Do you know what it feels like to wake up hungover? Nauseous, aching all over, far too tired and a head full of fog? That’s how I wake up every day. Not because I’ve been drinking, just because… well, we’ll get to that.
Every day, I wake up feeling like that, or worse. Every day, I wonder how I’ll even make it through. Some days, I don’t.
That morning, I was woken up by the doorbell, something I couldn’t remember happening in years. It rang repeatedly, the sort of ring that suggest the person waiting knows they’re being ignored, and aren’t in the least happy about it.
I couldn’t for the life of me fathom who it could be. It was a Sunday morning, which meant it wasn’t a delivery, and as far as I knew nobody was expecting guests.
For several minutes, I didn’t move, lying on my back and staring at the ceiling. The doorbell continued to ring. Wasn’t anyone going to get that?
Apparently not. Grumbling to myself, I pulled myself out of bed, fishing around the floor with my feet until I found my pyjamas. Throwing them on, I marched out of my room and down the stairs, bleary eyed and very unimpressed.
I knew what I looked like. I wasn’t at all ready to face another human being, but I couldn’t exactly leave them waiting while I went through my whole preparatory process. That could take an hour.
Besides, it was probably just a salesperson. I would tell them to go away, and they’d leave, and that would be that. Back to bed to hide from the world for another day.
I hesitated in front of the door, my hand hovering above the handle. I did not want to do this. Breathing in slowly, I closed my eyes and opened the door.
I opened my eyes again. There was a young woman standing there, looking slightly bored yet somehow full of energy at the same time. Her brown eyes, just the right shade that they looked almost red, immediately fixated on me, and I felt myself shiver involuntarily.
Whoever she was, she looked stunning, and my stomach twisted with jealousy. Her short black skirt covered very little of her legs, which were covered in black and white striped stockings, ending in wicked black heels. Her white shirt, perfectly fitted, was just tight enough around the chest to draw focus to her breasts.
As she met my eyes, she grinned. For a moment, her teeth looked sharp, like fangs.
“Good morning,” she said, with a smile that held just a hint of mischief. “I’m looking for Miranda.”
Crap. I bit my lip, suddenly intensely uncomfortable. I had not wanted to find myself in this position.
Changing my name was one of the first things I did when I started my transition. It was something within my power, something I could do, and nobody could stop me. It was a positive step, and I don’t regret it.
The problem was, right at that moment, I didn’t exactly look like a Miranda. I looked liked… well, me.
“Is this a delivery?” I asked carefully. “I’ll sign for it.”
The woman raised her eyebrows. “Do I look like a delivery girl?”
I shrugged. “What does a delivery girl even look like?”
“They have a uniform, for starters,” she pointed out. Well, pardon me for not being an expert on delivery girls.
“Okay,” I said, still more than a little uncomfortable to even be talking to her. “So what do you want, then?”
“I told you, I’m looking for Miranda,” she said impatiently.
“Okay…” Quick, Miranda, think. Just send her away. You can deal with it later. “Um, she’s… she’s not home right now,” I mumbled.
She raised just one eyebrow, looking bemused and a little irritated. I was already slowly moving back inside.
“Okay then,” she said, after staring at me for a few seconds. “Mind if I come in? No? Good.”
Before I could stop her, she’d slipped past me, practically prancing down the hallway. I turned on the spot, confused and scared and a little annoyed.
“What? No, you can’t-”
“Can’t what?” she said, cutting me off. “Come in?”
“I think I just proved that I can,” she said, batting her eyelashes at me. I could feel adrenaline beginning to course through my system.
“Well, you need to get out,” I demanded. “I didn’t give you permission to come in.”
“Oh, well, that’s different,” she said, smiling pleasantly.
I stared at her for a full minute, but she didn’t say anything else, and didn’t make any movement towards the door. My hands were shaking a little bit, and I held on to the door handle so that she wouldn’t see.
“Hmm?” She sounded confused. “Oh, I don’t really care about permission,” she said. “Which way’s the kitchen?”
“Why would I tell you that?” I asked, irritated.
“I guess you wouldn’t,” she said with a shrug. “Don’t worry, I’ll find it.”
