In April of 2010, my first boyfriend and I broke up over the phone. It was a long-distance relationship that neither of us could reasonably sustain. A guy named Christopher, who I’d been friends with for seven months now, called me that same evening and listened quietly while I grieved into the receiver. Once I’d exhausted myself, turned the light out and miserably crawled into bed, he began telling me a story, making it up as he went along. It was the tale of a timid and skittish little rabbit that was wandering around in a great, big forest, and of the suave and sly fox named Caldwell Clyde who stumbled upon the lonely rabbit and took it under its wing. The rabbit and the fox loved each other instantly. They went on adventures together, they looked out for each other, and each one adored the other. Three months later, I married Caldwell Clyde.
We did the whole “apartment life” thing for a few years, balancing full-time day jobs with evening college classes and managing, all the while, to care for an infant German Shepherd. It was hard to find time for meals. There was a Mexican restaurant behind the first credit union I worked for, and we ate there weekly. Tuesday night meant $10 pizza night at Whole Foods, and after 8 hours of work followed by 3 hours of class, that totally became a thing. When we weren’t celebrating pizza night and we weren’t at Taqueria Mexico, we were frequenting the best Chinese food restaurant on the planet: Mandarin House.
We went there on dates, on school nights, on holidays and on weekends. We ate in and we carried out. After a few months of repeat visits, the server – who we learned was the restaurant owner’s daughter – would approach our table, chuckle a little, and ask: “Need menu or regular?”
“The regular,” we’d smile. The regular was – for me – vegetable lo mein with tofu and – for Chris – princess tofu.
We noticed that our server was gone for a few months after she had her first baby. Then, she was back at work again and her baby was in a playpen in the lobby — crawling along the floor near the front counter — and, eventually, walking across the room toward us. We literally watched her grow for 5 years.
Whether we chose to sit at a booth or call in our order, we always received, along with our meal, three fortune cookies.
“One for you, one for me, and one for Bruster,” I reasoned. And that’s how it always was. We’d pretend to not take our own fortunes too seriously, and we always got a kick out of Bruster’s.
Last September, two months after coming out, I was spending the evening at my friend Shae’s apartment. We were sitting outside on the patio together. She was reclining comfortably in a white lawn chair, holding her vape pen with her right hand and exhaling, every couple of minutes, puffy clouds of smoke that smelled like cotton candy; delicious. She was trying to cut out the cigarettes again. We were talking about how I didn’t want to be with a man anymore — about how all of that made sense now — and how I had recently fallen in love with another transgender person.
“What the hell am I going to do?” I asked no one in particular, staring deep into the woods behind her place.
“Will you do something for me?” She asked casually, exhaling another cloud.
“Yeah?” I looked over at her and waited.
“Okay,” she leaned forward, suddenly looking serious as she adjusted her seat. “Close your eyes.”
I did as she said.
“Take off your ring.”
I slowly pulled it off of my left hand and held it firmly between two fingers.
“Put it into my hand,” she instructed me further. I used my left hand to locate her hand and then dropped the ring carefully into her open palm.
“Now,” she whispered even more quietly, “imagine that you aren’t married anymore. What does that feel like?”
I waited before answering her; considering the question, and imagining that kind of world.
“Free,” I answered her simply. “It feels free. Peaceful.”
I opened my eyes and she handed the ring back over to me. I slipped it into my back jean pocket and stayed with her for another hour. When it was time to go, I reached into my back pocket, intending to slide the ring back onto my finger, but it wasn’t there.
I checked the other back pocket.. both front pockets.. the floor underneath my chair, the zippered compartments of my backpack, her bedroom, the doorway, the hallway leading to her doorway, the insides of my car, the ground around the outside of my car.. I checked places where I knew it might be as well as places I knew it couldn’t possibly be. I was desperate. I was shocked. It was gone.
“Wow,” I murmured to myself, in disbelief. “It’s like a freaking sign from the universe.” I worried that Chris was going to be upset with me. Regardless of whether or not he was, I still felt sad, and whether or not it was a sign from the universe didn’t really matter. The end of us was coming; I felt it. And it was going to tear me – tear both of us – to pieces.
