Stephanie – A Girl In A Million – Chapter 5

CHAPTER 5
THE NIGHTMARE RETURNS

The Saga division of Pickles, which was my main responsibility, was in a bad way financially. Much of it could be put down to the Hoover syndrome of too many people at the top having grown idle and complacent. I was working very hard trying to get to grips with Saga’s problems, and it didn’t take me long to realise that since so much of the financial bleeding was being caused by security problems at the largest store, in South East England, I should concentrate most of my efforts on reorganising things there. I spent the next year restructuring the company, selling off ‘oddballs’ so as to concentrate on more manageable units, establishing a new corporate “Superdex” identity developing an own brand product range, recruiting additional staff, conceiving more aggressive promotional policies and implementing tight budgetary controls. All this required a great deal of commitment in terms of effort and hours and, though mentally I thrived on the stimulation, physically it was taking it’s toll I began to feel run down.

Once or twice, when Marylin wanted to make love, I’d find myself confronted with the worrying syndrome of ‘the spirit being willing but the flesh being weak’. At first I tried telling myself that it was only natural for a man who worked as many hours as I did to feel tired, but when virtually every attempt at intimacy ended in failure I began to worry. For seven wonderful years I’d known nothing but total happiness and contentment, and the prospect of having all that snatched away from me was a real threat to my peace of mind and security. I’d never told Marylin anything about my former problem because it hadn’t seemed relevant. But with each repeated failure I began to wish that I had. Instead, I said nothing and, keeping my fears to myself, threw myself more and more into my work. I was caught up in a vicious circle of
failure, fear and work, and I didn’t know which of the three was aggravating my problem the most.

I started taking paperwork home with me and, as I still insisted on spending lots of time playing with the children before they went to bed, my ‘homework’ became the perfect excuse for staying up long after Marylin too had retired for the night. It was far too wrapped up in the horrors that were once more beginning to invade my own mind.

Inexplicable cold shivers of fear would suddenly strike me, though I couldn’t work out why. I began to have trouble sleeping ,and when I did eventually drop off I’d wake up several times in the night as if I’d had a nightmare whose details I couldn’t remember. When I awoke with a start in the early hours of one morning to find myself shaking and my body soaked in sweat I couldn’t deny what was going on: the dreadful spectre that had haunted so much of my life had returned. Sick with fear, I crept out of bed and locked myself in the bathroom. The same question that I’d silently screamed all those years ago was now repeating itself over and over again in my brain. What was wrong with me? Only this time it had a new twist: Why now, when I thought I’d been ‘cured’? And then a new thought occurred: Was it possible I could be going insane?

Poor Marylin. God knows what she must have thought at that time. Perhaps if I’d been a different kind of man it might have occurred to me that there’s only one conclusion a women will draw when her husband apparently loses all interest in the sexual side of their relationship, and not only spends a great deal of time staying away from home with a good-looking young secretary but even lets her visit him at home. It was only in retrospect that I realised how insensitive I had been, because of course Marylin was perfectly justified in believing that I was having an affair with this girl. In fact her occasional outbursts of intolerance about my relationship with Sandra ought to have alerted me to the situation. My only defence was that I was so wrapped up in my own problems I didn’t give a thought to what Marylin might be feeling. How thoughtless and selfish I was to a beautiful devoted loving wife.

Marriages don’t survive long with too many hidden secrets, and eventually Marylin became so upset that she confronted me over my ‘affair’ with Sandra. I was so aghast that all I could blurt out was: ‘My God, Marylin, I can’t believe you’d even
think such a thing!’

‘Well, what do you expect?’ she said, miserably. ‘After all, you spend most of your time with her. You rarely come home before ten o’clock, and calmly tell me you’ve been working late at the office with her. You stay away with her most of the time.

What else am I supposed to think?’

