How to knock over a coke machine
Author’s Note: This is truly a tribute to Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya’s incredible play, The Gayest Things I Did In My Twenties
At 33, a friend I had been drinking with all my adult life quit after many failed attempts. He told me that something life-changing like this is like tipping a coke machine – sometimes you have to rock it back and forth a bit until it tips over. I think a lot about this sentence.
I started 30 still a little drunk from the night before. Fully dressed in a brand new suit, lying face down on my bed with a dried cake stuck to my face and half a McDonald’s cheeseburger in my pocket. Carefully packaged in its original packaging. The previous night there had been a party in my honor at a veterans hall that occasionally rented the hall out to interested people looking to spend a lot of money on booze.
It took hours of partying before my partner’s sisters asked me if I understood what was going on. Everyone came dressed like me. At the time, I was very closed off, living like a man, and doing my best to make it work for me. It was like going to a driving range and throwing the ball half-heartedly a few yards. I was trying but just for show. My fashion sense was a Pinterest board of American Apparel heather gray, patterned button-up fitted shirts. I had a little transmasc atmosphere long before I became a woman.
At 31, I told my partner that alcohol made my depression worse and that I thought maybe I should try to slow down. She said to me: don’t be one of those people who don’t drink. So we drank bourbon until she fell asleep, and I leaned against the bathroom wall so the room would stop spinning and I could read fictionmania on my iPad.
I came out trans when I was 35, the fourth time I had rocked that particular coke machine back and forth. The first crush happened when I was 20 and said to my girlfriend “I think I want to be a girl” while Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me” was playing in the background.
Every time I’ve told a romantic partner I’m trans, they’ve rejected me, so I figured this time wouldn’t be any different. I gathered my nerves as I lay in a lukewarm tub eating warm cheese bread from Dominos and drinking scotch from a measuring cup. In a way, it was the right time.
At 33, my then boyfriend – the one who warned me of the dangers of not drinking too much – and I separated. We had separated. She was eager to go back to school and embark on a new city, a new life. She wanted to get out and see what the world had to offer outside of the small town we grew up in. I was older than her and an exhausted alcoholic who knew everyone but couldn’t name a single street in our town. I had learned to hate my life so much that the effects of it rippled through every other aspect of my life. My only escape was the stories of Ficitonmania and watching Laverne Cox thrive on Orange Is The New Black and thinking that if a firefighter can become a woman, then surely a construction worker in her thirties can.
At 36, I was putting the finishing touches on the sliding front door of a retirement home I had designed and built. When I walked up to my 1995 Nissan Pathfinder, there was a note placed under the windshield wiper telling me that if I stayed too long they would find my body at the job site. The death threat was implied, but no one “finds a body” while you’re still alive. When I told the site superintendent about it, he laughed, looked me up and down – my face stained from laser hair removal, my hair at this difficult stage of growth – and said “I hope that they won’t find you then.”
Halfway through 37, I was sitting in a window seat of a plane landing in Toronto. Everything I owned had been hastily tossed into boxes and then piled up in my old room at my parents’ house, except for my bag which took forever on the baggage carousel. Friends in the West End were putting me up in the spare bedroom of their loft until I found accommodation. That first morning I woke up in Toronto far from everything I had left behind, I took a messy selfie in the broken full length mirror in their living room before settling into the couch with a old copy of Nevada I found on the shelf.
At 32, standing in line at the grocery store, there was an issue of TIME magazine with the words ‘the transgender tipping point’ in the impulse buy section, right next to a display of spearmint gum and Canadian chocolate bars. The cover star was Laverne Cox, standing tall and elegant in a blue dress. I was in a runaway state, the three hours I had to eat frozen pizza and nap between nights of working rebuilding the entrance to a Walmart and working during the day building the entrance to a Real Canadian Superstore. She was so beautiful, so proud, standing so tall and looking through my dead, tired eyes, into my soul. The guys in front of me took a copy and joked that she was a freak. They turned to me for reassurance. I stood there in the clothes I’d been wearing for a week straight, my hand wrapped in duct tape deterring the tide from a cut I suffered that morning, and told them to fuck off.
After yelling at each other in the parking lot, these two strangers and I on opposite sides of an invisible battle line, they told me that monsters don’t deserve to live and if I love them so much, why don’t I did I not join them? They were simply two years too early.
At 37 I quit drinking in the morning after an amazing party where I made drinks for friends all night, laughed and danced and smoked cigarettes and gave names to the rats and raccoons that had us joined on the outer deck as night slowly turned to day. When I woke up my first thought was to stop everything, and I knew this time I had to push the coke machine as hard as I could. I went down to a queer tattoo shop, and a gorgeous trans woman gave me a tattoo of a self-obsessed harpy with scars and tattoos of their own looking in a mirror. When I got home I emptied all my booze down the sink and never drank again.
At 37, I started my writing career after screwing around with blogs that no one read. When a website that no longer exists asked me to write about a protest I participated in, I lied and said “of course I know how to do that” and then I Googled what a HED and a DEK are.
At 36, one of my closest friends, whom I’ve had a crush on for many years since a chance encounter at a music festival she was playing, becomes my companion while she’s in town for a few days recording a disc. We eat very good nachos twice at the same very good restaurant on two different visits in the same night. Two days after we first kissed, I tell her I love her while Law & Order is playing on a Macbook Air in the background.
At 39, I’m writing this for a website for which I’m an editor. I often feel like I’m scamming people with my work, even though I’m a regular writer for three different outlets and it’s my full-time job. At lunch, I walk our dog around the block and call my mother. We talk about what’s new and exciting, and she tells me how happy and proud she is of me, how thrilled she is that I’ve found myself.
Two days ago, I told her that I was afraid that being 40, that 40 felt real to me in a way that 30 didn’t. When I turned 30, I thought I had a few years left to pull myself together. Despite the fact that I woke up with most of a cheeseburger in my pocket which I also ate without any fear in my heart of the consequences. I thought I was supposed to have arrived earlier than expected.
Everything in my life just started falling together. The pieces have started to find the places where they fit to complete a puzzle. My mom just laughs and reminds me when she was 40 she was just trying to keep her head above water. We get there when we get there.
When I turned 39, I became so depressed that I didn’t speak for two days. I often cried and looked out the windows towards the street with an indescribable emptiness in my heart. When I was finally able to talk to my fiancée about it, I told her that I was afraid of turning 40. 40s is when my mom got sick, 40s I feel like I missed my shot, I would never achieve the things I wanted in my life.
But now, here, in the final minutes, my forties so close I can touch them, my thirty feels just like a running start, the final push.
The coke machine is on its side, so completely upside down.