editor’s note: content warning for suicide, child abuse, and depression
My eighth grade summer was an especially painful time which upset all the coping and survival strategies I had developed over the previous five years. My sister had moved out, the house we had lived in since I was eight was for sale, and we were in the process of moving to a newly built neo-Victorian house on Mt Spokane.
I had cobbled together three circles of friends.
The first was a group of six boys from school I met in third grade mark 2, all of us being of various degrees of poor and unpopular. This is the group of friends my parents knew about. I’ve always wondered if they would have accepted me as trans. They were okay with me being effeminate and athletically disinclined to a fault, and they very rarely made sexist, homophobic, or transphobic jokes around me. I don’t know if it was because they knew those kinds of jokes seriously bothered me or if they just didn’t make those kinds of jokes.
There are two things that are really important about the lessons I learned from them.The first is showing up. When nobody else showed up to my birthday party in fifth grade, Brooks did and that is to this day one of my most precious memories.
The second is acceptance is a two way street. Mike was a smoker, a stoner, a drinker, and one of the most responsible people I’ve ever met. I had read all about the effects of drugs on the body, had experienced opiates and amphetamines thanks to doctors and their Rx happy dogma, and had already experimented with and rejected alcohol thanks to it being available by way of my mother’s wine. So when I learned Mike was a druggie I had a hard time wrapping my brain around that.
Eventually, I came to understand that it was truly a difference in our natures and that was okay. I can’t enjoy a high because I am far to aware of my decision making process being compromised. It makes me feel thick and stupid and with far to much of my perception of my ability to protect myself coming from my intuition and intellect, I can’t just let go.
We had one long conversation about drug use that finally let me understand his side of it. I have to stay sober to stay alive. He had to get high to know that he didn’t have to die. That conversation never would have happened if I hadn’t first accepted his drug use with out understanding and if he hadn’t accepted me not using drugs with out any questions.
The second was a group of four girls from school, and who went to the same church my parents dragged me to on occasion. I also met them in third grade mark 2, but didn’t start hanging out with them until fourth grade. They gave me my first real glimpse into girl-world. I don’t know how they saw me, but while they accepted me into their company, I wasn’t ‘one of the girls’ and weirdly they policed my gender just as much as my family did. So while hanging out with them was a relief in some ways, it was stressful in others.
The third was a group of four girls I met in sixth grade. They went to school in District 81 (I was in the Mead School District). They didn’t “just know I was trans,” but had spotted me from literally a dozen paces at the big New Year’s Eve party that happens each year in downtown Spokane. There was this concert in a parking garage where a series of local bands were getting to perform. I was sitting on a concrete divider letting the music wash over me. Apparently they were having an argument about the existence of trans people and one of them points over at me and says “Hey, you’re a tranny right? Tell her you exist.” I’m wearing jeans, flannel shirt, winter coat and a black felt fedora. I have absolutely no idea how she knew I was trans. Most people looked at me and assumed I was gay or effeminate. They became the closest thing I had to confidantes.
I didn’t let them know anything that would trace me back to my parents, and they certainly had their secrets as well, but we had each other’s backs and they kept me from killing myself in middle school. So in a way I owe them my life and they don’t even know it. Well… I owe them my life for some of our escapades going pear shaped on more than one occasion, but that was more “mutual bacon saving” thing than the one sided “you were the reason I didn’t kill myself” thing. They helped me explore my womanhood, and initiated me to goth culture. A lot of my aesthetics and politics are thanks to them.
I’m talking about all these people in the past tense for some reason. I don’t know if they’re alive or dead. I don’t know if they’ve changed or are still the same. A couple, literally two, people I knew from before prison wrote me a few times after I came to prison. I made a point of sending letters out every few years to the handful of people whose addresses I had. One by one, they disappeared, my letters marked “return to sender.” Now there are none left to send my news to.
In any case, all three of these groups of friends were torn away from me when we moved out of the burbs and into the boonies. This meant that while I was still in the Mead School District, I would be attending Mt Spokane High School instead of Mead High School.
I’m not good at making friends. Much like taking a compliment or catching a baseball, I’m epic-ly terrible at it. So when the entire first quarter of school had gone by and I didn’t have any friends, it was less a surprise as a met expectation. I didn’t actually make any friends my entire freshman year. I played Magic the Gathering with some nerds in the mornings, but I knew they would sell me out for the entertainment value in a New York second. I had one guy named Jeremy I talked to a lot. We rode the same bus, ate lunch together, and were both in band. We didn’t really get to be friends until the following year when I dropped out of marching band and focused more on choir. I didn’t want to quit band but school bands are like the Masons. Everyone knows they exist but only initiates know the passwords and secret handshakes. Essentially, I was from the wrong lodge and thus an outsider.
In choir, I became friends with Kasey who was friends with, and later partner to, Jeremy.