The beginning of the end hit like a tsunami on November 24th, 2015: D-Day (aka, Divorce Day). I wept in the attorney’s office while I signed paperwork that I abhorred, thinking: They just don’t understand. This isn’t a NORMAL divorce. I don’t hate or dislike this person at ALL. I’m literally breaking up with my very best friend, and I don’t WANT to be doing it.. but I have to; I have no choice. I can’t be his wife anymore, and I’m not going to deprive him of the joy of having one. I signed every last goddamned paper, gritting my teeth and feeling the world tilt uncomfortably as life fired cannons at the walls and blew the door right off of the hinges of my reality.
The real end of us happened today.
I woke up with a heavy heart.
I wanted to look my best; I thought that it might make me feel better. I put on my prized robot-themed underpants, black corduroy pants, a soft gray sweater and, over it, my black corduroy suit jacket. Lined up neatly in a row on my writing desk were my (3) special items: a dinosaur ring, a black-strapped wolf watch, and my most favorite necklace. The necklace – which I wear every single day – contains (3) things: a rose gold outline of a tree, a blue and green glass pendant with the Jewish symbol for the word ‘dream’ etched into it, and a metallic, silver fox.
There was another ring lying there on my writing desk. I carefully slipped it down into my front pocket and then left the room.
I drove to work and I cried on the way. “Oh suck it up, Jace,” I reproved myself sternly, struggling to control my breaths (in; hold; out) and temporarily pushing my sunglasses upward so that I could roughly brush tears away. “Now is NOT the time.”
I arrived at work and my friend immediately asked: “Sooooo! Are you excited about the closing today?”
“I can’t talk about it,” I answered her shortly.
“Oh — I’m so sorry.” I knew that she understood.
I busied myself with catching up on projects and tasks and, in doing so, I really enjoyed my day. I lost myself in my work, forgetting about tough decisions and heartache and insane, radical shifts in reality. I progressed through the work day productively and it honestly kept me sane. Then 2:55 PM rolled around, and I knew that I needed to get on the road in about 5 minutes so that I could make it to the title office on time, and my stomach convulsed at the thought. This is happening too fast, I frowned sadly.
I clocked out, and then I changed out. I got into my car, turned on the GPS, and miserably listened along as a female robot voice guided me to my destination.
He called me as soon as I’d pulled into the parking lot.
“Hey!” I answered the phone cheerfully.
“Hey. You sure I need to bring my social? Because traffic SUCKS and I REALLY don’t want to have to go home and search for it.” I could hear traffic sounds crackling like static in the background.
“Ummmmmmm,” I let the word out slowly while I was in the process of thinking. “Just go ahead and start heading this way,” I mumbled finally, unbuckling myself, grabbing my backpack, and closing the car door. “I’m going to run inside and ask if you’ll need it, but I honestly doubt that you will.”
I located the title office inside of a building that contained many small offices. A cute, middle-aged blonde smiled as she greeted me.
“Hey, I’m Jace,” I smiled back at her, quickly stretching my hand out to shake hers.
“I’ve got Chris on the phone,” I explained to her, nodding my head up and down and assuming that she knew who Chris was, “and he wants to know if you guys will need his social at the closing or if his license will be sufficient?”
“Just the license,” she answered quickly, giving me another smile and a thumbs up.
“Awesome. Got that, Chris?”
“Then I’ll see you soon; be safe!”
He arrived. We sat together and talked for a long time. Finally, the attorney (was he an attorney?) walked into the conference room and greeted us, carrying a manila folder with him that was crammed with about four dozen pieces of paper.
“I’ve got my license,” I offered aloud as he joined Chris and I at the table, “my social security card, the official name change degree showing that I went from being ‘Amber Rose’ to ‘Jace’ last year, our marriage certificate, our divorce decree..” I continued rummaging through my backpack. The attorney looked on, seeming impressed.
“Wow; you’re VERY prepared. I would like to make a copy of the name change decree.”
Chris signed a couple of things; I signed lots of things. I was doing what’s called a cash-out refinance on a mortgage; the house would be mine now, as Chris was selling his portion of it to me. It was going to be the best option for each of us; living at the house would put me just ten minutes from work, and being free of the house would give Chris the freedom to pursue a more non-committal apartment life. “I think that, for right now at least, you should keep your options open,” I told him before the attorney had joined us, looking at him very seriously. “I don’t think that you need to commit to anything right now and that you shouldn’t try to settle down just yet.” He agreed.
