On the Outside

I have spent much of my life as an outlaw in my own family and my own body.

My entire existence growing up was one act of defiance after another. From a failed attempt at being the lookout during the Candy Bar Heist when I was 7, to when I stole a hacky sack when I was 8 (and couldn’t even look at it!), to when I prayed to God at 10 that he made a mistake and that I really was a boy, to later when I was 14 and left my family. 

I was taught you’re never supposed to leave your family behind but I did. I traded them in for a future.

I was supposed to lie, cheat, and steal like my country kin. I was supposed to have a 3-page rap sheet like my parents and my siblings. I was supposed to grow up to be an addict and spend my adult life in and out of prison like they did.

But hurting people always weighed too heavily on my sensitive soul. And that makes for a pretty shitty criminal.

As far as being an addict and why I didn’t go down that path either, well, I chalk that up to my innate ability to learn from the mistakes of others. (Oh, and fear too. That definitely played a huge role.) I personally witnessed the people I love turn into Zombies. They are either the Walking Dead still or they are simply just dead. 

My mom died in 2011 after 25+ years of heroin and meth abuse. This goody-two-shoes betazoid who carries the burdens of my family and who always feels too much, TOO FUCKING MUCH, had a front row seat to my mom’s slow, tragic demise. 

I didn’t know until then that all of the hardship and trauma I had experienced in my life had strengthened my foundation so that I could endure this moment. I had taken comfort in riding the line and picking my battles as an adult for the most part. But if you treat a loved one of mine like shit, then you better Watch. The Fuck. Out! I totally released the Kracken in the hospital those weeks my mom was there. 

I had family members who didn’t really care about my mother until she was tragically dying in a hospital bed. Then they swooped in like death vultures to basically snuff her out. Even the staff asked me to block them because they were just that horrible. One of these relatives said this notable gem, “What kind of life will your mom have? Just a junkie in a nursing home waiting for a fix.”

A Junkie. That’s all my mom was to them and to many in this world. But not to me. I had never seen someone so strong and I had no idea I got my twisted sense of humor from my mom until I saw her fight for her life in that hospital. 

As my siblings were high or incarcerated, I remained an anchor at my mom’s deathbed, voicing her last wishes. When she wanted to live, I fought for that. When she wanted to die, I fought for that too. The latter defied every bone in my body but I did it. For her. I gave her the power the world took away from her. 

My mom literally died in my arms. I held her for two hours as she let go. Her death, and several other deaths in my life, have helped me now fight for my own life. 

This year I finally came out as trans* and am transforming into who I always was on the inside: a beautiful, fucking, manly butterfly.  

(Thanks, mom!)

On the Outside

Aiden 5.0 

It’s been five years since Aiden Rivera Schaeff took his own life. I will never forget the date: April 22nd, 2010 (Earth Day). I will also never forget that morning when I got the phone call from Aiden’s mother, Cathy. She called and said, “The police think they’ve found Aiden’s body.” I didn’t even know he had been missing. I didn’t understand what she meant by “body,” so the word played over and over in my mind as I hurriedly made my way to their house.

I didn’t know that Aiden had slipped silently out of the house in the early hours that morning before sunrise. I didn’t know that he had sent text messages to countless friends saying he loved them. I didn’t know that we would never see this amazing, artistic, charming, funny, kind, brilliant kid again.

When I pulled up to the house, I saw the police car and immediately knew in my heart that only bad news awaited me. I walked into the house to hear Cathy tearfully mutter, “Patty just identified the body.” Patty and Cathy’s beloved son was gone. Our collective little dude was no more. The Aiden of a 1,000 friends and family members who had loved and supported him had just departed this world. Forever.

I didn’t find out that day how exactly he took his own life. And knowing now I don’t think those details even need a voice. What does need to be acknowledged, though, is that Aiden had been bullied and harassed by his teen peers as he courageously transitioned from female to male. I didn’t know that the hate and pain must have stung a million times more than all the love and kindness in his life.

The day Aiden died is still a day of unsurpassed sadness. That day, I did my best to help comfort his parents. We consoled one another; we straightened up the house; we made difficult phone calls.

The whole experience was surreal. It’s hard to process how someone can be here and then how quickly they can leave. Never again to return in physical form. (Unless you’re Buddhist, or Hindu, or Jewish.) Once someone you love is gone, all we have left are the memories, photos, drawings, videos, journals, clothes — essences of life remembered.

That night I had to fly out to Europe. I wanted to cancel my trip but it was for work, and it had already been postponed by an unexpected appendectomy and then an Angry Volcano in Iceland. In the end, it hurt even more knowing that I had to leave.

I stayed with my bereaved friends for as long as I possibly could before flying out. I called dear friends of theirs and they took over where I had left off. Friends and loved ones showered Cathy and Patty with love.

In some ways because I was overseas later that day, and ultimately, missed Aiden’s funeral, I never really got to say goodbye. At the same time because his life ended so unexpectedly, I never got to give him thanks either.

I never got to thank Aiden for being in my life, or tell him enough just how proud of him I was, or give gratitude to him for being such an inspiration to me and countless others.

Aiden left us all and the world way too soon but he isn’t the only one, and sadly, he won’t be the last. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, 41% of trans* Americans have also attempted a similar fate. I too have even struggled with throwing in the proverbial towel at various points when life seemed too unbearable.

Now five years after Aiden’s death, however, I have been given a new chance at life. The last thing I never got to tell Aiden was that he gave me the strength to finally transition to a more authentic me. The truth is that in some ways Aiden Rivera Schaeff saved my life. I hope by sharing his story and my own, it will help raise a collective voice for those still out there, especially young people, struggling to just live

Aiden 5.0