I was born on a night as translucent as my skin. When you looked up at the sky through the hospital window, you could see the blue-black curtain of midnight through the stars as clearly as you could see the scarlet of my blood running beneath my flesh. Everyone said it was a night of promise. A night that crisp in the middle of storm season ought to portend something, after all, and the entire town was in an excited frenzy, fueled by the gossip and curiosity the transparency bred.
All week the men on the news had been predicting another blizzard. The clouds that had slowly been gathering across late December, grey and lumbering like elephants, were all the evidence anyone needed to confirm another winter tempest headed their way. By the time I was born, there should have been ice crystals on the windows and snow banks gathering up in hoards against the sides of the road. But suddenly, inexplicably, on the night I was born, the clouds disappeared and there was only the sky left, pulled soft and tight like a sheet across a mattress. Neighbors stood outside on their porches, their necks craned in wonder at the suddenly visible constellations. They all waited for the snow that never came, and by the time early morning rolled around, it seemed I would be the only thing arriving that night.
My father wasn’t there with my mother in the hospital. He had canceled his flight at the promise of poor weather, or so he’d told my mother by way of an excuse to extend his meeting by a few days. Perhaps it was better that way. I’m sure if he had been present he would have reacted in much the same way my mother did when she first saw me, or perhaps he would have made it worse, gone into one of his rare rages and had me locked away somewhere so no one could ever see me. I think he’s thought about it sometimes even now, in the moments when he looks at me over the dinner table and I catch him staring with an odd look on his face, but its harder to lock up your daughter once you’ve actually gotten to know her. Ugly or not, I am not without my redeeming qualities, something my father sees better than almost anyone.
On the night I was born, with my father across the country working, it was just my mother, the doctor, and the nurse in the room when I arrived. I am told that as I learned to breathe, the nurse held me out to my mother, quietly, the nurse hiding her own astonishment and trying to keep her hands from shaking so that she wouldn’t drop me. With just one look at me against the dark, nearly black, skin of the nurse, as normal as my own was not, my mother began weeping. The moment my mother first beheld me, I think she stopped believing in love at first sight. I don’t blame her, really. It is hard to love something you can see right through. And that’s what I was: completely see-through, my skin a film like saran wrap across my bones. I was a brilliant shock of burning red veins and thin muscles in the sterile white hospital room, my small face not covered with a baby blush but rather churning with the activity of tendons and nerves as I smiled for the first time and opened my mouth to taste the world around me on my tongue. To my mother, I was horrifying.
“She’s healthy!” the doctor kept saying. “It’s just her skin. She’s healthy!” But my mother wouldn’t accept me from the nurse. After a few moments of me hovering between two lives, the nurse pulled me back and cradled me close to her. It was she who first held me and whispered comforting things in my ear. She tried to speak loudly enough to cover up the words of my mother. In those early minutes, I didn’t cry. I just listened.
“Please, for God’s sake, just take it away,” my mother said, again and again. The nurse, to her credit, did not let her disgust at my appearance get the better of her. She held me in the darkness of her arms like I was any other newborn. Maybe she felt badly for me, or maybe she just didn’t know where else to put me as she refused my mother’s desperate wish.
After she had heard enough from my mother, the doctor called my father. The doctor, a soft spoken woman whose mind had always been greater than her ability to play well with others, had stumbled through an explanation about me, her voice traveling across state lines under the night devoid of the blanketing white that had been predicted. Her skin, it’s – what I mean to say is – don’t be alarmed but – you know, these things happen – it’s not dangerous – we’re certain it’s not terminal. My father didn’t listen long. Maybe he was busy. Maybe he didn’t care. Maybe he’d misheard the word translucent because the doctor was so quiet and my father was so far away. “No,” my father had said, brusque as always. “Bring her home.”
And that was that. As much as my mother didn’t love me, she was absolutely devoted to my father, and if he wanted to see me, then she would bring me home. They could always get rid of me later, after all.
So there I was, a tiny red thing, torn between the wanting and the not wanting already, desperately reaching out my hands for something real to hold, something more solid than a night as clear as day. I might have just kept reaching in a quiet, desperate way for the rest of my life had the nurse not handed me off to my mother with deliberation after the phone call to my father. At the sudden absence of the calming solidity of the nurse, I finally started to cry, and it seems I didn’t stop once I’d started.
