As I head toward the clock shop, I am thinking about the things we have lost this year: over a quarter of a million dead in this country, lives upended and destroyed. And the small things too: the closeness of friends, a pint in a pub, a stranger’s handshake.
I think about some of the people who’ve died. John Prine, our national treasure. Who sang, “When I get to heaven, I’m going to shake God’s hand. And thank him for more blessings than one man can stand.”
And Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the justices who ruled five years ago that my marriage was legal. And who joined the majority just this summer in ruling that I cannot be fired from my job simply because of who I am.
On Nov. 20, the Transgender Day of Remembrance, we lost Jan Morris, the great Welsh travel writer and memoirist, at the age of 94. Her 1974 book “Conundrum” was the first time I ever read about a trans person like me. When I read that book as a teenager, for the first time I thought, I could be a person in the world if I was as brave as Jan Morris. But I did not think I was.
The Stewarts now live in a Maine farmhouse not too far from China Lake, with a big barn as well as a small outbuilding where the clocks get fixed. Inside the clock shed it is bright and warm, and there are tools and drills and a half-dozen clocks in various stages of repair. And there on the workbench is my grandmother’s Ansonia clock, all fixed and shined up. “It’s a beautiful old thing,” Michelle says. “It just needed a little love.” Her husband, Errol, comes in and for a while we stand around in our masks, talking about all the ways humans measure the passage of time.
The old clock chimes. I remember that sound from my grandmother’s apartment, back when I went to visit her after school. She used to make me frozen pizza. Later, after a certain number of martinis, she’d always ask, “Have I ever told you the story of the night your father was conceived?”
Yes, I’d tell her. You’ve told me. Many, many, many times.
The Ansonia clock tolled softly beside her. My grandmother lit up a cigarette. Then, with a happy smile, she’d tell me the story again.