It makes me tear up every time I hear it, and for so many reasons. This was before I even started hormones, back when no one on earth had the power to make me cry. It seems so strange now. Most of you have never heard of “Here’s Where the Story Ends” (linked), performed by the Sunday’s own Harriet Wheeler in her indescribably ethereal tones. The title alone evokes a deep and profound sadness and my theme for the previous year in oh so many ways. I’m not vain, I know this song isn’t about me, but listeners rights allow me the privilege to take it anyway.
To give some context, I first heard this during my time of greatest fragility. After several horrendous experiences, my father elected to forgo further chemo treatment and let the aggressive cancer do what it may. We all knew what this meant. At the same time my internal struggle was almost over. There was nowhere left to hide in my own mind, seconds away from my inner sanctuary being flung open. I knew what that meant as well. It was the end of many stories and without having the comfort of knowing what the next one was. My father’s life (yes, we were very close), the end of this “Michael” I purported to be, the inevitable end of my marriage, and the strong possibility of family, friends and employment left by the wayside. These were some beautiful, moving stories full of hope and light, but over. It’s hard to see past the end of a really good story.
The song is really about woman who admits falling for someone for the wrong reasons, succumbed to indiscretions, bore shame, and learned to look back on a “terrible year” and allow bittersweet memory to turn it colorful. Unable to relate to exactly that, I took the lyrics to reflect my own experience. I played it over and over the night my father passed, using the haunting title to release the pent up feelings of loss and sorrow, sobbing the whole ride home. I played it over and over as I came to the dawning realization of my own identity. It’s not a transgender song, but a transition one, so close enough.
“People I know, places I go
Make me feel tongue tied.
I can see how people look down
They’re on the inside.
People I see, weary of me
Showing my good side.
I can see how, people look down
I’m on the outside.”
I think we have all felt that and the alienation it can bring. As we bring our inside out to others, inevitably, we transition to the outside; no longer really in with those who knew us for the costume we wore. Now appearing as ourselves, they stare until we notice and then look down or away. The story where we move inconspicuously through oceans of public approval is over, at least for now. So many, even the people close to us, think our efforts, often extreme, are born out of vanity or even lust, without understanding it’s all just not to be noticed at all.
“It’s that little souvenir of a terrible year
Which makes my eyes feel sore.”
There is no denial that we take remnants of these experiences with us; it’s impossible not to. No matter how many times we thank god for that time being over, the experience of it always remains. Each time we come across the little souvenirs in our own minds, brought up by some innocuous trigger, the pain is invoked fresh. Just as real as the sounds of the gulls and sea smell in the air when holding a shell found a long time ago on a memorable day. Many of my trans sisters and brothers show subtle signs of transition PTSD, and I suspect I very well may as well.
“I know where I belong.
The only thing I ever really wanted to say
Was wrong, was wrong, was wrong.”
Oh, so true. How many of us are pouring our hearts out, on-line, in person, in front of audiences of many or even a single family member, simply trying to communicate what this feels like. No voluminous flowery description, analogy, or poem comes close describing it. The cisgender lexicon that all human languages are constructed from lack the right words and phrases to capture our meaning, intent. We aren’t truly silenced or shut out, but attempting to build towers out of marbles. In this way our story ends at the ground floor.
“It’s that little souvenir of a colorful year
That makes me smile inside.
So I cynically, cynically say the world is that way
Surprise, surprise, surprise, surprise, surprise. “
I love this part of the song best. It was a terrible year, but oh what I colorful one as well. There was great fear and awful sadness, but along with it came the heady excitement of self-realization and understanding. The opportunity to take on what seemed an insurmountable challenge, plagued by heavy losses and catastrophic surprises, but oh such a reward to be gained! I do likely have a plaque of cynicism build up on my soul regarding the world, but such is expected for all but the most ordinary of lives. Here is where the story ends, but life begins.