Here lies Ronan Smith. He was a devoted husband and father. He held a fierce love for his family and friends. He was loyal to a fault and he worked hard. Those that knew him best never really knew her.
If I had money to burn, it would be tempting to purchase a grave site and marker with an inscription similar to this. It would be symbolic in nature only, I don’t intend on being buried as Ronan. However, I can’t help but wonder if it could help bring a sense of closure to this loss I am grieving. Closure to the life I lived before I started my transition. Closure to this life that I can’t seem to let go of.
Flash back — it is December, 1991. I can still remember the cold mud between my fingers as I settled into my stance. The electric crack of the pads smacking together. The resistance, the push, and the inevitable yielding of the opposing player as I pushed him up, back, and then down. The scrape of the running back’s cleats across the back of my heel as he makes his cut through the gap behind me. The key was to be stronger, just a little quicker out of the stance, and to ensure that contact was made at a precise angle for maximum leverage. Knees bent, legs always driving. It didn’t matter who was lined up across from me, I always wanted it more than the other guy. They told me to want it more.
We won every single game, save the last one. That single loss, that final game crushed the spirit of many of my brothers. The coaches were surprised that I wasn’t more upset about the loss, I was among the most dedicated of the players on the team. My lack of emotion over the loss snapped the spell of brotherhood that had been cast over me during the previous four years. That season of my life was simply over, I knew it, and I had left it all on the field. Time to move on. The cheerleaders weren’t crying either.
It is still December, 1991, Christmas Eve night. I was upstairs in my room, being called to pick up the phone by my parents. A few days prior, I had asked the girl I had been seeing to go steady, and presumably this was her calling to give me her decision. The upstairs phone was in my parents’ room, down the hall across the stairway landing. I peeked out from my doorway to see if the coast was clear, as I had to dart across the hallway unnoticed while wearing my sister’s homecoming gown. I had squeezed into it earlier that night, and I couldn’t reach far enough behind my back to pull the zipper back down in order to remove the dress. I doubt the rustle of the taffeta as I was noticeable to anyone downstairs, but to my ears it was deafening.
I answered the phone, pulling a blanket off my parents bed to cover myself in case anyone came up the stairs while I was sitting there. “Yes,” she said on the other end of the line. “The answer is yes.” I was so distracted by my state of dress and fear of discovery, it took me a minute to remember what the question was that she was answering. Finally it clicked. Wow, sweet! I have a girlfriend now! …shit…how the hell am I going to get this dress off without ruining it?
It is October 1995, and I’m walking across campus, arm in arm with my steady girlfriend. We had broken up once or twice over the last few years, but breaking up never took. She’s visiting me for the weekend from her school. I pause by the statue of my school’s mascot, positioning myself so that one of the up-lights in the sidewalk is illuminating each of our faces. I pull the box out of my pocket and open it. “Well, what do you think?” I ask her. “Do you want to marry me?”
I was so nervous I had forgotten to take a knee. This time” yes” comes much sooner than it came for my proposition to go steady four years prior. Plus, I was much less distracted. As we embraced, I felt her tense in my arms. “Umm, did you happen to ask my dad for his blessing?”
I have no idea what she means. I thought if you wanted to marry a girl, you bought a ring, got on one knee, and you asked her. Fuck me, of course I would find a way to screw this up. “No, I didn’t talk to your dad first. I thought you would want it to be a surprise.”
She doesn’t. I hoped that marriage would define me as a man. Perhaps I could finally leave my struggles with gender behind me in the past. But I was off to a poor start with the botched proposal, and that feeling of being deemed deficient by her family never quite fades away.
It is August 2001, and I am holding my tiny newborn daughter in my arms. She is absolutely crazy looking, and hairy everywhere, but to me she is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen. I am just beginning to learn just how much love for another human being my heart can contain. I held out hope that this moment would define me as a man and as a father. Perhaps I could finally leave my struggles with gender in the past. Instead, the feeling of inadequacy never fades away.
It is August 2002, and I am holding my tiny newborn second daughter in my arms. She is absolutely crazy looking, fat and squishy everywhere, but to me she is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.
It is October 2004, and I am holding my tiny newborn son in my arms. He is absolutely crazy looking, like a little tiny old man, but to me he is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.
I can hardly recall a memory from my kids’ childhood that doesn’t bring tears to my eyes. Piggyback rides. Story time. Family pictures. Christmas mornings. The first day school. The last day of school. Long talks. Tough talks. Words of encouragement. Words of discipline. The pages of the years fall to floor. Did I do a good job being a dad? I don’t know, I see the many mistakes so clearly.
How do I move forward as Saoirse and leave Ronan in the past, without losing so much of what I’ve gained as him along the way? Accomplishments, failures, hopes, dreams, and regrets. Can we keep them, mom? Please? I promise I will feed and water them every day, and even take them for walks. Yes, even the failures, I know we might need them later.
I’m a child of the ’80s, and I’m reminded of the scene from “Back to the Future”, when McFly’s hands become translucent, and the transparency begins to creep upwards, threatening to erase him from the present. That is happening to Ronan right now, and as he fades away to nothingness, what assurance can I have that this specter of Saoirse will materialize into the present in his place?
When Ronan is gone, what will be left? What do I get to keep?
What will I lose?
What will I gain?
Read more from Saoirse here: Medium - Saoirse