Um, yeah. A story a day? Right. Maybe I’ll catch up tomorrow … No matter. As I said to a friend the other day: if I write 20 stories this month or 5, it’s still more than I’d have written if I hadn’t challenged myself. I was kind of wonderfully productive last week: in addition to what I posted here, I submitted two writing residency applications! It feels good to have done that for myself. I always want to apply for things and then don’t follow through. Not this time. I have three more deadlines coming up over the next five weeks. And wouldn’t it be beyond fabulous if I got one of these?
For tonight, let’s just keep our feet on the ground, shall me? At the end of the month, I’ll be reading at Big Words, Etc. again. The theme for this month is “bon voyage.” Seriously, how could I resist, me with my trove of travel stories and such like? Of course, the moment I started thinking about writing, I had nothing to say. Of course.
Happily, today started my month of writing prompts from the lovely and talented Lisa. That gives me a gentle push to get something going. And so … tonight.
I wake up in a new body and, as usual, with a blinding headache. Never mind the stress of figuring out where and who I am. Never mind not knowing what language will come out of my mouth when I speak. Never mind the discomfort of already feeling that this time I am a man. The real concern: what if I’m white? It’s always the biggest struggle. I’ve woken up in so many bodies, but none are as difficult as the bodies of white people. In all these years, you’d think I’d have figured it out, but no. It’s a skill I don’t seem able to build.
I lie several moments longer, staring up at the ceiling, certain now that I am male, feeling the awkward weight in my groin, the emptiness in my chest. But I am reluctant to raise my hands, see my skin.
I focus instead on the throbbing behind my eyes. My changes are always met with pain that borders on migraine-strength. I close my eyes and press hard into the points above my lids, right against the bone. Some woman I was in Turkey learned that. I force myself to breathe slowly, deeply. I picture the pain — a white-hot fireball of glass and razors — shrinking and fading, from biting white to pale blue to quiet indigo, smaller and smoother, smaller still, gone.
At least I am alone. Many times I come awake to find someone breathing gently beside me in the bed, or sitting watching me sleep. It’s crazy, coming to consciousness and having to know how to be with another person when I don’t know what person I am.
I fell asleep in a small town in western Connecticut, next to a man I hadn’t come to love, but who was okay. I’d been with him for two months – she’d been with him since high school — and in that time I could see that he was kind if not exciting or intelligent. He’d been genuinely concerned for her when I first showed up, even when I’d frightened him by acting in all kinds of non-standard ways. Genuinely concerned — not thinking about how a problem of hers would impact him and how he could minimize his own discomfort. That’s pretty rare. Most wives and husbands just get angry when they get me.
I can’t put it off any longer. I need information. Obviously, I’m used to this. I know I always manage. Even as a man. Even as a white man. Still. Knowing I’ll manage never makes this moment easier. I lift my right hand. The relief at seeing my dark skin warms through my body. The sun on the back of my hand glints off of a wedding ring. So that’s a little more information. And the skin is old, a sketching of fine lines traces down my muscular forearm. Just as I start to wonder where is the partner who attaches to my ring, I register that it’s on my right hand. Am I a widower? A priest?
An alarm sounds beside me, and I fumble to shut it off. I knock several small things to the floor, one that keeps skittering away for a long minute.
The clock says 7:30 — it’s a beautiful, old-style clock, not some flashy digital thing. The time means there is something I’m expected to be doing. Why else set an alarm, why else get up early? If I’m a priest, maybe someone is waiting for me to hear their confession.
I like the strength in this body, its deep blackness. I refocus on the man I’ve become. I can feel the lingering idea of him rippling under my skin — because it is mine now, and neither of us can do anything about that. It’s time, now, for me to find my way out into this old man’s world, decide if I will acquiesce to or avoid whatever havoc I’ll be expected to create.