I was so upset that Marylin had been so unhappy for so long and had not said anything to me that I knew there was only one way I could make amends. The moment of truth had finally arrived, and if I wanted to save my marriage I had no choice. In order to reassure Marylin and convince her that I hadn’t been having an affair, I must tell her everything. We sat down together and I told her all the things I should have told her when we first met. Holding nothing back, I explained about the dreams; the problems I had always had with girls; my previous sexual inadequacies; even my fears about not knowing whether there was something seriously wrong with me. And Marylin, bless her, was wonderful. Naturally, her first reaction was relief. I don’t think that at that stage either of us had any idea of the enormity of what I was saying, probably because we both assumed that the real problem, whatever it might be, was solvable.

I was so glad that I’d finally been honest with Marylin and got everything off my chest that all I could feel was relief. we both cried as we held on to each other. ‘Why didn’t you say something sooner?’ I asked.

‘I was so afraid,’ Marylin sobbed. ‘I didn’t want to lose you. But now I know you weren’t having an affair and that you do still love me, everything’s going to be all right again.’

If only we had known that nothing was ever really going to be right between us again. Neither of us had any inkling that, far from being the beginning and end of a small difficulty between us, the situation with work and Sandra had merely precipitated the identification of a very serious problem indeed. In fact it was the beginning of the end. How I agonise in hindsight of how I could have handled it better and maybe have reduced the hurt I inflicted on the best wife in the world and our 3 beautiful children.

By now I was well aware that not even my most drastic measures were going to be enough to keep the company afloat. But the salvation appeared in the form of Gordon Steel, managing director of PGW Retail, a subsidiary of Berger, which was in turn part of the giant West German Hoechst Pharmaceutical Company. Gordon just turned up at my office one day and calmly announced to me that he was thinking about acquiring the entire Pickles organization. “What’s your reaction to that?” he asked in a tone that gave me no indication of what might lie behind the question. Initially I was very wary, but as we talked I began to realize that, since he was being so forthright and frank with me, the least I could do was return the compliment. Having painted a very bright picture of the group’s future should Berger (who owned PGW and was a subsidiary of the giant German Hertz Pharmaceuticals) gain control, I knew I had no option other than to support the takeover bid. I duly reported the conversation to my own boss, assuming that everyone at head office would be highly delighted with the prospect of imminent rescue. But within a few days I was left in no doubt that I had seriously miscalculated the situation. Hastily summoned to Yorkshire, I presented myself before the board and was immediately threatened with suspension if I co-operated with Berger or in any way aided their acquisition attempt. Mystified and very angry, I informed the board that as my responsibility was to work for the survival of the company and preserve the job security of my staff, the only course of action open to me was to support Berger’s takeover bid.

Furthermore”, I added angrily, “if you suspend me I’ll report this conversation to the Daily Telegraph who, given the investigative series they’re currently running on the strategies of this group and the behaviour of certain members of the board, will, I’m sure, greet this information with great interest”. Pickles plc was a publicly quoted FTSE company therefore had to publish it’s accounts and report any takeover offers.

It was a game of chess-and one that I knew I had a strong chance of winning. With so much at stake, and so may people’s jobs depending upon me, I was not about to be intimidated and it showed.

Berger formalized the takeover offer and Pickles was absorbed into the PGW Group. A few weeks later I presented my proposals for the reshaping of the retail division, based on the relocation and redevelopment of the large out-of-town DIY and gardening units, to Gordon Steel and his fellow directors at their Kingston-upon-Thames head office. My proposals were accepted. With Gordon’s backing I was appointed divisional controller, allocated a substantial sum of money to put my plans into action and given complete responsibility for everything from buying and merchandizing to marketing and promotions and a substantial pay rise to boot. With renewed enthusiasm I immediately set about organizing clearance sales, using TV advertising to promote loss leaders. Following each successful sale the stores were closed down, redesigned and completely restocked with a new mix of merchandise.

