Archive | July, 2018

Frank’s Revelation

18 Jul

When I left Albany, New York for a job in North Carolina my world changed in profound ways. The food stores I’d known, the pizza places and the bagel stores, the Italian and Kosher delis, the bakery, all left behind when I left New York. I missed my friends and longed for their familiar company. Adjusting to the southern pace took me a while. In some ways I never really got it, the south, that is, the south itself. The people spoke slow, with a drawl, and they played country songs about trucks, Jesus, whisky and family. I spoke fast, with every word measured. But everything changes, as change happens. I tried to keep in touch with my friends, calling them to say hello, or they’d call me, but it wasn’t the same. Yes, those first few months I moped around in a blue southern cloud longing for the overcast skies of New York. My whole life had slowed down and I felt like I was walking in molasses.

Living in Raleigh about a year, after a first mild winter, and with March nearly over, the phone rang early on that Sunday morning. It was Frank calling to tell me he was planning a visit and bringing Italian cold cuts and semolina bread. Having had no company for nearly a year, I was beside myself with excitement.

The morning of Frank’s visit I made sure the apartment was clean and there was plenty of rum and wine to drink and cheeses, olives and hard salami on hand to make a charcuterie board.

“Hi kitties,” Frank patted the cats hello first as he always had, and hugged me second.

“Frank,” I said, hugging him hard, “It’s so good to see you. I’ve missed you.”

Frank wears his chestnut brown hair long, naturally parting it in the center, if his hair gets in his way while working on his car, or in his yard, he’ll lock his hair in a clip or pull it back in a ponytail. He’s still the same weight he was in high school and, at 50, he’s caught between listening to Enya and In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida. He’s good-natured, but a little goofy, and uses expressions like, “Gee whiz” and “You don’t say?” and “Young lady.” A girl he used to know left him with a sadness in his eyes that could tell a story of how it feels to have your heart broken.

“Jo, I like what you’ve done here,” he says talking about my apartment. “What do you pay here, if you don’t mind my asking?” I tell him and he says, “Not bad, not bad at all.”

“Yeah, it’s $150 bucks more than that shithole apartment I left in Schenectady. Get a load of this,” I say, as I open a door off the galley kitchen,

“Wow, no kidding?” he says, “a washer and a dryer? That’s great, Jo.”

We sit on my deck and it’s warm enough, particularly for Frank coming from Albany, where the temps were nearly twenty degrees colder than Raleigh. The cats stay with us on the deck and they’re friendly, meowing and brushing up against Frank’s leg and on the deck chair.

I open a bottle of wine and cut up the bread, laying a platter of fruits and cheeses and crackers and the cold cuts – turkey, pastrami and prosciutto, within reach of Frank’s arm. He smiles and appears relaxed after the 650-mile-long drive.

“You must be exhausted after the drive.”

“It’s the rain. I got caught in Washington. It took me out of the way.”

“You would have made it sooner.”

He takes a swing of run, a bite of cheese, breaking off a thumb-sized corner piece of bread.

I tease him, “Who’s feeding you now? Whose house you been eating at?”

“Well…Jo…I have to admit I liked going to your house for dinner. Yes. And then we’d watch a movie. Yes…it was very enjoyable.”

“Oh, admit you loved it! You miss my ass and you know it!”

“Yes, Jo,” he said seriously, “I do miss you.”

We shared another bottle of wine, a Pinot Grigio. The night was lazy, the crickets weren’t out yet, but it was warm, even for March. We were both sitting on the outside balcony staring up at the black, starry sky. As good friends we could be alone without the need for incessant speech, and the conversation took a comfortable lull. It was good, too, because it was a weeknight, Thursday, and Friday would kick off the weekend I would spend with Frank.


I turned to Frank and could see he was shaking and on the verge of tears, his eyebrows were pressed together hard.

“Frank, what’s the matter? You okay? Are you crying?”

His voice dropped to a whisper. “Don’t say a word about this…please, Jo. I have to say…I’ve never said this to anyone.”

Oh, something was definitely off. I’ve never seen Frank behave this way, never seen him so upset, never seen him cry.

“Okay. Frank…talk to me. What is it?” What I was about to hear blew the doors off everything I thought I knew about Frank. I didn’t see it coming. I had no clue, nothing. It was never spoken about it. In fact, I really didn’t know how to answer him.

Looking off to the right of the balcony he says, “I have thought about wearing makeup.”

At first, I didn’t hear him, because he didn’t answer toward me, but to the wind. But then I was like, ‘No, Jo….he did just say “makeup.”’

After this admission, he turned to me, waiting for my face to reflect surprise. Yes, hell, yes. I could never play poker for that reason. I tried not to be surprised, because I’d like to think I am a friend who supports their friends, but I was in shock. I held my tongue. He waited for my answer, but seeing I wasn’t giving him one, he said,

“I have to say…I have thought about it. I know it’s crazy…but I have thought about it. I know I have effeminate qualities. Thing is, I’m not gay.”

