how much pain those words have brought me, and how much it hurt me to realize that I had hurt you to the point of such bristling anger. For eight years, I had been the silly idiot you made plans with to say “I do” on an anxiety-filled day in front of your family. It was a dream that had been so real, so tangible, you could picture it perfectly. And I had told you to take that image of your life and throw it in the shredder. In your mind, all those years and little moments—prom, sneaking in visits to each other’s respective college, laughing at Thin Mints at 1:00 in the morning, making each other a stuffed animal at Build-a-Bear—had been for nothing. I had pulled the rug out from under you.

But I didn’t believe it would be the end; I thought our love would be enough. But on January 20th, 2020, you made me make the hardest choice ever in our story. You made me pick between your dream and my true self.

Over four months later, after dealing with the heartbreak and feelings of guilt over who I am, I am ready for these to be the final words in our story. I like to think that it has been one filled with laughter and love, but it is not the happy ending either of us anticipated. I have learned so much that I would not have without you or the last eight years. I would never have gotten here without you. And for that, I will be forever grateful. These have also been the first words in a new story, my first clumsy steps into a new world. It is a story that I hope to record here, for myself and anyone else who needs it. It is my hope that others who are in situations like mine can find wisdom in my previous and inevitable failings, and that I can spread hope and love to those who don’t have enough.

It is time for the cicadas to emerge.