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Shade the Changing Woman

With the exception of the last couple of years, all of my life I waffled between coming close to my identity as female, and running from it (or barring that, weighing it down with concrete shoes and pushing it into the Buffalo harbor). The coming close times are the ones that got some extra heavy Luca Brasi inspired footwear, and even today they continue to surprise me by bubbling to the surface now and again. I just remembered one, and thought it would make a good tale, or at least something you can pretend to be engrossed in because it’s your turn to take out the garbage.

I think we already established my cred as a geek girl, right? Seriously, for real, real. Not a buxom hottie at the San Diego Comic Con either in the slutty Manga outfit, but the mousy waif chick with glasses and pimples inexplicably trying to pull off She Hulk for some reason. That level of geek. Yes, my wardrobe does scream ‘Dr Amy Farrah Fowler’. Anyway, I suddenly remembered an incident from college, during a time I was working the worst job I ever had; counter chump at a comic book store. Ironic, as it had been my dream job for 8 years prior, but in reality, drove me from my illustrated escape faster than the sauerkraut eating champ in a hot elevator.

One night I took home as pay (I was often paid in comics instead of cash) a run of ‘Shade the Changing Man’ issues 21 through 35, a ridiculous sounding title with surreal psychedelic covers. My housemates were less than pleased, as the phone had already been shut off again and the good folks at Verizon had little tolerance for being mailed shitty no-name funny books in lieu of checks. I was happy though, and decided to start reading through the stack to “warm up” for cracking (for the first time) the psychology text for my exam the following morning. As per my usual custom of the time, I also cracked open a 40 of Old English 800 to keep my study session lively. In hindsight, it’s pretty amazing I lived though my early 20’s, not to mention graduated.

It turned out to be a good series, leading me to rationalize “just one more issue” before I began my studies. I got as far as issue 27 before I really got pulled into the story. I think we all know that up until then I was just procrastinating. The new story arc was titled ‘Shade the Changing Woman’. If I remember correctly, and we are talking 20 years ago now, the title character somehow ended up inhabiting the body of a woman for a while, kind of ‘Quantum Leap’ style, only totally different. All of a sudden, Shade was Naomi and attempting to deal with different clothes, breasts, having people interact with him as a her, and whatnot. Yep, it certainly had my attention.

As ‘Naomi’, Shade was guided by his two female friends, Kathy and Lenny, who had a mix of discomfort and delight respectively in teaching him the ropes. Looking back, Shade as Naomi got way too freaked out by men staring at her breasts and attempting to pick her up, but it was a good yarn. Coming across this hit me pretty hard. Really, really hard. The story resonated with me in a lot of ways I wasn’t able to think about yet. I ended up reading those two issues over and over again until about 4 AM. I finally fell into a cliché feverishly dream haunted sleep with my psych book tucked uncomfortably under my pillow, unopened.

I woke up in the worst way when my alarm went off 3 hours later. Well, almost the worst way. No one dumped a bucket of ice water on me, and morning reveille wasn’t calling me outside to sing the fricking Air Force song in the freezing wee hours, but I did have the flu. The stupid comic book taxed my inner defensive wall to the max and I could barely get out of bed. The stack of ‘Shades’ was on the floor, and I really didn’t want to look at it. I shoved the whole pile under the bed, where it remained until I moved out, and called my professor and convinced him I wasn’t just hamming it up over the phone. My real ‘sick’ voice unfortunately sounds way more fake than my fake ‘sick’ voice.

I’m sure there are lots of other similar bodies still weighed down where I left them at the foot of the pier, even though there is no good reason for them to stay there. The triggers that so often send me into a tizzy of denial and repression have lost their power and are now just curious relics of a misunderstood past like old mix tapes at the bottom of a storage box, copied with heated passion for someone who’s name you can’t even remember how to spell. I think I’ll dig them up and read them again, and hopefully this time have a good smile and laugh.

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