“I’m calling the police!” I called out after her, as she skipped obstinately down the hallway.
“Okay!” she called back, unfazed. What…?
Fortunately, someone had left a handset on top of the table right next to the door, where we dumped mail that wasn’t ours on top of keys, then complained we couldn’t ever find them.
I grabbed the phone, ignoring my shaking hands as I punched in the number for the local police, then held the phone up to my ear.
“Hello?” a voice said after the first ring.
“Um, is this the police?” I asked, suddenly timid.
“No, this is Rebecca,” the voice said, as if that was supposed to mean something to me. It didn’t.
“I’m in your house,” the voice said. It took a few seconds for me to work out what that meant. When I did, I nearly dropped the phone.
“What? How did you-”
“Who cares?” she said, interrupting me. “Breakfast is ready. Hungry?”
I hung up on her, dropping the phone as if it were a poisonous insect. I could feel my head pounding, and it was getting difficult to think.
Mindlessly, I closed the front door, some tiny part of my brain wanting to avoid anyone else wandering inside. Then, without thinking, I started walking towards the kitchen. If I couldn’t get her out of the house, I should probably at least keep an eye on her, I began to justify to myself.
An incredible smell suddenly took hold of me, literally the only thing I was capable of thinking about. A large plate with an omelette was waiting for me on the table, pulling me towards it like a magnet. Before I could stop myself, I found myself sitting down and eating.
Slowly, my faculties began to return to me. Rebecca, as she’d called herself, was leaning against the wall, watching me with interest. I tried to speak, but my mouth wouldn’t move.
“Sorry, honey,” she said, gesturing to the phone sitting on the kitchen counter. “I’m not quite ready to leave yet.”
I pushed the plate away, having consumed the entire omelette. The entire scenario felt completely bizarre to me, but for some reason, I couldn’t put my finger on why.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“I told you, I’m Rebecca,” she said. “Don’t call me Becky. Everybody does. I hate it.”
“Okay…” I said, feeling like she hadn’t really answered my question. “What are you doing here?”
“Looking for Miranda,” she said. “We have an… appointment.”
Not as far as I knew, we didn’t. I shook my head, still feeling a distant pounding in it.
“I don’t think that you do,” I said.
“That’s what most people say,” she answered, her tone dismissive. “You don’t really have a choice, though.”
The ‘you’ seemed very deliberate. Once again, her eyes were focussed on me, her gaze intense, and I felt paralysed.
“Drink your juice, Miranda,” she said. Sure enough, there was a glass of juice beside me. I’d have sworn it wasn’t there just a second earlier.
“I’m not-” I began, but she cut me off.
“Obviously, I know who you are,” she told me. “But even if I didn’t, why lie? Why don’t you want me to know you’re Miranda?”
I bit my lip. I didn’t want to answer, didn’t know how to answer. Her eyes never left mine, just kept me pinned there with that fierce stare, and I knew I couldn’t stay silent.
“Because I don’t look like a Miranda,” I said, breaking eye contact and staring at the plate.
“Do Mirandas have a look?” she asked, surprising me. “What does a Miranda look like?”
“I don’t know,” I said, feeling very threatened. “Like a girl?”
Suddenly she was a lot closer, but I don’t remember her moving. I was scared, but I didn’t know what I could do.
“You don’t think you look like a girl?” she asked, looking closely at me, her eyes roaming my face.
“Do you?” I asked, not even trying to keep the bitterness out of my voice.
“You sure look like a girl to me,” she said, and despite myself, I felt just the tiniest flutter of pride.
It didn’t last, though. It never did. It didn’t matter what she said, I knew what I looked like, and I knew how people saw me. I couldn’t ever escape that.
“No, I don’t,” I said coldly.
“Why not?” she asked, as if it were no less innocent a question than what my favourite colour was.
“Look at me,” I said, feeling overwhelmed. I could feel the beginning of the tears I was holding back in the back of my throat. “I haven’t shaved, for starters. Look at my shoulders, my hands, my Adam’s apple-”
“Eve’s orange?” she offered, as if nothing I’d said meant anything to her.
“Look at my jaw,” I said defiantly.
