Excerpt From I'm Looking Through You a memoir by Jennifer Finney Boylan



My sister’s wedding gown hung from a hook in the hallway at the bottom of the third-floor stairs.

It was a good dress. My aunt Nora had stitched the whole thing together herself, using the same basic skills she employed in the creation of kittygirls, although to a somewhat different end. My sister, apparently, was now a kittywoman.

I grabbed the dress on my way up the stairs, reached the third floor, closed the door to my room, and stepped in. It was a good fit. I spun around. The lace swirled against my ankles.

Sausage, asleep on my bed, raised her mournful head. Oh for God’s sake, said the dog. You’re absolutely pathetic. You know that, right?

I headed out into the bathroom where the Hunts’ monkey used to live. The dress made a rustling sound as I walked. In the mirror on the back of the door I saw the reflection of a young woman with long blond hair.

It was dispiriting, being the kind of person who had to behave in such a manner. But then again, Lydia was done with the dress. Was it so wrong that it get a second wearing, from a girl who would surely never have a wedding dress of her own? I looked good, as I stared at myself in the mirror; stranger than that, I looked normal. It was hard to believe it was me.

After a few moments, though, the feeling of sadness trumped the sensation of wonder. After all, it wasn’t my sister’s dress, or for that matter, her life that I wanted. It was my own.

I rustled back into my bedroom and took a slug off of a bottle of Jack Daniel’s that stood upon the dresser. I remembered the look of wild abandon on my sister’s eye as she danced, one last time, to the Grateful Dead. I thought about Grammie, sitting there by herself as the band played “Stardust.” Then I sat down in my red swivel chair and picked up the concertina. It had all come to this in the end.

Good-bye Piccadilly, farewell Leicester Square!

At that moment, from over my head, I heard the sound of footsteps.

I looked up at the ceiling, took another slug of Jack Daniel’s. I walked back out into the hallway, still wearing the wedding gown, and stood beneath the trapdoor in the middle of the hallway that led up to the attic. A string attached to the trapdoor dangled down.

All right, you bastards, I thought. Let’s talk.

I pulled on the string, and the trapdoor yawned open. I pulled down on a wooden ladder attached to the door. Its legs straddled the hooked rug on the floor. Above me now was a vast black space. The sound of footsteps stopped.

I got a flashlight from my room, then slowly climbed the ladder that led up into the darkness.

The old rafters in the attic slanted in every direction, and sharp nail points from the roof jutted out at me from every angle. I shone my flashlight around. The floor was covered with an ancient granular insulation, like Styrofoam peanuts. There were a few old pieces of furniture up there as well—an old-fashioned wardrobe of the Hunts’, as well as my grandfather’s pipe rack, and the pipes still in it.

In another corner was a trunk that had belonged to my mysterious uncle Sean, the shaman of the family. He’d spent his whole life traveling around on freight trains, moving between the twin poles of Stone Harbor, New Jersey, and Treasure Island, California, a tiny speck of land beneath the Oakland Bay Bridge. We’d wound up with his trunk after he died onboard a train just outside of Salt Lake City. It contained his books—the poetry of Emily Dickinson; the philosophy of Carl Jung and Carlos Castaneda—as well as the unfinished manuscript of his life’s work, a poem called Goldenrod.

I’d read the first page of Uncle Sean’s book, before Ziggy put the trunk up in the attic. It started like this:

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