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A Pile Of Rubble And Memories


Funny thing about working a night job: obvious things can happen that you don’t notice for some time.

Case in point: I caught a run other than my regular a few days ago. I walked down to College Street to line our train out of the side track and onto the mainline when I noticed a pile of rubble where Lincoln Jr. High School once stood. When did this happen? I have no idea. Could have been down for some time and I never would have noticed coming by at night. Seeing that pile of rubble got me to thinking about the school I spent two years attending.

Now I can’t be a hundred percent positive, but I am pretty sure Lincoln was the last big building in Carbondale to be heated by a coal fired boiler. It was certainly the last coal fired school. I can clearly remember the black cloud that would erupt from the school’s tall chimney when the maintenance man (think his name was Gary) would stoke the boiler. Having spent some time around steam locomotives by that age, I loved to be downwind at the time just for the familiar smell of a coal fire.

I can also remember the first day of school in 1985 being cancelled when they were unable to get the boiler lit in time to heat the building before class. You wouldn’t think they would let the building go without heat over the Christmas break, but that is the reason they gave. We rode the bus to school, got to the school parking lot, and were sent right back home without having gotten off the bus. Good thing I didn’t have to pee, come to think of it!

Thinking back, those years were a contrast of extremes. My life at home degenerated into chaos, but I had a small group of friends that almost made up for the situation at home.

Much of the turmoil at home came from my father, whose ideas about raising children seemed oddly close to those of a drill sergeant’s. His way of handling me tended to make me shut down more, which in turn made him ride me harder. You know, the perpetual downward spiral. Funny thing, when he gave up and left me to my own devices several years later (when I was a senior in high school) my grades went from C’s and D’s to A’s and B’s.

Then there were the kids I hung around with. Raymond Fisher’s family lived in a trailer park on the other side of the woods from where I lived for a while, before they moved into another on the south side of town. His family left entirely before high school began.

Another frequent companion was Anthony Chou, with whom I had a sometimes tense relationship. We lost contact after high school when he went into the Army, but hooked back up again later on. For a while he was the closest friend I had before he went his own way to get a graduate degree. I haven’t heard from him for several years now.

Then there was the other Tony: Tony Osborne. Tony was a nut. He got the nickname “Farm Fresh” for his supposed tendency to swipe milk at the Farm Fresh store on his way to school every morning. He was T.O. (long before a football player got the moniker) and Chou was T.C. The two Tonys and I ended up in the same science class one year. We were so obvious in our cutting up in class that we eventually were split up in separate classes. At least I didn’t get sent to the principal’s office for farting in class (that happened in 6th grade).

Two other guys I hung out with were Tim Einig and Shawn Grover. Shawn was a big kid, the kind who was constantly picked on. I must admit I did join in on some of that at first, but later we hung out a lot at school. Tim and Shawn were good friends pretty much all their lives, and they made a lot of the same bad choices. Both of them dropped out of high school and got into drinking. Neither one was the dummy they sometimes acted like and they were trying to get their lives back on track when they were killed in a car crash on Pleasant Hill Road in 1991.

Before school, we had a few different routines. Sometimes a few of us would get off the bus at Lewis School, which was a 4th to 6th grade school. From there we would walk down Grand Avenue, stopping at a 7-11 to play video games before a last minute dash to get to school on time. That 7-11 is now long gone, but the building still stands as a Papa John’s pizza joint. The other routines involved sneaking off the school grounds after taking the bus all the way to school.

Across the tracks and a few blocks to the south was a McDonald’s, and sometimes we would go there for breakfast. Or we might sneak down to the Dixie Cream donut place a few block north of the school. All of these routines involved first sneaking into the change drawer at the house and ripping off a few quarters, nickels and dimes. How I never got caught doing that I’ll never know, and none of those places we used to frequent exist today.

Now, I mentioned science class. I ended up in Mr. Wagner’s class after they had enough of the antics of the Three Stooges, also known as T.O., T.C. and me. It was in that class that I watched the space shuttle Challenger explode, and in that class that I saw a freight train derail just south of the College Street crossing.

After school during my 7th grade year, I hung out with a kid my age in my own neighborhood. Most people take that sort of thing for granted, but in my case it was the only time it ever happened. Roger Cromwell, his mother and step father moved into an apartment across from my parent’s house. These apartments were almost always rented to college students, and a kid my age was unheard of.

Readers of the old “Calvin and Hobbes” comic strip laughed at the misadventures of the pair and their wagon rocketing downhill. Roger’s and mine went along similar lines, though we took turns rather than going down together. I even brought out a tape recorder during some of those nutty evenings, and those tapes still exist. Roger’s family moved on to Missouri after a year or so.

