I don’t tell my brother about my date but leave the restaurant right on time to go home and get changed. On the way to the hotel where Eric is staying, something feels off. My brother’s words have more of an impact than I could have expected and begin to weigh down on me heavily. He had never completely cleared up what he was trying to get at, but I get the idea that his thoughts went deeper than his words. Now, this feeling in my gut can either be the clams I’d eaten or just intuition talking, with both telling me to turn around and go back home. What I really want is Bill, not this Eric character, but Bill and I were incomplete. There is a crack in our foundation that threatens to crumble what we have built if I push too hard and too fast. I need to solidify our base, and for that, I suppose people like Eric come in handy. I’ll do anything to make myself feel complete.
I arrive on time, nervous yet eager to get it over with. I wear the same outfit on all of my first dates — my tightest black skirt and maroon halter top, covered by my jean jacket. I grab my purse and make my way to room 113, which is where Eric had text and directed me to. By the time I reach the door the feeling in my stomach has made its way to my chest, grasping at my heart and squeezing it tight.
I knock on the door. I hear some moving inside and the peephole goes dark. There is an unlocking sound of what seems like two locks and the door swings wide open.
To my instant relief, Eric looks just like his photo — six-foot two, blonde-hair, blue-eyes, and even more fit than I’d previously noticed. He looks like a taller, blonder version of the young Tom Cruise in his white tee-shirt and slacks and muscles bulging in all the right places. He stands tall in the doorway and smiles, and his pearly whites complete the gorgeous package. “Wow,” he says. “You look amazing.”
I smile back in thanks intertwined with genuine gratitude, and then I remember that I have a part to play here in this room. “Thank you,” I say. “I hope I didn’t get too dressed up. I wanted to look pretty for you though.”
He continues to stand at the door for a second in silence and my eyes move left and right, still slightly cautious and suspicious. “Come in, come in,” he says finally, catching the clue. I make my way inside and look around for any foul play, a normal routine of mine on any of these occasions. Drugs, messiness, weapons, handcuffs, a surprise companion — all red flags in my book. Here, I see nothing out of the ordinary.
The room, being that we are in the heart of downtown Seattle, is nicer than most. There is a mini fridge under a full size computer desk in the corner, two couches, and a huge flat screen TV on the wall. To my left is a small hallway that leads to the bathroom, and the bed is on the adjacent wall. The floor is carpeted and has windows that give off a view of the west towards Pike Place Market, but the hilly avenues of Seattle nearly block the water. “Make yourself at home,” I hear Eric say behind me.
I set my purse down on one of the couches and face him, He looks as if he is trying to keep himself from shaking, and it causes me some discomfort. “Nice place you got here,” I say, sparking the chit-chat.
He nervously rubs is arm with his opposite hand and steps towards the fridge. “Would you like a drink?” he asks.
“Absolutely,” I say after realizing that the needed effects of the ones from the restaurant are wearing thin. “What’re we having?”
“I got some vodka,” he says as he pulls a bottle of Grey Goose from the bottom shelf. He begins to pour a glass then stops and looks to me and asks, “If that’s okay with you, of course.”
I laugh and sit down, “Of course it is.” He smiles and continues to pour.
“Sorry, I’m a little nervous,” he says.
“It’s okay, I don’t bite, really. Are you new to town, visiting, or do you live here?”
“Oh, no, I’ve been here my whole life. I decided to get back into school and enroll at Central College. I had a little left over from my loan so I decided to–”
“To spend it on me?” I finish for him as I bat my eyelashes and smile. He walks over and sits next to me and hands me a glass, and then clicks his against mine.
“Absolutely,” he says. “After seeing your picture I couldn’t resist. How was your day today? Was it. . .oh God, is that okay to ask?”
I laugh. Some men act like this and I can tell they are as nervous as I am. Opening up with conversation makes them feel more at ease. “Yes, silly. My day was okay. Nothing too major. Getting better by the minute.” I place my hand on his thigh and feel him shiver beneath the touch. “There must be plenty of girls at your school to choose from. Were you just online and feeling experimental?”
“Something like that,” he says. “I’m tired of the whole dating scene,” he went on as he waves his hand in the air as if dating were the worst thing ever. “I think I just need something spontaneous and new.”
“So you’ve never been with a girl like me then I presume.”
At that, he chuckles and says, “Oh no. This is a first.”
I begin to move my hand up his leg slowly, stopping just short of the V of his crotch. “If all goes well,” I say almost in a whisper, “hopefully it’s not your last either.” He feels warms, and when he looks at me I can see the anticipation in his eyes. He sets his glass down then looks to me again, eyeing my lips like he were reading them from a book. I move close enough to feel his breathe against my nose, which is odorless and heavy with desire. I think of Bill and his stale gum. I think of Bill and how natural it feels to be together. I think of Bill and what I need to do right now in order to completely be his.
