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Monthly Archives: November 2015

I’ve always been fascinated by mirrors. I remember playing dress up as a child, standing before the full-body mirror in my bedroom and admiring how I looked just like a superhero or Robin Hood or Peter Pan or a knight. Or I’d stand there in my regular clothes, pushing my hair behind my ears, trying to figure out if I looked like a boy or not.

It didn’t have to be a mirror. I’d catch sight of my reflection in the car window and become mesmerized by the features I saw there: brown eyes, bright smile. My eyes followed the way my nose curved, the way my ears joined with my jaw, which then melted into my neck. I’d look at my hair and wonder if it was short enough that other people would know I was a boy. I’d compare what I saw with the image in my mind, and feel confused when they didn’t match.

I remember watching in the mirror the day I finally got my hair cut short. Both my head and chest felt lighter as the brown locks fell to the floor.

Post-haircut, looking in the mirror brought joy. Especially with clothes on, my outside matched my inside for the first time.

Puberty turned my relationship with mirrors into a love/hate thing. I found myself spending more time in front of the mirror when I’d get dressed, checking that my clothes looked good and hid the curves that had started to appear. I also started avoiding mirrors when I wasn’t fully clothed, or made a point of using mirrors that only showed from the neck up. Looking at myself in a sports bra and pants wasn’t too bad, but looking at myself shirtless guaranteed a rising tide of dysphoria that would drown me if I wasn’t careful. Thankfully, the bathroom medicine cabinet was high enough that I could only see from the shoulders up.

In public, I’d constantly check my reflection wherever I could, whether the mirrored pillars in the department stores or the windows of buildings I walked past. I had to make sure that other people saw what I saw. Dressing room mirrors could alternatively be heaven or hell, depending on what clothes had to be tried on that day. New cargo pants? No problem. New t-shirt? No problem. New dress clothes? Problem. Big problem. As I tried on blouses and dress slacks, I couldn’t meet my own eyes in the mirror, because this was not me.

The love/hate relationship continued even after I began my Transition, although the love started to overcome the hate. I’d use the mirror every morning to check that the Ace bandages I initially used to bind weren’t obvious under my clothes. The switch to actual binders a year later made life even better. The first time I stood in front of the dressing room mirror as I tried on a men’s dress shirt and chinos, I could finally meet my eyes in the mirror. Starting testosterone meant that I spent a lot of time scrutinizing my reflection, trying to see if anything had actually changed yet. Was that facial hair? My shoulders seemed to be getting broader. And was that an Adam’s apple?

If at all possible, I still avoided mirrors when naked. The bathroom mirror at the house I lived in in college showed most of my torso; I trained myself to not look below shoulder-level. Once I had on underwear and binder, however, I had no problem catching a glimpse of my reflection.

As a student teacher and a sub, I spent a lot of time looking in the mirror each morning, making sure I’d tied the tie straight and checking that my shirt and slacks looked good. Even on the weekends now, I had no problems checking how I looked before going out, whether to my museum job or elsewhere.

June 2012 brought a huge change: top surgery. I remember looking at myself in the mirror a day or so after the surgery, trying to figure out how I’d look when the drains and dressings disappeared. A week after the procedure, I finally got to see how I looked shirtless as an adult. Even with the still-healing incisions and grafts and my chest shaved, I thought it was one of the most amazing things I’d ever seen.

Nowadays, I love mirrors. Six years of testosterone, surgery, and consistent exercise have helped me get a body that matches how I’ve always known I should look. I’ll happily watch myself shave, put on lotion after a shower, or get dressed for work or play. No matter what, I can meet my reflection’s eye and know that finally, the world sees what I see in the mirror.

Here on the tundra, the words “school trip” have a whole new meaning. A day trip anywhere rarely happens; between arranging for flights or boat rides, packing up all of the students, travel to and from your destination, and whatever the purpose of your trip is, you may as well just stay the night. As such, things like sporting events are planned as overnight excursions, and you can bet that they are scheduled to take advantage of every second of the available time. When your team travels, you have to deal with things like travel forms, making sure everything you need got packed, supervising the students in a novel environment, and so on. Hosting an event presents a whole new set of challenges.

In the year and a half that I’ve lived in Nunap, I’ve helped with more than one sporting event, whether serving breakfast to visiting teams, making sure my room is available as a sleeping space, or helping Lucas take pictures of the events. I’ve even served as a line judge for volleyball games. But nothing has prepared me for the madness of the annual Nunap wrestling tournament, which took place this past weekend.

While Nunap hosts a couple of wrestling meets during the season, the biggest is usually in November. Planning actually starts the previous school year when the dates for the event get decided. At the beginning of the current school year, schools take a look at the schedule of tournaments and decide which events they will attend. Ideally, a host school knows by the week before the event how many guests to expect. In this instance, we knew by Wednesday that we had students from three other villages plus two Hub schools competing in our event. I know that our coaches, New Ted (our high school science teacher) and Eli (one of our maintenance techs), spent time putting together weight classes and brackets based on information provided by the other schools. They also reached out to teachers and staff to ask for volunteers for the myriad jobs that needed doing, from manning the door to serving food to keeping track of brackets and stats.

Before dismissal on Friday, I had my students push their desks against the wall and stack their chairs so that visitors would have space to stretch out. Once our students had left, I helped hang signs directing visitors to their sleeping areas. The first school arrived around 1:30; by the time our usual Friday afternoon meeting ended at 3 only one school had yet to arrive. Andy had asked that I help her with the concession stand, so after checking that New Ted didn’t have anything he needed done right away I ran home to grab a quick bite to eat.