The moments when I stopped to catch my breath and review my situation, both professionally and personally, were few and far between. But whenever I did have time to think about my life, it struck me as rather ironic that I seemed to be caught up in a real-life game of Snakes and Ladders. On the one hand I was climbing the corporate ladder with great rapidity and my professional star was clearly on the rise, while on the other my personal life was sliding down those snakes with astonishing speed.

It was all very well for me-I could hide behind my work, my constant travelling and the excitement and challenge of solving my corporate dilemmas. But what of Marylin? True, we now had more money to cushion us and there were the children to keep her occupied. But in my heart I knew she needed and deserved far more than that; she needed a husband who came home for supper, not one who, if he turned up at all, crept in at three in the morning and never disturbed her with his touch. But Marylin was marvellous-she remained loving, understanding and incredibly supportive, and I was filled with admiration and guilt. I earned a huge salary and enjoyed a successful career that offered me status, responsibility and a reputation as something of a whiz-kid amongst my colleagues, but as a husband I seemed a total failure. I never put it into words, but I couldn’t hide it from myself: in every way that really counted, I was letting Marylin down. That’s why, though the idea filled me with horror and shame, when Marylin tentatively suggested that we seek medical help I felt I owed it to her to agree.

Together we went to see out GP. This proved a totally useless exercise as, predictably, he put the whole thing down to “pressure of work”. We went back time and time again until eventually, confounded by something he couldn’t understand, he referred me to a psychologist and then to a psychiatrist. For me the whole thing was humiliating and debasing. I had to endure these people probing into my background and my mind almost as if I was insane. But always at the back of my mind was the thought that what Marylin had been enduring for the past year or two was far, far worse, and because I knew that she had been through more than any woman could–or indeed should have to–put up with I continued with the treatment.

Meanwhile, some of my more imaginative business ideas were beginning to meet with resistance from my superiors. I had negotiated production of a new own-brand range, for which I had designed the containers, and was on the verge of awarding a contract to a manufacturer when I received a directive ordering me not only to give the contract to the Berger division of the group, but also to cease selling competitive brands of paint forthwith. I couldn’t understand the company’s reasoning. To imagine that stifling the competition would increase our own profitability seemed ludicrous to me. I argued the point, but the board remained adamant. Ignoring my protestations and warnings, the company proceeded to implement a major restructuring of their retailing and marketing strategy which I found wholly unacceptable.

Unfortunately, at one heated moment I had rashly declared that if the new policies went put into effect I would be unable to continue my employment with the group. It was a foolish thing to say because, as is so often the case, the corporate machine rolled on regardless of this (albeit fairly senior) cog in their wheel, and I found myself backed into a corner in which the only exit sign pointed to the door of resignation. Reluctantly and with great regret, I took my leave. Gordon wrote me a really nice letter shortly afterwards, expressing his sorrow at losing “a valued colleague and business friend” and his sincere appreciation not only for the support I had personally given to him but also for the hard work and effort I had put into my job.

I’d received a rather large ex-gratia payment from PGW, which not only bought me a little time in which to consider my next professional move but also paid for a “new” second-hand Volvo car for Marylin, who had been very worried and upset at this latest blow. I made one or two applications for jobs but, not wanting to leap too quickly, I took my time evaluating which was the best. Once more I was at home, happy to be spending time with Marylin and the children or pottering about the house and garden doing the hundreds of little jobs that had for so long been ignored.

I applied and was successful in finding an even better new job in the North of England as sales and marketing director with the Hestair Group plc, a FTSE 100 company, one of the leading contractors in the field of educational supplies, this did much to distract me. Once again I was fired into action by this new career challenge and, although we were reluctant to move so far away, it had to be done. We put our house on the market, sold it the same day and moved in with my parents, who fortunately had two spare bedrooms, until we could find something suitable near my new job. I embarked on a weekly train journey commuting between Manchester, where I worked in the week and Harpenden where I spent the weekends.

