Friday, August 27, 2010

The Never Ending Journey

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I might be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that this was the longest non-stop trip I’ve ever been on for my company. By the time I finally got around to starting to write my blog, I had to go back and look at the photos I’d taken just to remind myself where my trip had started off at and where I’d been! I have had some good times on this trip, but quite frankly I’m ready to go home.

As y’all know, because I keep telling ya over and over again, I’ve suddenly taken a liking to dresses. The good news is that they appear to flatter me for the first time in my life.
The bad news is, I’ve gone overboard and have been buying them everywhere I can find a good deal on them. I’ve found at least three of them in the last two weeks with price tags well over $100, but on sale for only $20 and $25. Each one, when taken on it’s own merits was a hell of a deal and you would no doubt be inclined to pat me on the back and say “What an awesome shopper you are!”, but when you add them all up, I’ve gone overboard and spent a lot more money recently than I should have.

As I was packing my suitcase, my six year old daughter shoves the bedroom door wide open and waltzes in like she owns the joint, and of course catching me just as I’m packing away a pink nightgown.
“Young’un, aren’t you supposed to knock if the door is closed?!” I asked her, trying to remind her that it was inappropriate to barge through a closed door, but also trying not to freak on her just because she has caught me doing something I’d rather she hadn’t.
“Oh, sorry daddy, I forgot.” She said, trying to look apologetic but failing miserably.
“Sorry my butt! Git on back out the door and knock this time!” I scolded her, while pointing back out to the hallway. With an almost teenager style huff, she spun around and closed the door behind her. In a second I hear the soft sound of little knuckles knocking on the door. By now I have closed the suitcase lid so she wont see any of the other interesting things that I have packed.
“Come in!” I called out to her.
With no hesitation at all, she walks in and immediately she verbally pins me to the wall.
“So why are you taking momma’s pretty night gown with you?” she asks me very calmly, much as she might speak if she were asking me what time it was. This is at least the fourth time my daughter has point blank asked me things like this, and I’m pretty sure that I’m gonna have to have a talk with her soon, but I aint ready just yet.
“Maybe I just want to have something of Momma’s with me when I’m all alone critter!” I told her.
“Oh! Hold on, I’ll be right back!” and off she sprints out the door, returning less than a minute later with one of her favorite stuffed animals.
“Here daddy, now you can have something of mine to cuddle with.” She tells me while holding it out to me. I picked her up and hugged her, and told her she was the sweetest person I know, and that I loved the idea, but that her stuffed animal was way too big for me to take with me. Not to be deterred, she went to her room again and brought back a little critter with pink and white stripes. THIS one would fit in my bag just fine . . .

At least according to the pics on my flickr site, my trip started off with my going to the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland to do preventative maintenance on three instruments there. For this flight, I chose one of my newest finds – a very 1970’s sort of hippie dress. I knew the moment that I saw this dress in Goodwill for about $10 that it just had to go home with me. I was sure it would look great on me and I was not disappointed! It occurred to me later though that I should have worn my piece sign ear rings – that would have just really topped off the whole 70’s concept! Oh well, maybe next time!
For shoes, I was wearing some serious platform sandals that I had just purchased a couple of days ago. I had actually been shopping with my wife, daughter, and future daughter-in-law when I found them. The cute thing is, my daughter in law found some that were very similar in appearance, and with a stiletto just as high as mine, so we spent the next couple of days threatening to steal each others shoes. When I was planning my outfits for this trip, she more or less dared me to wear them on the flight, and since I was leaning that way anyway . . .

