I open the door to my apartment and walk in, dragging two huge bags of cat litter over the doorstep. My mom is right behind me, she sets the crate down in the living room of my one-bedroom walk-up. The cat inside meows in disapproval and pushes its head into the grill of the door. 

“Let’s go get the rest,” I say hastily, afraid to have a quiet moment alone with Mom, event though I deeply desire one and need it.

Three trips later, we’re both out of breath and sweating but we finally got everything up. And they tell you cats are easy.

“Want some tea?” I ask my mom. She should get some rest. Besides, if she hangs out long enough, maybe I’ll summon my courage.

“Do you have something cold? And stronger.”

“Of course!” I grab us a pair of ciders from my fridge.

Just as we are able to take the first sip, another string of meows comes out of the crate, loud and insistent. 

“Ok, I don’t know anything about that,” I motion towards the rumbling crate. “Can you help me set up?” I ask my mom. 

“Really, Stephen? You know just as much as I do from when we visited Grandma.” 

There’s so much I want to say to that, mostly that I wasn’t paying attention since I don’t like cats. Also, my name isn’t Stephen. Plus, I didn’t want to take the cat in but the family dumped it on me and I didn’t want to fight about it. I wanted to keep the peace, in anticipation. I want to say all that, yet I can’t say any piece of it without saying it all, and I’m not quite ready for that.

“Do you think she’ll be okay in that place?” I ask after a while.

“She’ll have better care than we can provide for her at home–I mean you’re a nurse, you get it. Professional, qualified staff on duty 24/7, doctors, medications, all those machines and equipment……” she trails off. “What do you want me to say, Stephen, it’s a hospice, not a spa resort,” she looks away. I reach out and hold her hand.

“I know Mom, I’m sorry.”

We drink our cider in silence.

“OK, let me help you figure this out,” Mom says finally. She gets up and approaches the crate. The cat inside starts meowing again, with increased urgency.

“Wow, it’s almost like it’s talking to us,” I observe.

“Not ‘like’–cats don’t meow at each other, that’s how they talk to humans.”

“Ok, crazy cat lady, now you sound like Grandma; they’re not that smart.”

“And it’s a she, her name is Garp,” my mom continues, ignoring my comment. Hearing the name, Garp lets out a short and decisive meow, as if responding to a roll call. 

“Garp?” I ask and once again, the cat confirms. “Isn’t that a--”

“Man, that’s right. Looks like someone has been listening to Grandma talk about her books after all. Although not closely enough!” She laughs and shifts her voice. “‘Even though the title refers to the main character, who’s a man, Garp is actually his last name and thus borne by the women in his family as well.’”

“Ok, Grandma,” I laugh, actually entertained. “You’re right, I know this one, Grandma loved giving this speech every chance she got.” 

My mom is laughing, but winces ever so slightly at my use of the past tense. I feel like an idiot. 

Mom turns away from me and starts going through the bags of Garp’s stuff we had brought up, laying them out piles: food, play, sleep, poop. 

“Where do you want this?” she asks, holding up the feeding bowls and a matching placemat, looking around for a suitable spot.

Together, we find a place for the bowls, the litter box, the scratching post, the cat beds. As we’re figuring out where everything goes, I start to feel on board with this whole cat idea, I can see myself doing it. 

“What do you say we let her out?” she asks and I go for the crate but she stops me. 

“Go put food in her bowl, I’ll let her out,” she instructs me.

I pour kibble in the bowl. The cat inside perks up, reminding us of her presence with loud meows and pushing her head into the door, intrigued by the food. My mom opens the door. The cat’s head peeks cautiously just outside the crate, sniffing in all directions.

“It’s okay, Garp, can come out. This is your new home. There’s food here for you.”

“Mom, seriously, she can’t understand you.” I walk over to the crate and try to grab her, but she retreats into the back corner and hisses at me. 

“Give her some space. Gotta keep in mind she hasn’t left Grandma’s place since she rescued her six years ago; this is a big transition.”

Once again, I have so much to say and I don’t know how to say it. 

“What do you suggest?” I ask instead.

“How about that tea now?”

We’ve finished the whole teapot and the cat is still in the carrier, Mom agrees that it’s time to get her out. 

“I gotta go pee firsts,” she says as I get up.

I walk up to the carrier, thinking of the best way to do this. I peek inside and Garp hisses at me from the back corner. 

“Ok, kitty, you’re coming out,” I say and I reach in. I hear a loud hiss and then my hand is attacked by scratching and gnawing. 

