My short story, “Awakenings,” was published in Boundless, An Anthology of Prose. The editor, David G. Collins wrote this description of my story in his introduction: In “Awakenings” Linda Johnson asks “What would happen if a middle-aged man, seemingly happy in his marriage but uncomfortable for years in his male body, decided one day to take action and shared the news with his wife and family?” The result is a tender account of a man and a woman, their son and daughter, struggling as they awaken in so many ways to a new reality—a story as brave as it is honest.
Please follow the link below to read the entire story.
Spencer stepped into the screened porch, holding two glasses of wine. Married twenty-five years, my husband still made my pulse quicken. I set aside my book and took my glass. “Thanks, dear. Finished for the day?”
“Yeah. Couldn’t concentrate.” He lifted my legs, scooched onto the sofa, and rubbed my feet.
I glanced at my watch. Five o’clock. Unusual for him to wrap up his work day so early. A self-employed accountant, he usually worked until six. “So what’s on your mind? You’ve been tossing and turning the last few nights.”
He picked up his wine glass, drained half of it, and set it down. He shifted in his seat and gazed at me. “Angela, there’s something I need to tell you.”
My heart skipped a beat. Whatever this was, it wasn’t good. I could see the pain in his face, his sunken red-rimmed eyes, his lips pursed like he was sucking a sourball.
He squeezed my foot. “First of all, I love you. You are an amazing wife, and I love you more now than on our wedding day.”
I cringed, knew there was a “but” coming. But what? We both worked from home, together 24/7. There couldn’t be another woman. Was he sick? Outside the normal fifty-year-old’s aches and pains, he hadn’t mentioned anything, hadn’t gone to the doctor recently.
I crossed my legs. “What is it, honey? You’re scaring me.”
He took a deep breath. “I want to transition. I want to become a woman.”
“You what? Are you joking?”
He shook his head. “No. It’s who I am.” He pointed to his chest. “I’ve always known inside I was a woman.”
I went numb, like I’d been injected with a full body sedative. I tried to speak, but couldn’t.
He leaned toward me, took my hand. “Honey, say something. Please.”
I jumped to my feet, stared at my husband. We’d pledged our lives to each other, brought two kids into the world, planned to grow old together. “How could you do this to us, to our family?”
He lowered his head, his shoulders shook with sobs. “I don’t want to hurt you.”
I sank to my knees and gazed into his eyes. “Where is this coming from? I thought you loved me.”
His eyes widened. “This has nothing to do with not loving you. You’re my soul mate.”
“But you’re telling me you don’t want to be my husband anymore.”
“Yes, but I don’t want to leave you. I want to be your wife.”
I rocked back on my heels. My jaw clenched with anger. “My wife? I don’t want a wife. How could you possibly think I’d want to be married to a woman? I’m not gay.”
“I’m not gay either.” He closed his eyes, shook his head. “Or maybe I am. I don’t know how to explain it.” He opened his eyes. “What I know is that I’ve always felt like a woman, but I’ve been trapped inside a man’s body.”
“God, don’t throw a fucking cliché at me.” I clenched my fists. I wanted to throttle him. “You’ve been a man your whole life. We’ve had sex, you’ve been aroused.”
“That’s what I mean when I say I’m not gay. I’m not attracted to men. I’m attracted to women, to you.”
I felt like I was in the ninth circle of Dante’s Inferno, the circle reserved for those who had betrayed family. “How is that supposed to work if you become a woman? If you’re a woman and attracted to women, then you’re gay. Which is fine for you, but not for me. I don’t want to have sex with you as a woman. How could you not get that?”
We stared at each other, neither willing to back down, immovable as boulders.
“Angela, I don’t want to lose you.” His voice was a whisper.
“I don’t want to lose you either, our marriage, our life together.” It was my turn to cry. My tears washed away my anger and left me hollow with despair.
* * *
That night, Spencer slept while I lay awake and stared at the ceiling. Images floated through my mind as I tried to make sense of what he’d told me. He’d always loved taking me shopping, finding me clothes. I’d hear from other wives how their husbands hated to go with them and I’d thought I was the lucky one. I didn’t feel so lucky anymore.
I wondered, had he tried on my clothes when I wasn’t there? A picture of him in my bra and panties, my favorite, no, make that his favorite red dress and high heels. He was 5’9” to my 5’7”, could probably wear most of my outfits without too many alterations. Would he have his own wardrobe or would we share? Would we dress alike the way my sister and I did as kids?
Oh God, my sister: what would she think? She’d probably be okay with it. After all, we were the enlightened generation. My parents would be a different story. My mom loved to flirt with Spencer—not in a cougar way, just in a healthy, he’s an attractive guy way. She would be devastated to see him transition to a woman. A homely woman, no doubt. Were there any attractive transgendered females out there? Caitlyn Jenner, maybe, but that seemed to require a lot of make-up.
And my dad. He always greeted Spencer with a handshake and a pat on his back. Both die-hard Carolina Panthers fans, they’d talk football for hours. Dad used to tell him he was the son he never had. Surprise, surprise. How about another daughter in the family?
The scariest part of this for me was how our son and daughter would react. How would they handle their dad becoming their mom? Matt was in college at East Carolina, finding himself, getting exposed to different lifestyles; maybe his college buddies would think this was cool. Ella was a different story—our popular high school cheerleader, desperate to fit in with her clone classmates. Even though we lived in “liberal” Chapel Hill, I’m not sure her friends would support her. I could see them turning on her like pit bulls on raw meat.
