The year 1967 was one of the best and one of the worst for me. I learned how things in my life could be good, that I could feel good about myself. Also, I learned what tragedy was and felt the impact of the death of a loved one. I had known for quite awhile that what I thought of myself on the inside didn’t match what I looked like on the outside. I went to bed every night praying, dreaming that I’d wake up as the girl I thought I was.
The 1966–1967 school year was one of my best, if not the best. The teacher we had, Mr. Lapointe, fit me perfectly. He cared about learning and how well his students did on tests (some of my strengths) and much less things like penmanship and homework (some of my struggles). We reviewed homework at the start of each class, I could answer the questions no matter whether I done the work at home or not. At the start of the year he established a rotation for students to take turns going to the cafeteria to pick up cartons of milk for students who’d bought them. Each week he’d write the name of the student to get the milk on the chalk board. When it was my turn, I did the chore for the week, when it was time for the next student to take over, there was no name on the board. I just kept doing this little 5 minute task, I enjoyed the bit of independence and responsibility. It was several weeks before anyone noticed, then the regular rotation started again. When he forgot to write the next students name on the board, the other kids reminded him that their turn as indentured servant was over. When he forgot on my weeks, I just kept going until he remembered again. That was the least stressful year I ever had in school, well until the spring…
In the spring, I think early April, on a Sunday afternoon my grandparents (on my mother’s side) took my little sister and me over to the next town to visit their son, our uncle and his family. Being in central Massachusetts, the weather in April is confused and changes rapidly. That afternoon the weather was cold and rainy with a possibility of snow. Mid-afternoon while at my uncle’s house the rain changed to snow, those big heavy slick snowflakes that accumulate fast. My grandfather noticed and decided we should head home before it got any worse. These were small rural towns, the one I grew up in, Princeton, had a population of about 1500 people. It was 10–12 miles from our house to my uncles, our grandparents lived two houses away from us. When we were within about two miles from home, going up a long fairly steep hill, my grandfather lost control of the car. It fishtailed and made a sharp left directly into a tree. Remember this was 1967, my grandfather driving, my grandmother in the front passenger seat, my little sister in the middle in front, with me in the backseat. Nobody wearing seatbelts. After the shock of the collision, my grandfather was conscious, but pinned by the steering wheel. My grandmother had hit the dashboard with her head and had a huge gash on her forehead, my little sister also hit the dash, but with her mouth, she had several teeth knocked out with one imbedded in her lower lip. My wrist hurt, but I was mobile and could get out of the car. I first checked on my grandmother and put one of those headbands you wear to cover your ears in the winter, on her to stop the blood running into her eyes. She was sort of conscious, but moaning. My grandfather was comforting my little sister, he then told me to run to the next house about a few hundred yards up the road to call for help. I did. It turns out, I had a broken left wrist, my sister who was 7 at the time lost permanent front teeth and has a scar on her lower lip. My grandfather had a nasty bruise on his chest from the steering wheel. Our grandmother was the most hurt, passed away within the month.
My grandmother’s passing was devastating on all of us. She was the source of strength and love for the whole family. I idolized her. My mother did too. Some time in the summer, my mother facing another school year with one kid in high school (my older sister), me in eighth grade and my little sister entering second grade decided she could not do that without her mother’s help. My grandmother would help with everything, she even ironed my underwear. My mother returned to college, she had started college in 1949 but was forced to drop out after a year, to get a job when her father had an extended illness. She then got married and started a family. So in the fall of 1967 she returned to college, determined to get her teaching certificate. Everyone applauded and encouraged her, but it was a huge change for my sisters and me. We went from her and our grandmother there to help us to our grandmother gone and our mother needing our help. Most of the burden fell on my older sister (she had to do her homework and help our mother with hers), but I had some stuff to do too. I was going to a new school that was an hour bus ride away. This meant catch the bus at 5 of 7:00 each morning. I was first up, started the coffee for my parents and made breakfast for myself and my father (a bowl of cereal and a glass of orange juice). I didn’t mind, it was like getting the milk for my classmates from the previous school year. Those six months from the accident to the return to school from summer vacation seemed like a lifetime.
Now my nighttime prayers and dreams were getting more and more vivid and realistic. I was barely sleeping and having recurring dreams of running away and becoming me, the girl I am. I went from the least stressful school year to the most stressful. I just didn’t fit into this big new school, I was lost and scared. So in late October or early November, I ran away to become a girl. I gathered makeup and nail polish from the bathroom, a shaver so I could shave my legs (not that there was much hair there) and every other little thing I could find that might be girly. Then I went to my grandfather’s house, took his .22 revolver from his bureau and hid in a locked away attic room. Put on the makeup and nail polish, shaved my legs and waited. My father and one of my uncles went through my grandfather’s house looking for me. When they got to this attic door, it was locked from the inside. What they didn’t know or didn’t remember was there is a trap door that opened into my grandfather’s workshop that I’d used to climb in to hide. They left to continue the search. As it was getting darker and darker I was getting more and afraid. Around 9:30 or 10:00 I concocted a story about falling in the woods and hitting my head and being knocked out. I even went to a spot in the woods behind my house and banged my head against a rock until I had a scrape and bruise on the back of my head. Then I went home. Naturally there were still traces of makeup and nail polish on me and they had definitely noticed the stuff I took was missing. When I got to the door, there was crying and hugs and a palpable sense of relief. I was whisked off to the local emergency room, where my parents spoke with the doctor privately after he checked my head. On the ride back home, I was informed that in a day or two I’d have to explain what the hell happened. I went to school the next two days and not a peep from my parents. On the third day I was called into the den where they setup a chair in the middle of the room and expected me to start talking. So I did, I told them I was a girl, what I had been dreaming, what I prayed would happen. My mother gasped and said essentially if I kept thinking like that I’d end up in a mental hospital. My father then hushed her, and told me that they’d spoken with the doctor at the emergency room and he’d told them that some boys feel this way during puberty, it would pass. It was just a phase. At that point I was very scared did not want to be in a mental hospital. They told me (not ask me) to promise to never do anything like that again. Being as scared as I was, I promised. This was never talked about again. But those feelings of who I was, who I am, never went away. I was able to repress them for over 50 years until my emotional stability was chipped away until the whole truth came busting out again. This time permanently.
The funny thing is while I’ve certainly had moments of happiness, when I got married, when my children were born. I was not happy, until I finally admitted who I am.