My father caught a flight home a couple of days later. He came back just as I was settling in, still crying and turning the red of my muscles even redder with strain. When he walked in the door, my father shrugged off his coat and went up to my room to find me wailing in my cradle and my mother just sitting there in the rocking chair they’d bought for staring at me should I have been the kind of beautiful they’d expected. My mother’s eyes were heavy with exhaustion as she mechanically rocked back and forth, the chair creaking from newness beneath her. She didn’t know what to do. She couldn’t sleep and she couldn’t care for me the way some instinct in her was screaming for her to because she refused to touch me. It was as if she was afraid I might burn her, the little baby with red coursing against her unseeable skin, or that maybe I would turn her into something translucent too, just by touch.
I’ve always been grateful that my father walked into the room when he did. I believe that he saved my life that day. My mother would have let me starve. She may not have meant to do it in the end, but there was something fundamental about me and the skin that stretched around me that made her a different kind of person than the one my father had once fallen in love with across a coffee table at a café in Minnesota. My mother was terrified of me in a way she never had been of anything else.
My father, who refused to be afraid of anything, came over to where my mother sat. He put his hand on her shoulder, steeling himself maybe or just trying to be there for her in the only way he knew how. I can’t imagine what he saw when he looked down at me. I was hungry and loud and as so far in my short life, no one could really stand the sight of me. In meeting me for the first time, my father didn’t say anything. He just sighed heavily, and without a word to my mother, scooped me up and took me downstairs, where he heated up formula in a bottle and just looked at my strange, grotesque face as I ate. I don’t know how he knew how to take care of me like that. So much of him was devoid of things like fatherly instincts. But he calmed me down and for the first time since I’d left the nurse’s arms, I stopped crying and outside, it finally started to snow.
This is what I thought about as Jacob and I sat outside Mr. Kurlwig’s office early Friday afternoon. I thought about how my father was always the one calming me, even this morning, when I’d called him and told him what we were doing.
“I won’t tell your mother,” he’d promised.
“Thanks,” I’d said, embarrassed. “I’ll explain it to her tomorrow after we know for sure what’s happening.”
Even my father knew this was unlikely. I was bad at telling my mother things, and she was even worse at listening to them. We had a game, the two of us, where we waited to see how long we could go on ignoring each other’s phone calls, and as of now, we were up to six and a half months. Still, my father said okay out of respect for me and waited to see if I would say anything else on the subject. Then, as he always did on Fridays, he said, “Bring Jacob with you to dinner tonight.”
“I will,” I said, my throat tight. “I always do.” And then my father hung up and I called Jacob and told him I was ready.
Mr. Kurlwig’s office was quiet. There was another couple sitting across from us, both of them solids. They whispered quietly to each other, looking at a magazine together and pretending not to really notice us, although sometimes the man caught Jacob’s eye and nodded once in some sort of male companionship at being stuck in this office at the same time. I couldn’t see the title of the magazine they read from where I sat, and I wondered why they were here since they were clearly already married. I could see the glint of a diamond on the woman’s hand. She wore it casually, like it was just another piece of jewelry she had decided on that morning.
The woman, who had hair that hung heavy down her back, pointed to a picture on the page they were reading, smiled, and placed the hand with the ring self-consciously on her stomach. Adoption, I decided. Trans-skin babies were always showing up in adoption homes, and it was people like these, perfect, beautiful solids with smiles like spun sugar, that walked into offices like Mr. Kurlwig’s to try to give them a home. All it took was one look, though, and they recoiled, like my mother once had from me. People like the lovely couple across from Jacob and I didn’t always remember that as someone like me grew older, our skin grew in some, toughened up in places and took on a sheen of opaqueness so that the translucency was more like a cumbersome rash than a genetic state of being. They would take one look at the child whose skin churned with the activity of muscles, bright with youth and newness to the world, and they would forget what they’d come to petition for in the first place.
I wondered how this couple would react, they in their neatly pressed pea coats and color-coordinated scarfs, when they saw their child for the first time. Did they know what to expect? Or were they avoiding eye contact with me because they were afraid I was what would be handed to them, only smaller and with more tears? I was glad that Jacob and I would go in first and that I wouldn’t be around long enough to find out.
I looked over at Jacob, who was typing something into his phone. He was missing a meeting for this, and his brow was furrowed as he read emails on the tiny screen. I turned in my seat a bit so I could stare out the window. You could see the traffic from where we sat, and I liked watching the cars spin in patterns beneath us, an imitation of the pattern of my muscles that I had, over the course of my life, studied and memorized with more detail than any biologist or doctor.
