In 2020, I had surgery. Not that one. And what was meant to merely ease my physical pain did so much more, setting me down a path of dog hair and epiphanous trans discovery.
For him, you, and myself, here I perform the last rites of Joseph D. Olson.
Glad to be back. Enjoy!
Content Warning: The following video contains brief stories about thoughts of self-harm. Viewer discretion is advised.
Shot: New sofa against the old void of nothingness backdrop.
Jolene enters and sits.
Ooh! My couch transitioned too. [To void] How about you? You got anything for me?
[Void changes to a hearts backdrop in trans pride colors]
It’s been a while. And before I re-launch this channel properly, there’s one last thing I need to do:
SHOT 2 over VO: A slow zoom on my closet doors.
In Catholicism, Last Rites are administered by a priest, to a member of their congregation, before death.
Having been born nearly three months premature, and with only the medical technology of the early 1980s available, I was kept in the hospital for several months after I was born, and hopes were not high that I’d make it.
Family lore is about as accurate as religious dogma, where science and medicine are concerned, but the story goes that as the medical professionals looking after me became convinced that I couldn’t be saved, my mother called for our priest to come anoint the sick. To perform my last rites.
And after some Irish Catholic woo was spoken over me, I was unplugged from the machines keeping me alive, and by all accounts, I diiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiied. [Dramatic stare and maniacal laugh]
Then, after my family had come to grips with my fate, somebody entered my room to collect my corpse only to find me crying, very much alive.
I think it’s kinda’ cool, really. In some fashion, I’ve undergone every Catholic sacrament, admittedly some in a secular fashion, except the one where you agree to continue in the faith as you reach adulthood. Which, since Catholicism is a religion thousands of years old, meant the age of fourteen.
At fourteen, I was several years into OOPS! WRONG PUBERTY! , and we’re going to linger on this graphic for a moment because I commissioned it specifically for this joke and I love it…
<On screen graphic of a box of Cap’n Crunch’s Oops! All Berries photoshopped into a box of Oops! Wrong Puberty!>
Anyway, for that, and for a host of other reasons, different video, different day, I had no interest in carrying on in the Caholic faith.
By some interpretations of that sacrament, though, if I die right now, I’m almost guaranteed a spot in the same heaven that, admittedly includes every pope who has actively covered up widespread sexual abuse.
I’m going to heaven with EVERY POPE!
I’m Jolene. I’m a trans woman. And until recently, I used to be Joe.
Before we begin this story in earnest, you need to know that I have a few physical and mental disabilities, but only one affected my, uh… location that sees no solar luminance.
Recently, I needed surgery in my… uppindere.
Best of all? This surgery took place on February 14th, so at least somebody was inside me last Valentine’s Day.
After the deed was done, they gave me a single, sad, medicinal graham cracker, a bottle of opiates I tried as hard as I could to refuse, and sent me home. I took exactly one of those pills and discarded the rest. And I slept, pain free, for the first time in a very long time. And I had a dreeeeeaaaaaaaaaam.
Clip from Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “Nope. Nope. Stop that. Stop that.”
<Wave it off.> Fine! Killjoy! We don’t need any pomp for this very simple dramatic re-enactment.
I cleaned my room.
Seriously. This big dream I’m about to tell you about, daring you to click away, was that I cleaned my bedroom.
<Mockup of a Youtube window from the POV of a person using it.
Wait! Don’t! Come back! This is going somewhere! I woke up in bed in a cold sweat!
Do you ever just know a dream is important? Maybe you don’t know why, or how to interpret it, or whether it means your subconscious just processed something or is imploring you to process something, but some dreams just feel… different.
But the dream I had was nothing. It wasn’t speaking to anybody, and no deities showed up to call me to service, making me their gorgeous and sultry, yet approachable avatar here on Earth. I literally just vacuumed my floor, dusted the room, and washed my bedding. In a dream.