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On the first leg of my flight, I sat in coach. Coach or not, as a frequent flier I get to be one of the first people to board the aircraft, and so I was sitting there reading my book when a woman and her two daughters, toddler and infant, took the seats in front of me. The poor woman was really struggling trying to herd her toddler, carry the infant and their things, and get them all sorted and stored with out dropping anything critical, like, oh, say the baby for instance. I’ve long since become jaded enough that I no longer offer to help women that carry huge carry on bags on the aircraft, but this sort of thing is completely different. This is a woman struggling to do what has to be done to get her and her children from one point to another and not just a woman too silly to pack reasonably and in too big a hurry to check her bags. Anyway, I stood and helped her get her carry on stored away and soon she was seated.
“Thank you SO much!” she almost gasped, trying to turn around and look at me through the gap in the seats.
“Your very welcome! You know, you’re a very brave woman. I’ve traveled with one of my young children before – I just can’t imagine trying it with two of them!” I told her with a grin. She laughed and we spoke a couple of minutes, but of course her attention was soon entirely taken by trying to keep her children seated. About mid way through the boarding process, two older women stopped at the seats the mother and children were sitting in. They kept looking at their tickets, the seat marker, the mother and children, their tickets, over and over. I’d seen this dance enough to know what was coming next.
“Excuse me, but I think your in our seats.” One of the older women tells the mother. Of course this launches a flurry of ticket examinations and comparisons, and in a moment they agree that the mother and her children are in the wrong seats, and were supposed to be on the other side of the isle. Rather than simply agree to sit in each others assigned seats, the mother collects all of her things from under the seats, grabs the baby, herds the toddler, and after five minutes of effort she and her children are now seated in the same row, but on the other side of the isle. She caught me looking at her and shaking my head, and gave me the “what could I do?” shrug. Thing really got comical about 10 minutes later though, when the flight attendant comes up to the mother.
“Ma’am, I’m so sorry, but there aren’t enough oxygen masks on that side of the aircraft for all three of you.” She tells her. Then she looks across the isle at the two older women that had forced the poor woman to move.
“Ladies, I’m sorry but I’m going to have to ask you to please exchange seats with this lady and her children.” Having said this, the flight attendant then started helping them all to shuffle their things. It was all I could do to keep from laughing at the sheer silliness of it all. Just as they closed the door to the aircraft, I reached up and tapped the mother on the shoulder to get her attention.
“They were just kidding – you need to move back to the other side of the isle now!” I told her with a smile. To my surprise, three or four people seated around us busted up laughing – I thought I had spoken only loud enough for her to hear.

On the next leg of my trip, I had received an upgrade to first class, and I was pleased to find myself sitting next to an attractive and friendly woman about my own age. We chatted about everything and about nothing while people boarded the airplane.
“I’m just waiting for my boss to walk by, because boy is he gonna be pissed!” she said with delighted look.
“Oh, let me guess! You got an upgrade and he didn’t?” I asked her.
“Yup!” she said with a laugh.
I had fully intended to pay attention to see the fun as her boss had to walk past her to coach seats, but I got caught up in the movie on my IPOD and forgot all about it. I remembered it though, when the doors were closed and they tell you to turn off your electronics.
“So, did your boss see you?” I asked her with a grin.
“He sure did. I made sure he saw me!”
“And was he pissed?”
“He was, especially when he saw that I was sitting next to a hottie like you!”
I had taken a drink of my coffee as she was speaking, and I literally choked on it when she said this.
“Your sweet . .”  .. ..   “. . but I haven’t been even close to ‘hot’ in a long time.” I sputtered out between coughs and chokes from the coffee that had just filled my nose. Of course, that compliment made her my new best friend and we chatted about places where we had been for most of the flight.

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The following day was a long work day, and so all I did after work was to take my customer to dinner. It seems his wife was off visiting her sick mother and so he was also doing the bachelor thing.

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The next day I was done fairly early and so I got cleaned up and went out to see “The Expendables”. Oh my God . . .  
Talk about graphic and unapologetic violence! They pulled no punches and shied away from showing nothing. Gotta tell the truth though, it was a bit of fun. My only major disappointment was that Arnold played only a cameo roll – he was only on screen for about two minutes. 