She’d gone to a friend’s house after school today and slept over. No doubt that was why Spencer chose to break the news when he did, so I’d have time to adjust, to take in this new reality before facing our daughter.
We’d agreed to wait to tell the kids until we were both ready, which meant me. Spencer’s mind was made up; he was going forward. I was the big question mark. Was I going to stay with him or leave? I needed to resolve that. Right now it seemed inconceivable to live together as wife and wife, but could I come around if I gave it time?
The next morning I woke to Spencer’s arms around me, his erection hard against my back. Did I want to have sex with him? Yes, no, maybe? Do I take advantage of the days we had left with him as a man? Part of me wanted to say no, punish him for what he was doing to us. Ripping our lives apart.
He began to use his hands and mouth, and my body responded as always, caught up in the moment. He brought me to orgasm, and my brain hummed with the knowledge that he didn’t need his penis to do that. But then he entered me, and as we moved together as one, I thought this is what I want, what I need.
He climaxed and we pulled apart, lay side by side. I gazed at his face, tried to envision him as a woman. Tears welled in my eyes. He held me as I sobbed, heartbroken at what we were losing. I cried myself out, exhausted, drained.
Spencer cupped my face. “I love you, Angela. I want to figure out a way to make this work.”
“I thought it was working.”
He shook his head, grimaced. “I’m not happy.” He squeezed my arm. “Not with you, with me, my body. I want to have breasts, a vagina, soft skin. I want to wear pretty clothes, make-up, perfume. I want the world to see me the way I see myself.”
I didn’t know how to respond. Every word he uttered was like a spike driven into my heart.
He kissed me, a soft kiss on my forehead, my nose, my lips. “I’ll make coffee.”
He rolled away from me, sat on his side of the bed, and reached down to the floor to pick up his clothes. I looked at his broad back, shoulders tapering to his narrow waist. He stood and I gazed at his tight ass, his muscular thighs. He turned to face me, and my breath caught. This beautiful, sexy man. How could he not want this body that I crave.
I watched him dress: boxers, jeans, t-shirt. I felt like each moment we shared as husband and wife was a grain of sand sifting through an hourglass, our time running out. I wanted to keep things the way they were, but it was too late. Our lives had been turned upside down and there was no going back.
* * *
I woke up early, my heart pounding in my chest. Matt had come home yesterday for Thanksgiving break, and Spencer and I had decided this was the best time to tell the kids. They’d both have some time off from school to be with us as a family, absorb the news. We hoped that our newly hip college son would help his younger sister deal with the idea. I made pancakes for breakfast and we sat at the table, talking and laughing like a normal family.
Spencer caught my eye and raised his eyebrows. I nodded. It was time.
“Guys, we have something to tell you,” he said.
“Sounds ominous,” Matt said. He’d grown a beard at school, and I was still getting used to his new look.
Spencer shook his head. “It’s not a bad thing, just different. A change, a big change.”
“God, you’re not having a baby, are you?” Ella wrinkled her nose. “Tiffany’s mom is having one, and that’s just gross at your age.”
“No, that’s not it.” Spencer drew a big breath. “I’m going to transition. I’m going to become a woman.”
The words hung over the table, out there, no way to retract them, no going back to our old mom, dad, boy, girl unit. I looked at the kids, mirror images of each other, eyes wide, mouths open, faces drained of color.
“I know it’s a lot to take in,” Spencer said.
“Is this a joke?” Matt asked. “I mean, you’re not fucking serious.”
“No joke. This is a decision I’ve made. I know it affects you as well.” Spencer waved his hands. “All of you. But this is something I need to do. Something I’ve wrestled with for a long time. I’d like to know I have your support.”
“You want our support? Are you crazy?” Matt turned to me. “Mom, please tell me you’re not okay with this shit.”
“Hey, buddy. Dial down the language,” Spencer said.
“Give me a fucking break! You’re turning into a…a…whatever, and you’re worried about my language. This is sick, man. This whole fucking idea is sick!” Matt pushed back his chair and stormed out of the room. I ached for my son, felt his pain like my own.
“Mom, are you okay with this?” Ella asked. My sweet girl, more concerned with me than herself.
“I don’t know, honey. I’m trying to get used to the idea. I’m upset, but not with your dad. This isn’t something he’s doing to hurt us.”
Spencer smiled at me, then turned to Ella. “Your mom’s right, peanut. I don’t want to hurt you kids or your mom. I love you all very much.”
“So, you like, would become a woman? Like, you’d have surgery and everything?”
“That’s right. And I’d dress like a woman. How do you think you’d feel about that?”
“I don’t know. I mean, I guess it would be okay.” Ella pulled on a strand of hair. “There are some kids at school with gay parents, so it’s not like I’d be the only one with two moms.” Ella looked at me. “Would you stay together?”
There it was. The question laid out on the table. Count on my teenage daughter to cut to the chase. I knew she wanted me to say yes. I knew Spencer wanted me to say yes. I just couldn’t do it, couldn’t commit. I wasn’t there yet.
“We need to give your mom a little more time. She needs to see how butt-ugly I’m going to be.”
Ella bit her lip. “You’re going to be pretty ugly, Dad.” And then she giggled.
“I know, right?” Spencer laughed. He held out his arms, rocked back and forth like a monster. “I’ll be this be big honking woman, with huge boobs and my hooked nose. People will run in terror.”
And then it hit me. It didn’t matter what he looked like. Spencer was always going to be Spencer. Funny, witty, kind. Could I sleep with him after he transitioned? I didn’t know. I wouldn’t know until the time came. But I knew I would always love him. Just a thread of hope, but something to build on.
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