Transitional Housing

BRUNO WASN’T an attractive man. He was even more unattractive as a woman. A union truck driver for 37 years, he’d held it together and then when his wife, that bitch Darlene, said she’d found true love with some muffler repairman she’d been engaging in cybersex with on the internet, Bruno had to admit he wasn’t a very happy guy. Mainly because he wasn’t very happy as a guy. But he didn’t know that yet.

Stuck in the urban sprawl that had once been a highly sought after suburb of San Francisco, but now, in Bruno’s opinion, was more an extension of Southeast Asia – hundreds of little brown families having invaded over the past twenty years – it had gotten so Bruno didn’t even recognize the old neighborhood and worse the signs were all in a writing he couldn’t decipher. Bilingual wasn’t in Bruno’s vocabulary, plus he just didn’t give a shit.

Sitting in their half empty duplex, Darlene having taken exactly half of everything, well at least what all she could fit in a 5×8 utility trailer pulled by a Ford Galaxy, the car Bruno had bought when they first married, and she had insisted on keeping well past its prime.

“Don’t like change,” was Darlene’s motto. But if that was true why was she off banging Mr. Goodwrench and Bruno was still here?

Bruno, in the reclined position of the La-Z-Boy, his feet up so he could stare at his legs encased in nylon pantyhose sticking out of a red cocktail dress – one of many Darlene had left behind. Thankfully she and Bruno were somewhat close to being the same size, and so every night after work he’d come home, slip on a bra, pantyhose, and this dress, pop open a beer, and watch TV until it was time to fall asleep. In other words essentially nothing had changed in Bruno’s life, except Darlene was gone and now he felt free enough to indulge in what he’d only fantasized before.

But as Bruno watched TV he kept seeing a world out there he’d never really thought about, or even considered. And slowly he realized he’d been living a lie. Him and Darlene hadn’t had sex in twenty-three years. The only thing that’d turned him on was fingering her lingerie, and that was only when she wasn’t in it. Night after night they’d shared a bed, not touching, and Bruno laying flat on his back wondering why he couldn’t stop thinking about that prison sex exposé on MSNBC’s Lockdown. Visions of sweaty muscle-bound tattooed convicts fudge-packing each other all night in their dank prison cells ran on a continuous loop through his brain until he feared he’d somehow gotten infected with the homo-gene.

And yeah, there was that one dude at work, Stevie. Everyone sweared he was gay. But him and Bruno had always eaten lunch together, everyday for years. Maybe Stevie was gay, and it’d somehow rubbed off? But then why’d Bruno only get a stiffy when he slipped on a pair of Darlene’s old polyester rayon panties, and not when he’d stared at Stevie’s ass?

“Have I turned gay?” Bruno asked himself as he straightened the A-Line of Darlene’s… well, actually it was his red cocktail dress now.

Segue to the present, after numerous sessions with his therapist, Bruno was no longer Bruno, he was Bridget. His house in the suburbs sold, Darlene forgotten, Bridget had moved into what was known as transitional housing. Otherwise referred to as a “county subsidized single occupancy environment” that San Francisco provided for mental health and recovering drug addicts. Bridget had entered into treatment for GID, gender identity disorder, and because of this qualified for hormone replacement therapy – Bruno had made the decision.

Shaved her legs and then he was a she. She says, “Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side.”

“Wish it was that fuckin’ easy,” said Bruno.

He had to live for at least a year as a woman. Dress like one, and go about life, before he could even think about getting the tuck-and-roll surgery. Of course this made keeping his job almost impossible. If the guys thought Stevie was gay, what were they going to say when he showed up as Bridget? Not to mention the double D’s he’d just gotten implanted. No, it wasn’t going to be pretty and Bruno had no intention of living through that hell. Fuck them. San Francisco was where it was at.

I step into the elevator and there’s a large unattractive woman, or at least I think it’s a woman, but in this building it could be anybody’s guess, and really I don’t care. I turn my back on her and press the button for the lobby. Damn elevator won’t go straight to the ground floor as there used to be a security desk on the 2nd floor, back when it was a building just for clients fresh out of rehab, and they’d hooked it up so that everyone had to check in with a uniformed guard. But now it just stopped on the second floor, the door opening to an empty desk, and then it’d continue its decent to the lobby, where there was nothing to prevent any scumbag from gaining access.

“You smell good,” says the large ugly woman behind me.

My ass muscles tighten.

“Thanks,” I say. “Must be my hair goo.”

“Pineappley coconut, like a Mai Tai.”

“Ah, yeah.”

“Name’s Bridget. I could just eat you up.”

I turn and look into Bridget’s eyes and see sadness and pain and shitload of fear that belies her outspoken bravado. Then notice her outstretched hand and quickly grab it to shake. It’s unbelievably rough and calloused, makes mine look nancy-boy soft, her grip like a macho jock.

“Easy there, Bridget.” I pull my hand back, shake it lose. “Kinda partial to havin’ all my digits intact and working.”

“Sorry,” she says with what I assume she must think is the voice of a young girl. Only that girl would’ve had to been smoking twelve packs a day for fifty years to achieve that gravel.

The door opens and we’re at the lobby. There’s sun coming in and a stumbling wino is weaving his way towards us.

“Hole da ‘vator!” he screams and I step out of the way, but he collides into Bridget, the impact sending him backwards onto his ass.

