Don't Forget the Margins

My Life Without: The Short Version

When I was 4 years old, my grandma filled a kiddy pool in the backyard of her Glendale, Arizona home. My being had just come into being. I had an idea of myself—who I was, my likes and my dislikes. At 4 years old, at home and grandma’s, I knew one thing. I really, really did not like wearing a shirt to go swimming.

This sense of appearing a certain way was beyond my body. In movies and in life I was always gravitating towards the masculine. Wanting to be the hand holder, the space creator, the lift-heavy-things person. Wanting to be Simba on the Lion King. Wanting to not wear my shirt when the neighborhood girl came over. My mom telling me to put on a shirt. Me not thinking I was a person who should have to wear a shirt. I mean, picture this: sagging toy pistol belt over dinosaur printed pajama shorts. Everything.

When I was in 2nd grade I joined community gymnastics for one day until I was told I would have to wear a leotard. I couldn’t quit fast enough. Grandma took me to my get my hair cut at age 8. I looked in the mirror and saw myself for the first time. In 3rd grade, a boy in my class said to me in the hallway, “You don’t want to be a girl do you. You want to be a boy.” He was right. I didn’t want to be a girl, I wished I had been born differently. When he said this, I believed his tone, that it was a strange thing and I was a strange being. By the end of 5th grade, I wanted to be loved more than I wanted to be. I had no idea these two things were the same.

Here’s the thing about my breasts. When they came they were always in between me and other people. When I was 19, when I finally woke up into myself, I would stand back from the mirror enough so that I couldn’t see them. I wore binders through summer. I wore sports bras one size to small at night so I wouldn’t have to see them, feel them, acknowledge them. When I fell in love that summer and it failed a year later, I was so ready to throw away the surgery and the hormones and the masculinity to be loved. That’s when I knew that I couldn’t have all of me yet. Not until I knew how to love all of me, as I was, and know it was enough, even if I was always in this form.

Today, I have waited almost 10 years to let myself have this. I have become myself in every way without this surgery. I realized yesterday that I have never given myself something so personally my own. It has not been easy for me to give myself this. I have a blind spot and it has taken a whole army of trans friends, and witnessing their coming into themselves for me to allow myself to have this. There’s more but I think I’m too excited to write more. I’m joyfully giving myself this today. Burning all my bras.

My Life on the Couch #7

In three weeks, I will have lived in the spaces of others for an entire year. I will be off the couch so to speak when I settle into the house with a pool and roommates and a lease. In the last two weeks, I’ve slept and stored my things in Ventura, Oakland and Humboldt County, California. I’ve shared a friend’s bed, I’ve slept on a couch with a grumpy cat between my legs, I’ve slept under the Redwoods in still damp shorts after failing to dry by sundown from a dip in the nearby creek.

Bull Creek, Humboldt Redwoods State Park

I’ve landed in Portland, Oregon with a room with a door. I didn’t realize until two days ago that I had not slept or occupied space in a room with a door this entire time. Dang. I am more grounded than I have ever been. More comfortable with looking like a fool. More at ease, really, with people looking at me in the first place. Every hour is so exposed, I’ve learned to go internal.

I guess the point I’ve come to in the near end of all this is that there’s no point at all, especially in the geographical sense. I continue to not land. Maybe this has been the truth all along (I mean, I know it is)—the only real thing is whatever is right in front of me…and that can change too.

My Life on a Couch, 6

My interim has an interim. I’m two weeks out from leaving this soon-to-be-baking desert city and I’m spending those two weeks at my Mom’s house. One never wants to go back to Mom’s house. Especially when one imagines themselves to be “real adult”. But given the reality that I am not currently being “mothered” I suppose it’s more of a long visit. I’m visiting Mom. I like who I’ve become since the last time we shared significant space together—10 years ago.

Where I’m headed—Portland, Oregon— had always, until now, seemed like a land of promise to me. Consequently, a lot of broken things were once initially rooted there. Promise is a tricky thought depending on the way you hold it. I guess there’s promise and there’s intention. Promise seems a bit one-dimensional and closed in. A perfect square of a thought about what could happen, bordered by a certain idea of how it might happen. A glass structure in a hard world.