“You have nice bone structure,” she said simply.
“I have a man’s bone structure,” I argued.
“Are you a man?” she asked, taking me by surprise.
“I… no,” I said, refusing to say it. I knew what I was, regardless of how I looked. “But-”
“You have your own bone structure,” she said. “You’re a woman, aren’t you?”
I wasn’t sure what she was trying to do. Was this some kind of game she was playing? I didn’t understand, but it didn’t matter. I didn’t want to play.
“Then your bone structure is a woman’s bone structure,” she said. “Is that too complicated for you?”
My shoulders slumped. I wanted to think like that, I really did. I just didn’t have that luxury.
“That’s not really how the world works,” I said weakly.
“No, I suppose not,” she agreed, her voice a little melancholy.
She sat opposite me, her legs up near her chest, watching me with those strange reddish eyes. I just started back at her, my head throbbing.
“Why are you here?” I asked again, wondering if I would get a straight answer out of her.
“To get you to eat, for starters,” she said, making me realise I was still unusually hungry. I looked down at my plate; it was now covered in several slices of toast. When had she put that there? “C’mon, I made you breakfast. It would be rude not to eat it.”
“You’re gonna lecture me about being rude?”
“Eat,” she said.
“Fine, whatever,” I grumbled. I didn’t really want to eat a stranger’s food, but hungry as I was, I couldn’t resist taking a bite. Like the omelette, it was really, really good.
I took another bite, and then another. In a matter of minutes, my plate was once again empty, and I looked back up at her.
“Better,” she said. “Now, this could take a while, so why don’t we do sit somewhere more comfortable?”
I didn’t really see any alternative. I resigned myself to suffer through whatever it was that she wanted. It seemed like the only way to get rid of her.
“The lounge room is through there,” I said hesitantly, pointing to a door. “But…”
All of a sudden, something occurred to me. The realisation worried me, but what bothered me more was how long it had taken me to notice.
“Why isn’t anyone else home?” I asked.
“I wouldn’t worry about that,” Rebecca said soothingly.
“What? Did you do something?”
“They’re fine, I promise,” she assured me. “I didn’t do a thing.”
“Take a seat,” she said, hovering over a lounge chair. Wait, when had we actually left the kitchen? It was like my brain had just skipped over the walk from there to here.
“Why? What do you want with me?” I asked, almost frantically.
“I want to talk,” she said. “That’s all.”
“It’s my job, I guess,” she said, sitting down in the chair opposite me, crossing her legs and smiling comfortingly. “Though I did volunteer for your case.”
I still didn’t understand. I didn’t understand anything, and it was starting to get to me.
“What kind of job?” I asked, unable to think of anything more specific.
“Not the kind where I answer questions about myself,” she answered, deliberately dodging the question. “Think of this more like an interview.”
“What am I being interviewed for?”
“For what happens next,” she said.
For some reason, a shiver ran down my spine. Not like the expression; I literally felt a spark of cold start from my neck, and travel down my back.
“So why don’t we start with you telling me about yourself?” she offered, resting her hands together on her crossed knees.
“I thought you knew who I was already,” I complained, shifting uncomfortably in the chair I couldn’t remember sitting down in.
“I don’t want to know who you are,” she said. “I want to know who you think you are.”
I shook my head. “You’re weird.”
“Yep,” she agreed. “Now answer the question.”
I stared at her blankly, not really sure what to say. It seemed like an impossible question to answer. She just smiled back expectantly.
“I don’t know. I’m… I’m me. I’m twenty years old, I live with my parents, I have a shitty retail job.”
“Anyone could tell me that,” she scolded. “Tell me something, something only you could.”
“Fine,” I said, suddenly overwhelmingly annoyed. “I’m miserable. I’m constantly exhausted, and unhappy, and I feel worthless.”
She shook her head, unsatisfied. “I can see that,” she said. “Let’s go deeper. Who are you. What are you?”
I glared at her. “You know what I am,” I said.
“I’m trans,” I said, spitting out the word. I hated used it. Something about it always felt wrong. “That’s who I am. That’s all I ever get to be.”
Rebecca looked surprised. “Is that how you define yourself?” she asked.
