I met Patricia Jean Tierney In June of 1980. We were teens and I trained her to be my boss, a deal most men don’t get to make in regards to their future wives. Fresh out of college (Her, not me! I was 25 by the time I earned my degree.) she was barely older than most of my coworkers at the Wheaton, Maryland Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor restaurant where I worked and, not used to being referred to as MS Tierney, picked up the moniker Miss T, which we all pronounced as Misty. We met in June, started dating in August and by the time October rolled around and she was transferred from Maryland to Birmingham, Alabama I was so infatuated that I promised I would follow her, a promise I kept late that December.
Eighteen-year-old Audrey June was one of the employees at that Birmingham Farrell’s, and when this vivacious and adventuresome senior was in need of a prom date Misty asked us how we would feel about going to prom together. How did we feel? We felt fine and thus AJ and I wound up dancing her prom night away in platonic and inebriated bliss. While prom was great Birmingham did not go well and Patricia and I both left the state and went our separate ways. Pat and I reconciled a short time later and saw Audrey June in 1981 when we stopped by Birmingham as we traveled to Muscle Shoals to attend the wedding of our friend Dan Dunmire and his bride Susan Gregory.
Three decades pass and Facebook puts us back in touch with Audrey June who has married Mike Forshey and has, coincidentally, moved to Maryland. We three communicate via the WWW, pleased to have contact and figuring sometime when Pat/Misty and I are in DC visiting family perhaps we’ll see Audrey. Perhaps. Someday. Someday became Friday June twelfth. The Forsheys have a beach house just south of Carolina Beach and our worlds intersected for the first time in thirty-eight years when we met them for drinks.
Audrey and I do most of the talking as we three revel in simpatico reminiscences of our youth while Pat and I get to know Mike and he us. We’re joined by their friends Michael and Lacey and the conversation turns from days gone by to how did you meet, where are you from and current events. Michael brings up, “The greatest song ever recorded,” and I interrupt him with, “Green Onions. Booker T. and the Memphis Group,” a great initial bonding moment as I seemingly read his mind.
The where you froms, how’d you meets shift into broader topics including work experience which leads Michael down his association with then Martin now Martine Rothblatt, a person Michael obviously admires. I knew next to nothing about Martine Rothblatt, a woman with truly amazing world class business accomplishments, and Michael enumerates some of her incredible accomplishments but as he does so Michael, the eldest of we six and a product of the mid-fifties, is having a hard time with pronouns concerning Martine, a vocal tick that makes me uncomfortable.
Michael has quickly shown me that his is an old-school, traditionalist world view and I can’t help but wonder if Michael’s pronoun difficulty, Michael’s use of he rather than she when discussing Martine, is a function of prejudice or simply a no-man’s-landmine when speaking of someone who Michael knew as a man but who transitioned to female over two decades ago. Wondering, I let it go, and use the favorite ploy of we passive aggressives, I challenge the situation with a joke.
“Yeah,” I declare, “and why is it cisgender instead of brogender? I mean, where’s the equality in that?” I throw out, my non sequitur falling flatter than a failed souffle.
“Pardon?” Michael asks.
“Cisgender? Brogender? I know sis is spelled with a c but it’s an aural joke, not a visual,” I reply.
Michael tilts his head to the right, raises his left eyebrow and says, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Cisgender? When people identify their genders with their biology? Men are men, women are women? No? Okay. That’s the term,” I continue, my passive aggressive falling faster than Donald Trump’s inclusiveness. “It’s supposed to be punny. Word play?” Polite nods. Eyes on me. Silence, even from the goddess who is used to me and familiar with the term.
The topic of conversation shifts to suicide among teens and young adults. My wife, my friend from long ago and my three new acquaintances all echo the same sentiment, the disbelief that young people with so much to live for end their lives far too freely, far too inexplicably. I wonder how many of those who take their own lives have been put in boxes that just don’t fit. How many deaths are related to an inability to let people be who and what they are rather than what we think they should be.
Audrey, who volunteers her time and financial resources in a school for girls in Kenya, says, “I just can’t imagine,” a sentiment my wife repeats like a mantra every time we hear of one of our children’s friends having either committed or failed at suicide.
I smile wistfully and sub-vocalize, “And I hope you never do,” the phrase I always say to Pat when we discuss depression. “Hey!” I declare, breaking the awkward silence. “Tomorrow Pat and I race! Triathlon day and an opportunity to advance toward a clear, well-defined goal. If only life was always that clear.” We drink in affirmation, we three established, comfortable, cisgender, privileged couples as opportunity, stumbling-blocks, privilege, hope, defeat and world view swirl all around. Here’s to loving one another and trying to understand the other person’s perspective. Here’s to knowing that each of us is both bewildered and bewildering. May we all know love and peace.