NDJ:5 Susan O’Dell


I know him as Arnie. He knows himself as Ashley. At 6’2″, he worries his two hundred and ninety five pounds will eventually kill him. He frets his size 12 feet will never squeeze into the sexy, strappy, 4 inch heels he longs to wear. In his considered opinion, he has “small” hands with shapely fingers and if he dared, he’d paint his nails “fire engine red” and not care what anyone thought. This fantasy helps Arnie to almost accept his rough and ruddy complexion, the result of spending 25 years out in all kinds of weather, as a “Streets and San guy” for the City of Chicago. With pride and a smattering of awe, he tells me about the old-fashioned corset he found last year at the Goodwill which faithfully helps him suck in his gut while the overflow fills a 44 D bra. And, even though Maureen, his wife of twenty-six years, has known from “day one” that Arnie “dresses,” there is a plastic bin in the very back of his garage where he hides his purple taffeta dress, his black lace bra, his pink silk nightie, his curly, shoulder length blond wig, and his baby blue eye shadow he was once brave enough to buy for himself at Wal-Mart.

It’s Thursday, and Arnie arrives a little early for his weekly 5 PM appointment. From my office, I hear him in the waiting area, tapping his foot while sighing and sniffling as he rustles through the Chicago Tribune. Once in my office, his words pour out:

“Maureen is having an affair with her old high school boyfriend. I know for sure because I put a tracker in her car and a recorder on the phone. Now, I know where she’s been all these nights. I don’t really blame her. Look at me. I’m 50. I’m fat. My fucking dick don’t work. It’s too small. I never gave her a kid. Except, that one time she got pregnant, she had that miscarriage. Too bad, maybe if we had that kid it all would have been different. I always wanted a girl. I wish I could have the girl I wish I was. I thought this would go away. It don’t. We should have split up a long time ago. She could have what she wanted and I could have gone my own way. What’s a fat, 50 year old guy who never wanted to be a guy going to do? Who will have me? I’m afraid that she’ll “out” me. I’m afraid she’ll get everything. I’m even afraid to dress at home. Maybe she’s got cameras around waiting to bust me.”

By now, Arnie’s ruddy face is flaming red. Tears shimmer in his stark blue eyes and overflow, quietly landing on his crumpled White Sox’s t-shirt.

“I guess I’ll have to figure out what to do. I don’t know what to do. Maybe get a lawyer or something later. It’s too bad this all turned out this way. I wish I would have just stayed by myself then I could have done the change and nobody would be bothered by it. I don’t blame her for finding someone else. I haven’t been good for her. But, I’ll miss her. It’ll be 27 years in December. Twenty seven years.  I never thought it would end this way.  I wish I could talk to her like I canhere, but she won’t. I asked her once if she would come here and figure this out with me, but she said no. It helps to talk here. I get stuff off my chest. I know that’s good. Maybe that’s what it is. Maybe that’s how I’ll get through all of this. I just wonder what God must be thinking. I wonder what He’ll say to me when I’m up there with Him. I guess I’ll just tell Him I didn’t mean no harm. I just never was a guy, you know, inside. I can look like a guy but I just always wanted to be a woman. A real woman. Not in the cards, I guess. It’s tough. It hurts, especially about Maureen. I always thought she’d be there. I guess I’ll see you next week, right?”