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Shortly after I got out of the movies I received a call from my manager telling me that one of our major customers in Manassas VA has a problem with a system I installed only a few weeks ago. It has a touch screen on it, and it appears that our system allows the user to calibrate the touch screen so badly that it can’t be used anymore. Brilliant! When you screw it up that bad, you can no longer enter the password that lets you calibrate it again. Oops. Anyway, the factory was sending the parts to the customer and he was gonna install them, but my boss wanted me to change my flights and stay reasonably local just in case I had to head that way and help them out. Well, when I started pricing things out, it turned out that I could save my company almost a thousand dollars by just staying the entire weekend in Philadelphia. You see I had a repair to do there the following week anyway, so I could save them the cost of an entire round trip flight bringing me back to the same area next week. I stayed in Maryland for the next day, just to be a couple of hours closer to Manassas in case I had to head that way. I was immensely relieved when I received notice that the customer had installed the new components and the system was up running. That meant that I got to head North to Philadelphia Friday!

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Just my luck, Friday morning I awoke to discover that I was sick with a cold. It wasn’t a complete shock as my customer had stated that he had just gotten over one, and his wife was still sick. Still, it just didn’t seem fair! I had plans to meet with my friends Sophie and Jennyand was sort of looking forward to an entire weekend to have fun in Philly as Kim, and now I was gonna spend it sick! I went ahead and made the drive “pretty” though, thinking that if I got any sicker as the days went on, this might be my last chance.

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When I got to my hotel in King Of Prussia PA, it was still quite early and so I unpacked and headed across the street to the King of Prussia mall. For those of you that haven’t been there, it is a very nice and very large mall. I had only packed for a three day trip and now it was turning into a week and a half or more, so I looked for a couple of outfits and for some more sensible shoes. I did indeed find a couple of awesome deals on dresses – one at Macy’s and one at JC Penny. Both dresses had tags on them showing that had originally sold for over $100 and I got one for $20 and one for $27 – SCORE!  Next I started looking for some more reasonable shoes. Let’s face it, the 5 inch stilettos I had worn on a lark and a dare were not exactly what I had expected to be stuck wearing for a week and a half. I had brought a couple of other pairs, but they were almost as bad, one with 3.5 inch heels and the other with 4 inch stilettos. I often check the sales racks in Macy’s, but surprisingly, not only did I not find anything I could afford, but I didn’t even see anything I particularly liked, so I made my way through the rest of the mall. At the end of my shopping I entered the 9 West shoe store where I found two drop dead gorgeous young women working in an otherwise empty store. I looked around for a moment and didn’t see anything that I couldn’t live without, so I turned to leave.
“Thank you!” I tossed over my shoulder.
“Hey?!” one of them calls out to me, so I turned to look at her.
“We like your shoes!” she says with a huge grin.
“Thanks! So do I, but they aren’t exactly practical for mall walking huh?” I told them with a laugh.
“Maybe not, but they sure are cute!”
“And looking cute is what it’s all about, isn’t it?” I replied as I continued back out in to the mall with a wave.
I don’t know if it was just me, the fact that I was sick, or maybe the silly shoes I was wearing, but I just didn’t feel confident and felt like everyone was staring at me. Pretty quick, and long before I had explored the entire mall, I decided to call it a day and returned to my room and went back to being a caterpillar. I was just gonna lay around the room but I got a call from Sophie offering to meet for a coffee or a beer, and since there was a Hooters bar more or less in my hotels parking lot, the choice was a no brainer.

You know, most guys really like Hooters, but I’m not a huge fan. Pretty women, and let’s face it, Hooters doesn’t hire unattractive women, have always made me uncomfortable. I blush, I stutter, and I feel embarrassed. When I am in male mode, I have no idea how to relate to them or chat with them comfortably. When I’m presenting as female, I feel fat and ugly when next to pretty women. Oh well . . .
So Sophie and I sat there drinking a beer and chatting when two of the waitresses started hugging each other. Soon I see them both trying to convince the guy next to me to take their picture using their cell phone camera, but apparently it was beyond his skill set and he flubbed it up several times. It drove me nuts hearing them try and explain to this idiot over and over “Point it and push the button” and so I held my hand out for it. In a moment we had a couple of nice pics taken and the camera phone back in her possession.
“They look great! Thank you so much!” she told me with a great smile.
“Your welcome,” I said . . . blushing . . .
I can’t recall if it was Sophie or I, but one of us made a comment that I ought to take fairly good pictures given all of the practice that I get at it!

