Putting one damn foot in front of the other

I walk across the Eleanor Schonell Bridge. I’ll take the same route back across going home. Heading into Uni, there is a beautiful view of the river from the bridge. It’s about 4pm. I usually cross at this time most days. At this time of day, the sun is just beginning to descend and the river blazes with glare from the reflected light.

It’s so serene, I don’t even mind how blinding it is. The warm sun washes over and past me and I feel really at peace. Today is a normal day walking to Uni. There are a few days when I worry, about assignments, about passing, but not today. Today, everything is right in the world. Today, I feel good.

I’m self-conscious a lot. I’m aware of how large I am, in classes where most of the students are also women. They’re all a lot smaller than me. My waist is small, but I’m too tall. My hands and feet are too large. My shoulders, too broad. I spend most of every class paying attention to the lecturers and tutors, but too much time comparing my body to everyone else’s. Classes are much more stressful than the walk to Uni.

This course is my last hope. I know the pressure from that attitude will crush me eventually. I know it could be the thing that makes me fail, drop out, give up on life, and wind up empty, purposeless and alone. But I can’t help it. This course feels like my last hope. I need it, after taking five years off my studies. I need it, after feeling aimless for so long. I need something to hold on to.

When I arrive at the lecture theatre, I listen to Mary-Rose MacColl give an amazing guest lecture. Her book was so engaging. Even though I can never become pregnant, I cared about the women whose bodies and lives are at stake in The Birth Wars. Listening and being fascinated, I know that I’ll never be able to write non-fiction, but maybe I can read some more.

I take the elevator upstairs with my friends to the tutorial room and get out my book review, ready to hand it in. We discuss non-fiction publishing and the points raised in the lecture and readings. I try to contribute my point of view, but I’m afraid I may be talking over people and dominating the conversation. I feel guilty, but at least I’m actually talking. I think about the way I used to be. Becoming someone new has made me so overly confident. I think my opinion actually has merit now. I think it’s worth voicing.

Charlotte stops the conversation and tells us our next task. We have to discuss our book proposal topic. Only one other person in my group has a solid pitch. I was afraid his was going to similar to mine and it is. We’re covering different areas but we’re both considering writing about transgender issues. He subtly drops that he is a trans guy. I let him know that I’m trans too. We discuss how minority groups are best suited to write about issues that affect us.

Charlotte has been circling the room. She comes over to hear our proposal ideas. The two of us speak up, each in turn. We have a short discussion and somehow, despite my nerves, I again mention that I’m trans. Charlotte’s eyes widen in surprise and I look around to see a few people from other groups looking at me. I realise that I was speaking a little louder than I intended. A few other people can hear me.

Shame creeps in. I shut up for most of the rest of the lesson. I say goodbye to my friends when class ends, but the awareness of my size doesn’t disappear when I leave everyone behind. I’ve been accepted as a woman from the moment I arrived on campus. It was the first place I’ve been where people don’t know me from before. I could just be. I feel like that’s shattered now. I wonder if everyone will talk, if soon everyone will know.

I walk off alone, toward the bridge. It’s cold and dark. There are lights on the bridge, but none on the water. It’s a black mass, dark and threatening. I cross from the left hand side, near the guardrail, to the right hand side, near the busway. I’m afraid of walking near the river now.

Everything seems threatening. Everyone around me seems so hostile. I’m scared.

I imagine someone running up behind me, grabbing me violently by the back of the neck. He shouts something horrible and unintelligible as he shoves me over the guardrail. I fall, wind rushing past my ears, and crash into the surface of the water. I can’t decide if the impact kills me. I don’t think it does. I’m stunned when I hit the water, but realise that my bag and shoes are dragging me down. I lose my computer to the current. It doesn’t matter though, because I can’t fight the river. I get swallowed up. I die.

My body washes up on the shore the next morning, pale and lifeless. I imagine a coroner cutting off my clothes, cutting open my body. I imagine being misidentified as male on the death certificate because of my organs. I imagine the police showing up at my dad’s place to tell him his son has died. I wonder if he would correct them. I imagine his shame.

I finish crossing the bridge, cold and afraid, but unmolested. I’m tense the whole way home. The imaginary attacker assaults me every night, as I walk across that bridge. He never stops. I keep crossing though. Every day that I need to. Because I can’t stop going. Because every day the sun shines on the river on the way in. And I’ve never seen a more beautiful sight.

Lianna Heussler