Sunday, June 1, 2014

The Shell

While walking along a quiet beach, I came across a seashell lying on the hard sand there at the water's edge.  Unlike the other shells I'd come across that day, this shell was intact and its origin was of a different species than any of the other shells I had seen on my walk.  It caught my eye so I picked it up and admired it.  It was not a big shell, nor was it perfect, but it was beautiful.  The shell wanted to go home with me so I put it in my pocket and walked on down the beach.

But for one small imperfection it would have been a perfect shell.  Still, to me the shell carried meaning.  The uncrowded beach had provided a place for contemplation and meditation as I spent the day looking back on my life and thinking ahead to the great changes that are on the horizon.  So this one shell appeared at this one moment in time and I picked it up.  We share an imperfection and now we share a destiny.  A new talisman had fallen into my hands.


I have spoken of my desire to drive to the Atlantic Ocean and go fishing on one of the many piers on the North Carolina Coast.  Recently, an opportunity presented itself for me to meet with a friend I'd met online at the Oceanna Pier and spend an afternoon fishing, so I got in my car and drove to Atlantic Beach to meet my new friend Laycie Lynn.

Laycie was at the beach with her mother and brother.  Although she's come out to much of her family, they don't yet know that she is transgender and in transition.  So it would be her "other side" that went fishing with me that afternoon, which was ok with me.  I was just happy to have the opportunity to go pier fishing, which I've enjoyed most of my life but been hesitant to indulge in since I've transitioned.  You might say that going fishing on a public pier was one of my last frontiers as a woman.

The fish had been biting in the days prior to my arrival so I was really excited to get to the ocean and see what I could catch.  My favorite fish to catch off the pier are Spanish Mackerel and Bluefish and my favorite way to catch them is by casting artificial plugs, which mimic the baitfish they feed on.  Laycie had been at the beach for a couple of days and told me of a school of Spanish that showed up at 6 PM the evening before my visit.  I was hopeful that would show again the day I was there and if conditions stayed the same it was a pretty safe bet.

I left late Thursday morning even though I'd risen with the sun.  Visiting my parents, walking my dogs then putting them in the kennel and packing the car took most of the morning.  An arrival time of mid afternoon was perfect anyway as I intended to fish until dark.  These fish tend to bite better in the first and last couple of hours of the day.

With rain in the forecast for Friday and possible storms that afternoon, I hurried to make good time once I finally got on the road.  About 1:30 PM I arrived in Morehead City, right across the bridge from Atlantic Beach, and pulled in to El's Drive In restaurant.  At El's you pull into the parking lot and waitresses come out, take your order then bring your food to you.  It is one of the few old fashioned drive in eateries that remain and I ordered a shrimp burger and fries.  The fried shrimp and french fries are not the best food for me, but they are comfort food and would fill me up as I anticipated having a late dinner.

After finishing lunch in the car I drove the last few miles to the Oceanna Motel, which is connected to the pier as part of the Ocenanna Resort.  I didn't spend too much time in the room after I checked in and made it on the pier around 3 PM.  Pier tickets are included in the price of the room here plus it's nice having everything right together.
In my room, getting ready to walk to the pier
Walking out over the ocean on the worn, wooded planks of the pier, I felt a little bit of pride and relief for having finally conquered this goal.  You see, I think I believed that by going fishing people would gender me as male or wonder why a woman would be coming to a pier by herself and going fishing.  At the very least they might be staring at me.  My friend wasn't there yet so here I was walking out to go fishing alone.  No one gave me any looks or said anything out of the way and I even saw several other fisherwomen among the sparse crowd trying their luck that day.  One women, fishing across the pier and down a ways from me, may have even been fishing alone or either her party was elsewhere on the pier.

I started casting the red and white lure with gold hooks and reeling it back to the pier.  Others were casting these plugs off the end of the pier but I positioned myself close to the end but not right with the crowd.  This way people wouldn't crowd around me and if I saw the others catching fish and I wasn't, I could always move.  No one seemed to be catching anything on the lures but the bait fishermen were pulling in a few small ones.  The water had a cloudy tint and even though it wasn't too rough, I was becoming concerned that it was too turbid for the type of fish I was after to bite lures.

After awhile Laycie showed up and joined me at my little spot near the pier's end.  We talked and fished for a couple of hours but it soon became apparent that this was not a great day for fishing.  "You should have been here yesterday" is an old slogan for pier fishing and it was proven true once again on this cloudy day. 
People around us reeled in a few very small fish and I hooked a small Bluefish that fell off on the way up from the water to the pier railing.  Laycie caught a small Blue on her bait rig and also a Hogfish that was big enough to keep, but I didn't feel like cleaning it to take home to eat.  I did want to catch enough Blues or Spanish to freeze for summer but something would have to change in order for that to happen. 

