Nice Legs

Cindy Lou Who

In honor of what would have been my father’s 97th birthday and transgender awareness week.  

Once my mother, Marie, had died,my father Frank hoarded, buying multiple versions of the same items, stockpiling canned goods and paper products.  It’s been over 15 years since his death and only recently have I finally used the last of the plastic wrap (What?  Was I supposed to throw out perfectly good cling-wrap?)  My adoptive father, Frank, was born in 1926.  The first born son of a depression-era family, he grew up to be highly responsible, emotionally unaware, and fearful of scarcity. 

He’d impressed me in those early post-Marie months with his resilience.  My mother had been the dominant figure, the keeper of the finances, and Frank had always seemed so easily subject to her will.  Once freed from restraint, he went on a shopping spree, bought a boat and a car, fishing gear, and a computer.  He’d even gone to the library for classes on how to email and use the Internet and had started sending me the occasional updates.   

Then, on a summer Sunday in 1998, I opened one such update and gazed upon the small, blurry picture of a mini-skirted, blonde-wigged individual, attempting a seductive pose.  “I’ve always wanted to look like Marilyn Monroe, “ it read. “What do you think?”

My first thought was that it had t be some sort of joke.  Some teenaged cousin must have hacked into the account.  This was obviously a reconfigured photograph from some outside source.  MY father, my silent, 72 year old, blue collar father, was NOT wearing a push-up bra and fuck-me heels.  I dialed the phone.  He picked up on the first ring.  “I guess you got my email.”


“What do you think?”  he asked.  I replied, as any daughter might:

“Nice legs.”

In fact, Frank always did have great gams. They were slender, nicely muscled and shapely, and as a chubby teenager, I was envious of them.  I was never comfortable in short skirts and certainly could never pull off anything like the come-hither glare of that person in the photo.  Nor did that align with the man I knew as my father.  Frank was a demure figure, standing obediently holding bags in the sweltering heat of Alexander’s department store during the annual school clothes shopping ordeal.  He would smile and wave, twiddling his fingers at me, when he would come home from work.  I recall no conversation from him beyond, “how are you, little girl?”  As that little girl, I adored him, until I didn’t, which is a tale for another day.  

The  final 12 years of Frank’s life were lived in larger part as a woman named Cynthia Lou Ann Brown.   Those years were not unproblematic – Frank was an alcoholic and a cancer-survivor and never particularly aware of the emotional lives of those around him.  He was never cruel or cold; he never demanded excellence or affection or anything much really.  Mostly he was oblivious in a wide-eyed sort of way.  And so was she.  Cindy.  My dad. 

Maybe that was a way of dealing with the suffering especially once he stopped drinking: the grief of losing his wife, whom he loved despite the harsh realities of their marriage;  the rejection of his brothers – not because of her transgenderism as it happens, rather one of  the aforementioned harsh realities of  life with Marie.  And then, the Big One.  What kind of existential pain is it, to question something so integral as your gender?  I’ve dealt with plenty of existential crises in my day, clinical and post-partum depression, trauma et alia, but I’m a girl and a girl I’ll always be.  It never enters my consciousness. It simply is.   What does that do to you when it simply isn’t?  Moreover, when it isn’t AND it’s 1944 and World War II is pulling all members of the greatest generation into its maw?  That he drank, and drank heavily, is no longer a mystery for me, nor are the difficulties of his marital relationship.  That he was able to transcend all of that and live as he wanted, as she wanted, is more intriguing.  Frank was not a brave man, but Cindy, she was flamboyant and talkative and social.  What power it gave to that soul, to live in the way it was meant to live.  To sing its unique song as both Frank and Cindy.  She hit upon it without ever hearing about “alignment” or “living authentically.”  She just lived.  

When my father died, we gave her a small memorial service.  It wasn’t what her girlfriend wanted, nor her sister, but once it was over, to me, it seemed perfect.  At its end, one of her friends, an AA buddy named Banjo Jack, whipped out his guitar, strummed its raucously untuned strings and led the small group in Amazing Grace.  The lost soul that was Frank found its home in Cindy.  My father was free.

Nepal 2.0

I began this blog in 2019 as a chronicle of my trip to Nepal.   What preparations would be needed?  How would I train?  What fears or anticipations might arise?  I posted two short entries, test bounces before the plunge.

And then 2020 and the pandemic and numerous cancellations.  I rescheduled three separate times, finally to the March 2023 trek, which is now three months away.  I’ve paid my balance and reserved my tickets. 

It’s happening.

I feel a bit queasy frankly.  Maybe it’s anticipation of the altitude, or the expense, or the terror of traveling alone.  What kind of crazy is it to chose Nepal for your first trip?  I’ve done nothing, gone nowhere.  I’ve been off the North American continent exactly once, 43 years ago, and that with a group of American high school students. Shouldn’t I go first to somewhere closer, more familiar, like some island off the coast? Or maybe Europe?

Then again, when going into chilly waters, there’s no point in baby steps.  Dive in.  Absorb the shock. Come up for air and look around.  It should be amazing.  Right? 

Once again, I’m going to start chronicling my preparations here.  The physical part is straight-forward.   There’s a training program to work on knee stability and balance.  I’ll continue running and hiking to increase my stamina.  Breathing – there are exercises I’ll need to work on there too.  The mental and spiritual preparations will be more slippery.  How do I want to approach such an adventure?  How do you anticipate without the burden of too much expectation?  Is there something I’m looking for? 