Intention, well, I guess the difference is is the way you hold it. It’s both in and out of my hands. Intention has to be thrown to the wind to be useful. You have to let it go.

Last trip to Portland: the privilege of witnessing and holding gorgeous and vivacious intention for my best friend and his wonderful wife. This trip, I’ll hold it for myself too—I’ll also be staying with them, a final leg in this vagabond journey.

My Life on a Couch: the fifth

In difficult moments, my body remembers to breath. When the wash of whatever is too much comes, I find myself standing still on a sidewalk somewhere, face to the sun or sitting in my grandmother’s parked car 5 min longer than I’d planned on, head on the steering wheel.

I used to hold my breath. Didn’t even realize I was doing it. The sensation was that of missing time. Entireties of seconds absent from memory. I’d remember those moments eventually. Sudden memories. Aisle 9 of the grocery story, like a punch to the stomach. Or waking up in thick sweat in the middle of the night.

My grandmother told my the other day that every night they move her somewhere else. Somewhere off of Bell Road or Grand Avenue in North Phoenix. She says, “I don’t like it because I never know where I’m going to wake up.” I tell her she is in Tucson and she says she knows. She tells me she knows the difference between her imagination and real life.

From left to right: my mother, my aunt (deceased), my grandmother, my grandmother’s second husband (deceased).

Vascular dementia is the result of brain damage from a stroke. It’s mostly likely why my grandmother has started to walk through worlds despite being sharp in all other ways. There’s not enough oxygen now so she’s missing time. She is so thin now. It’s hard to look at it. How else to say it—there is no other way.

I keep breathing because I can feel a weight want to keep me in bed too. And I’ve spent so much time on my feet over the past many years. I’ve figured out so much and resisted anguish. I’ve kept my neck up. I’ve lived. I’ve been better to people. I haven’t been depressed. My life is full of more adoration, more goodness, more love than ever and my grief is trickling from the most common of sources: heartbreak, dying, the experience of having a body.

I’m finding no amount of reasoning, no amount of sleep or healthful chemical levels or meditation or exercise can ward off some sadness.

My Life on a Couch, #4

It’s been two months now that I’ve been sleeping in a real bed, though I’m still occupying borrowed space. My friend deployed and I’m staying in her high-ceiling-ed studio with all her stuff. Her bed. Her dishes. “You can stay there but problem is I have furniture,” she tells me. No problem here. All my things live in paper bags.

Still, I’m on a metaphorical couch in all the ways. My grandmother suffered a stroke 4 months ago. The morning before I was going to do stand-up comedy for the first time, they found her on her kitchen floor. I’m driving her car now because she lives in her bed, except it’s not her bed either. She’s living in assisted living here in Tucson. She probably won’t go home again. Hard to imagine life could have so many lives within it. She thought she’d need help someday she told me out of the corner of her half-paralyzed face, “but not this soon, it pisses me off.”

All the days watching her starving these past months. You don’t get real food when you can’t swallow. Just mush. Chicken mush. Broccoli mush. I want to eat everything and I do, especially on days where I witness her hunger. I’m eating for both of us, remembering all the moments I starved my girl body. And for what? I will never do it again.

Home is right behind you.

I’m spun up on uncertainty and remembering moments I can’t take back. I can still see the drop of my last love’s face as I turned away on the busy night avenue. A turned back and a path away from something you walked with for years is kind of like death. I wonder if I’m awake enough for these times. I go to my grandmother every week and I lay my head on her body. I touch her skin and I give back all the massages I tricked her into giving me when I was young(er). My hands have grown so strong I have to be careful not to bruise her.

She is in a bed that is not her own. These things happen all the time—faculties lost from people who could never lose them, who would never lose them. They lose them anyway. People who spend years of their life not needing a damn thing from anyone, one day need everything from everyone.