At one point Laycie asked me what time it was so I looked at my phone and told her it was 5 o'clock.  We'd been fishing together a little over an hour but hadn't had a really good conversation.  We stood next to each other for awhile as I cast my plug and she held her line with a baited rig held to the bottom by a lead weight.  After awhile she asked me again what time it was and it was now 5:45. 

We had a good talk during those 45 minutes and got to know each other a lot better.  Her struggle is similar what I am many other trans women have gone through.  Her next big hurdle is coming out to her mother and that is something I can really relate to.  Hopefully I was able to pass on some decent advice that afternoon.

We were getting ready to call it quits for the day when I finally had a solid strike.  It felt like a nice sized fish struck my lure and was now putting up quite a fight on the light rod.  I was using one of my new Ladies Light rods and reels I'd ordered online this spring.  Earlier, when I first got on the pier, a guy walked over to me and asked me where I got the ladies rods.  Maybe he wants to get one for his girlfriend or wife? 

The fish put up a good fight but I finally pulled it out of the Atlantic and onto the planks of the Oceanna Pier.  I'd finally landed a saltwater fish (as myself)!  It was not huge, barely big enough to eat, but it was an accomplishment and also the largest fish I saw caught on the pier that day.  Catching that Bluefish gave us hope so we stayed another half hour or so with no more bites.  Then we finally decided to head in. 

Over the last few hours I not only had a lot of fun bringing back one of my favorite old hobbies but had also gotten to know a new friend.  Sure, I didn't have any fish to take home to cook for Mitchell or my parents, but I'd had a good time.  I did break the ice and I did catch a fish, so overall the day was a success.  Overcoming one of the final fears of my transition (that I know of so far) would give me the confidence to do this anytime I want to and also make me question why I lacked confidence to fish around other people in the first place.  In yet another way in this amazing transition, I had come out of my shell.

A Dinner Surpise

Laycie was going to go to dinner with me but first she had to take her family into town to get them some supper.  So I had a couple of hours in the room to relax and catch up on the phone with everyone at home.  When Laycie finally showed up I got a surprise.  She'd brought some makeup and clothes with her and wanted to change in my room and go to dinner as Laycie.  That was cool, I thought, but then she told me this would be her first time going out as herself.  I thought that was way cool and I was happy to help her with eye makeup and the confidence to walk out the door for the first time.

It was just a few short years ago that I was in the same boat and I remember what a big deal it was to go out in public for the first time.  She wasn't going to start slowly either, but go to a restaurant on a busy Thursday night.  At least she would have me there to figuratively hold her hand as she made her debut. 

Laycie tole me that night that she didn't know she would have the confidence to go through with it, but she brought her things just in case.  With a little help from me she got ready, looked at herself in the mirror and decided she could do it.  Well, maybe I gave her a little nudge, but helping others take those first steps out is something I really enjoy doing.  It took me a long time to find people to help me and go places with me, so much so that I ended up making a lot of those initial strides alone.  Now I can really appreciate the value of having a big sister.

So that night I took Laycie on as a little sister and we headed out the door.  She was nervous and even told me she was shaking a little bit at the dinner table.  It didn't show and I think she presented well.  She even has a naturally feminine voice.  No one seemed to stare at us, the waitress treated us quite normally and she was even called ma'am when she ordered.  That always helps with the confidence.
Laycie feeling confident after ordering her first dinner as herself.  She said she was very nervous but it did not show.
At Amos Mosquitos on Laycie's first night out.
When we were walking to dinner, I told Laycie to stick with me, I do this all the time and it's second nature to me.  It is the first time out that is the most intimidating.  Going out as myself came naturally to me.  After the first time or two all I wanted to do was go out more and more.  Before too long it became very uncomfortable to Not be myself in public.  That's when I knew I had to transition, it wasn't just a desire anymore. 

We had a great time at dinner and hung out in the room listening to music for awhile after taking a stroll on the beach when we left the restaurant.  When it was time for her to go, Laycie had to take off the makeup and "put her mask back on" as she put it.  That is actually a very accurate description of how many of us feel.  I just know that she will keep making progress, go out more and more and probably come out to her mother before too long.

As she said in her blog, Pandora's box has been opened and it is going to be hard for Laycie to keep herself boxed in from now on.  I am just so happy to have her as a sister and to have been there when she came out of her shell for the first time.
Laycie and I in the wind outside Amos Mosquitos restaurant after dinner.

Sunday morning I awoke to the sound of wind and rainI looked outside and sure enough, the storm we had anticipated the day before had finally reached the coast.  Fishing was quickly ruled out, but I decided to put on my rain coat, shorts and flip flops and take a walk on the pier. 