It’s funny the memories a pile of shattered bricks, steel and concrete can bring up. I took several pictures of the building in 1991 when I was living in a apartment building a few blocks away. It was still in use then, though school was out for the day when I stopped by. More recently, school had been out of use after District 95 built a new “middle school” near Lewis School. Sure it was a run down old building, but it had a hell of a lot more character than any new building they would throw up.

And then there it was, a pile of rubble. Another link with the past gone. I turned around a made sure traffic and pedestrians were stopped as my train backed off the Rock Track.

Mary Rae McPherson

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A lot has happened. Just days after I last wrote anything I moved into a new house. At least this wasn’t a very long trip. About five minutes across from the trailer I vacated. I can’t say for sure that buying a house was the right move at this stage in my life, but it is a nice little place and just the right size for me and the cats. And potentially someone else in the future? Who knows. But I won’t get into the pros and cons of the house vs. renting now, though. One definite positive about it though is that it eliminates the possibility of the landlord trying to kick me out because he doesn’t like my transitioning. I AM the landlord.

Last fall I had a bit of an epiphany.

For years, I really didn’t care if I lived or died. It wasn’t that I was actively seeking my own demise, but rather the turmoil within me left me where I just didn’t care. Then I started on hormones. Within a matter of days, the testosterone subsided and it was such a weight off of my shoulders.

The change that came over me must have been gradual. I didn’t notice it taking place. Then one evening it hit me. WHAP!!! I was taking a week’s vacation in November. I was sitting in my recliner, a cat curled up in my lap. On a tray next to me was a glass of hot tea. I was watching some show on TV. Then all of a sudden, to my surprise and amazement, I realized that I was glad to be alive. I suddenly realized that I was enjoying life. It just hit me with a feeling of well being that cannot be described. I wished it would never end. Despite the drag of day to day living, in many ways that feeling has remained. I am on my way to becoming a whole person. It feels good.

By the way, I got ma’amed.

Any trans woman remembers the first time she got ma’amed. I had mine last December. Jolene, Becky and I were going to the mall in Carbondale and we stopped at the convenience store by the interstate in Dongola. I stepped up to the fried food rack so common to such establishments just in time for the manager to say “Can I help you ma’am?”

Hey! He made my day. Of course when I opened my mouth and he heard my voice he changed over to sir references in such a way as to indicate he hoped I didn’t notice what he said at first. But I did. Cool!

About a week later I was in a Macy’s store with my mother and one of the employees said “Can I help you ladies find anything?” That made my day. Now if my voice wouldn’t give it away…….

Mary Rae McPherson

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I finished watching a documentary on DVD. Transgeneration was the name of it. I had heard of it, but never had any of the channels it ran on.

One of my good friends at Amtrak, a lounge car attendant named Christine, and I went to the Borders Books & Music store on Michigan Avenue last week. We just wandered around the store for a while. I picked up a book off the bargain rack that I had heard about some time back on NPR, and eventually we headed upstairs to the floor where the DVDs live.

We looked at all the old TV shows out on DVD, laughing at the memory of some of them and wondering how we ever were able to stomach watching others. We were just starting to leave to go downstairs to the checkout when the title “Transgeneration” passed through my line of sight. I wasn’t looking for it. I didn’t know it was out on DVD. I had never even thought about it since I couldn’t catch it on the satellite months before. But as soon as I saw it there was no question. I had to see it.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with the program, it is an eight part documentary that follows four transgender students through a year in college. Each of the four, to male to female and two female to male, attend different schools in different parts of the country.

This isn’t the first time I’ve caught documentaries about transgender people on TV. I’ve seen them on MSNBC and the Discovery Health Channel. In a way, they have all been hard to watch for me because so much hits home. I either am going, have gone, or will go through so much of what the subjects of the documentaries are going through. This one was hardest of all.

The total length of the series comes out to around 4 and a half hours, allowing for you to really feel close to each of these people. Maybe my feelings were amplified by hormones (I guarantee it!) but I found myself laughing and crying with every episode. Rooting for one girl to have the courage to move forward, rooting for (and jealous of) another going to Dr. Bowers for her reassignment surgery.

By the time the last minutes of the last episode ran, I almost felt as though I was saying goodbye to friends for the last time. Now, I know that this is a sign of a well done documentary but despite the fact that I’m a good 15 years older than these people, that could have been me in front of the camera. My transition may be under a different set of circumstances, but there are so many shared experiences.

It made for a wild roller coaster ride of hormone amplified emotion that lasted the whole weekend. I guess the ride is over, though. I haven’t started crying while thinking about it. I hope those men and women are doing well.

