Dear Universe: It’s me, Dawn

IMG_6439The other widow sat across from me as our kids played in another room, sharing stories of coping everyday with loss, and life as it is.

“Life is what happens when you make other plans,” we said in unison, laughing at our shared experience of grief mixed with good times.

Her life, at least, has more hills than valleys now: she’s remarried, and working full-time. My own remains a struggle, ever since coming out, but it’s one I make a constant effort to turn around.

She told me that when times got tough after losing the love of her life, she wrote a letter to the Universe, spelling out what she wished for, hoped for, and what she needed.

Then she said, “And it worked.”

I was trying to understand what she meant by “it worked,” when she added: “What I asked for came true. All of it.” And she urged me to give it a try. “What have you got to lose?” she said.

Not a thing, I thought. Right now? Absolutely nothing.

Now, I have spent many a Sunday on bended knee in prayer, and admit to asking God for more than I’ve spent time thanking. I’m working on that, because I do have a lot to be thankful for. Still, there are things I need right now, and believe me, yes, I have prayed on this, too.

However, I haven’t written a letter like she’s described since my mom tore apart some brown paper bags from the supermarket and handed one to me with a crayon, to use to write my annual letter to Santa Claus.

But as I recall, that also “worked,” so here goes.

Dear Universe.

Hi. It’s me, Dawn.

No. The other one (I know a LOT of women named Dawn, and I want to make sure there’s no confusion. And to its credit, the universe has been calling me “Dawn” consistently without stumbling, not even once).

So… I am writing to you today to spell out my wishes, hopes, dreams and needs. Not in that particular order, mind you; but my life would be a lot better if you, the universe, could find a way to fulfill these, even one at a time is fine.

First off, I need a new job to support my children. As you know, I have six part-time jobs writing the news. But my main gig, where I worked full-time hours for part-time pay, let me go on Friday because of budget cuts. They “loved” me, they said; I was doing a great job, they said, and still somebody had to get the axe. And I wasn’t the only one. At least they’ve agreed to pay me what they owe me.

But this job is what I’ve been doing to support my three children since their mom died, and without something in its place, we are really in trouble. We are getting by, barely, but not for much longer if I don’t find another job soon.

And as for what job you find me, I’m not picky; I’ll do anything that earns enough to make it worthwhile and will make me feel fulfilled by my efforts. Just a few years after coming out and losing my six-figure job in network TV news, I’ve struggled to stay in journalism, and I realize it’s probably time to move on and stop depending on a fast-shrinking industry to support us. Already I’ve applied for 50 positions, received my first two rejections and a lot of dead silence from the rest.

Also: is there any chance you can get the bill collectors off my back while I job-hunt? I will pay them but right now I have to save every penny in case the worst happens. Maybe just ask them to call back in a few weeks. Hopefully, your help with my number one problem will help me with this one.

Once the job is sorted out, I am eager to have some surgery that is right now in the planning stage, and all I’m asking is for it to be covered by my insurance and to be completed without major complications. It’s hard enough being a sole caregiver for three kids, but I need to recover as swiftly as possible so their lives aren’t negatively impacted, nor is mine. So universe, peek over the shoulder of the surgeon and make sure all goes well, and maybe give a little push to the backlogged paperwork at the insurance office. That would be appreciated, too.

So what else? I might as well ask for your help in maintaining my health. I’m exercising, eating better, and feeling better about myself. I just need encouragement to not slack off and feed my emotions, which is how I got to be so fat in the first place. I know you know, but it bears repeating. And hey — stop looking at me that way. It’s creepy.

Since I’m healthy and happy (and once I am employed), the very next thing I need from you, universe, is to keep my kids on track. They, too, are healthy, and for the most part, really happy. We all have learned to live with a hole in our hearts ever since the death of their mom, but we go on, together. My primary task on this earth, as I see it, is to provide for them and their well-being. Help me help them, please? I love them more than life itself.

Finally, if I could have one more wish, universe, it would be to find love again: a man to love me for who I am, and not in spite of it. I am looking for a person who will be my world, and I will be his. I want to find someone to help me solve these problems as a full partner, to make me feel loved and give me an opportunity to show my love; a hand to hold, a shoulder to cry on, and the other body parts that are standard equipment would be much appreciated by this particular lonely woman.

But let me set you straight: this is not something I’m pining for right away. In fact, I cannot even begin to think about dating right now, given all I have to deal with! So do not mess with me, universe, by sending Mr. Right to my door when I’m still not showered and dressed. Go away, you! That would be just my luck, too.

Of course, if you chose to send along a brand new car, a million bucks, maybe even a puppy, I wouldn’t complain. That’s up to you. Not asking, just sayin’. I wouldn’t say no.