In about twenty minutes, we were all done. The closing, which I had dreadfully anticipated for an entire month, was complete.
I had asked Chris, the week before closing, if we could please do something together afterwards.
“The closing is going to be miserable,” I explained.
“Why?” He asked, puzzled. “Why will it be miserable?”
“It just will, OKAY? It’s going to make everything very final. I know myself. It is going to suck.”
“Okay,” he responded quickly, “I get it. So what do you want to do?”
“How about we grab dinner afterwards?” I suggested.
“Sure,” he agreed.
“Cool! Where do you want to go?” I asked.
He thought about it for a second. “Ooooooh — I know! How about we go to our place; Mandarin House?”
It was like a dagger in the heart.
“Of course,” I responded. It was so bittersweet.
So we drove to Mandarin House in our separate cars this evening. As soon as we walked in, a server I’d never seen before seated us. Our favorite server came out from the back just as we were settling into a booth, and as she crossed the room, she laughed in our direction. “Not calling in tonight? Staying?”
This was our first time being at Mandarin House together in 8 months. I’d called in takeout during this time period for me and my roommate, and one time, when the server on the other end of the line had remarked: “Ahhh! He trying something new,” I almost cried, but I never had the guts to tell them that I was ordering for someone else now. So I excused myself to the bathroom this evening while Chris updated our favorite server on our new status.
When I got back, I slipped into the booth, tucked my knees under me and plopped my elbows onto the table. “Wellllll.. what did she say?” I asked. He was uncapping a beer.
“She said that she’s really glad we’re still friends,” he smiled, taking his first sip.
We chatted over the meal. I enjoyed every minute. At the end of the meal, I packaged up the leftovers while Chris shared a dream he’d had.
“I had this one a lot when I was younger,” he began, “and it’s resurfaced recently. In it, I’m driving down the road, in the dark, and when I look up, I see the moon hanging above this building. Suddenly, SOMETHING crazy happens and the moon just.. splits in half.” He shook his head here, bothered. “And a dream that I had last week seems related. It builds on the idea. In it, stars started falling from the sky.. falling down and hurting people. The stars looked like they were pieces of the broken moon.” He shook his head soberly, maintaining eye contact with me. “Sometimes, I feel like the world is just going to end abruptly. Tragically.”
Our server placed the ticket and two fortunate cookies onto the table. “Only two this time,” I murmured to myself. My fortune was stupid; something about gold and riches. Chris’s was fitting:
“I bring joy to people every day,” he stated confidently. I smirked.
I picked the ticket up off of the table and took it to the front counter. The cashier – another employee I’d never seen before – rang us up and asked us how our meal was.
“The night is young!” She announced excitedly after we’d answered her. “What are you going TO DO!”
I laughed at her. “I’m going to Saturn–” I began to answer.
“OOOOOOH, the coffee shop!” She interjected. “They have GIANT cookie!”
“Do they?” I queried, looking over at Chris uncertainly.
“I’m sure they do,” Chris nodded at me encouragingly.
“Yeah — they probably do,” I agreed with both of them. “So I’m going there,” I continued, “and he’s probably going home to sleep.”
We walked outside together and he unexpectedly pulled me into a side hug. I had reached into my front pocket before leaving the booth to make sure it was still there.
“Put this on,” I demanded suddenly.
He looked down, surprised, saw what I was holding, and reached his hand out to take it.
“Yes; it’s a fish,” I finished the sentence for him, smiling with amusement.
“A FISH RING?!” He laughed and slid it over different fingers, testing it out and trying to find the right fit. It happened to be on the wedding ring of his right hand.
“Yep,” I nodded again, “I found it at an antique shop a few weeks ago when I was hanging out with Tara. I wanted you to have it.. you know, to remember Chug by.” Chug is our German Shepherd, Bruster, who goes by hundreds of thousands of names, some of which include: Bruce, Woo!pet, Shep, Sheppy, Sheppy Shepperton, Bear-uh, Tep, Aisles of Woochega, Construction Zone, Barracuda, Pretty Boy, Princey Pie, Fishy and Fish.
“AND BY WEARING IT,” I finished, sounding very serious, “you are agreeing to be my best friend FOREVER.”
Chris looked down at the ring on his hand. “It’s a little tight, but it works.”
He got into his car. I turned around to leave.