Six months were to pass before we found the perfect home in Darwen, Lancashire- a rambling, six bed roomed house called Wynthorpe. It was love at first sight. We couldn’t get over the fact that, in addition to having a one-and-a-half acre garden, we had a large lounge and dining room, a massive kitchen, a utility room and our very own wine cellar. However, not even the luxury of our new life could stop Marylin from feeling homesick and she never really settled there so far from her family and friends.

I threw myself into my new job with the same vigour I always did and it didn’t take me long to find out that the challenge I’d taken up was even greater than I had anticipated. I was horrified to learn that we were committed to an average of twenty-seven educational exhibitions each year, with all the attendant costs of such exercises. What nobody had ever set out to analyse was just how much commercial sense these exhibitions made. So I decided to attend one myself. As I suspected, most were just an excuse for married men to stay and play away from home.

One of my first tasks was to sort out the huge, full-colour catalogue which was sent to every school in the country. Once again I was appalled, because even the basic principles of marketing were being ignored. Instead of applying a sensible pricing structure that reflected the uniqueness of certain lines as most companies do, Hestair operated a set formula of marking up by a fixed percentage on cost regardless. The result was that some items would be priced at £1.01 when, of course, they should have been rounded down to 99 pence while others should have been priced a great deal higher simply because they were unobtainable elsewhere. I was going to have to scrap the new catalogue, which had only just been printed, arrange for every single product to be re-photographed and then have the whole thing rewritten. In addition to that, the entire pricing structure required radical reformulation in order to make commercial sense. It was a wonder how a company operating with so many handicaps could have survived., that it did so was largely due to inept competitors.

I drew up a master plan and then implemented the most radical changes the company had ever seen. I scrapped the majority of venues on the exhibition schedule, retaining just six which I thought might possibly produce something worthwhile. I replaced every technical expert the company employed with a sales or marketing professional and went out to competitive tendering for photography, typesetting and print on the new catalogue. The result was a bigger, better catalogue at a reduced cost per page. I then had developed computer programs capable of analysing order input, margin price and relative earnings per catalogue page. I also cancelled the science equipment catalogue that had only achieved sales of £20,000 on a stockholding five times that figure before travelling to Czechoslovakia to negotiate a deal that reduced the product range by 90 per cent. Having virtually worked around the clock for weeks, during which time I had sweated blood and tears on proposals which would either consolidate my position within the company or lead to disaster, all I could do now was mail out the catalogue to every school in the country and then sit back and wait for the verdict.

Vindication was visible to all when turnover immediately leaped by 40 per cent, with an accompanying 5 per cent rise in gross margins. Better still, I was given the immediate go-ahead to exploit both the contract and export sides of the business. Soon, contract after contract was falling into our eager hands after we tore up the cartel agreement with all of our competitors which had ensured that no contract was ever won or lost and councils paid top dollar for all their school stationary. From being a fifth-rate regional supplier,
My decision to discount books to local authorities immediately won us contracts but almost immediately The Publishers Authority which championed the Retail Price Maintenance Legislation sued us. I went down to address them and found a lot of elderly fuddy-duddy’s who wanted to maintain the status quo which in effect just subsidised poor sellers at the disadvantage of both local authorities and the reading public. So we went to court and won, thus bringing to an end another cartel. Subsequently of course Amazon has turned their cosy world upside down. No-one has a divine right to take your money, they have to compete to do so and that will always be in the interest of the consumer.

We also took on Griffin & George by running advertisements showing the exact same laboratory borosilicate glassware product with identical description stating “the only difference is the price” and that difference showed savings of circa 75%. These ran weekly as full page ads in the Times Educational Supplement and inevitably I soon received a writ but they only thing they could achieve was to get us to remove their trademark from the ads.

Within five years we had moved to take over the market leader slot. but I knew that staying ahead of the game required even more work after Robert Maxwell purchased our fiercest competitor E. J. Arnold. So I formulated an idea for a competition to encourage people in the educational sector to submit their own ideas for a new product or teaching aid. We developed my idea in conjunction with the Times Educational Supplement and launched the “Brainwave Awards”, which proved to be successful enough that they soon became an annual event.

