Chapter Eight

Early the next morning, Saturday, Jami's cellphone rang. "Jami? I have a problem, and it involves you, or rather, us. Can I come over and talk?"

"Certainly." Jami glanced out the window. "It's raining. Are you taking the bus? I'll go wait for you."

"You don't need to do that. It's kind of cold."

"I like rain. I love you. I'll be there." Jami ran downstairs to pull on her boots and find a hat and jacket. It was a very short bus trip.

Her father came into the hallway from his study, empty coffee cup in hand.

"Going out, dear?"

"Hi, Dad. Just for a minute. Carys is coming over. I'm going to the bus stop to meet her."

"It looks kind of raw and wet out there this morning, Jami. How about if I fill the kettle and put it on the stove to simmer? You can make some instant hot chocolate when you get back."

"Great! Thanks! Bye!" Jami ran out the door, down the steps, skidded on the rain slick sidewalk, and slowed, just a little, as she headed out toward Grand River Avenue. Her dad shook his head and started closing the door.

Anne came into the hallway from the living room, drawn by the voices. "To where is Jami off to in such a hurry? Or need I ask?"

Ted shut the door, leaving it unlocked. "To meet Carys, of course. How serious are they, Anne?" He went into the kitchen to fill the kettle and get more coffee. Anne followed, leaning against the counter, arms crossed.

"Head over heels in love, obviously. But I don't know how far they've gone, or how far ahead they've thought. Jami is so happy I don't want to raise any doubts at this point. But I am paying close attention to the vibes from them. So far everything seems positive."

"I hope it stays that way. Life is easier for two to handle." He put an arm around her. She responded with a kiss.

"Yes, it certainly is."

* * *

After they took off wet coats and shoes, Jami and Carys fixed mugs of hot chocolate and went upstairs. They sat on the rug by the bed, covering their legs with a blanket for warmth.

"So what's up, Car? You said a problem?"

Carys blew on her hot chocolate, took a cautious sip. "Yes. As David said last night, decision time has come for colleges, when I have to reject or accept offers, and send in a non-refundable deposit. My parents jumped on my case, big time, this morning."

"So what are you going to do?"

Carys leaned back against the bed, looking at the ceiling. "I could compromise and say I'll go to State. That doesn't tie up too much money, so even if I don't go through with it, which is what I think would happen, it wouldn't be a big waste." She scowled. "I hate this."

"Are you certain you know what you want to do?"

"Before, that's before I met you, I was seriously tempted to simply do whatever would make my parents happy and worry about how to salvage my own goals after I went off to wherever it was. I just wanted out, away, a chance for a clean start."

"And now?"

"The past few weeks have really made me think. The clowning at the Arts Camp. The couple who taught that class work part time jobs and do as much clowning as they can. The script writing class. Mr. Sharp says he thinks I have real talent. The play at Riverfront. Derick working a job he evidently doesn't care much about so he has time to do theater.

"My parents see my clowning and theater stuff as hobbies. I see them as what I want to do, plus my queer activism, which my parents refuse to see at all, of course.

"Last, but certainly not least," finished Carys, "there's you."

"David wants to do theater things," said Jami, "and he's going to college."

"I think it's the right thing for him," said Carys. "He's really smart and talented, but except for being gay, he's very normal. He fits in. He's a team player. He'll be one of those people who's only gay in the privacy of their own bedrooms, the straight-acting gays, they're called. He'll fit right into college and make it work for him.

"But if I go to college, I'm afraid it'll just be like more of high school. Carys the triangular peg failing to fit in any of the available holes. I know college isn't like high school--there is more freedom--but it seems to me it could also be a really big trap.

"The stuff you've said about living simply and keeping your options open is so not college. There's no way I'd get through college without racking up massive debt. If I spent all my spare time working, to keep that down, there would go my so-called hobbies, and probably my activism, too.

"Other than debt and frustration, what would it get me? An undergraduate degree that would maybe make it easier to get a whole list of jobs I don't want. It just doesn't make sense!

"My parents don't understand. They see college as a difficult, but safe, thing to do. It was for them. They do not realize that the twenty-first century is different, and how much the world can change now in even five years. I don't want to be trapped that long, or longer, doing something I don't want to do, digging myself deeper in debt, preparing for a future I don't want and that might not still be there!"

Carys set her mug on the floor. "And now there's you. The thought of going somewhere without you? No. Absolutely not. Not even Lovelorn could stand that."

"If you went to State," said Jami, "that wouldn't be a problem."

"No, but if I do that, everything I can earn would still have to go toward tuition, and if I lived at home to save on expenses it would be exactly like it is now. I for sure can't stand the thought of four or five more years of living with my parents." Carys looked dejected. "What are you going to do, Jami? Are you thinking about college?"

