In the fall of 1997, I lived in a flea infested, two bedroom apartment, just off of campus. We’d turned the dining room into a third bedroom, and hung blankets from the ceiling, to wall it off. The third person got us down to $250 a month in rent. We’d also nailed blankets up over all of the windows, because they let in the cold, and we didn’t have money for plastic. The carpet was brown, and the cabinets were brown, and the doors were brown. It was always dark that fall.
There was a raccoon who loitered in the common areas of the apartment complex, following residents to our apartments. He’d stay a couple of feet behind me, never quite coming in before I closed the door. I would have let him in; I like raccoons. But I understand that it’s one thing to go up to the door, and another thing to step through it.
My proper roommate was never home. She more or less lived with her boyfriend. They called each other ‘Boo’. I gave her shrooms once, and she sat in the hallway, pissing her pants.
My dining room roommate was a brilliant gutter punk, who taught me about postmodernism, and whom I adored. I did not appreciate her girlfriend, a homeless crusty, twelve years her senior. I don’t think I’ve ever hated anyone like I hated that person. They fucked in the bathtub, almost every day, and left condoms on the bathroom floor, nearly every time. Worse, her girlfriend, who lived with us, yet paid no rent, regularly confronted me about ‘house issues’. I didn’t take that well (Euphemism for my rage).
But this story really isn’t about any of those people; it’s about Travis.
I had somehow hooked up with the popular queer kids. My college had no student government, but the leaders of the student groups functioned as a student government. I didn’t talk much, and was even more of a dick than I am now, but for some reason Sarah/Alec (started Sarah, became Alec, then back to Sarah), the coordinator of the queer group wanted my approval. I was ambivalent about this, but when I was invited to rent a room in a house with some of those kids, and escape my shitty living situation, I eagerly agreed. My dining room roommate came too, but with a room of their own, her girlfriend didn’t bother me as much.
Travis wasn’t a student, but he worked in the school cafeteria. He was only eighteen, and never spoke in public. In private, he whispered. He wore a pink tutu and put his long, blond hair in a mohawk. I doubt that he weighed 90 pounds.
I didn’t have a meal plan, and didn’t eat in the cafeteria, but Sarah did, and she became enamored of Travis. She called him Casper, because of his pale skin and white-blond hair. She adopted him, superficially, and soon everyone knew Casper.
Our college didn’t have a Greek system, but our house was the next best thing to a queer frat house. Our parties were nearly constant, and Sarah wanted a mascot. When he wasn’t working, Sarah would bring Casper to our parties. He didn’t drink, and would sit in a chair in the kitchen, not speaking. He’d just smile shyly when someone spoke to him.
I’m nothing like a people person, but Travis was more like a frightened animal, and that I can’t resist. I rehabilitate frightened animals. It’s my instinct. I began to feel protective of Travis. Not a big talker myself, I’d sit on the kitchen floor beside him. People came and went, as they refueled. I’ve never really been into parties. At some point, I started driving Travis home. One night, he invited me in.
In his own home, Travis started talking, well, whispering. I’m often a keeper of secrets. I’m a judgmental person, but I’m rarely judgmental about the things over which people typically feel shame. I’ll judge the hell out of you for getting rid of a pet, but if you slept with your cousin or gave a sober person drugs, I don’t much care, and I’m not particularly shocked. As a result, people often tell me their secrets.
Travis was absolutely obsessed with Patty Hearst. Each time I went to his home, he’d put on the Patty Hearst movie. I felt as if he couldn’t talk without her there, in the background. She made him brave.
He spoke softly, in bits and pieces, with long silences in between. For all his femininity, those bits and pieces are how men talk about their vulnerabilities. I talk that way, and I’m good at silences. Travis told me about the father who beat him for his effeminacy, and how he ran away. He told me in long, softly enthusiastic monologues, about how much he loved Patty Hearst. He only ate tapioca flour and water, and at night, he’d walk miles along empty roads. Long before I understood the connection between transgenderism and anorexia, I knew that Travis was both.
One day, Travis wasn’t in the cafeteria anymore, and he wasn’t at home. I didn’t look further. I didn’t really want to know. I don’t think that anyone else even knew his name, or looked for him. I know that nobody else ever went to his home.
I wish that Travis got away, embraced herself, moved on. I know it’s unlikely. I know the probabilities. I know that she’s probably gone for good.