Hot on the heels of that success, I was approached by an eccentric, likable Welshman called Rupert Oliver (we met up years later and rekindled our friendship which lasts to this day) Rupert’s concept, so simple and yet so brilliant, has now become known as a “totally soft play environment” (TSPE) for blind and handicapped children. It involved first padding the walls and floor of a room with foam material covered in tough, washable PVC; this room would then be filled with enormous shapes such as giant balls, circles, mountains, slides and so on, all constructed from the same soft protective materials. We placed the first installation at the Royal School for the Blind in Edinburgh, and I went along to witness at first hand how the children would cope with this unique equipment. The memory of that day will stay with me for as long as I live, and as I flew home that evening I felt immensely humbled at what I had experienced with those wonderful children who lived in a world of darkness and had to rely totally on their hands to “see”.

Over the next seven years, success followed success as I began to spend more time travelling abroad to straighten out the export side of Hestair’s business. I’d climbed a long way up corporate ladder and though it was tough getting to the top, the ambitious streak I discovered within me meant that I revelled in every tiring, hard-working minute of my climb. Professionally, it seemed I could now do no wrong. But in my personal life things were going from bad to worse, and my relationship with Marylin was sliding downhill fast entirely down to me.

The Psychiatrist whom I had been seeing suggested that I should try being analysed under hypnosis. It seemed a pretty bizarre idea to me, but having come that far it would have been daft to refuse, particularly as I didn’t think they’d have much success hypnotizing me in the first place. When the session was over, he made no mention of what I had said or even what he might have learned, merely suggesting that I take some advanced medical tests and come back and see him again. At the time I wasn’t aware that Marylin might have been taking anything more than a normal interest in what was going on. She attended most of the session with me, except those that involved hypnosis, and when we got home we’d often discuss what had occurred. To be honest, my feeling was that it was all mumbo jumbo, and nothing so far had caused me to change my long held belief that psychiatrists are far weirder than any of their patients. However, something that may have been said (or even left unsaid), or some line of reasoning that may have been pursued had, as it turned out, given Marylin food for thought. One evening she announced that she was going to the library, and when she returned a few hours later she looked as if she had seen a ghost. “Keith”, she said a little distractedly, “let’s sit down and talk”. At first I thought she might want to say something about one of the job offers I’d turned down, or maybe to discuss a minor problem with the kids. Though I could see she definitely wasn’t her normal, cheerful self, it didn’t occur to me that what she was about to reveal would change the course of our lives. I made a pot of tea, carried it through to the lounge and sat down next to Marylin on the settee. There was several minutes of silence as she thoughtfully stirred her tea, put her cup to her lips and took a sip. Then, as if she’d finally reached an important decision, she placed her cup firmly back on the saucer, took my hand between hers and looking straight into my eyes uttered the words that, had only we known it then, were to herald the end of our life together.

“Keith, I know what’s wrong. I know what you are”. Uncomprehending, I could only stare back. “Keith”, Marylin explained, her voice gentle and patient, “you’re a textbook transsexual”.

Her words filled me with horror. “What on earth are you saying” I said indignantly. No one had ever uttered the word before, so she couldn’t have picked it up from one of the psychologists. Clearly, something that somebody had said had triggered off a new line of reasoning in her head. I could only presume that, having absorbed and recalled everything I’d told her about my past, she had been determined to learn more.

Marylin tried hard to make me understand: “What you are….what you have is…. more than the usual amount of feminine traits”.

“I’m not gay!” I hotly denied, upset and annoyed that I was being accused of something, but not quite sure what.

“I don’t mean that. I know you’re not gay. What it means is that…..” It was difficult for Marylin to find the words that would convince me of the truth she now seemed to be so sure of herself. “Look, think back. Think how you were with the children, the babies, think how you always loved to help me…. how you’ve always been able to understand me, to know intuitively how I feel!”