“HEY, WAIT!” He stopped me suddenly. “You’ve got the bag of leftovers!”
“Oh — yeah!” I shook my head, dazed. “I’m glad you noticed! I’ll be at the beach all weekend. You’ll be able to get at least two more meals out of this.” I handed the bag over to him and smiled.
“It would have been a bummer if we’d forgotten,” he commented, laughing a little.
“Well,” I tilted my head, “if we did, I could have asked Saturn to hold the bag in their fridge for me while I sat there writing, but that would have been kind of weird. I’m pretty sure they already think I’m special; coming in every week, like clockwork, wearing the same outer space T, ordering the same drink, and writing for hours.” I shrugged it off.
“You are, Jace.” He paused, looking right at me. “You are one of the most special people I’ve ever known.”
His comment caught me off guard. It was impossible to keep my composure at this point, so I left.
“Love you,” I squeaked over my shoulder quickly as I power-walked over to my car.
Once inside, I shut the door and sobbed. I was a full-on emotional wreck.
Eventually, I was able to regain control. When I did, I turned on the ignition and loaded the GPS on my phone so that I could navigate to Saturn.
Right as I pulled out onto the main road, my phone rang; it was Christopher.
“Hey,” I answered as cheerfully as I could. I sounded nasal.
“Dude! I forgot to tell you something funny,” he began. I listened to him talk for another two minutes, laughed at what he shared with me, and then there was silence on the line.
“Now look,” he interrupted the quiet, “we had a nice time together this evening. Don’t get all emotional.” His voice was gentle.
“I know,” I whispered in reply. “I won’t.”
“Kay.” He sounded satisfied. “Gnite!”
“Goodnight, Chris,” I responded. “I love you.”
I drove to Saturn, feeling the weight of the fox pendant resting comfortably against my chest. I arrived safely, walked up to the front counter, and told my barista friend that I wanted the regular.
“You doing okay today?” He asked softly as he swiped my credit card. I wondered if my face was still red.
“Oh, yeah!” I answered confidently, trying to sound upbeat and way happier than I really was. “Today was very.. interesting. But it was a wonderful day,” I concluded honestly.
He poured my mocha into a pretty blue mug, handed it to me with a gentle smile, and then I settled down into my unchanging spot: the black, faux leather couch on the middle-left side of the room.
Something old: The fox pendant.
Something new: The fish ring.
Something black: The bold text on our stupid fortune cookies.
Something blue: The door I painted last month; the front door to my home. I did it as a simple promise to myself that I would slowly, over time, transform the house into what I envisioned it could be. That I would take care of it, treat it with care, and make it into exactly what I wanted it to be. I was the one who fell in love with the home 3 years ago when Chris and I first viewed it with our realtor. He was uncertain about the place; unconvinced and skeptical because of the hole in the ceiling, the musty carpets in every room, and the thirty-year-old water heater; I, on the other hand, was absolutely smitten.. choosing to look right past every problematic flaw and imagining how, together, we could fix it all.. how we could repair and improve everything.
“Oh Chris,” I remember pleading, “this place is SO worth investing in! Look at the windows.. it’s so bright in here. During the day, I bet you don’t even need to flip a single switch. And the layout is so open,” I continued. “This place feels so rustic.. it’s so incredibly homey.”
“Before you leave,” my friend said to me at 3:00 this afternoon, “I KNOW you don’t want to talk about it, but I have to say one thing, and I’ll say it quickly: Owning your own home at the age of 24 is pretty remarkable.” She paused to look me in the eye.
“Yeah,” I nodded at her. I didn’t know what to say.
“And you said a minute ago,” she continued, gazing down at the carpeted office floor as she recalled the words, “that you were going to take your time with the house.. that you were going to change it slowly and that you were going to make sure that the changes you made were done correctly; that they were good quality changes.”
“Yes, I did,” I agreed with her.
“That applies to more than just the house, you know.” She smiled knowingly, her blue eyes sparkling. I smiled back at her.
Today, a 24-year-old, wearing a raggedy, old NASA t-shirt and dingy gray Vans, purchased a home. This same 24-year-old looked across the table at their very best friend in the world, rejoicing with them in their new, sweet relationship, their upcoming promotion, and their plans for the weekend, and thought: If I wasn’t gay, I would have spent forever with you.
But I’m still here,