Births and Deaths


"I've got some bad news for you," Dad said from across the table. My mind raced with the possibilities. Did someone die? Does Dad have cancer? What happened?

It was Thursday night, and Dad offered to take me out to dinner for my birthday. I would have normally looked forward to a free meal, but I've lumped my birthday into the same smattering of end-of-the-year holidays I detest. Further to this point, my step-mother was also invited. She and I don't have the best relationship. Ever since I had transitioned she never has been comfortable being in the same room with me. It's so glaringly obvious that even antisocial me can pick it up.

"Your Grandfather-in-law died at 11:30 this afternoon," he said, trying to sound calm and solemn. I had forgotten that he wasn't related to me. He was my grandmother's second husband, although they married long before I was born. Dad continued. My grandfather was seen by his neighbors cleaning his car that morning. I imagined him polishing the hood of his blue 70s sedan -- the one he always kept under a canvas dust cover. It was a tantalizing secret when I was little; what lay under the tarpaulin? "A few minutes later he was sprawled out on his driveway, dead."

My grandfather was a private man, aloof even when my brother and I were children. We never got to know him. After my grandmother died, my mother had made an effort to invite him to dinner once a week. The dinners were a curious cerade: My mom made a unusal effort to prepare the setting and meal as if hosting royalty. Grandpa didn't seem to enjoy the meals, and we rarely ate a formal dinner otherwise.

After mom died, he began to drift away from the family. My own lay in ruins. Without Mom, the fulcrum of the family was lost. Everyone began to drift off in their own particular direction. When Dad remarried, my step-mother's family crowded out any contact with him. Shortly thereafter, I began my transition, and lost contact with everyone. All the while, grandpa continued on in the same house he had shared with his wife.

He was an independent man. He had lived on his own and on his own terms. Unlike many of the other deaths in my family, he had held on to his health, his mind, and his home all the way until the abrupt end.

"We should all be so lucky," I replied.

The following evening I had gone to bed immedately after work. Illness and an upset stomach had kept me from a proper night's rest for half the week. Several hours later a trio came to rouse me. Small and distant came the words, "That's enough. Normal view." There was a pause, and then in a progressively ominous tone:

Nor-mal view...
Norr-mal view!
Norrr-mal viEEEW!
NOR-mal VIEEEEEEEWWWWWwwwaaahagh...

The ringtone trailed off. I picked up my cell phone and hit the green call button in the semi-darkness. Dad apologized for waking me. He informed me that Grandpa was cremated and the visitation and funeral are Monday afternoon. I memorized what I could in my groggy state and waited for the conversation to end.

I should have never promised to go. My Dad had pressured me into attending the service. Generally, I avoid any family function citing that I "don't want to cause trouble". This line has become a kind of code-word between my father and I. While there are those in my family that are accepting of me and my way of life. Others are in denial such as my bother. My uncle and his wife are the worst of the lot.

Years ago they told me flatly they they didn't want me around their kids. I did not hear this first hand, as they refused to see me in person. Their argument was that they didn't want to confuse their 5 and 3 year old boys. When their older, their argument went, they would explain things to them. Until then, I wasn't to be within earshot. While they argument seems sensible (if unfounded) then, their later actions spoke more truthfully.

When Aunt Suzie was diagnosed with cancer, it was my uncle's wife who assumed the task of calling everyone. My dad made a special point to her to include me. No such call ever came. Three days later my cousin Lauren called me. She was shocked to find out I had been cut out of the loop, and went out of her way to create a direct line of communication for me. My uncle's wife never apologized nor explained the omission.

And therein lies my problem. While my late-grandfather and I weren't related, my uncle is. The same uncle that didn't want me around his kids three years ago. The husband of the woman that conveniently forgot to call and tell me my favorite aunt was on her way to the cemetery. I can forget those things. I can swallow my anger and my frustration with them. I will not play a male for the sake of their convenience. I have severed myself from my family and endured many a lonely holiday in the name of convience, but I will not appear in a suit and slacks for them.

Part of me is screaming to find a way out of this. I don't need the confrontation, the accusation, or the misdirected anger. I simply want to live my life on my own terms.