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Saturday turned out to be a pretty big day for me! There was going to be a local TG get together called “Angela’s Laptop Lounge” AND it turns out that Sophie and Jenny had bought me a makeover with Amanda Richards! As if that wasn’t enough on my plate, I also got the call from my manager that our customer in Manassas was in trouble again already. The new parts we had sent had fixed their problem, but only for one day! Now I was going to have to complete my repair in Philadelphia Monday and then drive all of the way to Manassas and spend the rest of the week there. My trip had started off to be a three day journey and was now up to two weeks. It sure is a good thing that I always seriously over pack! On the way to the make over at Amanda Richards “True Colors” salon, Sophie was kind enough to give me a guided tour through Valley Forge.

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Having been born and raised in Southern California, most US history has seemed kind of like myths to me – things that happened far away and long ago. To actually be standing in the middle of such a historical place as Valley Forge was nothing less than awe inspiring, and had it not been for Sophie, I would have spent days only five minutes away from it and never known.

When we arrived at “True Colors” we were met by Amanda. It feels a little odd to use that name as he was in boy mode, but I have no idea what “his” name is. Sophie got her makeover first, which gave me the chance to walk around exploring things and looking at the wigs Amanda had on display. The first thing that caught my interest was an awesome full length green gown with lots of different layers in the skirts. I was sure that it would look killer on me and kept trying to convince Amanda that it would be ever so much happier in my closet, but she wasn’t having any of it. While we were each getting makeovers, we were all three chatting, laughing, and teasing, and just having a great time. I’d have to say that cutting up and having fun with the two of them was the most fun I had that night.
When it came time for my makeover, I told Amanda to make me look like someone else and she rose to the challenge. I did have a bad moment though when she put a wig cap on me and then started applying tape across the back of my neck. Then she put some above each eye and started tugging on it – hard! More or less, she had given me a face lift using tape! I laughed and asked her if she had any tape tricks for getting rid of the bags under my eyes, and she told me not to tempt or dare her! Having the tape pulling on my face was one of the oddest feelings, at first very uncomfortable, and then fading to a mere irritation. After a lot of work on Amanda’s part, I was all glamorous and it was time to play with wigs! 

The first one I tried was sort of a page boy, with the sides longer in the front than in the back. Noting how adorable the models looked wearing it, I’d been wanting to see what that style would look like on me for years and now I knew – HORRIBLE!

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Next we tried a very long wig that I was actually thinking about buying since she was selling it so cheaply. It had curls upon curls and this of course appeals to me, but in the end I decided that it really wasn’t going to be appropriate on me. Twenty years ago, maybe, but not at 44 years old.

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The next one I tried on, I actually thought looked fantastic, but only with this elaborate and glamorous makeup that Amanda had provided. I would have taken it for the night if that had been an option, but I knew darn well it wouldn’t look as good on me with my every day face, so I had to pass on it . . .

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The last one that we played with was Amanda’s own wig, because it appeared to be exactly what I was looking for. Just to be sure that it was the right color and cut, Amanda styled it on me for a quick look. Convinced that this was in fact the exact wig I have been searching for, Amanda now knew exactly the make, model, and color and ordered it for me. Not only that, but while it retails for something like $500, she sold it to me for just a touch over $200! With so many places out there ready to take advantage of TG’s, it was kind of heartening to see someone give an honestly awesome deal and bargain.

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Done playing with new wigs, Amanda put my own wig in order. Despite my telling her of all the things that I had done wrong with my wig, she took a look at it and told me that it was actually in very good shape, especially given that it was three years old and gets worn so much. It didn’t take her long to make my wig look presentable and there I stood looking in the mirror at her handy work and feeling astounded that the person looking back from the mirror was me!