People we love leave us and we let them or we look away. I’m looking straight at her, my grandmother, and every week I’m scared to go back but I do. I lay my head on her body. She tells me I’m sweet. All my life ’till now I don’t think she knew me.


Mi Vida por El Sofá: El tercero.

When I clean up the many kombucha bottles on the passenger side of my Suburu Outback in early October, I find the missing wallet. It is underneath the passenger seat; a single place out of twenty places I checked a hyperbolic one million times. There it is. In that moment, I find part of myself. Relief. I loved that wallet. I avoid materialism but it is a treasure. The same small billfold my dad and brother have, signifying that in some way I am in gender cahoots with them, (if only it were that simple) but with an embedded mercury dime instead of a buffalo nickel. Mercury also know as Hermes, with his winged helmet symbolizing Freedom of Thought. Mercury who fathered a child with Aphrodite, Goddess of Love and Procreation and Beauty and Pleasure, named Aphroditus or Hermaphroditus. The middle space God. God of love and manifestation and free thinking. Visionary. My image. And to you all like me, ours.


By the end of October, the car itself breaks beyond repair. Oh god— I’m a car-less, home-less not quite thirty year old who is still living on the same couch. Holly and I looked at each other the other day and wondered, had I really been there 6 months? Time didn’t fly because we were drinking, not like twenty-one. That’s honest. It flew in other ways.



My Life on a Couch #2

Physical objects. I look. I see. What’s missing? Well, so far, my driver’s license and my passport. I’ve been without identification for over a month. I lost my new wallet around my birthday. Before that, before everything changed, I left my wallet on the roof of my car. Pieces of my life in a 100 foot radius on Speedway Boulevard. The passport, still no idea where it went.

A pile of my pieces, on Mt. Graham.

A pile of my pieces, in the Pinaleno Mountains.

I drive my car hoping to not get pulled over for that broken brake light. The passenger’s side floor of my car is a cemetery of kombucha bottles, off brand seltzer cans, and disposable coffee containers. I can hear the bottles clinking every time I turn a corner. God, it’s so annoying. Every time I think I’ll clear them out, my hands are full or I’ve forgotten. That, or another to-go something or other has added itself to the pile.

The clutter is part of the transition. It just is. That’s why I’ve started to add to the pile. While I’m super tempted to clean it right this second because I cringe (CRINGE) at the thought of continuing to leave it, I think I ought to sit with the pieces of my life. So I am.

What’s here? What needs to not be here anymore? How do I position the objects that I own, that I carry with me so that I can maintain this transition?

My Life on a Couch: 1st Edition

From where I sit on my borrowed couch bed right now, I can see most things I own and use on a daily basis. My life and my clothes and my books are all in paper bags. Three, to be exact, with a fourth for dirty laundry that I will clean at my Mom’s house on my way home from camping this weekend. The rest is tucked into a mix of falling apart cardboard and plastic storage bins at my Dad’s manufactured home out on acres in Sahuarita. I got it there by car. My life easily fits in my car. I just turned 27.

After a life shift—the ending of a major relationship—I decided that I’ll stop trying to land. For years of my life, if not its entirety, I’ve been looking for responsibility. For furniture. For a love in the romantic sense. For enough hangers for my dress shirts. For a “job” that pays me well enough to build something in one place. I’ve slept on people’s couches before; or their basements on a gym mat, or in a dining room with sheets for doors, in Portland, when I was 21. It was right after college and I thought “this is temporary and a 2-3 time thing.” It felt that way. But here I am again.

Holly Hall's Famous Friend Couch.

Holly Hall’s Famous Friend Couch. My first late morning.

When I told my friend who is a therapist in Sacramento that I was sleeping on another friend’s couch and that I had no plans to find my own place for a whole year, she said “What an interesting journey. You should write about it.” I guess, in its own way, or in a way I had not yet considered—it is a a journey. Even it if it feels sort of cyclical.

A hipster couch in the PNW.

A hipster couch in the PNW.