Cool. That’s, what? 45 minutes worth of work, I thought? So, believing for some damned reason that it was important, and discovering much to my exuberance that my chronic oh-so-very-literal pain in the ass was very much completely gone for the moment, I did the work.
And then I was like, “No. That wasn’t it.”
So I kept going. I figured, what the hell, worst that happens is I have a clean room, forgetting that, no, I could’ve torn internal stitches wide open.
I didn’t, thankfully. This video would be so different if I had, and I’d be short one life-changing epiphany.
After I cleaned the whole damned room — which when you have a Noodle living with you means cleaning a BANANAS amount of dog hair — Seriously, just look at that bag. I have to empty that vacuum so many times when I clean — I sat down in my spotless room, looked around, and thought, “no. That wasn’t it either. This feels good, but that wasn’t it.”
And there I sat, on my bed. I knew something important was supposed to happen. But what? And then, all it once, as I looked to my closet, it hit me:
I had not opened my closet in a very long time. July of 2018, to be exact.
Why hadn’t I opened my closet in so long? A year-and-a-half, it had been.
So, vaguely afraid of what I might see, I decided to open her up and take a look. Fearing the remote chance there might be an entrance to Narnia in there, ‘cause I already escaped one Jesus and he wasn’t a lion.
And oh. Of course.
This was Joe’s closet.
And so, my great quest began anew. I packed up everything in that closet, and my dresser, that belonged to him. It took me quite a long time.
All the while, I started feeling… feelings.
I couldn’t reality figure out what they were. I knew this needed to happen. I knew I had to do this. I knew I had to throw out these clothes, and furthermore, I knew, with no doubts or uncertainties, that my subconscious produced a dream for me so I would do it.
Now, I’m a deeply sentimental person.
In that same closet still sit some accoutrement from my wedding to my ex-wife, because it reminds me of the happy times we shared, and I’m still capable of smiling about that, and once that stuff’s gone, it’s gone forever.
Elsewhere in my house, in a tupperware container sits a hundred other trinkets that remind me of Joe’s many lives. And while they’re tucked away deep and I never want to look at them, when they’re gone, they’re gone forever.
So I kept them.
Like I said, deeply sentimental.
Not understanding why, and contrary to my sentimentality policy, knowing it absolutely had to happen, I packed up all of Joe’s clothes.
Then, I donated the lot of them. Things that surprise me to this day, in fact.
But this was a great chance for a new beginning! The only thing I love as much as I hate bad endings is new beginnings! This’d be a great opportunity to build a wardrobe not entirely comprised of jeans and plain t-shirts.
–Jolene eyes her outfit. The very one she just described. Her eyes spike the camera. She shrugs.–
I dropped his clothes off, and some very nice hipster gals rifled through them all, and — this was painful — decided, out loud, which were trash and which were worthy of moving on to others.
There went the admittedly problematic Hawaiian shirts I wore all through film school. There went the suits I wore both times I married the woman who was Joe’s closest companion. There went the flannel I was wearing when I fell in love with the person without whom I might never have discovered I’m a woman.
And I started to well up. I knew this was sad. Obviously it was a sad occasion, seeing all those things disappear, but they’re just stuff. Sentimental as I am, it was still affecting me far more than just stuff should have.
Sure, it’s weird to see pieces of yourself disappear into the ether, to be used or abused by people who had no idea how significant they were to you, but I knew that going in. So why did it hurt the WAY that it did?
“What am I feeling,” I asked myself, all through the remainder of the day. “Why does it feel not like I’ve lost a bunch of things, but that I’ve lost… a person.”
At which point I said aloud to myself. “Oh. It’s grief. I’m grieving.”
I hated myself for a lifetime. From age 9 to 37, I had suicidal thoughts. Every day. Every single day. Those thoughts never went away. They were the background radiation of my entire life.
