It’s more than a little weird being back up in North Thornton. This was where I spent so many years in hiding. Now, I find myself back in familiar, yet unfamiliar surroundings that remind me where I was and how far I’ve come.
The visual cues are everywhere. All I have to do is leave the house. The pizza place I worked at for a decade is right across the street. The other pizza place where I met my ex-girlfriend is just down the street. The rental house my parents used to own is about a mile from there. That was where I woke up to a phone call from my roommate’s stranded brother calling from Salt Lake City on September 11th, 2001. The townhouse where my then girlfriend and I lived when we broke up after being together for three years is just about a quarter mile from there. And next to there is the elementary school where her son went to school. The doctor’s office where I first asked for hormone therapy is next door to the dilapidated grocery store on the main corner.
If I had just commuted to work from here most of the time, that would be enough. But, for the majority of my time living here, I was a pizza delivery driver. That means, that not only are the Walgreens, the gas station on the corner and the Ace Hardware spookily familiar, each little turn of the road brings back eery memories. Oh yeah. That is where the hoarders lived. Just up the street where the even numbered street numbers are on the wrong side is where the people had a cut out of Superman in a phone booth next to the garage. That was where the car drove up on top of the other car behind Old Chicago.
But, it’s not like things haven’t changed though. And that I haven’t been back at least sporadically. I’ve noticed new construction here and there. There is a new digital display up the street at the King Soopers shopping center. And unfortunately the dairy sold their little shop to a boxing club. My parents live just on the other side of the highway in Westminster. So, even though I have been living in Denver and Wheat Ridge, I have occasionally gotten up this way. I just tended to stay on the other side of the freeway. And since I don’t own a car, riding my bike over here seldom happened. On very rare occasions, I’ve made trips over to the pizza shop to say hi to old friends. And my grandparents live over here. So, I’ve stopped by to see them (not as often as I hoped).
But, just visiting doesn’t have the impact on me like living here does. It’s almost like I’m visiting someone else’s world. But, no stranger. Someone I knew very well. I hold their memories. But yet, I’m not them. That person was hiding. They were scared. They didn’t know how to cope. That person felt pressure to ask a girl out for the first time in a decadel to be normal. That person lost their virginity 2 miles from here. That person tried to be the father her dad never was. That person was undiagnosed. They went through periods of never ending loneliness and hopelessness that manifested in the inability to speak with people or even the desire to be seen. She was lost.
But, if I dare to dig deeper, I see lessons learned and the unmistakable claw marks of someone not willing to give up on themselves. I’ve only been back to the townhouse once since moving back up here. Someone else is living there now. The front door is on one side. And the garage is on the other. When I rode around to the garage side, I started to smile as I remembered the little storage space in the garage where my desk sat. That was where, on my blue iMac, I found the first transgender blog I started reading. That was where I sat emailing the author of that blog and found out I wasn’t alone. And although I see a lost person when I think of when I lost my virginity at the age of 27 and trying to be a better father figure than the one I was presented with, I choose to see lessons learned. These weren’t complete failures like I used to think of them. Where would I be now if I hadn’t at least tried to toughen up and be a man? Would I still be lost? The memories I have with her and her son are both good and bad. I choose to hold onto the good and see the bad as lessons to avoid shall I choose to date again. And I have that relationship to be thankful for finding the counselor who ended up leading me on the path to healing. We started seeing a couples therapist toward the end of the relationship. After one session with me, she could see I needed help. So, instead of working as a couple, she worked with me alone. And when the gender stuff came out, she wisely pointed me toward a counselor more trained in what I needed. Would I have the courage to talk with someone about all that if I hadn’t tried to save our relationship? I don’t know. I never went down that road. But, it did lead me to the ultimate path of finding medication and PTSD counseling that undoubtedly saved my life.
Before I moved back up here, I wasn’t really sure what kind of feelings would emerge. There was a fair bit of trepidation. Would my surroundings inspire a reversion to my so called “old self”? No. That hasn’t happened. Thankfully, you can never go home again. Because home isn’t just a place. It’s also a state of mind. I have grown since leaving here. And I also grew while living here. I am forever no longer that person. I refuse to live like I used too live. I refuse to exist. And I can’t. It turns out I may have done more than exist when I was here before. And that revelation has made me feel better about being here. If I could give my past self a hug, I would do it. I would thank her for all she did for me. I would thank her for climbing out of that hole. She is me and I am her.