It was a perfect day, cloudless and still like it was encased in glass. The weather was always like this on my birthday. Twenty-seven years of birthdays and somehow, on every one of them, just like first one, the stormy, grey December clouds vanished and left a day as beautiful as summer. Today, through the window of a downtown office complex, it was still as beautiful as always, but also sterile somehow, as if someone had wiped away the grey with some kind of chemical-laced cleaning product.
It was impossible, how the sky always changed on this one day of the year from the snow storms of the season to the crystal briskness of warmer days. It was like the wine glasses in commercials, cloudy and thin until you put one of those blue tablets into the washer and voila – you could see the diamond light shining right through. Impossible. But I was impossible too, me with the translucent skin, and if we’re counting impossible things, we might as well count how I was sitting on this sofa waiting for permission to get married to the man I’d been in love with since I was fifteen. Jacob and I were here even though we shouldn’t have had to be. Even though we’d been resisting for as long as possible. We would have kept resisting if we could, but things had changed, and if we didn’t do it now, we’d never have another chance. This time around, it wasn’t something either of us was willing to risk.
Jacob finished on his phone and put in his pocket, then slid his hand into mine and squeezed. “It’ll be okay, Clar,” he said softly. He leaned in and kissed my cheek.
“I know,” I told him. I looked down. My hand was fierce and angry compared to his, a turbulence of muscle compared to the lovely opacity of his. I wasn’t ashamed of my skin. I hadn’t been in a long time. It was just something about me, like my pixie-cropped copper hair and sharp green eyes, both made brighter by their contrast to the red-brown of my body. But still, when I saw how beautiful someone like Jacob was, how normal, it was hard not to feel a twinge of something like regret, and today especially, it was difficult not to be frustrated that I could not have been more like him. If I was, I knew we wouldn’t be here outside the office of our town’s translucence monitor, petitioning for something we should have already had.
Jacob noticed me staring and sighed. “Seriously. He has to say yes,” he said, always the optimist.
“But we’ve waited a long time,” I remind him. “We should have done this, like, a month ago.”
“We’re fine.” He was insistent. I loved this about him. “Don’t worry, okay?”
“Okay,” I said, but we both knew I didn’t mean it. Even with the tangle of muscles and tendons spreading across my face, I was easy to read, especially for Jacob.
“Don’t worry,” he repeated, and as we listened to the clock ticking, Jacob rubbed a spot on my palm that had filled in over the years.
Jacob and I had met when we were fifteen during our first day of high school. It was the usual kind of story. Even though there were a couple other trans kids in my year, I was no less horrible to look at. I was like a walking anatomy display, plucked from a biology textbook and animated so that I could talk and move with the rest of the world. My whole body was awry with movement I could never really control, muscles twitching and stretching and tightening, tendons reaching and contracting. My face roiled with activity with every furrow of my brow, every smile or laugh. Like the sea, my body always looked like it was going in waves, up and down, tossing and turning against the invisible film of my flesh. On my first day of high school, I tried to hide this. I wore long sleeves even thought it was still late August and jeans and a head scarf that hid my hair which so badly clashed with my skin. I sat in the back of all my classrooms and didn’t say anything.
Jacob sat next to me in our English class, even though there were plenty of empty seats up front. I stared forward, thinking he couldn’t have done so for a good reason. Maybe he meant to torment me, or tease me like so many other boys in my classes already had. They’d called me raw and meat skinned and made crude jokes about being able to see through me. But Jacob didn’t say anything for a long while. He kept sneaking glances at me as if I couldn’t see him, looking for longer and longer periods as he gained confidence. Finally, annoyed with his persistence, I swung my head around.
“What’d you want?” I asked. His eyebrows shot up, like he’d never expected that I would actually confront him.
“It’s just cool,” he said, gesturing to the exposed skin on my cheeks and hands. His eyes went wide as my finger twitched involuntarily and the muscles rippled in response. I watched it happen with him, and if I could have, I would have blushed. Cool? This was cool? I was suddenly furious at this strange boy in the Converse sneakers and blue t-shirt, so like all the others his age. Why did he too feel the need to torment me?
“Go away,” I said.
He didn’t. Instead he asked, “Does it hurt?”