Not only could I not believe what I was hearing, I was incapable of even beginning to comprehend the enormity of what Marylin was trying to explain. “Well, yes, I’ve always cooked a lot, but lots of men do”. “Look, you’ve fathered children, so there can’t be anything physically wrong with you….but, inside you…..”

I must have looked in total shock and Marylin, unable to get through to me, was growing more upset and frustrated with each attempt. “Remember how naturally you helped me with the twins when they were born? How easily you adapted to being their mother when I had a threatened miscarriage?”

“But lots of men have done all those things” I protested. Marylin took a deep breath. Then, very quietly she said: “Okay, then think about your dreams, for gods sake!”

I’d thought about those dreams-God knows I’d hardly ever stopped thinking about those damned dreams-but somehow I couldn’t relate them to what Marylin was telling me now. If you add two and two together, you expect four, but what I’d just been told didn’t add up at all. If Marylin had said to me, “You’ve got a loose wire, a loose connection in your brain”, I could have lived with that, but what she was telling me was something far, far worse. The word had been spoken, and now that whatever it was had been given a name, it seemed more monstrously real.

We both began to weep, me trying hard to cling on to my sanity in the awful light of what I had just heard but couldn’t quite believe, and Marylin trying to cling on to me amidst the dreadful certainty of what she now knew to be true. How terrible it must have been for her. To discover that the man you’ve loved and lived with for many years, the man who’s fathered your children, is emotionally and mentally a woman is bad enough-but to have to be the one to convince that man of the truth about himself. How did she find the strength to do it?

That night we held each other close in bed, neither of us saying much- what was there to say?-both of us unable to sleep. Marylin must have been distraught, but all her concern was for me. The following day we tried to carry on as normal. Neither of us mentioned Marylin’s revelation of the previous evening, probably because neither of us could think what to do next. And, as the old saying goes, “When in doubt, do nowt.”

The one thing I did do, though, was immediately cancel all my appointments with the psychiatrists. I’d listened to something I didn’t want to hear, and I had no intention of allowing things to go any further than that. If there truly was something wrong with me, I’d sort it out on my own-I didn’t need anyone else interfering in my life. And so I buried the knowledge that I didn’t want to believe. Not being able to face the enormity of it, I simply blocked it out of my consciousness and thus out of my life.

In desperation I went to see my GP who, having access to my file and therefore the psychiatrist’s notes, just looked at me with great sympathy and told me gently that in his considered opinion there was only one way out – I was a transsexual with the body of a man but a female brain. Still, I refused to believe him. There must be something that could be done, some way out of this mess. I was frantic, unable to accept that this was the end of the road for my marriage, but too weak to decide what else we could do. Frightened, lost and helpless, like a man in the grip of a witch doctor’s spell, The stress made me physically ill so I retreated to my bed where I stayed for eight tortured weeks. I lay there like a zombie, wanting only to die. The awful dream that had for so long tormented my nights now spilled over to haunt my days as well. What made it even more unbearable was that I knew Marylin was also going through a private hell of her own.

Meanwhile, my work was suffering. Although I dragged myself out of bed to go on a Far Eastern trip that had been planned months before, once I was out there I became so ill that the company had to fly me straight back home.. I was beginning to go insane. Though my memory of those days is still far from clear, it seems that on one particular occasion I even flew out of my bed and dashed around the house screaming as I held my head in my hands. All poor Marylin could do was sit on the stairs and sob her heart out. I can’t begin to imagine what her life must have been like during those months. I only know that I put her through hell and that’s something I know I’ll never forgive myself for. Neither of us knew what too do and both of us were beyond sorting ourselves out, let alone helping each other.