Silly question. There are all manner of things, eternities that I am searching for. What will I find, that’s the mystery.

I am the Worst Swimmer

I am the worst swimmer. 

Seriously, I sink like a stone, despite my fairly compact size. Maybe because of my compact size,  I suffer an excess of density.   Worse still, I tend to panic in deep water.  When I was a child, my mother who grew up in a fishing village and was a very elegant swimmer, sent me for private lessons.  Shy and self-conscious, I hated the one-on-one attention from the instructor. One class he told me he had a cold and wouldn’t be going into the pool with me.  The end result of his self-care was that I found myself in the deep end in a terror.  He stuck his leg into the pool for me to grab onto.  I can still see it, glowing white, a disembodied calf floating towards me.  

I returned for the next several lessons, but I was never able to breath correctly in the water again.  The only time I can, the only stroke I can do for any length of time, is when I’m on my back looking up, floating.  And even then, the tendency to strive is strong, so I start moving my limbs and the next thing I’m turned round, face in the water, thrashing away in a mad woman’s attempt to swim.  

Needless to say I avoid the ocean.  Any shark within a ten mile radius would think there’s some plump baby seal in distress out there ripe for the eating. 

We talk about people floating through life, and I’ve always been one to scorn that sort of thing.  If it ain’t hard, it ain’t worth doing.  There’s a point there, many good and desirable things to take effort.  Strong long-term relationships, new skills, mountaintops, depths.  There is however also something to be said for floating.  For surrender.

I don’t do surrender any better than I do swimming.  You won’t find me on the beach very often. For me, it’s the mountains, cool clear air, the scent of pine, mossy rocks, cairns above the treeline. I love the scramble, knees scraping against the rock, squeezing through splits in the granite.  I arrive at summits glasses foggy, drenched in sweat, triumphant.  

It’s exhausting.  A good kind of exhausting, exhilarating even, but nevertheless, not something you can do day in, day out, literally or metaphorically speaking.

Several times over the years, I’ve worked at surrender.  I’ve sat visualizing myself unloading boxes of stresses and faces to lay at the feet of some version of god.  I’ve ritualized letting go of what no longer serves.  I’ve run great distances to get away.  None of that really works.  Oddly enough, I’ve found all you need do is ask.  Ask and it shall be given to you.  You just need to notice that it happened – pay attention- which is something again I don’t always do.  

I suffer from revelation envy.  You read these stories of people whose lives turned on the dime.  Those grand epiphanies where everything became clear, scales falling from their eyes, paradigms shifting like curtains on a new act in a play.  Maybe we’re not all meant for that. LIke body types that need different exercises and nutrients, we each have different routes.  I’m not a floater and I may never get the hang of that.  It doesn’t make me wrong or less spiritual or farther from Truth or God or anything.  I have my own path.  It’s more switchback going from deep cool sometimes very dark and frightening woods to opening vistas and aback again into the bush.  Surrender also means accepting that, loving it, and being excited to see where it goes.  It might be nice to float for a while, like when you hit a plateau in climbing.  Necessary even – when you hit those vistas, you’re crazy not to stop and drink them in, refresh yourself.  Otherwise you’re not going much farther, not on those shaky legs.   We need to rest, to soak, to take it all in before moving forward again.  Otherwise how will you incorporate the insight that climb has granted you?  

Live like Otis

My nemesis and incessant companion is an elderly overweight beagle named Otis.  My sons and I rescued Otis from a nearby shelter; he was a two-time loser, having been left first in Indiana and then again once he came to the Northeast.  It wasn’t hard to figure out why; at 3 years he was barely housetrained, totally undisciplined, and aggressive with other dogs.  He was also singularly unemotional.  

Now I’m not one to attribute human characteristics to animals.  Dogs are at their core instinctual beings as opposed to rational.  Nevertheless most dogs have personality, playful, protective, feisty, and so forth.  Otis however was and is a blank slate.  Once he got over his fear of other dogs, he ceased to have any dominant characteristic at all, save his houndlike love of food, especially Special Breakfast Sunday.  His favorite 30 seconds of the week. 

People have been known to walk hesitantly onto my lawn, calling his name, because they feared he was dead.  He can lie in the sun for a very long time.  Seriously, the dog never moves.  Now that he’s old, he must sleep 20 of the 24 hours of the day.  Movement is limited to enforced marches, getting up for breakfast and dinner, and about 4 positional shifts each day depending on the position of the sun and me. 

Nevertheless, Otis is an unlikely inspiration.  My neighbor across the street called to me the other day.  As we were chatting in the shade, she said, “Otis has taught me so many lessons.”    “He has?” I asked incredulously.  “Yes!” she replied.  “I see him and remind myself, take a break.  Those dishes will be there tomorrow.”  

Come to think of it, Otis has the right of it.  Whenever possible, live like Otis.

Eat when you can, whatever you can, as much as you can.  Enjoy it. 

When you’re sad, howl.  Let it out.  Let someone know, ask for comfort.  

Stop and smell the roses.  Or who peed on the roses.  Take in All The Smells. 

Rest when you’re tired.  Rest when you feel like resting.  Just rest all the time.

None of the other dogs are thinking about you.  Live your own life. 

Follow the sun. Roll in its warmth. 

Every day is special breakfast day.