I scream and yank it out, the cat comes flying out with it, an angry ball of fur. She lands on all fours a few feet away from me and immediately bolts under the bookshelf in the corner. I’m only barely aware of that anymore. My heart stops as I notice my mom is standing in the bathroom door with a bottle of my testosterone blockers in her hand. 

“Stephen, what is this?”

Crap. I must’ve left it out on the counter.

“Listen, Mom, I meant to tell you. I just didn’t know how to bring it up, and all this Grandma stuff---”

“Tell me what exactly?! Don’t you dare blame it on Grandma! She worked hard all her life for our family and now--” she throws the bottle on the ground.

“Mom! Please! I can explain,” I interrupt her, desperate. This is not how I wanted this to go down.

“There’s nothing to explain. This is unnatural and wrong.” She grabs her bag and coat.

“Please, Mom. Can we sit down and talk?”

She’s heading to the door, and it takes all my courage to put my hand on her arm.

“Let me make another pot of tea. It’s been a long day. Don’t leave like this.”

She breathes out and I feel the tension. 

“You’re right, today has been a lot.”

As we sip on my best oolong, I tell my mom that I’m really a woman, regardless of what it says on my birth certificate, despite the fact that everyone calls me “sir” and “mister.” I try to impart that there’s nothing wrong with me. The way the world treats me simply does not match with how I experience things on the inside, and that’s been causing me a lot of pain. I explain that I’m taking steps to help me feel more at home in my own body and in the world: the medication is one of them. I ask her to call me Steph from now on and show her that’s what it says on my driver’s license, which also reads “SEX: F.” I tell her that it’s important to me, even though nobody really looks at that part. 

She is resistant to everything I say and pushes back. I put all my energy into reacting kindly, despite her comments and questions being hurtful. At least she’s not angry anymore. I work hard to receive her ignorance with compassion. I remind myself that that’s all it is–she just doesn’t know. I have a unique opportunity to show her. 

“I want you to understand that I’m still the same person you know. I have the same personality, the same sense of humor, the same hobbies, the same work ethic.”

“Then why all of this, if you’re just the same person?” She throws her hands up in the air to show her frustration.

“It’s about me being able to live authentically as my true self,” I tell her, carefully weighing every word. “In some circles people already know me as a woman, and being seen that way gives me the most powerful feeling of joy. I can’t describe it any better than that.”

There’s a pause in the conversation. I sense she’s not quite on board but I honestly don’t think I can do this for much longer. Suddenly I remember–the cat!

“Hey, what about the cat?” I ask my mom.

“I think she’s still under the bookshelf,” she says. “Don’t worry about it, she’ll come out when she’s hungry. If you have questions, just google it.”

Then, she grabs her things and heads out. I walk her out the door, thanking her for listening to me.

“Wait, I almost forgot!” She reaches into her purse and hands me a thick letter-sized envelope. “This belongs with all the cat stuff.”

I close the door behind her and collapse on the couch. I feel exhausted and I’m not sure what to do. She reacted exactly the way I thought she would, the way I was afraid of. This is why I delayed it so much. Perhaps there was no helping this and I shouldn’t beat myself up over the dramatic reveal, but I still feel like I failed.

I look at the envelope in my hand. It says “Garp’s New Parent” on it in Grandma’s old-timey curly cursive. God, she really cared about the cat, I think. Cares, she cares about the cat, I remind myself. My eyes water up. It’s the hormones, I try to convince myself.

“You are a lucky human, for Garp is one special lady,” read the first page. “Yes, Garp is a girl. Named in honor of my favorite writer John Irving and his wonderful book The World According to Garp. Yes, the title refers to the main character, who’s a man, but Garp is actually his last name…..” I can’t read this right now. Oh, Grandma, my sweet Grandma. I set the packet down on the floor as I close my eyes to relax.

I’m awakened by a sound of paper crinkling. I open my eyes and there’s Garp, sitting on top of Grandma’s envelope. She’s ripping the paper up with her paws, biting off little pieces. I sit up to rescue Grandma’s packet. Garp jumps off and runs back a few feet, but stays nearby, curiously watching me. 

“Hey, you want some food?” I say, more to myself, and I get one of her cans open and scoop it into a bowl. I set it down and make my way back onto the couch. 

  I wake up in the morning light, still on the couch, and sit up instantly in terror–I’m late for work! Then I remember I have the day off, thank God. In that moment, I notice the kitty is curled up at my feet, sleeping.

“Garp,” I call out softly.

She raises her head and looks at me, piercingly. 

“How are you doing?” I ask, foolishly.

She blinks at me, slowly and intently.

As I lie back down, I hear a soft purr coming from her.

“We’re gonna be okay, Garp,” I say as I fall asleep.

May 16, 2020 03:57

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