Thank you, universe.

-Dawn Ennis


Now: does anyone know what the universe’s email address is?

Birthday Connections and Separations

Today he is sixteen.

My young man debuted on planet Earth the morning of January 12, 1999.

Considering that our firstborn has a mother and father who met studying journalism, it’s no surprise that bringing him into this world was as rough and tumble as an all-night edit session. When at long last, he did show up, it was time for traffic and weather together, on the 8’s. New snow fell outside the hospital window, across the New York City suburbs of Westchester County, covering his world in a pure blanket of white.

We planned to name our son in keeping with my in laws’ Jewish tradition of naming newborns after the deceased. He would honor my Uncle Mickey, my late godfather, whose birthday also would have been today.

Mick was a hearty and robust Irish Catholic, a strong, happy man with a broad smile and even broader shoulders. He left this world too soon, buckled by lung cancer after a long battle, just days before we were engaged to be married. Giving this first boy to be born in the Ennis family since his death the name Michael seemed the right thing to do.

But the shock of that red hair of his changed our minds, simultaneously, within seconds of his arrival. The name no longer fit. Instead my middle name just sounded so much more… fitting.

And the swap was in keeping with another of my in laws’ traditions: we gave our son a first name that was my middle name. I say “was” because my name is no longer Donald Sean, but Dawn Stacey. I am still his father, but I am trans.

He was the first boy, but not the first of his generation. That honor was bequeathed five years earlier, when Mick was still with us. The first grandchild of the next generation of the Ennis clan arrived on a snowy night 21 years ago tonight: my godchild and first niece, was born.

Now a junior in college, she is a beauty to behold in her photographs… which is all I have seen of her since June 2012. Following the publication of this blogpost, she reached out to me via text for the first time in 2 and a half years… to ask that I remove her picture. Of course, I complied. I only wish she would want more from me than that.

I watched this young woman grow up from almost the moment of her birth. I drove four hours from New Jersey to Connecticut through a raging snowstorm to be at her mother’s side, only to walk into my sister’s delivery room mere minutes after she gave birth. Timing is everything, they say.

And that was a phrase that I should have kept in mind at her high school graduation. It was a 98-degree day in June 2012 when I lost my cool and could no longer hold my tongue, as my mother harangued me for the perceived insults inflicted upon her my ghastly children, including: how dare my five year old declare he didn’t know her! After all, she’d seen him twice in the past year, each time for at least a few hours! “The nerve!” she exclaimed.

That was the worst of the many grievances she aired in a litany that boiled me over on one of the hottest days of the summer as I sweltered in a compression shirt that held my boobs at bay. I’m sure wearing that constricting clothing didn’t help my mood one bit on that hot and humid graduation day, as I bit my tongue bloody, and let her narcissistic negativity roll off my back along with all the sweat.  I wore this binding garment under a tee shirt, giving my chest a more masculine appearance and hiding my generous feminine assets. This was at a time in my life when I presented as a male, despite growing evidence and feelings that my gender was, in fact, female.

Not wearing it had resulted in taunts by hiss schoolmates, to the point he was bullied and we needed to involve the police. So I didn’t go out without it, no matter what the weather or what I had to endure.

And somehow I was able to withstand both the heat and her oral onslaught, up until she slammed my youngest. Hearing that made me think back to all the times I had bit back on my anger and did what she asked, no matter how preposterous, how quirky, how very strange it seemed. I didn’t talk back, I didn’t question, I did what I was told. I kept my mouth shut.

Not that day.

I let her have it, everything I had buried deep inside. I unloaded, ignoring the families looking on, wondering why this middle aged man was shouting at his mother, each time ever louder: Fuck you! Fuck you! FUCK YOU!

Just then, my sister and her children reappeared and we all posed for photographs, smiling as if nothing had happened. My sister and I were, after all, child models, trained to smile on command.

But following the smiles came the tears; the connection between mother and child was broken that day. As was the one between my niece and my sister and me, as well as the connection between them and my wife and our children. That was June 2012.

My transition less than a year later didn’t help heal that rift, nor did publicity about my child modeling career. Despite many attempts by me to account for my mistake and to sincerely apologize, the division between us only deepened, and the negative press also separated me from my uncle’s family. His widow and his children let me know they couldn’t maintain a connection through social media, because of the harassment my cousin had received on the job on account of me being trans.

On the bright side, he did send me a Christmas text, telling me “I love you, cuz.” That meant more to me than all the “likes” on facebook.

So here it is, January 12th, 2015. My oldest son is 16, his cousin is 21 and my uncle is spending his 19th birthday in heaven. What I wouldn’t give for all of us who are still here on earth to gather together to celebrate this special day, in his honor.

I’ll settle for showing my son how special he is to me.