Four years have come and gone since Barbara left this life, and moved on to whatever comes next. Many times I have considered trying to write about our life together, but it always seemed too painful. I will try again, today.
Life with Barbara was, in many ways, wonderful beyond comprehension. She loved me just as I was. She encouraged, and assisted, me to allow my true self to shine. I remember clearly the first time she said to me: “You are happier as a woman. I want you to be happy.” We had been together about a year at that point, but had been friends for about three years before we became a couple. She knew about my dysphoria before we started dating. She was my closest friend then, and that continued until the day she passed.
We married in a private religious ceremony in November of 2003. We didn’t file a marriage license, for financial reasons related to the fact that her three children were in college, and my income at the time would have cost them most, if not all, of their financial aid. So we were married in the eyes of our church, but not in the eyes of the federal government. It was a beautiful ceremony, on an island in the middle of the Colorado River. We planned it around a float trip down the river. We loved nature, and this was a grand location. Our best friends were in attendance, under the full moon, as we said our vows to one another. We were very much in love, and our life together reflected that to the very end.
But it was not all sunshine and roses. [Even though she did love roses!] Barbara was severely abused as a child, and it left her with extreme complex PTSD. Her skull was broken by her father, and left untreated, when she was a teenager, to cite just one example. She also had memories that suggested early sexual abuse as well, though those were never clear.
Early in our relationship, if we had an argument, she would disappear for a while. Unlike someone who just goes for a walk to clear their head, or some such, Barbara often hid in the very back of a walk-in closet. I would find her cowering as though she was certain her life was in danger. Of course it never was, but that is typical of PTSD. In her childhood, if there was an argument, her life truly was in danger. If that’s all you know for 18 years, it’s hard to unlearn.
She did get beyond that, with the help of a therapist, and a lot of patience on my part. And once she had, that’s when she became my biggest supporter, and loudest cheerleader. I had my own issues with childhood abuse, though certainly not to the degree she did. And she gave me the strength to confront those, and my dysphoria. Just a few months before the illness struck that finally took her from me, she started teaching me many of the societal things I would need to know to truly be the woman I was meant to be.
I already knew a lot more than anyone would have guessed. I spent much of my youth studying female behavior, and trying to model it myself. That was a big part of why I suffered abuse. My father was determined to “make a man out of me”. But there were nuances to those behaviors that Barbara helped me to integrate. It was a two way street, too, because all her life she had been denied certain very feminine things, like manicures, makeup, fancy hair styles, etc. Her father first, then her husband, both saw those as wasteful frivolities, and denied them to her. Together, we reclaimed those things for each of us.
She helped me to select my true name. No, she didn’t suggest it, she made me do that. But she did help me choose between the options I proposed, and ultimately I became Janet. It was around January 2008 when that name became the one. I began to openly social transition, and started coming out to our closest friends.
We had just reached the point of making occasional trips in public as Janet and Barbara, when Hurricane Ike struck, and her colon ruptured. During her time in the hospital, I went back into the closet. We both were afraid that her quality of care would be compromised, and that I might be denied access to her, if I remained out as a trans woman. In the eyes of the hospital, as of the federal government, we were an unmarried couple, so my rights remained in question.
She lived for almost two more years, but those years were painful, physically, for her. Her surgical wound didn’t heal properly, and for 18 months she had a dinner plate sized gap in her skin, where you could see the fascia growing over the wound. After the initial hospitalization (from September 3 to December 12), she was released to home health care. We had several wonderful home nurses. We eventually learned that her two primary nurses (Denise and Shirley) were actually married to one another, and open about that. Once we knew that, I came out to them, and started living (at home) again as Janet, with Barbara’s blessing. Her insurance ultimately stopped paying for the home nursing care, and for a time, I became her only wound care nurse.
I think that’s enough for now. Even this much has been heart-wrenching on this day, the fourth anniversary of her passing. I hope to try to write more about our time together. I don’t know for certain whether doing so will help, or hurt, my very stunted healing process. But it feels like something I need to do, while I still can.