I scoffed and this time twisted in my seat to face him, my muscles responding to my anger like Medusa’s snakes. “Don’t be stupid,” I said.
To my surprise, his cheeks got red. “Sorry, it just looks like it might.”
I sighed and rolled my eyes. “You know, you’re doing this inside too.” I pointed to my cheek. “You’re just solid so your skin covers it up.” Jacob stared at his arm as if he’d never seen it before, then poked at his cheek and cracked a grin that stretched out all the freckles on his face.
“Awesome,” he said. And believe it or not, he meant it.
After that, Jacob wouldn’t let me be. We had two classes together, and in both, he would sit next to me and pepper me with questions. I tolerated him at first, and then I began to look forward to him coming over, plopping his binders down on the desk next to mine, and smiling at me with a head full of inquiries. One day his questions stopped being about my skin. One day, they were just about me. And I always answered. I told him about my mother, about how she had tried to starve me, and about my father, who was the kind of man who was never around but who was still closer to me than anyone else I knew. I told him things I never told anyone, and, eventually, I started to ask my own questions. Whenever we got the chance, we were together, talking. It seemed that after years of being this alien thing in a world of solid children, I was starved for conversation, and since he was the only one at school willing to give me the time of day, I clung to him. He was my best friend, the one person in the entire world I could trust with anything.
Then, sophomore year, he held my hand one day in the lunch line, just for second, to squeeze it and tell me good luck on my math test that afternoon. He started coming over after school and we did homework in my room and as the days went on, we would sit closer and closer together until one day I looked down to find our arms were pressed together. We were chaste for a while. We were friends first and foremost, and we were careful about running that, but at some point, we became us. I can’t tell you when, exactly. Perhaps it was when, after a night of talking and as his mom drove up to take him home, I realized I needed him and that maybe he needed me, too. He was eccentrically brilliant, full of weird questions and off-the-wall ideas; most times, he was honest to the point of being offensive, and people weren’t always sure what to think of him, but I, the one always offended and questioned, was drawn to him. The things he asked and did and said were never mean. There was a genuine kindness to him, a pure, intelligent kind of curiosity that always made me feel special. When he looked at me, I was not freak. I was beautiful. I was something to be treasured. He’d run his thumb over my palm and just say wow under his breath. I reveled in that.
People stopped hanging out with him once they started to associate him with me, but Jacob didn’t care. He seemed immune to being ostracized in a way I’d never seen in any teenage boy before. He asked me to prom our junior year, awkwardly with a rose that was slightly wilted from being in his pocket during the first three class periods, and a few months into that school year, we kissed for the first time at a movie theater watching a bad comedy about time travel. For the rest of high school, we did normal teenage things: made out in cars, snuck alcohol from my dad’s liquor cabinet, and went dancing in the city the moment we were old enough to drive. By the end of our senior year, I was completely, permanently in love with Jacob Barkley, and he, by some unforeseeable circumstance, was in love with me, too.
And now, twelve years later, both of us with college degrees and jobs and a house where we lived with a half-blind cat and a bird we’d named Castaway, we were sitting outside a translucence monitor’s office trying to get married. We’d known for a while that it would be difficult. There were plenty of laws in place about trans-skins and solid-skins intermarrying. It was the thought of the government and its constituency that it would be better if we kept to our separate spheres, the way it was supposed to be: trans with trans, solid with solid. If we did, by some miracle, eventually get the documents and approval needed to married, there were all kinds of medical restrictions between spouses. The hospitals were segregated by skin type, with a trans side and a solid side, so I would never be able to cross over and make any kind of decision regarding Jacob’s well-being, nor he mine. No insurance company of his would ever cover me. I could never donate marrow or tissue or blood for him, even though we with both type B-negative. We’d have to stay separate, even if he was hooked up to wires, dying and asking for me. Even if a solid wife was with her solid husband in the room over, doing exactly what I could not.
There was also the matter of kids. It was as good as illegal: no kids from an inter-skin couple unless the couple was married with approval from a TM, a loop which continued to circle since approval for an inter-skin couple was pretty rare. No one wanted those kind of genetics to mix without supervision. Everyone was afraid that in mixed couples, the translucent skin would be the dominant gene, and a whole generation would be born trans. It was ridiculous. Both my parents were solid and here I was, a churning mass of visible muscle. I’d had friends over the years with trans-skinned parents who were as solid as the ground they walked on. But it didn’t matter. People were afraid of the translucency. They sought to contain it in any way they could. It was people like Jacob and I who got caught in the middle.
