“I am choosing to abstain,” he told himself the next day when the sun rose and thoughts of her returned. Whether she would or would not be there, he couldn’t live in make-believe. He came here to see the world anew. He would not get hung up on a girl.
When the phone finally rang – a whole week later – his heart skipped a beat, released a butterfly and, reminding himself again, returned to normal a moment later. He picked up the phone in a state of calm.
The sound of Joanne reentering the picture could only be described as complicated and complicating. Eddlin sighed. He didn’t feel a release of doves, but he felt akin. Not familiarity. Not fleeting. Something more like family.
“Joanne,” he replied.
They both knew about distance, about being lonesome. He could hear the tired in her voice, she could hear his cards on the table. He knew in that moment he would have to see her again. Have to go back to the city, have to leave Mrs. Purifoy to that evil man, Red, and leave Trace behind to whatever fate would bring.
“I’m here,” he mumbled.
“And I’m here, but I want you here, too. You can’t just run away.”
He disagreed. He had done just that. He raised his eyebrows to signal his dissent, but said nothing.
“You think no one but you will have me,” he said after a time.
“That’s not it.”
But it was.
She had been there from the start. Before he was himself properly. Before he felt comfortable in his skin. She was his first. She was with him when he was she, when they were lesbians.
He reached his hand down and touched his jeans, knowing what he lacked and felt his face redden to imagine telling another woman his story.
With Joanne, it hadn’t been just his story, it was their story. He had wanted to be with her forever. Leaving had not crossed his mind, but when she began to own his experiences as her own, he fled.
She would open a conversation at a dinner gathering with the details of his transition, unbelievably, and as people leaned in, eager to take part in the oddity, she led the charge with more, even as he looked on at her pleading. It led to many fights to which she would always whittle it down to having to change right alongside him, and so why wasn’t it her story, too?
It infuriated him. It was hard enough to cope with changing everything about himself, to go from one complete life to another, even quitting his job to start again fresh. And when that wasn’t enough he left it all behind, including Joanne and all of her experiences as the partner of a transgender man, a banner she practically worn on her forehead to every Pride parade. He was sick of it, sick of her.
Joanne had not taken well to it, but he hadn’t just disappeared. He had started off joking that he wasn’t sure who was trans because she had embraced it almost more wholeheartedly than he. She wanted every part of him as though trying to prove her attraction to his new muscles and squared-off jaw. He had the drive to deliver but it felt like she was consuming him as though she might finish him off at the neck when she had been satisfied. It didn’t feel natural to be with her anymore, not like it felt to be in his new skin, which felt like being home.
His psychological world view had shifted over to something much more sure. He felt like strutting for no reason, like it came with putting on shoes. He had said goodbye to the regrets of waiting until he was 30 to begin being what he always felt he had been. This was the trajectory he was on when he fled.
Once in a while Joanne would remind him of what she had sacrificed for him to be whole. Like how she hadn’t dreamed of getting fucked.
He had felt embarrassed by that. He didn’t feel as though he had been fucking any part of her; he was new to it, maybe not great, but it felt right and it struck panic into his heart to think she had viewed it any other way. That was not the guy he wanted to be.
This was the deep water between them.
“Joanne.” He sighed. Barely ten words in, six months later, and there they were, right on the topic of his body, once again.
“I can’t come back.”
“I got your letter, the one to your aunt and uncle,” she said, changing the subject.
He forgot he had mailed the first letter in a moment of completely misplaced romanticism. The Post Office had dutifully forwarded it to his last known address and Joanne intercepted it, opened it, even, which was just like her, opening up private stuff that didn’t concern her.
“You’re grieving,” she exhaled into the phone.
“I don’t have a back-up plan anymore. I get up every day with no particular agenda and I like it that way. And I might be grieving, but I’m not your project to work on anymore. I’m not grieving for my old life.”
“Maybe I am grieving for what we had,” she snapped back.
“You reminded me how little you wanted to be with a man. How you stayed…”
“Because I love the person inside,” she answered with a hint of triumph.
“That’s bullshit, pardon my French.”
“You’ve gotten so course.”
“I am not the one who said they were being fucked or split in two, or how did you put it that one time – having your uterus rammed at constantly? What the hell, Joanne?”
He paused for a breath and pushed himself back at her before she talked him out of his feelings.
“Well now’s your chance to be with the one who is right for you. For the record, you used me as a cause. You told people my personal information without my consent, and you – yes, you Joanne, dug your fingernails into my ass and greedily pushed me harder and further into you like a demon!”
He stepped back at having said so much all at once.
“A demon?” she scoffed.
“Like you had no brakes. Your appetite was insatiable. Olympic. Even greater than mine and I was supposed to be riding on a wave of testosterone.”
He heard her say, “I don’t know whether to be offended or turned on…” and he flew into a rage.
“You ate me up and I will not let you have anymore!” With that, he slammed down the phone and unplugged it from the wall.
All of these women be damned!