By the end of sophomore year I had a few other friends. Alice, Bree, Andrea, and a few others. (There’s three specifically that I can’t remember the names of and I really wish I could because they were important to me. — It’s been over a decade, please forgive me.) But none of them were a “circle of friends.” It was a scattering of support. One or two here and there.
During those first two years of high school I slipped deeper and deeper into depression. Being isolated on the top of Mt Spokane made it so that my parents were the gatekeepers of my comings and goings to a degree I hadn’t experienced since Priest River.
There was a group of goth kids at Mt Spokane, but they wouldn’t accept me because I was basically a straight edge and they REALLY loved their alcohol. So they saw me as a poser.
During those two years I tried as hard as I could to keep my shit together, but it became harder with every passing day. My attitude became more and more caustic and I became acutely aware of all the ways I was alienated from my peers. Regular reception TV meant I couldn’t talk to anyone about any of the shows on basic cable. No computer or Internet access meant I couldn’t talk to anyone online. No ability to get off Mt Spokane unless I biked 15-20 miles to meet someone meant I couldn’t just hang out with anyone. My social anxiety made it so that I didn’t have any casual acquaintances and didn’t have the social capital to get anyone to do me any favors. I didn’t have an allowance and if I did manage to come up with money my parents would take it claiming I obviously did something wrong to get it, so I couldn’t pay anyone to help me. I was alone, overwhelmed, and thoroughly helpless.
My sophomore year summer I had started getting junk boxes of computer hardware and software at garage sales, $5-$10 for a box of old junk that I would then take apart and recombine to make it work. Before this I had two computers, a 486 and a HP that was made in 2002. I ended up having one more that worked fairly well, a Gateway 2000, and a half dozen others that I could get to limp along. I figured out how to piggyback on my parents’ Internet which opened up a lot of avenues for me. I learned how to program in a very ad-hoc fashion. Thinking about it now, most of my code was far more inefficient than it should have been due to me using way to much recursion. I also got a Toyota Tercel from the neighbors. I didn’t have a driver’s licence and the car wasn’t registered, but it gave me the freedom to get off the mountain. I started up an odd job business that mostly consisted of setting up people’s home entertainment centers and computer repair. I made enough money to get by, sort of.
During my junior year I thought about trying to track down Clair, one of the girls I knew from District 81, but my mother took a job at Rogers High School, which is also in District 81. It felt like too much of a risk to have a social connection with someone who could potentially have a direct connection to my mother and knew me as a trans girl named Victoria. Looking back, I think this was a major mistake on my part. I should have reached out. Maybe she could have gotten me out of the mess of my life.
My parents noticed that I had some sort of income; I think they assumed it was drugs or something similar because they started charging me rent to live in their house or they would call the cops on me and claim I was threatening and attacking them. I didn’t want to go to jail and I knew they would do it and I knew the cops would believe them. So I let them extort me.
The arguments between myself and my parents gained a dark cruel edge that up until then I hadn’t imagined was even possible. I took lying to them to a whole new level. If they wanted to know something about me they would have to independently figure it out. I only ever gave them misinformation and half-truths. It didn’t matter how trivial it was.
It was also during this time period that I gave up on sleep. My nightmares had become so intense and twisted that I usually woke up in a panic choking back a scream two to three times a night. My parents even tortured me in my dreams.
I started cutting, and suicide seemed more and more a viable option with each passing day. My life was hell.
I turned 18 that May, and I got my driver’s licence and a legal car. I started trying to move out. After my first two failed attempts to move out, I would have killed myself, except I had one glimmer of hope left in my life. Marina. I still love her, can’t help it, though I know the best thing I can do for her is never talk to her or reach out to her ever again.
My last school year was hard on me. My parents were forcing me to pay for my own psych meds and pay them rent. My personal life was in a shambles with the exception of my relationship with Marina, which was my first real serious relationship. I had other girlfriends and one boyfriend in the past who I adored and cared deeply for. I thought that was love because it was the strongest “liking” I had ever experienced. Marina reminded me of the radical acceptance and love between myself and my grandma. I didn’t just like strongly, or care about her despite her flaws. I wanted her in my life because her flaws were just as beautiful and precious to me as every other part of her. And if she changed then I would have the opportunity to get to know and love a whole new part of her. When I say love, this is what I’m talking about. This is what I received from my grandma and this is what I still feel towards Marina.
It’s here, in the winter of 2006 that I have to stop. Mostly because I’m not prepared to talk about that publicly, and I probably never will be. That was the end of childhood and adolescence for me. My 19th birthday found me in jail and my 20th in prison.
When you see someone who is struggling to figure out who they are, where they fit, fighting to keep their mind so intensely that they are slowly losing it don’t think “it’ll be okay. They just have to make it a little longer and they’ll get it all figured out. I hope they don’t kill themselves before they get there,” as if suicide is the worst possible thing that could happen.
Dying is easy.
Living is hard.
The worst possible thing that could happen, is what happened in my story.