Jacob and I avoided talking about things like marriage and children for a long time. We pretended the laws didn’t exist, that we weren’t bound by them, until we finally had the conversation one night over dinner. It was one of our early days in the house. Despite having been in town for nearly five months, there were still boxes labeled MOM’S TEACUP SET and BOOKSHELF #1 lying around, and the kitchen was only most of the way unpacked. I made linguini that night, pushing boxes aside and opening others as I cooked, surprising myself with what I had forgotten we owned. I was twenty-two, he was twenty-three, and since we’d only just graduated from college, things like pasta and almost-stale bread were still ok to eat for dinner.
When Jacob came home, he immediately opened a beer from the fridge. He took a few strong gulps from the can, took a breath, the finished it as if it were only water. As he grabbed another beer from the fridge, I stared at him.
“You ok?” I asked.
He looked at me over the table. “I went to Diem today.” Diem was our shorthand name for Carpe Diem’s Premiere Jewelers. It was the only place in town that sold fancy jewelry, and we would, at night on our mattress on the floor with a mess of unpacked boxes around us, joke about the Diem girls I worked with, the ones whose necks were heavy with the store’s outrageously expensive chokers and whose wrists were layered with Carpe Diem’s limited edition diamond tennis bracelets. We would mock women like that in fake British accents, presenting our hands to each other and saying, “Look, dah-ling, it’s another Diem diamond!” We would collapse in laughter, our accents disappearing as we kissed, our giggles bubbling up against our lips.
“Why’d you go there?” I asked.
“To get you a ring,” he said, looking at me like it might have been obvious. And maybe it should have been. He and I both knew that Diem, for all its pomp and circumstance, was the only place in town to buy engagement rings.
I put the finished pasta in a bowl. “I don’t need a new ring,” I told him as I put the bowl onto the table and sat down.
He sighed. “I do. It’d be hard to propose without one.” I looked at him, my stomach fluttering with the mere possibility of the boy across from me in a jewelry store considering rings. He watched me carefully in return. He watched as my eyes trailed over both his empty hands and both his flat pockets, checking for what I already knew wouldn’t be there. I wasn’t a fool. There would be no box.
“I went in today,” Jacob said, still watching me closely. I think he was waiting for me to go into some kind of girlish frenzy, but I knew the kind of story that was coming. At that moment, I didn’t feel very girly at all. In fact, I felt sick. I didn’t want to hear this, but Jacob needed to tell me. He was bursting with it.
“I was looking in one of those glass display cases when the guy asked me what color band I wanted, and I said gold. ‘It’ll stand out against her skin,’ I said, and the moment I did, I knew I shouldn’t have.” Jacob paused and took a ragged breath. “This guys just stopped what he was doing and said that he’s just making sure, but was this girl a solid? And when I said no he told me he wouldn’t sell a ring to anyone who slept with a fucking meat skin.”
Under the table, I clenched my hands into fists so that the muscles pulled hard on one another. Jacob was fell into the chair opposite mine. “I wanted to punch him!” he said, his voice suddenly too loud for the tiny kitchen. “He was just standing there, staring at me like I was absolutely disgusting, like you were some kind of animal. A freak. And if he only knew you-” Jacob trailed off. “If he only knew you, Clar.”
There was a moment of silence as I tried to find the right words. “What’d you do?” I finally asked.
“I told him to go to hell and then I left.”
I smiled a little. “That may not have been a good idea.”
“Who cares? He was an ass.”
This time, I laughed for real. “Yeah, he was.” I went over and curled into Jacob’s lap. He wrapped his arms around me and laid the side of his head against my shoulder.
“I wanted to propose to you,” he said.
“I wanted to buy you a real ring and surprise you.”
“I know, Jacob.” I tried not to cry. “I’m sorry.”
“That’s just it. You shouldn’t have to be sorry,” he said. I’d never heard him sound so defeated.
We sat there for a minute, not saying anything. His cheek was warm against the thin fabric of my shirt. I closed my eyes, imagining that maybe we could stay like that forever in our own little bubble. We’d meld into each other, become so close people forget if he was the solid one or if I was. They’d cast us in iron and put us in a museum somewhere, a tribute to something no one could define.
But then Jacob got up, jostling us out of our embrace and pulling me off the chair with him. He got down on one knee. “Clar-”
“What are you doing?”