After a while…“Okay,” I tell him.

“I want to be a woman.”

“Okay, I need some more wine. Frank, you?” I close the balcony door and head first for the bathroom. It’s amazing how much thinking one can do just by taking a toilet break.

Fully prepared to address Frank with a fresh perspective, “Hmmn.” I started, “How long have you been thinking about this?” I’m not an expert on psychology, but what better way to get around this than to ask another question.

“Since I was 9 or 10.”

I pour Frank more wine and down the shot of rum I poured myself. I looked at the cheese and fruits and cold cuts and they were getting mushy from the warm weather. I popped an olive in my mouth.

“I remember a dream I had several years ago. In the dream I was dressed in blue shorts and a red shirt and it was a blue sky, it was so blue…I was on my bicycle…bicycling down a road with the wind blowing through my hair…and believe it or not, I was wearing blue eyeshadow.”

“It sounds like a happy dream.”

“It really was. I still remember it.”

Frank revealed that for years he thought he was actually a lesbian and just wanted to be with another woman.

“Sweetheart, there’s all kinds of people out there like you. You’re not alone.”

“But how would I do this? What would work say? What would I tell mom, and what about my age? It would take months, years, to go through this transformation.”

“But you’ll have lived your life for others if you didn’t. At least explore it.”

“I don’t think about it too much, obviously. Because I’ve never told you – and I can see the look on your face – you’re surprised. But, the fact of the matter is, I’m too old now and I probably won’t ever go through it. It’s just that every once in a while it rears its ugly head. These…thoughts.”

“Hey, come on. You’re okay. I’m glad you told me.” Holding him close he began to sigh into my shoulder.

“Ah, Jo…now you know my crazy thoughts. So when you ask me if I’m seeing anybody, now you know why I’m not.”

The next day we woke early, agreeable to a hearty breakfast of bacon, eggs and toast before setting out to Umstead Park. The ground was muddier than it was a little green and the sky held off a fickle rain against a pallet of white clouds overhead. We welcomed the cool as we rode our bicycles, taking turns who would be the leader and who would follow behind. By two o’clock, the temperature had scaled into the 70s and we sweated getting up to the steeper terrain.

“Hey, let’s park here and take a break, why don’t we?” he says.

Ditching our bikes, we rested on a fallen tree close to a downy bank near a stream flowing clear, gurgling over jagged rocks and sand. A tortoise cautiously making its way from the water to the muddy trail, can sense our being there and pulls his head safely into its shell.

As the sun hid behind a cloud, the wind picked up and the bushes began to ruffle and the tree branches knocked together. I got goosebumps on my sweaty skin.

“What would you do if you saw a bear right now?”

“Well, I wouldn’t sit here and feed it… It’s just the wind.”

“What about a wolf?” I pressed on.

“There are no bears, there are no wolves,” said, Frank. “Just relax.”

I hydrated myself with the last bit of water from my water bottle as Frank munched on fruits and granola that he’d plastic wrapped into his backpack. He handed me an apple. “Red delicious, it’s good stuff,” he says. “You can eat the whole thing just about. I do, anyway.”

We sat in silence watching the trees shift left and right in synchronicity; the tortoise rests on pine needles and remains there shy and resolute, warming its shell in the sun. I ate the apple nearly to its core.

Frank says, “Tortoises live a really long time, fifty years or more. Maybe that one will outlive me.”

Frank rode ahead of me at a quick pace, I was short of breath even though I was hitting the gym regularly, he was clearly the more avid biker. Riding behind him, watching his hair blowing in the wind, I wondered if he was thinking about a blue sky and the colors that brought him happiness, colors of a dream that he had once hidden but felt comfortable now in admitting only the night before. When we finally reached the park’s highest plateau, where we had parked the car, I finally regained my breath.


With the weekend over I said goodbye to Frank on Monday morning with explicit directions for his ride to Albany. The rain had come from nowhere and hit his route back the entire way. From Washington he called crying because he’d gotten lost and took a bypass route through Pennsylvania to the western approach of Albany via Interstate 88.

When he called from Washington, I said,

“It’s okay, honey, it’s okay. The traffic’s a bear through Washington. Just take the bypass. You’ll be all right. How’s your truck holding up, okay?”

He had left at 7 a.m. and didn’t arrive home until 10:30 that night. He’d lost five hours to traffic. I felt so bad. I felt that he deserved better. I wanted to be the one driving his truck guiding him home.

“Yeah, everything’s okay,” he said.

“Are you sure? Frank?”

“Yeah…I’m okay, young lady. It’s just this damn rain.”

When I arrived home from work that Monday night I looked at my kitchen drain and saw the two plates and two cups in the sink from the toast and coffee we shared before Frank and I started our day in different directions. I held my head in my hands and began to cry.


© Terry Rachel