13 September 2010

After 9.11: Riding Without The Guys

Now, two days after the anniversary of 9.11, I'm thinking about how that day changed my cycling life.  I'm not going to talk about how it changed my life because that's way beyond the scope of this blog, much less this post.

None of the cycling partners I had at that time in my life are cycling partners now.  In fact, most of them dropped out of my life, or I dropped out of theirs, not long after that time. 

I'm thinking in particular of someone we used to call "Crazy Ray."  I met him back when I was an active off-roader; later, he, a few other guys and I did road rides.  

He always seemed to be riding the line between physical courage and insanity.  One of the things I prized most about my pre-transition life was his respect.  When we pedaled through the trails--and sometimes off the trails--in the Catskills and in Pennsylvania and Vermont, I didn't do all of the jumps or other stunts he did.  And I didn't barrel down hills with the abandon he did.  But I was in really good shape in those days, and I could keep up with him in every other aspect of our rides.  None of the other guys in our "crew" could say that--not even the ones who were a decade or more younger.  He noticed that.

But, he once told me, the real reason he respected me was that I wasn't a "bikehead." And, he said, he admired the fact that I have the sort of education and do the kind of work I do.  That, I thought, was interesting, as he seemed satisfied with his work, and was certainly earning a lot more money than I was.  But, he said,  there were a lot of things he wished he learned, but felt he couldn't.  I suspected that he had a reading or other kind of learning disability; I offered to help him if only to figure out what kind of help he would need and whether I could give it, or refer him to someone who could.  He said he would take me up on it, but he never did.

I think that he felt a bit insecure, not only around me, but around his girlfriend, who was working on a PhD in, if I remember correctly, sociology.  I know that he felt insecure around some of her friends and colleagues, whom he met at parties.   I told him he shouldn't; he actually sustained thought and expressed himself well.  "But," he said, "I know I can do better."

I'm sure he could have done "better."  Maybe he has. I haven't heard from him since about two weeks after 9.11.   

We had our last phone conversation in the early hours of one morning that was, as I recall, chilly for the time of year.  Actually, he called me and cried.  That wasn't like him.  "Ray, whatever it is, you know I'm cool with it."

"It's not like that, he sobbed."  I heard other voices, and machines, in the background.

"Where are you?"

"I'm at the World Trade Center."

"What are you doing there?"

He explained that he'd gone there to help with the rescue and recovery.  His metalworking skills, which he gained from his work as a plumber, were needed.  So, as soon as it was possible to ride his bike there--a couple of days after the planes hit the towers--he went to help.  That was more than a week before our phone conversation; he had been at the site around-the-clock ever since.  And, as you can imagine, he had gotten almost no sleep during those long nights.

"Why don't you go home, see your girl?"

"I can't.  They need me."

"But you've been there nonstop.  Nobody can ask more of you than you've already done."

"Yeah, but..."

"But nothing. You can't take care of anybody else if you don't take care of you."

"All right.  Maybe tomorrow I'll go home, for the day."

"Would you like for me to bring you anything?"

"No, Sarah will do that for me.  But thanks..."  He was crying again.

I never heard from him again.  Nor did I hear from any of the rest of our "crew."  I know that at least one other was working at the World Trade Center site in those days after the attack.  

That fall and into the winter (which was one of the mildest I can recall), I rode, almost always by myself.  I didn't mind that; actually, I was trying to make sense of a few things--or, more accurately, some things made perfect sense and I was trying to deal with them.  

Most of them related in one way or another to the gender transition I would undertake.  Tammy realized that I was headed for it and there was no way to stop it; when I offered to live the rest of my life as Nick, she said, "No, you can't do it just for me. In fact, you can't do it at all."  

9.11 didn't cause me to re-evaluate my life or undertake my transition.  However, less than two months before that day, I had the experience that caused me to realize that I could no longer live in this world as a man.  I had always known myself as female, but I spent more than forty years trying to live otherwise.  Just a few weeks before 9.11, I realized that I simply could no longer pretend.    And, just after 9.11, I found myself thinking about the people who died that day, and how many of them had unrealized dreams and unfulfilled lives of one sort or another.  I realized that had I been in one of those towers, I would have had the "M" on my death certificate.

And so I embarked upon my transition.  However, the transition didn't entail only what I did consciously and willfully.  It also involved those parts of my life from which I passed, or that passed from me.  And it, like 9.11, would change my cycling life as well as the rest of my life. 


  1. Fear of that "M" can be a great stimulus...

  2. Coline--How true! I think of people who've died without getting to live as the people they truly are.