Every friendship, every relationship, every new hobby, every time I tried something new, but particularly when I’d start dating a new partner, the subtext was: “Maybe now I won’t want to die all the time. Maybe this new thing will save me.”
Maybe this person will fix me.
But then none of those people could. No matter how hard any of them tried, and oh, believe me, they tried. It wasn’t their job, but they tried anyway, and none succeeded, because how could they?
The kind of pressure that constant suicidal ideation puts on you is enough for it to be considered a rot of the highest order, but what of everybody around you? Even if you never say it, they figure it out. And if you do ever finally say it, or act on it… that destroys people.
I worked on myself as much as humanly possible. I’ve been in therapy since I was in second grade. I couldn’t fix me, so I secretly hoped somebody else would do it for me.
The subtext always, always, always, please love me enough so I won’t die.
And from those ages, 9 to 37, I couldn’t sleep. And when I couldn’t sleep for all those years, to comfort myself, I would imagine a woman holding me.
First, school crushes. Then partners. In the best of times, when I was in love, it made for quite a warm blanket. Then, the most unhealthy of all: former partners. But finally, there came a day when I was alone, and I went down the checklist, and even the former partners were too painful to think about, and I realized that even in my own imagination, there was nobody to hold me.
So, in a moment of desperation, as I tossed and turned, I reached not into the past, and not to a partner, and not to a crush, but to my future. To… the woman I’d become. And I asked her to come take care of me. To hold me.
For the first time in my life, the woman I asked to love me so I’d be okay… was me.
I often delineate between Joe and myself as different people. Primarily because it’s a useful narrative tool when telling stories like this. He wasn’t so much a person as a collection of responses to things that happened to him, struggling to become a person. This doesn’t mean I’m any less responsible for things he did. It’s like drunk texting. It sure doesn’t feel like it was you who did it, but you super did it.
Back to February 15th. With Joe’s clothes gone, it came to me. Somewhere along the line, between July of 2018 and February of 2020, we had switched places. I was no longer the person being held by Jolene; by my future self. I was her. And he was… gone.
And I began sobbing uncontrollably.
He died. He died so I could live, I thought. And now I’m crying. This makes sense.
Joe burned himself from the inside out so I could walk out of the ashes. After a lifetime of struggle, and pain, and hurting people, and hurting himself, and screwing everything up, and promising it would never happen again, but always repeating the patterns, and never, ever feeling like anybody would ever take his pain away, his last act on Earth… was to sacrifice himself. For me.
He’d picture me, holding him in bed, knowing I’d get to live if he died. It never occurred to me to think of that as losing anything before. Or to be sad about it.
But I suppose there being no alternative doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be sad.
He’s gone, and it never occurred to me that I’d miss him. Or his clothes. Or his relationships. Or the way his unfathomable sadness made him see the world. And it feels profoundly unfair that he had to die so I could live. That we couldn’t be two people. I could take all of these parts of me that had been killing him slowly his entire life, rendering him less and less able to perform even the most basic of tasks as the years dragged on, and I could be over the moon happy with them and leave him with nothing but the pieces of us that made him happy.
And I sat in those feelings, and they felt important. Like a sacrament. And I wondered if other trans people experienced them too. And I hoped they all did. Because I finally managed to love that fictitious dead man. That collection of responses to pain. And I can look at pictures of him, now, with that sadness in his eyes, and I have come to a place in my life that I love him more than he ever loved himself. And I wish I could give him a hug and tell him so.
That somebody finally came to take his pain away.
In a wonderful twist of fate, this epiphany lessened my gender dysphoria. When I see him in the mirror, it sometimes feels like he’s popping in to wave goodbye to me. And I tell him I love him. And he gives me a knowing smile.
The last pieces of him are out in the world, now. Hawaiian shirts. Suits. Flannels…Memories, positive and negative. Some will be loved. And some will be thrown away. And there’s so much beautiful sadness in that.
I will always remember… when Joe was me. And in remembering, I will miss him. I owe him my life.