“That’s how everyone else defines me,” I said. “I don’t really get a say.”
“I don’t get to choose how the world sees me,” I said, fighting back the tears that came so readily lately, especially when I talked about this. “I mean, I can try. And I am trying. But in the end, that’s the best I can do, is put in my best effort, and hope that it’s enough.”
Rebecca nodded, and stayed silent for a few seconds, as if processing what I’d said. Then she leaned forward a little.
“How long have you been transitioning for?”
Once again, the question took me by surprise. It wasn’t that unusual, but it wasn’t what I’d expected her to say. It wasn’t what most people said.
“I don’t really know how to answer that,” I said.
“Why don’t you just tell me what you’ve been doing?” she asked gently.
That, at least, sounded like a question I could answer. And hopefully that would be enough for her.
“I’ve been on hormone replacement for about six months,” I said. “Seeing a speech pathologist for maybe two. I shave literally every time I leave the house. I’ve been dressing androgynously for years, and wearing make-up for years, trying not to look like a boy. So I don’t really know how to answer. A long time? Not very long? Not long enough to make a difference.”
“You don’t think it makes a difference?”
“Not enough,” I said. My chest ached, my throat ached, my head was throbbing. My eyes were sore, and I wasn’t sure I could hold back the tears much longer. “I… look, I pour everything into this. I spend every last ounce of my energy, every day, doing nothing other than trying to be who I want to be. By the time I’ve walked out that door, when I even can walk out that door, I’ve got nothing left. For a moment, just one moment, I feel okay. I feel like I can do it. Then someone, a complete stranger, calls me ‘sir’, or ‘dude’ and that’s it. It’s like they’ve stuck me with a knife, and all that energy that I put in just goes floating out. It doesn’t matter if I pass sometimes. All it takes is once, just once, and it’s all gone again.”
For the longest time, she just stared at me thoughtfully. There was no judgement, no confusion, no questions. There also wasn’t any sympathy, no understanding. My heart was racing as I waited for her response.
Then she leaned forward again, her eyes narrowed, her expression suddenly serious. Every muscle in my body tensed up.
“Is that why you tried to kill yourself?” she asked.
I felt my legs buckle, and I was glad to already be sitting down. Where had that come from?
“Three times in the last month,” she said, her voice toneless.
“How do you-”
“I told you, it’s my job,” she said, a little softer. “And I’m sorry, but we have to talk about it.”
That was it. I couldn’t hold it back anymore, as everything I’d been trying not to feel surged up and overwhelmed me. The aching behind my eyes gave way to the flood of emotion building up behind them, and I started to cry.
I sat there sobbing, my shoulders heaving and my hands shaking, and she just watched me. She didn’t say anything, didn’t do anything, didn’t even move. Just watched me.
Eventually, slowly, I began to calm down. My chest convulsed less and less, and the tears began to slow. My nose was runny and my throat felt ragged, but I could breathe again.
“Maybe this isn’t the best place for… well, maybe a change of scenery is in order,” she said, in a tone of voice completely foreign to me. I just stared at her and blinked, unable to speak.
All around us, the room began to fade, as if someone turned out the lights. The walls, the floor, everything except the couches we were sitting on faded away, until we were all that was left, sitting on two chairs, floating in space. At least, that’s what it looked like. It was surreal.
“How did you do that?” I asked, tempted to reach out just to see if the floor was still there.
“Don’t focus on that,” she said, somehow softly and sharply at the same time. “Tell me why.”
“Why?” I stared at her, confused. “You want to know why?”
“I really, really do.”
I took a deep breath. Why not tell her, I thought? Why not get it out. It won’t help, it won’t make those feelings go away, but maybe, just maybe, I’d find a little understanding.
“Because there’s no point in being alive,” I said. “Because I’m not worth anything, I can’t do anything. I have no value. All I am is this.. thing, this miserable, useless thing. And clearly the world doesn’t want me anyway.”
She looked at me, not saying anything. Her eyes felt like beacons, searching me, but also keeping me safe. She wanted more. I took another deep breath.