Mary Rae McPherson

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Ten days ago I passed the one year mark. I took my first doses of Estradiol and Spironolactone on August 18, 2006. It was a momentous event in my life, but at the time I didn’t pay attention to it. I was just so eager to get started. It took a little doing to even get the date right.

I had ordered them online after being rejected by the last of a line of doctors. The website said to look for them in 7 to 14 days. I had just bid onto a regular job at Amtrak which took me to Chicago on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays every week. Jobs are filled according to seniority, and I finally had enough seniority to pick from a couple of different jobs. I’m still on that job today.

Anyway, it was a Friday. I was hoping to start the hormones as soon as possible after two years of failing to get them through proper avenues. I can remember that I was expecting them to arrive Saturday, and was hoping they didn’t miss Saturday because I’d have to at least wait until Monday.

It was a bit after noon when I went out to check the mail. To my surprise, the package had arrived. I went inside the trailer and back into my bedroom, where I was online at the time. I took my first dose right then and there.

A word about Spirotone. If you like to pee, you’ll love starting on the stuff. I guess I lost around 10 pounds of water weight the first month. Of course in the long run those pounds came back and brought a couple of friends along.

It will also make you a bit dizzy for the first day or two. Fortunately I didn’t crash my car on the way to work or fall off the train at 60 miles per hour. The feeling subsided the second day and was essentially gone the third.

Some of the effects of the combination of Spirotone and Estradiol surprised me with the speed with which they happened. Within a week, spontaneous erections completely disappeared. The sex drive dropped off just about as fast. I knew that testosterone drove men, but what a difference! And what a relief to be free of it! It was kind of like walking inside from a hot, humid, muggy day and into a cool air conditioned room. Just stop and breathe a sigh of relief.

Being to my mind a hundred pounds overweight, I already was equipped with a pair of small fat-man boobs. That gave the estrogen something to work with. After a couple of months or so, my breasts really became tender. I would so much say they were sore because it wasn’t a constant pain, but they would protest emphatically if they were jostled, bumped or pressed. OUCH! My understanding is the pain is caused by the mammary glands taking root. Whatever. All I know is that I was REALLY sensitive there for months! Any time I’d bump into something, try to run or jog, get stepped on by a cat…. OWEEEEEEE!!!!! Well, it’s been said before: no pain, no gain.

I by no stretch of the imagination am well endowed, though they aren’t bad for just a year’s worth of development. Granted, my big belly does tend to hide them. If my stomach were flat, they would really stand out. The shirts that come as part of my Amtrak uniform hide them pretty well, and since I am not yet living full time this is a good thing. I do get some looks in Chicago though, since the they really show well with the tank tops I wear when I hit the exercise bike at the hotel or if I go out walking.

I know some people hurry to get them bigger by surgical means, but I’m perfectly willing to let them develop on their own. I’m not yet ready to go full time, and by the time I do they will have had that much more time to grow. I doubt I will be well endowed on my own, but then I don’t necessarily want watermelons anyway.

It’s hard for me to see what the estrogen has done as far as facial features. I never had hard male features anyway, so the hormones have something to work with. Some people I work with say my features have softened, though how much of that is excess weight and how much is estrogen is open to debate. I do know that my new driver’s license looks a lot more like the way I want it to look than the last one. I doubt that it will be in use the full four years it’s supposed to be valid for.

By the way, I’m hippy! Not a hippie, but hippy. I’ve noticed in the mirror that my hips are fuller. My torso looks to be an inch or two narrower than the hips. That is if you ignore the “love handles.” I remember being a lot straighter in the past.

A few other effects of the hormones I noticed pertain to body hair. Before I started, I was starting to follow in my father’s footsteps. I was starting to get dark hair on my back and chest, with more on my belly. It didn’t take long at all for that to disappear. The back hair is gone, as is the hair on my chest. Well, not 100 percent gone. It has just lightened and grown finer. There isn’t even enough left to really worry shaving or anything like that. Arm and leg hair has also become finer and has lost some of its color.

Well, that’s just a bit of my experience with hormones so far. So far, so good. There is no way I could bear to go back to what I was before. Going on hormones is the best thing I have ever done.

Mary Rae McPherson

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It’s coming up on time to take the next step. I’ve been in therapy for over three years, been doing hair removal off and on for nearly as long with a year straight of mostly weekly electrolysis sessions. I think it’s coming up on time to begin living full time as a woman. Physically I’m not ready, but with some hard work and patience I can get there.