His face was serious, pleading. “Clar, marry me.” I opened my mouth to say something, but he shushed me. “I mean it, Clar. But not in a court and not with a monitor breathing down our necks. Just agree to live here in this house with me and be with me for the rest of our lives, till death do us part and all that other stuff we’d promise each other in front of a judge if we were allowed to.” He stood up and pulled me closer to him, resting his solid-fleshed forehead against my turbulent one that was agitated by the activity of muscles as I cried. “I love you, Clar. I want to be with you. We’re just gonna have to do it our own way.”
And so Jacob and I agreed not to get married and to be okay with that, and even though I never wore white, he did by me a gold ring from a department store the town over that wrapped around my finger like a tangle of branches.
“Or like a tangle of tendons,” he said when he gave it to me. There was a single pear-shaped diamond in the center, like a teardrop against the gold. And he was right. It stood out against my skin the way my hair did, in a bright, striking way, so much so that I soon took to wearing it around my neck after I was asked one too many questions about my marriage and the legality of it. Still, that didn’t hide the color of it, the uniqueness of it on the red-brown of my skin.
After a few months, Jacob and I finally got ourselves moved into the house. After a year, Jacob brought home the half-blind cat, who we dubbed HB since the only names we could think of were offensive ones. Another year later and Jacob brought home Castaway, who had no voice and an awkward plume of feathers that stuck out in all directions. When I got fired from my fourth job in two years, an unemployment circumstance generally attributed to trans-skins, I decided to quit office work for good and started as a freelance writer. Jacob stayed home for three days to help me paint and refurnish the guest room into an office with quotes from our favorite authors painted on the walls. The sunlight came in through the window on most days, and HB had a spot on the carpet that he loved to sleep on while I worked. We were happy.
And then, two months ago, I discovered I was pregnant, and Jacob and I knew we couldn’t wait any longer. We had to at least try to get married. Children for mixed couples who weren’t married were against the law. There were horror stories about babies being forcibly taken from their parents, or about trans-skin mothers being put in jail for exorbitant amounts of time and coming home to a child who was already grown. Jacob and I couldn’t risk that. We wanted this child, and we wanted it the way any solid-skin couple would. We would do whatever it took to guarantee its well-being, even if that meant sitting outside Mr. Kurlwig’s office for the better part of a Friday and pretending that we believed in his ridiculous marriage laws.
Jacob squeezed my hand again. “What are you thinking?” he asked.
I leaned into him. “That I want this to work.”
The woman sitting across from us cast a quick glance. When she saw me looking, she smiled tightly, then went back to her magazine. She whispered something to her husband that I couldn’t hear. He shook his head, pointed to another picture, and smoothed back a strand of blonde hair that had fallen into the woman’s face. Reassuring her, maybe. It won’t look like that. Ours will be different. Ours will be better.
“Mr. Barkley? Ms. Reynolds?” A pretty girl in a red blazer was standing at the door to Mr. Kurlwig’s office. She wasn’t much younger than me, but as Jacob and I stood there, it felt like there were centuries between us instead of mere years. “He’s ready for you.”
We walked into a small, outer office, presumably where this girl with the red blazer worked. Behind her small desk with two different telephones and a laptop computer was a tall mahogany door framed on either side by frosted glass. A gold plate fixed on the center of the door read Mr. Ryan Kurlwig. I felt my hands go numb at the thought of opening that door and going inside, of seeing Mr. Kurlwig himself.
Jacob threaded an arm around my waist. “It’ll be okay,” he murmured against my ear. I nodded out of habit. He’d said this so many times in the past week. Looking at the door ahead of us, I wanted to clutch at my stomach, at the baby that was so newly growing there, but I didn’t want to give anything away. If they knew I was already pregnant, well, we wouldn’t stand a chance.
“Just go on in,” the girl said. She was already on the computer again.
Jacob took my hand and together, we went in.
Mr. Kurlwig was a slender, mustached man who wore wire-framed glasses and too much cologne. He was not unattractive – I could see how he’d lured the pretty girl into working in the tiny, cramped office we’d just seen – but he was flat, with eyes that just took in but did not actually see. Already, I hated him.
He shuffled some papers on the desk as Jacob and I came in. He didn’t look up from the folder in front of him as he said, “Have a seat.” Jacob and I sat in the two chairs in front of Mr. Kurlwig’s desk. They were the red leather kind with gold adornments stamped into the frame.