“Holy shit!” he screams. “Ya play fo da Niners?”

Outside, under the elevated freeway that serves as the roof to our building’s front entrance, I stop to light a cigarette.

“Have a nice day,” coos Bridget as she teeters off on high heels, navigating the usual detritus of broken bottles, human waste, and spent syringes that’s always present here on the sidewalks of the yet to be gentrified SoMa district. And I’m standing there thinking how does it come down to whoever Bridget was before she decided to become Bridget making that decision and then living with it? My life is pretty simple right now. All I got to do is stay clean, steer clear of the law, and avoid those deep holes of depression that pop up every now and then. Not like I’m in the wrong body. Or even wondering who I am. Unfortunately, I know who I am. That’s why I’m here. So, I guess I’ve answered my question, because that’s why Bridget’s here too.

I suck in smoke, like my life depends on it. Mixed in with the fine black soot that’s raining down from the freeway and I’m probably looking at emphysema and a host of other terminal pulmonary disorders that will result in my having lived here for years.

“Everybody’s gotta die sometime,” I mumble to myself.

Two days later I’m in the laundry room, switching my clothes from the washer to the dryer, and in walks Bridget with a portable hamper in her arms. Only she’s not dressed as Bridget. No makeup, no wig, no dress, no heels. Just sweats, hoodie, pair of converse, and a flattop haircut.

“Hi Mr. Pineapplehead,” she gushes. But the effect is a little bit unnerving. It’s like as if my soccer coach from eight grade was imitating Marilyn Monroe, and very badly.

“Ya know Bridget, you ain’t gotta do all that with me.”

“No?”

“Nah, we’re cool just the way it is. Ok?”

“Sure,” and the she’s loading her clothes into the machine I just vacated.

“Thanks,” she whispers.

“No problem,” I say.

It’s a hot afternoon. I’m on the roof in the shade of the utility tower watching the cars come off the Bay Bridge. Up here I’m almost even with the elevated highway, and there’s this melodic rhythm of rolling rubber across concrete that’s deafening, but at the same time hypnotic. When I first came to look at the apartment in this building the county was offering me I said to the lady that showed it that I wasn’t sure I could get used to the constant noise of traffic.

“After awhile,” she said. “Starts to sound like waves in the ocean.”

“Waves honking horns maybe,” I said.

Although now, unless I’m up here, I really don’t notice, and being somewhat mesmerized, I didn’t so much as see or hear Bridget walk up as felt her presence behind me.

“Gotta extra smoke?” she asks.

“Of course, here.”

I pass her the pack of Camels and the lighter. She sits down, lights up, and hands them back.

“Ever feel like bein’ someone else?”

I have to think about it for a second, I mean sure there’s vague desire to be like a rock star I’m sure most everyone’s gone through. Always wanted to be thinner, have a better body, or look real good. But to truly want to be someone other than me?

“Don’t think so,” I say.

“Ya know, I wasn’t always Bridget.”

And instead of making a snide remark, or some of my usual smartassness, I continue smoking as she talks. Telling me all about Darlene leaving, thirty-seven years driving trucks, and why she prefers to dress in women’s clothes. Feels like some sort of confessional, only I ain’t no goddamn priest.

“Don’t like change,” she mumbles.

“Nobody does,” I say, and then there’s just the sound of traffic as we sit there in the shade.

When the sun hits the top of Twin Peaks, and light changes to a softer hue, I notice Bridget is gone. I light another cigarette and wonder why she’d told me her life story and then quietly left without even saying goodbye.

The ambulance is outside, along with the fire trucks and police. They’ve all got their lights flashing. I make my way through, and get accosted at the front door by a cop.

“Checkin’ everybody’s ID,” he says.

“Why?”

“You live in this building?”

“Yeah. Do you?”

“Smart guy, huh?”

“Just tryin’ to get home.”

“What floor you on?”

“Fourth.”

“Have ta use the stairs, taking the body down now.”

“Body?”

“Nother suicide. This building, y’all should be used to it.”

The elevator door opens. Two EMS workers push the gurney out. There’s a black body bag on it, whoever’s dead was large. The cop puts his arm out, moves me out of the way.

“Make room,” he shouts. But it’s only me and him and the paramedics.

“Who killed themselves?” I ask.

“Ugliest tranny I’ve ever seen,” says the paramedic as he shoves the rolling gurney through the door out onto the sidewalk. “And believe me, I seen a lot.”

800px-Twin_Peaks-San_Francisco

Patrick O'Neil

About Patrick O'Neil

Patrick O'Neil is a former junkie bank robber and the author of the memoir "Gun, Needle, Spoon" (Dzanc Books, 2015), and an excerpted in part French translation titled, "Hold-Up" (13e Note Editions, Paris, France). His writing has appeared in numerous publications, countless film festivals have rejected his documentaries, and he continues to play and record music, much to the ire of his immediate neighbors. He currently lives in the heart of sleaze "Hollywood, California" and teaches at a community college to students whose main purpose in life is destroying the English language. Find more of his writing, music, and films at patrick-oneil.com.
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3 Responses to Transitional Housing

  1. Paul Zolbrod says:

    A poignant narrative well told, thanks largely to the poetry of its honest vernacular, which puts the significance of Bruno/Bridget’s story in high relief.

  2. Pingback: Reading for Roar Shack: Transitional Housing | Patrick O'Neil

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