I have a timetable in mind. Or at least a target date. Next year I plan to go with my parents, sister, brother in law, nephew and a cousin to a vacation spot in southwest Missouri. My parents have gone there every year since 1985. The last time I was there was in 1995.

My idea is to leave from work to go on vacation as “him” and come back as “her”. The tricky part of the question is which role to go to Missouri in. I’m kind of thinking that vacation will be my first week full time. My nephew will be three years old next May and the earlier he knows me as Aunt Mary, the better.

I really came to decide this at the hotel in Chicago yesterday afternoon. I’m trying to get myself in shape both physically and financially. Physically in that if I could lose this extra weight, I would be much more passable. Financially in that I want to be able to do the final surgery and not do it to many years down the road.

Monday was the day that I hope years down the road I can say I turned over a new leaf. I drove over to Cape Girardeau, MO, and bought some exercise equipment. Well, a bicycle and an exercise bike.

Back in the years between graduating from high school and getting my first car (which wasn’t until I was 22) I went everywhere on a bicycle. I was in excellent shape back then. People who know me now and see what I looked like then always seem to comment on how skinny I was. Maybe I can get back to something closer to that weight. I could stand to lose 100 pounds.

My problem has long been two-fold. I eat a terrible diet and I don’t exercise. Well, until recently on the latter anyway. I have started working out on the exercise bike at the hotel in Chicago when I am on my job. That only gives me three days in which I can work out, though. Hence getting my own. Now I can get on the bike seven days a week if I want. More than once a day if I feel like it. I put the thing in the living room of the house, right next to the recliner I like to sit in to watch TV. I can watch TV just as well while working out as I can in the recliner now.

As far as the diet, working on the road as I do with Amtrak is just a fast food trap waiting for someone to fall into. Burgers, fries, hot dogs, burritos, tacos, nachos, chili…. The list goes on and on. There are all kinds of stands at the station to chose from.

It used to be that I would get to the hotel, change clothes and go across the street to the convenience store where I would get some sausage, egg and cheese biscuits or muffins. I’d eat those and then go to bed. BAD IDEA FATSO!

My more current habit is to get to the hotel and change, go upstairs to the workout room for at least 20 minutes on the bike, have a bowl of Special K and then going to bed. Much better, don’t you think?

That leaves the big bugaboo…. dinner. I can pile on the junk food at a rate that would make Fat Albert’s head spin. In conjunction with working out, I’m going to eat more healthful items and eat less of them. Combine the two and there is no reason I shouldn’t shed the pounds fairly quickly. Works in theory, don’t it?

Just got through Tuesday. I made it! No breakdowns! I made it Monday too! Two days in a row that I kept my eating under control AND worked out! That’s a start. I just have to start taking the approach of a friend of mine who quit drinking through A.A. Take it one day at a time.

With the hormones I am on, a more conditioned and leaner body will also become a more feminine body. I can do this! And then next summer, Mary will make her debut on the world’s stage. Or at least the small portion of the stage that I inhabit.

Oh yeah… didn’t I say something about finances? That’s a biggie. Funny thing about doctors: if you want them to turn your wee-wee inside out, they expect to be well paid.

I think I’m coming up with a plan. Not foolproof, mind you. (No such thing anyway. Make something foolproof and the come up with a better fool.)

A couple of years ago when I was still living up the road in Elkville, I started making a few buck on E-Bay by combining my skills with am camera, computers and railroads. I began selling railroad related video and audio productions. I quit when I moved to Dongola, but it wouldn’t be hard at all to start up again. It won’t pack me off to Trinidad any time soon, but it’s a little extra income.

My last surviving grandparent, my father’s mother, died last fall. She had left a small trust fund for me and my sister. Quarterly checks were to start when I turned 35, which was just last month. It’s not a lot, but comes up to around $1,300 a year.

The fact that I bought a house in February is not helping my bank account. I had made a good start toward a surgery fund, but the fees and all that shit from the house purchase took nearly all of that. But then again, being a homeowner could also help in a way. Interest on the mortgage is tax deductible. I was also told by some of my co-workers about several things I could have been deducting related to work expenses in recent years. Instead of Uncle Sam coming pounding on my door with a hand out for more cash, I should get a decent refund this time. More money to funnel back into the SRS fund.

I have always been loose with a dollar. Never met a dollar I like long enough to make a long term relationship with. Like eating, here’s another place where some self-control would go a long way. If I can learn to be happy with what I have, I can cut down on the money I always threw at stuff I could probably have done without.

I want to bring Mary out into the open next year. Maybe I can get her on her way toward life as a complete woman too. Nobody ever said it was going to be easy.

Mary Rae McPherson

Together we can fly