Tuesdays with Mourning

On Tuesday, I made good time getting home despite rain causing people to drive like idiots. Sometimes I wonder if people are actually bad drivers or if it is somehow our cultural assumption that all other drivers are bad, but we are great! I was in this thought process in my car when NPR let me know that Washington State was ranked the worst state to drive in due to traffic, the price of gas, and other factors. Mystery solved. Katie had therapy in Queen Anne, per usual, bussing there and back because driving Cher (the Vespa) in the rain is as unappealing as you might think.

Upon opening my door, I knew I wanted to start dinner right away. I have a new routine of staying awake when Katie gets out of bed at 4:30am instead of trying to steal just a bit more sleep. I use the time to ride the stationary bike that stares at me longingly in our living room, do dishes we didn’t do the night before, prepare my lunch, drink coffee. I often complain about how I’m never able to be home alone without Katie and I feel like I’m reclaiming that a bit by waking up early. The downside is that I’m tired earlier in the evening and I want to eat dinner promptly upon getting home.

In the midst of dicing the yellow onion, sautéing sausage, and slicing kale into ribbons for what eventually became a very delicious soup, Katie walked in, the shuffle of her coat and heavy step indicating the dampness outside as her boot squeaked upon meeting the floor. She greeted me with a kiss and we exchanged the usual pleasantries, comparing notes on our day, talking about how her therapy session went. I could tell when she sat down in the chair across from me that something was off in Katie’s mood. Over the past few days, she’s felt more dysphoric than not. She spent a good deal of time the night before describing how much she hated her forehead, how she avoids looking at her hairline which constantly reminds her she’s not born in the right body. Male bodies tend to have brow-ridges protrude out over their eyes. Some attribute this to pre-historic evolutionary necessity to protect the eyes in combat. I honestly don’t have any idea, I’m not a scientist. The point is Katie looks in the mirror and somedays all she can see is her forehead protruding out, hiding her sea-green eyes. Not cute, according to her.

Last week, Katie admitted to having cried in support group. The topic was dysphoria, and, at the time, I assumed her tears during group were because of some shared experience from a peer. As I added more olive oil to the hot pan to prevent our meal from sticking to the metal, Katie began to tell me about all the ways her dysphoria, lately, feels bigger than her appearance. She began the process of trying to help me understand how it feels to not have your body match your soul. It’s not just her forehead, or lack of hips, the Adam’s apple I cannot see. These things, she explained, could eventually be corrected if she really wanted them to be. Tears fell down her face, as I continued to add ingredients to the pan, listening to her voice get higher pitched as she tried to maintain her breath. She described what it feels like to want to be called “mom” by our children someday. She wants to actually be the one that births them. Her disdain for her body is rooted in its incapability of being that vessel. It’s not as simple as wanting a period, she explained. “I have a body that literally can’t do anything I really wish it could.”

I paused stirring when I heard her voice crack at this revelation. I told her I would be hugging her right now, but I didn’t want to burn dinner, adding another layer of sadness to our evening. It was my poor attempt at humor to lighten the weight the emotional download was putting in our kitchen. As I write this, I realize it sounds absolutely selfish. How can I put food over my disconsolate wife? Katie understood what I meant and if she wanted me to stop, she would have asked me to. I think she needed to explain what she was going through knowing I was multi-tasking, alleviating the pressure of all my attention being on her.

Katie gathered herself, taking deep breaths as I added broth to the Instapot, combined everything together, and set the timer. I walked around to meet Katie where she sat across from me on the other side of the counter, but she’d already started to get up and migrate toward the couch, assuming correctly this is where we were headed for the evening. It is our routine. Before I let her sit down, I asked her for a hug. I wasn’t really sure what else I could do. I explained to her I believed it was justified to be mourning the things she was mourning. Her life doesn’t look like it could have. Her body isn’t what she wants it to be. I’m not sure of another way to process all of this disappointment other than to mourn it. I told her that the beauty of mourning anything or anyone, is that as we talk about it, we heal pieces of ourselves. Eventually, time allows us to get used to the void created in our loss, allowing us to not think of the gap as often as we once did. Eventually, I explained, I thought this wouldn’t hurt as bad as it does now. I thanked her for telling me. Given where we were even 16 months ago, it’s a very big deal that she did. It’s unbelievable how far she’s come in such a short time. I’m so proud.

My life feels so surreal. I’m struck by how odd it is I’m in a situation with a wife mourning her body’s inability to be female in the ways she wants it to be. 18 months ago, I thought I was married to a man. I never, ever could have imagined this being my path. I keep thinking that I want to cry but can’t seem to. I’m not sure that I’m exactly sad. I feel in-between. The hardest part for me about all of this is I’ll never be able to eliminate Katie’s struggle with her gender dysphoria. I would give anything to completely take it away, to help her see in the mirror the beautiful, strong, soul I see. Alas, all I can really do is make sure dinner doesn’t burn. Sometimes, that has to be enough.

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