“Thank you for seeing us today,” Jacob said.
Mr. Kurlwig stopped shuffling the papers and looked up at us, first Jacob, then me. He didn’t grimace, didn’t flinch. He’d seen so many like me before. But still, the way he looked at me, I wanted to throw myself across the desk and throttle him. Already I was just another trans to him, another worthless thing attempting to be in love with someone I could never have.
“You’re Jacob Barkley and Clarinda Reynolds, yes?”
“Clar,” I corrected.
Mr. Kurlwig raised an eyebrow and ignored me. “And you’re looking to get married?”
“Yes,” I said. He was, after all, still looking at me. “We’ve been together twelve years.”
“That’s an awfully long time,” Mr. Kurlwig noted.
I wished he would stop staring at me. “It is.”
“We faxed in all our paperwork earlier this week,” Jacob said.
“Yes, yes,” Mr. Kurlwig said, holding up the folder. “I’ve got it.” He scanned the front of the page, reading our application for marriage approval aloud to us. “Together twelve years. Live in the same house. Both have steady jobs.” He folded his arms on the desk and leaned forwards. “Your application looks good. Perfect, even.”
Jacob smiled. “Thank you, sir.”
Mr. Kurlwig did not smile back. I didn’t either. My stomach as tight. No, I thought. No, no, no.
“But there is one problem.”
“Problem?” Jacob didn’t understand yet.
Mr. Kurlwig took his glasses off slowly and set them on the desk in front of him by a framed picture I could only see the back of. A wife, perhaps. A son on his first day of school. It made me sick to think about. “It says here that you are intending to have children.”
“Yes,” Jacob said. “We’d like to start a family. Our house has the room for it, and as you said, our income-”
Mr. Kurlwig cut him off. “I’m sorry, but we can’t allow that.”
“What?” Jacob looked stunned. I didn’t trust myself to say anything.
“There’s been an increase in the number of translucent births. We’re trying to cut down, eliminate any risks.” I clenched my hand against the red leather of the chair. No, no, no. “I’m sorry, Mr. Barkley, Ms. Reynolds, but I can’t approve your application.”
“We can’t get married?” Jacob asked, his voice quiet.
“No, I’m afraid not, Mr. Barkley. Not right now.” There was silence in the room. Jacob looked over at me, but I couldn’t look back at him. I didn’t want him to see what was in my eyes. I didn’t want him to see how mad I was.
“I’m sure I don’t need to tell you what would happen if you did decide to produce a child despite this,” Mr. Kurlwig continued. I wanted to hurt him.
“We are aware of the consequences,” Jacob said through clenched teeth.
This couldn’t be happening. We couldn’t get married because we couldn’t have a child, because there were already too many people like me in this world, and yet, there was already a baby growing inside me. I felt like I might throw up.
“Of course,” Mr. Kurlwig said, “you can stay together as you are now. It is perfectly legal for an inter-skin couple to live together as you are. And I invite you to apply again in a couple years. Things do change, you know.”
“Not fast enough,” I said. I stood up, scraping my chair hard against the wood paneled floor.
Mr. Kurlwig looked at me in surprise, his moustache twitching as he raised his eyebrows. “Is everything alright, Ms. Reynolds?”
“No,” I told him. “It’s not. Let’s go, Jacob.”
“Jacob, now. Please.” I didn’t want to be there any longer. I couldn’t handle it. Jacob nodded and stood with me.
Mr. Kurlwig sighed. I wondered how many times he had already done this today. How many lives he had already shattered. “Sarah will show you out. Thank you for coming. It was a pleasure meeting you.”
I didn’t wait for Sarah, the red-blazer wearing assistant, to come and get us. I walked blindly into the lobby where we had been waiting all morning. The solid couple was still there. They looked up expectantly as we came in. I wanted to hit them. I wanted to tear away their skin so that Mr. Kurlwig would see how similar they were to me, just how primitive and alive we all were under the surface. Instead, I turned and pounded my fists into the wall papered with fleur-de-lis. Again and again, over and over. The solid woman said something frantically to husband.
Jacob grabbed my arm and forced me around to face him. “Hey! Hey, it’s okay.” I wrestled with him, trying to free my wrists. I was crying. My body roiled in an angry mess of muscle. “Clar, stop! Stop!” I did. I had to. This was Jacob. I couldn’t fight with him. He wasn’t the one I was made at.