My decision made, I felt nothing but a strange sense of peace flowing through me. The desperation, the panic, the trauma would soon be a thing of the past. I checked to make sure the children were still asleep, then I sat down and wrote a note to Marylin explaining my thoughts and feelings, asking for her forgiveness for all that I had put her through and reassuring her that in no way was she to blame. To be as I was, was not anybody’s fault. Knowing that people have a tendency to blame themselves when things go wrong, I wanted only to reassure Marylin now. It wasn’t her fault, it wasn’t my parents’ fault, it wasn’t anyone’s fault- it was just the way things were.

I was counting out the tablets into my palm, preparing to swallow them one by one, when the telephone rang. I hesitated, not knowing whether I should answer or just let it ring. Fate dictated. It was Trevor. Had he had some kind of premonition? Or was it sheer coincidence? Trevor and I had grown so close over the years, it was useless my trying to deny anything was wrong when he could tell just from the sound of my voice.

‘Keith, whatever you’re thinking about or planning, don’t do it – it’s not worth it,’

Trevor insisted. ‘Promise me, Keith, that you won’t do whatever is on your mind?’

Trevor stayed on the phone for what seemed like hours as he talked to me, saying the same thing over and over again. Eventually he made me give him my word that I wouldn’t commit suicide, but just to make sure he insisted that I ring him again in half an hour. ‘If I don’t get your call, I’ll phone your local police station immediately and I’m going to get straight into my car and drive up there,’ he warned.

I knew Trevor would do just as he had threatened, so I returned his call not once but many times, because on each occasion he extracted yet another promise that I’d call him again at the end of the next half-hour. Tired beyond belief, I abandoned all thought of suicide and eventually managed convince Trevor that my darkest moment had passed.

I don’t know what time Marylin came home, but when I awoke she had left for work. Feeling like hell, I stumbled into the bathroom and was my reflection staring back at me in the mirror. One glance was enough to convince me that I looked like hell, too.

You’ve got to do something, I told myself. Make a decision. Either kill yourself or have medical treatment, because you certainly can’t go on living like this. Either way I’d lose my beloved Marylin and our three children, and faced with that, surely suicide must be the best way out?

Once again I toyed with the idea. How would my parents cope with the news that they had a son who might soon become their daughter? How would my wife come to terms with the fact that her husband was going to become a woman himself? And, worst of all, what psychological damage might it do to my children if the discovered that their father could soon be a woman? No truly sane individual could possibly make the people he loves go through that. And if I decided to live and got through with the change, what would be the cost to all of our lives be?

Over the years, both Marylin and I had learned a little more about the word ‘transsexual’. We both knew that the only course of action involved three years of hormone treatment before painful and dangerous surgery. Gender reassignment, the technical term for the process of changing sex, seemed to me to be a long, hard, unrewarding road that would cost me absolutely everything I had achieved and everything I held dear. But more than that, I couldn’t conceive that there could be any worthwhile kind of life beyond it.

For days I wrestled with my problem, uncertain what to do for the best. On the one hand, part of me wanted to die right then; on the other, something kept whispering in my mind that if it hadn’t been for Trevor, I wouldn’t be alive now. Could that mean that my moment of truth had come and gone? My mind had been made up, but something about Trevor’s uncanny sense of timing seemed to me to be a sign. And then I knew that my very last option had gone. I had to face it – there was only one way out, now. I would go through with it. I’d finally do what I had not had the courage even to think about over the past seven years. I would undergo the dreaded treatment and if I ended up a freak I would kill myself then…

When Marylin came home from work we had the most sensible – and certainly the calmest – conversation we had had in a long time as I outlined what I had decided. Having made up my mind, I felt incredibly calm. All the anger, the trauma, the pain and the fear had gone, and for the first time in several years I felt at peace.

Having asked Marylin to think carefully about what I had chosen to do, she came back with the suggestion that I wait for two months. I remember it was just before Christmas, and though we both had a great deal on our minds, it was probably one of the nicest Christmases we’d had in many years. When the two months were up, Marylin asked for more time. I didn’t mind, I knew what I had to do – all I needed now was Marylin’s support.

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