Jami shook her head. "I'm basically done with school, such as it is. I've met all the requirements I need to graduate. All that remains is to go to a ceremony in Ann Arbor in June, if I want, and pick up my diploma.

"I've never felt driven to go to college, or to go right now if I do. More and more I think of myself as an artist. There are lots of workshops, internships and apprentice-like ways to get practical experience. I would only go to college if I had a problem and college was the solution. Maybe that's a homeschool mindset, but just automatically spending four or five years and what, maybe $100,000 to go to college? No way! I already have everything I need to write, take photos and be on the web. I could live for ten years, at least, on that much money, and do what I like doing.

"I have no firm plan, though my experiences the past year or so have convinced me that I need to get out more on my own. It's too easy to hide from the world here. Every time I've forced myself to go out and do things with other people, like the Arts Camp, good things have happened.

"And now," said Jami, setting her mug on the floor and reaching for Carys, "there's you."

Carys leaned forward to put her arms around Jami. She rested her head on Jami's shoulder and said, "Are you thinking what I'm thinking, love?"

"To paraphrase Sherlock Holmes, when all the sensible options have been eliminated, only the crazy but very appealing ones remain. We could both move out and live together and figure out how to do the things we want to do."

"It's certainly appealing, Jami. Is it crazy?"

"For two eighteen year old queer kids to set out on their own in a nasty, homophobic world?"

"For me," said Carys, "it's a question of living in a homophobic home or a homophobic world. School sucks. My parents don't believe in me. It's you who would be making the big leap."

"True. But it certainly would be less scary not having to do it alone."

"But if we live together, Jami, we're going to be seen as a lesbian couple. That isn't going to be easy."

"I know. I mean, intellectually I know. I guess I don't quite understand how that would be scarier than me being me. It would have to be better, not being alone, having someone I could trust."

Carys let go of Jami to drink the last of her hot chocolate. She touched Jami's forehead, saying, "No one can tell there's anything unusual about you. You don't have a scarlet 'I' engraved on your forehead, you know."

Jami hugged herself. "No, though it feels like it, at times. You don't understand the general level of fear I live with. Without you, I'd still be facing the problem of how to start a relationship, which is maybe the scariest thing of all."

Carys leaned forward, took Jami's hands. "What is there to be so afraid of?"

"Everything. You know the joke about wearing clean underwear in case you get hit by a car crossing the street and are taken to the emergency room?"

"Sure." Carys was puzzled, then her eyes went wide with realization. "Oh! Shit."

"Anything involving doctors terrifies me. My parents have to force me to go whenever I need it. I'd almost rather die."

"Is it that bad?"

"I had to go last year to get a tetanus booster. They know about me at the Clinical Center. It's all on my chart. But I'm sitting in the examining room and the nurse comes in, and right off she starts asking me if my period is regular and am I sexually active. I just lie, trying to get rid of her as fast as possible. She didn't read my chart, or understand, or care. I don't know what. Then she starts reading my history and gets confused, then flustered, and leaves to talk with the doctor. The doctor comes in with two med students and starts discussing me. Right in front of my face! Welcome to the sideshow. Step right up, see the freak. I can only imagine what they all say about me when I leave."

"Ohmygosh, Jami! That's disgusting, incompetent, irresponsible." Carys clenched her fists and grimaced. "Arghh! There's no excuse!"

"Sure there is." Jami let her head drop. "I'm a freak. We're rare medical curiosities. Liven up the dull routine, we do."

"Jami!"

Jami looked up. "Okay, so it's not right, it needs to change. Sure, and I want to help make it change. But the point is, clean underwear doesn't help."

"That sucks so much! Not that I think being poked and prodded is fun, but I guess I've had it easy. I may have all kinds of issues with my body and identity and such, but nothing I've had to talk about if I didn't want to. Jeez!" Carys looked thoughtful. "Though I guess the next time my doctor asks me if I'm sexually active it might not be quite so easy to answer, at that."

Jami took a deep breath and let it out in a long sigh.

Carys blushed. "Sorry, I'm getting a little ahead of things."

Jami looked at her. "Which brings us to the other topic we need to discuss."

"Okay, but I don't want to upset you," said Carys, in an unusually small voice.

"Maybe I need to be upset."

"I'm not trying to rush us. I know, I mean, I don't know, but I think I understand, sort of, that this is going to be hard for you."

Jami rubbed a hand across her face. "I've both hoped for and dreaded this moment. Tried to anticipate how it would happen, how to get through it. I think it's best that it's happened like this, talking about it, rather than while I'm kissing you, wanting so much to touch you more, but being afraid of being touched."

