And you may find yourself with a beautiful wife…

As some readers know, I’m working on a book about my extraordinary marriage. (Actually I think all marriages are rather extraordinary. Heck, all people are.) So maybe I should call it unusual. Or, wait, what about unconventional. That’s it! My unconventional marriage. If I meet my goal with the book, you’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll bask in the beauty of love because at its heart, ours is a love story, plain and simple.

So last week I was on a writing retreat to focus on the memoir and take a break from all the other writing I do day to day to make a living. I was a resident artist at the gorgeous Wildacres Retreat center in the mountains of North Carolina, a few hours from my home in Durham. (All writers and artists should apply! It’s an amazingly generous program.)

For a couple days I focused on the rewriting of a chapter I’d drafted years ago, which was the day of and week after my husband acknowledged/admitted/discovered he wanted to be a woman. The sentences will, as always, continue to change a jillion times over, but here’s an excerpt from the draft (similar to what I’ve written in essays). Anyone who has been through this will recognize the emotions, I’m guessing! We were at the dinner table when he broke the news:

While Wessel’s epiphany had seemingly delivered him to a place of clarity and peace, it hurled me into a churning, dark funnel cloud that sucked up my stable life and spit it back all mixed up. His order and understanding were my chaos and despair. My thoughts scattered about like atomic fallout, searing and painful. I could feel the sobs coming from deep within me.

“I’m sorry,” I mumbled as I ran from the table and into the living room, as far as I could get without passing out. I hurled myself onto the couch, the same couch where we had shared our first embrace, and wailed.

After a few minutes, Wessel came over to me, his face crumpled and dark.

“I didn’t mean to create this type of reaction,” he said. “I guess I didn’t expect it.”

“You didn’t expect it?” I said between gasps. “You didn’t expect it? You tell me you want to be a woman and I’m supposed to say, ‘Oh, that’s nice dear, and can you pass the butter?’ What the hell are you talking about?”

I knew that my words were tearing through his heart like serrated bullets, but I didn’t want to stop. I was incredulous that he assumed I’d be fine with his news. He’d been processing this for days — for years! — whereas I was dropped into the middle of this scene like an actor in a horror movie who hadn’t been given her lines. How the hell was I supposed to react?

I kept thinking of the cliché, which I wanted to scream out in a dramatic, wavering voice: “This is not what I signed up for!” I’ve always thought it was such a stupid line because life is never what you “sign up for.” But this?

So last week I was sitting at my little table in my cabin in the woods without internet, cell service, TV and I’m all alone with my thoughts and my laptop and I’m re-living that week in December 2004 over and over, tapping out sentences. When I write about emotional things, I pretty easily keep a distance because I’m more focused on the craft of writing. But writing this, well, it got to me. I had to stop a few times and cry, and release the pain of those memories.

I’m fine now, really. More than fine. Happy, in love, feeling lucky. But it’s like anything we live through that’s difficult and painful and we look back and say, how did I make it to the other side? And hallelujah that I did!

David Byrne and the Talking Heads sang it well: “And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife. And you may ask yourself — Well . . . How did I get here?”

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4 Responses to And you may find yourself with a beautiful wife…

  1. Elaine says:

    Dear Diane,
    When Jenny Boylan reaches the same point in She’s Not There, she wisely stops, because there was something to be told that she could not be the one to tell. You’re that one, with both the skills and the experience–or maybe with the experience, and the talent to tell as it should be told. I taught Jenny’s I’m Looking Through You to an adult class on autobiographies, who received it well–and many wondered about what you have described here. I’m slowly re-reading Jan Morris’s Conundrum now. Those three, Jenny’s and Jan’s are the three best literary accounts of the whole transgender experience. Joy Ladin’s poetry bids fair to join them. So does your book, from a position that long has needed a voice of its own.

    • didaniel says:

      Thank you, Elaine. I remember when I was reading Jenny’s book and that part was omitted (I think largely for privacy reasons as well), and I so wanted to open that door they were behind and KNOW what had transpired. Of course in Jenny’s wife case it was even more shocking because, as far as I recall, she had not one clue. I already knew about cross-dressing, but wow is it a deep and wide chasm between dressing up and transitioning.

  2. Oh, how perfect, the ending lines being those of the TH song. And what a beautiful excerpt.

    I hope you had a wonderful, fulfilling retreat week!

    • didaniel says:

      Aren’t those lyrics just too perfect? And it doesn’t hurt that TH was my favorite band for, like, forever. The writing retreat was both wonderful and painful in that it was a lot of work and a lot of solitude and without the longer days of summer for outdoor playing. I think you should apply!

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