My life in years, written in 2004-2005, revisited in 2017
Late in 1991, Laura chose to undergo a major change. Although not able to undergo the full SRS that transsexuals normally do, Laura still wanted to obtain the same hormonal state they do. So she opted for orchiectomy. However, she could find no willing American surgeon. So we went south to Nogales, and found one willing there.
I was glad Anton was with me when I waited in the hall during Laura's surgery. I was quite nervous and felt great relief when she emerged smiling. Then the painkillers wore off. It was quite a painful ride for her. That pain would not subside for a long while after.
Perhaps the conditions weren't quite sanitary, for Laura developed a raging infection that wouldn't quit until after three months of antibiotics. The tale of her misfortune was spread around the doctors in Tucson. As a result, they are now doing these surgeries.
But that was no help to Laura then. Eventually, she did feel better physically, but soon found herself puzzled to be having 'numerous emotional upheavals and unexplained spontaneous crying,' as I'd written in an article about her hormonal experiences to a transgender magazine.
By summer of 1992, two of Laura's sons were also living with us, for James also joined us after he quit the Navy, while he went to real estate school. It was very tight quarters, indeed. Laura liked having lots of people around her, but we did look forward to the times when we could get away. Perhaps it was summer of THIS year that we'd made the memorable San Diego trip.
The more I think about it, I think it was this year. I rarely wrote dates on the backs of my old pictures, so I have a hard time placing them. I think we rented a nice mid size car to have plenty of room for napping in the car.
It was the first time I ever experienced the ocean and I could not get enough of the cool sensation of the waves hitting me. I went deeper and deeper into the waters, seeking a greater wave impact.
Laura, now carrying my shoes as I took her picture.
November 10 1992 - November 9, 1993
In February, 1993 Laura sent the book off with a long over due letter. They continued to exchange letters and phone calls.
Meanwhile, we were up and moving AGAIN! As it would turn out, James did not make real estate his career. But he did help us buy a two bedroom condo in the southwest side of Tucson. I enjoyed the atrium which let in light and allowed us to sit under the stars in privacy. If I had to pick out of all our many dwellings which one I liked best, it would be this condo.
There was another change I underwent this year. I'd learned of a GLBT choir in Tucson called Desert Voices, and I joined it. I was nervous at first, but it was marvelous to be singing in a choir again. There were so many good voices, and I loved the way the harmonies blended, from the deep bass tones to those of the delicate soprano pitches. I am somewhere in between, as a low alto.
So many happy changes we'd had, I suppose it's not to be unexpected that a sad one would follow. My Dad died in September of lung cancer, and Gramma sent money for the plane fare. It was strange at his funeral. If I didn't examine him too closely, he might have looked like he was sleeping. But a touch of his hand revealed its cold wooden quality.
I was glad for a chance to visit with my Gramma and see my Mother as well.
My mother and I
I do not resemble my thin Mother at all in physical appearance. I look most like my paternal Gramma:
crop of Gramma's face
We are square of face, rectangular of body, sturdy of bones, and freckled, I think it is the Swedish genes coming to the fore. We each at one time had red hair as well. I enjoyed the visit, and indeed, it was the last time I ever saw Gramma.
When I returned from the funeral and visiting, I found we had a visitor as well. Julia, who'd been exchanging letters with us, came all the way from Baltimore. Both Laura and I found ourselves impressed with Julia's gentle temperment. Laura said of her, ''Her voice was soft, gentle, and her manner of presentation had a certain chemistry for me that I found difficult to fathom.''
I did as well. One time when Laura's Mother was visiting, Julia called, and I ran wildly to get it. I remember Eleanor's words, ''You act like you're in love with her.'' The truth of the matter was, we both had.
But what were we to do? Laura was loath to mention her feelings to me, as she perceived them as a betrayal of the innocent love between us. But both of us could not help but feel the magnetic attraction.
We each continued to write Julia and call frequently.