Jami stood up, Reached a hand to help Carys stand. "So let's just do it. Show and tell. Get it over with. I couldn't possibly feel romantic, anyway, not the first time. But you need to know all about me."

"You mean just undress for each other?" This is not how Carys had imagined this moment.

"No, not like that! We can undress each other, if you want. We're doing this because I have to do it this way, but it's because I want to love you, not because you have free admission to the Jami freak show."

Carys winced. "Jami, please don't talk that way about yourself. It hurts me. I don't think you're a freak."

"Sorry. They do that to us, though. Make us strip, take a picture, block out our eyes, then publish the photo in journals."

"Oh, my God! Are you serious?"

"Yes. I've seen photos like that, more than once."

"Did they do that to you?" Carys felt a hot fury building in her at the thought of Jami being treated like that.

"I don't think so. But people don't always know. I've heard of people who have simply run across a photo of themselves in a journal or book, or on a web site."

"Oh, dear God. How could anyone do that to another human being?"

"I'm trying to get the point across that we aren't always treated like human beings. There may be no more freak shows at the circus, but intersex people are often still treated that way, or worse. As are genderqueer people. You know that."

"Yes, but other than having people yell 'dyke' at me, or tell me I'm in the wrong restroom, that stuff doesn't happen to people like me."

"Not usually. You know that trans people have been murdered for being who they are, left to die because the EMTs wouldn't work on them, or died of treatable illnesses that no one would treat."

"But, Jami, with intersex you're talking about things people do to babies and children."

"Yes, because we are visibly different. Parents don't have to deal with their new baby being queer, but they do have to deal with their new baby being intersexed. We're not a happy occasion, we're a medical emergency from the moment we're born. We're freaks who no one in their right mind would want to have. We're a dirty secret, the family disgrace."

"Your parents didn't feel that way about you."

"No, though my father once told me it was an incredible shock, because no one had even mentioned the possibility. My father, who is a very gentle person, said he almost had to threaten violence to get the doctors to leave me alone until he and my mother had time to think and understand what was going on."

Carys put her arms around Jami. Both their faces were wet with tears. "I don't think that about you. I will never think that about you. I will do everything I can to help change the way other people think about you."

"That's certainly one of my goals in life, and I sure could use as much help as I can get." Jami kissed her nose. "Let's get this over with. Are you ready?"

"Yes. I don't think you're going to completely believe that I love you, no matter what, until we do this, even though I've already had my hands all over most of you."

Carys began by unbuttoning Jami's blouse. Jami was wearing a bra, Carys wasn't.

"I burned it with my draft card," she joked. "Seriously, I hate them. Who cares if I droop? It irks my mother, but I have simply refused. So do I look okay? Droopy boobs and all?"

"That's supposed to be my line."

"I know. I'm preempting it so you can't ask. Do you look okay? I would describe what I want to do right now, but I'm afraid it would be way too exciting. But I'm storing this up for my dreams tonight."

"I don't think we need to take our socks off," said Jami. "Feet look really weird, anyway, if you stare at them long enough."

"Really?"

"Sure. Okay, take your socks off. Look at your toes, at how long they are, how they're joined."

Carys pulled her socks off. "Oh, my gosh. You're right. My toes are freaky." Carys wiggled her toes. "Let me see your toes."

Jami took off her socks.

"Ooo, I like your toes, Jami. They're cute."

They were sitting on the bed now with only their jeans left on.

"Me first." Carys stood up and quickly skinned off her jeans, then her underwear. "Maybe we should have done this in warmer weather?"

"Are you going to say my line again?"

"No." She didn't feel like joking now.

Jami looked at Carys. "You have no piercings, not even earrings. Is that a tattoo?"

"Yes. Mom talked me into having my ears pierced when I was little. But I've long since let them heal over. Performers are better off without piercings. The tattoo is more recent. My Mom doesn't know about it."

"I don't suppose she's seen that part of your body for quite some time," smiled Jami. "Why did you have it done?"

"For me," said Carys. "I figured I'd show it to someone, eventually. Though I never imagined it would be quite like this."

"Sorry," said Jami, biting her lip.

"Oh, honey, don't. I never imagined I'd fall in love with someone as wonderful as you, either. Life is strange, and I like it that way."

"Then sit. It's going to get stranger." Jami stood up and removed the rest of her clothes, then sat back down next to Carys.

Jami scooted back a little on the bed. "Look." She bit her lip again and stared into a corner of the room.

In a barely controlled voice, Carys said, "You have to understand, Jami, that the only body I'm really familiar with is my own. Too familiar, I'm sure, according to some people. I've never seen another adult naked."