I returned to the school a little early, as i knew we would be short staffed; two other sports teams traveled elsewhere this weekend, reducing the amount of adults on hand. Sure enough, I did a couple of quick tasks for others while Lucas and Andy started prep. Even though the doors didn’t open until 6:30, between our team, our staff, and the visitors there was still a lot of activity. The concession stand is actually the student store, which has a window into the gym. While Andy started the popcorn machine, Lucas and I emptied sodas and Gatorades into the fridge and opened the candy. We opened with the door, and very quickly had a line at the window.

When I arrived here last year, several people told me that wrestling in Nunap is like football in a Lower 48 school. I’d say that’s accurate. Our gym isn’t as small as some other schools’, but it’s also not the size of most in other schools I’ve visited. On the same wall as the concession stand window, we have two sections of bleachers. During the off season, the wrestling mats live in the storage shed out back. Once the season starts, the mats move into the gym, where they are kept rolled up against the back wall when not in use. When unrolled for practices and matches, they take up about 2/3 of the floor. For the meet, these mats were surrounded by the blue tumbling mats, which became the designated seating area for wrestlers. Aside from the table occupied by the announcer and other adults, the rest of the space is available for spectators to sit and watch, and they do. At one point Friday night I took a break and walked into the gym to get a better view, and had to watch that I didn’t step on someone sitting along the wall. The bleachers were packed to capacity, people of all ages sat on the floor, and still more milled around, calming fussy babies or trying to get a better view.

I didn’t get much opportunity to spectate, though. In the three hours the concession stand was open on Friday night, I estimate there was maybe 20 minutes total when there wasn’t someone at the window. Andy spent the night manning the popcorn maker, while Lucas and I took turns at the window. We kept an eye on the matches as best we could, cheering for our kids whenever possible. We finally closed down for the night around 9:30, even though matches were still going on.

Saturday morning, Andy and I returned to the school at 7:30. She got the concession stand open and started prep for the day, while I and several wrestlers both from Nunap and elsewhere did a cursory cleaning of the gym. The kids swept off the mats and got the tables pulled down for breakfast, I wielded a vacuum cleaner, and New Ted followed behind me with a mop. Eli and I also helped our cooks serve breakfast: pancakes and sausage for 80+ people. Then it was back to the concession stand for me before matches began at 9.

While it started off slow, by 10 concessions once more did brisk business. More than a few adults gladly purchased coffee from us, and the wrestlers cleaned us out of Gatorade. As the morning wore on, pressure started to mount to get things done before the first team was due to leave at noon. The cooks started serving lunch to visiting wrestlers around 11:30, with the understanding that no one ate until all of their matches were done. We had a brief moment of panic when the first team was due to leave: no one could find Eech. He’s our tech guy, but also drives the school boat, which we need right now to ferry people over to the airport since the river hasn’t frozen yet. Fortunately, he showed up a few minutes later, and that team made it to their plane without further incident. Andy and I kept the concession stand open until 12:30. Closing up and cleaning up didn’t take much time except for counting up the money and turning it over to Dan, our principal, for safekeeping and eventual deposit. While I checked in with New Ted before leaving, I wasn’t too surprised or upset when he said things were taken care of for the moment. There would be an awards ceremony of some sort, but I didn’t stick around for it. One of the other teachers texted me when the last team had left, so I know everyone got out okay. I strongly suspect that there will be another mass cleaning effort tomorrow, in which I’ll do my part. And so will end another sporting event in Nunap.

I’ve barely taken out my homework for the day when I notice Dad standing at the door to the cafeteria. Miss Velma is equally startled, but allows Dad to sign me out as I hurriedly cram things back into my backpack. I’m excited; normally I have to stay at the after-school program for a couple of hours, sometimes longer. Then we get into the hallway. “Uncle J died today.” And I’m crying harder than I can ever remember, because now I know what death means.

I blink

School started two weeks ago, but today is my first day in Mrs. R’s classroom. With so many kids in fourth grade, the district hired a new teacher and pulled kids from all of the other rooms to make a new class. Until today, I always walked to the end of the hallway once I got off of the bus. Today, I turn down the same hallway and walk all of ten feet into Room 23. I remember a fleeting glimpse of the space as I left on Friday; I saw the person I now know as Mrs. R standing on a chair to hang things above the rear chalkboard. The room is bright and a lot less crowded than I’m used to, which is nice. Mrs. R stands at the front of the room to greet each student as we come in. She’s short; at the age of 9 the top of my head is already past her shoulders. But she has a huge smile and kind brown eyes. I know I’m going to like it here.

I blink

I’m standing in the dining room. The sheet music is in front of me and my flute is in my hands. I adjust my fingers on the keys and lift the instrument to my face, settling it against my lower lip. As instructed, I’ve read the music, a simple exercise in the book, through twice, fingering and counting the beats out loud. Now I get to try to play it. All I’ve produced since I began learning a month ago is a faint whistle, but Miss V, my teacher, says I’m making good progress. I take a nice deep breath, set my lips, and blow. Surprisingly, delightfully, a beautiful B-flat rings out. I did it!

I blink

Prior to fifth grade, I thought that crutches looked like a lot of fun. As I struggle down off of the school bus, I snort at the thought. After a week of using the things, I’ll be glad to be rid of them. It’s not like I even got a cool story to go with why I need the things; in the space of twelve hours, I smacked my knee off both a doorway and my desk at school. That led to my first set of x-rays and the crutches. Hopefully, there won’t be a repeat of this experience anytime soon.

I blink