It’s the slow changes that are the hardest to notice. The slow changes that build until one day they have become a sudden change, like the leaves turning in autumn, or babies growing, or a lake receding. Out of nowhere, something that once was has become something new, and you can’t believe you didn’t notice it. It happened right in front of your eyes.
All things changes, change is the only constant, the sayings go on and on. We make up sayings about change to comfort ourselves and tell ourselves its ok to change and that when things do, it’s good. When we change it’s what is supposed to happen and we need to just go with it. We become a new person.
A slow change is best. Easiest to handle. Easiest to accept.
That’s how the changes started for Laurie. It was slow at first, almost imperceptible like more hair on her hand. When thinking back on it, that was the first thing to be noticed. In fact, if you asked her “when did you notice the change starting”, Laurie would have been able to tell you exactly the date and where she was.
It was August 23, 2012. She was at work, sitting at her desk. She was typing copy for the next day’s edition. She worked at an online “news” website. The term news was used loosely because they tended to report more on outfits worn by celebrities everyone hate than actual news. She was typing, looked down to make sure she hit the semi-colon key and not the quote key, again, and noticed the hair on her hand. It was darker, thicker, and it inched farther up the side.
That doesn’t seem right, she thought to herself. There is for sure more hair there than usual.
For a second panic crept in. Not the panic that would come later when she definitely knew what was happening to her, but the panic of old age.
I’m getting old, she thought. This is what happens when you get old.
She had flashes of not being attractive anymore and what that would to do her. She wasn’t quite sure how or who she would be without being “pretty”. Maybe she would become one of those women who really embraced being old and didn’t give a shit with others thought.
But no, that wasn’t Laurie. She did give a shit. No matter what she said or did, she would always place the opinion of others above her own. After all, who was she if not a reflection of other people?
After her panic about getting older, she casually went to the restroom and looked at herself in the mirror. She wasn’t sure what she was expecting to see, but whatever it was, she didn’t see it. She still looked like her normal, 27 year old self. Her long dark hair was still dark, no white strands catching the light. Her face was still round and young, no lines, no spots. Her eyes sparkled, no sign of the stress and turmoil that was to come.
Calm the fuck down, she told herself. A little more hair on her hands wasn’t anything to freak out about. She had always had more hair on her body than other women. In high school she felt particularly hairy when they did swimming in gym and she saw how tame and groomed other girl’s pubic hair was. Hers was a mess, like it always had bed head. And her arms were more hairy as well. She didn’t have the fine blonde arm hair of other girls. Hers was dark and lay across her arm like a comb over. In junior high a boy tormenter her for an entire semester by calling her Sideburns because of how low the hair at her temples was. He was now fat and married to an unattractive woman. Laurie felt avenged when she discovered that, though she still obsessively hair sprayed the hair at her temples on rare occasions when she wore it up.
This was just a little more hair on her hands. It was probably always there, she told herself. She just had never really noticed it. The light in her office or something made it seem like more. By the time she got home from work, the hair on her hands had faded into the back of her mind. She was going to ask her husband, John, about it but totally forgot.
The next change that occurred didn’t make her panic at first. She actually patted herself on the back for it. She lost weight. Not a lot, just over ten pounds when she got on the scale. She was surprised; she hadn’t really done anything different. She had skipped breakfast three days in a row, and figured if that’s what did it she would never eat breakfast again.
“Babe,” she called form the bathroom. “I lost weight!”
John came into the bathroom where Laurie stood naked on the scale. He looked her up and down with a discerning eye.
“Yeah, I can tell a bit I think,” he said. He cupped her breasts and hefted them. “They seem kind of smaller.”
That was not what Laurie wanted to hear. A woman wants to lose weight, but she wants to lose it from the middle and have it go other places, namely the breasts. Laurie never had big breasts, but she wore bras that helped and John always said he liked the size of them.
“More than a handful is too much,” he would say. She could always count on him to make her feel like her body was made just for him. Everything she had was just the way he liked it.
When he commented about her breasts being smaller she got defensive.
“They are not. Don’t be a dick,” she said.
He smiled at her and then made a reference to his own dick and how it was hard to not be one when she was naked in front of him. They had sex, though she really didn’t want to because all she could think about was her breasts and how they could be smaller. Implants briefly ran through her head before she dismissed it as shallow and vain.
The hair, the weight, the decreased size of her breasts didn’t really cause her alarm or panic.
A few weeks later Laurie woke up and said good morning to John. The sound of her voice coming out of her mouth startled her. It was deeper.
“You are just getting sick,” John offered off handedly after she mentioned it to him.
That was probably it, she thought. But her throat didn’t hurt and she felt fine. The next couple of days her voice sounded deeper. People at work would comment to her about it, and she told them her throat hurt. It was her first lie about the changes. She couldn’t convince herself this time that it was nothing. She would tighten her vocal cords and try to sound more like her old self, but she ended sounded like someone doing an impression of her old self.
She would push the panic down, trying not to give into it. When she gave into panic she lost complete control of herself. There’s a logical reason, she told herself. She looked it up on the internet and was convinced that she had a thyroid problem. The hair, the voice, the weight loss. It was her thyroid. She calmed herself down again and made a doctor’s appointment. It wasn’t for another week, but she felt better knowing someone would be able to tell her what was going on. The responsibility of worrying about her health was going to be on someone else soon.
Three days before her appointment, Laurie woke up in the middle of the night with terrible cramps. Cramps worse than her first period. She couldn’t stand up straight they were so bad. It was probably the thyroid stuff, she thought. She hoped it would go away and she wouldn’t have to wake John, but it didn’t. It got worse. She tried to make it to the bathroom, but couldn’t stand to walk that far, so she crawled. It felt like someone was ripping out her insides. It was a raw, red pain that she was sure would kill her before it ended. She pulled herself up on the chair in their bedroom because she couldn’t make it any further.
“John,” she called softly. He didn’t stir. He is never fucking alert in times like this, she thought. He should know I’m out of bed and something is wrong, he’s so selfish sometimes.
“John,” she said louder. He rolled over to where she had been sleeping but didn’t find her. He sat up.
“Babe, what’s wrong?” He asked groggily.
“I’m not sure, but I think I need to go to the hospital,” she said in a shaky voice.
John’s face fell. He did his best not to show his fear, but Laurie could see it through the control tone of his voice and forced causality in which he spoke to her.
They got dressed quickly; Laurie did so as best she could with John’s help. The pain didn’t get worse, it just stayed. It turned into a sucking, painful feeling from the inside. They got their car keys and left the apartment. She didn’t take anything else; she figured she would be back by the morning. She’d stay home from work tomorrow for sure, but she’d be back in a few hours. But she was wrong. It was the last time Laurie would leave her apartment as a woman.