During the Fourth of July holiday I wanted to get out of Boston, away from fireworks and especially crowds. There was the recent Marathon bombing to consider, of course. And simply being around people can be very time-consuming, on occasion.
So I drove up to Maine and hiked Mount Katahdin. I’d heard there was a guru up there dispensing bits of wisdom in exchange for small tokens.
After a strenuous climb I reached Baxter Peak — but found no guru. This annoyed me no small amount; I’m a pretty sizable guy, and climbing mountains isn’t really my forte. (Despite the fact that this peak is regularly reached by twelve-year-old girls hiking in flip-flops.) So I headed back down the mountain, grumbling to myself about the perfidy of gurus and the silliness of holidays.
But just as I was about to reach the trailhead again, whom did I see hanging around a nameless stream but Lyle, smoking a cigarette and walking in circles in an attempt to evade the ubiquitous Maine blackflies.
No one else was around, so I tossed Lyle a pack of Marlboro Lights and asked for a bit of wisdom.
“Wisdom?” said Lyle. “Friend, I deal only in pure enlightenment — take it or leave it. And I smoke reds.”
“I guess I’ll take it,” I said to the cranky homunculus. “But why are you hanging out down here? I climbed that whole mountain today just for a consultation.”
“What’s it to you?” Lyle shot back, then slipped into the brush. As he disappeared I heard his disembodied voice saying that my enlightenment would arrive sometime next week, and would last for one lunar cycle. I guess that was just the way he talked.
When I woke up the next Monday morning, I knew instantly that something wasn’t right. My hips ached. My chest felt tight and heavy. And my morning wood…oh my God.
I had somehow been transformed into a woman.
This was enlightenment? To me it seemed like a curse. Suddenly nothing on my body worked the way I expected. My hips bumped into all manner of walls, doorways, other people. I could no longer gaze over the tops of crowds — instead I had to make do with views of shoulders and elbows and the occasional armpit. And these boobs — Jesus, don’t get me started. Somebody was having some fun at my expense, that’s for sure, saddling me with these fricking 36DDs. Forget trying to find a comfortable position to sleep in; I quickly learned to appreciate the fleeting pleasure that is a sitting-up nap.
And to add insult to injury, beer now tasted funny to me: metallic, bitter, boring. Damn you, Lyle. Or Prince Siddhartha. Or whomever.
But the body part I was most concerned about was my brain. Would things be different up there now? Would I retain an intuitive grasp of the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus? Could I still parallel-park? Would sports just bore me? Now there was a chilling thought.
And even more chillingly, what about my emotional state? Was my hard-won indifference to all forms of upset — pain, loss, frustration — now simply gone? Would I find myself weeping at television commercials? Saying the direct opposite of what I really meant, in a confused attempt to get my point across?
But after extensive testing, I determined that not much had changed along those lines. I could still derive the Pythagorean Theorem or the quadratic equation from memory. (Although perhaps I wondered a bit more than usual why anyone would do that.) I could still work out most implications of the Infield Fly Rule. And I was not significantly more susceptible to pictures of kittens than I was before. Maybe just a little.
Most importantly, the rest of the world seemed totally unruffled by the fact that my strong, broad-shouldered, super-masculine self had suddenly been transformed into a smaller, uncertain, and more-than-slightly-bewildered woman. Clearly I was getting a glimpse here of an alternate universe.
So I adjusted to this new world as best as I could. Eventually I learned how to survive well enough. Long baths were a big help. Also wine.
Then after a few days I was visited by a certain monthly occurrence — which I don’t really want to discuss. Although it wasn’t too bad if I just kept taking extra showers and popping ibuprofens. But when I happened to forget a crucial maintenance task — well, the results weren’t pretty.
But over time I noticed some positive things too. Social developments, you might call them.
People who habitually looked right through my male self…suddenly went out of their way to notice me, and be nice to me. People held doors for me, lifted heavy objects at my direction, moderated their vocal tone and spoke more respectfully when I appeared. More importantly, I could get anyone’s attention easily, just by speaking. And I constantly felt a strange ease in the mood around me until I pinpointed its source: For the first time in my life, no one was trying to pick a fight with me. In fact people actually cared about my opinion. They competed for my attention and approval. It was all very strange.
Initially I had been concerned about my physical safety as a woman. But hell, that was never assured even when I was a dude. And a few crucial benefits seemed to carry over from my previous life. I found that I still had good instincts about which men to avoid. And I never doubted my ability to defend myself physically. I’d lost some muscle mass, sure, but somehow my physical confidence remained. Maybe the way I dressed helped a little with that — including my comfortable shoes. Some folks might have made unkind comments about my not seeming very “feminine” — but who has time to listen to those trifling dingbats anyway?
But after two weeks I began to feel kind of distracted. And warm all the time. Plus a bit emotional, which I feared would turn into a damburst.
Of course I had no idea how women usually take care of these urges. My past girlfriends had all been strenuously pursued by me. So at a complete loss for what else to do, I simply put an obviously made-up name out on one of those web apps — you know the ones. And when it came time to snap a few selfies, I posed them as modestly as I could; even kept my monster knockers out of the frame. Well, I tried.
I was completely unprepared for the tsunami of messages I received in response. My inbox bulged. It became a necessity to check it hourly. It became a novelty to check it once a minute.
I wound up with thousands of offers to sort through. I had no prior experience with this kind of abundance. The only previous choices I’d ever faced in this area offered but two options: “Yes” or “No.” Never before had I had alternatives.
So I sifted through my truckloads of possible suitors as best I could. After much searching I finally found a guy who wrote in complete sentences, appeared to know how correlative conjunctions worked, and understood the proper meaning of the word “fetish.”
We made arrangements to meet. I was nervous. Makeup, clothes — I had no idea how women handled any of that stuff. And if the guy turned out to be a creep, then I wasn’t sure how effectively my taekwondo moves would be executed by this bouncy physique.
But everything turned out to be relatively easy. Even though I wore no makeup and dressed in just jeans and a hoodie. The dude turned out to be fine. In fact he was better than fine. After I relaxed, anyway. I mean, multiple orgasms, geez…that is definitely the kind of sexual response to have, if you ask me.
So I grew bolder. I messaged more dudes. And yet more. After just an hour’s work, I was booked for four nights a week.
And then I found myself with…time. Time which my male self would have dedicated to chasing after girls, probably. But now I could do…whatever I wanted. Organize my life. Start personal projects — and finish them, too. Address world-historical problems.
So as the month neared its end, I hauled all of these jiggling curves right back up Mount Katahdin to press Lyle for another month’s enlightenment. I needed to remain a woman. I had really just begun to use all the newfound power and spare resources at my disposal. I had so many new things I wanted to try.
This time the holy jerk was seated at the mountain’s very peak. “Please, Lyle!” I begged him as I wiped perspiration from my eyes. “Give me one more month as a woman, and there’s no telling what I might accomplish! I might prove Goldbach’s Conjecture or the Riemann Hypothesis. I might invent desktop solar panels! Or devise a foolproof algorithm for predicting exactly when the T will arrive at each stop!”
“Sorry, can’t,” the guru said, curtly. Others were in line behind me.
“Okay, okay,” I rallied, “but can you at least tell me how I can hang onto these insights? I need the brainpower! At least let me think like a woman for a little while longer!”
Lyle leaned down and gave me his most skeptical look. “You want me to explain the way a woman thinks?” he asked. “Dude, I’m a guru, not a god.”
Photo credit: By the author