“You are so beautiful,” Eric says, then closes the short gap to an embrace. His hands ravage at my body like a child’s upon a new toy, tearing at my clothes like it were the unnecessary packaging. I follow his lead and give myself to his will by lying back on the couch as he thrusts himself upon me. Our lips begin to dance with each other as he grabs my bare leg with his fingers. His hand moves closer and closer to what is now his. It reaches its destination and he freezes instantly, then jerks back and stares at me in disbelief.
He searches my gaze, confused and uncertain, then haunches back on his knees and looks at his hands as if they don’t belong to him. I realize how ill he looks, and he finally yells “What the fuck” so loud that I jump back. “What the fuck is this?” he says again. The tone of his voice scares me, and I prop up onto my elbows not really knowing how to respond or what I should do. “What the fuck is going on? Is this some kind of joke?” He stands and continues to back away. I curl up into the couch, wondering if I could just run and get to the door fast enough.
Instead, I swing my legs down and reach for his hand. “What do you mean?” I ask, but he flinches back and swats my hand away.
“Don’t you fucking touch me,” he says, his voice quavering. “I don’t know who put you up to this, man, but you need to get the hell out of here.”
“No one put me up to this.” I stand but am afraid to move any closer. “I thought you understood exactly what this was?” The feeling I had from the beginning of this venture returns to my chest, but the intuition telling me to go home didn’t just have a hold on my heart any more — it twisted at it with ferocity.
Eric stood against the wall now, pressing to it hard as if he were trying to merge to it. “Obviously, I didn’t understand,” he said slowly. “You think I would pay for some crossdresser to come here and sleep with me? Some weirdo like you?”
His words sting, but I can’t let him see that they faze me. “It’s not like I advertised anything other than what was fact,” I say. “I didn’t try to fool anyone. I post in the “trans” section, for Christ’s sake! And what else would you think when I said ‘a girl like me’?”
“I don’t know,” he said in a high-pitched tone. “Maybe a freaking prostitute? A normal one? What I was paying for? Not some. . .some dude!” As he says it he takes a step toward me and points a finger at me in anger. “You better watch yourself. I was not in no tranny section. Straight. I’m straight. The site said straight.”
I look to the ground, thinking about what he was saying. Could I have made such a major mistake? Where could my mind have been? On Bill, that’s where. It had been happening more and more. Just last week I had almost walked straight into the women’s bathroom at work without noticing. “Listen, man,” I say as I reach slowly for my purse — it’s where I keep my pepper spray — “There’s been some mistake.”
“Obviously,” he says, and I watch cautiously as he takes another step forward. I grab the purse and raise it to my chest. “What you got in there, a gun?” he asks.
“I’m a transsexual,” I continued without giving him a response. I begin to inch my way toward the door. “I’m in the process of transitioning, you know? Like, to a woman. I thought it was clear and I’m sorry that you got confused.”
He took one more step and my hand reached into my bag. “Trans, trans, trans,” he mocked. “You’re the one that’s confused, not me. Now just go before you regret it.”
I want to spray him, I thought. I want to spray him and steal his money he owes for wasting my time and then get out of here. But he has my number. Most dates think Robin Red is just the name I use, but the police would figure it out and track me quickly. I want to hurt him. I want to hurt the hate right out of him.
I reach for the door handle. It’s locked. I risk turning my back to Eric to work the locks but my fingers fumble around like I’m feeling my way around the dark. Behind me, his voice grows louder as he continues to spew his hatred. “I still can’t believe people like you exist in this world,” he says. “But this is Seattle, so I guess I should be used to it by now. Do people really pay for this shit? Your momma must have raised you pretty messed up.”
I finally get the locks loose and open the door. I turn one last time to face the man who grew uglier by the second, just like my mother had warned. “My mother told me I was beautiful,” I say, “just like you did before you jammed your tongue down my throat and mounted me like I were your long-lost lover. Don’t think for a second that I couldn’t feel your hard little pecker pressing into me.” He begins to move towards me, gritting his teeth in anger, but I slam the door right in his face. “Make sure and tell your friends how this ‘freak’ tranny got you so hot and bothered that you were ready to go all the way!” I yell through the door. My words echo proudly down the hallway, and I don’t care. I said my piece and it is time to go home.
The tears begin to flow as soon as I sit down in the driver’s seat of my car. All the hateful banter from all the years growing up hit me like a sudden freak wave from the ocean. Prissy, fag, fruitcake, powderpuff, girlie, fairy, homo; they all sting the same nerve. I had been called it all, and now the words wash over me and drown me beneath their salty weight and consistent backsplash. They had rolled off my shoulder so easily at the time, dripping off me like a drop of rain down a wetsuit. Now, I feel naked; naked in an abyss full of sharks. Even my own brother sees it, the change that I am not yet ready to reveal. Whatever new nerve Eric had struck had done its damage, and I sink quickly to the hidden deep waters below, surrounded by the darkness of my concealed emotions.