Where I am now is like the drier, more southwestern version of the same place I was at 21. Drier in many a sense. And that’s all an oversimplification. I’m not who I was then. For one, I’m not trying to be anywhere else and time feels shorter now. Like I no longer want to puzzle over things I never said out loud. I’d just rather say them. That’s vague. Home is inside me? Too cliche. The truth is that I’m still trying to understand what it means to lean on people and maybe for the first time acknowledging that it’s okay to do so.


I’m Trying Not to Think About Vulnerability.

True vulnerability, the kind that runs through a person like a torrent, makes my shoulders ache and my neck stiffen. Do you understand what I mean when I say the phrase, “open your heart”? It sounds so cliche’ in my mind and yet I can bring the technique into situations where intimacy is not really required of me. I can “open my heart” with the a little distance and I truthfully only like to be vulnerable when I’ve had ample time to think about it. What a shit for my romantic relationships.


I’m saying something about boundaries and something about bodies. The rain was falling fast and hard on Campbell Boulevard and the streets were already flooding by the time I got my groceries back to where I’m house-sitting. The dry earth isn’t used to taking in so much at once.

I’m thinking about vulnerability and its relationship to the body. The thought is too fresh, to painful to consider. When Alton Sterling’s vulnerable body was shot, you got to wonder what got him killed? Was it the gun on his person? Or was it two white cops taking advantage of a vulnerable black body in America. In reaction to this murder, I am not vulnerable. I am a white female-bodied person. This doesn’t directly “affect” my body. But one body is all bodies. Don’t white people realize we are all connected?

I’m trying not think about vulnerability. I’m trying to feel it. Take it into my body so I can surpass the desire of my mind to make sense of the non-sensical. You can’t make sense of this. You have to feel it. You have to feel it. You have to feel it.

And you have to say it. Say his name. Alton Sterling. Say their names. I’ve been silent because I didn’t know what to say. I thought I couldn’t but I have to. We have to.


A True Non-Fiction Writer Now: I Failed to Delve into Sentimentality at My MFA Graduation.

I graduated from my MFA program at Goddard College this weekend. Now as I scroll through what seems like yards of social media posts from my fellow graduating classmates, those amazing (and I really mean it) people smiling next to their diplomas or reaching out with final words on the event that led so many of us beyond ourselves and to ourselves simultaneously, I’m seeing so clearly where I’ve been or rather who I’ve been through all this.

I hardly took a picture of the event. Or of myself with my friends. Or even thought to “require” that someone take a picture. I mean, yea, I thought about it but I didn’t care in the moment. Maybe care isn’t the right word.

photo (39)

I took this picture today. Because I felt guilty that maybe future me would be disappointed in me for not marking time with an image.

I’m not much for sentimentality, at least not now. I was, I think, more into all that at another time in my life where I knew less of my own boundaries and my own worth. That’s not to say the being sentimental involves not having boundaries or not loving oneself, that’s just to say that I was more sentimental in another time when those things were true for me. Part of it seems that I may have the propensity to be too sentimental, to meld into other people and other stories that are in the past or not my own. I also am not able to be with the present moment and fully take in if I’m doing it in a way that feels like finality or scarcity.

I don’t do sentiment gracefully.

Pictures to me don’t tell too much about the moment once you’ve forgotten it a long ways down the line. My internal memory, though malleable as it may be, at least feels like its doing the work to root down the important bits. I choose to be at peace that what needs to stay will and that all else will blow into the wind. I choose this mostly because I have a terrible time letting go of things and a worse fear of forgetting.


I am in a picture after all!

Sentiment is one of those tragic flaws of non-fiction. One must skirt the edges of feeling. Name the emotion but not become the emotion. I can’t tell you or show you what something means if I myself am not yet slightly removed from all the mess. Emotion is telling but it is not trustworthy.

I think at the end of this MFA program in particular, I had so much I needed to say and express that I wasn’t willing to engage with sentiment. I was too grateful, too needing to be with the final moments of all that Goddard was for me that I couldn’t mourn it all quite yet. I suppose I’m mourning it now—and wondering if maybe I should have taken more damn pictures.