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I made one more failed attempt to get Amanda to sell the green gown to me, which Amanda deftly avoided, making some comment about people that get obsessed over odd things like, oh, say, long green gowns. Knowing that her humor would be a welcome and fun addition to Sophie and my sarcasm, we invited Amanda to join us for the evening, but she declined. Something about her having had a very long day working with a wedding party and then doing our makeovers.

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Back in King of Prussia, we made our way to Angela’s Laptop Lounge where we met and socialized with about 20 other TG’s and their guests from all over the area. Angela’s Laptop Lounge is in a pub attached to the mall, and it was kind of weird to see the mall empty of everyone except us and the security guard that kept encouraging us to stay in the area of the pub. I think we drove that poor guy nuts! I met and chatted with far too many people that night to keep all of their names straight so I’m not even gonna try. Suffice it to say that I met a lot of interesting people to talk to and really enjoyed the evening.

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Sunday rolled around and found me laying in bed until around 11AM. I wasn’t sleeping, but what with the pace I’d been keeping, the cold my first customer on this trip had given me, and the late night, I just didn’t feel like getting up. I was watching something of no consequence on TV when Sophie called me and invited me to breakfast/lunch with her. She was in boy mode, and so was I, and off we went looking for someplace that served brunch. Our search ultimately took us to a pub not far from her home, and as we entered, Sophie just about tripped over one of her life long friends and invited him to join us. We had an awkward couple of moments trying to skip over the issue of how Sophie and I had met each other, but in very little time everyone was chatting freely. After those two launched into several conversations regarding history and politics, I quickly came to realize that I was way out of my league with these two. It was nothing you could really put your finger on, nothing you could point to and say “That’s why”, but I just had the impression that I was sitting with two damned smart people. I began to think that I knew what the village idiot must feel like now, and I later commented to Sophie that I must be her token dumb friend.

When Sophie got me back to my hotel room, it was time to start getting ready for dinner with Captain Jenny! I had met Jenny before, in an airport when we were both in guy mode, but it’s just not the same. Jenny has an easy and infectious smile and constantly gives the impression that she is up to something or in on a joke that you don’t know about yet.

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For diner, we went to the “Tavern on Camak” – a piano bar and restaurant that Sophie and I had visited before. We sort of circled the area first, making sure we knew how to find the place, and then we found a parking lot nearby. After a short walk down the alley to where the entrance was located, we made our way inside, where we found some people singing at the piano. The piano player played well, but frankly his singing left something to be desired, and so it was fortunate that several of the patrons were helping him out in that department. We looked around and found no indication at all that there might be a restaurant in the building and so I had to ask the bartender. He pointed out a staircase going down stairs that we had totally missed. I’d seen a blocked stair going up, but hadn’t noticed the open stairs going down. When we got to the bottom of the stairs, we found a couple of people gathered around a wine bar, and a cozy but empty dining area where the waiter seated us. I had my fears, assuming that an empty restaurant may imply a restaurant that people have decided isn’t worth eating at, but I’d have to say that the service was terrific and the food was good as well. Periodically as we ate and chatted, I couldn’t help wincing as I heard the piano player upstairs singing flat note after flat note, but what can you do? I had expected that hanging out with Jenny would be a fun time, and I wasn’t disappointed. As seems to be the agenda every time I meet with another TG, we talked for hours about everything we could think of. Way too soon, dinner was over and we made our way upstairs where we were discussing whether we should stay and listen to the piano player for a while or not. When I saw the tiny woman that had played the piano the last time I was here enter the building and begin getting ready to take her place at the piano, we decided that we would indeed stick around for a while. We stuck around and listened for a couple of hours until we both agreed that our work schedules the following morning really did dictate that the night must end.