The tears don’t stop until I reach my apartment, but even then, they still threaten to rise again from the bottom of my throat. Every part of me wants to scream out and tell the world to just accept me for what I am, for what is beyond my control. I want to curse God for bringing me into this world inside the wrong body. I want to just die and be reborn again, hoping to be resurrected as something new — something right. But I am a coward, so I can just do the next best thing.
I pick up the phone and dial my brother’s number. I look to the phone for a second, then erase the number. I am going to need more courage for that call. I dial Bill who answers right away. “Robin?”
“Bill, I’m sorry. Are you busy?”
“Sort of,” he says, “but I can take a minute. You sound. . .are you crying? Robin, what is it?”
“It, I don’t know,” I stutter out. “Someone hurt me tonight Bill. Someone hurt me bad.”
“What? What do you mean? Are you okay?” His voice cracked with shock. “Are you in the hospital? If not then come here and let me check you out.”
I take a few deep breaths and realize my mistake. “No, not hurt like that Bill. I. . .I made a mistake. I think, I mean, there was a mix up. Probably all my fault. The guy he, he didn’t understand what I was, during the date. That I was still a man. I’m sorry, this is unprofessional and my thoughts are all jumbled. I shouldn’t even be speaking to you like this.”
“I see,” he says simply. He pauses as someone speaks to him in the background, then says, “Look, Robin, maybe we can schedule something tomorrow. Something formal, you know, like, off the books.”
“Bill, the money I’ve been saving, it’s for the surgery.” I blurt it out and by the time I realize that I am, it can’t be stopped. The words begin to flow out of me in a flurry: “I want to transition fully. I want to stop doing the online dating thing. I thought maybe if I got it done then–”
“Robin, wait.” I hear him moving through the hallway of the hospital and then a door opens and closes, bringing silence. “Baby,” he starts, and my heart nearly leaps out of my throat, “if you think for one second that the reason I come to see you is because of what you have to offer me down there, then, well, you got me all wrong.” I blush and have to physically cover my mouth with my hand to keep any noises from escaping. “Our last few times together have been something special. Every time is something special. I’ve been secretly hoping that you felt it too.”
“Then you better be getting the surgery for you,” he goes on, “not for us. I couldn’t live with myself knowing that you felt that you had to do that just for me. I like you for you, not what you have to give in terms of sex. Although the complete package is a great deal.” He laughs and it makes me feel at ease.
I had always known it in my heart, but hearing his words means the world to me. “It is for me, Bill. I want it for myself. It’s what I’ve always wanted. It’s what I need.”
“Good,” he says. “I have to go baby. Will you call me in the morning?”
“Of course,” I say, and hang up after saying goodbye. The tears that streak my cheeks are no longer painful, and I lie back in my bed and cry myself to sleep.
The next morning I awake to find my pillow smeared with makeup, so I take a shower, do my hair, and apply on more. I had planned to do some shopping this morning, but instead I will take a trip to see the surgeon. The revealing phone call to my brother can wait, and Bill surely isn’t going anywhere. I slip on some tight jeans, pad up my favorite bra, and then slip on a T-shirt.
I step out of my apartment no longer feeling the need to play the part I’ve played for so long. It is time to live without fear and go with what I know is right.
I stand there for a moment, caught in my thoughts, and then jump when I hear a door slam. I look to my left and see my neighbor Mike, whom I had avoided being caught looking like this just days ago, and I turn away instantly. Shit, I thought he was on vacation, I think at first.
“Hey Robin,” he says, and I squeeze my eyes shut, cursing myself silently for thinking that I was so ready to be exposed like this. I can’t ignore him this time. “I thought I saw you a few days ago. Was that you in the garage?”
I turn to face him and he jerks back slightly in reaction to my done-up face. His eyes travel up and down in similar shock. “Sorry, yeah,” I say. “I must have been in a hurry. I didn’t hear you.”
“O-oh,” he says with a stutter. “It’s okay.” His eyes still study me thoroughly and he bends over to pick up his newspaper. “I was cramming my car for my work trip that I leave for today and it nearly defeated me.” He laughs aloud nervously, then continues, “Well, I’ll let you go Robin. We’ll catch up later.”
“Sure Mike,” I say and then turn and begin to walk quickly to the garage.
“Hey Robin,” I hear him yell behind me, so I stop and turn again, reluctantly, ready for the attack. Mike scratches behind his neck and looks around nervously on the ground, squeezing his paper in his hands, and then returns his gaze to me. “You look beautiful,” he says, then turns to head inside.
I stand there and smile, unable to move.
All things become ugly over time. But not me — I, Robin Red, have and always will be beautiful. I believe it now.