“I’m exhausted,” I told her. “Constantly. I don’t have anything left in me, and everything is hard. Everything is a fight. I can’t… I can’t keep fighting. I can’t keep waiting. Everything is waiting, everything is in the future, and I just… I can’t make it. I can’t survive that long,” I said.
Again, she just looked at me, but her expression was soft, compassionate, caring. There was no pity, just acceptance.
“I understand,” she said.
“When I was seventeen,” she said, “I killed myself. Well, sort of. I wanted to die, and I made that happen. My reasons were different, very different, but…”
“I know what it’s like to feel like the world doesn’t want you,” she said solemnly.
For a moment, just one moment, I felt like maybe she meant it. Maybe she did understand, even just a little. Then I realised what she’d said.
“Wait. You said… you said you killed yourself. Not tried. You made it happened.”
“That’s right,” she said.
No. Nonononono. This wasn’t real. This was a dream, it had to be a dream, because what else could it be?
“Last night,” she said gently. “They called an ambulance, but it came too late.”
Last night, she said, but there was nothing. I couldn’t think, couldn’t remember, as if it hadn’t happened. It had, though. I knew that it had.
“I don’t remember,” I said “What happened-” No, that wasn’t the right question. “What did I do?”
“It doesn’t matter now. What matters is that you’re here now.”
I looked around, but we were still surrounded by nothing. Just emptiness, stretching out in every direction.
“Where is here?” I asked.
“What happens next,” she said, repeating what she’s said before. It didn’t mean any more to me now than it had before.
“And what is that?”
“What do you want it to be?” she asked.
I shook my head. “I don’t understand.”
“You’re dead, Miranda,” she said. “The world you knew, the world you wanted to leave, that world isn’t yours anymore. You did it.”
Slowly, I was beginning to understand. This is what I’d wanted. I wanted to escape, to leave the world behind, along with all the people in it. I’d done it.
Somehow, it didn’t feel the way I’d expected. Actually, it didn’t feel like anything. There was no satisfaction, no joy, no victory. I didn’t feel any loss, any sorrow, any loneliness. Just…emptiness.
“I… I don’t…”
“Well, unless…” she said, trailing off.
“It isn’t quite too late,” she said. “Miracles can happen. Sometimes.”
So… I could go back. I wasn’t dead, not really. Just, what was the word for it? A near-death experience. I looked up at her, determined.
“Why would I want that?” I asked.
“Some do,” she said, shrugging. “Most do, actually. Very rarely, it’s not too late.”
“But why would I want that?”
Rebecca smiled sadly. “Is this really what you wanted? Did you really want to go? To leave everything behind? Everyone?”
“Leave who behind?” I asked. “I lost so many friends because of who I am. People didn’t get it, they just left. People who did get it, but wanted to be a part of it. I didn’t have the energy, or the time, and eventually they left too. People who cared about me too much to see me so miserable. I don’t have anyone left to leave behind,” I said. “They all left me already.”
“It gets better,” she said. “You know that, don’t you?”
“Not everyone can wait for that,” I told her. “Not everyone can believe that.”
“I know,” she said. “And I know that I can’t make your choice for you. All I can do is tell you that you do have a choice.”
“I wish someone had told me that a long time ago,” I said bitterly. It could have changed so many things.
“Now that will get better,” Rebecca told me. “Eventually.”
“Not for me,” I said.
“No,” she agreed. “Not for you.”
“I know what I want.”
She nodded. “Yeah.”
“Um, thank you,” I said. “For talking to me. For understanding, even a little.”
“You’re very welcome,” she said. “And for what it’s worth, I’m sorry.”
“Sorry for what?”
“For everything. For the world, for the people in it. For the life you could have lived, and the one you got instead.”
My eyes were tearing up again, but this time, it felt good. For a moment, just one moment, things had been good. I’d met someone who listened, who understood, just a little, and who didn’t demand anything of me. She didn’t need me to explain myself, she just needed me to be myself, to be honest about myself.
She stood up, walking across the nothing beneath her feet. As she drew near, I stood too, and she embraced me, holding me close, like an old friend.
“Goodbye, Miranda,” she whispered, not letting go.
I smiled sadly, ignoring the tears still running down my face.