"But is this what you expected?"

Carys put her hands on Jami's knees, and tried to look. "Just a minute Jami, I'm having trouble seeing." She snagged her shirt from the pile of clothes and wiped her eyes dry, then leaned forward again. She gently touched Jami's pubic hair, more so Jami would know she was looking than from a need to move the light brown hair, then leaned back.

"Okay, I looked. I didn't know what to expect, and I'm not sure what I should say. This doesn't change anything for me, except to give me a better picture of you when I dream about you. I love you, Jami!" Her voice started to break. "I love everything about you." She buried her face in her shirt and started sobbing.

"I'm sorry, Car." Jami put her arms around Carys and held her until she calmed down.

Carys straightened up and wiped her face again. "This is show and tell, Jami, so you have to look at me. too." She assumed the same position that Jami had used.

Jami leaned forward and performed the same examination, gently pushing aside Carys's dark hair. "I think you're beautiful, Carys." She sat up. "I've seen quite a few pictures of genitals, of course. They don't quite compare to the real thing."

Carys sat up, too, taking Jami's hands. "Did this help, Jami? Does it help you believe that I really, truly, completely love you, no matter what?"

"I do believe that, Car. I'm not doubting you. I'm doubting me. We can't make love without using my body."

"But there's nothing wrong with you, Jami! You're just different."

"Exactly. I'm just different. How many times in a typical day do you receive some negative message about being queer, about being different, about not being like the women in the magazines and on television and in the movies?"

"Too damn many times."

"I've been hearing all those messages, and more, since I was old enough to realize I was different. Having two great parents and now you isn't enough to counteract all that. It's been drummed into me, over and over and over again that I am not the same as everyone else. I have to deal with that when I look at myself, when I touch myself. I don't hate myself, but I've had to do a lot of work to be able to honestly say that."

"Did this help, Jami? I can't figure out whether you're saying it did, or that nothing is ever going to help."

Jami sighed. "I'm sorry. Yes, darling, it helped. It's a big step for me. A big relief. I'm very glad we've done this."

Jami smiled then, and Carys felt better. "We're both getting goose bumps. Let's get dressed again."

They stood up next to the bed. Before Jami could bend over to pick up her clothes, Carys put her arms around her. Feeling Jami's naked body against hers was more of a shock than she had expected.

"Oh, Jami. Oh, God. Please believe that I want you so much, just exactly the way you are."

"I'm trying, Carys. I do believe you, and this is much nicer than I was afraid it would be."

They moved apart and dressed quickly, then sat back down on the bed.

"I don't want to disrespect or belittle you, Jami, but you truly don't seem that hugely different to me. Maybe it's not the right thing to say, but I think anyone who caught a glimpse of you naked would simply think you're a pretty girl. I know you're not, and it's important that you are in fact intersexed, but you'd be safer in a restroom or locker room than a transman or most transwomen and a lot of butch dykes."

Jami bit her lip again. "That's probably true, but I'm still terrified in those situations. I know I pass for normal and no one gives me a second thought. But I still feel like everyone has x-ray eyes and can somehow tell. The consequences would be just as bad for me, or worse, if someone did find out.

"I've mentioned doctors and hospitals. But there are other things I worry about, especially since I'm going to be labeled as queer or lesbian. I'm sure you've heard that something like one in every three women is raped at some time in her life? What do you think would happen if some macho guy tried to rape me to show me what it's like to be heterosexual?"

Carys put her fist in her mouth and bit it to keep quiet.

"I shouldn't just dump all this on you. But if we're going to be together, completely, you need to know about my personal demons. I'm not trying to claim that I'm that much worse off than any other queer person, or even a long list of other people who are on society's shit list. But this is what it's like to be me."

Jami gently pulled Carys's hand away from her mouth.

"I'm sorry, Car. This is enough, probably too much, of this kind of stuff. How about we go wash our mugs and get something more to drink, then get back to talking about light-hearted things like skipping college and living together? No more of this heavy stuff today, okay?"

"Okay." Carys wiped her face again with her shirttail and did her best to smile, but in her mind she still felt like screaming.

They went down to the kitchen and washed their mugs. Jami took glasses from the cupboard. They were looking in the refrigerator when Jami's mother came in, started to say hello, then noticed their faces and Carys's damp shirt. Anne's heart skipped at least two beats. "What's wrong? Jami? Carys!"

Carys set her glass on the counter, walked over to Jami's mother, threw her arms around her, and started bawling. Jami came up behind Carys and put her arms around them both. "We just had the talk that we had to have at some point. I don't think there was any easier way to do what we just did. It was kind of rough." Now Jami was crying, too.