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On the drive back to King of Prussia, Jenny asked me a question that has kind of stuck with me, almost haunting me.
“How long will you do this? When will you stop cross dressing?”
What an interesting question. . .
“When I look in the mirror and see someone ugly looking back at me. When it no longer seems worth the effort I suppose . . . ” I hesitantly replied after thinking about it for a moment. The thing is, I am telling myself more and more often these days that it’s not worth the effort. I’ve had entire days on the road where I could have and didn’t. I’m making more and more flights in boy mode again because I just don’t feel like the work, effort, and angst of flying cross dressed.
“When will you stop cross dressing?”  I keep hearing that question in my head over and over this last week. Thanks for giving me something to obsess over Jenny!

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The next day, I completed my service call in the Philly area and then made the drive to Manassas VA, and the traffic going through the Washington DC area was every bit as bad as I had been warned it might be. I didn’t get in until after 7PM, so all I did was go grocery shopping and call it a night.

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Tuesday was of course dedicated to getting my customers system back up and running. That really didn’t take too terribly long, but given that it had failed twice in three weeks, I wasn’t inclined to go sprinting out the door as soon as it was working. Instead, I spent the day running the customer through how to operate it again, just to reinforce the training I had provided when we installed it a few weeks ago. I then told him that I was going to be staying in the area for a few days just to be sure everything continued to work! We had arrived quickly to resolve his issues, the system was now working well, and I was staying local just in case – the customer was thrilled!

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Wednesday, I checked in with my customer and found everything still working well and him still happy, so I returned to my hotel, got ‘dressed’, and headed for Washington DC to see what I could see! Sophie had warned me to wear “comfortable” shoes if I was going to check out the monuments in the National mall and I had just laughed. First of all, I don’t own a single pair of female flats, and second of all, life is way to short for wearing ugly shoes, so off I went in my cute skirt and high heels.

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I knew everyone said not to drive in, but the very thought of trying to navigate my way through a huge city’s train and bus systems just scares the snot out of a small town desert rat like myself. To all of you that grew up in cities, this may be second nature, but to someone that has never used public transportation, it’s terrifying. Mind you, I am not concerned with my safety – that’s not what stops me. What stops me is having absolutely no clue how to navigate the system to the destination, and then even more important, to find my way back to what ever station I left the car at. I have this vision of being lost somewhere and with no idea how to get back to my car! Anyway, I made my way in to the city and circled the national mall looking at monuments and searching for a parking lot or garage. The Washington monument is of course visible from just about everywhere, and I also slowly drove by the World War II monument and could see Lincolns Monument way off in the distance. Several times I was forced almost entirely out of the city by traffic, one way streets, and streets that switch directions based on the time of the day. Still, I was stubborn and kept returning to the area looking for a parking area. Using my GPS, I did find several parking areas but that did me no good, because they were all full! When I found all of the parking areas more than two miles away from the monuments to be full and closed, I decided that it was time to throw in the towel and admit that driving in had been a bad idea.

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Thursday I was going to risk getting lost in public transit and return to DC in boy mode, but I just couldn’t find any enthusiasm for it. Just thinking about it I felt overwhelmed and exhausted and so I decided to just go see a movie in drab. I found that “The Other Guys” was playing and so I bought a ticket for it. If your thinking about seeing this movie – don’t. I would put it in the top three worst movies I’ve ever seen. It was boring, pointless, and had nothing I found even marginally redeeming.

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Friday it was at long last time to make the trip home. While I was gone, my one year old son had taken his first steps not holding on to something or someone, my (almost) seven year old daughter had started first grade, and my twenty one year old had at last called home from navy basic training. I know that most fathers would have missed these things, having to be at the office or job, but somehow it just seemed unfair that all of this had occurred while I was so far from home.
I felt absolutely no interest in flying home pretty. This time it wasn’t even a toss up, there was no inner discussion with myself over it – I just flat didn’t want to.

“When will you stop cross dressing?” Jenny had asked.
 “When I look in the mirror and see someone ugly looking back at me. When it no longer seems worth the effort I suppose . . . ”

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