(with apologies to William Gibson and John Green)
Sometimes you still appear. You are there in the holidays we spent estranged, Thanksgiving in particular which you could never stand, and Christmas which was unexpected but I should have prepared better for. You’re a kind of marker against my own timeline now “Before they passed away, my ex used to pit petitioners on the light rail against each other,” and I’ll realize what I’ve said. These feel like marbles or other small objects falling from my mouth. I don’t think I understood that turn of phrase before, pass away. The thing forever dividing that from this.
The story about you on the light rail is funny. I’ve curated your funny stories as I remember them, which isn’t often against the addiction and gas lighting and increasing disorientation which accompanies progressive liver cirrhosis.
I was still working nights, negotiating the divide between daylight and darkness the way all third shift people do. Toward the end you would chat with me while I was at work and became more abusive. You didn’t understand why I was leaving, you said. You explained that our lack of compatibility was normal, that sparks didn’t matter when you got old anyway, and this is how we fought: I would work and you would chat at me, alternately trying to convince me of how smart and beautiful I was before explaining those things were irrelevant.
I combed over these texts after your death. Some of this is to assure myself there wasn’t anything I could have done, and some is to attempt to separate you from the drinking. This is also difficult. I’ve kept them, your mechanism.
I came home and fell asleep on the couch watching PBS because all the other channels were snow. You stole some internet for us and kicked a bunch of zombies off our neighbor’s network after you guessed a few passwords. I left you my bus pass and whatever tip money I earned and you went off to explore Portland just as it was getting strange-famous and the tech startup wedge in downtown still had to clear out the homeless people sleeping in doorways. I guess you were taking the light rail as far as it would go on the west side when a Truther and another conspiracist-petitioner started hassling people. You got them to talk to each other and smiled as you left the train. Other people smiled at you and waved from their cars. It became a hobby of yours, between looking for jobs in what we now know was the worst part of the recession. You had a favorite food cart, I think it was the Bosnian place that closed. After I moved out you were surprised at the number of people who offered you drugs outside the Greyhound station. I shrugged. You always called me your Country Mouse.
Your friends from various places find me. I am not sure what to do about this. One helpfully told me you were taking cyproterone acetate and provera for your self-administered hormone replacement therapy. The cyproterone, if taken at high enough dosage, would have wrecked your already struggling liver. You were avoidant of doctors because their tests would have run counter to your mythology, your false memories, and the elaborate construction of your past to justify your transition. We just wanted you to be you, regardless of the form.
We remember you in the places you would have liked. In a gay bar in Short North one of the men explains “That’s always hard, the femininity.” They can always tell when the straight people show up and we try not to be rude.
“Not always,” says his partner. “Last time Angel was in town she went home with a police officer!”
Everyone at the table looks appropriately scandalized. The tables next to us playfully harass my boyfriend, who takes it well enough that they decide they like him. I am sure this is you, teasing me from whatever Great Perhaps exists.
“Nah, she was gonna be pretty. Like Felicia Day.”
I think today I’d called to say goodbye. You were in a coma by then. Your sister sat by you as long as she could. Your mother who missed you every day was nearly arrested before your physicians let her in. We had not spoken in over a year. I didn't know what to say. I told you I was going to be a librarian. I think you would have liked that.