It Would Have Been Nice
A couple of weeks ago I saw someone I love at LaGuardia airport, but we did not talk. The person came out of the bathroom just as I was walking by, our gates on opposite sides of the concourse. The person almost ran into me. My heart raced and was broken, all in a span of seconds.
I hurried to the American Admiral’s Club where I texted my close friend, Jen, who was waiting for her flight on another concourse. I wanted to take the shuttle over and find her. I needed a friend. Instead I read a David Whyte poem on my phone and wiped tears from my eyes.
I assumed I knew where the person was headed and I was correct, going to another city on another airline. As I walked toward my flight I glanced over at the presumed gate and there the person was, seated with a family member, waiting to board.
I used to be close to this person, respected the person’s intelligence and wit, and thoroughly enjoyed the time we spent together. Why didn’t I say hello? Because this person has not reached out to me since I came out. No email, phone call, card or note. I have not written the person either, and that is by design. When I have initiated contact with evangelicals from my previous life, it has not gone well. So I have learned to wait until they initiate contact with me.
I definitely no longer walk up and identify myself to any evangelical friends I see in an airport. One former friend told a coworker he had seen me. The coworker complained to the leadership where I was headed to speak, considering it unacceptable that I should be permitted to address that particular audience. (My experience with non-evangelical friends has been completely different. But alas, most of my previous life was lived among evangelicals.)
On a flight from Phoenix a few months ago I sat next to a man with whom I frequently worked for a couple of decades. He had no clue he was speaking with me. He called me ma’am. The person in New York also had no idea it was me, and did not suspect I was anything other than the tall woman I am. The person looked straight at me without recognition.
It was difficult. I have lost much of the life of Paul. I have many wonderful new friends, some of the best friends of my life really, but they are people who never knew Paul. The number of long-time friends who speak as freely about Paul as they do about Paula can be counted on one hand.
The experience of my family and close friends is instructive. No one from an evangelical background talks with them about Paul. They share no memories, open no scrapbooks, and make no mention of the decades we spent together. It is as though Paul has died. When someone dies, people usually share memories. No one shares memories about Paul. They don’t know what to do, so they erase me from the narrative. When they are in contact with my friends and family, they speak of their previous life together, but they leave out the person who shared that life with them.
I hope you are not reading any anger into this post. I am not angry, just sad. I am sad it is so difficult for so many people. I am sad that with a few precious exceptions, the people from my previous life find it too hard to acknowledge both Paul and Paula.
There are a lot of people I loved when I was Paul, people like the person I saw at LaGuardia. It is painful to no longer be able to visit with those precious souls. And to actually be within inches of a person you love but unable to say, “Hey, what are you doing here? It is so, so good to see you!” That was awful. It was as though I had been split in two. It filled me with sorrow. When I got on the plane I thought of Carl Sandburg’s 1916 poem, The Limited:
I am riding on a limited express, one of the crack trains of the nation. Hurtling across the prairie into blue haze and dark air go fifteen all-steel coaches holding a thousand people. (All the coaches shall be scrap and rust and all the men and women laughing in the diners and sleepers shall pass to ashes.) I ask a man in the smoker where he is going and he answers: “Omaha.”
It seems such a tragedy that I saw someone I love, yet I did not feel I could speak. Life is short. We are not traveling to Omaha. We are traveling to the end of our days, and what is lost is lost.
And so it goes.