There were a few men gathered around the door in the pier house, seemingly reluctant to set foot on the old wooden structure.  One of them advised me to be careful as I walked by them and onto the deserted pier.  They might have thought I was crazy, or just unusually brave but I really thought nothing of it.  It wasn't raining hard, the temperature was moderate and even though the pier was swaying with the wave action of the heavy surf, the turbulence of the storm was strangely comforting to me.
Having grown up visiting these old piers, I was used to being on the planks when storms moved them from side to side.  We never fished when it was this rough, but I always felt more of a connection to the earth and sea when the big waves rolled it.  The raw energy is refreshing to me.  Most of my life I've had occasional nightmares about being on a pier in an extremely violent storm, sometimes with approaching tidal waves.  I think it has been several years since I've had such a dream.  Maybe I found peace inside, but in real life I never feared the ocean.

Walking to the end of the pier, the wind fought me, trying to knock me off course.  I stayed upright and made it to the covered observation deck several hundred feet out into the white capped Atlantic. There I stood for a long while, until the rain stopped and the wind began to subside.  Then a few brave souls began to venture outside, having waited on shore until they deemed it safe enough or comfortable enough to walk out.  A pier employee walked along picking up the trash cans that had blown over and cleaning up the assorted debris the storm's action left behind.

My mind had been clear when the wind was howling.  The turbulence outside me brought a focus to the peace inside, as I contemplated where my life had been and where it was it was going.  The previous day had been my two year anniversary of beginning Hormone Replacement Therapy.  Actually I had forgotten that fact until a friend texted me to say Happy Anniversary. 

That day, a birthday of sorts, was spent relaxing, fishing and getting to know my new friend.  Today would be spent alone, reflecting on this fantastic journey.  As yesterday had been an anniversary, today was a milestone also.  Here at the ocean on May16th, I was one month away from a major turning point in my journey, Gender Reassignment Surgery.

In a month would come the culmination of my gender transition.  I was on the verge of a great ending but an even greater beginning.  It was a somber but relaxing morning in the storm.  When the clouds broke and the wind laid down I looked up and thanked God for bringing me to this point.  I felt, and I feel, ready to step forward.

This day would bring more times of peaceful reflection by the water's edge.  After leaving the pier as the others began to come out, I went back to my room and got ready to check out of the hotel.  Laycie came by for a brief visit and to say goodbye.  She and her family were heading back to far away Ohio.  They make several trips to the North Carolina coast each year, this one being their first of the season.  I told her I would try to come down and go fishing with her again this year, when I recover enough from my surgery.

After checking out of the resort I drove over to Beaufort for a pleasant lunch at a waterfront cafe and and a nice walk along the quaint town's main street, lined with shops and eateries.  This quiet coastal town was a good place for my soul to be on this reflective day.  Sometimes dining and walking alone can be a little awkward but it is just one of the things I've had to get used to in my new life.  Actually being out alone on this day, reviewing my journey and looking ahead, I came out of my shell a little more.

Dining alone for lunch at the Dock House restaurant in beautiful Beaufort, NC.
After lunch I drove back to the beach and visited Fort Macon State Park.  This historic site, located at Beaufort inlet, was the site of a Civil War fort.  On this day I walked the quiet beach where the sound meets the sea and continued my introspection.  The calm waters of Bogue Sound provided quite a contrast to the violent Atlantic surf I'd witnessed that morning.  My stroll took me all the way to the jetty at the junction of the sound and the ocean.  There I found the little shell that I picked up and sits by my bed today. 
The Shell
Bouge Inlet at Fort Macon State Park
The afternoon sun was bearing down on me so I walked back to my car and drove back to the pier.  The atmosphere was much different than what I'd experienced that morning.  People were fishing, though not catching anything significant, and surfers were out riding the waves.  I again walked to the observation deck and stood watching the water, the fishers and the surfers. 

Two surfers were out beyond the pier, trying to catch the larger waves that now only occasionally came rolling in.  One of the two surfers was female and as I watched her gracefully negotiate the tide, the thought came into my mind...If only I had had the chance to be a young woman how different my life would have been.  Would I have surfed the ocean waves? 

I was being given a second chance at life.  I can't question the past.  I can only be thankful for the new beginning.  The last few years, my transition, have been leading up to the coming moments.  Far from being over, this time of change will continue into the future.  Like the ocean, stretching as far as the eyes can see.


 I drove the length of the island to come home a different way.  Late in the afternoon I stopped by Bogue Inlet Pier in Emerald Isle and spent some time on their observation deck.  I had a hard time breaking away from the ocean that day. 

The ocean had calmed down considerably that afternoon and it seemed more like the perfect beach day.  Many people were fishing on that pier but no one was catching anything.  On one side of the pier quite a few surfers were vying for the meager waves but on the other side a lone surfer used a paddle to ride the waves all the way from the end of the pier to the beach.  

After spending some more reflective time on the observation deck I took a long walk on the beach.  Before hitting the road for home I waded out as far as I could without getting my shorts wet, touched the ocean to my lips and told it goodbye.  I also said that I would be back.  


Halfway home, I stopped by this bucolic mill pond and admired the cypress swamp with Spanish Moss, taking one more opportunity to tune in with nature and focus on the journey ahead...

The sea is waiting for me to return, when my journey is complete...

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