Oh, dear God. I can just imagine, thought Anne.

"Okay, you two. Let's go sit in the living room. Jami, find a box of tissues, please. Come on, Carys. I know how you must feel, honey. I've been dealing with it for eighteen years. Sometimes you just have to cry your heart out. It's a way we deal with really intense emotions, good and bad." Anne walked with Carys to the living room.

They sat. Jami brought a box of tissues, then went back for the drinks. Carys stopped crying, took tissues from Anne to wipe her face, had a big drink from the glass Jami held for her, and sat back, gasping. "I'm sorry. I'm not usually the hysterical type."

Jami touched her cheek. "Are you going to be okay?"

Carys took Jami's hand and kissed it. "I love you so much. I'm upset because I love you so much, because there is no reason you should be made to be so afraid, or that people should be so thoughtless, cruel, and oh, I don't know what. It hurts me that you hurt, it hurts that there's so little I can do to make it better for you."

"You're doing a lot, Carys. You love me. You listen to my rants about intersex issues, and you still love me. You even seem to be happy that I love you."

"Happy? That is such an understatement! Oh, Jami." She put her arms around Jami and hugged her hard, crying again.

Anne watched them, more than a little worried about the emotional load Carys had to bear. Not only this, but her own problems, too.

Jami's father stopped at the sofa on his way to the kitchen. "You all okay in here?"

Carys looked up, wiped her face again and nodded. She was afraid she'd start bawling again if she tried to talk. Jami nodded, too, then resumed paying attention to Carys.

"They'll be okay in a bit, Ted. Let's go make ourselves some tea." She extended her hands and Ted pulled her up.

In the kitchen Ted asked, "What was that about? I heard some pretty intense crying."

Anne sighed. "Carys is finding out that loving Jami will not be all fun and games." She filled the kettle and set it on the stove.

"Being gay isn't all fun and games, either. You said Carys is an activist. She must know that."

"Knowing it in your head is different than knowing it in your heart. Young love should not hurt so much. It isn't their fault."

Ted set mugs on the counter with more force than necessary. "I ended up almost punching the last person who asked me to sign a petition for a federal amendment against 'gay marriage'. There's no way to talk to those people. They have a simple answer for a complex issue. It's infuriating."

"Yes, and I'm afraid we're shortly going to see just how it hurts a young couple trying to live together."

"You think they're headed that way? They've known each other for what, three weeks?" He placed tea bags in their cups, but kept his eyes on Anne.

"Do you remember when we met? How long did it take you to start thinking that you wanted to marry me?"

"True, if you're really in love, it doesn't take long for that thought to come up. It just takes a while before you admit it to anyone else."

"Exactly. Considering what happened today, I think they're doing the hard work with each other of understanding what it will be like."

"Should we sit them down and talk?"

"Let's give them more time. Carys is a senior this year. She has to decide soon what she's doing, in terms of college. I bet they'll come to us before too long."

"Do you think Jami may want to move away, to be with Carys?"

"I hope not, but we'll just have to wait and see." Anne played with her tea cup. "I think I will have a talk with Carys, though. She needs to know that she can talk to me freely about Jami's issues with her body." Anne sighed. "Unfortunately, I don't think she can talk to her own mother about this."

* * *

Jami and Carys had gone back upstairs and were lying side by side on the bed, clothed, under a blanket.

"Maybe we shouldn't have done all this now, Car. With the problems you have at school and with your parents. Was it too much, too soon?"

Carys thought for a moment. "No. It wasn't fun. But I feel so much closer to you now. Maybe we'll be able to look back on this some day and laugh about how scared we were."

"I hope so. I do feel better, much better. I don't feel now that there's some big personal hurdle in our future."

"Just the minor practical matter of figuring out how to live together?"

"Right. But the good old American approach of doing three impossible things before breakfast should take care of that."

"It sounds like your parents will be on our side?"

"Definitely. Do you think your parents will be a problem?"

"I don't know. I need to talk with them about college, and about you. They have a lot to learn and get used to."

"Do you want me there?"

"Not at first. I don't know exactly when I'll do it, for one thing. I have to settle the college issue this weekend. You'll come into that at some point. I'll call you, and let you know what's going on. You'll be there in my heart, lover. Sometime later maybe we'll all talk, your parents, too."

"Once you talk to your parents," said Jami, "we should talk to mine. Not that they probably haven't already figured it out, but they may have advice. The older and wiser generation, you know."

"Okay. But I agree. Your parents won't be a problem. Now just hold me for a while until I leave. Tonight I want to dream about having you next to me."