There, in the small lobby that looked out on the traffic, Jacob held both my wrists, and I cried, my hair a mess and my muscles stark against me. And Jacob, wonderful Jacob, who I’d been in love with for half my life life, pulled me into him and wrapped me in his arms.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “I love you, okay? I still love you. They can’t take that from us.”
I reached up and wrapped my fingers around the ring that hung around my neck. I couldn’t say anything, but Jacob nodded. “I know, Clar. I know.”
And with that, he took my hand and led me to the elevator. We left long before the solid woman with the diamond ring on her finger ever started screaming at the sight of the child they had intended for her. Long before Mr. Kurlwig closed up for the day and went home to his wife and son and the story of a kindergarten play that was being put on for Christmas. Long before Sarah went out to the bar with her friends and gossiped about the raw freak who had come in hoping to get married, to have children, to live a life that was even close to being normal.
My daughter was born on a night that crackled and hissed with lightening. We never got thunderstorms like this in May, but that night, the sky burned and roared and cracked itself into pieces. People stood inside and looked out their windows in wonder. My mother, safe inside the house I had grown up in, contemplated calling me for the first time in months. She was worried because I was the girl of irregular weather. She was worried this was my fault too, as so many things had been before. But she didn’t call. She just waited for the storm to pass.
My father was in Michigan that night, recovering from a weekend-long conference hosted by his company in promotion of their newest product. He wasn’t going to be able to make it home because of the storm, he said, and this time, he meant it.
Jacob was not in the room when our daughter arrived. He wasn’t allowed to be since I was in a trans hospital. They wouldn’t let him in. They were afraid skin like mine was something that could be caught, a disease, and he was too solid to be ruined. He stayed at home, sitting on the couch with HB in his lap and Castaway trying to sing but not making any noise.
Without Jacob, there was only the doctor and the nurse in the room, both with skin as translucent as mine. Their bodies moved in the cadences particular to them, but none of us noticed. We’d grown used to such things. When the nurse held my child out to me, I took her immediately. I cried when I saw her.
“She’s beautiful,” I said because she was. Her skin was as solid as her father’s, a lovely olive color that was spattered with freckles. Her hair was coppery like mine, and her eyes when she opened them were the same kind of green. She was perfect, the kind of girl who would go far in this world, who would meet a handsome boy in her economics class in college who would fall in love with her and take her to a baseball game where he would propose to her on the big screen even though it was cheesy and she pretended to hate that kind of thing. She was the kind of girl who would have children of her own, the kind of mother who would be on the PTA and go to swim meets and soccer practice and cry when her kids graduated from high school. She would be everything I was not except for one small thing: there, right above her heart, was a small patch of translucent skin, as clear as mine. It was a patch that would never darken or grow in. It would always be there, a reminder, like the ring I always wore around my neck.
That night, in the middle of the thunder and the lightening and the storm no one had predicted, I held my daughter and cried. I memorized her face. Memorized the way her eyes looked with lashes that were solid. Memorized her hands and feet and smile. I would keep every bit of her with me so I could describe her later to Jacob. I wanted him to see her as I had.
And when, Mr. Kurlwig came in, I didn’t fight. This girl, this beautiful, solid girl, needed parents who were not Jacob and I. She needed people who would not be stared at and talked about for the rest of their lives, called meat skins behind their backs. She needed opacity in a way I could never provide. This was why we had chosen what we had. This is why we had agreed with the officials in suits who had sat us down in our living room and explained our choices. There weren’t many. For people like us, there never were.
Mr. Kurlwig nodded once when he saw her, relieved she was not like me. He took her carefully out of my arms. “Crazy weather we’re having,” he said.
“Yes,” I agreed. “Impossible.”
Then Mr. Kurlwig took my daughter and left. They went to the hospital on the other side on the building, where a solid couple was waiting with signed papers and a baby basket they’d picked up at a department store across town. And when Mr. Kurlwig put my child into the solid woman’s waiting arms, the rain suddenly stopped and turned to snow.
Author’s Note: This story is for those who are told who they should love. The heart is a messy, tangled place – we don’t need transparent skin to see that. It is impossible to control, and yet, like the weather, we try. We write laws and alter religions and wrestle love into something tangible. This story is for those who resist that fight, who don’t see change as a burden, but as a blessing. This is for the people who snow instead of rain, who make the night clear in the middle of a storm.