Then, in October 1993, Laura began having serious chest pains, and she had an angioplasty. She also fell and hurt her leg. She wasn't feeling good, but she put a call out to the Mystery for 'one last adventure'
The skeptic in her stepped aside for this just that briefly. Life meant change for Laura, and that is what we continued to experience. But I will continue this tale another day.
November 10 1993 - November 9, 1994
Shock went through me as I understood the severity of what he said. Laura emerged from the experience with a great swelling as a result of an unskilled nurse's aide removing the cardiac catheter. She was shaken in other ways, as well. Apparently, Laura had been gone for some time in that world that is neither death nor life.
She did not emerge with great mystical tales of revelation, only a sense of quietly passing. Her words after some time to process it are these: ''The mere passage of my brain seemed to take place in layers as the outer neurotransmitters failed to fire and this, in turn, created the tunnel effect. When that tunnel closed, I was dead.''
Gradually, the 'tunnel' opened up again, and she heard the words of the nurse, ''Laura, we lost you, but it's all right now. We brought you back!''
Having no mystical experience from this, Laura's tendencies towards skepticism were strengthened. However, even though she called herself an atheist, she did not close the door entirely upon possibility. Although she declared all belief 'superstition, she added, ''it satisfies some primal need deep in my psyche and it allows me some connection with other people. I am neither a believer, nor strictly a non-believer. I'd be a hypocrite to place myself in either camp to the exclusion of the other. I'm an honest person who admits to irrational inclinations and doesn't claim to know all there is to know about the universe.''
How did her experiences effect me? I tended to take the side of caution, to bank on what we know we have in this life now. I tabled any hopes of anything afterwards, calling it a stern acceptance of likely reality.
Meanwhile, being dead for some time caused some damage to her brain. At first, I did not know how bad a shape she was in. And in truth, she did not want me to know. I was keen to go on a choir retreat, and in truth, I ignored any subtle sign I might have otherwise seen. She was in great torment, and her Mother and Glen, her boyfriend came and got me from the retreat.
My initial reaction was one of disappointment. I was having fun with my friends and I did not want to leave. When I understood the severity of the problem, I felt very guilty for not having perceived it earlier. It took several months for her to recover and the doctors were utterly clueless in how to help her. One psychiatrist, reasonably certain she was not a suicidal person, threw a bunch of pill bottles at her and told her to experiment.
She was in torment, but it was not the emotional pain of anxiety and depression. She said her brain felt as though great shredding mechanisms were going through it and tearing it up. The benzodiazepine drugs made of her a zombie, which she hated, but the brain pain was so acute without them.
She couldn't stand being a zombie, but she couldn't stand the brain pain, either. Gradually, she cut back pill by pill on the medicines so that some of her incentive and drive came back. The best therapy she could devise was that of coloring pictures. We found those large posters that drugstores sell, and bought lots of colored pens. This kept her mind off the worst of the pain, and gave her some feeling of accomplishment. I enjoyed coloring them with Laura. I was glad I was able to give her any support I could. She describes those days thusly:
All our friends and family were wonderful in their support. One particularily special friend was Julia, whose gentleness was just what we needed. In March, she came to visit again, and we did not want her to leave. She was a comfort to us both, and Laura foresaw the day when she would not longer be here, and that Julia would continue to be a comfort.
Julia, herself, was alone in Maryland, and such companionship as we could give were far better than the lonliness she knew as well. Laura and I discussed the matter between ourselves before acting directly:
The three of us in 1994
Gradually, pill by pill, Laura was free of the zombie effects and was restored to her full capacity, with out brain pain. Only by the force of her great Will could she bring this into being. Time and time again, Laura fought back, when weaker mortals would have long given up.
It is things like this that make a person grow in character. I could not know of the strengths I had to offer, were they not called for. It, too, was my Will sending that strength into Laura as well that enabled her healing. And Julia's balm of gentleness was just the soothing touch we all needed. By November, the three of us were strong in our love and strong individually. Together, we had taken the odds and beat them.
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© Joan Ann Lansberry